Eleven Tips for Family-Friendly Hiking

Last updated: May 14, 2024, at 7:14 a.m. PT

Originally published: June 26, 2020, at 3:56 p.m. PT

fam friendly hike

Ah, the great outdoors! The peace, quiet, and beauty of nature can be breathtaking, but that experience usually changes when kids are along for the adventure. What if we told you there were ways to get them to love hiking as much as you? Follow these steps, and you and your family will be hiking like pros in no time. 

  1. Pack Appropriately: You want to pack light, but not so light that you forgo essential items! Before you head out, make sure you have everything you need to start and finish the hike off strong. Check out REI’s Ten Essentials list to get you started.
  2. Pick the Right Pack: Now that you’ve gathered all the essentials, it’s time to pick out a sturdy, comfortable backpack to hold them. If your children are old enough, encourage them to wear a backpack to hold their supplies too!
  3. Stay Hydrated: Make sure to bring enough water to last the entire hike. For every hour of hiking, adults should have 2 cups (about 1/2 liter) of water, while children should have 1-2 cups.
  4. Protect Your Skin: Make sure to pack sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat to protect everyone from the sun. 
  5. Bring Snacks: Pack enough healthy food to keep the family energized for the entire hike! Depending on the time of day and the duration of the hike, you might also want to pack a lunch! 
  6. Get a First Aid Kit: Accidents happen. Make sure you have band-aids for scrapes and scratches and something to clean out wounds. 
  7. Wear the Right Clothing: Choosing the right things to wear depends on the length and elevation gain of the hike, as well as the season.  It’s usually a good idea to dress in layers and to pack some extra clothes to put on if you get cold or it rains. 
  8. Choose the Right Distance: Make sure the hike you choose is appropriate for the age of your child.  Instead of a 10-mile-long hike with a high elevation gain, you might start out with an easier hike that is three miles or less, then build up the distance over time. See the next section for 5 family-friendly hikes we recommend!
  9. Spread Excitement: Choose a hike that your children can get excited about. Hikes with cool features, like waterfalls, bridges, or lakes to swim in will make the journey a lot more enjoyable. We recommend telling them about the features before the hike so they have something to look forward to.  
  10. Avoid the Crowds: Popular trails tend to get very busy by mid-morning, so if you want to find easy parking and hike with minimal crowds, plan on hiking first thing in the morning. 
  11. Fit Your Family's Schedule: If you have small children, make sure to plan the hike around their nap schedule. The hike will be hard to complete if they’re too tired! As we mentioned above, also take normal eating schedules into consideration when packing food for the journey.

Five Family-Friendly Hikes (Within an Hour of Seattle)

Be sure to check trip reports before heading out to check for trail conditions, parking, and other important details.

  • Seward Park in Seattle offers both short and long trails – some of which are even stroller-friendly! There are also playgrounds, access to Lake Washington, and a nature center. 
  • Swamp Monster Trail at Tiger Mountain is short and has different placards along the way that tell a story to keep kids engaged!
  • St. Edwards State Park in Kenmore is a 3-mile loop (with shorter options available) that will take you past huge trees and along the coast of Lake Washington with access to the water. Bonus: There are also great playgrounds for the kids. 
  • Franklin Falls in Snoqualmie Pass is a 2-mile hike that ends at a beautiful 70-foot waterfall where the kids can play and run.
  • Denny Creek Waterslide in Snoqualmie Pass is a 2.5-mile hike that includes a natural waterslide for kids to play in. Plan this hike for a warm day!