From seeing glaciers to geysers to swimming in turquoise water and seeing wildlife there is plenty of easy adventures to be had in our Nation’s 61 National Parks. While we haven’t been to many of them, I asked some of my travel-loving friends what their family-friendly adventures (short, easy hikes) were in their favorite national parks and came up with this amazing bucket list. They are short yet iconic hikes, trails in the park that are relatively short, not often steep or intense, that lead to astounding views and some impressive natural features. Some even have great ranger programs that make these spots stand out. We have National Parks in Alaska to the Florida Keys, you are sure to have a National Park close to you, so don’t wait, plan your family’s trip to a national park ASAP!
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25 Short & Easy Hikes in US National Parks for you next Family Trip
Short & Easy Hikes in Acadia National Park, Maine
Ocean Path Trail is a fantastic easy hike in Acadia National Park. Located in the northeast corner of Maine, Acadia contains some of the most scenic views in the country.
Ocean Path Trail is one of the most popular trails in the park. Some of the most famous pictures of Acadia have been taken from one of the many vantage points on this trail. The views of the Atlantic Ocean and the granite rock formations along the cliffs are stunning. It is the perfect trail for hikers of all abilities as the views provided of the Maine coastline are unparalleled. The hike has a gentle incline and views of the ocean the entire way. It is a mostly paved trail, yet there are numerous “side adventures” you can take to see the water even closer (which aren’t really marked). Once you venture off the main trail, you can scramble the granite rock formations until you reach the water’s edge below or the edge of a cliff. The side trails are very short, but offer a great opportunity to see even better views of the forested and rocky shoreline. The entire hike is 2 miles to the end, which is Otter Cliff, and then two miles back. It is definitely one of the most scenic, easy hikes I’ve ever done. I highly recommend hikers explore Ocean Path Trail when visiting Acadia National Park.
How to get there: Portland would be your best option and then taking a drive that is just under 3 hours. Acadia has many campgrounds in which you could stay at; however, I recommend the charming town of Bar Harbor located right at the entrance. It is filled with great restaurants, hotel options, and local shops.
Contributed by Margie DQ from DQ Family Travel
Short & Easy Hikes in Big Bend National Park, Texas
Big Bend National Park encompasses the largest protected area of the Chihuahuan Desert in the United States and nestles in a curve of the Rio Grande River between the U.S. and Mexico. It is after the bend in the river that the park was named after. Big Bend National Park is huge yet it is easy to see a lot of it in a short amount of time. Big Bend is one of the most remote and probably least visited parks in the lower 48 states with a low level of light pollution, resulting in remarkably brilliant stargazing.
Start with a visit to the Panther Junction Visitor which features several interpretive exhibits, many of them interactive and exciting for kids of all ages. You can see a large 3-d relief map as well as the full-size model of the 18′ wing of Quetzalcoatlus Northroppi, the famous Big Bend Pterosaur at the visitors center. The life-size replica of the wing bones of an enormous pterosaur, a 18-foot long specimen was discovered in Big Bend National Park and represents the second-largest known flying creature ever to have existed.
There are two short and easy hikes in Big Bend National Park you shouldn’t miss. Santa Elena Canyon Trail is a beautiful hike into an awesome canyon. You can also enjoy expansive views across much of Big Bend National Park. It is1.6 miles round trip. The second one is the Grapevine Hills Trail. At the end of the trail, you will find the Big Balancing Rock that seems to defy gravity as it sits atop two other large boulders. It is 2.2 miles round trip.
How to get there: The fastest route from Dallas is to take I-20 about 350 miles to Odessa, then follow the directions to Big Bend from Odessa.
Contributed by Priya from Outside Suburbia
Short & Easy Hikes in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is one of the lesser visited National Parks, however, it’s still amazingly impressive with huge dark colored cliffs zigzagged with lighter colored pink pegmatite. The canyon at its deepest is about half a mile from the top of the rim to the river, making it the tallest in Colorado.
The Black Canyon draws a lot of avid hikers who want to make their way down the steep cliffs all the way to the river but you don’t need to do that strenuous hike to enjoy the park! In fact, there are tons of viewpoints and trails along the south rim of the canyon which you can fill up your whole day with! Some of the viewpoints are very close to where you’d park your car, but others involve walking a bit farther to get to the rim with the view. All of these are easy walks however, and each has unique views of the canyon along with signage explaining what you’re seeing.
The Rim Rock Nature Trail is another easy trail at only 1-mile round trip going from the campground to the Visitor’s Center. You’ll get to see plenty of plant life and views of the canyon and river below.
Another hike you can do is called the Warner Point Nature Trail, 1.5 miles round trip. It’s at the very end of the park road and I highly recommend this hike! In addition to the views of the canyon, you’ll get views from the other side that show the farmland and small towns of the area. It was the most beautiful hike along the south rim and if you go at sunset you’ll enjoy the vibrant colors even more!
How to get there: If you want to visit, the closest city is Grand Junction, and the best town to stay at would be Montrose, just a few miles outside the park. To get here, the closest major airport is in Denver, which is quite a drive. You can also take a train or fly from Denver to Grand Junction, then rent a car and drive to the park.
Contributed by Maura from Camera and Canvas
Short & Easy Hikes in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Explore the hoodoos in this fascinating park, no matter the season. Bryce Canyon’s hoodoos look like thousands of spindles and spires shooting heavenward. You’ll find outdoor family adventure and star-gazing at its finest here. If you prefer to have the trails all to yourself, visit between October and March. Winter is especially spectacular in Bryce.
After you’ve stopped by the Visitor’s Center, drive into the park and be sure to check out the every classic and rustic Bryce Canyon Lodge. This architectural masterpiece was built in the mid-1920s using local materials. Consider dining in the restaurant there for a real treat.
Here are three easy-going hikes for both kids and adults in Bryce Canyon:
Sunset Point to Sunrise Point (1 mi / 1.6 km round trip): The paved hike between Sunrise and Sunset Points is part of the longer Rim Trail. The path is wheelchair accessible except in severe weather. Pets on a leash are also allowed on this trail. Enjoy this trail best before breakfast or after dinner.
Queens Garden Trail (1.8 mi / 2.9 km round trip): Our favorite easy-going hike down into Bryce’s amphitheater, the Queens Garden Trail begins from Sunrise Point and stirs your imagination. Don’t forget your camera!
Bristlecone Loop (1.0 mi / 1.6 km round trip): Located in the southern part of the Bryce Canyon, this short hike from Rainbow Point steers you through a bristlecone pine forest towards jaw-dropping wide-angle views.
How to get there: Bryce Canyon is located in rural southern Utah and is not close to any major cities or transportation hubs. Most visitors arrive by car, either their own or a rental. If you fly in, chances are you will fly into Cedar City or Salt Lake City, Utah or Las Vegas, Nevada.
Where to stay: You can splurge and stay in a sweet, clean, rustic-classy Western Cabin, offered by Bryce Canyon Lodge. If you prefer camping, all camping in Bryce is first-come, first-serve for 2019, due to construction.
Contributed by Tanya Raedeke from Rad Family Travel
Short & Easy Hikes in Capitol Reef, Utah
Capitol Reef isn’t the least visited national park in Utah, but I think it is the most underrated. Not being right next to another park or city, it gets overlooked for the more popular Arches and Zion. Capitol Reef has a ton of awesome hikes to offer from slot canyons to sprawling overlooks.
Hickman Bridge is one of the best easy hikes in the main area of the park. It’s about two miles round-trip with 316 feet of elevation gain and some of the best views of the area. The trail is easy to follow and takes you to a natural bridge nestled back in the canyon. On your way out, admire the view of the Fruita District below. This is a popular trail, so you probably won’t have it to yourself unless you go early or later in the day, but it’s still one of my favorites. The Pioneer Register and the Tanks are another great, easy hike in Capitol Gorge at the end of the scenic drive.
If you’re looking for something a little less populated, head down Notom Road to Headquarters Canyon, one of the slot canyons in the park. Notom Road is dirt and may be impassable after heavy rain, check at the visitor center before going. Headquarters Canyon may not look like Antelope Canyon, but it is an awesome, easy hike through desert shrubs, a slot canyon, and into a bigger canyon. This hike is 2.2-mile round-trip with just over 400 feet of elevation gain. If you’re down here, stop into Surprise Canyon, another slot canyon just down the road. If it is rainy or is supposed to be, skip the slot canyons and stick to the Fruita area.
How to get there: To see Capitol Reef as part of a bigger Utah road trip, flying in and out of Las Vegas will be the easiest.
Contributed by Megan from Red Around the World
Short & Easy Hikes in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
Some of the most exhilarating hikes in U.S. National Parks happen underground! Carlsbad Caverns National Park houses two family-friendly, subterranean treks, the Big Room Trail and the Natural Entrance Trail.
To reach the cavern depths, visitors can either take the elevator or hike down the 1.25 mile path of the Natural Entrance Trail. This trail is steep and requires caution, careful pacing, and shoes with good traction. This hike is unique because it allows visitors to transition from daylight above to the dim, otherworldly discoveries of the caves below.
Once guests reach the start of the caverns, either by using the elevator or the Natural Entrance Trail, they arrive at the start of the Big Room Trail. This trail loops around acres of fascinating formations, such as the Sword of Damocles, Lion’s Tail, and the Hall of Giants. The Big Room Trail is 1.25 miles in length, but there is a shortcut available that shortens the trail to 0.6 miles in length. While the Natural Entrance Trail does require more care in accessing, the Big Room Trail is among one of the most family friendly hikes in any National Park! Children will be fascinated on this short, flat path by the magical shapes that loom over the trail. Add on any of the additional activities in this park, such as ranger-guided tours to additional areas of the caves, or the night Bat Flight Program.
How to get there: To reach Carlsbad Caverns National Park, fly into El Paso International Airport or Roswell International Air Center. For adventurous lodging, camp in the backcountry of the park, within the city of Carlsbad, or at the sister National Park of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, 40 minutes away.
Where to stay: Additional hotels and rentals are plentiful in the city of Carlsbad.
Contributed by Kristen Czudak from Yonderlust Ramblings
Short & Easy Hikes in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
Just outside of Cleveland, OH lies Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This small park is an excellent escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, and its easy hikes and natural beauty are perfect reasons to visit. Our favorite hike was out to Brandywine Falls along the Stanford Trail. It’s a moderate 1.5 -mile trail that sets out from the Stanford House to gorgeous Brandywine Falls. Parts of the trail are wooden steps and boardwalk, but can be hiked without too much effort and takes about 2 hours to complete.
There are many other popular hikes in the park including the Towpath Trail, the Brandywine Gorge Trail loop, and the Blue Hen Falls Trail. Blue Hen Falls is a 15-ft. waterfall in the park and also a popular place for visitors. Be sure to arrive early (the parking lot will fill up) to enjoy this .5 mile hike out to the falls. The hike only takes about 30 minutes and is beautiful year-round.
How to get there: Getting to Cuyahoga Valley National Park is easy. If flying, Cleveland Hopkins International Airport is the closest option. Once you’ve arrived, the park is only a 30 drive away.
Where to stay: Lodging options are plentiful in and around Cleveland with options to suit any size family or budget.
Contributed by Carrick Buss from Along for the Trip
Short & Easy Hikes in Death Valley, Nevada
Death Valley is widely known as the hottest place on Earth, but it is far from simply the parched desert you might expect. In this huge national park, you’ll find brightly colored mountains, sand dunes, salt flats and multiple canyons, all able to be explored on one of many easy hiking trails.
If you’re keen on photography, then head to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes near Stovewell Pipes. Whilst you can access them from the car park, the best way to take in this amazing landscape is to hike to the top of one of the huge dunes you can see in the distance. To get to the undisturbed sand, you’ll need to hike for about a mile each way.
Another “must-do” hike is the trail to the Badwater Salt Flats. These huge dried up salt flats are bright white and an amazing contrast to the dark, rocky mountains that surround them. It’s a beautiful place to explore at sunset or come after dark for some of the country’s best stargazing. As with Mesquite Sand Dunes, you can access the salt flat directly from the car park but the whitest and quietest section is around one mile away.
Finally, the third easy hike in Death Valley is the 0.75 mile Salt Creek Interpretive Trail. This short hike is primarily boardwalk so it’s completely flat and suitable for everyone. It will take you around a small creek which seems like a mirage in the otherwise dry desert landscape. If you’re lucky you might spot the highly endangered pupfish which only live for a very short time every year (the best chance is in spring).
How to get there: Las Vegas is the closest airport to Death Valley, it takes just over two hours to drive to Furnace Creek or slightly longer to Stovewell Pipes, the two main areas in the park.
Where to stay: We’d recommend staying at “The Inn at Death Valley” as this beautiful desert oasis is close to all the main trails and is a bit of luxury in the middle of this unique landscape.
Contributed by Cat Smith from Walk My World
Short & Easy Hikes in Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
The Moat Walk around Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park will definitely be the easiest hike you’ll ever do inside a National Park. But it carries a big punch: it is likely one of the most beautiful moat walks you’ll ever do!
Surrounded by breathtakingly turquoise water, the moat walk is a flat concrete sidewalk that frames Dry Tortugas’ Fort Jefferson. The trail is flat, and it’s less than .5 miles long. Assuming that you are tired of snorkeling, or lounging on a pristine white sand beach of Dry Tortugas, this moat walk is highly recommended. There are a few disconnected sections of the moat, so you can’t make a full loop, but it is worth exploring.
How to get there: To get to Dry Tortugas, you will make your way to Key West. From here, you can choose between the Yankee Freedom III ferry ride or go in by seaplane. For the majority of visitors, this will be a daytrip from Key West to Dry Tortugas National Park. It is possible to reserve a camping spot in Dry Tortugas; however, this will be a primitive camping experience with no access to Internet or cell connectivity, electricity, running water, or even food and water. You have to bring everything in yourself. The nearest human civilization is in Key West – some 70 miles away.
Contributed by Halef and Michael from The Round The World Guys
Short & Easy Hikes in Glacier National Park, Montana
Glacier National Park is filled with stunning hikes for people of all ages. It is a great park to visit in the summer once the snow has thawed. Some of the most popular hikes for families are the Avalanche Trail and the Virginia/St. Mary Trail. One features a large lake with surrounding green mountains and cascading waterfalls while the other hike features two absolutely remarkable waterfalls.
The Avalanche Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Glacier National Park, so I highly recommend getting to the trailhead early in the morning. Also, parking is very limited, so if you get there late, you will likely have a nice hike to the trailhead. The Avalanche Trail is a bit hidden as it begins on an easy boardwalk trail called “Trail of the Cedars.” At the halfway point, you will run into a waterfall called the Lower Avalanche Gorge. This location is the junction to where the Avalanche Trail begins, leading you to Avalanche Lake. The trail takes you on a long moderate dirt trail with surrounding tall pine trees. After 2.1 miles, you arrive at the lake to behold the breathtaking surrounding mountains and numerous waterfalls.
The other trail is located on the shores of Saint Mary Lake which has two waterfalls: Saint Mary and Virginia Waterfalls. Virginia Waterfalls is the taller of the two. The trail is approximately 3.6 miles round trip while Saint Mary Falls is about 2.4 miles round trip. Both hikes are considered relatively easy, but don’t let that fool you, the views of Saint Mary Lake with its striking mountains make it one of the best trails to complete with your family. See here for other great things to do in Glacier National Park.
Contributed by Michelle Stelly from The Wandering Queen
Short & Easy Hikes in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Although adults might be in awe of the Grand Canyon at every lookout, the kids attention span tends to wane pretty quickly!
Luckily The Trail Of Time is a hike that has something for everyone! At under 5km it is an easy walk and has lots to see along the way. Starting at the Visitor Centre the walk takes you along the South Rim, taking in amazing views like Mathers Point.
The first part of the trail is the Million Year Trail. This has markers each meter along the footpath showing important moments in history and how the geological history of the Canyon fits into those times. It is a great way to help children ( and adults ) understand just how old this amazing canyon is.
As the trail goes along there are information stops along the way. You can touch fossils that are nearly 300-million years old and learn all about the layers that make up the canyon. As well as watch the Colorado River wind it’s way through the Canyon. The walk finishes at the famous Yavapai Point, but the learning doesn’t have to stop there as you can then explore the Geology Museum. If you time your walk right Yavapai is an amazing spot to see the sunset over the canyon. If the children have had enough walking there is a free shuttle bus from the Geology Museum!. See here for how to plan a perfect day at Grand Canyon with kids.
How to get there: South Rim and Desert View entrance are open year-round. Desert View is more impressive and if you fly into Flagstaff are drive you can enjoy a scenic route along US 89.
Where to stay: There are six hotels located inside the park. Built right on the rim, the 1905 Swiss-style chalet El Tovar Hotel, offers a luxury stay along with fabulous views and high-end dining. After all, Teddy Roosevelt and Albert Einstein both were guests here!
Contributed by Kirsty from Travel with Meraki
Short & Easy Hikes in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
With soaring snow mountains and beautiful glacier lakes, Grand Teton National Park is sometimes overshadowed by the massive and more popular Yellowstone National Park. There are abundant fishing and wildlife viewing available here. Start exploring by taking the Jenny Lake shuttle boat and hiking about a half mile to Hidden Falls (an 80-foot waterfall) and then, if you are up for it, another steeper half-mile to Inspiration Point for photo-worthy mountain views.
Contributed by Priya from Outside Suburbia
Short & Easy Hikes in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park can be visited easily by car. There two main roads you can drive to see the park: Crater Rim Drive and Chain of Craters Road. Stop at the visitor center at Kīlauea Visitor Center to pick up maps and trail information. After a short drive you will see the Steam Vents, where groundwater seeps down to the hot volcanic rocks and returns to the surface as steam.
Next stop at the Kīlauea Iki Overlook before driving to Puʻu Puaʻi. Approximately 1/2 mile from Puʻu Puaʻi is the Devastation Trail parking area. You can park your car here and take a 30-minute walk through the cinder outfall of the 1959 eruption of Kīlauea Iki. This 1 roundtrip on a paved trail is wheelchair and stroller accessible. At Keanakāko’i Crater, where you will find evidence of a brief eruption that occurred in September 1982 covering several hundred feet of roadway. On a clear day, you can see Mauna Loa’s 13,677-foot summit and Mauna Kea’s 13,796-foot summit which have some of the world’s largest astronomical observatories. Veering south of Crater Rim Drive is Chain of Craters Road. This 3,700-foot drive eventually ends where lava flow has literally overtaken the road. You could be able to see active lava flow here at the end of the trail which is not the case now.
Last time we visited Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, we were able to walk through a 500-year old lava cave formed when an underground channel of molten lava drained from its cooled walls forming a massive, hollow chamber. The best part is that a tropical rainforest awaits at the end of the tube, totally unexpected! But unfortunately, Thurston Lava Tube remains closed due to the recent volcano activity in May 2018.
How to get there: Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park is located on the Big Island of Hawai‘i. From Hilo it is 30 miles southwest on Highway 11 which is a 45 minute drive. From Kailua-Kona, it is 96 miles southeast on Highway 11 which is 2 to 2 1/2 hour drive. Or 125 miles through Waimea and Hilo via highways 19 and 11 which is 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Plan for an entire day at Volcanoes National park to see geysers, walk on lava rock and learn about Volcanoes.
Contributed by Priya from Outside Suburbia
Short & Easy Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park, California
Joshua Tree National Park is located right near the city of Palm Springs in California. It isn’t a far drive if you are visiting the coastal cities in California such as San Diego or Los Angeles, but Palm Springs also has their own airport. When we visited, we stayed at the Westin in Rancho Mirage, which is between Palm Springs and Palm Desert. There are a plethora of hotels in this area and most are known for their resort feel, offering activities, pools and restaurants. The area has tons to see, and plenty of hiking, but Joshua Tree is the premier park for some amazing outdoor exploring.
When we visited Joshua Tree National Park with our kids (ages 4 & 7) we chose to hike the Hidden Valley Nature Trail. This trail is a 1 mile flat loop and is a very easy hike for all abilities. The trail isn’t terribly long which is good for the heat in the desert, but it is long enough to allow you to experience what Joshua Tree is known for. You will pass through some huge rock formations, with plenty of options to stop and climb around and explore. Also on the Hidden Valley Nature Trail you get to see a good amount of the famous Joshua Tree! My kids loved this hike because of the perfect length, and also because they loved discovering new rock piles to climb on top of and underneath. Another easy hike we recommend is the Barker Dam trail. No matter what time of year you visit make sure to pack a good amount of water for the hike and a hat, the sun is strong even in the winter.
How to get there: Joshua Tree a true desert wilderness just a few hours outside Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, and Phoenix. You can also fly into Palm Springs, stay there and drive to Joshua Tree NP.
Contributed by Amanda from Patsey Family Travels
Short & Easy Hikes in Olympic National Park, Washington
Olympic National Park is a beautiful U.S. park located west of Seattle, Washington, on the Olympic Peninsula. What makes Olympic National Park unique is that there are three distinct ‘parts’ to the Park. First, is the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center area. Second, is the Hoh Rain Forest section, located on the west side of the park, and third are the Pacific Beaches, located on the western coast of the peninsula.
The Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center area is the most popular area of the Park. It’s the section nearest to Port Angeles, it’s easily accessible, and has a Visitor’s Center. The best easy hike from the Visitor’s Center is up to Hurricane Hill. It’s 3.2 miles out and back (1.6 mi each way) and boasts excellent panoramic mountain views along the way.
The Hoh Rain Forest is located on the west side of the park and is a two-hour drive from Port Angeles. Hands down the best easy hike from the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor’s Center is the Hall of Mosses Nature Trail. This trail is stunning with moss literally dripping from the trees. The trail is a .8 mile loop; if you are looking for another easy hike to supplement the Hall of Mosses check out the Spruce Nature Trail which is a 1.3-mile loop.
Lastly, but certainly not least, you must visit the Pacific Beaches section of the Park. The best easy hike is out to Second Beach. The trailhead is located just outside of the town of La Push. It’s a .7 mile hike through the forest to Second Beach. There are a bunch of switchbacks and steep stairs along this route, so take care. The beach is jaw-dropping, with tide pools and sea stacks galore.
How to get there: To get to Olympic National Park you’ll fly into Seattle, and I suggest renting a car; many parts of Olympic are remote, and you’ll need a car to get around. Olympic is about two and a half hours west of Seattle, and it’s an incredibly scenic drive. I recommend staying in Port Angeles and using that as your home base to visit the Park. We stayed in an Airbnb and that worked well as each day we could pack food for our lunches and snacks.
Contributed by Catherine Brady from Traveling with the Littles
Short & Easy Hikes in Rainier National Park, Washington
Rainier National Park earned its name from the main feature of the park: Rainier Volcano. This active volcano is the center of the park, and is the centerpiece of the two easy hikes to accomplish during a day trip to Mount Rainier. The first is Paradise. This is the most popular hiking area of Mount Rainier, located at the top of the mountain area (reachable by car), you can park and stroll along the various loop trails located next to the parking lot. During the spring this is an amazing location to find wildflowers while the peak of Mount Rainier is in the background covered in snow. The loop trails at Mount Rainier are approximately 1.5 miles round trip. The second recommended hike is the one to Reflection Lakes.
From Paradise you can hike down to Reflection Lakes, or drive down. The roundtrip for the hike is 3 miles, but as stated, there is the option of driving from Paradise to a parking area next to Reflection Lakes. The reason Reflection Lake is a must see is due to the beautiful photo opportunity. From the lakes Mount Rainier looms in the background, reflecting into the lake to create a reflection and mirror of itself. These two hikes are easy to reach, and the most popular hikes in Mount Rainier for some great photo opportunities of Mount Rainier. See here for more about the best hikes in Mount Rainier National Park.
How to get there: Rainier National Park is located just two hours outside of Tacoma, Washington, and approximately 3 hours away from the nearest airport: Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. This makes the park a great day trip from staying in downtown Seattle, or traveling out from Tacoma Washington.
Where to stay: If you are looking for some luxury while in Seattle, then check out the W in Seattle! If you want to stay closer to Mount Rainier National Park in Tacoma then check out Hotel Murano.
Contributed by Amy Dodd from Ocean to Alpines
Short & Easy Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of my favorite places on earth, and I was lucky enough to grow up about an hour and a half away. The beauty and magnificence of this gem of a national park have made it more and more popular with tourists from all over the world. But let’s get to the point, what’s one of the best easy hikes for kids and adults?
One of the most popular easy hikes in the park is the Bear Lake Loop. When you enter the park simply follow the signs to Bear Lake or review the map given to you upon entry. I love the .8-mile roundtrip walk around Bear Lake in any season (although fall with the golden aspens maybe my favorite).
Another plus about Bear Lake is that it’s a trailhead for several hikes. Recently, my family and I hiked the just over a half-mile up to Nymph Lake in snow. It was gorgeous and a fun hike with my 6 and 10-year olds, even more accessible in the summer and fall.
The reason I love this trail is that it’s a series of beautiful lakes. You start at Bear Lake and can really go as far as you or your party wants. It’s a little over a half a mile to Nymph Lake, another .6-miles to Dream Lake, and after that another 2/3 of a mile to Emerald Lake. They all make for spectacular views and the perfect family picnic spot.
Tip: To avoid some of the crowds go early in the morning or after 2 pm when the morning and lunch hikers are leaving for the day. See here for Best Estes Park Hikes.
How to get there: If you don’t drive to the area, the best airport to fly into is Denver International Airport. It’s about an hour and a half drive from the airport to Rocky Mountain National Park. Therefore, I’d advise getting a rental car so you can explore at your own pace.
Contributed by Lauren from Explorer Momma
Short & Easy Hikes at Saguaro National Park, Arizona
Saguaro National Park is the gateway to one of America’s most unusual landscapes – the Sonoran Desert. Here exotic plants face harsh the environment searching for water, soil, and shade. This land isn’t barren. It’s teeming with life that’s found ingenious ways to survive. From the enormous saguaro cacti that weighs almost 5,000 lbs when fully grown but is less than 2″ tall when it’s ten-years-old to the javelina, which looks like a pig but isn’t, you will never see another place like this. What’s the best way to explore this strange land? Take a hike!
Trails criss-cross Saguaro National Park dating back to its days as a cattle ranch. The park is divided into two sections, the western Tucson Mountain District and the eastern Rincon Mountain District. A short and easy kid friendly hike in the Tucson Mountains is the 2-mile King Canyon / Gould Mine Loop just outside the must-see Sonoran Desert Museum. In the Rincon Mountains, I recommend taking the Douglas Spring Trailhead to Garwood / Wildhorse trails and ending up at Wildhorse Tank (~4.6
miles out and back). This trail is super fun and takes you to water stream filled kids can splash in. If you’re looking for excellent city views, consider making this a longer loop by heading up the hill along the Carrillo Trail. Carrillo will rejoin Douglass Spring and take you back to the trailhead, but not before you’ve gained about 700′ of
elevation. That’s just high enough to get some excellent views and enter the pinon oak grasslands, an entirely different biozone from the desert floor. Coming back via Carrillo forms a loop hike that just a hair over 5 miles long.
Best Place to Stay – Tanque Verde Ranch for proximity to Saguaro National Park or the Westin La Paloma Resort for the spa and waterpark.
Closest Airport – Tucson Arizona
Contributed by Jenn and Ed Coleman from Coleman Concierge
Short & Easy Hikes at Sequoia National Park, California
Sequoia National Park is perfect for kids – or just those who don’t want to overdo it. There are plenty of easy hikes in the park, but the favorite two are:
Congress Trail: Redwood trees may be the tallest trees, but Sequoia trees are bigger and Sequoia National Park is home to the biggest trees on the planet! Walking among them is a truly awe-inspiring experience. The largest of them have been given names of important political or historical figures. The Congress Trail starts at the General Sherman Tree, which is the largest tree in the world. As you set off along a paved path, the crowd quickly thins. It isn’t long before you encounter the President Tree and General Sequoya Tree, which has a crack you can walk into. Further along are two small groves of towering trees, the Senate and the House. A slight diversion along a flat dirt trail takes you to the Room Tree, which is hollow and as big as a room inside. The hike is 2 miles (3 miles including the General Sherman Trail) and the total elevation change is only 250 feet.
Big Trees Trail: Most of the trees here aren’t named, but they are no less impressive. The trail is a 1-mile loop around the Round Pond. The path is pathed with only a 50-foor elevation change and it is wheelchair accessible. It starts just down the hill from the Giant Forest Museum. This walk is very pretty because it goes around a beautiful grassy field and if you go in the late afternoon, this is a prime spot to see wildlife.
How to get there: The nearest airport is Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT), a 1.5-hour hour drive to the Lodgepole area of the park.
Where to stay: Lodgepole Campground and Wuksachi Lodge are nearby these trails.
Contributed by James Ian at Travel Collecting
Short & Easy Hikes in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
The beauty of Shenandoah National Park lies in both its scenic variety and accessibility. Stony Man: The 1.6-mile Stony Man Trail is arguably the best sunset hike in Shenandoah National Park. It lies just north of the Skyland Resort, one of the park’s two historic lodges. The trail is relatively flat and ends at a rocky outcrop, from which you have spectacular views of the rolling Blue Ridge Mountains. The viewpoint also offers some of the best views of Skyline Drive, one of America’s most scenic drives.
Big Meadows: Big Meadows is the heart of Shenandoah National Park. This is where you’ll find most visitor facilities, including the Harry F. Byrd Visitor Center, a café, the park’s only gas station, a campground and iconic Big Meadows Lodge. Across the road from all this lies Big Meadows itself, a large expanse of grassland surrounded by dense forest. It’s the prime wildlife watching spot in Shenandoah—deer and birds are permanent residents here, but you can also regularly see black bears at the edge of the meadows. There’s no designated trail here, but visitors are free to wander through the meadows as they please.
Dark Hollow Falls: A short distance north of Big Meadows, Dark Hollow Falls is the most visited waterfall in Shenandoah National Park. It’s only 1.4 miles there and back, but the trail is pretty steep in some sections. It’s still very doable for most adults and children, though. Waterfalls are a major feature of this mountain park and Dark Hollow Falls is the most accessible one.”
How to get there: Shenandoah’s northern entrance is only 70 miles from downtown Washington, D.C., while charming Charlottesville lies only 30 minutes from the southern entrance. The nearest major airport is Dulles International Airport, about an hour by car from Shenandoah
Contributed by Bram Reusen from Travel. Experience. Live.
Short & Easy Hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
My ideal walk in a park includes a lot of nature and not a lot of people. If you agree, you will love Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It’s like they’ve been keeping this little secret and I discovered it. Now you can too!
Once you make your way into the park, a quick and easy trail is the Wind Canyon Trail. 15 minutes of moderate walking gets you to a gorgeous overlook. I recommend it at sunset…absolutely beautiful. Medora and the South Unit are a quick 15 minute drive off of highway 94 that goes all the way across North Dakota. If you are just passing through the state, a stop right off of 94 is the Painted Canyon Visitor Center. There are beautiful views here and a mile long loop trail that leaves right from the center. It takes you right through the amazing badlands landscape.
Not only are you seeing a very unique landscape in this area, but also wildlife that includes bison, wild horses, elk, moose, deer and one of my favorites to watch, the prairie dogs. The park and the town of Medora are definitely a must-see.
How to get there: The magical little town of Medora, North Dakota sits right at the entrance to Theodore Roosevelt NP South Unit. This tiny little town takes you back in time to the cowboy days. It offers several hotels. I stayed at the Rough Riders Hotel and would recommend it. Medora has several places to eat and shops to enjoy. It is also known for its Musical that happens every night in the summer.
