Backpacking with Baby

Hovering seventy feet above the “Going-to-the-Sun Road” and grasping onto a garden hose bolted to the rock wall, we slowly walked forward with our toddler perched on my husband’s back. We knew she wouldn’t remember her first backpacking trip in Glacier National Park, but we wanted to complete an overnight hike, and we knew it was possible with a young child. To make it simpler on ourselves, we chose a two-day hike of 15 miles total with a stay at Granite Park Chalet.

We tried to pack the bare minimum. My husband, Matt, packed 20 pound Sarah and an extra 20 pounds of gear while I packed another 20 pounds. We didn’t have to pack any bedding since we had paid for bedding at the Chalet. We limited the amount of food we packed, too, and it turned out to be just the right amount. The freeze-dried meals for dinner turned out pretty tasty even in Sarah’s opinion!

We knew one of our biggest challenges would be keeping Sarah happy in the backpack for extended hours at a time. She was used to the backpack from previous outings, yet we were unsure how fast 7.2 miles would go. The first day was great until we stopped for lunch, and Sarah was against getting back in the backpack. We dealt with a screaming child for the next two miles or so until she fell asleep. The next day we skipped lunch and hastily trekked out to Many Glacier in just over four hours.

Our second challenge was the night. Sarah is not a great sleeper, and the Chalet was built in 1916 so the walls are extremely thin. From our room above the dining room, we could hear the conversations from hikers connecting across the country. Everyone loved Sarah, and we were told she was about one of eight to ten babies that get packed up each summer to the Chalet. Thankfully, most people settled in early that night, and we were able to get Sarah to sleep by snuggling next to her in one of the two bunk beds. I’m sure everyone heard her wake up several times throughout the night since we could hear the people next door rolling over in their sleeping bags. It was particularly helpful to be able to nurse her right back to sleep.

Another challenge was the diaper situation. We were hoping we wouldn’t have to pack out Sarah’s diapers, but when we reached the chalet we discovered that pack mules took the garbage down about once a week. So, in order to be courteous to the mules and the guests, we decided to take our diapers with us.

Our final challenge was keeping an inactive toddler warm enough in frigid mountain air. We bundled Sarah in three layers, but with the wind howling down the mountainside we eventually had to stop and add her windbreaker and pants. She sure let us know she was cold by crying loudly, and we felt bad for any suffering she was enduring, but she fell asleep halfway down. At the bottom we finally started to warm up with the morning sun, and we fed Sarah snacks while standing on the trail for fear that we would not be able to get her back in the backpack again if we took her out.

Besides a very narrow descent on the edge of a cliff, the fear of taking our first-born child through bear country, and the excitement of keeping a toddler happy in a backpack, we really enjoyed our first backpacking challenge. Now with our second daughter’s arrival this past April, we are looking forward to the logistics of taking two children hiking. Maybe we’ll just wait until they can both walk and pack their own bags.

For more information on the Granite Park Chalet please visit or call (888) 345-2649.

The Granite Park Chalet is open from June 30th through September 10th.

The overnight rate is $70 First Person, $68 each additional person in the same room, plus Montana Accommodations tax. Optional linen and bedding service: $15 per person. Reservations are required.

When You Go:

Following are a few of the main trails to and from Granite Park Chalet at Glacier National Park:

Crown of the Continent Highline Trail (6646′). Trek the famed Garden Wall, along the Continental Divide to Granite Park Chalet. TRAILHEAD: West of the Logan Pass Visitor Center. LENGTH: 7.4 mile trail. DIFFICULTY: Easy to moderate difficulty.

Swiftcurrent Trail (4900′). Prepare yourself for waterfalls, wildlife, switchbacks, and stunning panoramic views of the Sherburne Valley. TRAILHEAD: West end of the Swift current Store (1 mile west of Many Glacier Hotel) parking lot. LENGTH: 8 miles. DIFFICULTY: 2285′ climb.

Fifty Mountain/Waterton Trail. Prearrange transportation at Waterton Lakes National Park and continue North on the Highline Trail to Canada. TRAILHEAD: Depart from Granite Park (6686′). LENGTH: 24.8 miles to Goat Haunt Ranger Station at the south end of Waterton Lake (11.6 miles to Fifty Mt.)

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