Pack in some fun with the kids: Nearby hiking trails let families experience nature at an easy pace
With sunshine breaking through, it’s time to tell kids to take a hike. And go with them.
Fortunately, the Inland Northwest is home to multiple nature trails close to home and easy for children to traverse.
Carol Christensen, Spokane REI experiences program coordinator, started hiking with her son when he was 4 weeks old. A favorite is Spokane Valley’s Dishman Hills Natural Area. He’s now 6.
“I try to get him involved with the planning of a hike, so I’ll show him a map of where we’re going, or we talk about how far we’ll hike,” Christensen said. “Maybe we’ll talk about how we’re going to this little pond, and we can throw rocks in the water.”
Sometimes, her son might tell her he only wants to go 1 mile. Christensen suggests that parents follow that lead even if it doesn’t venture far from the trailhead.
“We’re still doing good because we’re out and doing it,” she said. “It’s more important that the kid has fun than if we bag the peak or hike 15 miles.”
She also encourages that the adults hiking with kids bring the essentials even for a short distance: snacks, water, a small first-aid kit, sun protection, bug spray and extra layers. “If it’s a little on the chilly side, I bring a fleece layer and rain jacket.”
Christensen offers some caution: Poison ivy blooms are out, so be aware of – and show kids pictures of – what to avoid outdoors. Also, the tick population is booming this year, so consider long sleeves and pants, maybe tucking pant legs into socks. Once home, do a thorough check for the little blood-suckers.
Several area trail experts were asked about tips for getting children into hikes, and picks of a few popular ones. They included Rich Landers, retired Outdoors editor for The Spokesman-Review; Jeff Lambert, Dishman Hills Conservancy director; and Mark Beattie, Mountain Gear store manager.
Dishman Hills Natural Area
Spokane County, the state Department of Natural Resources, and the Dishman Hills Conservancy have protected more than 2,500 acres in Dishman Hills. Families find free parking, no Discover Pass needed, off of Appleway Road in Spokane Valley.
The trailhead is at Camp Caro, 625 S. Sargent Road. Another plus: Camp Caro has bathrooms, picnic tables, playground, and large grassy areas for before and after quick hikes.
The trails are moderate and looped into about one-mile distances, but families can cover distances from 1 mile to 6 by linking different loops. The trails wind through forests, deep ravines and past wetlands with great overlooks at Nimbus Knob and Eagle Peak.
The ravines are a kid favorite and enchanted, Landers said. But adults might want to download a map of trails, at www.dishmanhills.org/maps, for an overall good experience. “Don’t expect good trail signage,” Landers added.
Still, trails loop around, and pretty much, you won’t be too far from Camp Caro. “It’s nice for a starting place with the green grass,” he said. “You can run barefoot when you’re done.”
The entrance to this 165-acre natural area can be found at 210 S. Third St. in Coeur d’Alene. Tubbs Hill is bordered by Lake Coeur d’Alene on the west, south and east sides. The city’s website offers a large printable map and instructions for downloading a mobile app.
The trailhead on the west side of Tubbs Hill is located in the south western corner of McEuen Park. The east side trail head is located at the south end of 10th Street. A 2.2 mile interpretive trail follows the hill’s perimeter, and additional trails take hikers higher up the hill and to the summit.
Beattie said recent improvements to the trails make it easy for families to cover ground, and there’s free parking on the 11th Street side. “There are views of the lake, and you can walk all around Tubbs Hill in an hour or less depending on your motivation,” he added.
Liberty Lake Regional Park
Several sources suggested this site “has it all” for kid-pleasing elements: Water, critters, easy trails, beach access and great viewpoints. The county park, at 3707 S. Zephyr Road, charges a few dollars but it’s worth the small fee, they say.
At Liberty Lake, “there’s water and the trails start off easy, then get hard, so depending on the hardiness of the kids you might turn around, which is fine,” Lambert said. “There’s a swimming beach kids love, then you can go on a little hike.”
Slavin Conservation Area
Several hikers noted James T. Slavin Conservation Area as fun for kids because of it’s easy terrain and views of water and wildlife. From I-90, drive south on U.S. 195 about 8 miles, turn right on Washington Road.
Beyond Dishman Hills, Lambert named Slavin and Liberty Lake in the top three kid-favorable.
“I’d recommend Slavin because it’s totally flat,” he said. “There are always duck and geese there. There’s a huge wetland, so basically it looks like a lake and there is always interesting stuff there.”
Christensen also favors the spot for its terrain and sights. “There’s a bunch of water, lots of birds. It does tend to be buggy, so bring bug spray.”
She recommends spray that uses the chemical picaridin instead of DEET as one that’s not as harsh on clothes and shoes. “It’s just as effective.” REI sells some products with the chemical.
Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge
This is another family-favorite spot for wildlife viewing. The refuge has a 5.5 mile auto route through part of it, so parents can drive a bit of the distance.
“They have three hikes they’re real short and you can let the kids out, go for a short walk, come back and drive to another one,” Landers said. “They go out to viewing platforms.
“You can do a longer hike on the Pine Lake Loop if you want. There are always ducks and waterfowl. If there are things moving around, kids like that.”
Head west on I-90 for about 9.5 miles. Take exit 270 for 904 west toward Four Lakes and Cheney. Continue 6.9 miles on 904, and then turn left onto South Cheney Plaza Road. Follow the road 4.2 miles, and go left onto South Smith Road. Continue 2.1 miles to the refuge headquarters.
Mirabeau Point Park
The trails near the Spokane Valley YMCA and Mirabeau Point Park, 13500 Mirabeau Parkway, are often overlooked, Landers said. But it’s one especially well-suited for little kids. He stopped there recently and watched families take to the trails and enjoy a waterfall feature.
“It’s a natural cliff, but a fake waterfall. I was there just the other day and there were parents with their kids hiking all around. It’s the old Walk in the Wild Zoo site, and there were ducks on the pond and turtles in the pond.
“The kids were just squealing with enjoyment. They were really having a good time. Why drive forever if you have something right in your backyard?”
Another urban treasure is found at 2221 E. Southeast Blvd. Lincoln Park is a 51-acre site created a century ago with two personalities, and parents describe a hidden staircase that kids love.
The lower section has a playground and open fields. A paved path leads away, climbing beneath cliffs until emerging at the true showpiece of this Olmsted-inspired park: a wild oasis.
The paved path continues in a quarter-mile loop around a natural pond alive with ducks and the calls of blackbirds and songbirds.
Riverside State Park
Riverside State Park area stretches downstream from the T.J. Meenach Bridge to the Nine Mile area. But a good spot to hike with children is near the Bowl and Pitcher.
“The Bowl and Pitcher area is a hit with kids, even if nothing else they have that suspension bridge to go over,” Landers said. “It’s a neat place to start and you can go upstream or downstream after you cross the bridge and find great hiking.
There’s also a good hiking spot for children at Painted Rocks in the Little Spokane Natural Area.
Iller Creek & Rocks of Sharon
These locations might be a better for older kids starting age 7 to 8, because of some steep climbs. However, Landers said he wrote about a butterfly expert who took children in just half a mile or so. Sighting all the butterflies enchanted the children, although they only went a short distance.
The 80-acre Rocks of Sharon area is near Tower Mountain. It’s a south-end addition to the Iller Creek Conservation Area. The Iller Creek Trailhead is at 9001 E. Holman Road, Spokane Valley.