Let’s admit it – 2020 has been an extremely difficult and crazy year with the COVID-19 pandemic holding us prisoner in our own homes ALL YEAR LONG!! Hopefully, 2021 will be a much brighter year, so let’s start dreaming now, and begin looking into some family hiking vacations and get ready for adventure in the Great Outdoors!! While we all wait for life to resume some type of normality, we can still be together, but get away for some awesome fresh air, relaxation, and lots of physical and mental stimulation. In this post, I will be looking at the top 10 family hiking vacations across the United States, so you will be sure to find one that you are able to escape to!
GREAT SAND DUNES NATIONAL PARK AND PRESERVE, COLORADO
Ironically, the United States’ tallest sand dunes are found in Colorado, along the East side of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The main dune field spreads nearly 30 square miles, while the dunes reach an impressive 700-foot height. This is definitely an area to go have fun, as everyone – youngsters and adults – are encouraged to run to the top of the sand dunes, then come down however you choose! You can run, slide, roll down, or bring along a plastic flat-bottomed sled, snowboard, or even skis – the choice is yours! The only drawbacks may be: 1) If the weather has been extremely dry, the dunes many be too soft to sled down. 2) The sand on the dunes can become extremely hot, so PLEASE remember your athletic shoes! You ARE free to wander and explore the sand dunes at any time, but please don’t impact any vegetation on your adventures! The second-highest dune, High Dune, is a mile-long climb across the sands. After all your “climbing to the top of the dunes, then getting back down to the bottom any way you choose” adventures, you are bound to be getting kind of hot and sweaty. Medano Creek is close by, and if it is running, it will be an awesome cool-down place, and a perfect way to end your day of playing and exploring the dunes!
MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK, WASHINGTON
The Sourdough Ridge Trail offers spectacular views of Western Washington’s many snow-capped peaks, including Mount Rainier. This trail is located in the sub-alpine zone of the park, in the Sunrise area. There is a gentle gain of elevation on this one-mile loop trail, and you will pass through many flower-filled meadows. The whole family will feel like true mountain climbers once you reach the top of the ridge and take in the gorgeous snow-capped mountains surrounding you! Before planning this family hiking vacation, please keep in mind that due to the high elevation, snow does close this road for much of the year, so it may be wise to plan on visiting during the summer or early fall.
MAMMOTH CAVE NATIONAL PARK, KENTUCKY
The majority of cave tours may be too long or overwhelming for children, with too many steps and tight passageways to squeeze through. Mammoth Cave offers an awesome cave tour for the whole family – the Frozen Niagara Tour is only a quarter-mile round trip, takes just a little over an hour, and is the park’s most popular tour! You will see many spectacular sights, including Rainbow Dome, Crystal Lake, the Frozen Niagara Flowstone, and the Drapery Room!! There are many cave tours to choose from, from easy to strenuous, so there will be something to suit everyone in your family hiking vacation!!
PETRIFIED FOREST NATIONAL PARK, ARIZONA
This park, located in Northeastern Arizona, is sure to fascinate everyone in your family as you see massive fallen trees that are made of ROCK! One of the shorter hikes offered is the Giant Logs Trail, a 0.4 mile loop, which will lead you to the largest log in the park, “Old Faithful”. This log measures almost 170 feet in length, and 9 feet at it’s base. You will see the bark, knotholes, and growth rings in amazing detail, and every color imaginable is featured in the shiny agate log. Back at the Rainbow Forest Museum, you will be thrilled with the dinosaur exhibits, which will capture the attention of all prehistoric history lovers!
DEVILS TOWER NATIONAL MONUMENT, WYOMING
This spectacular site, located in Northeastern Wyoming, is considered to be a sacred site to Native Americans, and was designated as America’s very first National Monument in1906. Devils Tower has an otherworldly quality, and was featured in the movie Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, which turned the area into an alien landing site. Be sure to take the 1.3 mile loop hike to see this awesome formation from every angle!
ASSATEAGUE ISLAND NATIONAL SEASHORE, MARYLAND/VIRGINIA
This Atlantic ocean seashore park encompasses a 37-mile long barrier island on the Maryland/Virginia border. On this family hiking vacation, you will encounter the famous small horses of Assateague Island, which are descended from animals brought here by planters in the 1600’s. The small horses look like ponies, but are indeed horses, and are thought to be small due to their restricted diet, and their chubbiness from all the water they intake to counterbalance all the salt they take in.
On the Maryland side of the island, the horses wander freely, and you will see them on the Life of The Marsh Trail, a half-mile round-trip hike winding through a salt marsh. On the Virginia side of the island, the horses can be viewed in their large enclosures as you hike the 1.5 mile loop Woodland Trail.
MUIR WOODS NATIONAL MONUMENT, CALIFORNIA
This truly awe-inspiring park is located north of San Francisco. On this family hiking vacation, you will walk through a forest of coast redwoods which top 250 feet in height, measure more than 14 feet across at their base, and are an average of 600 – 800 years old!
The Redwood Creek Trails are an easy hike, with paved paths that cross over the creek on bridges, and feature loop trails from a half-mile up to two miles in length. After gazing up at these magnificent redwoods, you just may want to schedule a neck massage later in the day – a small price to pay for being able to see such total magical splendor!
MOUNT RUSHMORE NATIONAL MEMORIAL, SOUTH DAKOTA
Mount Rushmore is one of the most popular monuments in the United States, showcasing four enormous heads of former Presidents Washington, Jefferson, T. Roosevelt, and Lincoln, in all of their dignified glory.
The best time to arrive at the park is morning, when you will have the best light to view this monument through the Avenue Of Flags. The Presidential Trail is a half-mile hike which takes you to the base of the monument, and you will pass by the studio where the sculptor Gutzon Borglum worked. You may want to consider renting an audio wand, which gives you a narrated tour of the park, as well as giving you many fascinating details of the monument’s creation and history.
ACADIA NATIIONAL PARK, MAINE
Due to the extremely thought-out designs of John D. Rockefeller, Jr, way back in the early-to-mid 20th century, your family is able to hike on more than 50 miles of carriage roads. These roads are right at 16 feet wide, are lined with broad, smooth gravel, and are open to hikers, people pushing strollers, bicyclists, and horseback riders, but NO motorized vehicles are allowed! These paths will take you to the east side of Mount Desert Island as you pass through developed as well as remote areas. The paths were designed by Rockefeller to be not very steep, or have too many curves, for the convenience of horse-drawn carriages. Your family also has the option of renting bicycles in the nearby town of Bar Harbor.
Whatever means of transportation you choose, be sure to take time to view and learn some history about all 17 eye-catching Stone Bridges, each one specifically designed for its unique setting.
HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK, HAWAII
This park is one of most volcanically active places on Planet Earth, so it would be wise to do a last-minute check on conditions before heading out for your hike.
Thurston Lava Tube is a paved path right off Crater Rim Drive, and is roughly 450 feet long. This lava tube was created when molten lava flowed out of an underground tunnel, leaving the tunnel completely empty. To help any visitor who suffers from claustrophobia, this tunnel has been equipped with electric lights. This will be an awesome, yet a little spooky, adventure that members of your family will never forget!