1. Sugarloaf Mountain
To be honest, Sugarloaf can be boring. It’s easy (except for one trail that has stairs, and man, those hurt), it’s barely a mountain at all, and the views are okay, but not stellar. Still, this is one of my top picks for hiking with kids. Why? Two reasons: 1) It’s easy enough that you can carry your kids if they’re not walking yet (or if they can’t go more than 2 miles or so) and 2) THERE IS A WINERY! Right there at the base of the mountain! Which is totally kid-friendly, by the way. So hike, take in the views, then get thee to the winery.
2. Billy Goat Trail
The Billy Goat Trail is divided into three sections, which makes it perfect for hiking with kids. Section A is 1.7 miles and includes a fun rock scramble. Section B is 1.4 miles and has less of a scramble. Section C is 1.6 miles and has no rock scramble. All three have stunning views of the Potomac River. Section A is the most popular–it’s always crowded–and it’s also my favorite. I’ve been taking my kids here since the oldest was three. Be aware that there are places where if you fall, you will die. The trail is safe and honestly, it isn’t that hard. Just use your common sense and don’t let your kids walk the rock edge like a tightrope.
3. Dark Hollow Trail
This is a short, steep hike that leads to a fantastic waterfall. It’s more of a drive from DC, but it’s worth it. It’s also a great hike to combine with other hikes. Do Dark Hollow Trail (1.5 miles), get back in your car and drive eight minutes, park at Upper Hawksbill and do the 2.9 mile loop that takes you to the highest peak in Shenandoah National Park (4, 049 feet). Or do the Story of the Forest trail, if you’re tired and want something so easy a baby could crawl it.
4. Stony Man/Little Stony Man
There are lots of ways to summit Stony Man, but I suggest doing it as a 2.9 mile hike that includes Little Stony Man cliffs. It’s steep in parts, but not too hard for kids. The views from the cliffs are even better than the summit, in my opinion. It’s also a good spot for rock climbing, if you’re into that sort of thing. (You should be.) Supposedly it’s got awesome wildlife, too. Pretty much everyone I know has seen bears here. I haven’t, not once in the three times I’ve been here. No, I don’t want to talk about it.
5. Catoctin Mountain Park
This park in Maryland has 25 miles of great trails. It’s also home to Camp David, but eh…That’s not important. Our favorite hikes here are Falls Nature Trail, which is an easy 1.4 miles to Cunningham Falls, the highest waterfall in Maryland, and Wolf Rock. Pretty much anyone can do Falls Nature Trail, but the Wolf Rock (and Chimney Rock) is tougher. I do it with my seven-year-old, but not my four-year-old. But maybe your four-year-old whines less, I don’t know. It’s a five mile loop with a wee bit of steep climbing, but the views are so worth it. Just beware of rattlesnakes.