Twin Falls. Photo credit Kathryn Mueller
The skies are gray. The days are short. But adventures abound year-round in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, winter is the perfect time for families to bundle up, go outside and take a hike.
Important note: Hiking in the winter can come with some hazards. Check trail reports before you venture out and always pack the 10 essentials in your pack. Washington Trails Association offers ample resources for hikers at every level.
Just a stone’s throw from Seattle — and a bridge or two away — the Eastside offers great hikes for all ages and skill levels. Whether you are looking for meandering trails through towering old-growth trees, babbling brooks and rushing waterfalls, or sprawling meadows and wetlands, the easy trails featured on this list are guaranteed to ignite your wanderlust. Each is low in elevation gain and miles, but none are short on fun. All it takes is the right gear and a can-do attitude to get the kids out to explore these places.
Evans Creek Preserve
Located in Redmond, Evans Creek Preserve is a wonderful place for toddlers because the routes are tame and the views are beautiful. The 213-acre park is vast, both in size and habitats to explore. With miles of walkable trails, hikers can weave their way through meadows, trudge across the boardwalks and bridges over wetlands, and hike up wooded hillsides. One of my favorite things about the park is the wayfinding signs posted throughout the preserve, reminiscent of a treasure map. They help hikers choose viewpoints and looping trails that are just the right distance, while unlocking imaginative play for kids.
Visitors can either embark on an adventure that starts with switchbacks descending through thick forests and ferns, or begin with a more mellow grade through winding meadow trails, depending on where they park.
Don’t let the signs posted at the trailheads scare you off. The preserve is teeming with wildlife, including black bears. It’s always good to have a plan and know what to do in the event you encounter a wild animal.
Details: 4.2-mile loop with 325-foot elevation gain. Restrooms at the trailhead.
Getting there: The upper parking area is located off Sahalee Way. The lower lot is located on 224th Avenue N.E. and is best for lower-elevation wanderers.
Redmond Watershed Preserve
The Redmond Watershed Preserve offers well-maintained, multiuse trails great for all ages. The 4.5 miles of looping trails are perfect for families with small children. To see as much of the preserve’s second-growth forest as possible, begin the loop at the parking lot trailhead. The elevation gain is minimal, with a gentle grade along the winding trails.
Details: 4.5-mile hike with 400-foot elevation gain. Restrooms with running water at the trailhead.
Getting there: The parking lot is located off Novelty Hill Road. Look for the sign across from 218th Avenue N.E.
Coal Creek Trail
Let your child’s imagination take flight while exploring this unique trail. Coal Creek Trail is home to historical artifacts that will bring to life the railroad and coal mining activities that once took place along the route. Make the trip memorable by bringing a headlamp, so that the kids can pretend to be coal miners from the past.
Hikers can break up the daunting 6-mile hike into smaller, more manageable pieces, which makes this a favorite for families with little ones in tow. The trail is steady, with minimal elevation gain. The popular out-and-back hike takes visitors through lush forests and foliage, and the creek’s rushing water makes for calming company along the trail. Some of the most beautiful vantage points on the hike are at the waterfalls and wooden bridges.
Details: 6-mile hike with 500-foot elevation gain. Restrooms at the trailhead.
Getting there: The trail can be accessed from the east at the Red Town trailhead parking lot or from the west at the Coal Creek Parkway parking lot. A map is recommended when navigating the intricate trails. For a quick jaunt to North Fork Falls, start at the Cinder Mine trailhead.
Soaring Eagle Regional Park
Known by trail runners as a place to earn some miles, this sprawling preserve is crisscrossed with more than 12 miles of trails for hiking, biking and wandering. It’s home to towering trees, wetlands and wildlife, and is considered a scenic destination for families looking to stretch their legs and meander along wide trails or walk through dense forests. Bring strollers or other wheels and head out along the Pipeline Trail in search of black-tailed deer and more than 40 species of birds; some even stick around for the winter.
Details: 12 miles of trails. No restrooms available.
Getting there: There are many entry points, so plan ahead. If you use Google Maps, you’ll be guided to the main entrance on East Main Drive in Sammamish. There is plenty of parking.
Bellevue Botanical Garden
The Bellevue Botanical Garden is one of my favorite places to go with my kids, even when its flowers aren’t in bloom. It is open year-round, and the grounds in the wintertime are perfect for little ones looking for a short hike with lots of adventure. The garden’s main attraction — the Ravine Experience — is a 150-foot suspension bridge that stretches over a ravine, hence the name. If your kids like bridges, put this destination on your list.
The Ravine Experience and Bird Loop are only a quarter-mile long, but visitors can rack up some steps by weaving through the garden and exploring other areas of interest, such as the Rock Garden or the Yao Garden. But even without the added mileage, taking part in the Find It Challenge or the children’s self-guided tour is enough to motivate even the most skeptical toddler when getting out of the house is a priority for the day.
Details: Restrooms are located near the entrance, adjacent to the store; dogs are not allowed.
Getting there: Near bustling downtown Bellevue, the botanical garden has a large parking lot and is located at 12001 Main St. The garden is open from dawn until dusk. Admission is free.
Grand Ridge Park
When exploring the many miles of trails in Grand Ridge Park, it’s easy to forget just how close to the city you are. With more than 1,100 acres of forest to explore and considerably more elevation gain than other hikes we’ve included, this one is best reserved for when you’ve got the time and energy to tackle it as a family. Once out on the trails, hikers will immediately be engulfed in the serenity of towering trees and lush ferns, and will most likely encounter a few mountain bikers or horses along the multiuse trails.
The out-and-back trail features a 600-foot boardwalk across the marsh and a 40-foot bridge. It is also home to a vast array of wildlife, including owls and cougars. Like many of the hikes listed here, it can be accessed from many directions. Remember that the trail is not a loop, so plan a reasonable halfway point to turn around or you’ll be carrying the kids back to the car.
Details: 12 miles of trails. Restrooms are located near Duthie Hill Park and Central Park entrances.
Getting there: When we hiked Grand Ridge Park, we accessed the trails by parking at Duthie Hill Park, but the park can also be accessed from the East Fork trailhead.
This hike is the farthest east, but still only about an hour away from Seattle. Just east of North Bend, Twin Falls is a great hike for families with small kids. The trail is only 2.6 miles, and the views are stupendous. We love hikes with payoffs, and this one has just that — a large, rushing waterfall that will enthrall your kiddos.
Follow the trail along the riverbank and gradually gain elevation by following a series of switchbacks to get views of the falls. You can stop at a number of viewpoints along the way; don’t worry if you don’t complete the trail. Once you get to the falls, you can take the steps down to the lower falls (watch your footing) or keep ascending to the wooden bridge suspended just above the falls. As you may have guessed by the name, there are multiple waterfalls to enjoy.
My kids love taking a break for food at the bridge, and throwing rocks into the river is a must when we trek on this trail. Dress accordingly, though; you will need sturdy shoes (the wood on the bridge and stairs is slippery) and layers for cold days.
Details: There are restrooms at the trailhead. A Discovery Pass is required.
Getting there: Take Interstate 90 toward North Bend to exit 34. Take 468th Avenue Southeast to 159th Street and look for signs for Twin Falls Trail. The parking lot fills up quickly, so arrive early.
More hikes to explore