One of my favorite things to do as a family is head outside and walk around in the woods. Peeper, who is now 3 years old, loves it too—but she also loves to ride on Dad’s shoulders when she gets tired. (She’d be able to hike a lot farther if she didn’t ping pong back and forth on the trail so much: She’s like an overexcited dog who runs and runs and runs once she’s outdoors!)
The catch: If Eric doesn’t join us on the hike, I can’t carry her because I’m wearing Little Sister.
On a recent late-summer morning, though, we found a perfect compromise with a Mt. Hood family hike, without Dad. The girls’ grandparents and I took the kids to hike Little Zigzag Falls, just outside Government Camp, Oregon. It was the perfect short hike for kids.
Small effort, big payoff
When it comes to hiking with kids, you can’t just walk up a mountain, motivated by the faraway view at the top. No matter what that now-legendary marshmallow experiment says about kids delaying gratification, no small child will hike miles and miles for the promise of a long-off scenic outlook. (Well, at least mine won’t.)
The Little Zigzag Falls hike was the opposite of that: The Mt. Hood family hike is short and quickly comes to a beautiful, impressive waterfall.
Kid-friendly hiking trail
Turn left on the trail at the gravel parking lot (which also has a porta potty: another bonus for kids). This begins the hike, which is just a half-mile long each way: a perfect length for little kids and recent walkers.
Even Kiwi, who started walking just a few months ago, hiked much of it!
The trail is level without a ton of roots to trip over. It meanders up within sight of the creek but not so close that kids can easily fall in—an important factor for children who are a little wobbly.
The path also weaves under and around tons of deadfall. Kids will love walking beneath a giant fallen tree and spotting logs in the creek. Ask them why no one has removed the trees “blocking” the creek—you may be surprised what they think! This can be a wonderful opportunity to teach about ecology, how different animals like different habitats, and our hands-off relationship with nature in parks.
Reaching Little Zigzag Falls
At the top of the trail, you’ll reach Little Zigzag Falls, which crashes down just over 40 feet. A rustic wooden bench off the side of the trail is a great place to pause for a snack and rest. Once kids have regained their energy, they can clamber over logs to a mini-beach just below the falls to throw sticks into the creek.
Tip: This spot just below the main viewing area is a perfect vantage point to shoot a photo of the group still in the main clearing. You can capture the entire falls and the whole family!
The falls marks the point where you turn back toward the parking area. Adults and older kids can hike up above the falls on a little off-shoot just down-trail of the bench. Be careful, though: This trail isn’t well maintained and has muddy spots. You can, however, see the falls from up above: pretty cool!
Little Zigzag Falls hike: Details
Directions: To get to the Little Zigzag Falls Trailhead, head east out of Portland and Sandy toward Government Camp on Highway 26. Turn left (north) on Kiwanis Camp Road, just west of Government Camp. You’ll reach the parking area at the trailhead after about 2 miles.
Features: Waterfalls, shade, small canyon, creek, old growth forest
Good for: Families, kids, babies in carriers, rugged strollers
Must-know: A picnic table just off the trail several hundred feet from the trailhead makes a great place for a snack or lunch.
Do you have recommendations for a Mt. Hood family hike? Have you ever been to Zigzag Falls?