In the summer of 2013, Portlander Shanti Hodges wanted to go hiking with her newborn son—but she had a lot of concerns. She worried her son might be smothered in a carrier. She worried he would develop Shaken Baby Syndrome from the bumpy trails. And she worried she wouldn’t be able to find other families to hike with.
To address the last problem, she created a newsletter for a local group of new parents, listing the hikes that she hoped to do that week. “People started texting me and calling me, saying, ‘Are you hiking Tuesday? Are you hiking Wednesday?’” Hodges recalls. “It got bigger and bigger, and within a year, 1,000 families were hiking with us in Portland.” Hike it Baby was born.
These days, Hike it Baby is an international nonprofit with chapters in 330 cities, including Tokyo, Calgary, and Melbourne. For a nominal annual fee, the polished website connects new parents to a local Hike it Baby Facebook group, which in turn links them to trained branch ambassadors and other outdoorsy families. “For a lot of people, it’s become their entire support network,” Hodges says. “People often refer to us as being their church.”
Why pay $10 to join a Hike it Baby group, rather than venturing out on your own? For one, the other parents can assuage any fears of smothered or shaken babies. More importantly, Hike it Baby can suggest safe trails for children five and younger. “If you look up McCord on a general trails website, it says ‘family-friendly,’” Hodges explains. “You get there, and it’s all switchbacks and a giant waterfall. It’s not family-friendly if you have a 1-year-old.” That’s where Hike it Baby comes in. “For example, nobody knows about Sams Walker,” Hodges continues, “because it’s not interesting to a hiker who wants to be climbing up a mountain. [But] it’s really great for a family with a couple of kids.”
Although Hike it Baby staunchly bills itself as an “all-family” organization, the group recently received a $25,000 grant from REI for its new Trails for All: 10,000 Women Project. The program aims to inspire 10,000 women to hike a trail each month for a year. “Doctors used to really discourage women from doing things right away with the baby,” Hodges says. “We’re totally bashing that myth. You may not want to tell someone to climb a mountain after they have a baby, but just walking Lower Macleay is excellent, and will actually help heal your body.”