Only a few steps into my hike up to Quarry Rock I began to notice the intense heat of the midday summer sun radiating down on me. The heat was stifling, even when standing in the shade provided by the thick canopy of trees above me. My body, under the strain of the heat and the added pressure of being four months pregnant, began to sweat profusely, or should I say glow profusely. I soon arrived at the lookout point, which offered a vista of the waters of the Indian arm, feeling blissfully happy and at peace. For the next few minutes, I sat there dreaming about all of the great outdoor adventures I would one day go on with my baby.
I remember that day fondly. It was almost two years ago, and we are now living in a completely different world. My home is now filled with the toys, clutter, accessories, and messes of a one-year-old infant. She pulls on my leg, hoists herself into a standing position, and smiles in anticipation. At the same instant, I also feel the mountains pulling on my heart and I feel an anticipation building to get out of this apartment and head out on an adventure.
In the pandemic era, the great outdoors has become a truly precious setting. With that said, I was surprised to see the shortage of advice by mothers for mothers who want to explore the outdoors with their infants in a safe and comfortable way. As an outdoor enthusiast and avid hiker, I thought I would share some insights about ten hikes that I have taken my infant along for, and hope that it inspires you to get out there with your child as well. Some of these hikes remain open for now, while the others can be saved for a day after the pandemic passes.
Note: all distances indicated below are return-trip totals
- Pacific Spirit Regional Park
Location: Vancouver, UBC
Distance: Choose your own adventure, 2km-5km
While walking in this luscious green forest, it can be easy to forget you are still in the city, immersed among shrubs, ferns and tall trees. There are multiple entry points and the pathways are well maintained. I found this trail network to be very accessible, well-marked, and free of any notable gradient. The 750-hectare park can allow for anywhere between 30 minutes to 3 hours worth of exploring.
- Capilano Pacific Trail
Location: North Vancouver
Distance: Choose your own adventure, up to 15km
Though there are several starting points I recommend making the full 15km journey that starts and ends by the seashore in Ambleside. The trail follows the Capilano River up to Cleveland Dam (a.k.a Capilano Lake). There is an incline of 160m, but because it is stretched out over a longer distance the uphill is not really noticeable. The trail passes by the Capilano suspension bridge and salmon hatcheries and eventually reaches the dam where water cascades downwards much like a waterfall.
- High Knoll
Location: Port Coquitlam, Minnekhada Regional Park
Distance: 5km +
As a lesser-known but family-friendly trail, this hike provides the benefit of less foot traffic and an opportunity to enjoy lookouts over the Pitt River and the marshlands. Looping around the lower marsh is an estimated 5 km journey but it can be extended to include a walk around the upper marsh as well. Elevation gain is about 165m to high knoll, the highest viewpoint, however, low knoll provides a nice vista, which faces west and overlooks the wetlands.
- Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area
Location: Burnaby Mountain
Distance: 5km +
There are a number of trails that weave up, down and across the slopes of Burnaby Mountain, stretching from the neighbourhoods at its base up to the SFU campus on its peak. We took a route that linked the graded crushed rock Pipeline trail to TransCanada Trail, and then a short but steep incline for a total elevation gain of 225 meters. We came back down via the mountain bike trails, which are much more rugged and add some nice variety to this walk, but you do need to stay alert for any bikers.
- Garibaldi Lake
Location: Garibaldi Park, near Whistler
Brace yourself for a longer expedition with lots of switchbacks required due to the elevation gain of 1080m. This 20km journey is certainly the longest I have attempted with my daughter, who was 8 months old at the time, but the trail is very well maintained and patrolled by park rangers. The reward for your efforts is a stunning clear blue lake resting in front of a glacier and surrounded by volcanic grey mountain tops.
- Lynn Canyon Park
Location: North Vancouver, Lynn Headwaters Regional Park
Status: Currently closed
This park includes a network of trails that wrap their way around and over Lynn Canyon. The many beautiful viewpoints provide ample opportunity to stop for a rest. It should be noted though that some sections do include stairs. The ecology center located by the suspension bridge is a great asset as its facilities provide a convenient place to grab a snack or perform a diaper change.
- Sasamat Lake
Location: Port Moody
Situated in Belcarra Park, Sasamat Lake is one of the warmest lakes in Greater Vancouver area. Located on the north end of the lake is White Pine Beach and on the south end is a floating bridge, providing access for swimming and fishing. The approximately 3 km trail has minimal elevation gain and circles around the lake perimeter. This is a short and easy stroll.
