Hiking with a toddler always seemed kind of intimidating to me. Before I became a mom, I remember passing by really young children with their parents on hiking trails and catching a small glimpse of the sweat, tears and complaining that could sometimes transpire on family hikes. Now that I am that mom, I know firsthand that definitely does happen when you’re hiking with toddlers — but there are also so many benefits of bringing them on hikes, too.
featured image via @naderade12
When I bring my 3-year-old along on hikes, she gets to spend hours in nature, engage in some serious physical activity, learn about the environment, spend quality time with me and feel proud of herself for accomplishing a new adventure.
After making a few mistakes and taking her on trails that were too advanced or full of unsafe terrain, I’ve finally nailed down the five best hiking spots that are completely toddler-friendly around our home in northern New Jersey.
Explore the beautiful trails that got a 5-star review from my 3-year-old
1. Wawayanda State Park in Hewitt, NJ
I’ve taken my toddler to a few parks around the state. None of them, though, compare to Wawayanda State Park, which has some of the most inclusive hiking paths for young kids. There are a wide variety of hiking trails to choose from that wind their way around the massive property, and almost all of them pass by scenery and objects that my daughter loves to look at. Parents and their little ones will really enjoy hiking past rivers, bridges, waterfalls, swamps, campsites, and people boating and fishing on Lake Wawayanda. We usually purchase a one-day guest badge for swimming in the lake, if we’re hiking there during the warm summer months.
Wawayanda State Park
885 Warwick Turnpike
Hewitt, NJ 07421
Hours: Open 8AM – 8PM, everyday
2. Appalachian Trail Boardwalk in Glenwood, NJ
My 3-year-old is used to perusing the Wildwood and Point Pleasant boardwalks at the Jersey Shore, but there’s also one nestled in the heart of Glenwood that she loves just as much. The boardwalk, which runs between the rolling mountains of Vernon Valley, is a small portion of the Appalachian Trail. The boardwalk is built over a river, swamp and grassy marsh, so it’s full of wildlife. My daughter and I always pack a picnic lunch to eat at the break areas built into the boardwalk, so we can watch the birds, turtles, frogs, fish and river otters. The only downfall? The boardwalk is sturdy, but there aren’t any guard rails — so I always keep an extra eye on my energetic daughter whenever we hike there.
Glenwood, NJ 07418
Hours: Open 24 hours
3. Ramapo Valley County Reservation in Mahwah, NJ
The Ramapo Valley County Reservation is one of our favorite hiking day trip locations in Bergen County. The reservation is made up of five easy-to-maneuver hiking trails that can all be conveniently accessed near the main parking lot, so we don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out where to start. These five trails all loop around Scarlet Oak Pond. For the extra advanced toddlers and caregivers who are feeling ambitious, the Vista Loop Trail (which sports yellow markers) gives hikers a chance to see crazy panoramic views of the pond and reservation.
Ramapo Valley Country Reservation
608 Ramapo Valley Rd, Mahwah, NJ 07430
Hours: Opens 30 minutes before sunrise, closes 30 minutes after sunset, year-round
4. High Point State Park in Sussex, NJ
Yes, you can actually take your toddler to the highest point in the entire state when you visit the township of Sussex at High Point State Park. The state park is filled with multiple hiking trails, playgrounds, and a lake, but my daughter and I love to drive up to the very top parking lot to see the High Point Monument. It’s 1,803 feet above sea level, so she can get an amazing look at the beautiful scenery that makes up Delaware, Pennsylvania, and the Garden State. Even though hikers can no longer go inside the monument, they’re still able to soak in the same incredible views from the parking lot.
High Point State Park
1480 NJ-23, Sussex, NJ 07461
Hours: Open daily, 2nd Sunday in March through October 31, 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM*
November 1 through 2nd Saturday in March, 8:00 am to 4:30 pm
Note that during the month of March, if the Cross Country Ski Center is in open, the park will close at 4:30 pm
5. Kittatinny Valley State Park in Newton, NJ
There are a few quirky characteristics that make Kittatinny Valley State Park in Newton such a favorite place to hike with my 3-year-old. Two of the trails throughout the state park are converted railroads. Being able to walk along these old tracks are a huge hit with her, especially since she’s a big Thomas the Tank Engine fan. Horseback riding and biking is also permitted in the park, which means we get some neat encounters while hiking through the woods there. Kittatinny Valley State Park is also the only state park that has its own airport. Being able to watch the private planes that land and depart there is another big perk for us, too.
Kittatinny Valley State Park
199 Goodale Rd, Newton, NJ 07860
Hours: Park opens at sunrise, closes at sunset
Visitor Center is open 9AM – 4PM, everyday, year-round