20 Easy (But Gorgeous) Hiking Trails To Do with Kids and Babies

Photo courtesy of Twig and Lens for Hike it Baby
Photo courtesy of Twig and Lens for Hike it Baby
7/14/18 - By

By Shanti Hodges

Looking for a hiking trail near you? Great walking trails top our picks for fun summer activities and fall outings with kids. A hike is an opportunity for quality family time, exercise for kids, and of course, discoveries small and large, from bugs to waterfalls.

These getaway-worthy, family-friendly hiking trails are just a sampling of my favorite trails, highlighted in my new book, Hike it Baby: 100 Awesome Adventures with Babies and Toddlers. As founder of Hike it Baby, a nonprofit dedicated to helping families get on the trail with kids, I’ve been fortunate enough to sample nature trails across the country, including at our best national parks and campsites, and even those extra-special, smaller local parks that often offer the best hikes for toddlers and families with little kids.

Now I’m sharing 20 of my favorites, from Connecticut to Florida to Washington state, that are perfect for your next day trip or family vacation. Most are easy loop paths, but I’ve included some moderate trails and top destinations, such as Mt. Rainer and the Badlands. Many of these hikes are FREE, too. The list also highlights family-friendly perks like bathrooms, and benches for a rest or a nursing mom.


Want more family-friendly hiking trails? Or to find a nature trail closer to you? Consider joining our Hike It Baby groups, hosting 2,000 hikes a month across the country, or pick up a copy of Hike it Baby: 100 Awesome Adventures with Babies and Toddlers.

These hydration backpacks make it easy to keep kids hydrated on hikes. Photo courtesy of Hike it Baby

Family-Friendly Hikes in the Eastern U.S.

1. Black Creek Preserve Trail – Esopus, New York
Easy 2-mile loop with an elevation gain of 440 feet
Family-friendly amenities: Unfortunately, no toilets or benches
Parking fee/pass: None

This hike within the 130-acre Black Creek Preserve in the Hudson Valley might have a few hills, but it also delivers fantastic Hudson River views, a 120-foot suspension bridge crossing, and frog and tadpole sightings depending on the time of year. It’s a relatively easy hike even for toddlers, although there is some terrain variety as you cross through both open spaces and hemlock forests, as well as a bubbling creek. At the end of the hike, dip your toes into Black Creek where there are often people fishing.

Take a sunset hike at Bluff Point. Photo by Lindsay Frost

2. Bluff Point Hike – Groton, Connecticut
Easy 3.6-mile loop with no elevation
Family-friendly amenities: Toilets (no changing tables), benches, stroller-friendly
Parking/admission fee: None

One of the last remaining undeveloped parts of Connecticut, the 806-acre Bluff Point State Park in New London County is pretty no matter what time of year you go. Take the main trail which runs for about a mile along the coastline to the beach, and you’ll be rewarded with views of the Long Island Sound and a lighthouse. Trees shade the path and protect you from wind in the winter and sun in the summer. The path is a wide dirt trail, making it OK for wheelchairs and strollers, although expect plenty of bumps. You’ll find more trails shooting off the main thoroughfare to explore, too.

Canyon Loop Trail in Swallow Falls State Park has an impressive view of the Youghiogheny River. Photo courtesy of Hike it Baby

3. Canyon Loop Trail in Swallow Falls State Park – Oakland, Maryland
Rocky 1.5-mile loop trail with an elevation gain of 354 feet
Family-friendly amenities: Toilets, benches, water play
Parking fee/pass: Yes, varies depending on season/residency

One of the most beautiful spots to view waterfalls in Maryland, this is a great place to cool off in the summer when the nearby cities get hot and the kids need to play. There are rocks to climb, water to splash in, and scenic views of cascading waterfalls. The trail follows along the Youghiogheny River and has four scenic waterfalls to offer. The largest is the 53-foot Muddy Creek Falls. You’ll wander through tall hemlocks, and perhaps spot wildflowers, deer, birds, and more. Score big with the kids by hitting the seasonal ice cream truck often sitting in the parking lot.

