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Originally published May 18, 2011 at 7:00 PM | Page modified May 19, 2011 at 2:26 PM

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Teach the best of the Northwest — take your favorite kid on a summer hike

Veteran Northwest outdoorswoman Karen Sykes offers three summer hikes suitable for kids young and old.

Special to The Seattle Times

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When warm weather finally comes to Seattle, it's time to head for the hills. There's no better way to help children learn the beauty of Washington's wild country than to take them hiking. Here are some relatively easygoing trails to get you started with your own kid or a favorite niece or nephew:

Cowiche Canyon

There's been a lot of snow in the mountains this year, so mountain hiking will get a late start. One good solution for a jump start: the pretty Yakima County backcountry, east of the Cascades, where wildflowers bloom early.

This trail follows an old railroad grade through a canyon that's been around a few million years. The Cowiche Canyon Conservancy (CCC), a nonprofit organization, preserves and maintains the trails.

The first inhabitants of Cowiche were Native Americans. Farmers settled the region in the late 19th century.

At the trailhead note the burros behind a fence. Grab a brochure at the trailside kiosk (sometimes empty) describing the geology of the canyon formed from long-ago volcanic eruptions.

As the trail squeezes between canyon walls, note rock formations — some with sheer faces, others stacked like broken plates (Easter Island Faces and Mayan Sunrise are designated in the brochure).

In spring Cowiche Canyon is green with over 200 species of plants, a generous variety of birds and wildlife. Ponderosa pines provide shady intervals throughout the sunny canyon.

The trail crosses Cowiche Creek on numbered bridges — bridges 1 to 8 are intact. There's a bypass around missing bridges at the east entrance for those planning a one-way trip.

After passing a junction for the Winery Trail (wine tasting!), cross bridge No. 8, turn right at the Uplands Trail junction and climb to viewpoints. The best time for wildflowers is now through June. The Winery Trail is a .75-mile trail leading to Wilridge Winery (outdoor wine-tasting, viewpoints and a chance to wander vineyards).

Benches along the grade provide good turnarounds for hikers with toddlers. Older kids might prefer overlooks along the Uplands Trail for canyon views, Mount Rainier and Mount Adams.

The details

Getting there: From Seattle take Interstate 90 east to Exit 110, merge onto Interstate 82 East/Highway 97 south, toward Yakima. Take Exit 31A (Highway 12) from I-82, and take the second exit (North 40th/Fruitdale). In 1.5 miles turn right onto Summitview Drive, continue seven miles, turn right at Weikle Road, signed "Cowiche Canyon Trail." Drive 0.4 mile and turn right into parking area/trailhead. Portable toilet available, no pass required.

Trail length: The Cowiche Canyon Conservancy trail is six miles round trip, with 200 feet of elevation gain. The Uplands Trail adds another mile round trip with additional 400 feet of gain.

More information: For rules and to print a map, see the Cowiche Canyon Conservancy website, www.cowichecanyon.org.

Packwood Lake

There's something about lakes that kids find irresistible. Things happen: Insects flit, fish jump, birds sing, gooey globs of frog eggs hug the shoreline. There's much to like about Packwood Lake in Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The trail melts out earlier than most, and it's easy hiking. Add fishing and wildflowers to cook up a sweet family treat.

Packwood Lake was formed when a landslide slammed into Lake Creek long ago. The Taidnapam people used the lake as a camping/fishing site. The present-day trail was built in the early 1900s for a hydroelectric project and partially lies within the Goat Rocks Wilderness.

Because of snow, the trail hasn't been scouted this year but should be open by mid-June. When open, this is a mellow trail — listen for the occasional hooting of owls and the gossip of small streams. Look for wildflowers: bear grass, Canadian dogwood, vanilla leaf, flowering currant, salmonberry and yellow violets.

Pack bug repellent, snacks and drinks. Some hiking guides are outdated and describe a resort/store where you can purchase such items; it hasn't been there since the 1980s.

Fishing season runs from the last Saturday in April to Oct. 31. On a clear day enjoy views of Johnson Peak and Agnes Island from shore. Legend has it that the island was named after the wife of the man who owned and operated the resort.

Follow the trail (left) along the lakeshore to a historical guard station, and cross Lake Creek on a footbridge. Just beyond is the former resort site. From there hikers/backpackers can continue to campsites and other destinations.

The details

Getting there: From Packwood follow Highway 12 to paved Forest Service Road No. 1260 (Snyder Road), and continue six miles to trailhead. The road begins near the abandoned Packwood Ranger Station.

Trail length: Nine miles round trip, 400 feet gain.

Map: Green Trails No. 302 Packwood.

More information: The Packwood Lake trail is open to hikers, equestrians and mountain bikes. Motorcycles and ATVs prohibited. Call Cowlitz Ranger Station at 360-497-1100. Gifford Pinchot National Forest on the Web: www.fs.usda.gov/giffordpinchot.

Oyster Dome

Local hikers consider Oyster Dome, on Blanchard Mountain in the Chuckanut range, to be Bellingham's Mount Si. The hike is strenuous but worth it. Running through a scenic tangle of trails is a section of the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT), a 1,200-mile trail stretching from Montana to the Olympic Peninsula.

This hike is best suited for families with older children — Oyster Dome is exposed and is hazardous when icy or wet. The hike begins on the Pacific Northwest Trail on a series of switchbacks; a bench provides views of Samish Bay. At a signed junction (1.5 miles) continue left on the Samish Bay Connection trail (the right fork leads to Samish Overlook). The trail enters a valley with small creeks, a modest waterfall and rock outcroppings. A half-mile further is an unsigned junction — bear right and continue to the signed Talus Trail (left), also known as the bat-cave trail (a bonus for curious teens!). To see the caves, go left, cross a rickety bridge, continue to the talus field below Oyster Dome. The "caves" are crevices in boulders, home to endangered bats (look but don't disturb). The talus field is slippery when wet; not suitable for tykes.

Back at the Talus Trail junction turn right for Oyster Dome, continue 0.1 mile on the trail, climbing to another junction (unsigned). Here, head left, cross a creek and climb a steep 200 feet to the dome.

Oyster Dome is a sloping shelf with spectacular views of Samish Bay, the Skagit River delta, the San Juan Islands and the Olympics. Bring a picnic lunch and a kite!

The details

Getting there: From I-5 in Skagit County, take Exit 231 (Chuckanut Drive, Highway 11). Continue to Milepost 10 and roadside parking (left). The trail starts across the road. No pass required.

Trail length: About 6.5 miles round trip, with 1,900 feet elevation gain

More information: The primary land-management agency is Washington Department of Natural Resources: 360-902-1000. Online: www.dnr.wa.gov/RecreationEducation, which links to a printable map (Chuckanut Mountain). Pacific Northwest Trail: www.pnt.org.

Karen Sykes is a veteran Northwest outdoorswoman, writer and leader of hikes with The Mountaineers. She lives in West Seattle.

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