Hikes for all ages and stages of kids
Spring and fall are the perfect time for family hikes. The following list of trails offers a nice variety for all abilities. The more difficult trails should be left to hardy elementary school-age kids and older.
When you venture out, be sure to take drinking water and a few snacks in a backpack so that everyone will be happy for at least a little while. Get a map of the area and remember to turn around and head back to your car before the kids get tired. Keep trails clean and follow the hikers rule: “Take only pictures. Leave only footsteps.” Most of all, enjoy your time outside.
Short walks for preschoolers
12610 Eveland Road, Ridgely
Four miles of easy walking paths wander through native forests at Adkins. The Visitor’s Center is a great starting point and you can choose a short walk or loop several trails together to extend your distance. Tuckahoe State Park is adjacent to the arboretum and has a fitness trail kids can enjoy testing themselves on as well as a fun playground. Adkins is famous for its native plant sales which continue through October. Restrooms and water are available at the arboretum and at Tuckahoe. Dogs allowed on a leash.
Battle Creek Cypress Swamp
2880 Grays Road, Prince Frederick
Battle Creek Cypress Swamp is home to the northernmost cypress tress in North America. A gem of a nature center with a turtle pond and flower garden is the starting point for a walk through the swamp. Boardwalks cover most of the ¼-mile trail, but some of the path is just dirt over tree roots – not hard to walk on, but tough to push a stroller over.
Restrooms and water are in the Nature Center. Dogs are not allowed.
U.S. National Arboretum
3501 New York Ave, NE, Washington, D.C. usna.usda.gov
The National Arboretum covers 446 acres and displays a wide variety of trees and plants, from the smallest Bonsai trees to massive trees you need six or eight kids to encircle. Fern Valley Trail is a .5-mile loop on a mulched trail through tall trees and plants native to the eastern United States. Go online before your visit to identify some of the special stops you want to make on your hike.
Restrooms and are water available. Pets must be on a leash at all times.
These trails are not physically hard, but the walks are longer.
Soldiers Delight Natural Environmental Area
5100 Deer Park Road, Owings Mills
Prairie grass, open meadows and barren rock surrounded by woods and crossed by several streams are more what you would expect out west, not exactly what you think you will find in Maryland. Many of the plants at Soldiers Delight are rare and unusual (that’s why dogs are welcome but have to stay on a leash). Start your hike by visiting the nature center to pick up a map, learn about the area and choose a trail. The Red Run Trail offers a .9 mile stroll along a stream.
Restrooms and water are available in the Nature Center.
Seneca Creek State Park
11950 Clopper Road, Gaithersburg
Seneca Creek might seem crowded at first but it doesn’t take much to get away from most of the people. Stop at the visitor center for a map and pick your trail. The route around Clopper Lake follows a series of interconnected trails for more than 4 miles or take the Old Pond Trail for a short .33 miles along a spring that passes what remains of the old pond.
Restrooms and water available. Pets are not permitted in the day use area.
7901 Comus Road, Dickerson
Stronghold Inc. is a private non-profit company that operates Sugarloaf Mountain for the “enjoyment and education in an appreciation of natural beauty.” Rising up above fields grazed by cows and horses, Sugarloaf Mountain covers more than 2,400 acres and offers spectacular views.
The Mountain Loop Trail, about 1.25 miles of gentle ups and downs near the top of the mountain, begins at the bulletin board near the end of the first parking lot you come to (East View). Pick up a map here. The trails are well-marked, but numerous trails cross the mountain and it is easy to get on a trail that will have you walking farther than you intended so watch trail markers closely.
Portable toilets available. Dogs permitted on leash.
Harder hikes for a fun workout
Billy Goat Trail
11710 MacArthur Blvd., Potomac
The Billy Goat Trail is my family’s favorite. We probably hike it three or four times a year and haven’t grown tired of it yet. Total round-trip length is about 4 miles, but it will probably take you about three hours moving at a moderate pace. Be prepared to scramble over rocks high above the very picturesque Potomac River south of Great Falls. Recommended only for hardy kids older than 5 and people not afraid of heights.
Begin your hike at the Great Falls Tavern. Walk downstream along the tow path to lock 16. On the right you will see a sign for the Billy Goat Trail. Follow the blue blazes until you end up back on the tow path. Turn left for an easy two-mile walk back to your car.
Restrooms and water available near the tavern. Leashed dogs are allowed but some of the climbing may be difficult.
Catoctin Mountain Park
6602 Foxville Road, Thurmont
Waterfalls and streams are apparent as you drive to the visitor center at Catoctin, but it is the craggy outcroppings that inspire climbing to beautiful views. Combine the Wolf Rock and Chimney Rock trails to make one 3.5-mile loop that will take a little over 2 hours to complete. Pack a lunch and enjoy it on moss covered rocks to make a half day outing. Park and start your hike at the visitor center.
Restrooms and water available, dogs allowed on a leash.
Gunpowder Falls State Park
Gunpowder Falls State Park is huge, spilling over into two counties. The above URL is specifically for the South Trail Hike which follows the Gunpowder River for about 1.5 miles. You walk up and back on the same path, but won’t regret that fact that you are retracing your steps. The river flows over rocks and through overhanging trees. You probably won’t see many other hikers, but perhaps will meet a fisherman or an artist enjoying the beauty of the river. The rocks along the river are fun to make your way over and provide perfect spots for picnics.
No restrooms or water available and leashed dogs are allowed.
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