Summer weather has arrived with a vengeance in the Northwest! If you’re anything like me, you are always looking for ways to keep the kids occupied, and also trying to find ways to stay cool on warm afternoons. I’ve picked out several of my family’s favorite hikes that involve water or shady green trails. Washington State Parks offer a variety of experiences to keep young minds stimulated, and the Forest Service trails provide a more rustic outing. For the six State Parks featured in this article you’ll need to obtain a Discover Pass for parking; I’ve noted for the remainder if you’ll need a NW Forest Pass. (Find free state park days here.)
When planning a hike, remember to bring snacks, water, sun hats and sunscreen, and to wear sturdy shoes. Use caution and common sense when deciding if your children will be safe in the water. Stay away from strong currents, deep areas, or white water. I like to pack swimsuits and sandals in separate plastic bags to keep everything else dry in my pack. Bring extra layers for bundling up little bodies after a dip in a lake or stream; even on hot afternoons, most Pacific Northwest lakes and streams are chilly.
Bridle Trails State Park, Kirkland
When you only have a few hours to get out of the house and are looking for a nearby destination, try Bridle Trails State Park in Kirkland. With 28 miles of trails, you’ll have plenty of room to wander. Mature forest shades the paths, which hikers share with equestrians (a thrill for horse-loving kids!). Bird life is abundant; I once participated in a study of hawks here, as they use the park for nesting and hunting. You can find information about the plants and animals, get directions, and print off a map of the park at the Bridle Trails Park Foundation website.
Photo credit: Seattle.roamer
Saint Edward State Park, Kenmore
Another park that’s close to home, Saint Edward State Park offers seven miles of trails that wander through the upper forest and down the bluff to the shores of Lake Washington, where adventurous children can dip their toes. Bird song filters down through tall firs and native shrubs. You can extend your visit by playing on the inventive wooden playground, built by members of the community. If you visit on a Thursday evening in July and August, plan to bring a picnic dinner and enjoy live music outdoors at the Kenmore Concert Series. You’ll find directions and a printable trail map at the State Parks website.
South Whidbey State Park, Whidbey Island
If you have a half a day, take the ferry from Mukilteo to the south end of Whidbey Island and explore South Whidbey State Park. Many families enjoy camping here, but there are kid-sized trails galore to explore, and a beach area for cooling off after your hike (it’s only a half-mile walk from the parking area down to the shore). Take the 0.6-mile-long Nature Discovery Trail along the bluff, cross the street, and add on the 0.8-mile-long Wilbert Trail. The latter path takes you into dense, dark forest, where kids will marvel at the huge trees that miraculously survived the logging era.
My kids were fascinated by the wild bunnies and the diversity of birds in the park. You’ll find a day-use picnic area that catches the cool westerly breezes funneling through the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Deception Pass State Park, Whidbey Island
At the northern end of Whidbey Island is another state park, at Deception Pass, which will help your kids get some exercise and cool off. You’ll have many choices of trails to hike, from the level West Beach trail to a climb 0.5 mile and 350 feet to the top of Goose Rock for a spectacular view. You’ll also find trails on the Rosario Beach/Bowman Bay side of the park, along with tidepools to explore on low-tide days. Pop into the CCC Interpretive Center to get a taste of the history of the park. Read about native history at the story pole at Rosario Beach. Explore sandy beaches, watch birds and forest and marine creatures, and swim or boat in freshwater Cranberry Lake. This is one of our favorite parks for all seasons; it can be pretty busy on sunny summer weekends, but with 38 miles of hiking there are still quiet, shady trails to be explored far from the madding crowd.
Moran State Park, Orcas Island
A trip to this gem in the State Parks system begins with a ferry ride through the beautiful San Juan Islands. After an hour, you’ll disembark on Orcas Island, home to Moran State Park. At over 5,000 acres and with 30 miles of hiking trails, you’ll be sure to find something to please both kids and adults. My kids loved the peaceful forest hike along Mountain Lake to Twin Lakes (we saw numerous raptors and other birds, plus fresh animal tracks). Adventurous hikers can continue around the circumference of Mountain Lake or even hike up to the summit of Mt. Constitution to catch a breeze. You can then cool your toes in the wading areas at Mountain Lake or Cascade Lake. Finish your trip with a drive up the narrow, winding road to the historic stone lookout tower on Mt. Constitution. On a clear day you can see for miles in all directions. With the ferry ride from Anacortes, this makes a very long day trip for children, so it’s worth finding a place to spend the night on the island. (Check out our ideas here.)
Rockport State Park
If you’re up for a bit more of a drive, consider this quiet park on Highway 20 near Rockport. Huge old-growth trees cast a deep shade, and creeks run melodically next to some of the trails. The West Loop Interpretive Trail (approximately 1.5 miles long) is hard-packed gravel and is suitable for wheelchairs or strollers. Kids will marvel at the moss and lichen, and interpretive signs will help them learn about this unique ecosystem. If you’re up for more adventure, follow the Evergreen Trail counterclockwise from the parking lot, around to the Broken Fir, and up into the wildest section of the park. This park is a treat to visit all year round, refreshing in any season. Find trail maps and directions on the Rockport State Park website.
One of my kids’ favorite wading lakes is nestled in a shady basin above the Mountain Loop Highway, east of Granite Falls. Boardman Lake is an easy one-mile walk with 200 feet of elevation gain through deep, quiet, mysterious forest. Some giant trees have fantastical branches — my children refer to them as “the claw trees.” Where the trail meets the outlet of the lake, there is a flat, shallow area perfect for wading. Campsites and a pit toilet are found across the outlet stream. We’ve seen folks fishing from the banks at times. You’ll need a NW Forest Pass to park.
Twin Lake (Cold Creek Trail)
This pretty little trail begins in second-growth timber, but soon enters older forest. It’s easy enough for young children, and after a short mile hike you’ll reach Twin Lake (the second twin filled up with grasses). The shore is gentle and the water shallow enough to allow kids to safely wade and explore while parents enjoy the scenery. The hike is not too far off I-90 at the Hyak exit, so it’s a quick drive from the city to this cool destination. For directions and more information read my entry on thehikermama.com.
These are just a sampling of the wonderful hikes in our area. Water is a surefire way to get kids excited about hitting the trail. If you’d like to check out other family-friendly hikes, pick up the popular book Best Hikes with Kids by Joan Burton. Additional online resources include the Washington Trails Association website’s section on hiking with children.