Six of the Best Kid-Friendly Trails in the West

If you’re planning on hitting the trails this summer, we’ve got you and the whole family covered. Cherished time spent with family creates lifelong memories, especially during the fleeting years of childhood. Of course, finding the perfect time and place for a family hike can be a lot of work and stress! We might not be able to help you find the time, but this list of six of the best kid-friendly trails in the West might help you get started.

Junior Ranger (courtesy of NPS).
  1. Condor Gulch Overlook Trail at Pinnacles National Park, California

If you want the whole family to share in the majesty of this park’s fantastic pinnacles and diverse wildlife, consider this moderate 1.8-mile trail at Pinnacles National Park. The park’s geologic wonders were born of volcanic eruptions 23 million years ago, creating one of the nation’s most unique landscapes. During the summer, the park can get hot and the trail does not offer shady areas, so please bring extra sunscreen and protective apparel. And don’t forget the binoculars to get a better view of the amazing condors that inhabit the park. Toddlers might want to skip this one, but it’s the perfect length for kids and teenagers who don’t want to spend all day on the trail.

Distance: 1.8 miles roundtrip

Difficulty Level: Moderate

Elevation Gain: 550 feet

Seasonality: Open year-round. The park approaches temperatures of 100 or hotter. Check for updates.

A family enjoying the dunes (courtesy of NPS).
  1. Montville Nature Trail at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado

This quick, half-mile trek is beautiful enough for the whole family, but quick enough for that feisty two-year-old in your life. Explore nature and history as you walk along this shady forested trail, named for a late 1800s settlement. A perfect opportunity for a break from the heat of the dunes in the summer, the trail’s highest point offers views of Mt. Herard, the dunes, and the valley. There is evidence of human inhabitance at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve dating back to more than 11 thousand years ago and its cultural landscapes are held sacred to the Diné, Ute, Apache, and Tewa peoples. At the trailhead, pick up a booklet that provides numbered stops to learn about this historic community and the mountain pass above it. Or just let the kids enjoy the shade!

Distance: .5 miles

Difficulty Level: Easy

Elevation Gain: 200 feet

Seasonality: Open year-round. Check for updates.

A ranger and a child on the ferry towards Channel Islands (courtesy of NPS).
  1. Potato Harbor at Channel Islands National Park, California

While this is a relatively longer trek, this five-mile hike is easy enough to take some three-year-old children, and definitely provides enough scope for the imagination for the five-to-ten-year old crowd. Bring plenty of snacks and sunscreen as you and the family take in the beautiful ocean and bluff views, with plenty of island foxes—a species of fox found only on the Channel Islands—to keep you entertained. While this hike does not have beach access, there are plenty of ocean views to enjoy. Be aware that Channel Islands National Park requires reservations and a boat ride, so plan ahead for a not-to-miss summer experience.

Distance: 5 miles

Difficulty Level: Easy-to-moderate (because of the length)

Elevation Gain: 620 feet

Seasonality: Open year-round. Check for updates.

Sunny Saguaro helping a Ranger (courtesy of NPS).
  1. Mica View Trail at Saguaro National Park East, Arizona

If you are visiting Tucson, Arizona, don’t miss out on a trip to Saguaro National Park. This 1.4-mile paved road hike is both wheelchair and stroller accessible, providing beautiful views of the Sonoran Desert and the giant saguaro for the whole family. The Tohono O’odham hold the saguaro sacred, a towering and ancient family member. Standing in the presence of these ancient giants, hikers find new and renewed connections to the landscape. It is the desert, so come early and bring plenty of water and protective apparel—sunscreen is always a must! There are several Mica trails, so be sure you’re choosing the right one if you’re looking for the paved experience. Of course, all the trails are beautiful.

Distance: 1.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 49 feet

Difficulty Level: Easy

Seasonality: Open year-round. Check for updates.

A girl at Big Thicket National Preserve (courtesy of NPS).
  1. Kirby Nature Trail at Big Thicket National Preserve, Texas

This 2.4-mile loop trail is perfect for families who enjoy birding, walking, and exploring the woods. Park rangers recommend this trail for its biodiversity, so get ready for your little ones to turn into little scientists. There is also access to water and fishing via the Village Creek. This amazing network of trails and waterways is an absolute wonderland of natural discovery for brilliant young minds just learning about the world, and this hike is easy enough for even the littlest of explorers, though they might not be ready to do the whole loop. Because of the natural environment, there are usually plenty of mosquitoes to keep you company, so consider long sleeves and pants, and whatever you might use to keep these little insects away.

Distance: 2.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 52 feet

Difficulty Level: Easy

Seasonality: Open year-round. This hike might be best appreciated March through October. Check for updates.

A family fishing at Chickasaw National Recreation Area (courtesy of NPS).
  1. Buffalo and Antelope Springs Trail at Chickasaw National Recreation Area, Oklahoma

This 1.6-mile loop trail abounds with wildlife and water! Chickasaw National Recreation Area is truly a wildlife oasis, protecting bison, salamanders, antelope, and so much more. The water is a perfect reprieve from the summer heat for both the wildlife and park visitors alike. The informational trail markers along the trail will teach your entire family about the intricate and diverse ecosystems, which may include the occasional poison ivy plant. With beautiful and cooling creeks and springs, this is a popular trail for very good reasons. This trail can be extended or shortened to accommodate for all levels of hikers.

Distance: 1.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 183 feet

Difficulty Level: Easy to Moderate

Seasonality: Open year-round. Check for updates.

By: Julie Thompson