I've always loved a good hike through the woods - fortunately so have my sons. There's just something about walking through the forest, along a trail, a waterway or on intricately-placed boards. For years, I've been bringing my boys onto the trails - first in baby carriers, and today on their own legs. We talk about the wildlife and topography we encounter, we search for landmarks and we enjoy the fresh air.
It's been a bit of a process over the years to determine the best trails for our young hikers. Their patience can grow thin, so we shoot for shorter, flatter trails whenever possible. Looped trail systems are great, because they usuallyhave at least one short-distance option, plus bailout points if energystartto fade. And let's face it - meltdowns happen. Sometimes you need a quick escape route.
Parks with kid-friendly amenities, from playgrounds to fairy houses and nature centers and real bathrooms, are also great. As kids get older, you can move on to more rustic settings or longer, steeper trails.
No matter your destination, pack plenty of water, snacks,a basic first aid kit, sunscreen, bug spray, a map and a fully charged cellphone.Layers are great - I often pack extra pants, socks and undies for my kids, as they love to stomp in mud and puddles or flirt with the edge of a creek. And nothing sours an outing faster than a toddler screaming about his wet trousers (or socks or underwear).
Here are our favorite kid-friendly hikes in the Rochester region:
Tinker Nature Park
This 68-acre park has about two miles of hiking trails, including a 1.2-mile perimeter loop that crosses some marshland with a small boardwalk. It's also a great spot for birding.
Thiscrushed stone path is shaded andstroller-friendly. But be forewarned:There's poison ivy afoot, withplenty of warning signs posted. If your child likes to grab brush and branches, keep your eyes peeled for vines and leaves of three.
The park, at 1525 Calkins Road, is owned and operated by the Town of Henrietta. It also includes the Tinker Homestead Museum, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Hansen Nature Center. There's also a bustling playground near a grassy area and trailhead off Henrietta-Pittsford Town Line Road.
Trails are open from 7 a.m. to dusk. Trail use is free;dogs are not allowed in the park. In wintry weather, you can rent snowshoes and skis
Corbett's Glen Nature Park
The 52-acre town park in Brighton is one of my favorite community parks in the area. Tucked between several neighborhoods and a railroad line,Corbett's Glenis just west of theBrighton-Penfield border and is home totwo miles of trails in an otherwise bustling area.
In the southern end of the park, visitors walk through astone archway tunnel alongside Allens Creek where they can watch waterfalls cascade over pebbles and stones. The southern loop takes visitors past the falls, through a meadow and across several boardwalksin the Allens CreekValley wetlands.The northern end of the park offers two looping wooded trails among mature trees.
The park is popular with trail runners, dog walkers and young families andis accessible from Penfield Road, where there's a small parking lot, and from Glen Road, a short residential road offRoute 441, just east of Interstate 490.
Once a privately-owned park and a former camp, the Town of Brighton and the Genesee Land Trust preserved the land, converting the southern parcelinto a town park in 1999. The northern wooded parcel was acquired severalyears later.
Mendon Ponds Park
Mendon Ponds Park is Monroe County's largest park at 2,500 acres and ishome to a 550-acre nature preserve and about 30 miles of multi-use trails. While the park is certainly not a hidden gem, I'd be remiss to leave it off the list.
Thebirdsong trail and fairy trail within the park and the area surrounding it are always a fan favorite for families. Colorful doors adorn dozens of trees along the trail, just off Pond Road. Several houses also have bridges and rope ladders, knockers and door handles and posted signs.
In the winter months, chickadees will eat birdseed from the palm of your hand.You can shorten the route to a3/4-mile trek on"the square," an easy walk over gently rolling terrain.
Right next to the birdsong trail are the stables for the Monroe County Sheriff's mounted patrol horses, a small nature center (and sensory garden) and Wild Wings Inc., home to more than 30 permanently injured raptors (and one declawed bobcat) that wouldn’t be able to survive on their own in the wild.
Falcons, eagles, hawks, vultures and owls all reside in their own enclosures at the facility, 27 Pond Road, at the western edge of the park. Wild Wings is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Fridaythrough Tuesday. A tour of Wild Wings is free and self-guided.
