Summer just called with your next bucket list, so dust off your boots, strap your sidekick into the backpack and get ready to explore the great outdoors. From hiking to a castle to finding a snowy summit, we’ve curated the ultimate list of treks you’ve got to try with the kids. Challenge accepted!
photo: Curtis Simmons via Flickr
1. Hike to a castle.
Send yourself back in time with a jaunt through the forest that ends at the door of a real castle.
Hit the trail: Built over 80 years ago, at the bottom of Emerald Bay State Park, Vikingsholm is an architectural wonder that will impress hikers of all ages. The trail is a straight shot down the mountain with a steep return trek and is probably best for older kids and/or kids in backpacks.
photo: Josh Grenier via Flickr
2. Take a historical hike.
And you thought it was all about the scenery. Add an exciting historical spot to your family hike and you’ll be rewarded with a double dose of “America is awesome” from your crew.
Hit the trail: Mount Rushmore National Park, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and the Boston National Historical Park are all great options.
photo: Allison Sutcliffe
3. Hike into a volcano.
When you get right down to it, hiking into a volcano with your mini-me is as cool as it sounds. The views are unforgettable and finding one that’s hike-able usually means an awesome family vacay is in progress. #winning.
Hit the trail: Exploring the Haleakala Crater on Maui is as close to walking on the moon as you’ll get without blasting off.
photo: Angela Barton
4. Hike to a waterfall.
Is there be anything more calming than a peaceful waterfall at the end of a long hike? We don’t think so. Find your parenting Zen and a pretty stellar view on a waterfall hike with the wee ones. Extra points if you stay to play in the spray.
Hit the trail: There are four different waterfalls (Falls Creek Falls, Piney Falls, Cane Creek Falls, Cane Creek Cascades) in Fall Creek Falls State Park, and the park has over 34 miles of trails, many of which are perfect for the tot lot.
photo: Jen Boyer
5. Hike through the desert
With a lack of noticeable landmarks, desert hiking takes a little navigation know-how and a sense of adventure. Be sure to pack plenty of water and slather your little trail guides with sunscreen for this one. Then watch for cairns to find your way from one view to the next.
Hit the trail: Joshua Tree National Monument in Southern California will be as inspiring to your tiny hikers as it was to U2.
photo: Dianna Clark
6. Hike in a rainforest.
Pull on your rain boots and pack a slicker for this wet and woodsy walk among the trees. Nothing beats a rainforest hike on a sweltering summer day when quiet shade and mossy trees mean refuge from the sun’s rays.
Hit the trail: You’ll find plenty of family-friendly trails in the Hoh Rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington.
photo: Dhaval Shreyas via Flickr
7. Hike to a view.
Hiking’s all about the journey, not the destination (or so you thought). But sometimes it really should be about the destination. Especially when there’s a stunning view that goes with it.
Hit the trail: Maroon Bells in Aspen, Colorado is two views for the price of one when you catch the mountain reflected in the lake below.
photo: Amaury Laporte via Flickr
8. Hike through a canyon.
Easy hike in, tough hike out. Canyon hiking is the antithesis of other hiking experiences, so be sure to spend time above and in the canyon to get the full effect.
Hit the trail: When it comes to canyons, the Grand Canyon wins every time.
photo: Allison Sutcliffe
9. Hike through the redwood forest.
Hiking through a redwood forest is the quintessential forest hike for a reason: Being dwarfed by massive old-growth trees helps to put it all in perspective. Plus, it helps you get a kid’s eye view of things.
Hit the trail: To find these trees, try Muir Woods National Forest in Mill Valley, California.
photo: Oakley Originals via Flickr
10. Hike around a lake: Scoop the loop around a local lake with your little ranger. Most lakeside hikes are simple and flat, which make them great for kids.
Hit the trail: Crater Lake in Oregon is the bluest lake in the world and definitely worth a visit.
photo: Dale Cruse via Flickr
11. Hike up a city monument.
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a super high building just waiting for your family to reach its summit: City monuments, skyscrapers, even steep thoroughfares make for great urban climbs. And the views at the end are totally worth it!
Hit the trail: Hike to the top of the crown in the Statue of Liberty to be at the top of your game.
photo: Sarah Lenssen
12. Hike an interstate trail.
Even if you don’t cross from one state to the next on your trip, hiking an interstate state trail is always a blast. Spotting backpackers making their way across the country on foot is nothing short of inspiring, and boy, do they have stories to share!
photo: Kristen Deptula
13. Hike through the snow in the summer.
This seasonal twist is a pure delight to kids who were just wearing shorts and swimming in the pool a few hours earlier. Altitude is key to finding snow on a hot summer day, so plan for lots of up, up, up along the way. But once you get there it’s way worth it. And a snowball is a must.
Hit the trail: There’s a good chance you’ll find snow all summer long at Sunrise in Mt. Rainier National Park.
photo: Jana Ablin
14. Hike to the beach.
Beaches aren’t just for umbrellas and floaties anymore. With wide-open views and lots of rolling hills to tackle, sand dunes make for some of the best warm weather hiking around.
Hit the trail: The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore along Lake Michigan has amazing beach hikes and killer views to boot.
photo: Elvert Barnes via Flickr
15. Hike an urban trail.
You don’t always need dirt to blaze a path. In fact, transforming inactive rail lines into hike-able cityscapes is all the rage these days. Who knew city hiking could be so cool?
Hit the trail: You can find our favorite urban hikes for families here.
Do you have any hikes to add to our list? Share in a comment below.
— Gabby Cullen & Allison Sutcliffe