After a year of quarantine we hiked our fair share of trails in the area as I’m sure most of you have done also. We are always eager to find a new trail that leads us to a fun discovery or sets us off on to an adventure. We’ve rounded up some very family friendly, kid approved hiking spots for you. Grab your binoculars, water and hiking shoes and enjoy!
Audubon Woodend Nature Sanctuary
Woodend Nature Sanctuary is a peaceful 40-acre oasis for experienced nature lovers and new explorers! Enjoy the serenity of wildflower meadows, walk the meandering woodland trails, visit native plant gardens, and explore the aquatic life of the pond. The sanctuary is free and open to the public every day of the year from dawn to dusk. A hike begins at the Mansion and then enters the woods and loops around a pond.
Great Falls Park
Also accessible in Virginia, Great Falls is where the Potomac River builds up speed and force as it falls over a series of steep, jagged rocks and flows through the narrow Mather Gorge. Several options for hiking can be found here. Located southeast of Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center, in Potomac, Maryland; The Billy Goat Trail, one of the busiest trails in the D.C. area, contains three different sections that total eight miles and provide fun and adventure for all ages.
This trail is situated between two family friendly destinations: Cabin John Regional Park and the Locust Grove Nature Center. Locust Grove Nature Center is connected to over 10-miles of natural surface trails. The Locust Grove trail is 1.4 miles winding along the Cabin John Stream, through two meadows and through the mature forest where visitors will see a 200-year-old sycamore tree. It helps that this trail begins and ends at the playground.
Cunningham Falls State Park
Cunningham Falls State Park is located in the picturesque Catoctin Mountains and has a bit of everything. Leisure opportunities include swimming, hiking, fishing and canoeing. The Cunningham Falls State Park trail system varies in terrain from short, flat hikes to steep and rocky ascents that will challenge even the experienced hiker. Trail distances vary from .5 mile to 7.5 miles.
Your reward will be the 78-foot waterfall! If time allows, head to Catoctin Wildlife Preserve while you’re out that way.
Northwest Branch Stream Valley Park Trail
The natural surface trail is roughly 8 miles long and can be enjoyed by hikers, bikers, and equestrians. The north end of the trail is at Alderton Road near Bonifant Road, crosses Randolph Road and Colesville Road (Burnt Mills). Another 1.2 miles, and the hard surface trail portion begins, linking you to The Anacostia Trail. The Rachel Carson Greenway Trail between Kemp Mill Road and Colesville Road is on the east side of the creek opposite the Northwest Branch Trail in that area. While the Northwest Branch Trail is open to all users, the Rachel Carson Greenway Trail offers a little more challenging experience and is exclusively for hikers. Copperhead Run is the newest trail and is a shared by all trail that offer great views on the stream valley below. The trail begins at the Colesville Road entrance (Burnt Mills) and runs parallel and intersects the Northwest Branch Trail, creating a system of stacked loops.
Sugarloaf has a variety of hikes ranging from .6 mile to over 6 miles. There are several loop trails that are perfect for families. Here is a map of the various trails. Head to The Comus Inn after your hike and reward your efforts with a view, outdoor games, food and drink
Turkey Run Park
The Potomac Heritage Trail also runs through this park offering a few trails. There is a 3.8 mile heavily trafficked loop trail that is rated as moderate. The shortest loop is from the C-1 parking lot and is relatively flat with just an incline to and from the parking lot. The wooded paths allow opportunities to play in streams.
Great Falls Park
Also accessible in Maryland is where the Potomac River builds up speed and force as it falls over a series of steep, jagged rocks and flows through the narrow Mather Gorge. Several options for hiking can be found here.
Bull Run-Occoquan Trail
Perfect for hikers, this incredible path takes visitors through more than 5,000 acres of scenic woodlands. NOVA Park’s longest natural surface trail at 19.7 miles, the BROT, also known as the blue trail, connects Bull Run, Hemlock Overlook, Bull Run Marina and Fountainhead Regional Parks. Along this track one will also find one of the region’s richest untapped historic resources. This area played a vital role at different times in our history from the Revolutionary to the Civil War. Sites along the trail include various battle points and land features, as well as the more curious, like a grouping of earthen mounds that once comprised a make-shift Civil War fort.
This is my favorite go-to place with visitors as well as a place to take a picnic, the dog and just spend hours meandering around the spaces admiring what is in bloom. 446 acres of sprawling, seasonal outdoor beauty! Open everyday with the exception of Christmas and entry is free. There is so much to explore and for the point of this post, hikes are not the typical hike you are used to, more like walking but it’s worth heading here and traversing creeks and woods. Families should also plan to spend some time at the Washington Youth Garden where you’ll learn about pollinators, stroll among gardens and find creative surprises throughout.
Rock Creek Park
There are over 32 miles of paths and trails winding through Rock Creek Park. It’s easy to head into the park and just wander. We think a few great places to start when hiking with kids is at the Peirce Mill, Soapstone Valley Trail and Planetarium. You can park at the mill and even tour it. You can also park at the Planetarium, head inside for some fun and stop by the stables before heading onto a trail. Make sure to keep an eye out for the Capitol Stones nestled between trees off the trail. We have not done many hikes south but this is a list full of hikes for families throughout Rock Creek Park.
A hidden gem nestled in the woods between Washington International School and Klingle Valley Trail. Not a strenuous walk but a reprieve from the heat under the canopy of the trees. This is a place where you can splash around in the creek and spot bullfrogs and tadpoles in the pond.
Theodore Roosevelt Island
In the 1930s, landscape architects transformed Mason’s Island from neglected, overgrown farmland into Theodore Roosevelt Island, a memorial to America’s 26th president. They conceived a “real forest” designed to mimic the natural forest that once covered the island. Today miles of trails through wooded uplands and swampy bottomlands honor the legacy of a great outdoorsman and conservationist. Kids can use the track trails journal to write about their hikes and find fun activities included. They can become a junior ranger by completing this booklet! Roosevelt Island is the perfect destination to take visitors as it’s a good combination of fresh air and views of Georgetown, the D.C. skyline and kayakers on the river. This national park’s easy two-mile loop is enjoyable for kids and adults. The hike culminates with a monument to Theodore Roosevelt with quotations made by the 26th president.
Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens
Kenilworth is an amazing national park containing 45 aquatic ponds that contain lotus and lilies from all over. There is a one-mile loop over the ponds’ boardwalks as well as a 1.4 mile River Trail along the Anacostia River. The park is a total of 75 acres and much to explore beyond the hike. There is much wildlife to be seen!