Local author of the little feet hiking series and homeschooling mom Jessica Becker shares five of her favorite less-crowded, kid-friendly hikes within 60-ish miles of Portland.
Jessica has been hiking and backpacking in the Pacific Northwest for 14 years. When she had her daughter almost seven years ago, Jessica noticed a lack of guidance on where to safely hike with kids in the area. In between mom-ing and homeschooling, she decided to fill the gap and published three hiking guides for the Southwest Washington and Mt. Hood areas. She is currently working on guides for the Columbia River Gorge and Mt. St. Helens. Each hiking guide includes almost everything you need to know about taking your kids on these trails, as well as hike-specific experiential learning topics and ideas for engaging your kids during your hikes. Follow little feet hiking on Facebook, Instagram and their website.
Below are hikes that Jessica finds interesting for both kids and adults that also tend to have fewer visitors than some of the more mainstream kid-friendly hikes.
Merrill Lake (62 miles from Portland) – 1 mile loop – Mt. St. Helens Area
This hike on the south side of Mt. St. Helens takes you on a short one-mile loop through an outstanding stand of old-growth forest with some amazingly informative interpretive signs. The lake was created by a lava flow stopping the flow of the river, which always seems to ignite kids’ curiosity. The lake is great for swimming, fishing and small watercraft (no gas motors allowed) and there is a walk-in campground onsite. A Washington Discover Pass is required to park (this pass can be bought online and is not available onsite). You can find Merrill Lake at 46.094156, -122.319784 and learn more about it here.
Tarbell Trail from Tarbell Trailhead (39 miles from Portland) – 1.5+ out-and-back miles – Yacolt Burn State Forest in Southwest Washington
This hike in the Yacolt Burn State Forest, just outside of Vancouver (WA), is rarely crowded and is accessible almost all year due to its lower elevation. There are no scary drop-offs but there are some hills and rocky tread, making this trail suitable for most young hikers. Mountain bikers do use these trails, so keep an ear out for squeaky brakes! The trail has views of three volcanoes: Mt. St. Helens, Silver Star Mountain, and the tip of Mt. Rainier, and there is a lovely wildflower bloom in spring and summer. The first ¾ of a mile is the best for views and flowers, but the trail is kid-friendly for miles beyond this.
A Washington Discover Pass is required to park (this pass can be bought online and is not available onsite). You can find the trailhead at 45.79301, -122.30207 (also see this handy map of the area) and learn more about Tarbell Trail and Yacolt Burn State Forest here.
Barlow Road/Pioneer Woman’s Grave Trail (60 miles from Portland) – 1 to 2.2 miles out-and-back – Mt. Hood Area
This hike near the Highway 35/Highway 26 interchange on Mt. Hood takes you on a hike along the old Barlow Road wagon route. Hiking along the Pioneer Woman’s Grave Trail will have you walking in the footsteps of the pioneers traveling along the Oregon Trail. You will navigate blowdown, cross a creek and climb through rhododendrons and huckleberry bushes to an excellent Mt. Hood view. This shady trail makes a great choice for a hot summer day. After your hike, visit the Pioneer Woman’s Grave Memorial next to the trailhead and also visit the old wagon ruts across the road from the memorial, which marks the gravesite of an unknown Oregon Trail traveler that was discovered in the 1920s during the construction of the Old Mt. Hood Highway. The hike can be 1 to 2.2 miles round-trip, depending on if you want to hike up to Barlow Pass (where there is a portable toilet and historical signs). There are major drop-offs at the Mt. Hood view as well as some sections of rocky trail. Park in a road pull-out near these coordinates 45.281781, -121.699685, and find the trail on the east side of the road. Learn more about the Pioneer Woman’s Grave Memorial here.
Hamilton Island Trail (48 miles from Portland) – 2.3 or 3.4 mile loop – Columbia River Gorge
This hike in North Bonneville, WA takes you through meadows, up and down hills, and along the mighty Columbia River. You get up-close views of the devastation of the Eagle Creek fire and there are paths down to the riverbank, where you can play on the rocky shore and watch for birds. The trail can get quite muddy in rainy weather and there is a lot of blackberry on some sections of the trail. There is no shade on this hike, so come prepared with sun protection as well as wind protection. There are two places to park with no fee; the less-crowded lot tends to be by the ball fields in North Bonneville and located at 45.633768, -121.978971. You can hike either a 2.3- or 3.4-mile loop when parking at the trailhead by the ball fields. After your hikes, consider stopping at the North Bonneville playground to visit with a family of Bigfoot Statues. Learn more about this U.S. Army Corps of Engineers property here.
Pacific Crest Trail North from Lolo Pass (55 miles from Portland) – 4 miles out-and-back – Mt. Hood Area
This out-and-back hike takes you north on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) past epic views of Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams, along rocky cliffs, and through old forest with big trees. You also hike adjacent to the Bull Run Watershed, which is closed to the public due to its role in providing drinking water for much of the Portland area. When hiking through the scree fields, keep an ear out for the warning calls of pikas. This hike is for experienced kid-hikers who can safely navigate narrow trails on cliffs. The trailhead can be found on the north side of Lolo Pass at the following coordinates: 45.42692, -121.79645 and you can learn more about the trailhead here. This hike should be accessible early summer through late fall.
To learn more about these hikes, including more planning details and fun, educational information for kids, check out Jessica’s little feet hiking books.
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