21 Places To Take Your Kids This Winter
Sometimes in winter, getting out to hike with kids feels overwhelming. Just wrangling them into vaguely appropriate clothing (pajamas? sure, they're fleece, whatever) can seem like a lot. When you do get outside however, the energy you expended to get out there is so worth it. Between the fresh air, bright winter daylight and the little wonders at your feet, it may not matter if you don't make it more than 10 steps from the trailhead.
Here are 21 winter hikes to try when you need to get outside but want to keep it chill. Some are short and sweet, and some can be extended if you discover your kid has energy to spare.
Skagit Wildlife Area
Location: Near Mount Vernon
Elevation gain: Minimal
From fall to spring, this is a bird paradise. Kids will enjoy the chance to see snow geese and swans. They make a fun racket and, if you're lucky enough to see them flying, they’re an impressive sight. Skagit Wildlife Area has several access points, the headquarters area is a good place to start, to explore a 2-mile trail. Bring binoculars, if you have them!
> Plan your visit to Skagit Wildlife Area using WTA's Hiking Guide
Location: Near Blaine
Distance: 1.6 miles roundtrip
Elevation gain: Minimal
Enjoy the beach with stellar mountain views on a clear day. There is a paved route, convenient for folks with kids in strollers or those with limited mobility. There’s also beach access and kids will enjoy playing near the water. If you have binoculars, bring them to watch birds and seals. If you’d like to linger for awhile, it’s also a great spot for picnicking.
> Plan your visit to Semiahmoo Spit using WTA's Hiking Guide
Point Whitehorn Marine Reserve
Location: Near Ferndale
Distance: 1.5 miles roundtrip
Elevation gain: 192 feet
Most of this trail is wheelchair and stroller accessible. The route wanders through the forest with interpretive signs along the way to provide information about the area’s environment and history. The trail offers access to 2 miles of rocky shoreline. It’s a great place for wildlife viewing and tidepooling. Just remember (and tell your kids) that this is a sanctuary for wildlife, so give any critters you see space and respect.
> Plan your visit to Point Whitehorn Marine Reserve using WTA's Hiking Guide
Puget Sound area
Location: Whidbey Island
Distance: 4.5 miles of trails
Elevation gain: Up to 420 feet
Whidbey Institute, which offers workshops and retreats, is surrounded by forest with a number of winding trails that invite curious exploration. (Just note that some trails are steep for short sections.) A highlight for many visitors, including kids, will be the labyrinth. It’s a fun opportunity to explore the outdoors in a new way. Because it’s such a low elevation walk, these lush green trails are accessible nearly all year.
> Plan your visit to Whidbey Institute using WTA's Hiking Guide
Location: Woodinville area
Distance: Up to 3 miles of trails
Elevation gain: Up to 120 feet
Brightwater Center is the wastewater-treatment facility for King County — but don’t let that scare you off. The treatment center is indoors and smell-free. The grounds are a great place to wander with kids. The area is dotted with interesting art, and there’s a cool visitor center (open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Thursday) you can visit. You can also explore the wetlands on the grounds — be sure to watch for birds and other wildlife, and admire all of the interesting native plants.
> Plan your visit to Brightwater Center using WTA's Hiking Guide
Evans Creek Preserve
Location: Near Sammamish
Distance: Up to 4.2 miles
Elevation gain: Up to 325 feet
Evans Creek Preserve features a WTA-built trail system amid wetlands meadows and hillside forest. There are wheelchair-friendly trails and you can get here via public transportation. If you like the Tradition Plateau Loop at Tiger, this is a great alternative. Use the maps at trail intersection to help you navigate. You’ll find birdwatching platforms along the way, and bridges over wetlands and creeks that kids will enjoy.
> Plan your visit to Evans Creek Preserve using WTA's Hiking Guide
Location: Snoqualmie Valley
Distance: Up to 4.9 miles of trail
This sweet location has loop trails that range from just a few hundred feet to 2.25 miles. It makes a great stop for kids of all ages. There’s a stroller-friendly option. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to get a glimpse of an elk herd off of the Meadow Loop Trail.
