One of the best ways to enhance a family relationship is to take a stroll in the woods.
Children love to explore, and they have inquiring minds. They can expend excess energy by running, jumping and climbing.
The Inland Northwest does not lack for interesting places to go for family hikes, but sometimes families need new ideas. Here are some of my favorite trails, which are suitable for short walks or longer hikes, depending on a family’s ability.
Be aware that most of the nature trails are not suitable for strollers. But the terrain is gentle enough so that mom or dad can pack tired children in their arms, or on their shoulders, without difficulty.
Highwood Pass on Highway 40 is Canada’s highest driveable pass. The road is surrounded by the Highwood Road Corridor Wildlife Sanctuary. An interpretive area is located at the 7,236-foot summit.
The Highwood Meadows Trail is partly on a raised boardwalk and passes through a sub-alpine meadow. It is a barrier-free trail, suitable for wheelchair access and strollers. Children will be delighted to see inquisitive ground squirrels up-close (but resist the urge to feed them; many of the squirrels are tagged for a research project to determine how they have adapted to the extremely short summer season at the pass.)
The Ptarmigan Cirque Trail is a strenuous, three-mile loop route ascending above timberline. Small children will have difficulty completing the loop, but for those who can make it, they’ll find the views rewarding.
Highwood House Park Ranger Office, (403) 558-2151.
Rain and the beauty it creates are what attracts visitors to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. The lush green forests and hundreds of trickling streams catch the fascination of both young and old alike. Go prepared for rain showers, taking along umbrellas, rain gear and extra footwear.
The Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park is a true temperate rain forest that receives almost 14 feet of rain a year. One of the most popular pathways is the Hall of Mosses Trail. It is three-quarters of a mile long and covers easy terrain, suitable for small children. It is awe-inspiring to walk among towering conifers, moss-draped deciduous trees and thick stands of ferns.
Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center, (360) 452-4501.
Ozette Trailhead at Ozette Lake near Neah Bay offers two trails leading to coastal beaches. Both trails feature long, winding elevated boardwalks to help preserve the fragile environment. The wooden boardwalks are a unique hiking experience. Families with small children will like the easy walking offered because the children won’t have to negotiate any rocks or tree roots.
The trails are in the Olympic National Park, which has 57 miles of the most pristine natural coastline in the contiguous United States.
Lake Ozette Ranger Station, (360) 963-2725.
Idaho’s cedar forests
The western red cedar tree was often referred to by Native American tribes as “Young Life Maker.” It gave them everything but food, and it helped them to catch that.
North Idaho’s cedar groves appeal to all the senses. The cool, fragrant air offers a welcome respite during the hot days of summer. Strolling on the thick layer of duff on the forest floor is like walking across a soft, springy bed. And families can’t resist joining hands to see if their union can reach around the large girth of the towering giants.
The Hobo Cedar Grove Botanical Area is located in the St. Joe Ranger District northeast of Clarkia, off Highway 321. The half-mile nature trail has a very gentle grade, making it accessible to older people and families with small children. Further exploration of the giant cedars is available on the one-mile Big Loop Trail.
Call (208) 245-2531.
Roosevelt Grove of Ancient Cedars Scenic Area is located in the Priest Lake Ranger District, about 14 miles north of Nordman. Granite Falls Trail 301 leads visitors through the giant cedars. Some of the trees have a 12-foot diameter and are an estimated 800 and 2,000 years old. A bonus on this family day hike is viewing Granite Falls.
Call (208) 443-2512.
Hanna Flats Cedar Grove Interpretive Trail is located in the Priest Lake Ranger District, about 25 miles north of Priest River. The trail has interpretive stations, which tell a tale of survival of the giant cedars.
Call (208) 443-2512.
A good traveler’s guide for Idaho adventures is “Country Roads of Idaho” by Bill London (Country Roads Press).
An “Atlas & Gazetteer” series for Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana is produced by DeLorme Mapping Co. Each book contains a complete set of topographical maps. An information section lists the locations and facilities for outdoor activities such as hiking and biking trails, fishing lakes, public boat launches, rockhounding sites and camping facilities. The books are available at most book shops and outdoor specialty stores.