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Play a game of Hide and Seek near Moses Lake on the Green Trail in High Rock Park/Greenbelt. Photo by Paula Mursean

4. Green Trail in High Rock Park/Greenbelt – Staten Island, New York
Moderate, 2-mile out-and-back trail with some elevation gain
Family-friendly amenities: Nature center, recreation, and carousel nearby (not at trailhead)
Parking fee/pass: None

Staten Island’s Greenbelt includes 2,800 acres of green space and recreation for local NYC families, from outdoor movies to nature programs, and of course plenty of hikes. The green trail within the High Rock Park section is  Hike it Baby Staten Island's top pick, because it’s a moderate hike to the top of Moses’ Mountain, which offers views of New Jersey on a clear day. Access it via the Nevada Avenue parking lot. There are numerous stopping points to climb and explore along the way, including seasonal pools for frog and salamander sightings. Large, flat rocks allow for quick feeding and diaper stops if needed.

Green Loop in Cheesequake State Park is a fantastic place to see the changing leaves. Photo by Ali Chandra and Lindsey Barton

5. Green Loop in Cheesequake State Park – Old Bridge, New Jersey
Moderate 3.2-mile loop trail with an elevation gain of 315 feet
Family-friendly amenities: Toilets, benches, and family activities
Parking fee/pass: Seasonal per-car fee (Memorial Day to Labor Day)

Opened in 1940, this 1,200-acre parcel of land boasts all kinds of family-friendly activities, especially in the summer, including lake swimming, camping, fishing, and boating. There are various trail options for families, ranging from 1.5 miles to 3.5 miles. We suggest the center trail (the green loop), where visitors can also access the nature center and its wildlife displays, or the shorter, but slightly steeper, more challenging yellow trail. Fall is a great time to hike here as the crowds disperse and you can take in the changing leaves, as well as the sights from the marshes. —Submitted by Ali Chandra and Lindsey Barton

Splash in the waterfall at Shelving Rock Falls Trail in the Adirondack Forest Preserve. Photo by Natalie Kendrach

6. Shelving Rock Falls Trail in the Adirondack Forest Preserve –  Fort Ann, New York
Easy, 1-mile out-and-back trail with a couple hundred feet of elevation
Family-friendly amenities: No toilets or benches
Parking fee/pass: None

Located on the east side of Lake George in the Adirondacks, this trail has a fantastic waterfall and a wide open path that is an old carriage road. Little ones will love the amount of water spilling from the falls, as well as the fact that they can splash around at the base of the falls (depending on the time of year). While we are suggesting one of the easier trails in this region, there are a ton of mountain hikes throughout with beautiful views of Lake George that leave from the same dirt road.

Fresh air and flowers are all part of a great hike. Photo courtesy of Hike it Baby

7. Sunset Rock Trail in Taconic State Park –  Copake, New York
Moderate, 1.5-mile out-and-back trail with an elevation gain of 150 feet
Family-friendly amenities: Benches
Parking fee/pass: $7 per vehicle

The Sunset Rock Trail at Taconic State Park is a favorite of the Hike it Baby Columbia County, New York, group. It’s located in the southeast corner of the county, where the Taconics meet the Berkshires and the Hudson Valley. The trail is named for the highlight of the trek: a rocky ledge in a small clearing, looking out over a 180-degree vista of the rolling mountains. There are two ways to get there: a 3- or 5-mile loop for older kids and fit parents looking for a workout, or a brief, 1-mile there-and-back trail perfect for toddlers. The air is fresh, the lichens and ferns grow like crazy, wildflowers appear in the spring and summer, and you’ll trek through hobbit-like corridors through mountain laurel and scrub oak and pine. To join the 3-plus mile trail, park at the entrance to Taconic State Park off Route 344 in Copake Falls and check out the map by the HQ office.

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Black Bear Wilderness Area Trail is full of wildlife. Photo by Crystal Osborn

Family-Friendly Hikes in the South

8. Black Bear Wilderness Area Trail – Sanford, Florida
Moderate 2-mile (or 7-mile) loop with 45 feet in elevation gain
Family-friendly amenities: Benches
Parking fee/pass: None

If you are looking for a hike that feels like a real hiking-boot-wearing adventure, check out Black Bear Wilderness, a 1,600-acre reserve in northwest Seminole County, Florida, that features a variety of wetland habitats within the floodplain of the St Johns River. The 2- or 7-mile version of the Black Bear Wilderness Loop Trail, much of which runs along the longest river in the state, is perfect for families, with a combination of boardwalks and trails. The park is home to plenty of wildlife, including musk turtles, alligators, river otters, white-tailed deer, barred owls, coyotes, and swallow-tailed kite—and if you are quiet, you might even spot the park’s namesake: a Florida black bear.