> Plan your visit to Meadowbrook Farm using WTA's Hiking Guide
Shadow Lake Nature Preserve
Distance: 1 mile roundtrip (up to 4 miles of trails in surrounding area)
This little park in Renton has a 5,000-year-old peat bog with a half-mile, universally accessible boardwalk that lets you get a good look at the interesting habitat. There are also surrounding upland trails to explore, you’ll just want to get in touch with the preserve before you visit the upland area.
> Plan your visit to Shadow Lake Nature Preserve using WTA's Hiking Guide
Ranger Hole – Interrorem Trail
Location: Hood Canal
Distance: 1.9 miles roundtrip
Elevation gain: 292 feet
Enjoy a 0.3 mile interpretive trail, which is great for kids, or go for a longer hike to lovely views of the Duckabush River. The trail begins with a view of an old cabin (but don’t go poking around — it’s available to rent so is sometimes occupied). The interpretive trail tells some of the history of the area. The hike continues to Ranger Hole, full of the classic greenery of the Pacific Northwest. If you want another nearby destination, check out Murhut Falls, just 10 minutes down the road.
> Plan your visit to Ranger Hole — Interrorem Trail using WTA’s Hiking Guide
Spruce Railroad Trail
Location: Olympic Peninsula, near Lake Crescent
Round trip: Up to 10 miles
Elevation gain: Up to 250 feet
Enjoy a stroll along Lake Crescent — a large, beautifully blue lake. The trail begins in an old orchard and then follows along an old, paved railroad grade, with a few places to access the beach along the way. At a mile in, you’ll reach a bridge over the Punchbowl, a deep, gorgeous pool. Continue on and you’ll see great views of Barnes Point and Mount Storm King.
> Plan your visit to Spruce Railroad Trail using WTA's Hiking Guide
Location: Olympic Peninsula, west of Port Angeles
Distance: 0.2 mile roundtrip (with longer hikes from same parking lot)
Elevation gain: 46 feet
This short, paved trail leads to a beautiful waterfall. It’s a lovely spot for a quick trip to stretch your legs. There are benches at the end where you can sit and watch the water. If you’d like to do more walking, you can follow the old road upriver to where the Elwha washed out the pavement. It’s fascinating for both kids and adults — the river is powerful! If you’d like to go even farther, there’s a bypass trail around the washout, to the old campground and up to Glines Canyon overlook.
> Plan your visit to Madison Falls using WTA's Hiking Guide
Westport Light Trail
Distance: 2 miles roundtrip
Elevation gain: 15 feet
This ADA-accessible trail lets you get a close look at the dunes from a nice, paved surface. You’ll be able to hear the surf all along the way, and see it at several view points. There are interpretive signs and artwork, as well as benches to relax on. The Westport Lighthouse is nearby, as well, and makes a kid-friendly addition to this hike.
> Plan your visit to Westport Light Trail using WTA's Hiking Guide
Cape Disappointment – North Head Lighthouse and Bell’s Overlook
Location: Long Beach area
Distance: 0.75 miles roundtrip
Elevation gain: 25 feet
You can enjoy several hikes from the same parking area here. A wide, gravel trail with a few short, steep sections leads to the photogenic North Head Lighthouse, high above the waves below. A second, longer trail branches off to Bell’s Overlook Trail, which is paved with a moderate grade.
The trail winds through the forest, past an old water tower, old gun batteries and lookouts and ends at a boardwalk overlooking the ocean. If you’re up for more exploring, there are plenty of other trails in the park, too. The North Head Trail leaves from the same parking area and drops down to the beach below.
> Plan your visit to Cape Disappointment using WTA's Hiking Guide
Wind River Arboretum
Location: Columbia River Gorge
Distance: 2 miles of trails
Elevation gain: 40 feet
This arboretum is fun all year, but in the winter, without leaves, you can actually get a better view of some of the trees, like the monkey puzzle tree. Researchers planted 250 trees in this area in the 1912; interpretive signs help you understand the history of this area. The options to take or link up various short loops make this a great family hike. WTA has worked here recently to clear trails that nature had started to reclaim.
