To avoid these scenarios, there are a few things you should keep in mind when picking a family-friendly hike. “Starting with something simple is really great to build that comfort level and that confidence,” says Wesley Trimble, the communications and creative director of the American Hiking Society. “It can be discouraging for both kids and people with limited mobility to get into a situation where it’s more difficult than what they’re up for.”
Other tips from Trimble: Don’t be afraid of shorter hikes. Know what terrain might be difficult for your hiking buddies (rickety plank boardwalks or bridges that aren’t maintained properly can stop a hike in its tracks, for instance). Pay attention to the landscape off the trail as well as on it (this is especially important with adventurous children) — a trail can be flat and well-maintained, but if there’s a steep cliff or quick-moving stream right off the trail, you could quickly find yourself in trouble.
As the holiday season approaches and you’re looking to get outdoors with your whole family, consider one of these parks and trails.
Rock Creek Park
Rock Creek Park is a well-known spot for hiking in the city, but with so many options it can be overwhelming to find the one that fits your family best.
The Edge of the Woods Trail, located near the Rock Creek Nature Center, is a short loop (under 0.2 of a mile) that is handicap accessible. The asphalt trail is wide and flat enough to accommodate wheelchairs, and a guide rope is available on the sides of the trail for the visually impaired.
The Klingle Valley Trail is a paved and heavily trafficked
0.7-mile path (one-way) that runs across the park just north of the National Zoo. This leafy and secluded walk is part of the former Klingle Road , which closed to the public after 1991 and reopened to pedestrians and cyclists in 2017. It’s a hike with a slight incline when traveling west; to avoid hiking up the hill consider starting at the end of the trail behind the Washington International School on Macomb Street NW. There is plenty of resting space available on the trail (benches along the path). Rock Creek Nature Center, 5200 Glover Rd. NW. nps.gov/rocr.
Marvin Gaye Trail
This asphalt trail in Northeast D.C. is 1.9 miles (one way) and loosely follows Watts Branch stream. Encompassing sections of Marvin Gaye Park, this trail features signs dedicated to Black history and is dog friendly. If your family doesn’t want to do the full hike, you can stop and enjoy the Marvin Gaye or Watts Branch playgrounds. 50th St. NE near Marvin Gaye Playground or 61st St. NE near Watts Branch Playground.
Huntley Meadows Park
This Fairfax County park, with its easy, flat trails, is a fun way to introduce different types of wildlife — especially birds — to your family. The highlight is a half-mile boardwalk over the wetlands. Park at the Norma Hoffman Visitor Center, and it’s a short walk to the Heron boardwalk trail; there are also two wooded trails, Cedar and Deer, each less than a mile long. On the other side of the park, near the South Kings Highway entrance, you’ll find a hike/bike trail that’s 1.2 miles and leads to the wetlands. 3701 Lockheed Blvd., Alexandria. fairfaxcounty.gov.
Chessie's Trail at Lee District Family Recreation Area
Chessie’s Trail in Alexandria mixes outdoor playtime and wildlife education and is ideal for younger hikers. The half-mile trail features a sound garden, spinning rocks, educational information about native wildlife and quirky nest seating that can make your little one feel like a hatchling. The rest of the park is an adventure, too: Kids can also explore the treehouse and playground (the Chesapeake Bay-themed sprayground and carousel are closed for the season). 6601 Telegraph Rd., Alexandria. fairfaxcounty.gov.
Cabin John Regional Park
For a family who wants options within a park, Cabin John Regional Park is a fun opportunity to enjoy a range of trails, both hearty and relaxing, without having to travel too far from the city. With two miles of
hard-surface trails and four miles of natural-surface trails, you can select which hike best suits your family. For those in your group who aren’t interested in hiking, the park also features a large playground, an indoor ice rink and a nature center (the miniature train is closed for the season). 7400 Tuckerman Ln., Bethesda. montgomeryparks.org.