Originally published in Playdate Magazine
By Molly Allen
When the warmer weather hits in the Pacific Northwest, so does hiking season. Thousands flock to the most beautiful trails throughout the state, tackling towering mountain peaks or long treks through river gorges. And while some of the most advanced hikers are attempting unimaginable feats, there are still plenty of impressive trails that are great for families with young children at any skill level.
Hiking season offers the ideal opportunity to introduce your kids to the great outdoors. After taking countless hikes with 5-year-old Cleo, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that waterfalls never cease to amaze kids. Each time there is mention of going on a family hike, she lights up, always asking, “Will there be a waterfall?” There is something magical about the sight of a cascading waterfall for kids, and most adults will agree that the feeling is mutual.
We are fortunate to have several simple waterfall hikes near us, all a fairly quick drive from the heart of Yakima. Each trail is passable for families with small children, and each offers the reward of a spectacular waterfall at the end.
Boulder Cave Trail – 1.5 miles round-trip
Boulder Cave is one of the Nile Valley’s most popular spots. Just 40 miles outside of Yakima, a sign marks the turn for the parking lot off Highway 410, just past Cliffdell. The simple dirt trail takes you up an incline and along the side of the ledge carved by Devil Creek. As you reach Boulder Cave, you’ll see the waterfall that once rushed through the basalt formation, causing the cave to form. To add to your hike, take the kids on a short walk through the cave, where they can view stalactites and maybe even spot a bat hanging way up high. But don’t forget a light source and a jacket, as it can get dark and cold inside the cave.
Umtanum Creek Falls Trail – 1.8 miles round-trip
Cool off during the spring and summer months with a hike to Umtanum Creek Falls. Just 45 miles from Yakima, to the south of Ellensburg, you’ll find the simple hike popular among families in Central Washington. Begin at a gravel parking lot and follow a shady trail along the bubbling Umtanum Creek. After about one mile the trail brings you to a wide mouth in the creek, and you realize you’re at the top of the 40-foot falls. As the falls are revealed on the left side of the trail, you can look down to see a gorgeous view of the pool below. The trail to get down to the base of the falls is steep and can be tricky, so novice hikers should enjoy the view from up top. For more experienced hikers, bringing the kids down to the base of the falls for a picnic is a great break before heading back to the parking lot.
Silver Falls Trail – 3.2 miles round-trip
Make your way over White Pass, stopping at Ohanapecosh Campground, 70 miles outside of Yakima. This trail is a bit farther, but it is well worth the extra time in the car. Begin your trek at the Ohanapecosh Campground onto a heavily forested trail. The well-maintained trail first brings you to the small Ohanapecosh Hot Springs, which were once believed to possess healing properties. Continue along the trail, and after 1.6 miles, you will come upon a wooden bridge, offering incredible views of the cascading falls on the right side. The left side of the bridge offers views of an impressive gorge, with the Ohanapecosh River rushing through. From the bridge, you can choose to turn around and head back on same the trail or choose to continue the loop trail over the bridge and back to the campground for a hike totaling three miles.
Franklin Falls Trail – 2 miles round-trip
A drive over Snoqualmie Pass, 94 miles from Yakima, offers a spectacular cascade hidden under Interstate 90. A quick, one-mile walk, with no significant incline, brings you to Franklin Falls. The well-maintained trail follows along the side of Denny Creek, and there are plenty of wildflowers and mushrooms to look at along the way. The whole family will be in awe of the incredible views of a slot canyon rushing with turquoise-hued water down below to the left of the trail. Be cautious as you make your way down a rocky portion of the trail to the base of the falls, as it can be slippery at any time of year. Upon completion, you’ll find the 70-foot waterfall with smooth river rocks for a picnic at the base.
As always, families should be prepared for hiking, no matter the length or ease of the trail. Keep these hikes in mind as you plan your next adventure, offering a reward the whole family can enjoy.