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Best Trails To Visit with Your Reluctant Hiker

If your kids don't love setting foot on trail, it can be hard to get your nature fix without negotiating fussy little ones. We've put together a list of tips for encouraging those reluctant hikers, and below you'll find some suggestions from our community experts (read: other parents) for trails where you can put those tips to practice.

 If your kids don't love setting foot on trail, it can be hard to get your nature fix without negotiating fussy little ones. We've put together a list of tips for encouraging those reluctant hikers, and below you'll find some suggestions from our community experts (read: other parents) for trails where you can put those tips to practice.

Note that some of these trails may become more challenging when snow flies. You may want to save a handful of them for springtime adventures.


Olympic Peninsula

Tolmie State Park

Location: Olympia
Length: 3 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 150 ft.

The Four Cedars Trail at Tolmie State Park is a quiet retreat just off I-5. It's a three-mile interpretive trail, but if little legs get tired you can cut out early using the Twin Creeks Trail, which bisects the loop.

Tolmie State Park by Doug H.jpegThere's always something to discover on trail. Photo by Doug H.

Parent Testimonial: "There is a great hands-on childrens' museum at the state park, as well as the excellent trail!" Lori Nesmith

>> Plan your visit to Tolmie State Park

Alternates: There are lots of wonderful destinations for kids in Olympia. Watershed Park is another option, offering a mile-long boardwalk in the heart of Olympia.

Priest Point Park

Location: Olympia
Length: 1 mile, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 150 ft.

With a forest ramble and beach wandering, as well as a nearby botanic garden, Priest Point Park is an excellent stopover to entice kids along the trail. Lots of stairs make a great distraction, too -- how many can they count coming from the car?

Priest Point by Emma Cassidy.jpgGet up close and personal with flowers and moss at Priest Point Park. Photo by Emma Cassidy.

Parent Testimonial: "[Priest Point Park] has a trifecta of beach, trails and awesome playground." - Lori Nesmith.

>> Plan your visit Priest Point Park


Puget Sound and Islands

Mercer Slough Nature Park

Location: Bellevue
Length: varies
Elevation Gain: Minimal

This lush wetland has plenty to entertain kids: wooden boardwalks, shaded pathways, and big bridges. With three main trails, it's possible to do up to 4 miles here, but the 0.8 miles Bellefields Loop is a perfectly nice distraction as well.

Mercer Slough by GaryinZion.jpegSunny summer afternoons are delightful at the Mercer Slough. Photo by GaryinZion.

Parent Testimonial: "Check out the blueberry farm! I usually do that as one of my urban hikes every year. Lots of boardwalks and sometimes you see people canoeing around. At the end, I either pick blueberries myself, or just buy them from the farmers market there." - Amanda Arkebauer

>> Plan your visit to Mercer Slough Nature Park

Alternate: Nearby, Saint Edward State Park provides a little more structured area for play, as well as shoreline on Lake Washington for kids to splash in.

Carkeek Park

Location: Seattle 
Length: 3.5 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 800 ft.

Though it's possible to venture 3.5 miles on the Piper's Creek trail at Carkeek, you can also head straight for the beach area, where kids can wiggle their toes in the sand, peek into tidepools, or watch trains pass by (from a safe distance, of course).

Carkeek Park by Taum Sauk.jpegSea life is a great draw for little hikers at both Carkeek and Discovery Parks. Photo by Taum Sauk.

Parent Testimonial: "Carkeek Park has lots of trails for mileage and an awesome kids play area." Amanda Arkebauer

>> Plan your visit to Carkeek Park

Alternate: With more miles and the added bonus of potential marine life sightings, Discovery Park is a good option for a longer outing. Hike-a-Thoner and outdoorsy mama Ingunn Markiewicz says "We often see seals or sea lions from the lighthouse at Discovery Park.


Snoqualmie Pass

Tradition lake loop

Location: Issaquah Alps
Length: 2.9 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 150 ft.

With a small lake, mossy trees, and plenty of trailside distractions, Tradition Lake Loop is a wonderful place to visit with toddlers. The loop is short and nearly level, and wildlife bustling in the bushes will entertain your young one if the flora does not.

Tradition Lake by JoeHendricks.jpegOne of the viewpoints for Tradition Lake. Photo by Joe Hendricks.

Parent Testimonial: "My kids loved finding the bus at Tiger Mountain's Tradition Lake Loop" Susan Elderkin

>> Plan your visit to Tradition Lake Loop

Denny Creek

Location: Snoqualmie Region
Length: 3 miles, roundtrip 
Elevation Gain: minimal

Thanks to its gentle, family friendly grade with amazing destinations, the Denny Creek Trail is a great option for families with hikers of all ages. Most compelling is the natural water slide area at Denny Creek -- it's a must visit for families! (Note: The trailhead to Denny Creek is currently inaccessible, but you can park at nearby Franklin Falls.)