Every February the Caw Caw Rainbow Swamp comes to life when the water is cold and dense. Photo courtesy of Hike it Baby

9. Caw Caw Interpretive Center – Ravenel, South Carolina
Easy 2- to 3-mile loop hike with no elevation
Family-friendly amenities: Toilets with changing tables, benches
Parking fee/pass: $2 per person

The Charleston-area Caw Caw offers something unique that even locals describe as “magical.” Every February when the water is cold and dense, oils released from the decomposing cypress trees float to the top. When sunlight hits them, it creates a beautiful rainbow of colors on the surface of the water, or a “Rainbow Swamp.” All of the trails here are family-friendly, so you could choose to meander through the boardwalk in the middle of the swamp for a unique display of the cypress trees and a soundtrack of birds, or hike the hardwood forest trail and tidal marshes on the outskirts for a 3.6-mile challenge. Visit in the fall for a special fairy house building event among local kids.

Cypress Swamp Trail in Highland Hammock State Park is natural, wild beauty at its best. Photo by Abby Czachur

10. Cypress Swamp Trail in Highland Hammock State Park – Sebring, Florida
Easy 0.5-mile loop hike with no elevation
Family-friendly amenities: Toilets, benches, playgrounds
Parking fee/pass: $6 per vehicle

In the heart of Florida, the 9,000-acre Highland Hammock State Park gives the truest sense of what the real Florida is, in all its natural and wild beauty. It’s one of the state’s oldest parks, developed during the Great Depression, with a labyrinth of trails, botanical gardens, and boardwalks. The Cypress Swamp Trail takes you through part of a swamp dotted with large old cypress trees and over narrow boardwalks. It’s mostly shaded, but come prepared for fierce bugs and sun just the same. Three playgrounds within the grounds will appeal to the toddlers in your crew.

You can catch the highest view in Georgia from the West Rim Loop in Cloudland Canyon State Park. Photo by Melissa Hollingsworth

11. West Rim Loop in Cloudland Canyon State Park – Rising Fawn, Georgia
Easy to moderate 2- or 5-mile loop with no elevation
Parking fee/pass: $5 parking fee
Family-friendly amenities: Toilets and benches

Even with minimal effort and toddler in tow, there are two amazing places in this 3,500-acre park where your family can catch the highest view in Georgia. The first is along the edge of the loop of the West Rim Trail, which is a flat, 2-mile hike. If you go for the full, 5-mile trail, there is a section with steep gullies and cliff walls, and if you add on the Waterfall Trails section, you’re looking at 1,400 feet of elevation change. Another option for a quick viewing of the park, which includes many waterfalls, dense forest (ablaze come fall!), wildlife, and canyons, is near the visitors’ center. Park, and just take a look from the viewing area a short walk away. A flat half-mile Overlook Trail can also be found behind the Interpretive Center. –Contributed by Melissa Hollingsworth

Take in some breathtaking views on the Door, Window and Notch Trails in Badlands National Park. Photo by Peters for Hike it Baby

Family-Friendly Hikes in the Midwest

12. Door, Window, and Notch Trails in Badlands National Park – South Dakota
Easy 2.5 mile out-and-back round trip if you do all three of the routes (Add an extra mile round trip if you venture the to end of the Notch Trail.)
Parking fee/pass: Yes, national park fee varies depending on age/type of vehicle, length of stay
Family-friendly amenities: Toilets and benches

The short and relatively flat nature of these trails make them a great starting point for families visiting the Badlands with young kids and toddlers. The Door Trail hike begins from the far north trailhead, and its first quarter-mile takes place on a flat boardwalk that leads to an overlook with benches. Numbered markers lead you out through the Badlands and away from the crowds for another half mile. The Door Trail provides a “door” out onto the badlands. Kids will notice the unique properties of the cracked mud, its colors, and even the silence the Badlands formations create by blocking everything else out. Pack plenty of water!

