Question: Which exercise works the legs, knees, ankles, arms, hips, abs, shoulders, neck, strengthens bones, helps prevent some seriously scary health conditions—and both adults and kids can do it together.
If that pop quiz doesn’t convince you to take a hike then maybe the wise words of 19th century mountain man–naturalist John Muir will. “There is a love of wild nature in everybody,” said the founder of the Sierra Club, who is credited with preserving Yosemite Valley, Sequoia National Park and many other wilderness areas we think your kids will be delighted to discover.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado
Dunes Fields: The tallest dunes in the U.S. are hidden on the east side of Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Scattered across 30 sq. miles, the dunes in some areas tower over 700 feet tall, with High Dune, the second highest, making for a long mile climb through the shifting sands. During the summer, when the sand is scorching, this can be a tough climb. But a dip in earby Medano Creek will cool everyone down.
Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Sourdough Ridge Trail: Incredible views of western Washington’s snow-capped peaks, including Mount Rainier, make the Sourdough Ridge Trail an adventure the whole family will treasure. Positioned high in the subalpine zone of the park in the Sunrise area, the trail makes a one-mile loop with gentle elevation gain and passes through flower-filled meadows. Save this hike for summer—the road to Sunrise may not even open until July—or early fall.
Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
Frozen Niagara Tour: Caves are cool, but let’s face it, the novelty of a cave tour—the safest way to explore them—quickly wears off for kids and grownups if lots of stairs or squeezing through tight spaces is involved. The Frozen Niagara Tour is a delightful exception. At just quarter-mile round-trip, taking just over an hour, the spelunking experience at Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave is easy enough for kids, but still offers spectacular cave scenery such as Rainbow Dome, Crystal Lake, the Frozen Niagara flowstone, and the Drapery Room.
Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
Giant Logs Trail: One of the best short hikes for kids is the Giant Logs Trail, a 0.4-mile loop that begins at the Rainbow Forest Museum, at the park’s southern visitor center. Kids will love the hike to Old Faithful. The largest log in the park, measuring around 170 ft. long and more than 9 ft. across its base, Old Faithful, with its finely detailed growth rings, harks back to ancient times most visitors, kids and grownups alike, find wondrous.
Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming
Base Loop Trail: In 1906 Devil's Tower was named as our first national monument. But Northern Plains Indians and other tribes have long deemed this place in northeastern Wyoming a sacred spot. The remarkable Devils Tower rises 867 ft. above the rock rubble at its base in distinctive mult-isided columns. Walking once around the 1.3-mile loop trail its base is barely enough time to take in this astounding structure from all angles, which kids who’ve seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind, will have fun re-imagining as an alien landing site.
Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland/Virginia
Life of the Marsh and Woodland Trails: This seashore park—encompassing a 37-mile-long barrier island on the Maryland–Virginia border is home to the famous wild horses of Assateague Island. Possible descendants of horses brought to the island in the 1600's by mainland owners to avoid fencing laws or taxation, the feral horses travel around in groups are fun to watch from a safe distance. Catch a glimpse of the herds while hiking the half-mile round trip Life of the Marsh and 1.5 mile-loop, Woodland trails.
Muir Woods National Monument, California
Trails Along Redwood Creek: There’s nothing like walking among the giant redwoods of the Pacific coast majestic forest to give the family new perspective on their significance in the natural world. Trees in this park top at 250 feet in height and more than 14 feet across at the base with the average age of the redwoods being 600 to 800 years old. Paved trails run alongside Redwood Creek.