5 Gorgeous Mountain Trails Even the Littlest Hikers Can Handle

a boy stands on a rock overlooking a lake after a hike in the mountains Kathryn Mueller
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Challenge your tiny trekkers on the trail this fall with larch, waterfall, and lake hikes that are just a few miles

Fall is in the air! Hues of yellows, oranges and reds will soon blanket the beautiful Pacific Northwest landscape, transforming our beloved greenery into a kaleidoscope of color. Autumn is truly one of the best times of the year to get out and hit the trails. In fact, we think these five spectacular fall foliage hikes will have you saying, “oh” and “ah” every step of the way, so get your camera ready. From hikes boasting views of towering mountains to pristine, crystal-clear lakes—these hikes are worth the trek.

Some even offer a fleeting sight of a deciduous conifer that illuminates the high alpine wilderness in ethereal gold (larches). Some people wait all year for pumpkin spice, but for outdoor enthusiasts, autumn marks the beginning of one of the most magical displays on the eastern slope of the cascades. For a few short weeks, usually beginning in October, a tree disguised as an evergreen changes to a vibrant gold, and it’s a sight you’ll never forget. The change happens quickly and doesn’t last long. The vivid gold shifts to orange and then the needles drop. Pack your bags and plan your trip, there’s no time to wait.

Insider Tip: If you’re searching for hikes with views of larches, it’s great to read recent trip reports and filter accordingly. The Washington Trail Association website is a great place to find hikes. Filter in the trip reports for fall foliage and the keyword ‘larch’ and you’ll find a perfect trail for you.

a boy stands on a rock overlooking a lake after a hike in the mountains

Blue Lake | North Cascades

The North Cascades offer some of the most stunning views in all of Washington. Only about a three-hour drive from Seattle, the expansive alpine wilderness has it all. Whether you’re looking for a scenic drive or backpacking adventure, the North Cascades has something for everyone and every skill level.

Home to some of the most breathtaking larch hikes in the state, two of our favorite family hikes are nested idyllically right off the North Cascades Highway. Larches can only be found on certain slopes and at high elevation (for the most part), so you need to put it some serious effort to see them—or start your hike on a high point. That’s why packing is important when you hit the trails in search of larches; there’s more on that in our What to Pack for Your Family Hike section below.

Blue Lake, aptly named for its glittering blue waters, is a gorgeous hike with unbelievable payoffs. The hike will lead you through dense forests, a beautiful open meadow, alongside towering granite mountains and jagged peaks, and ultimately, you’ll end up at Blue Lake. The cool waters are surrounded by a ridgeline of mountains, and in the fall the larches put on a dazzling show of color.

Good to Know: It’s a pretty popular hike, so don’t be disappointed if you find yourself sharing the trail. Trust us, it’s worth it.

Distance: 4.4 miles roundtrip
Elevation gain: just over 1,000 feet

Find the trailhead: wta.org

Related: Elevate Your Game: Easy Hikes to Take in Mt. Rainier

a mom and kid stand on rocks by a lake with mountains in the background and a forest after a lake hike

Cutthroat Lake | North Cascades

Cutthroat Lake is another North Cascades hike that is great for all ages. The elevation gain is minimal, and the steady trail has everything you could hope for in a fall foliage hike. From the trailhead, you’ll start by crossing a sturdy bridge over a babbling river before making your way gradually through forests lined with larches. On all sides are beautiful views of peaks and valleys. It’s truly spectacular. The hike climaxes in a basin just below Cutthroat Peak. Enjoy the beautiful water views and catch glimpses of lake trout. The lake is a great place for a picnic and a scenic place to rest tiny feet.

Insider Tip: Make sure you don’t miss the fork in the trail that leads to the lake. Cutthroat Pass is a bit more daunting with kids. It gains elevation fast, so if you miss the small off shoot, you’ll be hiking (and breathing harder) for a while.

Distance: 3.8 miles round trip
Elevation gain: less than 500 feet

Find the trailhead: wta.org

Mirror & Cottonwood Lakes | Snoqualmie Pass

Getting to the North Cascades and Mount Rainier can be a long journey with kiddos, so when you are in the mood for a hike closer to home, head to the Snoqualmie Pass. Mirror Lake is a great hike that checks so many of boxes off the family-friendly hiking list. It’s a short hike through thick forests, across babbling brooks, and the landscape is nestles between two beautiful lakes, among its grandeur. The trail is popular, and campsites dot the lakeside, so you’ll likely not be alone if you head up the trail on the weekend. 