Mendon Pondsspans Pittsford and Mendon, and ison theNational Registry of Historic Landmarksthanks to its unique glacial features includingeskers,kames and kettle holes like Devil's Bathtub.
Thousand Acre Swamp
Though it is often super buggy, Thousand Acre Swamp off Jackson Road in Penfield is another go-to spot.
Maintained by The Nature Conservancy, the 2.9-mile out-and-back trail in this 500-acre nature preserve is unique and one that's always a hit with our family. The sanctuary of wetlands and forest is a prime birding spot and full of all sorts of animals. We've spotted many frogs, snakes, ducks, geese and even voles.
This well-marked trail leads you through a variety of terrains including marsh, woods and ponds. We love to explore the boardwalk through the wetlands searching for frogs among the cattails. My boys also love walking along the wooded planks placed carefully along each trail to keep visitors from sinking too deep into the mud.
(On that note, wear hefty hiking shoes or rain boots as it can be super muddy in the spring.) And don't be shy when applying insect repellant.
You enter the preserve at the end of a short gravel road by the Penfield Emergency Volunteer Ambulance at 1585 Jackson Road. Dogs are not allowed within the preserve.
Helmer Nature Center
Part of the West Irondequoit Central School District, Helmer Nature Center is a 45-acre outdoor classroom on Pinegrove Road in Irondequoit. It includes about 2 miles of trails through woods and wetlands that are open from dawn to dusk.
Terraced hillsides lead to a pond area, wetlands and a small boardwalk. We love to view the foliage here each fall and have spotted many deer sipping from a stream.
Dogs are not permitted in the nature park. Running, cycling are also not permitted on the trails. Organized groups are asked to pre-register at the office.
The center also offers several events throughout the year, including a fall harvest festival, snowshoe rentals on Saturday afternoons in wintry weather and tours at the Maple Sugaring pavilion and pancake brunch in mid-March.
Helmer Nature Center was created in 1973, under the leadership of the district's then-Superintendent Earle Helmer. You'll often find classes of students here during the school year, and the center also offers programs for scouts and other groups (but pre-registration is required for those.)
Four Mile Creek Preserve
This wooded area in Webster boasts 2.15 miles of multi-use trails on a 72-acre property just south of Lake Ontario, near Phillips Road. The nature preserve, owned by the Town of Webster and operated by the Friends of Webster Trails, is hands down our most frequently visited hiking spot.
We've come here so often that my boys now lead the way. We discovered Four Mile Creek Preserve in the first months of the pandemic and return at least once a month - sometimes more - each spring, summer and fall. In the spring, it's darn muddy. We also regularly spot frogs in the creek.
Park in the gravel lot at the corner of Lake and Phillips roads. There are two main hiking loops - a blue trail and a red trail. Several wooden bridges and benches adorn the path, including our favorite sturdy bridge and boardwalk mid-hike. We often stop to throw rocks, sticks or nuts into Salt Creek. There's also an incredible wooden lookout spot, complete with benches and a table, created as an Eagle Scout project. It's the perfect spot for a mid-hike snack.
Leashed dogs are allowed in the park. It's also a popular spot in the winter for snowshoeing. Bikes are permitted.
Tucked into awooded area just east of Rochester's Cobbs Hill Park is Washington Grove, a 26-acre city-owned parcel filled with large oak trees.
There's a trail head off Nunda Boulevard in the Cobbs Hill neighborhood and another behind Tay House Lodge. Hikers can also access this network oftrails from atop Cobbs Hill, near the reservoir. Some of Washington Grove's trails are steep, andmany are covered with leaves, but the beauty is unmatched just outside a bustling city neighborhood.
When in the grove, we always seek out two empty water tanks atop the hill. There, you'll find an always-changing array of graffiti and street art - a bit of a rotating outdoor gallery.
The grove was purchased for the city in 1912, four years after the adjacent Cobb's Hill reservoir opened. It was dedicated in honor of the country's first president in 1932.