Hickory Ridge Trail in Jester Park is a sweet little natural playground. Photo by Liz Gordon

13. Hickory Ridge Trail in Jester Park – Granger, Iowa
Easy 1.5-mile loop with minimal elevation
Parking fee/Pass: None
Family-friendly amenities: Toilets, benches, water play, playgrounds, stroller-friendly

This trail is one of the favorites in the area because it starts at the Natural Playscape, an awesome playground for kids, and there’s also a great water feature (bring swim gear and water shoes!), sandpit, wood blocks, and other toddler-friendly attractions to explore throughout the park. The hike is a short out-and-back if you turn around at the creek crossing. This trail is stroller-friendly but be mindful that there are stairs at the beginning of the hike and loose gravel on another section. Let kids look for hidden surprises along the trail, including a teepee-like structure.

Rim Rock Trail in the Shawnee National Forest was made by the Late Woodland Native Americans. Photo by Jessica Featherstone

14. Rim Rock Trail in the Shawnee National Forest – Herod, Illinois
Easy 1.7-mile loop with an elevation gain of 360 feet
Family-friendly amenities: Toilets, benches
Parking fee/pass: None

Located between the Mississippi and Ohio rivers in southern Illinois, the Shawnee National Forest offers 280,000 acres of woodlands, hills, and lakes to explore. Wooden walkways lead through the forest, while features like the Garden of the Gods boast enchanting sandstone cliffs and rock formations. The Rim Rock Trail is one of a few in the area that was man-made over 1,500 years ago by the Late Woodland Native Americans. It may not be Grand Staircase Escalante, but any visiting child will stare up in awe at the high sandstone walls and peer into the narrow hallways carved out by years of erosion. The spring wildflower show is not to be missed, either.

St. Louis Canyon and Wildcat Canyon in Starved Creek State Park is a great spot for water play. Photo by Brandi Rondanelli

15. St. Louis Canyon and Wildcat Canyon in Starved Creek State Park – Utica, Illinois
A pair of moderate out and back hikes with an elevation of 514 feet
Family-friendly amenities: Toilets, changing tables, water play
Parking fee/pass: None

If you’re a lover of waterfalls, then you won’t want to miss Starved Rock State Park.  In 14 of the 18 canyons at Starved Creek State Park, you’ll see some of the most spectacular waterfalls in Illinois. The St. Louis Canyon is the biggest and most popular, but it also takes a bit longer (1.5 miles). The Wildcat Canyon trail is a bit shorter at just a mile. Both hikes are toddler-friendly, but you might consider using a hiking backpack or carrier for the youngest kids as it could take them quite a while on little legs. For kids over 5 years old, many of the hikes are quite doable, and the railings on all of the trails and stairways are very sturdy. The water is a big draw and includes natural pools safe for toddlers to wade in. Visit on a weekday to avoid crowds.

Capitol Gorge Trail at Capitol Reef National Monument is easily accessible to strollers and wheelchairs. Photo by Shanti Hodges 

Family-Friendly Hikes in the West and Southwest

16. Capitol Gorge Trail at Capitol Reef National Monument – Utah
Easy 1-mile out-and-back hike with an elevation gain of 100 feet
Family-friendly amenities: Toilets
Parking fee/pass: $10/vehicle

This Utah park often gets overlooked given its proximity to well-known area favorites, such as Zion and Bryce, but it’s filled with easy trails for toddlers, including an interpretive boardwalk, a pioneer homestead and ranch, and flat meandering dry creek beds. The Capitol Gorge Trail is flat and wide, making it accessible to wheelchairs and strollers, yet contains plenty of interesting surprises as you wander the sandy canyon, including pioneer writings and crevices or “slots” in the rocks to explore. You'll even see bird nests and more in these round openings. Drive into the canyon to find the trailhead parking lot that includes an outhouse. The climb up to the “Tanks,” natural water containers, is more challenging and steep but still doable.

