<b>FAMILY TIME | </b>By Jocelyn Robinson Weekly Herald news editor
With its plethora of trails crisscrossing forests, traversing wilderness areas and offering views of soaring mountain peaks, the Pacific Northwest has a reputation as a hiker’s paradise.
But those trails aren’t just for outdoor nuts with the latest lightweight gear; they also make the perfect avenue for adventure for parents and young children.
If you’ve been raring to go, but worried if your toddler is up to a day of exploring the outdoors, Sherri Chisarik of the Everett Mountaineers has a few pointers.
Chisarik, who used to teach a family outdoor program, is also co-founder of Outdoor Youth Connections, a nonprofit that helps fund recreational activities for youth.
How far or how difficult the hike should be depends on the children and the age level, but Chisarik said what you’ll see along the way is just as – if not more – important than length or steepness.
“You’re usually looking for trails that have some kind of feature,” like lakes and waterfalls, she said. “It gives them a destination, something to look forward to.”
Chisarik also recommends stopping frequently – every half-hour to an hour – for a snack break.
“It breaks it up for them as it breaks it down,” she said.
Speaking of snacks, leave the sugary treats at home and take high-protein foods like peanut butter, trail mix and nuts.
“They provide energy without the sugar rush and crash,” Chisarik said.
Making a game out of a hike is a way to keep young ones entertained. For example, have an adult walk ahead and hide Easter eggs along the trail, then give the child clues to help them find the surprise.
For a high-tech version of the treasure hunt, families can try a geocaching trail.
“Anything that makes it fun,” Chisarik said.
Older children might also appreciate the chance to take on more responsibilities, such as helping plan the hike or being responsible for the trail map.
The No. 1 suggestion? Practice patience and flexibility, and make the hike a day of exploration and discovery.
“Don’t make it about getting to the lake; make it about the journey of getting to the lake — even if you don’t make it all the way,” Chisarik said.
“It’s quality time,” she added. “How many parents really get a lot of that these days?”
Where to go
Fortunately for South County families, many of the Pacific Northwest’s best-known trails are within a few hours’ drive of home.
Here are some suggestions from Herald staff:
Meadowdale Beach, in Edmonds. Length: 1.25 miles. Elevation gain: Level.
Trail wanders through forest to the beach.
Paradise Valley Conservation Area, in Woodinville. Length: 13+ miles. Elevation gain: Mostly level.
Trails meander through forest areas and wetlands.
Lowell Riverfront Park Trail, in Everett. Length: 1.75 miles. Elevation gain: Level.
Multi-use trail with views of Mt. Baker and the Cascades.
Lord Hill Regional Park, near Snohomish and Monroe. Length: 6-10 miles. Elevation gain: 300 feet; 500 feet loss to Snohomish River.
A semi-wilderness experience near urban Snohomish County.
Wallace Falls, in Gold Bar. Length: 5 miles. Elevation gain: 880 feet.
Families can hike to just the lower falls, or all the way to the top with older kids.
Boulder River Falls, between Arlington and Darrington. Length: 2.5 miles. Elevation gain: 250 feet.
Short and kid-friendly with a rewarding finish.
Youth on Age Trail, Mountain Loop Highway near Granite Falls. Length: 0.4 miles. Elevation gain: Level.
A short walk through a forested setting.
Big Four Ice Caves, Mountain Loop Highway near Verlot. Length: 2 miles. Elevation gain: 200 feet.
An easy hike with lots of good scenery. Do not go in or near the ice caves; hikers have been injured and killed.
Old Sauk River Trail, Mountain Loop Highway near Darrington. Length: 6 miles round-trip. Elevation gain: 150 feet.
Follows the wild and scenic Sauk River, which provides critical habitat for salmon.
Mount Pilchuck, near Granite Falls. Length: 4 miles. Elevation gain: 2,400 feet.
Busy trail with plenty of foot traffic. A bit strenuous, but kids have been seen jogging by adults near the top. Restored lookout cabin at the top.
Iron Goat Trail, near Skykomish. Length: Upper trail, 13.5 miles; Lower trail, 2 miles. Elevation gain: 800 feet gain and loss.
Part of the old Great Northern Railroad railway.
Padilla Bay Shore Trail, near Burlington. Length: 2.25 miles. Elevation gain: Level.
See how the dikes and tide gates at Padilla Bay operate.
Coal Mines Trail, in Cle Elum. Length: 6 miles. Elevation gain: Level.
An easy trail through the mining history of Cle Elum and Roslyn.
Everett Mountaineers: http://everettmountaineers.org
Outdoor Youth Connections: www.outdooryouthconnections.org/oyc/default.aspx
“Best Hikes With Kids: Western Washington &the Cascades,” by Joan Burton. Available through Sno-Isle Libraries.
Snohomish County Parks: http://snocoparks.org
Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve: www.padillabay.gov/recopportunities.asp
Everett Parks and Recreation: www.everettwa.org/default.aspx?ID=553
Washington Trails Association: www.wta.org