The best hikes to do with kids in Washington: High Rock Lookout

Over a series of several posts, I will share several hikes that I consider to be the best hikes to do with kids in Washington. Specifically, these hikes are great for younger children (though older kids will enjoy them as well), are short in length (5 miles or less roundtrip), and have great views or interesting landmarks along the way. Our children were all very small when we did these hikes (under the age of 5) and they loved every one of them. Below is my review of High Rock Lookout:

Located in the Southern Cascades–White Pass/Cowlitz River Valley, High Rock Lookout is by far my favorite hike that we did with our kids while living in Washington. This 3.2 mile roundtrip hike is fairly steep, gaining 1,365 feet in elevation over the 1.6 mile trek up, and topping out at 5,685 feet. Believe me when I tell you, though, that every breathless step is worth the view that you will be rewarded with when you reach the top. I am not exaggerating when I say that it is, in my opinion, the best view in all of Washington State!

Honestly, if you hike slow enough (which we certainly did with our oldest being 4 and I was 3 months pregnant with our 4th at the time), it’s not that taxing on the lungs. Because it’s a relatively short hike, you can take it nice and slow with the kids and still have time to enjoy the views from the top. All total, we spent about 5 hours on this trail. We literally moved about 1 mile/hour but the key is that we made it to the summit!!! And, the kids loved the whole experience.

Be forewarned, though, that there are no restroom facilities, nor water points, anywhere on the hike so come prepared with plenty of water and be ready to duck behind a tree to take care of business. Also, you will need to pack out your trash so bring an extra garbage bag with you on the hike.

A few other things worth noting about this hike:

  1. It’s very off-the-beaten path. You will need to know some old school map reading to find the trailhead and the teeny tiny “parking lot” (if you can even call it that). You can try using your smartphone’s GPS but we lost cell reception a lot while still enroute to the trailhead. It’s so backwoods that the only address I can provide are the latitude and longitude coordinates: 46.6664, -121.8913. There are actually some good Google images that show exactly what the parking and trailhead look like.
  2. The road is rough. It was a dirt road a good portion of the way and there were several potholes. The road is very narrow in spots, which made passing cars tricky at times. You do not necessarily need a 4WD vehicle, as we saw all kinds of cars up there, but it certainly helps.
  3. The summit is not the most child friendly. Having said that, we found a nice, flatish spot at the tree line just below the rock slab leading up to the fire tower. Here, we set up our picnic blanket for lunch (we got there early which was key). From there, one of us could go up to the top with the older kids. It’s quite steep on this last bit and the summit is quite exposed with large drop offs.
  4. Be prepared for all kinds of weather. The day we went, it was cold and rainy down in Olympia (and remained that way all day), but the summit of this hike was in total sunshine! It was gorgeous and warm and we definitely needed sunscreen (something we did not think to bring that day). Also, weather can move in very quickly so bring warm clothes as well. There was snow in some spots.
Now, you may be wondering why you should do this hike if it’s this hard to find and portions of the hike are dangerous? Well, just look at the pictures and you will begin to understand why it’s totally worth it. As far as safety is concerned, all hikes have “dangerous” elements when children are involved. You will certainly need to remain with your children at all times when at the summit of this hike. We were able to safely take our 4, 2, and 1-year-old up to the summit and back down. So, it absolutely can be done. Just do not let them play around up at the top.
For more information, to include excellent directions and a thorough description of this hike, go to Washington Trails Association, or just click HERE.

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