Three River and Waterfall Hikes for Families
A selection of beautiful, family-friendly hikes featuring rivers and waterfalls.
We asked Joan Burton, guidebook author of Best Hikes with Kids: Western Washington and the Cascades!, what she recommends for getting kids out on trail this time of year. She suggested three great spring hikes along rivers featuring lots of family-friendly activities, from wildlife-spotting to stone-skipping.
Old Sauk River
Location: North Cascades - Mountain Loop Highway
Distance: 6 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 150 ft
A lowland level walk along the Sauk River is easy enough for kids, yet exciting and beautiful for all ages in springtime. The old forest trail winds along the river bank with views of rushing white water just melted from snow banks and quiet backwater ponds.
The new trail has a gravel surface and is wheelchair accessible. It is possible to make any of several loop trips along this popular Wild & Scenic River. Old trees, Salmonberries, Thimbleberries, and ancient cedar stumps shade the trail, recently rebuilt by WTA crews.
Springtime flowers that children will enjoy include trillim, queen’s cup, violets, twinflowers, bleeding heart and ground dogwood. Have your kids watch for pollywogs and tadpoles in the ponds along the Sauk, but hold their hands alongside white water views.
Location: Olympics -- East
Distance: 10.6 miles
Elevation: Gain: 2300 ft
Another beautiful river walk, this one in the Olympics, is along the mostly level Duckabush River. Children will enjoy finding rusting relics of logging days, throwing stones, dipping feet, and playing by the river’s edge.
At 2 1/2 miles, climb to a ledge called the Little Hump where you may find such spring flowers as fawn lilies, chocolate lilies, Indian paintbrush and more. Some Eastern Olympic plants and animals, such as the Olympic marmot, were isolated by the last glacial age, and are unique and endemic here.
Continue up another mile to Big Hump, where you and the kids can savor views up valley toward the beautiful Eastern Olympics and down valley toward the Cascades.
Location: Chinook Pass - Enumclaw or Hwy 410 area
Distance: 14 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1600 ft
Here is a lowland trail through magnificent old growth forest. Walk past melting snow waterfalls along the Greenwater River up to two small woodland lakes, which may still be snow-covered.
Knobby cliffs on either side of the trail are lined with moss, trillims, ferns, and yellow violets. The cliffs are reminders of volcanic activity here millions of years ago.
The first Greenwater Lake has a river running through it, keeping its water fresh and the ducks busy. At 2 miles come to Upper Greenwater Lake, featuring a beaver lodge and possible campsites.