Samantha Erkkila column: Hiking with a toddler a good reminder to slow down

When hiking with a toddler you don’t decide how fast you walk, she does.

With a stick in hand, two-year-old Maya Erkkila walks along a trail in the Cloquet Forestry Center recently. (Samantha Erkkila /

I’ve never been a particularly fast hiker. I like to take my time, look around, take photos and just enjoy the beauty around me. But there are times when I want to rush to the top of Ely’s Peak or Oberg Mountain to see the panorama view.

When hiking with a toddler you don’t have a choice. They decide how fast, or slow, you go. And I’ve never hiked as slow as I did during the last weekend in June when I decided to take my 2-year-old daughter out on her first hike. Well, her first hike not being in a carrier on my back.

We don’t live too far from Jay Cooke State Park in Carlton, but a Minnesota state park on a Saturday in the summer? No, thanks. I’ll avoid the crowds, especially during a pandemic. Pine Valley, the park with the ski jump, is another great hiking option in the Cloquet area, but it’s a bit hilly for a toddler on her maiden voyage. So I settled on the University of Minnesota Cloquet Forestry Center in the Fond du Lac Reservation. The center has a short system of trails and I figured 1.5 miles would be a great starting point.

So we lathered on the sunscreen, followed by a generous layer of bug spray, grabbed a water bottle and we were off following the green trail markers.

We were joined by a friend, one my daughter wouldn’t remember seeing when she was only a few months old, so she was shy and wanted to be carried initially. OK, fine but I wasn’t about to carry her the entire way. Thankfully, a dead June bug caught her eye and she went into full on insect inspector mode.


Maya Erkkila looks for bees in a red columbine flower at the Cloquet Forestry Center. (Samantha Erkkila /

A variety of butterflies fluttered along the ferns and other plants (I need to work on my plant identification). We looked for bees inside each red columbine flower we came across (I had to look this up because I originally thought it was honeysuckle). Which led to an agate find.

Then came more carrying. Not because she was shy, but because the grass was a bit long and dry and scratchy on her little legs. Once we were through that it was time for some trail maintenance among the tall pines. How dare those pine cones and sticks be on the trail. Better throw them back into the woods.

The forestry center also has a one-mile and two-mile loop that merge with the middle-length trail we walked. Across the road is a 2.4-mile loop with some old-growth red pine, according to the map. The center’s website says the trails are groomed for cross country skiing in the winter.

As we neared the end of our hike, it looked like the heat was getting to the little one. So we grabbed some cheese sticks and applesauce from the cooler in the truck for a post-hike snack. Like any parent of a toddler has learned, never forget the snacks.

Samantha Erkkila is a former digital content producer for the Duluth News Tribune.
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