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Winter Hikes with Kids

Guidebook author Joan Burton writes about hikes that are excellent to take children during the gray winter months: Skagit Wildlife Area, Goose Rock, Ranger Hole and Spruce Railroad, Cape Disappointment.

By Joan Burton

The gray months loom. As parents of youngsters who need and yearn to be outdoors, even in the rain, what can you do? First, you can get out of the car and turn off the TV and computer.

You can plan “conditioning walks” together. By that I mean calling every hike, stroll or walking trip a “conditioning hike” in preparation for your summer hiking plans.

Ask your kids where they hope to hike next summer and how much they want to go there. Get out the maps and calculate distance and elevation gains. Those facts can be long-term motivators for the kids. Read aloud the hike descriptions from the guidebook. Point out how strong they will need to be. The idea is to make regular outdoor activity together fun and something you share.

Northwest Washington

Deception Pass State Park

Location: Puget Sound & Islands
Round Trip: varies
Elevation Gain: minimal
Best Season: year-round

Deception Pass State Park by chenriks.jpegView out over Puget Sound from the trail. Photo by chenriks.

A beautiful area in North Puget Sound for winter walks is Deception Pass State Park and Goose Rock. Begin by parking on the south side of the bridge and then walk back out to see the spectacular Pass from above. Children can watch swirling currents sweep through below. Let them watch boats struggling against the tide and current, and then continue on to Pass Island, where steps lead safely downward to the rocks.

Return to the south end of the bridge and find the Goose Rock trailhead below the road. The trail circles the rock, along Coronet Bay, and is interesting and beautiful at any time of year in any weather. If they want to climb to the top of the rock at the end, from the summit there are views down Whidbey Island and Oak Harbor, past Rosario Head and out to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

> Read more about hiking to Goose Rock

Skagit Wildlife Area

Location: Puget Sound & Islands
Round Trip: 2 miles
Elevation Gain: minimal
Best Season: year-round

Skagit Wildlife Area by Bob and Barb.jpegSnow geese making their annual migration to the Skagit estuary. Photo by Bob and Barb.

Winter walks planned to see the gorgeous migrating snow geese, trumpeter and tundra swans are a good way for your kids to get outside. The Skagit Wildlife Area allows you to walk dikes along the shores of Skagit Bay. Before you go, read up about the birds and the migration journey they make. No wonder they are hungry!

For several months, Skagit dikes and fields are full of the white birds feeding, soaring, and landing. The humming and whirring sounds they make are fascinating to kids, but on a clear day your reward will also be the views of the North Cascades and Mount Baker hovering above the bays and mud flats. Please save this destination for February or later; hunting season runs from October through January.

> Read more about hiking in the Skagit Wildlife Area

Olympic Peninsula

Ranger Hole - Interrorem Trail

Location: Olympics -- North
Round Trip: 2.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 200 ft.
Best Season: year-round

Ranger Hole Photo by kalsequim.jpegCheck out the beautiful blue water as you walk along the Ranger Hole - Interrorem Nature Trail. Photo by kalsequim. 

Two good winter walks on the Olympic Peninsula are Ranger Hole and the Spruce Railroad. The Interrorem Cabin at Ranger Hole was built and named in 1906 by the first ranger in the Olympic Forest, Emory Finch, who brought his bride there for her honeymoon. Here she did laundry on a washboard, cooked on a wood stove, caught and canned salmon, picked berries, and made her own soap and butter. Children will enjoy seeing the old cabin, still available to rent, and imagining the lives of the ranger and his bride. From the cabin walk down a steep woodland trail to the Ranger Hole, a deep pool in the river where Finch used to catch his dinners of steelhead and trout. Hold onto the kids’ hands here as there are no guardrails.

> Read more about hiking to Ranger Hole

Spruce Railroad Trail

Location: Olympics -- North
Round Trip: 8 miles
Elevation Gain: minimal
Best Season: year-round

Spruce Railroad Trail by Erynn Allen.jpegLake Crescent peeks through foliage on the Spruce Railroad Trail. Photo by Erynn Allen.

The Spruce Railroad along the north shore of Lake Crescent is another historic spot kids will enjoy. This railroad was built at the time of the First World War to carry out spruce for airplane wings. The war ended before that happened, but the railroad was used to carry logs for decades. Kids won’t care about that, but will enjoy walking along the lakeshore on the route of the old train tracks to see its ruined tunnels. A highlight of the walk is an arched bridge across the Devil’s Punchbowl, a lovely cove. You can walk the entire 7-mile distance with the family if you leave at a car at either end, but walking any distance along the shores of beautiful Lake Crescent at any time is magical.

> Read more about hiking the Spruce Railroad Trail

Southwest Washington

Cape Disappointment - North Head Lighthouse

Location: Southwest Washington
Round Trip: 3.4 miles
Elevation Gain: minimal
Best Season: year-round

North Head Lighthouse by Kaweka Stoney.jpegThe North Head Lighthouse has protected ships from this treacherous coast for over 100 years. Photo by Kaweka Stoney.

A trip to the ocean in mid-winter can be surprisingly mild and pleasant. We camped at Cape Disappointment in February one year under a full moon and clear skies. Even if you encounter storms, the kids will love watching the pounding waves, then running away from them to retreat to the state park’s sandy beaches and driftwood.

A hike to consider is a traverse between the North Head Lighthouse and the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. You can break it into segments—and all parts can be reached by car. Begin by walking out to the North Head Lighthouse, taking the tour, and then dropping down the winding trail to the campground. Tell the kids the whole area used to lie under ocean waves and that building of the jetty brought in the sand for the present campground.

From the entrance station find the exciting half-mile trail up to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. Have the kids picture sailing ships pushing up over the horizon—Captains Vancouver and Gray surveying what turned out to be the Columbia River mouth and Vancouver deciding it was not and sailing north. No wonder he called it Cape Disappointment! Imagine how thrilled Captain Gray was when saw the river bar and claimed it for America.

After enjoying the excellent visitor center displays and exhibits, continue on the steep winding North Head trail to the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. (Or you can drive to it.) The interesting views are north to the first lighthouse, down to the river bar and south to the Oregon side. This lighthouse is not open, but it bears an inscription from Tennyson’s poem “Crossing the Bar.” Children can appreciate the many lives lost in shipwrecks here and the meaning of the words of the poem.

> Read more about hikes at Cape Disappointment State Park