For many hikers with families, they hope to instill the same love of nature in their children. A great way to do this is by bringing them along on backpacking adventures! With a little preparation and the right gear, you can guarantee a good time for all.
No matter your backpacking experience or the ages of your kids, we've put together a good list of kid-friendly hikes that will inspire you to plan your own trip.
Featured Photo: "Driftwood along the shore of Shoshone Lake" by Yellowstone NPS is marked with CC PDM 1.0
Thunder Creek Trail
Immerse yourself in the North Cascades National Park on this 10-mile out-and-back trail. You'll pass over green-tinted Thunder Creek several times along with smaller streams. The 500 foot ascent is gradual as you meander next to the river for much of the way. Views are rewarded of the surrounding mountains and river through the dense evergreens. Several camping areas are available, with the closest being 2-miles from the trailhead. This hike is rated as moderate, so might be more suitable for older kids or ones with previous hiking experience. Backcountry permits are required, so plan accordingly. Suiattle River, Deer Lake, and Greenwater and Echo Lakes trails are also good options in this corner of Washington.
Shoshone Lake Trail
What could be better than an easy-going backcountry trip in Wyoming's Yellowstone NP? Shoshone Lake is both the lower 48 states' largest backcountry lake and one of the most popular backpacking destinations for families in the park. Many trails lead to the lake, ranging between 6 and 11 miles. The most popular route begins at the Delacy Creek Trailhead, a short 3 miles to the lake under the canopy of towering pines and open fields. Many campsites can be found around the lake, so secure your permit early for your spot of choice. If your entourage is up for it, plenty of other trails and geothermal features are in the area to explore. Old Faithful is not far from the trailhead parking area as well.
Ice Age Trail - Jerry Lake Segment
If you're local to the Midwest, you already know that Wisconsin has some amazing, remote backpacking trails. This segment of the 1,200-mile Ice Age Trail is about 15 miles one-way and rated as moderate to difficult. You'll pass through varied forest types along this hilly, quiet, secluded trail. Many campsites are along the way, two of which provide pit toilets. (Which comes in handy if your kids are “shy” about going in the woods!). The picturesque Jerry Lake is a great place to take a rest or even camp for the night. The Hemlock Esker, which runs for a mile, is another favorite spot along the trail. If you want to avoid the worst of the bugs, plan for a spring or fall trip.
Hanging Spear Falls via Calamity Brook Trail
Plenty of camping spots and a network of trails means you can spend one night or an entire weekend on this hike. Located in New York's Adirondacks, the elevation gain is a bit more than others on our list. Yet, it is gradual enough that the kiddos shouldn't complain much. Several major mountains will dominate the background as you hike through heavily forested areas and open fields. Flowed Lands is another major feature along the trail. The highlight, of course, is Hanging Spear Falls, which plummets 75 feet down the mountainside. If out-and-back trails aren't your thing, the Pharaoh Lake Loop is similar in length. It's also the perfect place to do some backcountry fishing!
Foothills Trail: Whitewater Falls to Oconee State Park
For an adventurous challenge, head out on the Whitewater Falls to Oconee State Park section of the Foothills Trail. This 27-mile portion is located in the lovely Nantahala Wilderness of North Carolina. It ranges from easy to difficult hiking. Expect many stream crossings and waterfalls on this route, the main highlight being Whitewater Falls. Raging down the mountainside an impressive 411ft, it claims the title of tallest waterfall east of the Rockies! You'll also find some smaller, but equally pretty, falls, such as Corbin Falls and Sloan Bridge Falls. And if that's not enough water, you'll hike alongside the Whitewater and Chattooga Rivers for part of the journey as well. The trail also offers glimpses and some sweeping views of the surrounding mountains. Watch for lots of rocks and roots trying to trip you along some sections of the trail. Try out the Panthertown Backcountry Loop for something shorter and less strenuous.
Chinnabee Silent Trail
For beginners living in the south, you can't beat the Chinnabee Silent Trail. Located in Alabama's Cheaha Wilderness, this trail is a very doable 8 miles out-and-back. Rated as moderate, it has less than 1,000ft of elevation gain, making it the perfect overnight trip to “test the waters”. A few strenuous areas exist, such as the scramble down Devil's Den. You'll walk beside and cross a few creeks. If you do some research, a hidden waterfall can be found along Cheaha Creek. Several lookouts dot the trail, affording views of the surrounding Talladega National Forest. One of the best parts is stopping off at Lake Chinnabee for a swim before leaving. Looking for something longer in the area? This trail also connects to the Skyway Loop Trail (17 miles in length).
Horton Creek Trail
Northeast of Phoenix, AZ, you can escape the desert heat on the Horton Creek Trail. The tall, verdant pines of the Tonto National Forest provide plenty of shade. Tons of water features can be found along the way, including springs and waterfalls. With all the foliage and water, you may forget you're in the desert southwest! You won't have to worry about finding water along this route (though you should still filter it, to be safe). Plus, the trail is only 8 miles in length, out-and-back. Elevation gain is also very minimal and gradual. If you'd like to extend your trip the trail connects to several others nearby. If you're an experienced desert hiker, check out the 25-mile Cabin Loop Trail nearby.
Keep in mind that most of these areas have many other kid-friendly trails and would be great places to make a family vacation or road trip. We hope that sharing some specific hikes that perk your interest will encourage some further research to what else each area has to offer.
Be sure to read some of our other posts on backpacking with your kids.
PLANNING AN OVERNIGHT BACKPACKING TRIP WITH YOUR KIDS
HOW TO INSTILL A LOVE OF THE OUTDOORS IN YOUR KIDS
Do you go backpacking with your kids? Where are your favorite places to hit the trail? Be sure to share in the comments.
I grew up in the foot hills of the central Cascades in Wa. State. When I married my wife I adopted her son and when he became old enough I started taking him on hikes into the high country to some of the most secluded lakes in the state. Our favorite hike was Rice lake on Stickney ridge.
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