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7 Science and History-Focused Hikes to Explore Under the 'Every Kid in a Park' Program

Posted by Francakes at Apr 02, 2015 01:50 PM |

“Every Kid in a Park” is a call to action to get every child in America outside as the National Parks system approaches its 100th birthday in 2016

In late February, President Obama announced the “Every Kid in a Park” program, offering free National Park passes to 4th graders and their families.

Starting this September, students will receive family passes that will be good for an entire year. These passes will be good for entry in National Parks, National Historic Monuments and other federal lands.

“Every Kid in a Park” is a call to action to get every child in America outside as the National Parks system approaches its 100th birthday in 2016. The majority of American families live in urban areas, and many lack easy access to safe outdoor spaces.

In addition to providing free park passes, the administration will also work to provide resources to families and schools to make planning easy for trips to nearby public lands.

Trails are one of the best ways to give kids a lasting appreciation for our great outdoors, and 4th graders at at a great age to start going on slightly longer hikes.

Whether you have a 4th grader or not, you don't have to wait for September to get out and explore Washington's National Parks. Try one of these hikes that offer stunning sights with a side of learning.

Olympic National Park

Goblins Gate in Olympic National Park
Goblins Gate. Photo by Jon Lee

Humes Ranch - Elwha River Loop

Length: 6.5 miles
Elevation Gain:
250 ft

The Science: The dam removal along the Elwha River was one of the most ambitious habitat restoration projects ever undertaken—returning 70 miles of river to migrating fish and 800 acres of habitat to elk and other wildlife. This hike showcases the majesty and power of the river and offers opportunities for wildlife spotting. A gem along the trail is Goblins Gate where the mighty Elwha slams into a canyon wall and makes an almost 90-degree turn.

>>Plan your trip to the Elwha River Loop.

Staircase Rapids

Length: 4 miles
Elevation Gain:
150 ft

The History: This captivating hike is part of Washington’s frontier history. Craig Romano writes, “The trek to Staircase Rapids is a heck of a lot easier today than it was in 1890 when Lieutenant Joseph O'Neil, accompanied by a group of scientists, led an army expedition here. ... Lacking the wonderful trails that now grace the region, O'Neil and company cut a mule trail up the North Fork Skokomish River to help transport supplies to base camps along the way. Among the many findings that this expedition would report was a realization that this wild area deserved to be protected. … Nice forward thinking, Lieutenant O'Neil.”

>>Plan your trip to Staircase Rapids.

North Cascades National Park

Baker River

Length: 5 miles
Elevation Gain:
150 ft

The Science: This hike is a great primer for the rugged geological and ecological history of the North Cascades. Craig Romano writes, “Saunter along a pristine waterway birthed by massive icefields and glaciers in the heart of the North Cascades wilderness. Explore wide gravel banks ideal for siestas and peering up at the towering and rugged summits surrounding you. Marvel at massive cedars and their adaptive growing techniques, from hugging boulders to sprouting in riparian zones.”

>>Plan your trip to Baker River.

Mount Rainier National Park

Tolmie Peak Lookout - Eunice Lake

Length: 7.5 miles
Elevation Gain:
1500 ft

The History: Before forest management went high tech, (mostly volunteer) firewatchers were stationed in mountain-top cabins atop choice peaks. Occasionally you can still visit a volunteer watcher at Tolmie Peak where there is also a historic workroom where you can learn about the solitary life of the watchers and see what it takes to care for our treasured landscapes.

>>Plan your trip to Tolmie Peak Lookout.

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

Mother and Daughter Ape Caves
Mother and daughter explore Lower Ape Caves. Photo by Abhinaba Basu

Ape Caves

Length: 2.6 miles
Elevation gain:
200 ft

The Science: These caves are actually 2,000-year-old rocky tubes formed by lava flowing beneath a hardened surface. This also happens to be the longest lava tube in the continental United States! This area is especially unusual because Mt. St. Helens is a type of volcano that usually does not erupt flowing lava, but dense lava that builds up pressure to create explosive eruptions like the famous one in 1980.

Butte Camp

Length: 5 miles
Elevation Gain:
700 ft

The Science: This hike showcases both the destructive and generative power of a volcano. You’ll cross lava beds, get an incredible view of the mountain’s south face, and pass through fertile wildflower meadows made possible by the rich volcanic soil.

>>Plan your trip to Butte Camp.

Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area

Mission Point Trail

Length: 0.5 miles

The History: This is a short hike with a long history. Archaeologists estimate that humans have used this site for 9,000 years. The trail starts next to Saint Paul's Mission, built around 1847 at the Fort Colville fur-trading site. From there it goes to an overlook of the Kettle Falls site and the Fort Colville site, a Hudson Bay outpost established in 1825.

>>Plan your trip to Mission Point.