8 great family hiking trails
Monday, August 17, 2020
Taking the kids on a hike — particularly now during the relentless COVID-19 pandemic — can be great fun. Or it can be a stroll from hell. To make sure it is a journey of discovery enjoyed by one and all, you’ve got to pick the right trail.
Before tying up the booties and heading out, you’ll need to consider the ages of your kids and their level of hiking experience. It’s important not to get too aggressive with either elevation or distance.
If the hike is too long, too steep or difficult, or if it presents undue exposure to the elements, it can spoil your family’s fun. We’ve uncovered eight trails around the country that represent some of the best family hikes in America. Hopefully, there’s one near you.
Hoh River Trail, Washington
This trail, striking out through a mostly level section of Olympic National Park, is a long one at 17.4 miles. But it’s a great trail to introduce the kids to an all-day outing — and you always have the option of going as far as you want and turning around. The trail winds through temperate rainforest, subalpine meadows and basins and montane forest ecosystems from the trailhead all the way to Glacier Meadows — where there’s a great view of Mount Olympus
Kule Loklo Trail, California
Youngsters of reading age and up will benefit from both recreation and some educational exercise as well when they hike this short 1.2-mile loop that leads back to a time when native Coast Miwok people thrived along what is now Point Reyes National Seashore.
All along the trail, originating just a short walk from the visitor center, there are interpretive signs describing the culture and lifestyle of the peace-loving Coast Miwok — Native Americans who called this area home more than 200 years ago. At the end of Kule Loklo (“Bear Valley”) Trail, visitors will find a replica of a Coast Miwok village.
Lower Yosemite Fall Trail, California
The easiest and most kid-friendly hike within Yosemite National Park covers a nearly level mile leading to the base of Lower Yosemite Fall. The view is simply stunning — especially during the spring and early summer when the water is at its peak. The fall spans 320 feet and it is part of Yosemite Falls, the nation’s highest waterfall, measuring a towering 2,425 feet in its entirety.
Santa Elena Canyon Trail, Texas
Picturesque Santa Elena Canyon Trail offers one of the few easy-to-moderate hikes in remote and rugged Big Bend National Park. The 1.7-mile round-trip hike follows the Rio Grande River into the colorful steep-walled canyon. Youngsters have a great time spotting roadrunners, coyotes and javelinas. Avoid, or be well-prepared for, scorching temperatures in the summer. Rafting trips, available through local outfitters, offer another way to experience Santa Elena Canyon.
Laurel Falls at Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Image: Mike Baker/National Park Service)
Laurel Falls Trail, Tennessee
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the nation’s most visited national park, having recorded 12.5 million visitors in 2019, and Laurel Falls Trail is the park’s most popular hiking trail.
There are good reasons for that popularity. First, the 2.6-mile trail is relatively easy, making it accessible to all but the youngest of children. Although it is rough and bumpy in places, the trail is completely paved and the elevation gain as it ascends Cove Mountain is a moderate 314 feet. The big reason folks love the trail, however, is the prize at the end of it — rushing Laurel Falls — a sparkling 80-foot waterfall with an upper and lower section bisected by a walkway passing over Laurel Branch stream.
Au Sable Light Station Trail, Michigan
One of a number of hiking trails crisscrossing Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore near Grand Marais on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the 3.1-mile trail leading to the Au Sable Light Station offers a vigorous workout for the entire family and an eyeful of gorgeous scenery.
The 2-mile stretch between Hurricane River Campground and Au Sable light is described in one hiking guide as “one of the most beautiful spots in the Upper Peninsula, with a waterfall, shipwrecks and a cool lighthouse.”
Ocean Path Trail, Maine
This one is, hands down, our favorite hiking trail on the entire East Coast. The Ocean Path is a 3.9-mile round-tripper in Acadia National Park that combines wave-lapped rocks, a fringe of forest, wildflowers and sandy cove beaches. It ignites a love of nature in everyone who walks it. Even the drive along the magnificent Maine coast to get there is spectacular.
Bear Mountain Loop Trail, New York
Here’s a hiking venue located just 90 minutes up the Hudson River Valley from New York City that is both kid- and dog-friendly — but still challenging enough to wear out the entire gang. Technically, the 3.7-mile-long loop is rated moderate and it offers some fun rock scrambling for the kids along with some amazing panoramic views over the Hudson River.
The Bear Mountain Loop actually joins the famous Appalachian Trail atop Bear Mountain as it finishes up at the Perkins Memorial Tower. It’s the consensus among hikers to do the trail counterclockwise to make the rocky sections and steep staircases easier to maneuver. They also say the scenery is at its magnificent best during peak fall foliage.
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