Getting Kids Out Into Nature

Book Review: Best Hikes with Kids: Western Washington, by Susan Elderkin

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Best Hikes with Kids

When my kids were little, I pored through the Best Hikes with Kids books by Joan Burton. Originally in two volumes, they were combined in 2006 into one large volume, packed full of hikes and tips and interesting trail tidbits. But now the baton has been passed to Susan Elderkin, who has updated the information and created a fresh resource for Washington families. Best Hikes with Kids: Western Washington contains 125 hikes that are fun, scenic, and attainable by elementary-aged children and younger. The book covers territory from the Cascades to the Olympics, the Washington coast to the Columbia River Gorge. You’ll find a smattering of urban and suburban hikes, but most are out in the forests, mountains and wild beaches of our state.

The book begins with a Quick Guide, which picks out the best of the best if you are looking for a hike that fits particular criteria, such as big trees, waterfalls, or trails suitable for strollers. Then Elderkin has put together a hefty section with salient tips and education for hiking with kids. It’s clear she’s a veteran on the trail with normal kids! She covers motivation, clothing and other gear, expectations, and safety, as well as other useful topics. She tries to elucidate our confusing pass system, and spells out very clearly what to pack for a hike. She even has a section on helping kids grow into strong hikers, and gives good advice about hypothermia and dehydration (conditions that both my children have experienced in our years of hiking.)

Once the info and tips are concluded, the bulk of the book begins: 125 hikes that kids and parents will love. They are organized by geographical area, and Elderkin gives a rating of difficulty from a 5- to 6-year-old’s point of view. As with other Mountaineers Books guidebooks, you’ll find trail stats and driving directions, map and permit information, seasons to hike the trails, and other notes, such as whether there is a privy at the trailhead or whether dogs are allowed. A detailed and informative description follows, with notes of attributes of particular interest to parents. She advises about hazards, lets families know where good turnaround spots are for younger hikers, and points out interesting natural features. At the very end is a thorough list of resources families can use to plan hikes and get outdoors more often.

You may be wondering if it’s worth getting this book if you already have one of the previous editions of Best Hikes with Kids. This new edition is definitely worth making space for on your bookshelf. There have been many changes in the road and trail systems since the original books came out. Some roads have washed away, and you can’t access the trails any more.  Some of the harder hikes have been removed, and some new ones have been added in. There were even a few trails I hadn’t heard of yet. This new book doesn’t travel as far east in geographic range, focusing more on hikes that are closer to Puget Sound. There are color maps, more accurate than the hand-drawn ones in my well-loved dog-eared volumes. The mileage has been updated, as well, and there are GPS coordinates that didn’t exist when the former books were published. This is a hefty guide, with color photos, enticing descriptions, and plenty of knowledge and wisdom to impart.

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Author Susan Elderkin

Best Hikes with Kids: Western Washington sells for $21.95, and will be available in bookstores everywhere beginning April 1, 2018. Susan Elderkin will be presenting the book at local bookstores throughout the spring; check out her website for dates and locations.

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