11 Family-Friendly Walking Trails in the U.S.

Cassie Shortsleeve
by Cassie Shortsleeve
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Family walks are a great way to get fresh air and bond while increasing your step count and getting much-needed endorphins to boost mood. While a trip to a local national park is a nice option, you don’t have to go big to benefit from an active day. Sometimes, a stroll around your city is all you need.

Next time you have extra time, or you or the kids are feeling stir-crazy, use this list of top trails for family hikes as a guide. Remember to check rules, regulations, guidelines and hours ahead of time.

WEST FORK TRAIL
SEDONA, ARIZONA

Families love West Fork, which is nestled amidst the red rocks of Sedona. The trail runs through a forest, alongside a shallow creek, which you cross multiple times on your journey (ideal for curious little kids). Also, thanks to its tree cover, it’s fairly shady, offering relief from the hot Arizona sun unlike other trails the area. Families with early risers benefit from an empty parking lot, which fills up fast as the day goes on, so it’s best to make it a morning outing.

EL CAPITÁN STATE BEACH
SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, CALIFORNIA

Families seeking nature in Santa Barbara should head to El Capitán State Beach’s trails (including a kid-friendly, self-guided nature tour) and beach full of tidepools. Stroll the paths and explore with the family then walk down the stairway to spend the afternoon in the waves or on the beach. Go between November and April and you might be able to spot whales migrating.

GOLDEN GATE CANYON STATE PARK
GOLDEN, COLORADO

It can be hard to spend hours in the car with kids, which is why this park’s location just 45 minutes from Denver makes it an ideal day trip. Kids will love the wide-open high-alpine meadows filled with wildflowers and the yellow aspen groves (in the fall). For teenagers, the lack of cell service might help them spend more time engaging in nature. The park is dog-friendly and offers more than 35 miles of trails, perfect for families with kids of all ages.

THE LAKEFRONT TRAIL
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

Take one trip to the Windy City and it’s obvious why the outdoorsy head to the shores of Lake Michigan to get their 10,000 steps in. Here, you’ll find a hodgepodge of marathon-trainers, families, cyclists and other exercise enthusiasts enjoying a horizon full of water. Kids can play in the spray fountains, beautiful gardens and explore sculptures across 18 miles — and the hustle and bustle of the city (and outdoor dining, if you so choose) is never far.

THE ESPLANADE
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS

This state-owned park spans Boston’s Charles River, allowing families to make city living a little more scenic. On any given day, the paths are filled with walkers, runners, cyclists and — in the river — kayaks. While the park technically only stretches 3 miles on the Boston side of the river, if you have the time (and the energy), do the full loop around to the Cambridge side, where you’ll find the best views. Kids get a kick out of feeding ducks and picnic spots aplenty along the way. Plus, there are plenty of exits off of the path when little feet get tired.

NAUSET MARSH TRAIL
EASTHAM, MASSACHUSETTS

About a mile-and-a-half from The Cape Cod National Seashore’s Coastguard Beach, there’s a 1.3-mile easy loop that winds along the edge of a salt pond and a marsh, through the forest and fields. It’s perfect for families of all ages looking for some movement. Add it on to a beach day or make a pitstop on your way to your Cape Cod destination.

SLEEPING BEAR DUNES NATIONAL LAKESHORE
EMPIRE, MICHIGAN

The sandy bluffs of this unique park sit as high as 450 feet atop the coast of Lake Michigan. The protected terrain was shaped by glaciers thousands of years ago. See it in all its glory by walking the trails (which offer stunning views in all directions), the beach or taking a dip in crystal-clear streams. Older kids will love the more challenging Dune Climb, a 3.5-mile trek up the dunes with a picnic area at the bottom. For smaller children, set up a nighttime picnic at the base of the dune and enjoy the stargazing.

THE D&R CANAL STATE PARK 
TRENTON TO NEW BRUNSWICK, NEW JERSEY

This historic towpath along the canal is flat, making it easy for younger kids. It’s full of wooden and stone arch bridges and bridge tender’s houses dating back to the 19th century. Formally known as the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park, it runs from Trenton to New Brunswick and is an ideal spot for laidback hikes and strolls. Make bird-watching a game for the kids; by some counts, 90 different species nest in the park.

CENTRAL PARK
NEW YORK, NEW YORK

Central Park is one of New York City’s most iconic, well-known destinations and the first public park built in the U.S. Even locals can find new ways to explore the 840-acre park that stretches from 59th Street to 110th Street, between Fifth Avenue and Central Park West. Set up a scavenger hunt for the kids and check off the meadows, gardens, tennis courts, Bethesda Fountain and Belvedere Castle. You can also take the kids to the Central Park Zoo, just make sure to reserve a ticket online in advance.

VIRGINIA BLUE RIDGE RAILWAY TRAIL
PINEY RIVER, VIRGINIA

This classic rail-trail experience in central Virginia is easy, beautiful (The Piney and Tye rivers are always in view and there are five bridges across the 7-mile route) and full of history (Think: rail cars and a railroad weighing scale). As a bonus, most of it is wooded, providing a much-needed escape from the summer heat. Pro tip: Use the Kids in Parks website to print off activity packets for kids. When completed, you can submit them and the kids will be mailed a prize.

FORT EBEY STATE PARK
WHIDBEY ISLAND, WASHINGTON

Just shy of two hours north of Seattle, this Washington state park promises a day (or days) full of entertainment. With 25 miles of trails and a bluff overlooking the water, there is something for all ages and ability levels. Kids enjoy the easy walk to Point Wilson Lighthouse and there’s shade along the way thanks to the Douglas fir and hemlocks throughout. On a clear day, it’s worth staying through sunset. Your trip can even double as a history lesson for your children: Originally built as a defense fort during WWII, U.S. Navy jets from a nearby naval station still make regular flyovers. Older children can also fill out the Jr. Ranger Pages while visiting and receive a Jr. Ranger Badge in the mail.

Product: Make progress every day while you work on fitness and nutrition goals, like walking more steps. Go to “Plans” in the MyFitnessPal app for daily coaching and easy-to-follow tasks to keep you motivated.

About the Author

Cassie Shortsleeve
Cassie Shortsleeve

Cassie Shortsleeve is a Boston-based freelance writer and editor. She has worked on staff at both Shape and Men’s Health and contributes regularly to a slew of national print and digital publications such as Women’s Health, Condé Nast Traveler, and Furthermore for Equinox. With a degree in English and creative writing from the College of the Holy Cross, she has a passion for reporting on all things health, lifestyle, and travel.

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