The MidAtlantic states region offers numerous opportunities for hiking that will intrigue your kids without destroying their will to ever step into a forest again. The point of these daytrips is to have fun (actually, the point of ALL daytrips is to have fun!).
Before you head out, though, a little preparation can go a long way.
1. Know your trail. Find a trail guide online and print it out or take a photo of it on your phone to refer to along the way. Most of the trails below aren’t difficult or likely to make you lost, but you don’t want to be the first, either.
2. Bring snacks and even a picnic lunch. Not only will these offer energy to your kids, it’ll give them a boost when they might, just might, be getting tired of walking.
3. Bring water or lemonade or something like, enough for everyone, because, yeah, you’ll get thirsty. Hiking isn’t the time to dry out!
4. Cultivate an easy-going attitude. Don’t let their melt-downs get you down. Melt downs happen. Once they’re settled down, move on.
5. Have a dry change of clothes and towels in your vehicle, in case clothing gets muddy or wet during the hike.
The hikes below are tried and tested, offering either great views (Turkey Point Lighthouse hike), something to do at the end of the hike (fossil hunting or rock climbing), or are interesting enough along the way to stretch their minds and legs. Most importantly, it’s a great way to bond with your kids, play games (I Spy, anyone was always one of my family’s favorites), and make up or tell family stories.
Calvert Cliffs State Park — Calvert County, MD
2 miles to the cliffs; 2 miles back
Bring: bathing suits, towels, water shoes; a light plastic bucket, a digging trowel, and sand sifters to look for fossils; and bug spray
Instead of going to a museum to look at fossils someone’s already found — instead go look for fossils on the Chesapeake Bay! Slip in a little hike, and at the end of the hike, wade and float on the Bay after looking for fossilized sharks teeth — yep, that sounds like an all around great day for your kids, no matter what their ages (the hike isn’t so far that little ones can’t walk it)!
There’s enough beach to place towels or a beach blanket and enjoy a picnic.
Bilger’s Rocks — Clearfield County, PA
Bring: sturdy shoes and a sense of adventure
Bilger’s Rocks is a massive, 300 million year old rock formation covering some 20 acres in Clearfield County, PA. The formations tower up to 50 feet above ground level. Look for the graffiti dating back to 1921!
The most striking feature about Bilger’s Rocks are the various openings, crawlspaces, passageways, and arches found throughout the outcrop. Whether you approach it from on top, as we did because of ice and snow still hidden in the fissures (what doesn’t see the sun won’t melt quickly) or from below to explore the maze of caves and walk ways leading to mysterious “rooms” named Devil’s Dining Room” and “Devil’s Kitchen,” this is one of nature’s marvels.
Cunningham Falls State Park — Thurmont, MD
Bring: a sense of adventure
Cunningham Falls Trail is very easy, clearly marked, but also is very popular. The falls can be accessed from two different directions: one from within the park is slightly hilly but very gentle, and is about a mile long. The other access is directly off of Route 77 and is only a 100 yards, all on board walk, so it’s accessible for those in wheel chairs. The area is beautiful and under shade.
Ringing Rocks — Bucks County, PA
less than 1 mile, there and back; more if you continue on to the falls.
Bring: a hammer
The thought of rocks that do more than just lie around on the forest floor doing nothing more than, well, looking like rocks lying on the ground kind will intrigue your kids — so bring a hammer, otherwise, they’re just rocks lying on the ground. This fascinating “field” of 10-foot-high rock piles that make ringing sounds when struck with hammers — and with a little experimentation, you can even play simple tunes. Wear sturdy shoes, because climbing around the rocks can be tricky, and don’t forget that hammer!
Beyond the rock field, the trail brings you to a lovely waterfall, worth the extra steps.
Soldiers Delight NEA Choate Mine Trail — Baltimore County, MD
1.7 mile loop, with minor ups and downs
Bring: a sense of history
Soldiers Delight, standing in the midst of a high-density growth area in suburban Baltimore, is the largest and most diverse of the disappearing serpentine barrens on the East Coast. There are open fields, pine forests, rocky gorges, streams, swamps, and rolling meadows. The area used to be busy with chromite mines, and the Chaote Mine Trail leads hikers past two remnants of former mines.
Baltimore’s Waterfront Promenade — Maryland
About 5 miles end to end, flat, with opportunities to grab lunch, coffee (for adults), and snacks along the way. Make it a loop by taking the water taxi back to your vehicle.
Bring: money for the water taxi back to your vehicle and a camera for selfies with the giant blue crab
The Waterfront Promenade is a paved walkway that hugs nearly seven miles of the waterline of the Inner Harbor from Fort McHenry to the Canton Waterfront Park. We walked approximately 4.7 miles of it one Saturday morning, encountering not just sweeping views of the Inner Harbor, but also farmers markets and quaint streets in Fells Point.
If you aren’t into “just” walking and prefer to also do some more serious sightseeing, the Waterfront Promenade offers many different opportunities. Tour the Seven Knolls Lighthouse or visit the USCG Cutter Taney, the only remaining survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor, sitting in the water to the right of the promenade.
Government Island — Stafford County, VA
Just under 2 miles, round trip
Bring: bug spray
Famous for the quarry from which the stones used to build the U.S. Government’s most famous buildings were sourced, Government Island is now a county park with a lovely, history-filled under 2-mile hike that you really shouldn’t miss.
Scotts Run Nature Preserve — Fairfax, VA
1.9 miles each direction, with places to wade and play along the way and at the end
Bring: shoes you can get wet and a towel
There are lots of safe opportunities to get your feet wet and do some wading, so come prepared with bathing suits and towels! The hikes aren’t strenuous, so even the littlest ones can do them.
U.S. National Arboretum East Side Trail — Washington, DC
2.6 mile loop trail
The U.S. National Arboretum offers some surprises — stately and mysterious columns rising out of the meadow, like Greek temple ruins. As you travel around the grounds, you enjoy different views of the columns. The arrangement of 22 Corinthian columns, originally from the US Capitol building, are placed amid 20 acres of open meadow, known as the Ellipse Meadow.