Best Hikes With Kids around Western Washington, Part 2

Book — Best Hikes With Kids Western WashingtonEditor’s note: This is the second part of an excerpt adapted from hiking expert Susan Elderkin’s book, “Best Hikes With Kids: Western Washington” (Mountaineers Books, April 2018). Enjoy exploring the region’s hikes with your little ones — these are the perfect spots for them. Read Part 1 Here.

Gold Creek Pond

Snoqualmie Pass; 1.4 mile-loop with 25-foot elevation gain; May to October hiking option

My favorite toddler hike in the I-90 corridor is Gold Creek Pond. Even the smallest tykes feel confident striding on a level, paved pathway and wooden boardwalks. Older children and adults will appreciate the pretty mountain views reflected in a tranquil pond.

This is an excellent choice for one of those foggy Puget Sound summer days; you could shiver in the June gloom, but why not drive up Snoqualmie Pass and bask beyond the clouds in some summer sun?

Tips: Take the paved path to the left of the privy, soon coming to the loop trail. Head to the right, allowing the pond to slowly reveal itself. Travel alongside a babbling creek, through willows, flowers and a young forest.

Gold Creek Pond (Photo by Jon Stier)
Gold Creek Pond (Photo by Jon Stier)

You may notice that some terrain looks sculpted. In the 1970s and ’80s, this quiet place was a gravel pit, serving the construction of Interstate 90. Huge cranes hoisted gravel into dump trucks until there was no more. In 1983, Washington Department of Transportation, in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service, began transforming this site into fish and wildlife habitat. I’ve been coming here for a decade, and each year the foliage looks wilder and more natural.

At 0.5 mile, reach a junction. The trail to the right takes hikers on a moderate ascent up the Gold Creek watershed. Continue left for the pond, just now coming into view, with clouds, trees and mountains reflected brightly on its teal-colored surface. Below the boardwalk is a lush, marshy environment filled with ocean spray, bleeding hearts, yellow violets and ferns.

Because this trail is so short, we have always slowed down to savor it. I’ve let the kids throw rocks into the water below the bridge, inspect the shaggy moss in the creek that feeds the pond, and come up with names for the two small islands in the water.

At 0.7 mile is a side trail. Take it! A little peninsula of green pushes far out into the pond, allowing kids the feeling of being in the center of a lake among jumping fish and skittering water bugs.

Having stretched out time as much as possible, press onward. At 1.1 mile, reach an expansive picnic area, complete with grills. The only thing it doesn’t have is shade. If you’re not spreading out a feast, cross over the creek again and head back to the trailhead.

Marmot at Nisqually Vista (Photo by Susan Elderkin)
Marmot at Nisqually Vista (Photo by Susan Elderkin)

Nisqually Vista

Near the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center at Mount Rainier National Park; 1-mile loop with a 50-foot elevation gain; July to mid-October hiking option

Mount Rainier’s Paradise is a study in verticality. Trails depart straight up the broad shoulders of the mountain, attaining dizzying heights quickly.

The newly redone Nisqually Vista Trail is an exception. The entire mile-long loop is smooth pavement, suitable for wheelchairs, strollers and the youngest of walkers who want to look at one of the mountain’s largest glaciers.

Tips: The trail begins at the far end of the lower parking lot, west of the visitor center. Look for the first photo opp almost immediately — a rock with a hole in the center and room for two.

Just beyond, the trail takes off in a loop. Go right on a beeline for glacier vistas. At the half-mile mark there are four viewpoints for the Nisqually Glacier. The final one is the best.

Check out the glacier’s gray toe and the white veins of water thundering through the barren valley. Round a corner and close the loop at 0.8 mile, returning right for the trailhead.

To learn more about Mount Rainier’s glaciers, be sure to visit the upstairs portion of the nearby Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center.

Rainy Lake (Photo by Jon Stier)
Rainy Lake (Photo by Jon Stier)

Rainy Lake

At Rainy Pass on Route 20 in the North Cascades; 1.8 mile round trip with a 10-foot elevation gain; June to October hiking option

Here’s a North Cascades hike with a photo-worthy destination that everyone can do! The trail is paved and level, with interpretive signs sprinkled throughout, and a jade-green lake twinkles in a rocky cirque at the end of the short trail. Its easily attained beauty is an exception to the rule that you must work hard to reap such a reward.

Tips: From the trailhead, head left on the paved trail, an ideal place for toddlers to try out their hiking feet. Because it is maintained by the Forest Service for wheelchair accessibility, there should be nothing on this path for them to trip over.

The trail parallels the highway for 0.75 mile, and the occasional whir of vehicles is the price you pay for such a level hike. Interpretive signs identify trees like Engelmann spruce and Pacific silver fir.

Our favorite sign describes a phenomenon called “pistol butt,” where the pressure of snow moving downhill bends the trunks of young trees.

At 0.4 mile, pass a side trail to Maple Pass and at 0.75 mile curve away from road. Follow the sound of water for a few hundred more yards to a patio with two benches at Rainy Lake.

The color and clarity of the lake is striking. You may even be able to spot fish.

High, impassable cliffs surround the lake. In June and July, two distinct waterfalls pour loudly down the far side. If it is busy, a side trail leads beyond the patio to a couple of other vantages. When you are ready, retrace your steps to the parking area.

Susan ElderkinAbout The Author

An early exposure to the outdoors galvanized a lifelong love of hiking and commitment to the environment for Susan Elderkin. Hiking since she was 3 years old, she explored the trails of her native Iowa, the Great Lakes and the Rocky Mountains; as an adult, she backpacked the 500-mile Colorado Trail. After moving to Seattle, Elderkin joined the board of the Washington Trails Association and later the staff. Her book, Best Hikes With Kids: Western Washington,” was a family project when her children were between the ages of 6 and 11, and included more than 80 hikes.