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Outdoor Ed: Head Outside for Fun and Learning

What a year. We're planted in front of glowing screens more than ever before, and parents have it especially rough, what with juggling jobs, childcare and trying to manage schooling at home. If you find yourself called upon to be a teacher as well as a parent these days, let WTA help you out.

What a year. We're planted in front of glowing screens more than ever before, and parents have it especially rough, what with juggling full-time jobs, childcare and ensuring their kids learn...anything. If you find yourself called upon to be a teacher as well as a parent these days, let us help a bit.

We pulled together a few different hiking resources that include information about various subjects: history, geology, even art! So if you want to incorporate some learning on trail, have a look at our features and resources below.

But we also know distance learning is hard. If you just need a break from work and school, pick one of the following suggested hikes and head out. No notebook required.


Learn the Land

View of wildflowers and greenery with cliffs and waves below.
Wildflowers peeping above the cliffs at Cape Disappointment. Photo by trip reporter WonderSmash.

The history of the lands we recreate on is complex and interpretive signs don't always tell the whole story. Do you know the original inhabitants of the places you hike? Do you know how the landscape has changed over the years? Taking a deep look at history can prompt plenty of discussion to carry you and your kiddos through any hike. 

> Take a historic hike

Ghost Towns

A falling down building amid brightly colored fall leaves.
Liberty Ghost Town. Photo by EHHB.

Ghost towns can have an eerie aura about them, especially in the month of October. They're also fun and usually pretty easy hikes. You won't see ruins on all of these hikes, but you can use your imagination to build the scene of what once was. (If there artifacts, do remember to leave them behind for others to enjoy.) 

> Visit a ghost town


Biology: Goats and Bears and Horses oh my!

A curving train tunnel, photo taken from inside.
The Iron Horse Trail provides recreational opportunities year round across the state. Photo by hikingwithmybrother.

Some of the best learning spans subjects, and these hikes blend a bit of a history with a bit of biology. Use it as a chance to talk about how humans and animals interact. And if your kid loves trains, two of these trails will be of particular interest. Can you visit each of the three Iron Animal trails before the snow flies?

> Hike the Iron Animal Trails

Geology: Rocks and more

Large rock formation rising behind a trail and sagebrush landscape.
Umatilla Rock in Dry Falls State Park. Dry Falls was once the largest waterfall the world has ever seen. Photo by caitoh234.

Washington is an excellent place to learn about geology. Volcanic activity, advancing and retreating glaciers and colliding plates have all left behind stories to tell. For example, did you know there are fossils of undersea animals found at the top of North Cascades peaks? Washington's landscape has changed drastically, making for rich possibilities in kids' imagination. Help them dream about a time when tropical forests flourished, volcanoes erupted and massive floods transformed the earth.

> Go look at cool rocks

Marine Biology: TidePools

An adult with a young kid in a backpack on their back. A large seastack in the background.
Sea stacks along Rialto Beach. Photo by schmerica79.

Washington's coast is home to wild, beautiful, and fragile creatures. First talk to your kids about how to respect these animals and their home, and then go exploring. For best results, check the tides first. 

> Look under the sea

Social Studies

6 feet or more

Flowing creek under bright fall colors.
Listen for Bigfoot calls on the Huckleberry Creek trail. Photo by Bob and Barb.

Right now, hiking takes a few extra considerations to keep yourself and everyone else safe. You can model good social behavior for your kids by trying one of these nice, wide trails. It will make it easy for you to keep some safe space, and you all can practice waving a smiling with your eyes from behind your masks.  

> Lots of room


You’ve probably heard of the shy primate with big feet who lives ... where? There are a lot of environs in Washington that could be Bigfoot habitat — and many communities around the state who are happy to say that they are home to the fur-covered biped. But Bigfoot is just a start. Washington is full of folklore. Try one of these trails to explore the stories — or make up your own.

> What's behind that tree?


Brightly colored paint prints, made from leaves, cover a white paper.
A bit of paint and a leaf can go a long way. Photo by Jessi Loerch

Creativity 101

When the pandemic began, and we were all staying very close to home, we offered some tips on making art right where you are. And these ideas are still useful. Use them anytime — maybe even when your kiddos are on a break from online learning. They also translate to the trail, if you want to head out farther.

> Art where you are

Creativity 201

Want even more art in your life? Step up your game with these tips from artist Cole Adams, an artist and parent who loves creating. 

> Creativity is good for the soul


Two small kids touching and looking at an interpretive sign that is much bigger than them.
Interpretive signs and maps are a great way to work on some reading skills. Photo by Ryan Ojerio. 

Reading is a fundamental skill — and these 10 trails offer kids a chance to practice their skills in a fun way. All of them are easy for little hikers. Fun, reading and learning, all on one hike.

> Sound out the hard words


A sign in the trees points to the 12 by 12 plot of the trail and to Road N505.
Learn about distances on this trail. Photo by Cagey. 

The Spacing Study trail is a short one — less than half a mile — but it has an interesting lesson. The trail teaches visitors about the research behind spacing replanted trees. It's a good way to make some math concepts — distance, area, geometry — tangible. (Or, just look at the trees. Trees are cool.)

> Learn from the trees


Wooden boardwalk winding through water with a sunset in the background.
Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Area. Photo by klyph76.

Are your kids wiggly after a day of online schooling? Here are some good places for them to burn off energy. 

> Take P.E. to the trails