My first reaction was one of incredulity. The western United States is massive. Choosing just five trails from thirteen states with millions of acres of public lands wasn’t going to be easy.
But then I figured out how to do it. I’d focus on the trails we suggest to our friends.
So today, a reprise of this post: Five “Don’t Miss” Family Hikes in the Western U.S.
I’m sure you have your favorites, too! Please leave suggestions for other hikes in the comments. Let’s build a great list together.
Colorado 14’ers: The Barr Trail, Pikes Peak, Colorado
Everyone in Colorado seems to have a favorite 14’er. With 53 peaks to choose from, no two hikes and climbs are alike and each summit has something to recommend it.
Since it’s hard to narrow down the list, I’m going with my first 14’er: Pikes Peak.
This may seem like an odd choice. Arguably, Pikes Peak is more tourist attraction than natural attraction, with both a paved road and an incline railroad to the summit at 14,114 feet.
But for hikers, the historic Barr Trail is a “don’t miss.” Built as a burro trail between 1914 and 1918, the Barr Trail is the longest 14’er trail in Colorado. It’s a 26-mile round trip, the hiking equivalent of a marathon with a vertical gain of 7,510 feet.
Start at daybreak to go up and down in one day, or break up the trip, overnighting at Barr Camp, 6.8 miles in.
Trail Notes: Start in Manitou Springs, a small town near Colorado Springs. There is free parking east of Memorial Park and in summer a shuttle will take you to the trailhead.
Finding Solitude in Yosemite: Mount Hoffman, Yosemite National Park, California
California has plenty of high peaks, with twelve 14’ers, including Mount Whitney, at 14,497′, the highest peak in the Lower 48.
At 10,850′, Mount Hoffman is the highest point in Yosemite National Park, although just a bump amongst the higher Sierra Nevada. While bragging rights are few, we love this trail because it offers solitude even when the rest of the park is teeming with visitors.
Located near the geographic center of Yosemite, Mount Hoffman is a class 1 walk up with some class 2 scrambling at the top. Start on the May Lake trail, which is well-signed. Once you pass May Lake, the route is an unsigned rocky scramble, requiring careful attention. Sturdy shoes, good balance and long legs are essential.
Trail Notes: Access the May Lake trailhead from Tioga Road/California State Route 120, near the eastern boundary of Yosemite National Park. It is just 1.25 miles to May Lake where you’ll turn west along the lakeshore and bear north to ascend. It’s a total of three miles from parking lot to the summit of Mount Hoffman.
Desert Gem: Fisher Towers Trail, Utah
When Arches and Canyonlands National Parks are overflowing, head to Fisher Towers.
Located 30 minutes east of Moab, Utah, this BLM maintained trail is popular with climbers. The Fisher Towers landscape is unique, a collection of dark red mudstone monoliths carved by water and wind. Summer here is hot, making spring and fall the preferred seasons. Spring, especially, is beautiful with abundant and diverse wildflowers.
Trail Notes: Dogs are allowed on this four-mile round trip trail, but be aware that at mile 1.5 there is a steep ladder attached to the rock that can be difficult for four-legged visitors. If you continue, the payoff is big, with views of the nearby La Sal Mountains and the infinite canyon country of eastern Utah.
Short and Sweet: Trillium Lake Loop Hike, Mount Hood, Oregon
We discovered the Trillium Lake Loop when our sons went to summer ski camp on Mount Hood. After a morning of skiing and race training on the Palmer Snowfield, this short hike in a state park is a lovely place to spend the afternoon, exploring the lush Oregon forest and swimming.
Trillium Lake Loop is a flat trail with just 10 feet of elevation gain along 1.9 miles. Along the route, board walks cross bogs and wetlands and the trail winds in and out of the forest, with spectacular views of nearby Mount Hood.
Trail Notes: Trillium Lake is near Government Camp and Timberline Lodge. Bring your SUP or kayak, walking shoes and a swim suit. Play and picnic or camp overnight. Between May and October, there is an entrance fee. In winter, the fee is waived and the trail is popular with cross-country skiers.
An American Icon: South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
If there is one, just one, hike on this list that every family must do, this is it: the route from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to Phantom Ranch and back.
We’d been visiting the Grand Canyon at Thanksgiving for many years and when our sons were 10 and 13, we hiked from the South Rim to Phantom Ranch and back.
This three-day experience (we spent two nights at Phantom Ranch in a small cabin) is one of our fondest family memories. The hike was not easy on the adults — the unrelenting downhill grade wreaks havoc on knees and thighs — but our son rocked it and suffered no sore muscles. It was a bonding experience for all of us.
Trail Notes: Make reservations as soon as you can, not only for Phantom Ranch, but also for rooms on the rim at the start and end of your trip. Note that the North Rim is closed fall through spring, while the South Rim is open year-round.
Comments? Suggestions? Please share your favorite family hikes!
More Family Hiking Trails and Tips:
- Hiking Colorado’s Western Slope
- Hiking With Teens Can Build Lasting Bonds
- Hiking is Good For You
- Keep Family Hiking Fun
- Climb High and Touch the Sky: Hiking Courthouse Mountain in Colorado’s Cimarron Range
- Getting Outside: Family Hiking on The Colorado National Monument
- Costa Rica Rainforest Hiking: An Experience in Sight, Sound and Touch
- Spring Escapes: Tropical Hiking On Maui, Snow-Filled Family Time at Alta
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