Denny Creek by HeyerLifeForm.jpegFamilies frolic at the water slide area of Denny Creek. Photo by HeyerLifeForm.

Parent Testimonial: "It's only 1.5 miles to the slide, and there are usually many, many kids of all ages. We brought twin 5 year olds, who are reluctant hikers and they loved it." Susan Elderkin

>> Plan your visit to Denny Creek


Stevens Pass

Heybrook Lookout

Location: Stevens Pass - West
Length: 2.6 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 850 ft.

Bustling with life, the Heybrook Lookout trail is a great option for exposing little ones to an abundance of squirrels, chipmunks, mosses and ferns. A lookout location towards the end of the hike serves as a rewarding lunch spot to stop and soak up the views. As winter comes on, look out for ice on trail or maybe even snow.

Heybrook Lookout by ErwinsExploring.jpegHaving fun while learning map skills on Heybrook Lookout. Photo by ErwinsExploring.

Parent Testimonial: "Overall the trail was very enjoyable. The views were worth it and it was a good workout for the kids and us. We definitely recommend." - from trip reporter Wickerman232

>> Plan your visit to Heybrook Lookout

Tumwater Pipeline Trail

Location: Stevens Pass - East
Length:  2.4 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 100 ft.

While it's an unsheltered river walk in the rain, the Tumwater Pipeline Trail turns into a winter wonderland for kids just learning to snowshoe after the first flakes fly. Wait until winter to try this one!

Tumwater Pipeline Trail by Lukin66.jpegKids will like the Pipeline Trail any time of year. Photo by Lukin66.

Parent Testimonial: This is a great little leg stretcher/kid distractor before heading over the pass. - LizzyRN

>> Plan your visit to the Tumwater Pipeline Trail


Mount Rainier Area

Suntop Lookout

Location: Chinook Pass
Length: 2.1 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1100 ft.

For a big impact with minimal mileage, Suntop Lookout is your best bet. At only a mile in, your family will be in awe of some unbeatable views of Mount Rainier.

suntop.jpeg
Suntop Lookout. Photo by Mike.

Parent Testimonial: "It's super short, like a half mile up, and the view is amazing." - Karyn Gaffney

Alternate: If you need to spend more time out there to make the drive worth it, there's a nature trail at Camp Sheppard just off the Snoquera Falls trail, giving you a few more miles of adventure. Remember that snow arrives early here and leaves late, so be prepared for winter weather in the shoulder seasons.

>> Plan your visit to Suntop Lookout

Federation Forest

Location: Highway 410
Length: varies
Elevation Gain: 150 ft.

Wander the big trees at Federation Forest on the west side of Greenwater, and create your own hike with over 12 miles of trail to mix and match. Interpretive trails serve as a useful education tool to teach young ones about our native trees. Be sure to visit the Catherine Montgomery Interpretive center during its April-October season.

Federation Forest by Rachel Wendling.jpegBig trees at Federation Forest State Park. By Rachel Wendling.

Parent Testimonial: "Our 3 year old did the 2.6 miles just fine and we took our own sweet time looking at every single mushroom and berry along the way. " - from trip reporter cjt_hiker.

>> Plan your visit to Federation Forest State Park


Eastern Washington

Riverside State Park - Bowl and Pitcher

Location: Spokane
Length: varies
Elevation Gain: varies

Rushing rivers, soaring osprey, and swinging bridges are sure to grab the interest of all age groups on this trail system just outside of Spokane. The park offers a variety of trails from flat riversides to basalt cliffs to engage every member of the family.

Riverside State Park by Lord Business.jpegEnjoying the sounds of the water at Riverside State Park. Photo by Lord Business.

Parent Testimonial: "The Bowl & Pitcher area of Riverside State Park is perfect for hikers of all ages and abilities. You can cross a wooden suspension bridge while drinking in all the views of basalt rock formations, then enjoy a flat or semi challenging walk in the woods."  - Todd Dunfield

>> Plan your visit to Riverside State Park - Bowl & Pitcher

Sweet Creek Falls Interpretive Trail

Location: Selkirks
Mileage: 1.0 mile, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: minimal

This short and sweet little trail north of Spokane has the best feature a trail can boast for enticing children: a waterfall! Further north is the fascinating Gardner Cave, another great destination if you're willing to put in a bit of a drive.

Sweet Creek Falls by Holly Weiler.jpegThe waterfall at this interpretive trail is the highlight of this short outing. Photo by Holly Weiler.

Parent Testimonial: Since they updated the trail and made it much more safe for all ages, my family really enjoys this trail. - trip reporter Paiton Larson

>> Plan your visit to Sweet Creek Falls Interpretive Trail