In my experience, most parents underestimate how far their kids can hike. Humans, after all, evolved as nomads. From a very young age, children needed to walk along with everyone else. The blurry photo you see above shows my 5-year old son on a backpacking trip we took as a family to the Pacific Crest in the 1990s. On the most intense day of the trip he walked 8 miles and 2,200 vertical feet. We had started him hiking in the Catskills when he was 3, and at age 4 he was comfortably completing day hikes of 4-5 miles and 1,000 vertical feet.
Now my son is 25, 6’5″, and kicks my butt whenever we hike together. But these early walks inculcated a life-long love of the outdoors, and established an activity we still love to share.
The best hikes for kids aren’t necessarily easy, but they do need a “payoff”. It can be a great view, a waterfall, a cave, or a ruin: something that gives them a goal to reach, and intrigues them. Below, we’ve listed some of the hikes which we think kids are likely to find intriguing. Note they are of all different challenge levels, so read the full review before deciding whether to take your kids along.