It was the day I realized we were were on a first-name basis with practically every duck and goose living along our local recreation path that I knew my toddler and I needed a new running route. With longer spring days upon us and more than a touch of cabin fever, I set off in search of new vistas and playgrounds.
First, I'll offer up what I look for in a good trail, then offer some suggestions of places to explore, and read to the end if you're looking for tips on getting started or what to look for in a jogger. And then, time to get outside and get moving. I'll see you out there!
What to look for in a good baby jogger trail
For starters, I look for convenient (and preferably free) parking and restrooms, two must-haves for any parent out and about with a young one. My 2-year-old son also demands play space, whether a fully equipped playground or simply a wide open field for chasing a ball or playing tag with Mommy. Routes in more populated areas provide a sense of safety and security and therefore get my vote. And, though they’re not hard to find in our beautiful Northwest environment, I look for trails with pleasant scenery.
Our favorite trails for jogging with baby in and near Tacoma
In Tacoma’s answer to Vancouver’s Stanley Park, joggers have access to a dizzying array of trails, both paved and unpaved, through stunning old-growth forest (blessedly shady on sunny summer days). Drive around first to get acquainted and clock mileages for your run. Toddler diversions include the top-notch zoo and aquarium, rocky Owen Beach, a playground, and an adorable duck pond with a toddler-size bridge and island in the middle (a hit with fans of Make Way for Ducklings).
Always popular with kids, boardwalks feature in Tacoma Nature Center's terrific, unpaved trail network. While paths are not paved, they are mostly hard-packed and most strollers will navigate them fine. The Discovery Pond themed playground will delight the tots and you may spy a turtle or two in Snake Lake from your trailside vantage point.
This wide, paved trail connects South Hill Community Park and Heritage Recreation Center. It's named for Sergeant Nathan Chapman, a Green Beret and Puyallup resident who was killed in Afghanistan in 2002. Covering the loop around South Hill Park plus out-and-back on the connector yields a run of about three miles. Find free parking, a play area and handy restrooms at South Hill Park.
Park in downtown Orting or at the McMillin trailhead, about 2.5 miles away (this makes a great out-and-back 5-miler). The paved, level recreation trail follows State Route 162, past elementary schools and playgrounds, ice cream shops and coffee shops. Stop in downtown Orting for a picnic and toddler time on the shady, colorful playground. Restrooms and parking are available.
Jogging with baby around Olympia
Park at Heritage Park adjacent to the State Capitol campus or Marathon Park and complete a loop of Capitol Lake. Combine this with a visit to Historical Park in Tumwater, just down Deschutes Way (there’s a shortcut to the park at the Capitol Lake Interpretive Center). Historical Park boasts a huge playground, riverfront picnic area, parking and restrooms. The trails are paved and level. After your jog, head over to the East Bay for a bite to eat or a visit to the Hands On Children’s Museum.
Take a short but picturesque route along the Budd Bay wooden boardwalk (about .9 mile one way). Climb the viewing tower at Port Plaza, visit the Farmers Market and stop halfway to run around at the playground or on the wide expanse of lawn. Toddlers love to gawk at the boats, some gargantuan and some more modest, parked in the marina. Clean restrooms (complete with a changing table) and ample parking are available.
Beyond its expansive playground, this lovely park offers a .5-mile unimproved trail and 1.2 miles of mixed-surface trails for jogging or walking. There’s also access to the Deschutes River and a beach area, both nice areas for exploring with little ones.
Take your pick of distances: 1.25-mile, .75-mile and .25-mile loops, all unpaved and best for sturdy jogging strollers during brisk walks or runs. Forest and water views abound. Stop at the beach to explore tidal pools and have a picnic. Park is open Wednesday through Sunday.
Getting started running or walking for two
If you were an exercise enthusiast before you had kids, running or walking with your baby is a great way to get back into the swing of things. Haven’t quite tackled running for two yet? No problem, it’s easy to get started. You’ll gain time for yourself, time with your kid(s) and set a great example by modeling exercise. You’ll boost your mood, shed those leftover pregnancy pounds, and get to know your neighborhood, as well as and other active parents. Plus, except for the cost of the jogging stroller (“jogger”), it’s free, and you don’t have to find the childcare that you would need if going to a gym.
If your jogging stroller hasn’t seen the light of day since last October (or ever), take it slow to start. (And if you’re new to regular exercise, be sure to discuss it with your doctor first.) Warm up with a 20-minute walk around your neighborhood a few times a week; this will also get your baby or toddler used to viewing the world from the stroller. Once you’re more comfortable, you can step it up, working up to 20-minute (or more) jaunts three or four times a week, depending on your goal. For my son and me, it’s the psychological benefit of getting outside that keeps us going. There’s nothing that can break up the monotony of a long day or change a toddler’s cranky mood faster than the sight of a jet soaring overhead or a visit to a favorite playground. Think of it as mommy/baby therapy — and pen it (don’t pencil it!) into your calendar each week.
Tips and tricks for successful parent-tot runs
Vary the timing of your play stop. On some days, hit the playground first; on others, visit after your run, and — if your route permits — take a breather in the middle to allow your child to stretch his or her legs, too.
Encourage toddlers to point out the sites. Have your child call out objects and colors they see, anything from ducks to dogs, blue strollers to red cars.
Do some interval training. Go faster or slower between points on the trail: Sprint to the next telephone pole, then take it down a notch to the next one, and so on.
Keep it varied. Walk some days, run some, take short runs, long runs, make a day of hill walking. Stop and do some sit-ups and lunges with your baby on a blanket beside you. Think of it as a custom workout — and you’re your own trainer.
Keep a selection of jogger-only toys. Stash select toys in your car and pull them out for your exercise sessions. Think magnetic drawing pads, toy cars, small stuffed animals, mini board books, and brightly colored infant toys that clip onto the stroller; there are even toy steering wheels that attach to some joggers, a surefire hit if your child is into vehicles as much as mine is!
Be ready for action. Keep the jogger and a pair of sneakers in the trunk of your car. You never know when you might pass a beautiful park or trail, just as your child is in need of a stroller nap or a change of scenery. Start easy, start slow and you’ll maintain this healthy habit for longer. Your child will not only endure it, but will look forward to this part of your day. And who knows? By the time preschool rolls around, that little one might be jogging right alongside you!
Jogging stroller specifics
Your around-town stroller may not cut it when it comes to logging some real miles. Enter the larger, sturdier jogging stroller. There are countless options on the market these days, ranging from basic to über-deluxe. For me, the most important must-haves were a swiveling front wheel that also locks (making for smoother handling), a generously sized basket under the seat for carrying toys and snacks, a water bottle holder and an ample sun visor. I also invested in a universal rain shield for those less-than-pleasant Northwest days; my son just thinks he’s riding in a “space bubble” — whatever works, right?
Check eBay and Craigslist for secondhand before buying new, if you wish, or you could ask at your local Buy Nothing group. We used eBay to purchase a Mountain Buggy Urban, which we love, and has seen hundreds of miles. Other favorites include BOB strollers.
This article was originally published in 2009 and updated in 2017.