Hitting the hiking trail this summer is a wonderful way to get outside, into nature and enjoy some quality time as a family. However, finding the best hike, especially for younger children can be tricky. There is an abundance of things that you will have to look out for, such as ensuring that the trail is safe yet not too strenuous, while at the same time keeping your little ones interested! The good news is that whatever part of the United States you may find yourself in, there is guaranteed to be a family-friendly hiking trail nearby!
Sourdough Ridge Trail: Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Remarkable views of Washington’s infamous snowcapped mountains, including Mount Rainier, make the Sourdough Ridge Trail an unforgettable adventure that the whole family is sure to enjoy. The trail boasts a one-mile loop with only a very gentle elevation gain and passes through quaint meadows that are filled with flowers. This trail is a unique way to introduce your children to the unmatched beauty of the high country. Unleash their inner mountain climber as your family climbs to the ridgetop for unforgettable panoramic views. Be sure to check out the weather before making plans as snow closes this area for much of the year. Try and plan your visit in the summer or early fall as the road to the trail may not even open until at least July.
Trails Along Redwood Creek: Muir Woods National Monument, California
This vast forest of coastal redwoods in this park just north of San Francisco boast trees that top upwards of 250 feet in height with many being at least 14 feet across at the base and the average age of the redwoods is 600 to 800 years old! Expect to see your children walking around with upturned faces and wide-open eyes. The easy trails are paved and run alongside Redwood Creek, which can also be crossed via bridges and make super convenient loop hikes of a half mile to two miles in total length.
Giant Logs Trail: Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
One of the best short hikes for children is the Giant Logs Trail, a 0.4-mile loop that starts at the Rainbow Forest Museum, the park’s southern visitor center. The trail leads to the largest petrified log in the park called, Old Faithful, and is 170 feet long and over 9 feet across at its base. Here, kids can see (and feel) these incredibly ancient tree trunks, while interpretive panels along the way explain the science behind the petrified logs. And for the ancient reptile lovers of the family, the Rainbow Forest Museum includes an awesome exhibit on dinosaurs!
Base Loop Trail: Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming
Devils Tower became America’s first national monument in 1906 and rises 867 feet above its rock rubble base into distinctive multi-sided columns. Be sure to walk the 1.3-mile loop trail around the towers base to take in all angles of this remarkable structure. Your family will most certainly appreciate viewing how the tower’s shape varies from different viewpoints while also getting to watch the numerous rock climbers who regularly scale its height.
Presidential Trail: Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota
There is not a soul out there who can fail to be impressed by very first sight of South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore via the Avenue of Flags. In order to get a closer look, be sure to take advantage of hiking the half-mile Presidential Trail, which approaches the base of the mountain and passes by the studio where the mountain’s sculptor Gutzon Borglum worked. There is even the option of renting audio wands for a narrated tour of the park as well, which is a wonderful way for your kids to learn tons of interesting details about the monuments history as well as its creation!
Frozen Niagara Tour: Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
While many cave tours are a bit too long and require climbing a lot of stairs while also having to squeeze through tight quarters, the Frozen Niagara Tour only about a quarter-mile round-trip, and is easy enough for kids, while also offering some spectacular cave scenery such as Rainbow Dome, Crystal Lake, the Frozen Niagara flowstone, and the Drapery Room.
Carriage Roads: Acadia National Park, Maine
Visitors to this park on the Maine coastline can take in over 50 miles of broad, smooth gravel paths (called carriage roads) that are approximately 16 feet wide and are open to walkers, horseback riders, and even bicyclists, but not motorized vehicles. The maneuverable paths wind through the park on the east side of Mount Desert Island and pass through developed areas as well as more remote spots. The carriage roads are perfect for families and are even easy to use with strollers, as the paths were specifically designed to be not too steep or sharply curved for horse-drawn carriages. Bikes can even be rented in the nearby town of Bar Harbor, which makes it gloriously possible to enjoy leisurely outings throughout the wooded landscape of the Mount Desert Island, while also stopping to take in the 17 remarkable stone bridges that are scattered along the various routes with each bridge designed for its particular setting.
Thurston Lava Tube: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
Families who visit the Big Island of Hawaii can take advantage of touring the incredible, lush landscape of this fascinating park. Be sure to check the conditions prior to planning a trip as this is one of the most volcanically active places on the planet. In fact, some parts of the park have been closed since a new vent opened in Kilauea’s Halemaumau Crater in March of 2008. Not to be alarmed, however, the vast majority of the time the park can be visited with absolute safety. Older kids will love exploring the Thurston Lava Tube that is located just off Crater Rim Drive, which was formed when molten lava flowed out of an underground tunnel, and left it completely empty. The lava tube is approximately 450 feet long and is lit by electric lights to reduce claustrophobia and path throughout it is completely paved.
And of course, no family hike is complete without some equipment. Here are the top rated must-haves for parents: