The Best Kid-Friendly Hikes in the US
I know I sound like a broken record when I say it, but birthing or adopting a child does not doom you to a life of such thrilling “leisure-time activities” as reading mommy blogs and making chicken nuggets from scratch. It’s fall, it’s beautiful out, and adventure awaits you. So get outside and see the world — and bring those small fries with you (the kids, not the chicken nuggets, although sure, bring both).
And you don’t have to make an epic family plan to scale the Himalayas, either, because some of the most gorgeous mountains — and woods, waterfalls, lakes, you name it — are right here in the States. (In fact, the general awesomeness of the U.S. National Parks and landscape may be one of the only things Americans agree upon these days, so let’s cling to it with all our might.)
We’ve done the travel planning for you and rounded up some of the best child-friendly hikes in the United States — from the obvious icons to the unexpected spots you've maybe never heard of. Because which do you think your kid will remember in 10 years: the rando toy you got her for her birthday or the time you two trekked up a mountain?
Grizzlies and geysers and bison, oh, my! There’s no denying that Yellowstone National Park is the ultimate hiking/camping/marveling-at-nature destination, no matter your age. Kids will get a kick out of Old Faithful as well as Midway Geyser Basin, the world’s largest hot spring — not to mention the boiling mud pots that are a mud pie-maker’s dream. Favorite hikes among the park’s 900 miles of trail include an easy 1.1 miles on Trout Lake Loop or a more ambitious Lone Star Geyser Trail (4.8 miles).
The Huffaker Hills Trail on the outskirts of Reno is a totally achievable 1.8 miles long. In addition to knockout lake and mountain views, Huffaker Hills includes information stops along the way where inquisitive kids can learn about the area’s history.
Nearby Hunter Creek Trail is somewhat tougher, so maybe save it for the kid who’s already broken in her hiking boots a bit. This more hefty hike is 5.8 miles and includes a creek and waterfall. Bonus: Although this trail doesn’t allow mountain bikes, it does allow dogs and horses, so feel free to bring Fido and — I dunno. What do people who own horses name them? I don’t know those people.
Oregon’s Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the U.S. — 1,949 feet, folks — is also the clearest. That makes Crater Lake National Park one hell of a backdrop for the family holiday-card photo. The lake was formed when the Mt. Mazama volcano erupted some hundred-odd-thousand years ago, so you can let the kiddos know they’re treading on a volcano — provided that won’t completely freak them out. Some easy and lovely trails around the lake include Plaikni Falls, Godfrey Glen Trail, Cleetwood Cove Trail, and Pinnacles Valley Trail.
At 729 feet, Amicalola Falls is the tallest cascading waterfall in the Southeast, and you can choose whether to view this natural aqua-drama from a stroller-safe pathway or a more challenging trail. Kids who tackle the latter get to join the park’s Canyon Climbers Club, which sounds pretty exclusive. Another nearby option in the Peach State is Anna Ruby Falls in Unicoi State Park: a pair of twin waterfalls just hanging out together in the North Georgia forest, accessible by easy trails.
Lover’s Lane Loop trail in Washington state's Olympic National Park follows the Sol Duc River upstream. The hike is 5.5 miles, so it may be a tad long for little kids who need to dash back for naptime, but if they can hack it, it'll be well worth their while. You'll definitely see (and smell) some cool spruce and Douglas fir trees, and you may even encounter elk ambling around the streams fed from Sol Duc Falls.
Don’t even get me started on my not-so-secret love of the Catskills. If you’re lucky enough to visit the home of the Hudson River School, head to Kelly Hollow for a perfect — read: scenic and short — kid-friendly tromp in the woods. And while you're Hudson Valley-ing (What? It's a verb now), bring the little ones to Olana, the erstwhile home of painter Frederic Church, for a dose of culture, Persian architecture and amazing mountain views.
If your New York travels take you further west, however, the 4.3-mile Rim & Gorge trail near Ithaca is a great option — and part of what makes the "Ithaca is Gorges" tag line ring so true.
No list of U.S. hikes would be complete without our offshore sister: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park’s Kilauea Iki Crater Loop is only 3.3 miles, and boy is it a weird and wonderful place. You've got tropical rainforest, a once-molten lava field and steam vents from a real-live volcano — it's basically nine national parks in one.
If you’re looking for a less rugged family hike (you know, free from cliffs and grizzlies), you can’t beat the Lake Geneva Shore Path, a 26-mile walking trail that winds entirely around Lake Geneva’s shoreline, dipping in and out of the forest and grazing past some epic historic estates. The terrain switches through gravel, wood, stepping stones and the like, so kids will manage fine with regular old sneakers. That said, it is 26 miles, so plan to walk a segment — or hop on and off — accordingly.
If you stay at nearby Grand Geneva, you'll have easy access to White River Nature Trail, a red stone path that leads to the White River, which empties out into Lake Geneva. It's about a mile long, as is the nearby Mountain Top Trail; both are favorite hang spots for turkeys, deer, beavers, groundhogs, turtles, and cranes.