In 2015, before we knew that we were about to jump full force into this nomadic lifestyle, we took a two-week trip through Califonia, a six week trip through Oregon and Washington, and a three week trip to Utah and Colorado. At the time, our youngest two kids were only four and six-years-old and couldn’t hike the big miles we do today. These were our favorite kid-friendly hikes that we did in the Western U.S. Some were good for all our kids and a few were better suited for our oldest three kiddos who were 11, 14, and 16 at the time.
Second Beach, Olympic National Park
One of our favorite kid-friendly hikes was a super short one near Forks, Washington. We ended up at this hike only because of the book/movie series Twilight. Part of the Olympic National Park starts on the Quileute Indian Reservation. I couldn’t believe how full the parking lot was on a Saturday night in August. Obviously, this is a popular hike! Since it was sunset and every campground in the area was full, we slept in full vagabonding style on the side of the road across from Second Beach.
Though barely rested, due to the non-stop booming of fireworks throughout the night, I woke up early eager to see what the all the excitement was about here. It’s unique! The hike itself is only .7 miles, but it’s through moss filled temperate rain forest and ends on a breathtaking stretch of beach with sea stacks. The kids loved tide pooling here!
There were over 100 tents pitched up and down the beach. Hence why there were so many cars were in the parking lot. We will definitely be returning here to camp on the beach. Even if you just come for the hike and scenery, it’s worth it.
Trail Length: 1.4 miles RT, out and Back
Alberta Falls, Rocky Mountain National Park
We didn’t plan on going to this park. In fact, we almost skipped it completely. I am so happy we didn’t. We happened by chance to get here the week before it got really busy with summer crowds and just after all the snow storms had passed. Yay, uncrowded campsites and trails still covered in snow! It was fantastic. The kids had so much fun playing with snow in June on this hike. The Aspen trees looked especially pretty standing in blankets of snow. This is a fairly short hike, but parts of it reminded me of being in Narnia. I kept expecting the to see Mr. Tumnus walk out from behind the trees.
We also got lucky because they opened Trail Ridge Road the last day we were at the park so we were able to drive across the park and experience what the Arctic Tundra is like.
Trail length: 1.4 miles, One Way
Related Blog: Colorado Road Trip
Lembert Dome, Yosemite NP
There’s nothing quite like standing on the top of Lembert Dome to test your fear of heights. Although the top is quite flat and safe, getting your nerves up to make the climb all the way to the top will be challenging for many. As a fan of living on the edge, I personally loved the mild adrenaline rush of feeling like a mountain goat scurrying up the granite. The reward of standing at the top of the dome overlooking Tuolumne Meadows, seeing the vast expanse of mountains, trees, lakes, and rolling hills surrounding you is worth every bit of courage you may need to call upon.
Trail length: 2.8 miles. (We combined this hike with the Dog Lake hike and part of the John Muir Trail adding an additional 3 miles to the total hike.)
Related Blog: Tuolumne Meadows
Narada Falls/ Reflection Lake from Paradise, Mount Rainer National Park
There is so much to love about this hike. First, the trail meanders in and out of different ecosystems. Second, the meadows were covered with wildflowers. Third, it was just long enough to weed out the unfit or unambitious meaning we had the trail almost entirely to ourselves.
This hike takes you through forests, meadows, and by lakes. When we were there in July, there were wild huckleberries all along the path to pick and eat. To top it off, you have the magnificent Mount Rainer looming over you through the entire hike. It really puts life into perspective as you feel the vastness of the meadows backdropped with the magnificence of the volcano. I was very impressed with the entire Mt Rainer National Park. It’s one of my favorite national parks.
Trail length: 5 miles RT, Loop
Related blog: Washington State National Park Road Trip Itinerary
Fairyland Loop, Bryce Canyon NP
“Walt Disney must have visited here before he designed Disneyland.” That’s the first thing that comes to mind when I am on this trail. The hoodoos really do look like fairytale palaces. The shape and colors they take on as the sun moves across the sky can’t be put into words. We really weren’t that excited to go visit Bryce Canyon. But when we pulled up to a dense forest and then walked to the edge of the canyon, my jaw dropped. The canyon is so spectacular, you almost feel like it’s an illusion.
