The Best Kid-friendly Hikes in the U.S., According to Parents
From the mountains to the sea, explore these trails with your little ones this spring and summer.
Editor's Note: Those who choose to travel are strongly encouraged to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 and take personal comfort levels and health conditions into consideration before departure.
Spring has officially sprung, and that means families are planning their great escapes from the stale, mundane realities of their living rooms and into the fresh air of the wilderness where kids can roam, discover, and breathe in a new start. While planning a far-flung international trip to a national park or the mountains may not be on the travel agenda for many this year, great hikes for children can be found in every corner of the country.
Read on for seven of the best kid-friendly hikes in the U.S.
Hanging Lake, Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Every summer, my teenagers look forward to the Hanging Lake hike in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. The short but steep and rocky ascent starts from the Glenwood Canyon Bike and Pedestrian Path and ends at a glorious lake fed by waterfalls shimmering in all shades of green and blue. Last year, this beloved trail was almost engulfed by the Grizzly Creek fire, but miraculously survived completely intact. COVID-19 restrictions are still in place, and a paid permit for the hike is now required, making what is normally a congested summer route a peaceful, nearly private excursion.
Upper Gorge Trail, Robert H. Treman State Park, Ithaca, New York
Barrie Nager, mother of three, says she and her family are "passionate about hikes." An while they love hiking in Maine's Acadia National Park with a view of the Atlantic Ocean, Nager's choice for great family hikes is in Ithaca, New York. "Hands down in the East, there's nothing better than hiking in Ithaca," she says. "It's like a scene from The Lord of the Rings. You can hike through gorges and swim at the bottom of waterfalls. I love the Upper Gorge Trail because it's less traveled, the Lucifer Falls overlook is spectacular, and the trails are carved into the side of the rock."
The Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah
Best suited for older children, The Narrows at Zion National Park is a popular but advanced hike in the waters of the Virgin River, which can be prone to flash floods. Many visitors start from the Temple of Sinawava via the Riverside Walk and head upstream in the river before turning around and hiking back to the starting point. "Hiking the Narrows with my 14- and 11-year-old daughters was one of the most memorable adventures of my life," says Allison Dubois of Los Angeles. "At times, they were actually swimming with water well over their waists. Their sheer delight and laugher echoing through some of the world's most majestic canyons is a memory of a lifetime. No one cared that they got wet and no one was on their phone."
Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs, Colorado
Colorado gets a lot of love when it comes to hiking, but for families who may have a child requiring ADA accessibility, The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway is a wonderful way to experience the 14,000-foot-plus peak. Pikes Peak is one of Colorado's top tourist attractions, and this year, there's a brand-new visitor center and cog railway experience, both of which are fully ADA accessible, making it the first time in 130 years that everyone can take in the same view that inspired "America the Beautiful."
Stanbery Park, Cincinnati, Ohio
Not having easy access to wild or mountainous areas shouldn't stop you from exploring. The best hikes for small kids are those closest to home, which families can revisit over and over as their children grow older. Maggie Young-Lipschutz lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and frequents the trails in the 125-acre Stanbery Park with her six- and three-year-old children. "My husband and I call Stanbery the best-kept secret in Cincinnati. It's a beautiful place to go trail running, take a hike, and play in the creek with the kids. We have utilized this park a lot over the pandemic, even doing our part to help keep it beautiful with family trash pickup days."
Wissahickon Valley Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
When sticking close to home, Pennsylvania resident Barrie Nager heads to Wissahickon Valley Park in Philadelphia. With 57 miles of trails, this area sits in the middle of a metropolis and is full of forests, meadows, and the Wissahickon Creek. "For a city hike, there is nothing better," says Nager. "Wissahickon is an amazing resource for so many people."
Lily Marsh Trail, Ponderosa State Park, McCall, Idaho
Lily Marsh is an approximately two-and-a-half-mile, out-and-back trail that takes hikers through the forest and along boggy marshes, ending with beautiful views of Payette Lake — a healthy challenge for smaller humans. Why do kids love it? "Huckleberries," says Sally Spaulding, a Boise-based mother of five-year-old twins. "Check out the bushes when you're hiking this easy and mostly shaded trail — you may just be rewarded with a juicy trailside snack. My kids gorge themselves on these little wonders, which are ripe in the summer, usually around July. We enjoy camping at Ponderosa State Park and swimming in Payette Lake, and this hike within the park is an excellent option for little ones and adults who are looking for a fun-filled day of swimming and hiking in the mountains."