In all the years I’ve lived in Central Oregon (14) I still find myself saying more often than I’d like, “I’ve never been there.”
That was the case recently when my wife asked a friend about some nice little “baby friendly” hikes. No, she wasn’t referring to me (although I much prefer riding my mountain bike than walking in the woods.) By “baby friendly” she meant hikes that we could easily do with our 7-month-old daughter in tow realizing that she holds us to a pretty tight feeding and nap time schedule.
First off our friend’s tongue, Todd Lake, just 24 miles up the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway from Bend and only a couple miles past Mt. Bachelor. She called it a “totally easy” hike, which sounded good to us for a trial run with a borrowed baby backpack.
The parking area is just a half mile off the highway, and by the time we got there at 9 a.m. on a clear early September Sunday morning, all but one of the spots was taken. (The parking area also serves as the trailhead for several other, longer hikes deeper into the Cascades, including the trails to Broken Top, Green Lakes and Soda Creek.)
Out of the car, it’s just a short walk up a wide gravel road before you can already see the lake through the trees. The trailhead features a vault toilet near a sign explaining some of the history of what was once called “Lost Lake.” I’ll let you learn about it on your own.
From there, we veered right on the “Todd Trail” which is about as gentle of a hike as you’ll find. In fact “hike” is probably only accurate in that there are some rocks and tree roots to navigate on what would otherwise be considered a “nature walk.”
The trail simply follows along the edge of the 45 acre lake – some of it is right along the bank while at some points the trail jets away into the forest a little more and across a wide meadow. We saw several other people along the way, including kids of all ages, a couple of elderly couples and a handful of dogs – on their leashes, which is required.
The views of Mt. Bachelor popping over the trees to the south are pretty amazing – probably even cooler in the spring or early winter when the ski area still has a white cap of snow.
In all, the hike was about 2 miles and took us an hour or so because we stopped and fiddled with the pack, took several photos and generally took our sweet ole time getting around.
The next weekend my wife went out and bought our own baby backpack and she was eager to give it a try. I had seen images of Sparks Lake fill my Facebook feed all summer long, so we decided to give it a go – this time with our 11-year-old as well.
Sparks Lake is just southwest of Todd Lake on the south side of the highway about 28 miles from Bend.
Known more for being the ideal spot to kayak, canoe and stand-up paddleboard, Sparks Lake also has a short, scenic little trail that’s perfect for hauling around a baby in a backpack before lunch.
The Roy Atkeson Memorial Trail is a 2.3 mile loop that take you through and around a pretty spectacular lava field with interesting and deep chasms and rock walls several feet high.
This is another very easy hike for our son, who has lengthier hikes (and an overnight backpacking trip when he was 4) under his belt. The first part of the trail is even paved and wheel-chair accessible to give everyone a chance to soak in the breathtaking scenery. At the trailhead, I’d recommend veering to the left so that you can save the views of the lake, South Sister and Broken Top until the end. And when you get to the sign that says “Short Cut” to the right – don’t take it. Just stay to the left.
It’s a perfect family hike, and like the Todd Lake Trail, isn’t so much a hike as it is nature walk – although this trail had a few more rocky sections to navigate.
We saw elderly folks and some small children on the hike, which made us smile thinking about how our little one would be getting her own feet dirty up here in no time.
Closer to town, there are several baby and kid friendly hikes including the River Trail near Farewell Bend Park, and the trail at Shevlin Park. But for a quick little getaway from town and into the “mountains” these two hikes are pretty perfect.
Have a favorite “baby friendly” hike of your own? Share it in the comments below so I can do some more exploring!