Family Hikes in the Southeast
November is here and the air has grown crisp and blessedly cooler. Now is the perfect time to hit the trails and take the family out for a hike. With the National Park Service celebrating its 100th anniversary and the Florida Trail celebrating its 50th anniversary-( you can check out my sister & her husband’s 50th anniversary Florida Trail coffee book- with its incredible photos on their website: Florida Hikes), it certainly is a year for outdoor celebrations. Embrace the season with a family hiking adventure! And if you need some inspiration, we have a list of favorite family hiking adventures in the southeast to whet your appetite!
Favorite Family Hiking Adventures in the Southeast
- Silver Springs State Park: The old Silver Springs attraction combined with Silver River State Park. Lots of wilderness treks to choose from (we like the River Walk) or roam on the paved paths and new boardwalks of the former famous Florida attraction, located near Ocala.
- Juniper Springs Recreation Area: Nestled in the heart of the Ocala National Forest, this camping/canoe run/swimming hole has a boardwalk trail that runs alongside the narrow Juniper Run and leads to bridges over the spring “boils.” Read the post about Exploring Juniper Springs.
- Alexander Springs Recreation Area: Another jewel in the Ocala National Forest, Alexander Springs is a fantastic place for family swimming. The nature trail winds through the wooded area around the swimming area and out to a boardwalk overlook over the river. Great easy hike for young kids.
- Otter Springs: A Suwanee River Water Management District owned park run by the ForVets program. My daughter and I took the nature trail walk two winters ago. It’s a nice and easy trail that runs near the water for the most part. Very quiet in the winter. Camping. Near Fanning Springs.
- Paynes Prairie State Park: I’ve been told that if you want to see gators go here. Not sure if that was because of it’s close vicinity to the University of Florida or the population of alligators that live in the sink on the prairie. Long trail. You can cut it short or just climb the lookout tower to check out the wild horses. The trail out onto the prairie, La Chua Trail, can be thrilling for families with teens- as you are literally walking on a path with giant alligators close by and no fences! This is not for small kids, pets, or the unagile- it’s actually scary!
- St. Andrews State Park: A gem in the heart of Panama City Beach. Nature trails through different ecosystems and long sandy stretches of beaches and coves to explore. You can even catch a ferry to Shell Island for even more beachy-hiking. We loved this park!
- Hillsborough River State Park: A park from my childhood. Great for kids. My parents would take us on the nature paths alongside the rapids and on the bridge over to the island.
- Little Talbot Island: Big Talbot & Little Talbot are both great for family hiking adventures. Near Amelia Island, take the family along the 4-mile dune ridge hike, or hop over to Big Talbot Island and check out the trail to Black Rock Beach. We found the hull of an old mine (not live, of course), washed up on the beach there.
- Raven Cliff Falls Trail in the Chattahoochee National Forest. Great hike, uphill though. Follows the creek for the most part and waterfalls along the way. You can read about our Raven Cliff Fall Adventure on this blog post: Hiking in North Georgia with Kids.
- Anna Ruby Falls Trail: .8 miles. Extremely easy hike. All paved. Located inside Unicoi State Park near Helen, Georgia. Beautiful Falls. Take the small nature trail by the parking lot if you have little kids as well.
- Amicalola Falls Trail: Located in Amicalola Falls State Park. Park at the bottom and hike up (lots of stairs), or park at the top and hike down- all stairs. Alternatively, park in the middle and walk the short path straight there. Fantastic waterfall! You can read about our Amicalola Falls adventure on this blog post: North Georgia Adventures at Amicalola Falls State Park.
- The Edge of the World Falls: You can hike anywhere, but taking the family to The Edge of the World certainly has an epic-adventure ring to it! Most of the trail is a boardwalk, but at the end, you are on your own- check out our Journey to The Edge of the World.
- Tallulah Gorge State Park: There’s a swinging bridge, but it’s all downhill to get there (stairs!). Roaring water, breathtaking views- unfortunately, you have to climb back up to get out! For families with energetic tween/teens.
- High Falls State Park: This park is only a half hour south of Atlanta and just a short detour off of I-75. Park by the swimming pool and walk across to the trail and get blown away by the massive hidden waterfall. The trail goes down following the falls to the bottom. We loved this leg-stretcher before facing the Atlanta traffic.
Celebrate 100th Anniversary of National Parks by hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Here are a couple of the more family-friendly trails:
- Chimney Tops 3.8 miles RT- The top of the trail IS steep (If you have younger kids, turn back at the Appalachian Trail sign. If you have adventurous teens, they will love it. Safety first guys!) However, that said, the first mile or so of this trail crosses whitewater, roaring creeks, neat bridges and up stone stairs. The family will love it (even if you don’t make it to the top!)
