School is out, summer is here and it’s time to get the kids off the couch and hiking outside.
Here are 10 places you can go with kids that are easy, flat, short and have water to dunk, splash and swim in. Some of these destinations also have campgrounds, nature walks, educational kiosks, playgrounds, rest room facilities and picnic areas. All are not more than two hours’ drive from Tri-Cities, and are really worth visiting if you need some relaxation time.
Sacagawea Heritage Trail, Richland, Kennewick and Pasco: This remarkable trail is the backbone of the recreational trail system on both sides of the Columbia River in the Tri-Cities. Twenty-three miles of blacktop and pavement provide lots of places to walk, bike and run, enjoying the water, views and wildlife. There’s access to the river for bank fishing on Bateman Island and other places along the Columbia River. It is good for all skill levels and is ADA accessible the entire length. On the web: bit.ly/2tzcOEC.
Big Flat Habitat Management Unit, Pasco: Operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the area is just 11.1 miles east of Pasco on the Pasco-Kahlotus highway, on the north side of the Snake River. This beautiful location offers a variety of day uses, including boating, fishing and wildlife viewing. There’s a one-lane gravel boat launch into Dalton Lake, but boat access to the Snake River is best done from the Ice Harbor Dam Boat Launch. The bass fishing is amazing. There are seven miles of trails to be explored in the riparian zones and along the river. On the web: bit.ly/2tv5glF.
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Bennington Lake Trail, Walla Walla: This is a favorite place for locals to go for a swim when the weather gets hot. Over 20 miles of easy walking trails surround the lake, and you can do the lake loop or any number of out and backs. If you are into birds, you can hike along the Sun and Sage National Birding Trail. Dozens of varieties live here year-round plus those that migrate through in the spring and fall. The Whitetail Trail winds up and away from the lake 4.8 miles into the dry countryside. The Meadowlark Trail stays closer to the lake and the feeder stream, and the kids can just splash and slosh their way going or coming. Wear water shoes and don’t go barefoot. On the web: bit.ly/2usY7j9.
Lewis & Clark Trail State Park, on Highway 12 near Dayton: Only 37 acres, but there’s camping, a kiosk, a kitchen shelter and 50 unsheltered picnic tables (first come, first served). There are 0.8 miles of short hiking trails in this remarkably preserved island of old growth riparian habitat with large cottonwoods and ponderosa pine, and over 1,300 feet of open shoreline along the Touchet River for freshwater fishing for rainbow trout, wildlife viewing and swimming. Read the educational displays to learn about Lewis & Clark and the original area homesteaders. On the web: bit.ly/2saO7dE.
McNary Wildlife Refuge, Burbank: Right in the Tri-Cities’ backyard, the refuge contains multiple units that offer hiking, boating, fishing, horseback riding and wildlife viewing and photography. There is a two-mile self-guided interpretive trail that is accessed from the Education Center. The trail is paved and ADA wheelchair accessible for the first 1,800 feet, goes around the west end of Burbank Slough and ends at a bird blind. There are several miles of trails around the slough in the Two Rivers Unit and the Peninsula Unit. All told, there are about 15,000 acres of sloughs, ponds, streams and islands — riparian and wetland habitat — as well as upland shrub-steppe and cliff-talus habitats that are important to migratory waterfowl, shorebirds and songbirds. On the web: fws.gov/refuge/McNary.
Crow Butte State Park, Patterson: Crow Butte Park is a 275-acre gem with a camping area, mature shady trees, grass picnic area, swimming beach, boating, fishing for bass and walleye, and five miles of trails. It is located on a 1,500-acre island in the Columbia River, 12 miles west of Paterson on Highway 14, at mile marker 155. On the web: www.crowbutte.com.
Yakima Sportsman State Park, Yakima: A 247-acre park with a campground is on the floodplain of the Yakima River. There are two miles of paved and unpaved hiking trails. A short ADA accessible trail is available that goes out to a pier in the wetland area. The ponds and lake are stocked with fish, and juvenile fishing is allowed year-round. On the web: bit.ly/2u8wLze.
Cowiche Canyon Conservancy Trails and Snow Mountain Ranch, Yakima: This wonderful park is a land trust dedicated to the protection of the Cowiche Canyon that offers a variety of hiking trails from easy to moderate. The area is known for the wildflowers in the spring as well as the rock formations. In the winter time, it is a beautiful place to snow shoe. With the inclusion of the Snow Mountain Ranch area, there are over 30 miles of trail, with trailheads from all sides of the park and numerous loops. There is a trail with seven bridges that runs along Cowiche Creek. Dogs are OK but must be on leash. On the web: cowichecanyon.org.
Tieton River Nature Trail, along Highway 12, Naches: This trail goes over 3.0 miles along the south side of the Tieton River from Oak Creek Wildlife Recreation Area. There are wildflowers in the spring, awesome views of the columnar andesite and basalt cliffs and the river in the summer, and spectacular fall leaf color displays. You can cross the suspension bridge, amble through the forest and along the river, and if you look up at the basalt cliffs you might see some climbers scaling the rocks. On the web: bit.ly/2svZxb7.
Clear Creek Falls, on Highway 12, White Pass: Clear Creek Falls is 2.5 miles east of White Pass. It is an impressive, 228-foot waterfall that plunges into a deep, rocky, craggy canyon. From the bottom, the volcanic remains of Spiral Butte can be seen with the cold, beautiful Clear Lake right behind. The overlook has restrooms, a short interpretive trail, and you can then hike along the cliff and get views of the waterfalls. The viewpoint is ADA accessible. Keep your eyes peeled to the sky, and if you are lucky you might see some of the dive-bombing peregrine falcons that nest in the cliffs above the lake. If you are up for exploring, there are nine more waterfalls all within five miles. On the web: bit.ly/2ttoJUo.
The key to having a good trip with kids is to make it fun and keep it safe. Bring the right clothes, have snacks and water, let the kids go their own pace, stop and play. Bring water shoes so they can walk in th water and a change of clothes to get into once they are done getting wet. Find and make them their own walking stick and explore the many treasures you find along the way. Look for the unexpected, take pictures and have a great time.
Paul Krupin is an avid local hiking enthusiast, retired environmental specialist, and a member of the InterMountain Alpine Club (IMAC). He has been hiking the trails of the Pacific Northwest since 1976. Find out more at the IMAC Facebook or Meetup pages. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.