Experienced trail writer Karen Sykes offers three kid-friendly hikes around Western Washington.
If you want to head to the hills with the kids, here are some easygoing trails in Western Washington to enjoy with children of almost any age.
Bridal Veil Falls
The hike to Bridal Veil Falls is popular with good reason; it’s a short trail to one of the most scenic waterfalls in the Skykomish Ranger District. And the trail is accessible most of the year.
The hike begins on an old road and almost immediately crosses a stream. Like salmonberries? There will be plenty to graze on beside the road. At lower elevations, mossy big leaf maples look like something out of the “Wizard of Oz.” Ancient stumps are topped with sassy seedlings.
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At the junction for Bridal Veil Falls/Lake Serene, turn right to go uphill. You soon will encounter the “giant steps,” wooden steps built into the slope to make climbing easier. Long legs are a definite advantage; you might tote your tot up these.
You’ll hear the waterfall before you see it. The waterfall originates from Bridal Veil Creek, the outlet of Lake Serene nestled below formidable Mount Index. The tiered waterfall drops about 1,000 feet before it merges with the Skykomish River.
From overlooks, enjoy the views of the Skykomish Valley, the Index Town Wall (a rock face popular with climbers) and rugged peaks. For the lower waterfall, return to the junction and continue .2 mile on the Lake Serene trail where the trail crosses Bridal Veil Creek at the base of the waterfall.
Hikers with spunky kids can continue to Lake Serene, a moderately strenuous hike. Expect more “giant steps” and watch for snow on the trail.
Getting there: Drive U.S. 2 (Stevens Pass Highway) to Milepost 35, east of Gold Bar, turn right onto Mount Index Road, continue .3 miles, following signs for Lake Serene to the trailhead, elevation 640 feet.
Trail length: The hike is four miles round trip, elevation gain 1,000 feet. Lake Serene is seven miles round trip, elevation gain of about 1,600 feet.
Map: Green Trails (No. 142) Index.
Big Four Ice Caves
If this is your first visit to the Big Four Ice Caves, you’ll find it hard to believe such grandeur is only about an hour’s drive from Seattle.
History and scenery create a one-of-a-kind trail. The Rucker brothers (from Everett) built the trail in 1917; later they built and operated the Big Four Inn. Admire the fine stonework of the chimney, the only piece of the inn still standing (it was destroyed by fire in 1949).
Start from the trailhead (.25 miles east of the Big Four Picnic Area) or from the picnic area (my preference). After leaving the picnic area, the trail crosses a marsh on a boardwalk, re-enters forest, then crosses the south fork of the Stillaguamish River on a bridge. Jurassic Park-sized skunk cabbages border the trail in spring.
The trail rounds a hillside displaying devastation from an avalanche, then crosses a small creek. A series of boardwalks leads into the avalanche debris, an open area with braided streams and house-sized boulders. Hikers sometimes scramble to the top of the boulders to bask in the sun. In summer, colorful wildflowers hug the streams. Above, on our recent visit, the roar of an avalanche up on Big Four Mountain startled us. Big Four Mountain is notorious for avalanches; fans of snow accumulate at the base of the peak and as temperatures warm the snow melts out from underneath, creating the ice caves. View the caves from the outflow or follow a well-worn path to a knoll (right) for a closer view. Stay out of the caves — they are dangerous. Chunks of ice can fall from the ceiling and the caves can collapse.
Getting there: From Granite Falls drive the Mountain Loop Highway east about 26 miles to the trailhead.
Trail length: The hike is 2.2 miles round trip, 200 feet of gain.
Map: Green Trails No. 110 Silverton.
Greenwater Lakes is a great introduction to the South Cascades, and the drive to the trailhead gives views of the glacier-fed White River and Mount Rainier.
Challenge the kids to see how many shades of green they can identify in the lakes, which are also known as Meeker Lakes and are a popular hiking destination in summer.
Near the trailhead is a boisterous waterfall; a dark basalt cliff looms above the forest on the other side of the river. Footbridges span the Greenwater River and streams; all are sturdy. One has no handrails but is wide and easy to cross.
Along the trail are peaceful groves of old-growth evergreens — cedar, hemlock and Douglas fir. Wildflowers include trillium, bleeding heart, vanilla leaf, salmonberry, flowering currant and wild ginger. Short trail spurs lead to outcroppings with views of the lakes; these can be good turnarounds for tired tots. Or continue on. The lakes are warmed by sun most of the day.
Getting there: From Enumclaw drive east on Highway 410, turn left onto Forest Service Road No. 70 (two miles south of Greenwater). Continue 10 miles on paved road; turn right onto a spur signed Greenwater River, park at the trailhead.
Trail info: The hike is four miles round trip, about 200 feet of gain.
Maps: Green Trails No. 238 Greenwater and Green Trails No. 239 Lester.
A Northwest Forest Pass is required for these hikes.
Get more information at the Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest website, www.fs.fed.us/r6/mbs. Or call the Darrington Ranger District, 360-436-1155 (for the Big Four Ice Caves trail); Skykomish Ranger District, 360-677-2414 (for Bridal Veil Falls); Enumclaw Ranger District, 360-825-6585 (Greenwater Lakes).
Karen Sykes, a West Seattle freelancer, is a veteran Northwest hiker who has led numerous hikes with The Mountaineers.