- Laurel Falls: 2.3 RT miles- located off of Little River Road, this is one of the more popular & least strenuous family hikes. The trail takes you to the 80 foot Laurel Falls.
- Gatlinburg Trail- Easy trail 3.8 miles RT from the edge of Gatlinburg to the Sugarlands Visitors Center. Runs alongside West Fork of the Little Pigeon River.
Be sure to check out the top ten reasons to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
- Grandfather Mountain – A mile high swinging bridge, 11 hiking trails sweeping vista views & much more. Some easy hikes and some extremely challenging ones.
- Linville Falls & Gorge: Called the Grand Canyon of the Southern Appalachians, the Erwins View Trail is 1.6 miles RT & easy. Linville Gorge Trail and Plunge Basin Trail are more strenuous.
- Crabtree Falls Hiking Trail: 2.5 miles- Crabtree Falls & Meadows Recreation Area on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Choices of an easy hike or more difficult one to the 60-foot falls. Stay on the trail! Near milepost 339.
- Chimney Rock State Park– We visited here when the kids were little & our youngest had a meltdown- don’t climb up to the top like we foolishly did, take the elevator and then walk down for the views. The easier trail to Hickory Nut Falls & a children’s trail is full of cool statues & art in the Great Woodland Adventure.
Hiking with Kids & Safety
As with all adventure sports, even hiking, there are risks to consider before venturing out. Hiking in the wilderness is no Disney World Adventure. There are no safety rails or warning signs. And you will be a good distance from any hospital or even help. Please consider you and your child’s capabilities before embarking on a hike. In Georgia we encountered sheer drops on one side of the trails, slippery rocks near the waterfalls and creeks and even a Copperhead snake, which popped out from under some rocks and glided through an ice cold mountain creek. My husband and I both slipped and fell while trying to cross the waterfall at Dicks Creek- but luckily neither of us got hurt. I banged up a knee falling into a waterfall on the Chattahoochee. Accidents happen. Watch your kids. Watch yourself. Safety first! Many of the waterfalls come with no-swim warnings due to dangerous undertows (check the state park/ wildlife/water management area websites before you go), and so do some of the rivers (Like Devil’s Elbow on the Amicalola River.) Pay heed to the warnings. In Florida we are always vigilant about snakes & gators. Rattlesnakes and Water Moccasins are both deadly. If there’s a body of water, assume there is an alligator, even if you can’t see it- they love to hide. My sister carries a stick to clear the spiders on her trail hikes (nothing like a face full of webs and spiders in your hair to brighten your day!) Be aware. Be safe. Know the risks. And consider your child’s safety before venturing into the wilderness.
Things You Need on the Hiking Trail
Families all come with baggage, and sometimes you need to carry it on your hike. Here are a few necessities that will come in handy on your family hiking adventure.
- Water. Everyone needs to stay hydrated, even during the cooler weather, so water is a basic necessity. Make sure there is enough to go around too. For short hikes, you could always let your teens carry their own water bottles, but for youngsters, that brings us to point 2.
- Backpack. On short hikes, a day pack works well. Throw your water bottles into it and other items and take turns being the pack animal. Most day-packs can carry up to 35 liters. My kids use those to cart their school books. I like the ones with the mesh pockets on the sides to stash easily accessible water bottles.
- Decent shoes. Yeah, my daughter and I have hiked in swim shoes, and we’ve all hiked in flip-flops. We’ve done a lot of spur-of-the-moment adventures, and ended up with blisters on all the wrong toes because of it. Be prepared. Make sure your kids have comfortable shoes for your hiking adventure.
- Snacks. Hiking is a hungry business, and the kids are sure to groan for food once you have gone too far to turn back. Pack some granola bars, fruit leather, trail mix and maybe an apple or two. Be sure to carry out all of your trash.
- Toilet paper- the bio-degradable kind. Yes, ugh. I remember the first time I had to use the toilet in the wild. It was a canoe trip down Juniper Run with my friend Leigh. I had never gone outside before and I was mortified. But when you have to go, you have to go. (I’m not so mortified anymore!). Use proper toilet etiquette- and don’t leave a mess for others to step in! Here’s a blog post from Wild Earth Adventures about wilderness toilet etiquette or how to poop on the trail.
- Zip-lock bags. For #5.
- A long stick. 2 foot (I prefer a good 3 to 4 foot stick myself). This is to brush away any webs on the trail and if you have a longer one, it can double as a walking stick. You don’t need to buy one. Just pick one up on the trail, there is usually dead wood along trails. Snap off any little side branches and voila- your spider stick is ready to go!
Don’t forget to pack that Sense of Humor and a Shovelful of Patience!
So grab the family, get outdoors and take a hike today!