"Hey, hold up!"
The calls from parents echoed through the woods at Ponderosa State Park near McCall. The kids were way out in front of the parents as the Noel family, of Longview, Wash., hiked near the Lily Marsh at one of Idaho's most popular state parks.
The parents were trying to put the reins on the kids, but there was so much to see from deer casually browsing in the brush to tall, tall, incredibly tall ponderosa pine trees. A 150-foot pine tree is pretty tall to kids, and they can't wrap their minds around the enormity of majestic old-growth timber.
Anyway, you get it: Ponderosa State Park and magnificent ponderosa pines.
But it's even more than that. The park is a natural romper room for kids, and one of the best places to take youngsters on their first hike. Besides ponderosa pines, the park's trails wind past Douglas fir, grand fir, lodgepole pine and western larch. Bring your plant and tree guides because the kids will ask questions.
"It's amazing," said Adam Simon of Seattle, who stopped with his family at the park on a recent road trip.
Simon and his wife and kids hiked along the shore of Payette Lake and at the Lily Marsh. They also swam in the lake during their visit.
The park provides a kid-friendly hiking area with fairly mellow trails, lots of trail signs so you don't get lost, and lots of interpretive information. The park is on a 1,000-acre peninsula in Payette Lake and offers so much variety in kids' hiking trails and even places for kids to ride their bicycles.
"This is a good trail for kids," said Justin Noel, as he tried to keep up with the kids, who were blasting through the pine forest trying to take in everything nature has to offer them.
There were bees on asters, something croaking from the lily pads, and some kind of hawk circling overhead.
What are the blue berries? What about the orange berries? That bird's red, yellow and black. Why? Why did that tree fall over?
Mom, Dad, if you head for Ponderosa State Park, get ready to answer lots of questions. Read the park's interpretive signs and brochures so you have quick answers.
Another educational thing about the park is its varied topography. It's all in one place. You can have the kids marching through arid sagebrush flats one minute and then through thick forests the next. They can watch the water of marshy areas or take in the views from an overlook at Osprey Point on a steep cliff.
You've got to take in the interpretive trail that winds around the Meadow Marsh.
Kids also like the park because they can just stroll or bike along the gravel roads.
Here are two easy kids trails:
Distance: 1.4 miles. It's good because it's foot traffic only.
Getting there: It begins at the overflow parking lot across from the entrance of Peninsula Campground.
Notes: The trail loops around Meadow Marsh, which was once a marsh, but is now in transition to becoming a mountain meadow.
The trail is well shaded by a variety of trees, so it's cool in the summer.
You can find huckleberry bushes along the trails, there's wildlife, and it's an easy hike with little elevation gain.
Distance: 1 mile; also hiking only.
Getting there: The southern access point begins about 3/4 mile north of the activity center at the Fox Run Trail head.
Notes: The trail goes through a variety of terrain with up and down slopes and also crosses open areas with loose rock.
Wooden walkways and steps have been put in to help.
The park has a lot of woodsy roads and trails that make good strolls for kids.
You'll find them off the main road that goes out the peninsula to Osprey Point.
OTHER HIKES FOR CHILDREN
MORES MOUNTAIN TRAIL
Distance: 1-mile interpretive trail with lots of views; there's also a 2-mile trail.
Getting there: Take Bogus Basin Road to the ski area. Continue on the dirt road past the Frontier Point Nordic Lodge and Education Center for 3 miles. Turn right toward Shafer Butte Campground, located 1 mile up the road. The trail head is 21 miles from the base of Bogus Basin Road.
Notes: You'll go through an alpine meadow, hallways of fir trees and around ancient boulders. The kids will love the boulders. There is a day-use fee for the campground and hiking trails.
BOISE FOOTHILLS LEARNING CENTER
Distance: The gentle route includes the Story Trail, a 1/4-mile trail featuring pages of a book posted on child-size platforms along the way.
Getting there: Just outside Boise, it is located at 3188 Sunset Peak Road in Hulls Gulch Reserve.
Notes: The Jim Hall Foothills Learning Center is an environmental education hub focusing on the high-desert characteristics of the Boise Foothills. It's a great trail for toddlers and for a child's first "hike."
Distance: 5 miles with moderate elevation gain.
Getting there: Head over to Ketchum and continue north on Idaho 75 to Galena Summit. The trailhead is just before the summit with plenty of parking.
Notes: The trail is closed because of fires but keep it in mind for later.
The hike to Titus Lake off Galena Summit is good for a "first serious" hike for youngsters. They may not make it all the way in but it's a good trail for a shorter hike and introduction to alpine hiking.
BRIDAL VEIL FALLS
Distance: 2 miles or more
Getting there: The trail head can be reached by driving 2 1/2 hours to Stanley from Boise on Idaho 21.
Just about 4 1/2 miles before Stanley, take the turnoff to Stanley Lake. It's well-marked. Drive to Stanley Lake, which is 3 miles. Go past the campground to the trail head.
Notes: This is an easy section of the Idaho Centennial Trail where you can hike a mile for great views of 10,000-foot Sawtooth peaks. You can stroll with the kids on the first part of the trail. They can play in the creek. The hike to where you can see Bridal Veil Falls is too far for youngsters. It's an 8-mile round trip.
Distance: 2 miles round trip
Getting there: Take Idaho 55 north from Boise to Smiths Ferry. Continue another 9 miles north to the Cabarton Road. Turn left. Go about 2 miles on this road to the Cabarton turnoff and turn left on the Snowbank Mountain Road. Continue about 10 miles to the Blue Lake trail head. It's across from Potter's Pond.
Notes: Blue Lake on West Mountain near Cascade is a great alpine hike. The hike to the lake is only a mile and it's downhill. Remember the climb out.
Some parents have used this trail as a first backpacking adventure for children.
Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445, Twitter: @Zimosoutdoors