Finding a hike that's easy enough for youngsters and still enticing for adults can be difficult, but there are several worthwhile hiking trails throughout the U.S. for a family outing. Taking into account scenery, walkability, and accessibility from major cities, we've rounded up the nine best family-friendly hikes in America.
Acadia National Park features a gorgeous mix of water features, lush mountains, and rich wildlife, and all can be enjoyed by hiking the Jordan Pond Path. Although considered a moderate hike, it’s largely flat (aside from a stretch of planks and rocks) and suitable for all ages, plus dogs are allowed on a leash. The 3.2-mile loop is along the water’s edge and offers vistas of The Bubbles mountains, making for a scenic hike the entire time. Swimming is prohibited, but visitors often spot beavers, loons, frogs, and other birds. We suggest going in autumn when Maine‘s foliage is a striking array of colors.
Many of the hikes within California‘s Yosemite National Park are on the strenuous side, but the Lower Yosemite Fall Trail is easy and kid-friendly. The one-mile hike has an elevation gain of just 50 feet, but the views are no less stunning, as visitors end up at the base of the Lower Yosemite Fall. It spans 320 feet and is part of Yosemite Falls, North America’s highest waterfall measuring a whopping 2,425 feet in entirety. The trail here is open year-round, and the water is at its peak around spring and early summer.
While it isn’t the most popular trail in the beautiful Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, the Kephart Prong Trail is a great family pick for those looking to avoid crowds and observe historical sites. The 4.2-mile round-trip hike includes crossing the Oconaluftee River multiple times via log footbridges and being surrounded by lush forest, and it ends at the Kephart Shelter. Toward the beginning of the trail, hikers will pass remnants of the Civilian Conservation Corps Camp that was here from 1933 to 1942 — a chimney, pipes, and old walls — as well as the remains of a Works Progress Administration fish hatchery. The trail and mountain are named after Horace Kephart, who was an American travel writer and early proponent of granting the Smokies national park status.
Colorado is ripe with breathtaking hikes, but we particularly love the Mount Falcon Castle Trail in Morrison (30-minute drive outside of Denver) for its suitability for little ones. The easy hike has gorgeous views overlooking downtown Denver and the adjacent, iconic Red Rocks Amphitheatre, particularly from a fire tower. The trail length depends on where you start, but it’s typically a three- to four-mile affair. The ruins of a grand, historic home are at the top, and some wildlife is often spotted along the way. It can get hot and crowded, so go early or late afternoon.
The hike up Diamond Head is steep and strenuous, and the Manoa Falls Trail to the waterfalls can be muddy and bug-filled, so while we’d still recommend doing them both, our favorite kid-friendly pick in Oahu is Makapuu Lighthouse Trail. The two-mile trail is located a 30-minute drive east of Waikiki, and can be traversed by kids, people in wheelchairs, and dogs on leashes. Outstanding views of the coastline, a 1909-built lighthouse, and even migrating humpback whales (November through May) make it a popular and worthwhile outing.
The Bear Mountain Loop Trail (a 90-minute drive outside of New York City) is both dog- and kid-friendly, though only for those willing and able to climb many steps and do a bit of rock scrambling near the top. Still, many elementary-aged kids and fit dogs often complete this hike that culminates in lovely views over the Hudson River. Make your way to the Perkins Memorial Tower for exceptional panoramic views — especially magnificent during peak fall foliage. Then, head to an adjacent smooth rock area with lovely vistas and enough space to spread out and have lunch.
For those that aren’t up for hiking Zion National Park‘s famous Narrows, which requires wading through water for a varying lengths (depending on the season), the Riverside Walk is a good alternative. The flat trail is wheelchair accessible and runs about one mile alongside the Virgin River before meeting The Narrows. Travelers can either choose to continue and wade into the river, or head back. It’s a pretty trail surrounded by the canyon’s beautiful rocks, and offers a few shady spots to rest.
8. Santa Elena Canyon Trail, Big Bend National Park
The Santa Elena Canyon Trail is an easy-to-moderate hike within Big Bend National Park along the Texas and Mexico border. The 1.7-mile round-trip hike leads into the canyon, however, it can be unreachable when Terlingua Creek floods. The picturesque trail provides opportunities to see the winding Rio Grande, wildlife like javelinas and roadrunners, and canyon walls. Be prepared for scorching temps in the summer, and don’t forget your camera.
Although the Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail stretches seven miles, it’s flat, easy, and doable for kids, people in wheelchairs, and dogs on leashes. Situated about a 30-minute drive from San Diego proper, the Los Penasquitos (little cliffs) Canyon Preserve has Native American history that dates back 7,000 years ago. Today, hikers, bikers, and horseback riders all make use of the expansive area, and visitors can see a waterfall, greenery, and an old adobe house. There are some shady sections, but prepare for walking in the hot sun.
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