Spring Hikes with Kids
By Joan Burton
Author of Best Hikes with Kids: Western Washington & the Cascades (Mountaineers Books)
Because the winter has been so mild, I predict our high trails will open sooner than usual. That doesn’t mean we couldn’t still have late snowfall that holds up backpacking plans. But it does mean we may be on some high trails before July. Muddy ones, probably, but as you know, most kids love mud. In the meantime, let’s get out as often and on as many water-related trails as possible.
Planning distance expectations:
Here are some pacing rules for children of different ages. Of course, any child can exceed these distances, if he or she has sufficient motivation.
- Children 2 to 4 years old can hike 1/2 to 3 miles on their own.
- Children 5 to 7 years old can hike for 1 to 3 hours a day, covering 3 to 4 miles over easy trails.
- Eight and 9 year-olds can hike a full day at an easy pace, covering 6 to 7 miles on variable trails.
Teach all kids to stay on the trail at all times. Not only can they get lost, but when they head off trail, they can damage plants and create shortcuts that lead to erosion of the trail tread. Read more about our Tips for Hiking with Children.
Here are some early spring trail possibilities.
Sharpe Park / Montgomery-Dugan Headlands
Puget Sound & Islands - Fidalgo Island
A short 3/4 -mile walk through old growth firs, madronas, and lichen- shrouded trees takes you to sweeping views of north Puget Sound. Kids will enjoy walking first along the trail by a large pond filled with widgeons, mallards, cattails, and red-winged blackbirds.
At the trail junction families can choose between a steep descent to a cliff just above the water's edge or a short climb to a rounded moss-covered bedrock summit, Sharpe Head. Come out onto a rock perch looking left to Oak Harbor and Deception Pass or right to Williamson Rocks and Allen Island. Lopez Island lies directly in front of you. In any weather this is a short safe hike with a big reward. Read our Hiking Guide entry for more information.
Puget Sound & Islands - Deception Pass State Park
In the same neighborhood, drive to the beach parking lot at Bowman Bay. This is a water-level walk that children will savor, leading around low peninsulas projecting into Rosario Strait west of Deception Pass in Deception Pass State Park. Little inlets and bays empty at low tide and fill again at high tide. The culmination is an old lighthouse, beaming out into north Puget Sound, and lying on an inaccessible island alongside the trail. In spring you may come across a field of blooming erythronium or exquisite cream-colored fawn lilies, growing along the path.
Begin at Bowman Beach, and then climb steeply over a 1/4- mile rock barrier before dropping to beach level again and then crossing to vista points through a forest of leaning madronas, salal, and second growth cedars. If children couldn’t hear the roar of trucks on the bridges, they might think they were on a wilderness trail. They will enjoy watching boats struggling against Deception Pass currents and searching for orcas and seals in the water beside them.
At sea level, look for little islands of rock lying exposed at low tide. On the return trip, if water is low enough, take time to explore tide pools containing starfish, anemones, and sculpins. Many marine birds will likely be looking for their lunches here, too. Children will want to stay as long as the tide allows. Read more about this hike and the trail to Rosario Head.
Boulder River Waterfall
North Cascades - Mountain Loop Highway
One of the reasons to hike the Boulder River Waterfall trail in the spring is that it is low enough that you can venture into a remnant of lowland old growth forest that used to lie in all the foothills of the Cascades a century ago. It may not be entirely snow-free every year, but the trail should be passable.
As higher snow banks melt, the waterfalls along the narrow Boulder River canyon swell. Gaze across at their lace- curtain cascades. Children will enjoy listening to and following the Boulder River through the giant moss-covered trees. At the low point they can reach the river itself and feel the mist and spray. The trail follows the white water river for about 4 miles to a ford camp - good turnaround and lunch destination if you hadn't done so already at the waterfalls.
This trail also makes an excellent first backpacking trip for kids. Read more about Boulder River and hiker Trip Reports in our Hiking Guide.
Old Sauk River
North Cascades - Mountain Loop Highway
This is a wonderland trail in the North Cascades. The Sauk is a whitewater wilderness river, and the old trail is eroded by its turbulence almost every year. But children will love walking the level trail alongside the streams, pools, ponds, and vistas of white velocity. Sediment colors the water milky with the ground rock carried down from Glacier Peak by its glaciers. As spring advances, trees begin to leaf out and forest floor flowers, such as foamflower, youth on age, and vanilla leaf, begin to bloom. New fronds of ferns emerge and salmon berries and thimbleberries flower.
The trail follows the river closely, and children can see where it has been washed out and rebuilt. In spring children will enjoy finding ponds containing frog eggs and tadpoles hatching from them. You can travel the lovely trail for as long as you like, up to 3 miles, then exit out to the road or return along the scenic trail. Read our Hiking Guide for more information.
Lime Kiln Trail
North Cascades - Mountain Loop Highway
This trail used to be part of the historic Monte Cristo Railroad, carrying silver and processed lime out to Everett to be sold. The stone limekiln itself can still be seen at 2 1/2 miles. Tell the kids that limestone was brought here on the train, and then burned until it was reduced to salable lime.
The old railroad grade makes a beautiful trail above and alongside the turbulent South Fork of the Stillaguamish River. The hike is part of the Robe Canyon Historic Park, a safe, mostly level ledge walk children will enjoy. The canyon is eerie, with whitewater rapids and leaning moss-covered chartreuse trees. Children can look for metal relics, crockery, saw blades, and boot soles left behind by the mineworkers here. Don’t pick them up. Other hikers would like to discover them too. The trail ends at 3 miles, where a bridge used to span the river. Drop down to the river’s edge and a beach of sand and gravel to eat lunch next to a historic and scenic spot.
Descriptions, driving directions and more in WTA's Hiking Guide.
Olympic Peninsula - East - Fort Worden State Park
On the shore of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, you can walk a fine sandy beach between high bluffs and two access points to reach the Point Wilson Lighthouse. Water and sand play possibilities for children of any age are infinite. The total distance is 2 1/2 miles, and whether the tide is high or low, you can walk it either direction. Kids can write their names or leave messages in the sand or throw sticks to dogs. They can watch long-necked black cormorants dive, and then stretch their wings to dry their feathers.
Tell them that in 1792 when Captain Vancouver and his crew explored Discovery Bay in a small boat, it was a foggy morning. He named Point Wilson for a British friend, and then when the sun came out, he saw the large beautiful bay around it and named it for another friend, a British marquis named Townsend. Ask the kids what they think about these places being named for men who never saw them.
Views are wonderful of Mt. Baker, Vancouver Island, the San Juan Islands, and the Cascades behind them. Follow the beach to the red-roofed Coast Guard lighthouse at Point Wilson. It is not open for visitors, but there are picnic tables available for a lunch stop out of the wind. Visit our Hiking Guide for driving directions and file a Trip Report when you come back!