Backpacking with a toddler — Lake Maria State Park, take 2

My very first post for Borealis was recapping a backpack-in-to-a-cabin trip to Lake Maria State Park that my husband and I took with then 9-month-old Beatrice. It was one of those trips that barely tipped the scales into the “worth it” category. We had ran around beforehand scrambling to pack everything up. When we arrived for our mile hike in it was dark, cold, and we had only one flashlight. Our cabin barely got warm before we went to bed and I had to get up a couple of times to feed the wood stove. In our haste to finish packing we didn’t bring enough food.

I’m happy to report that this year was much more successful. We learned our lesson about the late arrival and while we couldn’t swing arriving any earlier than 5 p.m., it made a big difference (and we had better flashlights). Also, we usually plan our trip the day or so before our Christmas celebrations but those dates were full this year so we went with early December, which was a much better idea now that we have the added complications of a kid.

Unloading the car.

Because it was snowing the sky and ground were lighter than they usually are at 5 p.m., and we were armed with two headlamps and one of those industrial square flashlights. Beatrice thankfully hadn’t slept on the hour drive and was a good sport about the adventure, slipping into the child-carrying backpack without her usual fuss.

The 40-minute hike in was magical — the hushed snow, the joy of being outside, in the winter, in the dark, together — at least until Bee lost it a few minutes before we got to the cabin. She collapsed in shaking sobs for no apparent reason in the way only toddlers can. Our first 10 minutes in the cabin were a bit hairy, but she calmed down and we set about unpacking and lighting a fire in the stove.

It took an hour and a half before the cabin warmed up enough to shed layers, so we cuddled Bee under the down comforter and read books. We had a leisurely picnic dinner (there is no cooking allowed in the cabin and our previous attempts to coax a warm meal from the stove haven’t worked well). Then we snuggled in for more toddler development activities and skill building (just kidding — we watched Sesame Street videos on my iPhone). We did not have to pack in a pack-and-play this time — yay! — and Bee gave the stove a wide berth, proclaiming it “Too hot. Too hot.”

We got an inch or so of snow overnight — the season’s first! — so everything was sparking and bright in the morning. We took our time having breakfast and packing up. When we left the cabin Bee took off down the trail, so we decided to go with it and let her walk rather than fight her into the pack.

Hiking out (with the cabin in the distance).

I had the child-carrying frame backpack along with the sleeping bags and pillows, and Adam carried a heavy pack with the water, food, clothing, and gear. We stuffed the rest of the bedding into a stuff sack that he carried.

Backpacking with a toddler is definitely a test of patience. Sometimes she’d stop and walk back the way we came. Sometimes she’d try to leave the trail. Sometimes she’s sit down. We sang songs and cajoled her along as best as we could, knowing the alternative (getting an unwilling toddler into a backpack) was equally difficult.

Finally Adam stopped to help her and she spied her baby doll (which we’d tossed in the stuff sack), and THEN she had to carry baby — and baby’s blanket. I figured that would tire her out faster and get her to admit defeat, so we didn’t fight it.

After she began sitting down every dozen or so steps she acquiesced to being carried, and we gratefully hustled out of there. After swinging through the Monticello Caribou — another tradition — we headed home.

The trip was one of those times when you suddenly realize that your kid is growing up. You know how this happens in spurts… you go along with daily life for a while and then boom, they’re in a new stage. For Bee to make two hour-long drives without napping, to hike so far and stay on the trail (most of the time), to play so independently at the cabin and while we unpacked when we got home, and in general to require less constant supervision and redirection… our little girl is growing up! We’re having so much fun introducing her to new things… like her first real snowfall, sledding, cocoa with whipped cream, and Christmas trees.

snow night

Stay tuned next year for Lake Maria, take 3: Upping the Ante. Will we make it in one trip? Will we finally get our act together to reserve far enough in advance to get a day that doesn’t require us to arrive past dusk? I can’t wait to find out!

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  1. Glad it went better than last year! And cheers to backpacking with a down comforter–it’s one of those things I never would have imagined doing 10 years ago but it’s the best!

  2. Anne, I should have credited you with the idea because I got it from you after our winter camping trip! I always grumble a bit packing it up because it takes up room but then am so thankful that I have it.

  3. This really looks like tons of fun. I just returned from a backcountry overnight snow-camp with my daughter of 26 months at Dewey Point in Yosemite. I used a Chariot Carrier and ski-pulked her in the 3.5 miles from Badger Pass. It was magical, but the 3.5 miles could not have been done under her own power! Your trip length and setting appears to be ideal her kiddos of that age. You’ve motivated me to revitalize my own blogging and have subscribed to read your continuing toddler exploits.

    • Wow, I couldn’t be more jealous of your trip – that sounds fantastic! I have been coveting a pulk ever since I learned of their existence. Way to go! I am inspired. Maybe next winter we can push ourselves further. If you blog about it let me know the URL – I’d love to read about it!