- Quarry Rock
Location: North Vancouver, Deep Cove
Status: Currently closed
The peak of this trail presents a breathtaking panoramic view of the Indian arm inlet and the mountains around Belcarra. Stretching for approximately 4km, the boardwalk meanders under a tree canopy. The elevation gain is approximately 100m but because of the short distance and extra baby weight, it can feel like more. As a bonus the trailhead is within the village of Deep Cove so amenities are once again close by. This is a great hike, and is very popular, but offers limited parking, so plan to arrive early for best results.
- Alaksen National Wildlife Area
Status: Currently closed
This destination is part of the Fraser River delta and is recognized as an internationally important Pacific Coast migration stop-over for a large number of migratory birds. This location offers spectacular views of many bird species, including Canadian geese, lesser snow geese, and American widgeon. Alaksen has a network of trails around and through the wetlands which could keep you busy for hours. Additionally, the nearby George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary adds some bonus amenities and bird blinds. You’ll want to pick up some bird seeds in order to attract the friendly ducks and introduce your little one to them.
- Dog Mountain
Location: North Vancouver, Mount Seymour
Starting from the Mount Seymour Ski Resort this 5km hike provides a wonderful view of Vancouver. This trail leans a bit more onto the technical side of baby-friendly hikes, but I guarantee it is still feasible with a baby in a carrier. However, it should be noted that the path requires a bit of up and down along several sections that are covered with slippery tree roots. The approximate elevation gain is 192 m.
Some practical lessons for hiking with baby
I had found myself taking baby steps into outdoor exploration with my daughter, venturing forward without a clue as to whether or not I was adequately prepared, and I often was not. With trial and error, I learned what carrier equipment to use at what age, how to plan around nap-time, how to nurse on the trail and later what baby snacks to pack, how many diapers to bring, how to dress baby in weather-appropriate clothing and when to abandon a trip if it was not going well.
Lesson 1: Plan for more time than you need.
One day in the middle of summer I decided to take baby to Quarry rock for the first time. “This is it,” I thought. “I can finally take my precious daughter to the same spot where I dreamt up our future adventures all those months ago.“ Things did not go as planned.
It is no secret that the leaving-the-house process with a new baby is not a short task. Packing up the baby, then figuring out she’s hungry, then nursing, then cleaning up some milk vomit, then repacking the baby into the car seat takes some time. Very quickly a 2-hour outing can turn into a 3 or 4-hour excursion because, of course, there are inevitably more stops on the trail to manage as well.
Lesson 2: Bring extra supplies.
Once we finally made it onto the trail, I soon discovered something brown and gooey dripping from my elbow. To my horror, I realized that baby had initiated a massive blow out. Most of her little body was covered in poop, including her clothes, the baby carrier, my shirt, and my right arm. Meanwhile, I was trying to desperately triage the situation, find the wipes, locate a diaper, and replace her filthy clothes with a spare onesie. I had brought a spare onesie, right? It HAD to be in that diaper bag somewhere. Lesson learned: Always bring spare clothes and have your bag organized to know exactly where all the baby essentials are stored.
Lesson 3: Abort and try again another day
I’m an avid hiker, but there are certain circumstances where turning around feels like the right thing to do. Being covered in poop is one of those circumstances. Baby teething tantrums are another. You don’t have to be a hero, and you can always try again on a different day. We successfully completed our second attempt at Quarry Rock, better equipped and better timed. In fact, the whole journey was more pleasant. That is after all the point, to have a pleasant and encouraging exploration experience.
Lesson 4: Use the right gear
On our first few hikes out I did not want to bother with specialized equipment so I tried to get away with using my messenger diaper bag and a baby wrap. My hiking motion and a wiggly baby combined to scuttle that plan. Soon enough I upgraded to a backpack style diaper bag and was loaned a front-mounted baby carrier that all together greatly improved both of our enjoyment and success rate. I also found that after six months, a specialized baby carrier backpack helped to make the ride more comfortable for baby and the weight more comfortable for me.
Lesson 5: Just in case clothing
Aside from having to deal with clean up disasters, extra clothing is also pertinent when dealing with the sneaky weather changes. I had at times been totally discouraged from starting a hike even after reaching the trailhead because after stepping out of the car, I realized that baby’s clothing was not suitable for the cool or wet conditions. Thus I developed the habit of packing a hat, mittens, sunglasses, extra sweater, and seasonally appropriate jacket for baby.