Before I had Elliott, I would occasionally go for a solo hike (my first one was this hike in Sitka!). I loved the feeling of hiking at my own slow pace without feeling rushed, being able to stop and snack/take pictures whenever I wanted, and the quiet and calm feeling of walking through the forest alone. What I didn’t love about solo hiking was my fear of bears and moose! But I always chose populated trails and tried to stay above treeline if possible so that I could see any wildlife long before they got near me.
Since having Elliott I’ve been hiking with other people. Having him on my back makes me want to take the safest steps possible so I avoid anything that might put me or him in danger. Hiking with a group of moms and kids seemed to make the most sense because there’s safety in numbers and lots of protection against bears because everyone is carrying bear spray. Plus, I always seem to forget something so it’s nice to have other moms to loan me sunscreen or bug spray at the trailhead!
But last week the weather was perfect and everyone was busy. Plus, I was already thinking about driving out to Palmer to buy some cute new hiking gear from one of my favorite local shops, and if I’m already out there I might as well take Elliott for a hike! The busiest and easiest trail out in Palmer is the Bodenburg Butte, a 3 mile hike up and down a butte in the middle of the valley. The trail is always crowded and I’ve hiked the trail probably 50 times, so I felt safe tackling it alone with Elliott on my back. I took extra care that morning to make sure I had everything we needed because I couldn’t borrow from anyone else. I also packed lots of snacks and water so that we could spend lunchtime on the summit.
After gearing up at the trailhead and watching Elliott bounce with excitement about going on another hike, I finally started up the trail alone! I was a bit nervous, but I started to feel more comfortable when I saw how many people were out there. There were lots of other families, trail runners, and solo hikers, and even though there were some signs posted about an aggressive moose in the area I didn’t hear from anyone that they’d seen the moose that day. I was totally calm by the time I hit the halfway point where the stairs start. This hike has 505 wooden stairs built into the steepest part of the butte that help you summit more easily. The stairs are always the toughest part for me, and carrying Elliott up there on an exceptionally hot spring day made it even harder! I was sweating, out of breath, and totally exhausted by the time I made it to the top. I was honestly grateful that no one else was hiking with me to see me suffering so much!
Making it to the summit felt amazing! We perched on the edge of the top where we could see 360 degree views of the Mat-Su Valley. We had a front row seat to views of the Knik Glacier, and occasional breezes from the glacier helped to cool me off. E bounced around in his carrier and made fish noises (bloop bloop bloop!) as I fed him Goldfish crackers and rested in the sunshine. After cooling off and eating lunch, I pulled out my phone tripod to take some summit photos. We messed around taking photos and videos until I decided it was finally time to head home. Elliott was much more quiet and calm on the way down, and I enjoyed walking through the forest listening to the silence around me. It was such a relaxing end to a perfect solo hike with my son!
On the drive home I took some time to reflect on how big of a step this was in me and Elliott’s hiking journey together. We’ve done lots of things alone together – road trips, stroller walks on the paved forest trails in my neighborhood, and long bike rides. But doing a solo hike with him felt extra special. Knowing that it was just me and him out there doing something that we both loved at our own pace was really cool. Plus it felt awesome doing something outside my comfort zone and gaining confidence in something that I’ve been wanting to do for a while. There’s a lot of anxiety when you’re a mom and it felt great to push through that and have a really fun and relaxing day on one of my favorite trails!
Before taking on a solo hike (with or without kids), here’s some things to consider:
- Choose a populated trail so you’re not totally alone in case of emergency.
- Let someone know where you are going and when you’ll be back. I had cell service the whole time and frequently sent my husband pictures and videos of our son being silly and also let him know how we were doing.
- Consider choosing a trail you’ve done before so you know what to expect.
- Check trail conditions and wildlife reports to make sure it’s safe to hike that particular trail right now. I check local hiking Facebook groups for trip reports as well as state park/national forest Facebook pages and websites that might post updates on wildlife warnings.
- Bring wildlife protection if needed. I brought bear spray which works on both dangerous bears and people!
- Make sure you have everything you need to hike alone. There’s no one to borrow from when you are out there solo.
- Fun tip: bring a tripod so you can take pictures of yourself at the top!
I will always love hiking in groups because I’m a social person and there’s a lot of wildlife to worry about up here in Alaska. But I think I’m going to incorporate some solo hikes with my son into our hiking plans! It was really sweet to be able to bond with him out there and we both had such a fun and silly time. Plus, it feels good to know I can still do things like this even with a toddler on my back. I’m excited to see where we solo hike next!
Have you ever solo hiked? What are your tips and tricks for a successful solo hike?