Contributed by Sonja from Happy Travel Bug
Short & Easy Hikes in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho
We spend a lot of time in the world’s first National Park and have hiked many of the short and long trails that wind past hot springs, wildflower meadows, spawning trout, and canyon views. To get to Yellowstone, fly into Bozeman, Montana; Jackson, Wyoming, or Salt Lake City and rent a car. It’s a 1.5-hour drive from Bozeman, 2 hours from Jackson, and 5 hours from SLC.
One of our favorite hikes is to the Boiling River. It’s only 0.5 miles (one-way) on a mostly flat trail to get to this hot spring. The trail follows the Gardner River to its confluence with the Boiling River. Watch for American dippers bobbing up and down on the rocks and elk grazing near the trail. The Boiling River is one of two front country hot springs in Yellowstone in which you can soak. The parking lot is between Mammoth Hot Springs and Gardiner, Montana on the east side of the road.
Another kid- and family-friendly trail is to Lone Star Geyser. The trailhead is located near Old Faithful and it is a 2-mile (one-way) walk along the Firehole River to Lone Star Geyser. You can also ride a bike on this trail.
Where to stay: Plan to stay inside at one of the lodges inside the park.
How to get there: This is one of the largest parks spanning 3 states. We like flying to Jackson and driving from there. You can also fly into Yellowstone Regional Airport Cody.
Contributed by By Mel from YellowstoneTrips (Pictured here at the Boiling River in Yellowstone NP)
Short & Easy Hikes in Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite National Park area is full of hiking trails, many of them suitable only for the serious hikers with lots of stamina and determination, but don’t let that intimidate you. There are some easy, short hikes in Yosemite Valley that almost anyone can manage. 2 miles round trip to Mirror Lake and back, starting at 4,000 ft with a 100 ft elevation gain and most of the path is paved. Mirror Lake is a shallow, seasonal pool that fills with water in the spring and early summer. The rest of the year, it can be completely dry, but anytime it’s a favorite place to hike to, especially for families and it gets you close to the base of Half Dome.
Bridalveil Fall Hike is a 1.2 miles round trip trail starting at 4,000 ft with a 200 ft elevation gain. This short hike to Bridalveil Fall is one of Yosemite Valley’s most short easy and scenic hikes. It is beautiful in spring and early summer, when the falls are at their peak flow and in the afternoon, you might see rainbows in the spray. Bridalveil Fall gets is named for the mist that surrounds the falls when the wind blows, giving it the appearance of a wedding veil.
Sentinel and Cook’s Meadow Hike is another great easy and flat hike with a high scenery factor, that takes you through the middle of Yosemite Valley. It’s also one of the easiest hikes in Yosemite Valley and you are rewarded with views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Glacier Point, and Royal Arches. The meadows are most scenic in spring and early summer when the wildflowers are blooming, and the waterfalls are at maximum flow, roughly from late April to mid-June. The path can be a little snowy or icy in winter.
How to get there: You can either fly into Sacramento or San Franciso and drive to the park from there.
Contributed by Priya
Short & Easy Hikes in Zion National Park, Utah
With its stunning red rock and gorgeous vistas, Zion National Park has trails of all distances and difficulties; there’s truly something for everyone. One of the best in terms of reward for the effort is Canyon Overlook.
At only a mile round-trip, the trail is doable for hikers of all ages and leg lengths. It doesn’t lack for interest, though, and has a few spots to walk under rock outcroppings and around rock turns. The out-and-back trail dead-ends at a jaw-dropping view of Zion Valley.
While short, the trail is not accessible, as it has some modest elevation gain, rocky paths, and steps. It’s not overly strenuous but do be careful when hiking with little ones. The entire trail includes dropoffs, most notably at the end where only part of it is fenced at a sheer drop into the valley.
How to get there: Cedar City does have a small airport about an hour away, but it’s likely much cheaper and easier to find flights into Las Vegas (about a 3 hour drive) or Salt Lake City (just under 5 hours).
Where to Stay: The Zion National Park Lodge has rustic but very cozy accommodations right inside the park, which is very convenient, not to mention beautiful. Otherwise, the town of Springdale is just outside the park and has a variety of accommodations at multiple price points.
Contributed by Preethi B. Harbuck from Local Passport Family
See Wendy’s National Parks Calendar which lists which Park to Visit Each Month. National parks are not just for summertime, every month of the year you can find a park worth visiting.
You might also like: Summer Mountain Adventures, Easy Road trips in Texas, Soft Adventures in Iceland and an easy hike in Maroon Lake
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