Little Manatee River, Little Manatee River State Park, FL
Step up your I Spy game on this flat, 6.5-mile loop that all but guarantees glimpses of softshell turtles, red-bellied and pileated woodpeckers, alligators, and manatees. Take the Florida Trail 2.5 miles through alternating woods and marshlands to camp in a grove of oak and longleaf pine ($5/person; reservation required).
Trailhead Florida (27.675295, -82.348846) Permit None Season Year-round Contact
Ocracoke Island, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, NC
Try selling your kiddo on the maritime woods, dunes, and salt marshes that overlook the Pamlico Sound on the .8-mile Hammock Hills Trail, but keep this tidbit in your back pocket for emergency use: The nefarious Blackbeard sailed these waters.
Pitch a tent at the quiet National Park campground across the street ($28/night), and save this next piece of the story for when you’re roasting s’mores: Local legend claims that you can still see the pirate’s head bobbing in the surf.
Overmountain Shelter, Pisgah National Forest, TN/NC
Who knows? This could be the trip that turns your little one into an end-to-end thru-hiker. Hop on the Appalachian Trail off US 19 in Tennessee and roller-coaster over Hump and Little Hump Mountains, grassy balds with big views across the Roan Highlands, to Yellow Mountain Gap near mile 4.5. From there, a quick jaunt south (into a new state!) lands you at a giant, two-story barn that sleeps 30 (first-come, first-serve). The ensuing game of manhunt proposes to be ridiculously fun, especially if your kid can convince the other thru-hikers to join in. And we bet mom and dad won’t mind the vista south down the Roaring Creek Valley from the bedroom window.
Trailhead Appalachian US 19E (36.177421, -82.011800) Permit None Season April to November Contact