My kids love to hike until they don’t, and we’re usually too far along to turn back easily when they decide that they’ve had enough for the day.
It took a while for us to figure out that our kids don’t feel the same sort of accomplishment that grownups feel at the completion of a grueling hike. In fact, they don’t like grueling at all.
And most important, we’ve learned that a great family hike needs have the promise of something special along the way — a promise that can inspire a kid to keep moving.
Fortunately, Oregon has a multitude of hikes that are perfect for families — fairly easy and delivering a prize that makes the walking worthwhile.
Here are five of my favorites from around the state:
This trail at Crater Lake National Park is a reasonable length for kids— it’s 2.5 miles roundtrip — and the distance goes quickly because it’s so flat. The trail gains only
about 100 feet as it rolls up and down, and most families will complete the walk in about an hour.
The prize? Great views of Crater Lake from openings in the trees. Even better for kids is the promise of views of Wizard Island, and the imaginative stories that they can create about the wizards who live on the island.
The out-and-back trail starts at Rim Village, where treats are available.
Be aware: Snow often covers the trail from October until early July, so late spring hikes with kids are probably out of the question.
Cascade Streamwatch Trail
This trail in the Wildwood Recreation Area a little more than hour southeast of Portland provides an activity-filled way to learn about Cascade wetlands.
It’s an easy hike — essentially flat and less than two miles, although various loops and spurs along the way can boost the distance to more than four miles.
The Cascade Streamwatch Trail is an interpretive loop that explains the wetlands environment along the Salmon River. The trail provides the modest excitement of several small footbridges and the possibility of spending time along the banks of the river itself.
The big prize, however, is an underwater viewing area. Visitors get face-to-face with coho fingerlings and juvenile trout that swim among logs and roots behind glass. In the late fall, visitors may even catch a glimpse of an adult coho salmon.
Nearby picnic areas and a playground extend a fun family day in the outdoors.
Fall Creek Trail
There’s not a single big prize along this trail 30 miles southeast of Eugene. But a multitude of small prizes keep young hikers engaged.
From a trailhead at the Dolly Varden campground, the trail follows a gentle rise through thick forest along the creek.
Bridges over small creeks provide adventure for young hikers, and numerous pools along the way are ideal to dip toes — or more — into the creek.
About 2.5 miles up the trail, it begins to cross forest that’s recovering from a major fire in 2003. That’s a good place to turn around, and it’s a good place for kids to see first hand how nature begins its recovery after a fire.
Sweet Creek Falls
A whole complex of trails provides access to the wonderful waterfalls along Sweet Creek, about halfway between Eugene and Florence.
We like to start at the Homestead Trailhead, which provides a 2.2-mile roundtrip and 350 feet of elevation gain. Shorter hikes are available from Sweet Creek Falls Trailhead and Wagon Road Trailhead, and the shortest of all begins at Beaver Creek Falls Trailhead. (The four trailheads come one after another a little more than 10 miles south of Highway 126 on Sweet Creek Road.)
No matter which trailhead provides a starting point, the prize along these trails are the numerous waterfalls. Seventy-foot Sweet Creek Falls provides a grand finale. The trails themselves are crossed by a multitude of rivulets that intrepid young hikers can leap in a single bound, and small pools allow for wading.
Spring wildflowers abound, and ouzels skim the surface of the waters, looking for larvae.
A note: A catwalk is bolted into cliffs along the way, and some dogs may be frightened to cross the catwalk.
Drift Creek Falls Trail
I’m always encouraging my kids to confront their fears, and this trail provides them an opportunity to watch me confront my own fear of heights.
From the trailhead east of Lincoln, the trail winds down through thick growth of alder and maple in the damp Siuslaw National Forest.
It’s just another nice hike until you suddenly arrive at a 240-foot-long cable suspension bridge that crosses over Drift Creek Falls, a 75-foot waterfall.
Here’s a family discussion topic for the walk back to the trailhead: How did they get that bridge out into the middle of the woods? (Because you’ll be walking uphill on your way out, you’ll want to have discussion topics ready. The trail, which is three miles roundtrip, climbs about 490 feet.)
As I mentioned, I don’t particularly like heights, and I’m not crazy about suspension bridges. But this one is anchored into bluffs on either side, it’s 30 inches wide, you can barely see through the planks that you walk across, and there’s plenty of protection against a fall.
On the other hand, it bounces just a little bit.I swallowed hard and made it across.No one likes a mom who’s chicken.