Getting Kids Out Into Nature

Hike to Big Four Ice Caves

hiking with children, kids on the trail
Big Four Ice Caves

The weather has been so wonderful this month, and we’re settling into our school routines.  We were ready by the end of last week to get out into the wilderness again for the day.  Our friends joined us for a hike to Big Four Ice Caves out on the Mountain Loop Highway.

hiking with children, kids in nature
On the Boardwalk

Though this is a popular tourist destination, it’s also a unique and beautiful location that is easy to get to and fun for kids and adults.   We didn’t end up with the nice weather we had the rest of the week; it drizzled on the way there and back, but thankfully was only cloudy on our hike.

washington wildflowers, native purple plants
Pink Hedge-Nettles Still Blooming

I enjoy hiking under grey skies at this time of year – the fall colors really pop. The Big Four basin contains several different species of colorful fall shrubs, and we timed it just right this year.

washington native plants, fall colors
Huckleberries Turning Colors
fall colors, native plants
Beautiful Colors in the Basin

It’s a different dynamic when we hike with other kids.  This time the kids were involved in their own imaginations and discussions, and weren’t as tuned into the environment as when we hike alone.

kids hiking, children in nature, kids on trail, big four ice caves
Talking About LOTR

But they walk much faster and hardly complain at all, so it’s a more pleasant trip usually in that respect.  The trail is in good shape this year, except for a section of boardwalk over the pond that looks like it’s rotting.

signs, hiking with children
Rotting Railing?

There are some new cautionary signs posted in the basin; we stayed well back from the snow and rocks this time, keenly aware of the danger of rock and ice fall (a year or two ago, a young girl was killed in the basin when a chunk of ice fell from high above; a freak accident that doesn’t leave a mother’s consciousness for long.)

big four ice caves, hiking with children
Danger Signs
big four ice caves, hiking with children
Ice Chunks Fallen In the Cave

Even though we were well back from the snow, we still felt the cold air flowing from the caves, and bundled up more while we played.  We decided to make a home base by the tarns hidden over to the east, and the kids ran around and explored.

kids in nature, hiking with children
Nature’s Playground

I picked a bunch of huckleberries that were perfectly ripe and abundant in the area.  I got enough to bring home and cook up for ice cream topping.

foraging, native plants, edible plants
Ripe Huckleberries
native plants, edible berries, foraging
So Many Berries!

I observed a white-crowned sparrow feasting on the huckleberries nearby.  We had lunch and stayed for over an hour, just enjoying the scenery and fresh air.  Annika caught a big hurkin’ frog, and Gabe got his chance to hold it, too.

frogs, kids in nature, kids and animals
Yeah, let’s not let it land on our friend!
frogs, washington amphibians, kids in nature,
Getting a Closer Look

It was a feisty one, and managed to get itself dropped a couple of times, so I had the kids put it back in the water.

We all had things to do in the evening, so we reluctantly left in the mid afternoon to head back down the trail. When we were back at the wetland area, we watched a kingfisher chase (or was it chased by?) a small raptor of some kind.  Otherwise, the Steller’s jays were the most abundant and noticeable birds.  A raven chortled at us in the parking lot, and we think we heard two bald eagles talking to each other in the trees over by the river, though we couldn’t see them.

hiking with kids, big four ice caves
Looking Back at Big Four

This is a great destination for children (and older adults as well). The trail is gentle, with no obstacles and a mild slope.  Just be sure to stay well back from the snow, as tempting as it is to go explore the caves.  You can still appreciate them from a distance, and wonder at the forces that cause them to be formed.  On hot summer days you can enjoy the frigid breeze that emanates from them, and play in the icy meltwater downstream.

I’ll end with a few more photos I like from this day:

autumn seeds, washington native plants
Fireweed Going to Seed
fall colors, washington native plants
Blazing Fireweed
ponds, tarns, hiking with children
Neon Algae
washington native plants, wild berries
Brilliant Salmonberry
washington native plants, fall colors
Subalpine Spirea with Yarrow
washington native plants, purple flowers
Fireweed Still Blooming
washington native plants, fall colors
Subalpine Spirea
kids hiking, children in nature
Gang of Four

2 Responses to Hike to Big Four Ice Caves

  1. I didn’t even realise what huckleberries looked like! Or taste like, for that matter. Looks like you had an enjoyable day – I haven’t taken my brood out for a while in the great outdoors – this has made me feel spurred on!

    • Rick, Huckleberries are very close to blueberries. Just maybe a bit more tart, and usually smaller than farmed blueberries. I hope you do get your kids out this fall! 🙂

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