Parts of this trail go through coniferous forests. Some parts feel like a dry, hot desert. And the best parts go through narrow canyons surrounded by tall, artistic hoodoos. It really is out of this world. You absolutely have to hike it and experience it for yourself. We hiked the Rim Trail and a few of the other hikes at the park, but none compare to the Fairyland Loop. Do it!
Trail length: 8.1 miles RT, Loop
Related Blog: Southwest National Parks Road Trip
Sahalie and Koosah Falls, Oregon
We hiked through a lot of forests in the Pacific Northwest, but I think this had to be the greenest hike with the clearest water we had ever seen.
There are great spots along the trail to get a close up look at the falls. This hike is located about halfway between Eugene and Bend, but is totally worth the detour.
Trail length: 2.6 miles RT, Loop
Related Blog: Oregon Road Trip Itinerary
Bright Angel, Grand Canyon NP
Like Bryce Canyon, I was reluctant to visit the Grand Canyon. I envisioned a big hole in the middle of the desert and I was completely wrong. It is absolutely beautiful. The layers of yellows, oranges, and reds in the canyon walls create a striking background to all the green and white. Yes, white!
When we were there in November, it had just snowed and the trails were still icy while the ground beside the trail was covered in a layer of powdery snow. We only hiked down as far as the first lookout. However, if you feel ambitious you can follow the trail all the way down to the canyon floor. This is also a backpacking trail that I would love to be able to do one day.
Trail Length: Varies
Manitou Incline, Colorado Springs, CO
Bragging rights. That’s what this hike is all about. The base sits at 6,800 feet and climbs 2,000 verticle feet, over about a mile, to reach the top. There’s a reason the Olympic athletes use this as part of their training regime and many other athletes run it to improve their fitness. Each step is like doing a lunge. It is brutal. One thing I loved though when we climbed it, was seeing the diversity of ages and fitness levels.
The hike back down is about 3 miles and with tired legs, it feels like it takes forever. I can see why a lot of people choose to just run the way down. Regardless of the challenge, if you are in the area, I highly recommend attempting it. The view at the top is breathe taking, assuming you can still breathe!
Trail Length: 4 miles RT, Loop
Ewoldsen Trail, Julia Pfeiffer Burns SP
The best way to figure out which hikes to do is to ask locals. So when we did and were told that we had to do this hike because of the views, we listened. Even though it is a loop, you will swear you are climbing for at least three-fourths of the hike.
We did this hike after already hiking 12 miles with the kids over the last two days! This meant that I pretty much had to carry Tatiana on most of the hike, but it was well worth it. The beginning of the hike starts in redwood groves and crosses rumbling streams before it climbs and climbs and climbs to spectacular views of the stunning turquoise colored ocean. The top of the trail is remarkable dry and you feel like you have climbed into an entirely different ecosystem than what you expect to find in Big Sur. Make sure you walk under the tunnel to take a picture of the iconic McWay Falls.
Trail Length: 5 miles RT, Loop
Related Blog: Big Sur Road Trip
Punchbowl Falls, OR
This was the second time for us to do this hike and for a good reason. It’s awesome! We happen to do this hike in early August both times, which means right at the peak of blackberry season. There’s nothing better than eating wild blackberries along the path to fuel your body! This is another hike through lush, old-growth forests of douglas fir, cedar, and hemlock. The trail is blanketed by dewy ferns and moss-covered rocks, and winds along a trickling (or sometimes raging) creek bed.
This hike is so popular that many hikers doing the PCT will divert from the usual course over the Benson Plateau to experience the magnificence of the Eagle Creek gorge. There is one area that is a bit unsafe for small kids, but there is a chain to hold onto. We took it slow and I know my kids are good at following directions, so I felt safe doing it. Your reward at the end is a beautiful waterfall that drops into a pool of freezing cold water with tons of people swimming. I highly recommend jumping in, just not too long or hypothermia may set in!
Trail length: 3.8 miles RT, Out and Back