It’s the end of the summer, and the kids are bored of “typical” hiking. Sounds like it’s time for a stream hike! Perfect for preschoolers, teens, and everyone in between, stream hikes can keep you cool on a hot summer day. Best of all, you can stop anytime during the hike to let the kids search for interesting water-worn rocks, pieces of pottery (yes, my kids have found some in several streams), and wildlife.

When going on a stream hike with kids, make sure to pack plenty of water, snacks, and cups for the kids to use for catching minnows and crayfish. You’ll also want to make sure that your kids have solid water shoes that cover the front and back of the foot and won’t fall off easily. Dogs are welcome on most trails, but check ahead of time and make sure to clean up after your pet. Also, if your kids are on the younger side, consider bringing an extra adult to walk alongside the stream with a bag full of towels and changes of clothing in case someone needs to bail out early. But if your kids are hearty hikers, you can leave the bag in the car and change into them after you’re done. (Or you can encourage the kids to run around and air dry, and then let them wear their bathing suits into the car. Can you guess which one I prefer?)

So you’re all set for a stream hike. Where can you go? Here are a few tried-and-true hikes that make the perfect outings on a hot day.

baltimore stream hikes for kids

David Force Natural Resource Area

Near the Turf Valley Country Club in Ellicott City, the David Force Natural Resource area is a designated environmental area that takes up over 200 acres of outdoor goodness. The area of the stream that you can easily hike in is only a bit over 2 miles long, but is mostly shaded. Bring along some binoculars so you can do some birdwatching with your kids; you’ll especially want to keep an eye (and ear) out for the beautiful woodpeckers that live in the area. MORE

Cromwell Valley Park

This is a good hike for little kids and older ones alike (and is one of those hikes where you can walk along the paved trail next to stream with a stroller, if you have both younger and older kids in your group). The stream is usually crystal-clear, and a lot of fun to hike down. Don’t forget to visit the park’s nature center, children’s garden, and nature discovery zone while you’re there! MORE

Patapsco State Park

Patapsco is a huge park, with the Patapsco River running through it. Although the river itself is too deep to hike through, there are many tributaries that make great stream hikes. Park in the Avalon area. There’s a hike to a waterfall near one end of the Avalon parking lot; while it’s not actually a stream hike, the kids can enjoy playing under the gentle falls. Alternatively, you can head to the other end of the parking lot where they have a large hanging bridge that spans the river. Walk along the trail at the other end for a bit, and you’ll eventually see streams that feed into the river. These are perfect for stream hiking, and the river itself can be a fun place to swim when you’re done. You can also drive down the road a bit for a great playground to end your outing. MORE

Savage Park

This park includes the Little Patuxent River, which is deeper than most of the other stream hikes that were mentioned. You’ll only want to bring your kids to this location if they can easily hike through three feet of water, so if you have preschoolers and even short older children, you should opt for a different stream hike. At the same time, hiking down this river can be a fun challenge you can do with your older kids as a family. You can also visit some fascinating historical sites along the river, including the Bollman Truss Bridge and Savage Mill. There is a playground nearby, as well as sports facilities to spend the rest of your day after the hike.  MORE

No matter where you end up taking your stream hike, it’s up to you to make the outing fun and enjoyable for all. So make up some family cheers and chants, bring along your sense of humor, and get out to explore nature in an entirely different way!