Hikes for tykes: Some trails to tackle for younger legs
A hike can be a conducive conduit to health for all ages, most everyone will agree, but too far or challenging a trail can tax younger family members’ stamina and endurance.
Several state officials shared some thoughts on trails -- and other natural attractions -- around the Mountain State that can be family friendly and fulfilling without inflicting undue exertion on the little ones.
Kanawha State Forest
Kanawha State Forest in Charleston contains more than 25 miles of trails. Less demanding trails in the KSF system include:
• The Store Trail, while rated as moderate, encompasses only a quarter-mile.
• The CCC Snipe Trail is a 3/4-mile path, beginning at the group camp area and ending at Shrewsbury Hollow Road and Mossy Rock Trail. It is rated as an easy trail.
“Trails-wise, we usually tell people to start with the CC Snipe Trail,” Kanawha State Forest Superintendent Kevin Dials said. “It’s up behind what used to be our pool. It’s a short, fairly easy trail, and it has interpretive signage along the way, telling about what you might see there. It’s a good introduction to KSF. People who come here for the first time, asking what trail we recommend, that’s usually where we send them.”
• Ranked easy to moderate to traverse, the Johnson Hollow Trail starts behind Shelter 7 and the Logtown Trail begins behind Shelter 3. Each trail is 3/4-mile long.
• The Spotted Salamander Trail at KSF is a particularly low-impact endeavor. The quarter-mile, wheelchair-accessible trail is paved and is located across the road from the old barn.
“We sort of renovated the Spotted Salamander last year,” Dials said. “It’s full of interpretive signage about plant and animal species, with a little of bit of history, as well. It’s handicapped accessible and has a guide rope for people who are visually impaired.”
He added that the paved surface of the Spotted Salamander makes walking and bike riding easier for all ages.
Several playgrounds are interspersed throughout the forest, and trout, bass and bluegill are stocked at KSF’s two-acre Ellison Pond, with fishing restricted to children 10 years of age and younger and Class Q license holders from March 1 through May 31. Fishing is open to anyone who is properly licensed during the remainder of the year.
“We’ve got volleyball courts, horseshoe pits and a shooting range. Some of the activities and events coming up are the ‘Snakes of West Virginia’ program with a West Virginia DNR biologist on Aug. 26, and on Sept. 16, the Three Rivers Avian Center will be here with its Birds of Prey program. Those are always big hits with the kids,” Dials said.
“Most every Saturday,” the park superintendent said, “we have ‘Birding Around the Sun,’ which are birding hikes. About every month, we have a short one on the Spotted Salamander Trail; those are good for the kids. It’s hard for the kiddos to keep their attention for a longer bird hike. They’re certainly welcome to come if they want to try it.”
The Endless Wall Trail
The Endless Wall Trail at the New River Gorge in Fayette County is a 2.4-mile, moderate walk, providing sweeping vistas of the gorge terrain. Dave Bieri, district supervisor for the National Park Service’s Division of Interpretation and Education, recommends it as a child-friendly path -- drawing from personal experience.
“You couldn’t do it with a stroller, but I did it with my daughter when she was small and I carried her in a backpack,” Bieri said. “The trail itself doesn’t have a lot of elevation, and it’s not terribly hard on a parent or a kid. Since she was old enough to walk herself, she’s been able to do it herself. It’s the best hike for kids around the canyon area.”
He cautioned about attempting the Endless Wall’s Diamond Point area with tykes in tow, however. “Diamond Point is a giant cliff. You have to be a little careful with the kids there.”
Children are also encouraged to request a Junior Ranger Activity book at any New River Gorge visitors’ center. By completing a few outlined requirements, they can receive a Junior Ranger badge and certificate as keepsakes.
“It’s a really good thing. The kids get a badge, patch and booklet they have to complete. Anybody with kids can stop at the Canyon Rim Visitor Center or any visitors’ center and get one. It’s a good way to entertain kids. If they get tired along the trail, you can stop and they can do an activity in the book. When they get back from it, they can turn the book in to a ranger and get a badge out of it,” he said.
Bieri also recommended the trails at Grandview State Park near Beckley. “A lot of the trails are little and very easy,” he said. “They go to some cliffs and edges, but all of the cliffs have railings, so you don’t have to worry about them. All are short, less than a mile -- they’re nice, little walks. They’re easy trails and they’re pretty flat.”
Droop Mountain & Others
At Droop Mountain Battlefield in Pocahontas County, families can traverse trails that Civil War soldiers followed and witness the setting of American history by stopping at the Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park.
“And don’t forget to take in the view from the Droop Mountain Tower,” Chelsea Walker, marketing and media specialist with the Pocahontas County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said. “Just a short five miles up the road is the unique Beartown State Park, where you can check out the large rock formations from the boardwalk that winds through rock outcrops formed millions of years ago.”
Walker suggested a few other family-friendly outdoor attractions in the Mountain State.
“The Green Bank Observatory is a great stop for families,” she said. “You can explore the science center, take a telescope tour and, while you’re there, check out the many hiking and mountain biking trails that wind around the world’s largest telescope.”
She also recommended the Greenbrier River Trail, which spans 78 miles and ends in the historic town of Cass. “Cass is a great stop for families to take the two-hour Whittaker Station scenic ride, have lunch at The Last Run Restaurant and jump back on their bikes,” Walker said. Lodging options there she mentioned included a restored Cass company house or, in nearby Marlinton, cabins, bed-and-breakfasts and other accommodations.
She also extolled the mountainous vistas provided by overlooks along the Highland Scenic Highway, which winds through Monongahela National Forest and extends more than 40 miles from Richwood to U.S. Route 219, seven miles north of Marlinton. “Families can enjoy hiking and mountain biking. Be sure to check out the honeycomb rock formations -- which were formed millions of years ago.”
Beech Fork State Park
The Nature Trail at Beech Fork State Park in Barboursville beckons families with an easygoing, .08-mile path that loops from the “road to nowhere” across from the Beech Fork headquarters. The estimated walking time for the Nature Trail is a half-hour to 45 minutes. Biking is also an option for the Nature Trail.
“For kids, the Nature Trail is always a good one,” Beech Fork State Park Superintendent Dillard Price said. “It goes through a pollinator area. It’s kind of marshy. It’s a neat, little area to go through. The Long Branch Trail connects to the Nature Trail, so it’s very convenient for those two.
“The Long Branch and Fitness trails are really good, too; they’re fairly flat. The Fitness Trail is actually paved. It goes from the back side of our office through the tunnel and around the swimming pool and tables.
“If you’re looking for a short, half-hour-to-45-minute hike, I recommend the Long Branch Trail. It connects onto the Nature Trail, and that’ll get you a good, quick fix for a hike for the kids.”
Price added that the Fitness Trail, being paved, is ideal for hikers who may want to push their progeny in strollers over non-bumpy or steep terrain. “You can get around there in just about anything -- strollers, bicycles,” the park superintendent said. “It’s about five feet wide and runs along the headwaters of the lake. You can see all kinds of wildlife -- fish jumping in the morning or the Great Blue Heron, geese or ducks lurking around.
“I highly recommend the Overlook Trail,” Price said, “simply because it’s a lot easier than it used to be, because of the reworking of the area. We made it a little more erosion friendly and made some switchbacks, so it’s not as strenuous as it used to be. It’s about an hour-and-a-half hike.”
Beech Fork’s Coal Mine Trail spans 6/10ths of a mile and can be completed on foot in about 25 minutes. However, it is regarded as a more demanding span and might be a bit much for younger hikers to undertake.