Hiking with kids can be unpredictable. A strong start might turn into a painfully slow finish, dissolving into mud, muck and tears. A path that's family friendly – gentle terrain, interesting sights and flexible trail segments so you can shorten or lengthen your hike depending on the prevailing mood – will help set you up for a day of fun in the outdoors. Set yourself up for success by choosing one of these favorite family friendly hikes near Eugene.
Mount Pisgah Arboretum
This splendid 209-acre nature preserve offers eight miles of easy, loop trails through meadow, woodlands and along the Willamette River. The Mount Pisgah Arboretum paths vary between .05 miles to 1.5 miles, and some are wheelchair accessible. Some paths are flat and level, others climb up the hillsides. Interpretive signage and experiential exhibits add educational elements so children can learn about trees, plants and ecosystems. Explore the water gardens and a tunnel of woven branches or rest quietly on a circular observation deck ringed by cedar forest.
The arboretum is also favorite destination for field trips and family-centered events. Plenty of parking (a day-use fee or Lane County Park Pass is required), drinking fountains and restrooms at the arboretum entrance are additional perks. The arboretum is a smaller cloister within the greater Buford Park & Mt. Pisgah area which has the more challenging hiking trails.
Over 800 acres of woods, wetlands and fields, Elijah Bristow State Park is a family friendly hiking destination that is also close to Eugene and accessible year-round. Crisscrossed with ten miles of trails, meander alongside the river or through thick forest. There are picnic facilities and restrooms (currently without electricity) and plenty of parking. Wide open spaces invite tossing discs and balls. Or bring a fishing rod for down by the river.
The trails are mixed-use and popular with equestrians so tell your children on how to stop, step aside and wait patiently for horses to pass in order not to spook them. Seeing horses along the way is part of the fun!
Sweet Creek Falls
A great hike year-round, the Sweet Creek Falls Trail Complex meets all the requirements for an easy, interesting and flexible family hike: fairly flat, natural beauty (everyone likes waterfalls!), short segments and restrooms at the Homestead Trailhead. The entire length is just under three miles (or close to six round-trip) with four trailheads and multiple small falls, culminating in one final spectacular waterfall. The trails' defining feature is the many catwalks and bridges that children enjoy – especially the older and bolder children. Because of the bridges, steps, rocks and stream rivulets, it's best to leave the jogging stroller at home. Be prepared for shady and damp conditions.
Seasonally, the narrow trails may be bustling with families and leashed dogs. In spring, the many tiny waterfalls will be roaring. In summer, some families like to bring camp chairs and sit with their feet in the cool shallows. In fall, the autumn leaves are spectacular. And in winter, you might even get a little snow dusting!
On the Oregon Coast, this magical hike is a favorite with families. Walk through a moss-covered, fern-filled, shady forest to the ultimate reward — a wide open sandy beach! The Hobbit Trail is short (one mile roundtrip) and easy but with uneven ground —watch for tripping hazards, like roots.
Bring beach toys, a kite, picnic lunch and water. There are no restrooms, however; the trail is close to Heceta Head Lighthouse which has full park amenities. Do note that parking for this hike is alongside the road and may require crossing the highway cautiously. Keep a hold of children's hands until safely on the trail.
Short and sweet, this flat loop trail is educational too! Walk along the path and spot name placards of the U.S. Constitution's signers. The Constitution Grove Trail is accessed off the Aufderheide Scenic Byway, which is not maintained in the winter, so check road conditions before heading out.
Hiking with Kids
When preparing for your family ramble, pack your car with a change of clothes (including backup socks and shoes), warmer layers, plenty of water, snacks, sun block, hats for sun and shade, wet wipes, diapers, natural bug repellent and a first aid kit. Having a towel or two is helpful too – it can dry off a wet wader, be a blanket on a cold day or simply serve as a layer between muddy clothes and shoes and the car upholstery post-hike. For an educational emphasis, stop by the Wild Birds Unlimited store and get a birding book. The knowledgeable staff can also help you know in advance what types of birds you might see on your hike and how to recognize them. And the best bet for making a hike memorable is including a picnic. Stop by Provisions Market Hall or Cafe Yumm! for an easy meal to bring along.