How to take your baby to a National Park without having a nervous breakdown

This is my baby. His name is Jack, and he is cuter than your baby.

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Jack is 4 months old, which is the middle class of baby-dom: exactly old enough to realize he is uncomfortable, but not strong enough to do anything about it. Basically, he is a living breathing Bruce Springsteen song. This probably means that 4 month olds are not the group of babies you want to take on a vacation.

However, Jack’s mom and I are stubborn people. We are also optimists. We are the kind of people who make plans, hope for the best, but then after realizing that the plan isn’t working can’t quit. The kind of people who would make a Bruce Springsteen jokes 20 years after they were funny.

On Sunday it looked like we were heading in that direction. On a whim I had booked the family a cabin at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon for three days, and 2 hours into the 6 hour drive Jack was attempting to blow out the Subaru’s windows with his screams. I was in full dad-mode (everyone get in the car everything will be fine we will have fun we will have fun ISN’T THIS FUN WHY AREN’T YOU ALL HAVING FUN  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA). Basically I was getting ready for my gladiator speech:

But then the strangest thing happened: we actually had fun. Here’s how.

STEP 1: Pick a good place

The Grand Canyon is the best National Park. Full stop.

“But, but I went to Yosemite one time and it was amazing,” you say. That’s true. You know what else is amazing? Hiking in a T-shirt in the middle of winter.

Padre in Adventure Pants getting ready for the long hike up

“But I like snow!” Calm down, hypothetical-straw-man, no one said you couldn’t have snow too.

Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon National Park

“Well, Yellowstone has bison!” You know where else has bison? The Grand Canyon.

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“But what about waterfalls?” We have plenty of waterfalls. 

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Again: the best National Park. Full stop.

Back to our main point. If you are going to take a baby on vacation, choose somewhere that works for both you and them. For us the North Rim was perfect: fewer people, comfortable (but still rustic) accommodations, and a range of things to do.

For example, the first night we were looking for something relaxed, so we got dinner and took a timelapse:

The next morning we wanted a little something more, so we hiked a few miles on an easy trail:

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Then we were tired, so we had a picnic:

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Overnight, I wanted a challenge so I hiked most of the way down to the River.

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The North Rim worked well for us, but you might want something different. You’ve got to know yourself and your baby.

STEP 2: Take lots of little bites

Which is better: One 10 mile hike or two five mile hikes? Or, let me ask the question another way, which is better: Walking 5 miles with a screaming baby or walking 2.5 miles with a screaming baby?

If I am alone, I am always going to pick the longer single hike. Longer hikes mean fewer people, and fewer people means more fun. However, when you are hiking with a baby things are different. At some point during the day (read: at the worst possible moment) the baby is going to have had enough. When that moment comes you will probably have to turn around. If you put all your eggs in one basket with a single, 10 mile hike that means your whole day is shot. If you plan multiple shorter trips you will still have time to go back to the lodge, calm everything down, and then get back onto your day as planned.

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STEP 3: Bring the right stuff

FACT: Angry babies cry more than happy babies. Therefore, you should keep your baby happy. For example, this is Jack in his Chico infant carrier (click HERE to see it on Amazon). It is his favorite thing in the world.

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If you are like me and hiking is your main priority on trips like this, you will be tempted to try to lighten your load. DO NOT DO THIS. Like I said HERE, the point of lightening your load is to make you more comfortable. Nothing in the world that will make you less comfortable than your screaming child. Therefore, if there is something the baby might want BRING IT. You will never regret having too happy of a baby.

STEP 4: Be patient

I am not a patient person. However, I can report that I saw patient people and they looked happy.

STEP 5: ABANDON YOUR BABY Take some “me time”

Ideally you aren’t trying to do this all alone. Nothing against single parents (you people are amazing), but there is no question having two competent adults around is easier than one. Notice that I didn’t say “two parents” there; no-one ever said you couldn’t beguile a friend into tagging along for the trip.

That being said, you should try to find time for each of the adults to have a little fun themselves. There is no reason that Mom, Dad, or tricked-into-helping-out-friend can’t watch the kid for a couple of hours while you sneak off to decompress. For me, this meant a night hike while Angie and Jack were sleeping. Not ideal, and it made the long drive home even tougher, but it was important for me to get some time in the Canyon. If I have learned anything in the past 4 months it is that taking time for yourself doesn’t make you a bad parent, it makes you a better one.

gap_filling WEAK

gap_filling STRONG

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That’s all I’ve got– I should have a trip report with a ton more pictures early next week. Thanks for reading and be sure to share!


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Max Wilson is a graduate student studying ecology at Arizona State University. You can follow him on twitter @maxomillions.

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