Grove of the Patriarchs in Mt. Rainier National Park has some of the biggest trees kids will ever see. Photo by Deanna Curry

17. Grove of the Patriarchs in Mt. Rainier National Park – Washington
Easy 1.5-mile lollipop loop with an elevation gain of 50 feet
Family-friendly amenities: Toilets with changing tables and benches
Parking fee/pass: $30 per vehicle

If you have ever wanted to wander amidst 1,000-year-old trees, this is your chance. A short hike with a boardwalk, a river to splash in, and a fun suspension bridge to cross help make the adventure even more appealing to kids. Grove of the Patriarchs has some trees that are more than 40 feet in diameter and 300 feet tall. Fallen trees create a sort of “tree cave” that tots will enjoy exploring. Be sure to take your time on the suspension bridge as you cross the gorgeous turquoise green Ohanapecosh River.

Heceta Head to Hobbit Trail in Carl G. Washburne State Park leads to a secluded beach.  Photo by Shanti Hodges

18. Heceta Head to Hobbit Trail in Carl G. Washburne State Park – Florence, Oregon
Moderate 1- or 4.4-mile out-and-back trail with an elevation gain of 400 feet
Family-friendly amenities: Toilets and benches
Parking fee/pass: Varies

With a name like the “Hobbit Trail,” how can this not be a child-like wonder of an adventure? There are two ways to approach this hike. If you aren’t up for a long walk, consider parking on the road and hiking the half-mile out to the beach through the tree tunnel section known as the Hobbit Trail. Make sure you map the parking before arriving—this part is just a pull-out on the side of the road—then keep your eyes open for the small, blink-and-you'll-miss-it sign marking the Hobbit Trail. The more adventurous way to explore the Hobbit Trail is to start by parking at Heceta Head Lighthouse and hike up to the 56-foot-tall lighthouse built in 1894 and reopened in 2013. At the bottom, the trail opens up to a beautiful golden yellow sandy beach. Plan to picnic there.  

Mirror Lake Trail in Mt. Hood National Forest is so peaceful that birds might land on your hand! Photo by Laura Diebel

19. Mirror Lake Trail in Mt. Hood National Forest – Hood River, Oregon
Moderate 4.2-mile out-and-back trail with a 672-foot elevation gain
Family-friendly amenities: No toilets
Parking fee/pass: $5/car seasonally (Note: parking at trailhead is closed in the winter)

Just one of the many beautiful hikes in the Mt. Hood area, Mirror Lake is an excellent choice with toddlers and babies because of both the shorter distance and the reward of the mountain and lake views. Here’s the warning we will give about this hike: it’s a butt burner on the way up. There are some bridges to cross and a point where you’ll reach some solid switchbacks, but that said, most of it can be hiked by a little one who is used to hiking. If you’re a flatlander, plan to take it slow because this hike is at 4,000 feet above sea level. Once you reach the lake, the half-mile trail around it is wide and flat, letting you take plenty of selfies with Mt. Hood and Mirror Lake.

Snow isn't the only thing you can slide down, sand works just as well - at Sandhill Picnic Area in the Monahans Sandhills State Park. Photo courtesy of Hike it Baby

20. Sandhill Picnic Area in the Monahans Sandhills State Park – Monahans, Texas
Moderate dunes hike with variable lengths and elevations
Family-friendly amenities: Toilets with changing tables, benches, sand play
Parking fee/pass: $4 per adult; children under 12 are FREE

With 4,000 acres of land, Monahans Sandhills State Park is a fun hidden gem in Texas. This is not your typical family hike, but rather an adventure in a giant sandbox. Bring sand toys (digging toys, buckets, sleds) to amp up the fun (you can also rent sleds and some other toys at the park headquarters). The sand can be challenging, so this hike requires carriers for early walkers. There’s no official trail, rather you simply climb up the dunes as far as you’d like to go, letting the kids stop for a play break (or sand sledding) whenever suits you.

Shanti Hodges is the founder of Hike it Baby, a nationwide nonprofit dedicated to helping families get on the trail with birth to school-age kids. Her book, Hike it Baby: 100 Awesome Adventures with Babies and Toddlers was released June 1, 2018. It details easy, kid-friendly trails across the country. She lives in La Verkin, Utah, with her husband and 5-year-old son.