The Pacific Northwest is an outdoor paradise and one of the best ways to experience its hidden gems is through a hike. Perhaps you scaled the Cascade or Olympic crests way back before children and now you long to share those experiences with your little protégé. It might be awhile before junior can summit Rainier, but here are a few suggestions to help whet his or her pint-sized appetite for experiencing nature firsthand.
First of all, adjust your expectations. Pushing for an overly challenging hike may discourage your child and end up turning her off to future attempts. Children generally don’t care about the end viewpoint, either, so don’t expect it to be very motivational during a big climb. Kids love water features like babbling brooks, waterfalls and lakes. Though parents should always exercise caution near water, skip a few rocks or take some time to watch the water rush over a ledge (a great place for snack or lunch breaks).
Remember that kids are small and tend to notice little things around them—flowers, critters, fungi, sticks—and they are known to meander, so don’t forget your patience. Play games on the trail like a scavenger hunt for textures, colors and shapes. Let hiking with your child be about the child discovering a love for the experience.
Grove of the Patriarchs
(Part of the Ohanapecosh Hot Springs Trail, Mt. Rainier)
Round Trip: 1.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 50 feet
This gentle hike is good even for wee ones and includes an exciting crossing over a suspension bridge. Parents and kids alike will feel dwarfed by the massive 1,000-year-old Douglas fir trees, cedars and hemlocks standing at attention on an island in the Ohanapecosh River. Some are nearly 40 feet in diameter and over 300 feet tall.
To get there: Follow directions to the Ohanapecosh Visitors’ Center, turning left just past it onto Stevens Canyon Road. Parking is available on the right.
Lake Wenatchee via Highway 2
Round trip: 1 mile
Elevation gain: 250 feet
Who doesn’t like the sound of a hidden lake? This trail has the perfect trio of attributes for children—easy, short and wide enough to walk side by side with parents. Because it is located east of the Cascades, expect fragrant ponderosa pines instead of dark fir trees. Have kids keep their eyes out for two “cave trees” —old cedars burned out by lightning at the bases. Large, flat boulders line the lake and are perfect for a picnic. If your child is a water baby (you know, heads straight for the nearest body of water and promptly soaks all of his clothes), prepare ahead with some swimwear, especially on hot days.
To get there: Drive east on Highway 2 to the junction at State Route 207 (Lake Wenatchee Highway), turning north. Follow signs to Lake Wenatchee State Park, turning left on Cedar Brae Road. Just before the park entrance, turn left and go west for 3.1 miles where the paved road ends. Continue onto the dirt road for one mile, parking on the left. >>>
Snoqualmie Pass via I-90
Round Trip: 2 miles
Elevation Gain: 400 feet
A straight shot east from Bellevue on I-90, this trail starts just outside of the Denny Creek Campground. With a barely noticeable incline, the path follows the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River to the waterfall. Very small children will probably need a hand navigating a few roots, rocks and stairs, but it is generally a very manageable trail with fencing to keep kids from going over a ledge with the exception of a small scramble at the end where they will definitely need a bit of supervision. The 70-foot waterfall thunders down during its peak flow from April through July and gives off enough spray that it always feels cool nearby (and wet—rain gear would not be amiss). During the drier months, the reduction in flow allows hikers to explore around the base area a bit more.
To get there: Follow I-90 east to exit 47 toward Denny Creek Campground, turning left just after the campground for the trailhead. Note: Toilet facilities are located at the campground.
North Cascades Highway
Round trip: 3.8 miles
Elevation gain: 650 feet
For families with elementary-school-aged children, the Thunder Knob trail offers a stunning viewpoint payoff for only a little bit of uphill work. It starts with a series of bridge crossings over Colonial Creek. The ascent begins in a mossy forest, which transitions to dry lodgepine poles at the top. Take in the beautiful turquoise Diablo Lake below (bluer in the spring, greener in the summer)—a reservoir formed by the Diablo Dam seen in the distance.
To get there: Take Highway 20 east past Newhalem, cross George Lake and follow shoreline of Diablo Lake until you reach Colonial Creek campground (past milepost 130). Turn left and park at trailhead to the right of the campground entrance.
What to Bring
Sweater, rain jacket, extra socks, hat
- First-aid kit
(REI Day Hiker First-Aid Kit, $13.50)
- Extra Band-Aids (and lots of ‘em)
This could be the difference between a meltdown and a miraculous recovery (and crucial to your mental health).
Consider a spray version as kids don’t like their booboos to be touched.
- Bug spray and sunscreen
- Energy bars
Look for bars that aren’t too chewy and have less added sugar.
- Honey Stinger Organic Chews
Tapioca/honey-based chews (note: Cherry Cola and Limeade flavors contain caffeine, so choose alternative flavors for children)
- Trail mix
Choose a berry-based mix and beware
of nut allergies. Better yet, make your own mix to customize it to your little one’s tastes and needs.•
- Beef jerky (for older kids)
- Applesauce tubes
Kelty Junction 2.0 (rei.com, $189.95)
• Recommended for children 6 months, or 40 pounds.
• Lightweight (4 lbs. 13 oz.)
• Adjustable torso length
• Fits waists/hips 30-50 inches
• Sunshield sold separately
Osprey Poco AG Plus Child Carrier (rei.com, $289.95)
• Lifetime guarantee
• Midweight (7 lbs. 11 oz.)
• Adjustable torso length
• Fits waist/hips 24-50 inches
• Sunshade included
• AG (anti-gravity) suspended mesh back panel lets back breathe
• Wide base with locking foot bar
• Soft fleece-lined harness and “drool” pad
CamelBak Scout Hydration Pack (rei.com, $60)
• For kids ages 5 to 10
• 50 fluid ounces
• Closed-cell insulation to keep liquid cool
• Wicking mesh back panel
• Zipper compartment to stash extra gear like rain jacket, hat and snacks
Black Diamond Wiz Headlamp (rei.com, $19.95)
• 30 lumens max for eye protection
• Three modes: max, dimmed and strobe
• Water resistant
• Two-hour automatic shutoff to preserve accidental battery drain
SPOT Trace GPS Tracker (rei.com, $99.95)
• Yearly subscription covers basic service ($99.99) tracking up to every five minutes
SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS Messenger (rei.com, $149.95)
• Yearly subscription covers basic service and tracking ($149.99)
• Motion-activated and continuous tracking modes
• SOS button sends messages to emergency responders
• Sends custom messages