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It’s that time of year! The weather is finally warming up, and there are more and more beautiful days to get outside and enjoy with our kids. We love going to the playground, but I also love to take the kids hiking, where they can breathe in the fresh air and really reconnect with the natural world. Even if your children are very young, you don’t have to miss out on this fun activity, as many parks and recreational areas have paths that are easy for strollers and little legs. Here are our favorite kid-friendly hikes in Northern California.
Before You Go
Have a plan. Exploring can be so much fun, especially in the great outdoors, but if you have little ones in tow, don’t waste all their energy wandering around looking for the trailhead. Most parks have detailed information and maps of kid-friendly hikes available on their websites, or you can talk to a ranger once you arrive.
Use good shoes. Bring home good memories, not sore feet! Make sure everyone has well-fitting, supportive shoes to wear. Remember that ordinary sneakers often don’t have good grip for outdoor trails, so use hiking shoes when possible.
Wear layers. The weather may be cool when you start, but you will quickly warm up as you walk, so be prepared by dressing in layers. This will also help if you are going to be hiking on a densely forested trail, where it may be significantly cooler than in sunnier areas.
Pack high-energy snacks. Nuts or trail mix are great snacks to keep you and your kiddos going on kid-friendly hikes.
Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, especially when you are active outdoors! My relatives are always surprised at how much my kids love to drink water, but it’s a habit that we have instilled in them from a very young age. My boys love to run and play, so it’s important to make sure they stay hydrated. And now it’s even easier, with the new 35 pack of Nestlé® Pure Life® water now available at Walmart. It’s such a great value, because it’s the same price as the old 32 pack – that’s 3 extra bottles for free! Find out more about this great offer at the end of this post.
10 Kid-Friendly Hikes in Northern California
Muir Woods National Monument: Muir Woods is simply a classic spot to visit in Northern California, a lush forest of old growth redwood trees that has been federally protected for more than a century. It also boosts easy trail loops that are accessible for strollers and wheelchairs. There are also moderate to strenuous hikes if your children are older, but even if you stay on the easy trails, don’t worry that you are missing out – the views are still spectacular! Be aware that it is usually quite chilly inside the forest, even on warm days, so bring layers.
Lassen Volcanic National Park: Lassen is another area that has been protected for more than 100 years and today is enjoyed by nearly half a million visitors a year. And frankly it is one of the most unusual spots we have visited in California: an active volcano, a gigantic steam vent, a cold boiling lake, and bubbling mud that smells like rotten eggs – it’s a kid’s dream! The most accessible site is the Sulphur Works, and the Devastated Area (its actual name!) has a half-mile hard surface trail with wonderful views. Please be extra cautious not to let your children wander off the trails, especially in the hydrothermal areas, as it could be dangerous.
Mount Shasta area: Mount Shasta is the second highest peak in the Cascade Range (which also include Lassen, see above). The mountain itself is awe-inspiring, and while most of its trails are more rugged, its Panther Meadows trail is relatively short and easy (approx 1 mile). But don’t neglect area at the base of the mountain, which has many beautiful areas for families to enjoy nature. The walk to Hedge Creek Falls in Dunsmuir, for example, is just over half a mile from the picnic area, and is accessible even during the winter, when many trails on the mountain are closed. McCloud River and Falls also has kid-friendly hikes, and you can enjoy a walk around Siskiyou Lake using the new Wagon Trail.
Point Reyes National Seashore: Often when we think of Point Reyes we think of the beaches – picnicking or flying kites among the dunes, or climbing the steep steps to the lighthouse – yet the park is actually much more extensive than just the coastline. There are plenty of paved or well-packed dirt trails that are relatively flat and easy for little legs. Earthquake Trail in particular is paved and just over half a mile. And if the beach is what you are looking for, North and South Beach also have short paved paths in the dunes that offer beautiful views of the ocean.
Lake Tahoe: The famously clear waters of Lake Tahoe – the second deepest lake in the United States – and the rugged Sierra Mountains that surround it attract visitors from all over the world. It is actually a cluster of state parks and recreational areas, such as Emerald Bay State Park. Some of the trails around Lake Tahoe are quite strenuous, but it is easy to find ones to match your family’s abilities. For example, the Rubicon Trail is a flat, easy trail that goes right along the shoreline. Don’t miss the historic Vikingsholm Mansion!
Russian River: The Russian River is one of those areas in Northern California that I feel are underappreciated. It is a gorgeous area with beaches and wilderness areas for families to explore and has miles of trails for a range of abilities. The best known area for kid-friendly hikes is Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve. Just north of Santa Rosa, this is an old-growth redwood forest with an easy self-guided trail through the grove.
Effie Yeaw Nature Center: This beautiful area near Sacramento encompasses 100 acres of woodland to explore along the American River. All of the nature trails are easy and include interpretive signs. You are sure to see wildlife during your walk, and there is always something to explore at the Nature Center. I love the natural playground and butterfly garden!
Cosumnes River Preserve: This preserve – more than 50,000 acres – is a wonderful place in the Sacramento area to explore nature with your kids. There are two easy trails to choose from, one dirt and one paved. It is a quiet, pristine area, great for spotting wildlife along the trail. Even the shorter, paved trail offers close up views of marshes and wetland plants.
American River Parkway: This 23 mile parkway is accessible at various points along Highway 50. There are a number of parks inside the parkway, including Effie Yeaw (see above). The Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail is popular with bicyclists and pedestrians alike. It is paved and can be accessed from most of the parks within the American River Parkway.
UC Davis Arboretum: I am quite partial to the UC Davis Arboretum, as I used to study there when I was a grad student, and my husband and I would go for walks along its trails when we were newly married (eons ago!). Located on the campus of UC Davis, the Arboretum is open to the public 24 hours a day, with no fee for admission. The main path is a 3.5 mile paved loop. There are also plenty of open areas along the way where you can relax with a picnic or play catch. As you walk, you can enjoy plants from around the world, such as the Australia Collection or the East Asia Collection.
A New Reason to Enjoy Great-Tasting Water
As with any type of outdoor activity, it is essential to keep you and your little ones well hydrated when you are headed out on kid-friendly hikes. That is why I was excited to find out that Nestle Pure Life is now available in a 35 pack at Walmart – at the same price as the old 32 pack! The packaging for Pure Life is also new, so look for it in the water aisle or in a special display.
I want only the best for my kids, which is why I choose Nestle Pure Life, since it is filtered through a 12 step quality process and enhanced with a unique blend of minerals. You can tell the difference because of its great taste!
I keep a pack in the trunk of my car so we are ready any time we want to go for a hike or just head to the playground! Even just running errands on a warm day can make you dehydrated, so I make sure that the kids and I drink plenty of water. This new 35 pack makes it even easier to keep everyone healthy on those special days and everyday!
And don’t forget to visit nestlepurelife.com to sign up for promotions, offers and more.
What are your favorite kid-friendly hikes?