Hiking with small kids is hard sometimes. Really, its hard most of the time. And not in that “trail-side diaper changes suck haha!” kind of way, but in that “am I doing the right thing?” way. Hiking with two small children is harder than I ever expected, emotionally. When T was small and we first started hiking as a family, sure, there were times where I wondered if he enjoyed it, or times when I wished we could have more time hiking just the two of us. Lately, every hike feels like a forced activity. It feels like something we have to do to utilize the weekend.
Being on the trail was a great escape for awhile, but now the good times are laced with stress and challenges. I guess I just want other people to know that its okay if its not easy for your family. When all you see from people on the internet are nice photos and stories of minor mishaps and adventures, you think you’re screwing it up when shit heads south. You aren’t (probably). There is always more behind the scenes, but people aren’t going to spend as much time talking about marital disputes and screaming babies.
That being said, we found a lucky spot in the state for our hike this weekend. We got up at 6 am to an oppressive, dark storm system right on top of us. As we headed south on the interstate, wiper blades whipping back and forth, T exclaimed “Its raining cats and dogs!”. The toddler mimicry stage has been pretty great (Have you ever heard a toddler attempt “Oky doky artichoky”?). Big Creek Upper Loop #827.1 is located on the eastern edge of the Olympic National Forest. There happened to be a large circle of blue sky lounging over this area and we only got sprinkled on once towards the end.
The trail begins in a large established campground that opens in mid-May, so we parked behind the gate with few other cars. You can either walk through the campground, or take part of a loop trail around the edge to meet up with the main trailhead. Huge moss-draped trees lean over the trail, and we soon came to a bridge spanning the trail’s namesake: Big Creek. Its…big?
Anywhere that could potentially be mucky or full of water has a well-maintained footbridge, and you could comfortably do this hike in running shoes. Around the 1 mile mark, Si was still fussing and being generally dissatisfied with his lot in life, so we stopped at a bench that overlooks the creek. This turned out to be a prime-rock throwing spot, so we spent a little time here before heading further on the trail. The wide path goes a little up, then a little down, up through some dense forest, and we came within 10 yards of a clearcut. Benches are generously provided at regular intervals. T started asking to be carried because “hill hard”, and we didn’t bring his carrier, so he ended up on Justin’s shoulders. Once he was on the ground again, we pretended to be dinosaurs looking for flowers to eat. I asked him what kind of dinosaur he was and he said “two!”. I can only assume that means a T-rex that is also a Pterodactyl.
We let him take his time in the forest, exploring stumps and jumping from rocks. We saw a “black squirrel” (it was a chipmunk) and when asked what kind of food he thought squirrels ate, T replied “squirrel food!”. Well played son, well played. We told him about how trees ate dirt and rocks, which was the best way I could think of to explain trees getting nutrients from soil to a 2.5 year old. He proceeded to drop rocks into holes near the trees to “feed the trees!”. Eventually, the trail began a persistent uphill climb and T wanted a ride. Then he wanted to walk. Then he wanted to ride. Justin told him he could ride until the top, which turned out to be over a mile. When he was down, we motivated him by pretending to be trains chugging up a hill. He shouts “chugga chugga!” and we all reply “CHOO CHOO!”. We ended up lunching on a random bench on our way up the hill, but there are far better lunch spots if you can make it up to the creek crossings at the top.
When the trail splits and one side heads up to Mt Ellinor, the Big Creek Upper Loop trail narrows and winds through a dense mossy forest, crossing over rushing creeks and tumbled boulders. Ferns press into the path, and everything feels fresh and alive. Newer benches perch above the creeks, but you can see the remainders of old rotting seats in the forest.
A couple of gentlemen at the top warned us of a bridge troll a few crossings down, and we made sure to check each bridge we trip trapped over. T informed us that he was going to throw rocks at the troll when we found it. I thought maybe they were pulling our leg when I turned around after crossing a bridge to take a photo and saw it: a menacing troll laying in wait for its next victim:
“An interesting spot for a bridge troll to call home,” I thought. Then I saw it, the true monster was hiding further down, beside the bridge.
T did his troll hunting duty and pelted the one in the tree with a few rocks while I was feeding the baby. Satisfied he had done his job, we continued on. At this point, our tracking devices said we should be almost finished but according to the trail map, we still had a ways to go until returning to the campground.
In the last few weeks, I’ve learned that Si has a limit to his hiking tolerance. It doesn’t matter how often we take him out of the carrier or if he has a full belly, he is over it after about 3.5 hours. We expected this to be a 4.3 mile loop that would take us 3-4 hours, but as we passed the 4 hour mark, he got increasingly upset. So here we are, on the trail, at least a mile from the end, and Justin is trying to teach T to pee on a tree and I’m 10 yards down the trail with a screaming baby. People are passing us and all I can think about is what a naive and inept mother I look like, dragging my obviously unhappy baby out into the woods. I took him out of the carrier, took a deep breath, and we took turns carrying him for awhile. But T was getting tired too, and Justin ended up with T on his shoulders, flailing around, and an angry infant in his arms, squirming to be free. And that’s when I realized that this just was not fun at all. I was not having fun. No one else looked like they were having fun. I told Justin that I didn’t want to do this anymore. I felt guilty about the baby and my impatience with T doing natural toddler things.
The thing is, every hike can’t be the best hike ever. There are going to be some duds, some outings where you aren’t feeling it, or nothing seems to be going right. Nothing specific went wrong here, it just felt like a slog. Like I was forcing us out in the forest on some pretense of it being something we’re supposed to do.
We finally came within range of the campground and decided to take the campground loop back to the truck, inadvertently adding a bit of extra distance on to our walk. By this point, the gps had us around 6 miles, so I doubt it made the difference in mileage on its own. It should be noted that Si was still fussing and crying, his angry little voice echoing through the empty campsites. When we got back to the truck, we hastily packed everyone up and headed home.
The final tally for miles was 6.3 with 1200 feet of elevation gain (350 more than quoted online). The trail itself is in great condition and the many bridges are equipped with handrails. Most kids would be comfortable on this trail, but you’ll want to keep an eye on littles near the creeks and on the bridges with just one handrail.
I’ve decided on a much shorter stroll through a state park for our next hike. Seems like we will have to stay under 3 miles on most hikes, until T can speed up or the baby can tolerate more time on the trail.
WTA Trail Guide: Big Creek