You’re stuck inside staring at your computer screen — or watching your children stare at one of their own screens. Enough! you say. We should be hiking! But can you manage hiking with your kids?
Author Joan Burton says yes. In her book Best Hikes with Kids: Western Washington & the Cascades, Burton lists 183 Northwest hikes suitable for families. Bellevue scoutmaster Kent Bassett has explored many of these kid-friendly trails. “The Northwest has wonderful trails, both flat and climbing, for every age level and interest,” he says. Both hikers offer tips on how to get your kids hooked on hiking.
First, choose your hikes wisely, says Bassett. “If you take the kids on a trail that’s too long, they’ll never want to come back.”
Here are a few of Bassett's favorites hikes for kids (also discussed in Best Hikes):
Located near Stevens Pass, spectacular Wallace Falls pours down 265 vertical feet. Up the Woody Trail (at 1.8 miles), hikers reach the Lower Falls lookout, with two sheltered picnic tables and a fenced area for viewing the waterfall. The Middle Falls viewpoint, with a close-up waterfall view, is only 0.2 miles farther up. Hikers concerned about Woody Trail’s steep ascents and descents can choose the longer but flatter Railroad Grade Trail.
Directions: Take U.S. Highway 2 to Gold Bar and follow the signs to Wallace Falls State Park. If the parking lot is full, continue down Ley Road to the Wallace River Bridge, and park on the shoulder on the south side of the road.
At the end of a one-mile trail that climbs only 600 feet, peaceful Mirror Lake — located in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest — is easy to reach. The clear reflection of Tinkham Peak’s jagged crags is best seen from the far side of the lake.
Directions: Take I-90 exit 62 and drive south on USFS Road 54. Turn right on Road 5480. At the five-way junction, take the second road to the right and continue for about two miles. Park and hike up the road to the trailhead. (Accessible June– October.)
A two-mile, well-marked trail with about 1,000 feet of elevation gain takes you to Talapus Lake, a beautiful little lake that reflects a mountainous skyline. If your kids can keep going, take the right fork at the lake and continue along the trail three-quarters of a mile to Lake Olallie, suitable for swimming and water play.
Directions: From Seattle: Take exit 45 from I-90, turn left and go under the freeway, and take Forest Service Road 9030 going north. At the fork, stay right and drive two miles to the parking lot. Northwest Forest Pass required.
Located just past Issaquah, Tiger Mountain boasts trails for all ages. The short, level trail around Tradition Lake is more of a walk than a hike. The 1.25-mile hike to Talus Rocks leads to a boulder formation and a fenced-off cave, and the steep 2.5-mile hike to West Tiger Vista provides a challenge for older kids, with a rewarding view at the top.
Directions: Take the High Point Way exit off I-90, just east of Issaquah. Turn right, turn right again and follow the road to the parking lot.
When you prepare for your hike, pack essentials such as water, snacks, sturdy shoes, hats, sunscreen and windbreakers in case the weather changes. Also, check to ensure that you have the right pass: a Northwest Forest Pass for Forest Service lands (including Talapus Lake and Mirror Lake), or a Discover Pass for state-managed recreational land (including Wallace Falls and Tiger Mountain). Learn more about these passes at discovernw.org or discoverpass.wa.gov.
Once you’re hiking, your kids might need some creative motivation. Burton lets kids take turns being “first leader.” Bassett quizzes kids on native plants, promising milkshakes for answers. He also lets kids try using a compass, binoculars or a digital camera. “They start searching for the next interesting thing instead of worrying about distance.” Both suggest frequent stops for treats. “Make it something special, something you only use for hiking,” Bassett advises.
Despite your best efforts, your kids may not reach your destination. Know when to turn around and go home, such as if you encounter bad weather, sore feet or blisters. And it’s OK to turn around if kids get too tired.
If you choose the right trails and make hiking fun, your family hikes will join your family’s favorite memories. So get away from that screen, get outside and get hiking!
5 kid-friendly hiking spots in the Seattle area
1. Foster Island in Seattle. Park at the Museum of History & Industry and follow this easy trail through Lake Washington wetlands.
2. St. Edwards State Park in Kenmore.* Trails extend through the woods and down to Lake Washington. Compass users will enjoy the orienteering course.
3. Bridle Trails State Park in Bellevue.* Miles of trails wind through 482 acres of forest.
4. Squak Mountain State Park in Issaquah.* Children race from sign to sign along the one-third-mile Pretzel Tree Trail reading about the adventures of Field Mouse.
5. Discovery Park in Seattle. As the largest city park in Seattle, Discovery Park offers over seven miles worth of family-friendly hiking trails, a lighthouse, protected tidal beaches and much more. Check in at the visitor center for guided nature walks offered throughout the day.
*Discover Pass required
When she’s not destroying candy for science at candyexperiments.com, Loralee Leavitt enjoys hiking with her family. Her book Candy Experiments will be published in January 2013.
This article was first published in the April, 2009 issue of ParentMap magazine.