Good to Know: The road leading up to the trailhead is in need of some work. Potholes riddle the road, making it a bumpy ride. The lower parking lot is the best bet for parking. The upper parking lot is only accessible by all-terrain vehicles, and even then, it’s probably best to just walk the short uphill hike to the trailhead.

Distance: 2.2 miles round trip
Elevation gain: under 1,000 feet

Find the trailhead: wta.org

Related: Find All the Colors of Fall on These 13 Autumn Hikes

a mom and kids hike along a trail with Mt. Rainier in the background

Naches Peak Loop | Mt. Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park is a must-visit destination for hiking enthusiasts. It attracts crowds for good reason. Hikes you’ll find near the iconic volcano feature gorgeous meadows, waterfalls, glaciers ,and foliage that’s hard to beat.  About 2.5 hours from Seattle, consider the drive part of what will be an epic journey.

Perfect for mini mountaineers, Naches Peak Loop is a quick hike with stunning views of Mount Rainier and the beautiful wonderland that surrounds it. During the easy loop, you’ll see mountains, small, secluded alpine lakes, and a gorgeous view of Mount Rainier. This hike is stunning because the fall colors truly put on a show, the crisp air is a welcoming reprieve, and the sounds of teeming wildlife can be heard, like the bugling of elk. The Washington Trail Association recommends tackling this hike clockwise, and we highly agree. You’ll get the best views of Mount Rainier following their direction.

Insider Tip: There are lots of great spots to stop for a picnic along the way, so be sure to plenty of snacks.

Distance: 3.2-mile loop
Elevation gain: 600 feet

Find the trailhead: wta.org

Related: Hike It Baby! The Scoop on Naches Peak Loop

Mrytle Falls waterfall in Mt. Rainier National Park with misty clouds and trees on both sides

Myrtle Falls | Mt. Rainier National Park

Arguably one of the shortest hikes with one of the best views for kids is Myrtle Falls. It’s easily accessible from the Paradise parking lot in Mt. Rainier National Park, and it’s a paved trail up to the falls. This quick and breathtaking hike is great in the fall because it dazzles with panoramic views of Mount Rainier and the surrounding mountains, open meadows, and a stunning waterfall. This is probably the least colorful hike on the list, but it’s gorgeous none the less. From the viewpoint on a clear day, Mount Rainier looms beautifully in the background. And we think your kids will love seeing the marmots and chipmunks scurrying along the trail.

Insider Tip: Dogs aren’t allowed, so leave your furry friends at home. For a longer hike, you can press on for more Pacific Northwest splendor.

Distance: .8 round trip
Elevation gain: under 200 feet

Find the trailhead: wta.org

Related: 15 Easy Waterfall Hikes to Take with Kids Now

What to Pack for Your Family Hike

Fall is a great time to hike, but it’s also important to be prepared, especially if you’re hiking in search of larches in the high alpine. Weather can change quickly in the PNW. That’s why having the 10 essentials are recommended when hiking. Below is a handy list:

  • Extra food (try trail mix, granola bars, jerky, and applesauce)
  • Plenty of water
  • Navigation—compass, GPS or map. I take a photo of the trail map before heading out just in case. Most trails will have a map at the trailhead. I like to take a photo of that trailhead map too.
  • Rain gear and layers (we always pack extra socks and pants, but it’s good to pack lots of layers in the fall because weather can change without warning)
  • First aid kit
  • Sun protection—hat, sunscreen, sunglasses
  • Light—headlamp, flashlight
  • Shelter—space blanket
  • Knife or multitool
  • Fire—matches, stove, etc.
Don’t forget extra batteries as well. You won’t find it on the 10 essential list, but we always pack a special snack for when we make it to the end of the trail. Chocolates and small toys are a hit with our kiddos. It’s amazing what a small prize will do for a little hiker’s spirit.  If you do bring a small stove, making hot chocolate is another treat our kids love.

 

All photos courtesy of the writer

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