> Plan your visit to Wind River Arboretum using WTA's Hiking Guide
Vancouver Discovery Historic Loop
Distance: 2.3 miles
Elevation gain: 115 feet
This urban loop offers plenty of history, along with views of the Columbia River and Mount Hood. The route is paved and is open to bicycles — which might be appealing to kids who like to peddle while their grown-ups walk. Read our Hiking Guide for an overview of the history of the area. And check the informational signs along the way. If you’d like more, for $10 you can visit the reconstructed stockade at Fort Vancouver, as well 10 outbuildings.
> Plan your visit to Vancouver Discovery Historic Loop using WTA's Hiking Guide
Distance: Up to 10 miles, one-way
Elevation gain: 100 feet
This paved trail along the Yakima and Naches rivers offers plenty of entertainment for adults and kids. There are parks, playgrounds and fishing areas along the route. You can hike as long as you want or simply just come for a picnic. And because it’s paved, it’s also a good option for strollers, scooters or bikes.
> Plan your visit to Yakima Greenway using WTA's Hiking Guide
Horan Natural Area — Wenatchee Confluence State Park
Distance: 2.5 miles, roundtrip
Elevation gain: Minimal
Horan Natural Area features 2 miles of graveled trails and 15 viewing stations for watching local wildlife. The route starts out over a cool bridge that kids will probably appreciate. From there, wander the trail around oxbow lakes and watch for beavers, muskrats and plenty of birds.
> Plan your visit to Horan Natural Area using WTA's Hiking Guide
Chamna Natural Preserve
Distance: 3.8 miles, roundtrip
Elevation gain: 30 feet
Chamna Natural Preserve is a great place to visit in winter to watch for birds, including waterfowl. You might even spot deer, rabbits, porcupines, coyotes, beaver and river otters. A number of different trails wind through the preserve. In the winter, the Sage Trail and Chamna Trail are usually dry — handy if you have a kid who is a magnet for mud puddles.
> Plan your visit to Chamna Natural Preserve using WTA's Hiking Guide
Waikiki Springs Nature Preserve
Location: Spokane area
Distance: 4.8 miles of trails
Elevation gain: 588 feet
WTA recently finished work in this area to create an interconnected trail system for year-round hiking. Depending upon the recent weather, you’re likely to find snow here in winter. If you’re prepared for that, it’s a great place to go play with kids or teens, and you can choose from various loops based on how far you want to go. The view of an eagle’s next on the Eagle Trail is likely to be popular with kids. Bring binoculars for a better view.
> Plan your visit to Waikiki Springs Nature Preserve using WTA's Hiking Guide
Arthur G. Rempel Nature Trail
Location: Walla Walla
Distance: 1.5 miles of trail
Elevation gain: 45 feet
Visit this natural area for some outdoor time near Walla Walla. There’s option for a longer or a shorter loop. Kids will like the tunnel effect of the trees on sections of the trail. You’re likely to see birds. And, speaking of flying objects, there is a model-airplane field near the perimeter of the area. On calm days, kids might get lucky enough to watch them flying.
> Plan your visit to Arthur G. Rempel Nature Trail using WTA's Hiking Guide
Warming hut — Mount Spokane — Burping Brook-Smith Gap Loop
Location: Spokane area
Distance: 2.5 miles roundtrip to hut, with options to go farther
A warming hut is an excellent destination no matter how old you are — but it’s definitely appealing to anyone exploring with kids. In the winter, this makes a good trip for kids who are old enough to do some snowshoeing (or for adults who are up for carrying the littlest kids).
It’s a great spot to take a break for cocoa and some free-play in the snow. And be sure to check out the table inside. It was hand-built by a WTA crew leader from white pine salvaged from the Nordic ski trails. A trip to and from the hut is about 2.5 miles roundtrip, with about 500 feet of gain.