by Jeff Aguilar
Hiking is usually not a favorite outdoor activity of children, but that does not mean that you can’t find hiking trails in the USA that won’t be fun and memorable for the whole family. Nearly every park and region of the US has an assortment of trails that are suitable for even young walkers (or parents carrying young ones in a backpack until they are old enough to walk on their own).
Three ingredients make a hike “family-friendly”. It should be of a reasonable length (generally less than 5 miles maximum round-trip), reasonable elevation change (less than 1000 feet), and feature enough items of interest along the way (natural features like lakes, waterfalls, wildlife, etc), to break the feeling of monotony that comes with hiking. The following are the Top 10 best hikes that I’ve found for enjoying family fun on the trails.
Most of these trails would classify as easy, to very easy, so I might soon make yet another list for slightly more challenging family hikes.
10. Navajo Loop Trail, Bryce Canyon
The trails from the Bryce Canyon rim are short but steep. Chances are your kiddos will be winded from the ascent, but the hoodoos will keep them interested anyway. Vibrant colors and unique rock formations will surely help to avoid boredom.
9. Alum Cave Bluff, Great Smoky Mountains
At 2 miles uphill this hike is really borderline family-friendly. But if you can get a parking spot (arrive very early in peak season) this hike is a lot of fun. You’ll cross rivers, climb through caves, feel the sprinkle of waterfalls, and clouds will part to reveal sweeping vistas only to close again in seconds. Fall colors are particularly beautiful.
8. Notch Trail, Badlands National Park
Kids love to climb and explore and the Badlands is a great place for them to do so. Along the way there is a log ladder and more. The Badlands can get plenty hot in the summer so be sure to bring plenty of water and find cool, shaded spots to rest along the way.
7. Freedom Trail, Boston, MA
Rather than a wilderness trail, this is a 5-mile urban pathway that links historic sites in Boston. You’ll really want at least two days to cover all of the sites (Old North Church, USS Constitution, etc). There is so much and see and do along the way that no one will complain of being bored.
6. Everglades Boardwalks
The Everglades boardwalks (and accompanying trails) are flat, relaxed and full of wildlife. Kids will be too awed by the sight of a resting alligator to care that they are hiking.
5. Hoh Rainforest Loop Trail
At only a flat 1-mile in length, the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park is great for every age. In such a unique environment every tree and plan is fascinating. Moss drips from the trees, toadstools cling to the tree trunks, and even giant clover will leave the kiddos in awe.
4. Crystal Forest Trail, Petrified Forest
The trails are short loops in Petrified forest National Park. While the summer temperatures might be extreme, kids will be too amazed by the petrified trees to care. When trees over 200 million years old still look like trees of today with bark included, you just can’t not be amazed.
3. Medano Creek and Sand Dunes, Great Sand Dunes NP
There are no real trails in Great Sand Dunes NP that lead into the dunes. If there were they’d disappear in a day. But you are free to traverse the dunes any way you like and slide or tumble down as you choose. In early summer a natural creek forms at the edge of the dunes that is endless fun for kids. Just be careful on cloudless summer days as the sun can turn the sand into burning embers of pain for bare feet (not a problem in the creek).
2. Yellowstone Geyser Basin Boardwalks
There are dozens of boardwalk trails throughout Yellowstone featuring geysers, hot springs, mud volcanoes, and the occasional lazy bison. Kids won’t care how much they walk as they’ll be too captivated by the possibility of a geyser erupting or the color of a hot spring or the smell of the mud volcano to care.
1. Big Trees Trail, Sequoia NP
Picking a number one is difficult and I could have chosen any in this list, but I’ll give the nod to the Big Trees Trail in Sequoia NP. At less than a mile in length on flat ground it’s a piece of cake for all ages. The biggest reason are the trees themselves that make everyone feel small and as if they entered a completely unique world.