Ask Levi: How can I find a good hiking trail for young children?

West Virginia Explorer editor David Sibray hikes the Glade Creek Trail in West Virginia with a young friend.
Editor David Sibray hikes the Glade Creek Trail in southern West Virginia with a young friend.

Dear Levi: We receive a lot of questions about hiking trails for families with young children. What should folks be looking for in a trail that's adequate? Any favorite family trails? — David Sibray

I love that people are wanting to get out on the trails with their children, and the younger the better. Getting them outdoors as early as possible will ensure a tighter and more familiar bond and understanding with nature.

Concerning what people should look for in a trail is really up to personal preference as to what they want to experience and how comfortable they are with the expected terrain.

But, if I had to make a suggestion, I would start out with something easy like a rail trail, where it's relatively flat and usually wide with an easy grade. This will allow for a positive first-time experience for the kids and ease adults into being on the trail with little ones.

What I’ve found in my own experience with my daughter is that there can be a big learning curve when it comes to watching children while watching out for yourself.

It also meant learning what they should and shouldn’t be allowed to do, based on their age, and learning how to let them safely fall and get dirty without being too restrictive. As I said, it’s a learning experience for everyone.


I think it's also a good idea to scout a trail without the kids to see how it works for you. Take them on it afterward, if you’re comfortable with what you find.

If you’re looking for a trail that fits well into the above suggestions, the Southside Junction Trail in the New River Gorge National River is a perfect match. It's a rail-trail that runs along the New River between Thurmond and Cunard for approximately six miles.

But, as I said, just about any wide, flat, easy trail will do.

Walk far, walk free, walk often!

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