Fall can be a tricky time to plan a hike in Western Washington, but I wanted to give you a few ideas in case you decide to take advantage of tomorrow’s free admission to national parks and other federal lands.
First, if you have even the teensiest bit of desire to hike with your kids, you really should get Joan Burton’s book, Best Hikes With Kids in Western Washington. She has very nicely made much of it searchable for free at her website, Joanburton.org but it’s such a good resource, I really think every outdoor loving family should own a copy.
Joan has a very nice forward in the book full of sensible suggestions to make sure your kids enjoy hiking and want to keep doing it. Trust me: If there is anything worse than a 4 year old and a 2 year old having simultaneous meltdowns, it’s a 4 year old and a 2 year old having simultaneous meltdowns one mile from the trailhead and an hour and a half from home, blankets, snacks, and the blessed TV.
Now that I’ve scared you, assuming you’ve done some very basic planning, there is still good, kid friendly hiking to be done this time of year. If you want to trek to Rainier, I’d suggest doing the Trail of the Shadows across from the Longmire Museum. Another idea would be to go to the new visitor center at Pardise. A number of short strolls set off right from the parking lot, and the rangers will be glad to direct you. Both Longmire and Paradise are open now, but check and bookmark the road status page. Try to get an early start on a Rainier outing, or parking will be a real bear.
Admission is also free tomorrow at the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge North of Olympia. If you haven’t been in a while, much of the area is being returned to its natural habitat. The Refuge has a small visitor center with exhibits and several flat trails. The real highlight is all the wildlife. It’s a haven for bird watchers, in particular. We always find the drive down really quick and the way back really slow as there is the inevitable Ft.Lewis jam up.
Other good, local hikes include the trails around Snake Lake at the Tacoma Nature Center, Swan Creek in Tacoma, and the many trails in Pt.Defiance (Yes, there is so much there besides the zoo)! All of these are mostly flat, have lots of interest for kids, and make good first hiking experiences.
If you have older, seasoned hikers, Joan’s book does an excellent job of describing hikes of varying difficulty. Another great resource is the website of the Washington Trails Association.