8 Amazing Family-Friendly Hikes

Jodi Helmer
by Jodi Helmer
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8 Amazing Family-Friendly Hikes

Lace up your hiking boots, pack a bottle of water and prepare to be amazed. The trails winding through iconic national parks offer jaw-dropping scenery and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to witness the unspoiled splendor of the natural world, so it’s not surprising that more than 330 million visitors experienced America’s National Parks last year.

While there’s no such thing as a bad hiking trail, some are more family-friendly than others. If you have kids eager to explore, these eight trails are tops.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

(Photo credit: Grand Canyon National Park)

The South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park is home to some of the most talked-about trails in the world. Families wanting to experience the impressive trail system should plan to hike the Bright Angel Trail. The entire trail is 12 miles but families with small children can hike from the trailhead to the first switchback (almost 1 mile). Vanessa Ceja-Cervantes, centennial and community outreach coordinator for Grand Canyon National Park, recommends setting out early in the morning to spot wildlife such as birds of prey and desert bighorn sheep. Because of the steep terrain, it takes twice as long to hike back up the trail so leave plenty of time — and pack water and snacks — to make sure everyone enjoys the experience.

Yosemite National Park, California

(Photo credit: NPS Photo)

Set against the backdrop of Mount Hoffman, the 2.4-mile round-trip hike to May Lake offers awesome views of the granite cliffs and wildflower meadows that dominate the landscape. Park Ranger Jamie Richards believes the hike to May Lake is a nice alternative to the more crowded (but equally family-friendly) trail to Mirror Lake. Families with smaller children should allow at least three hours to experience the trail; more adventurous families with older children can get backcountry permits and hike to the summit of Mount Hoffman. The trail to the top is 5 miles round-trip and Richards calls it “a great place for families looking for their first wilderness backpacking experience.”

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

(Photo credit: Jaimie Matzko/A Walk in the Woods)

It might be off the beaten path but Cosby Nature Trail is a favorite among locals. The 1-mile loop follows a stream through an old growth forest; the remains of an old homestead mark the end of the out-and-back trail. Vesna Plakanis, co-owner of A Walk in the Woods, often leads families on hikes in this area. Young children will love splashing in the creeks and skipping rocks on the water. The Cosby Nature Trail is also a favorite for families who want to incorporate environmental education into their hikes. “The [Great Smoky Mountains] are one of the most biodiverse places in the world so it’s a great place to get out and explore,” says Plakanis.

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

(Photo credit: Jacob W. Frank/NPS)

Yellowstone National Park boasts more than 900 miles of hiking trails. Families looking to experience some of the iconic geysers in the park can hike the Lone Star Geyser Trail. The 4.8-mile out-and-back trail follows the Firehole River to the namesake geyser. The nine-foot-tall geyserite cone, Lone Star, erupts every three hours (check with the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center to time your hike with an eruption) and its eruptions spew up to 45 feet in the air. Pack a picnic and experience the natural wonder, which has been described as the centerpiece of the backcountry geyser basins. The trail is stroller-friendly for toting even the tiniest ones.

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

(Photo credit: NPS Photo)

Mesa Verde National Park was the first national parkland set aside to protect the works of man and the Petroglyph Point Trail showcases some of these historic works of art. The 2.4-mile loop passes through ancestral pueblo sites and a large petroglyph panel that Public Information Officer Christy Brown describes as one of the few large petroglyphs in the park accessible to visitors. Thanks to the steep terrain, Brown recommends the trail for more adventurous families with older children. Hike to the top of the mesa and look out over the park to spot wildlife ranging from deer and elk to bobcats and mountain lions.

Acadia National Park, Maine

(Photo credit: NPS Photo)

Kids will love scrambling over the boulders on parts of the 3.5-mile hike along the Gorham Mountain Loop. “Maine Travel Maven” Hilary Nangle, author of “Moon Acadia National Park,” calls views of glacial-sculpted peaks, Sand Beach and Otter Cliffs “eye candy” for the impressive diversity of Maine landscapes. “In late July into August, help yourself to the wild blueberries along [the trail],” she suggests. Stop at Sand Beach for a picnic lunch and a refreshing dip in the water. A detour from the main trail onto the Cadillac Cliffs Trail (1.2 miles) has a tunnel into an ancient sea cave that adds a challenge for families of more experienced hikers.

Olympic National Park, Washington

(Photo credit: NPS Photo)

Not far off of iconic Highway 101 near the shores of Lake Crescent, this secluded trail feels like something out of a woodland fairytale. The old growth forest is filled with maples and conifers that extend toward the sky while ferns and moss create a lush carpet alongside the trail. Start at the Storm King Ranger Station and hike the 1.8-mile out-and-back trail that follows Barnes Creek to the towering Marymere Falls. Public Information Officer Penny Wagner calls the 90-foot-high waterfall the “reward” for the hike. Don’t let rain stop you from heading onto the trail. According to Wagner, “There is such a dense canopy because of the old growth forest that even if it’s raining, it’s still a beautiful hike.”

Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

(Photo credit: NPS photo)

At 400-plus miles, Mammoth Cave is the longest cave in the world. David Wyrick, chief of interpretation and visitor services, believes hiking the Heritage Trail to Green River Bluffs Trail (and heading into the caves) will help families understand how the cave was formed and its importance in the region. The Heritage Trail is just 1/2-mile long but includes the historic entrance to the cave and interpretive plaques explaining the sights. From there, head out on the 1.3-mile Green River Bluffs Trail, which descends 350 feet from the sandstone top of the cave to the banks of the Green River. Wyrick suggests venturing a little further to the River Styx Springs Trail to see one of the many springs flowing out of the cave and into the Green River.

About the Author

Jodi Helmer
Jodi Helmer

Jodi Helmer writes about health and wellness for publications like WebMD, AARP, Shape, Woman’s Day, Arthritis Today and Costco Connection among others. She often comes up with the best story ideas while hiking with her rescue dogs. You can read Jodi’s work or follow her on Twitter @helmerjodi.


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