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A kid-friendly hike from author Wendy Gorton's new PNW guidebook: Rowena Plateau in the Columbia Gorge, pictured here with a dusting of early spring snow.

Image: Wendy Gorton

Here in timber territory, a child’s first hike is a rite of passage—like a baptism or a bris. Yet despite our plethora of Pacific Northwest trails, parents and caregivers can struggle to find a hike that captivates little explorers without totally tiring them out. Now, a new guidebook aims to expand your options. Due out April 3 from Timber Press, 50 Hikes with Kids details 50 hassle-free hikes in Oregon and Washington, all under four miles, with less than 900 feet in elevation gain.

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Cover art for author Wendy Gorton's guidebook Oregon and Washington: 50 Hikes with Kids—out April 2018 from Timber Press.

Image: Timber Press

Author Wendy Gorton, a former Los Angeles science educator who now lives in Portland, says she wanted to create a guidebook that was “truly interactive for kids and families on the trail.” After consulting with several state and national forest rangers for advice on their favorite kid-friendly hikes, she laced up her own boots and hit the trail, often accompanied by her nephews, to personally test every single one. Gorton looked for hikes that give children a sense of accomplishment—treks that would be "a true adventure no matter if they were five or 15," she says.

Gorton’s slim, 263-page guidebook also includes practical information for adult chaperones, including fees, bathroom versus “facilitree” access, and nearby eateries and breweries. Hikes, meanwhile, are organized by state, peak season, and features like geology and history. Another point of pride for Gorton: the book aims to get kids to “start thinking the ways that adults do when they go on hikes,” with easy-to-read maps, beautiful full-color photographs, and amusing scavenger hunts with special sights to spot along the way.

Here are five hikes from Gorton’s book perfect for nature-based April celebrations, from Easter to Passover to Earth Day.

Macleay Park

Location: 2.7 miles east from downtown Portland
Distance: 1.75 miles out and back
Difficulty: Moderate
Take Easter (April 1) outside this year, with an enchanted exploration in Forest Park. Replace the standard egg hunt with a search for the old, moss-covered stone house some locals call Witches’ Castle.  Along the way, look out for the largest Douglas fir in Portland, along with the three white petals that mark the spring-blooming trillium. With restrooms at the trailhead and parking available just under the Thurman Street Bridge, Macleay is the ultimate easy day hike for Portland urbanites.   

Hug Point

Location: 83 miles west of Portland
Distance: 1 mile out and back
Difficulty: Easy
For Passover (ends April 7) pack up some PB&Js—made with matzo, of course—and prepare for a coastal exodus to a secret sea cave at Hug Point, just five miles south of Cannon Beach. Remember to check the tide schedule, as this hidden cave is only accessible between the two hours before or after low tide. Have your Haggadah handy, because this hike provides the perfect backdrop to embarrass the kids by dramatically retelling the epic of how Moses split the Red Sea. 

Whalen Island

Location: 90 miles southwest of Portland
Distance: 1.8-mile loop
Difficulty: Easy
This lovely little loop based at a biologically diverse estuary near Pacific City features nine separate viewpoints, including one next to a wetland ideal for beginner birdwatchers. (Look for the great blue herons that live here year-round.) After your adventure, Gorton recommends heading four miles south to Pelican Brewery and Pub, where your kids can delight in a toasty marshmallow s’mores dessert and you can partake in a pint of Kiwanda Cream Ale in honor of National Beer Day (April 7). 

Rowena Plateau

Location: 78 miles east of Portland
Distance: 1.9 miles out and back
Difficulty: Moderate
For an Earth Day (April 22) extravaganza, scale a plateau just past the Dalles with ponds created by the Missoula Ice Age floods some 14,000 years ago. Take in the incredible vistas of the Columbia River Gorge, but also pay close attention to the flora nearer at hand. At this time of year, chances are that beautiful wildflowers—such as the yellow-petal arrowleaf balsamroot and the purple-petal filaree—are blooming all around you. 

Wilson River Falls

Location: 52 miles from Portland
Distance: 3.1 miles out and back
Difficulty: Moderate
At Wilson Falls in the Tillamook National Forest, frolic in a forest among ferns, slender beaked moss, and red alders.  To truly celebrate Picnic Day (April 22) in style, make sure to bring a blanket to reward the family with a pleasurable post-hike lunch on a pebbly beach next to the rushing Wilson River located at the beginning of the hike. 

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