The Pacific Northwest is a scenic wonderland of wilderness beauty, and yet we sometimes face greater challenges to access within the very confines of our family home than we do on the trail. How mighty is the power of a child’s voice, which could break a dam or burn a logjam. We are solutions oriented at Outdoor Project, so we’re going to help you get out in front of that furious flurry and the little windmills of fists.
Here are 10 hikes to enrapture your kids’ curiosity, excite their senses, and show them why we call it the Pacific NorthWonderland.
Take a sandbox and multiply by several factors. That’s what the beach is like for a kid, and there are few destinations on the Pacific coast of Washington and Oregon better suited for kids than La Push, Second Beach. Its tide pools, sea stacks, and numerous sea species like otters, sea lions, and 14 species of birds make that short hike in an easy sell. Be sure to bundle up and bring the rain gear—the beach can be windy and wet.
In the Cascades east of Seattle, elevation gain makes for tough family hiking. Not so at Red Top Lookout. The trail gains just 400 feet over a scant mile to a lookout with open views of the Stuart Range from Red Top Mountain. The lookout is still operational, and if you're lucky enough to be up when the tower is attended by a volunteer, you may be able to enter the tower and enjoy the incredible views from the top. Be sure to keep an eye out for agate nearby. This is an all-season hike, but keep the layers lightweight. You (and the kids) may want to shed clothing on the way up.
The Hood Canal offers much to the Seattle escape artist at Lake Cushman, but the southeastern corner of Olympic National Park tends to be overlooked by visitors. The Skokomish section of the Staircase Rapids Loop Trail is just over 2 miles of old-growth forest with minimal elevation gain along the scenic North Fork of the Skokomish River. The selling point: a brand new suspension bridge that was completed in 2013. Bring sneakers. They’re great for jumping up and down.
The Hoh Rainforest is one of the largest temperate rainforests in the United States, and the Hall of Moss Trail is a great introduction for kids. The moss drips from conifers here, part of an old-growth Sitka spruce ecosystem that also hosts bobcats—too shy to be a threat—river otters, elk, Douglas squirrels, and bird species. It rains about 144 inches here every year. Bring water-repellant boots and rain gear.
Ok, it might be a challenge to encourage a kid to walk more than 4 miles of trail. If there’s a place to do it, it’s the Johnston Ridge Boundary Trail. North of Mount St. Helens, the trail is set square in the middle of the 1980 eruption’s blast radius. Net elevation gain is about 400 feet, but you’ll have to peel your eyes from the brooding volcano, the deposits leftover from the eruption, and the Roosevelt elk for long enough to notice. Whatever adorns your kids, make it red and black—like lava.
Volcanic eruptions transform the landscape above ground and below, and the Ape Caves reveal the hardened tube that lava leaves behind. The trail is short, and it changes little in elevation, leaving more time for the kids to awe over the dark corners and strange shadows cast in the lightless tube. Bring a headlamp and a warm jacket. The temperatures underground stay cool even in the summer.
The Columbia River Gorge is one of the most unique and scenic wilderness areas in the country, and the Oneonta Gorge is a classic Oregon experience that should be atop the list of anyone who visits. It’s short, just 1 mile with little elevation gain, and there’s a short season in the late summer when water levels are low enough to hike safely and the temperatures are warm enough to withstand the cool water. But during that time you'll find an incomparable basalt gorge where kids 10 and over will love to swim, hike, and scurry over logs to reach Lower Oneonta Falls. The Eagle Creek Fire of 2017 may have changed this beautiful gorge, but fire adds just another dimension of beauty to this iconic Oregon hike. Bring waders, if you must, or anything that stays warm while wet.
The 3.6 miles on the Memaloose Hills Trail are an afterthought in the spring. In April and May, these meadows explode with wildflower color, and the views of Mount Hood become all the more impressive. Elevation gain is negligible, and the mileage really depends on how distracted your kids get with the wildflowers. With little forest cover comes sun and wind exposure. Bring wind-blocking jackets and sun hats.
Tryon Creek State Park is part of the Portland metro area, and it is a great hideaway to take the kids for a quick outdoor adventure. With multiple hiking routes, the Cedar Trail Hike is a short 2.6-mile option with 200 feet of elevation gain. So close to the urban center, this is a great way to get your kids to stretch their legs. The beloved park is also home to a wide range of guided hikes and kids’ programs to take advantage of. Keep the clothing cozy, but be prepared for rain and wet.
Wahclella Falls rounds out a Columbia River Gorge tour with a hike just 2 miles long with 300 feet of elevation gain. Take advantage of the gorge’s waterfalls; you won’t see so many easily accessible falls in such a concentration anywhere else in the Pacific Northwest. Unlike the Oneonta Gorge, the kids won’t need to wade here. Just bring the boots.
The above was produced with our friends at L.L.Bean, who believe that on the inside, we’re all outsiders.