Eight Maryland hikes perfect for families

hiking2WBy Karen Stysley

Brigid Wethington doesn't go easy on her kids—at least where hiking is concerned. When the Columbia resident takes her daughter, 7, and her son, almost 4, on hikes in the Maryland area, they may find themselves going over a suspension bridge and under a tunnel before climbing up to a boulder at the edge of a big drop.

Photo: Lucy and Archie Wethington on a hike.

"I tend to push my kids a little bit on what they can do," Wethington says. But along the way, they get more than just a workout and some pretty views. Out there without their technology, relying on each other for help, they get a "little mini vacation," she says, since "hiking is definitely a bonding moment."

While rising to the challenge, Wethington, her husband, and their kids learn to encourage each other and keep each other safe.

"As a family it's just something we do. We all enjoy it. We all feel connected when we get in the car [after a hike]. We're all on the same team, team Wethington," she says.

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Benefits of family hiking

Hiking enthusiasts see all kinds of benefits in cultivating their kids' taste for the great outdoors. With the diversity of Maryland, from woodlands to wetlands, local hikers have many options when choosing a place to explore.

Matt Chasse, of Cape St. Claire, got his daughter out hiking when she was still young enough to fit in a backpack. Now, at 4 ½, she carries her own little pack with snacks and water around Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis.

"I wanted my daughter to really have an outdoor experience," he says. She "needs to be comfortable outside, to make a connection to nature, to things that live outside of our house," says Chasse.

Eventually he plans to take her out west to such wild locales as the Rocky Mountains. For now, however, they take in the beautiful sight of the South River at Quiet Waters and search for salamanders and bugs under logs.

A world outside of the screen

Hiking plays into kids' natural sense of wonder, according to Quiet Waters Park Ranger David DeVault. All the plants and animals can get them interested in a world outside of TV and video games. Part of his job is to lead kids on hikes that point out what they are missing when they are inside.

"Any number of things on the hike are possible as far as wildlife," he says, from deer to Great Blue Herons and Kingfishers.

In October he will host a Fall Colors Hike, which will focus on the process by which trees change colors. For hiking, "October's just a great month. It's not that hot, the trees are starting to turn colors, it's pretty neat," he says.

In fact, any time of year can be great for hiking, says Esther Woodworth, volunteer naturalist at the Jug Bay Natural Area. She has been leading nature hikes for over 20 years, the last four at Jug Bay. Even in the winter, hikers can look for seeds and the signs of impending Spring.

When trying to engage kids in what they are seeing, she uses an arsenal of cool facts about plants and animals, letting them smell and taste as they learn about the importance of preservation.

"It horrifies me the number of kids that don't know what a blackberry is," says Woodworth. She's even seen kids scared of butterflies because they might sting.

When getting started with hiking, Chasse recommends finding a park with trails of varying lengths. Kids need to build up their stamina. Also watch out for poison ivy and remind kids to stay within earshot, he says. DeVault adds that staying on the path and out of vegetation is a good idea, particularly during tick season from April to October.

But when planning and packing for a hike, Wethington says not to fuss too much. Pack light, she says, since "you go back to nature and you realize how little you need."

"Sneakers, sunscreen, hat, backpack with snacks and water—we're ready to go," says Chasse.

Click Next below for 8 great family hikes.

FamilyHIkeEight hikes in the Annapolis/Baltimore/D.C area

1. Perimeter Trail, Kinder Farm Park, Millersville
Kids flock to Kinder Farm Park for the farm animals and the huge multi-level playground, part of which is shaded. Use these draws as an incentive to finish the paved 2.8-mile perimeter trail that goes around the park (or one of a number of nearby trails).

2. Lake Trail, Centennial Park, Columbia
The picturesque Centennial Lake is almost always in the backdrop of the 2.4 mile paved loop trail that winds around it. Look out for geese, check out two big playgrounds, or even rent a boat as part of your trip around the trail.

3. Nature Trail, Robinson Nature Center, Columbia
Columbia's new, state-of-the-art nature center offers many exhibits as well as a 1-mile wooded trail that features an arboretum and views of the Middle Patuxent River.

4. Marsh Edge Trail, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Cambridge
This popular 1/3-mile trail along the Little Blackwater and Blackwater Rivers offers a covered picnic area and an observation boardwalk. Hikers may also be able to see ospreys nesting or bald eagles fishing.

5. Buzzards Rock Trail, Patapsco State Park, Catonsville
This 2.1 mile trail provides a challenge for kids who are ready for it. The sometimes-steep terrain pays off with a scenic view above railroad tracks.

6. Brown Trail, Jug Bay Natural Area, Upper Marlboro
Guided hikes along this trail showcase the wide variety of flora and fauna found there. Part of the trail leads to a scenic overlook of Jug Bay, where hikers can observe waterfowl.

7. Harness Creek Trail, Quiet Waters Park, Annapolis
Check out the new Reading and Butterfly Garden before taking the paved trail down to Harness Creek, where boat rentals are available.

8. Trail to the beach, Flag Ponds Nature Park, Lusby
Take the half-mile trail down from the Visitor's Center to the beach where families can look for sharks' teeth and fossils along the shoreline.

Find even more family hiking destinations and information here:

Maryland Hikes to Take With Your Kids

7 Maryland Hikes with Amazing Views

5 Cool Hikes to Maryland Waterfalls

5 Scramble Hikes for Adventurous Families