Hike it Baby founder and author Shanti Hodges with her son
In July 2013, Shanti Hodges had a new baby. Itching to get out of the house, she invited friends to go hiking with her on local trails around her home of Portland, Ore. Soon, the number of participants grew beyond just a small group of acquaintances and Hike It Baby was born.
The now-national organization is dedicated to connecting new parents and encouraging them to get out and explore local trails together — with babies and tots in tow. The nonprofit has chapters in 300 cities around the country, with some 650 hike ambassadors and more than 2,000 group hikes taking place every month.
Hodges' most recent adventure: writing a book. Using her own experiences and those sourced from a diverse group of Hike It Baby participants, Hodges authored "Hike It Baby: 100 Awesome Outdoor Adventures With Babies and Toddlers," published this summer.
The book includes family-friendly hikes across the country and is packed full of tips and tricks, safety information, gear recommendations, colorful photos and personal stories from families who hike.
Locally, Hike It Baby has several chapters in the Puget Sound area, including in Seattle, Snohomish County and South King County. To participate, register on the site; nearly all hikes are free.
The organization also leads special programs and challenges, including the 10K Women Trail Project, which encourages women to invite other women and girls to hike.
ParentMap recently spoke with Shanti Hodges about her new book, the origins of Hike It Baby, getting young families outside and some of the book's best hikes in Western Washington.
How did you decide to do a book and how do you hope that people will use it?
Really it started with a woman who was a member of Hike It Baby on the East Coast ... [She said to me] "I love Hike It Baby. I love what it’s doing. I love that there are these hikes all over the country. Do you want to write a book?”
It was a bit of a hard sell because books like this haven’t done that well traditionally ... The idea behind the book was to remind people [that] you can get out there and do adventures with babies and toddlers. You can redefine what adventure means when you have a new baby.
Why do you think hiking together attracts so many parents with babies?
I think hiking together makes it so you can move forward.
When you have little kids, it’s like just getting them out is a hassle, right? When you’re with a group of people, everything is so much easier.
Your wiggling, squirming, crying baby — you have someone else there to help blow bubbles or shake a rattle. You have that support [and] you have someone just there empathizing with you and just being like, "We can do this! We got this! Don’t worry that your baby’s crying. We’ve all been there."
What common themes have you noticed among parents trying to get outside with small children?
People are starting to realize [that being outdoors] can really benefit children ... There have been studies on infants showing that there’s a reduction in eyesight problems in children who are taken out and get a lot of Vitamin D. They say that your synapses fire strongest in the first three months of your life, and so the brain development is much stronger in the outdoors.
There is a direct correlation between the more connection with nature and healthier brain development. There was a Stanford University study that showed that you’re more creative for 60 minutes after you go out on a hike or a walk for 20 minutes.
What’s your best advice in the book for parents who are just starting to get out into nature with a baby?
Go close to home. Just start small. Don’t plan an epic hike to some five-mile mountain just because you feel you need to accomplish something.
Just look for a really mellow walk around your neighborhood ... look for trees, look for creeks, look for nice spaces that feel really comfortable and safe and accessible ... and then build up to bigger and bigger things. And find community to help guide you to the bigger and bigger trails.
Your hike descriptions really go in-depth with what families need to know to go outside with young children.
Guidebooks and online resources don’t really think about things like, "Is there cell service?" That matters when you are a new parent and you’re really nervous about getting out there. Or, "Are there dogs and horses and a lot of bikes?"
These are details that Hike It Baby focuses on as a community to help people get on trail — things to think about that you just don’t find in your normal guides.
Can you tip us off to some of the Washington State hikes featured in your book?
Editor's note: The three hikes below are excerpted with permission from "Hike It Baby: 100 Awesome Outdoor Adventures With Babies and Toddlers" by Shanti Hodges. The information presented is just the beginning of the thorough hike detail and personal family stories included in the book.
Hike: Grove of the Patriarchs
Location: Mount Rainier area
Length of hike: 1.5 miles
If you have ever wanted to wander amidst 1,000-year-old trees, this is your chance. A short hike with a boardwalk, a river to splash in and a fun suspension bridge to cross help make the adventure even more appealing. Grove of the Patriarchs has huge trees that are hard to visualize. Some are more than 40 feet in diameter and 300 feet tall, which makes this hike a crowd pleaser for all little explorers.
Hike: Second Beach
Location: Olympic National Park
Length of hike: 2 miles
One of the things we love about this beach is how peaceful and scenic it is. This might be one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the Northwest. Look for the small islands off in the distance, Crying Lady Rock and the Quillayute Needles archipelago, that are home to 14 species of seabirds, sea lions, harbor seals and sea otters. This area is a critical wildlife protection area that was set aside especially to protect sea otters that almost became extinct in the early 1900s due to being hunted for fur.
Hike: Falls Creek Falls
Location: Gifford Pinchot National Forest — south of Mt. St. Helens
Length of hike: 3.4 miles
The trail starts off from the trailhead on a flat and wide section in a forest of Douglas-fir, great for walking toddlers to run around and explore. After a little while, the trail parallels the creek and starts to climb moderately. Almost the whole hike follows the creek on one side and has a lush forest on the other. When it does not follow the creek, the hike takes you through old growth forest with a lot of great sights to see.