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Archive for the ‘hiking with toddlers’ Category

This summer we spent a glorious week in west Lake Tahoe and managed a hike every day. These were our favourites:-

Eagle Rock Hike

This is a perfect short but fun hike for small children.  Park at the well-marked trail head on route 89 about half a mile north of Tahoe Pines and head west along the path. At first you’ll travel through shady forests along a flat path before the trail climbs gradually up the hill to the peak of the crag. There is some easy scrambling over stones at the top which our kids really enjoyed. The view from the summit is amazing and it only takes about twenty minutes to reach the top. Take the same trail down and back to the car. Highly recommended for reluctant hikers!

Eagle Peak

Eagle Peak

Eagle Lake Hike

This is a more challenging hike. Our four year old loved it and walked/climbed the whole thing with ease. Our intrepid two year old completed most of the hike under his own steam, although he wanted to be carried on the easier (more boring for him?) parts of the trail at the start and end. The hike isn’t too long—one mile each way from parking lot to lake—but it is rather steep and craggy in parts with large steps and boulders to be negotiated. The destination is well worth the effort as the trail leads you up to beautiful Eagle Lake. This is a perfect spot for a picnic and paddle. I strongly recommend taking water shoes, a towel and a change of clothes if your children like water as much as ours do.

Eagle Lake

Eagle Lake

To find the trail head park  in the Eagle Falls Picnic Area parking lot on route 89 about 9 miles north of South Lake Tahoe. Note that there is a parking fee so make sure to bring cash. You also need to fill in a wilderness permit before heading up the trail—find these by the map near the toilet block. Also note that parking here is limited and this is a very popular trail. We went early (arriving in the parking lot before 9.30am) which meant we could grab one of the much-coveted parking spots and enjoy the trail and the lake before the foot traffic became too heavy.

On the trail

On the trail

Cascade Falls Hike

This is another great hike for preschoolers. It’s an easy one mile each way from parking lot to the falls with only minimal (about 100 feet) elevation gain.  Although the trail starts off wide and easy, it does get more challenging with rocky outcrops and boulders to negotiate.  The drop off at the side of the cliff is quite steep and the bare rocky parts can be slippery, so you’ll want to keep little ones close by.  We hiked to the falls and then continued on a couple of hundred feet to a wonderful spot above the falls where the creek ran over granite rocks making lots of little pools where the kids could paddle. (If you do this make sure to go a safe distance upstream of the waterfall and keep a close eye on the kids). The view up there is incredible with mountains on one side and Cascade Lake on the other.

Paddling pool in the mountains

Paddling pool in the mountains

To find this trail turn into the Bay View Campsite opposite the Inspiration Point parking lot on route 89 north of South Lake Tahoe. Drive to the end of the camp ground to find the free trail head parking. There’s no need to fill out a wilderness permit if you’re only hiking to the falls. Note however that like all popular Tahoe hikes the parking is limited and you’ll struggle to find a spot if you arrive after mid-morning.

Dolder Nature Trail, Sugar Point State Park

This is another gentle walk perfect for reluctant preschool hikers. Just head into the park and leave your car in the lot near the lodge. There is a day use fee at the park. The trail is a flat 2.1 miles that winds through the forest and then along the lakeshore and past America’s highest lighthouse. Allow plenty of time in the woods for free play and take a picnic to enjoy on Sugar Point’s relatively empty beaches.

The beach below the lighthouse

The beach below the lighthouse

Lighthouse/Rubicon Trail, D L Bliss State Park

Calawee Beach

Calawee Cove Beach

 

This is a lovely, scenic short hike of a little over a mile that ends on the glorious sandy beach at Calawee Cove.  To access the trail, enter the state park and drive down to the beach parking lot. The path leaves from the furthest parking area. Take the shady light house trail up to the viewpoint and then return via the old lighthouse trail along the coast. The first part of the hike is fairly easy, but there is some scrambling along the cliff edge on the return leg – keep little ones close.  Afterwards relax with a picnic on the beach.  Note there are day use fees at D L Bliss and again there is very limited parking in the beach lot. If you arrive past 9.30am in high season you’re unlikely to find a spot.

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This spring we decided to check out Montalvo Arts Center. I confess to not having high expectations of a successful visit as I wasn’t too sure how much there was for small kids there, but I was pleasantly surprised. We happily spent a long morning wandering around the grounds, and could probably have remained the whole day had Mommy packed a lunch.

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rather grand

Montalvo Arts Center was originally Villa Montalvo built by US Senator James Duval Phelan in 1912. It’s a beautiful house surrounded by magnificent gardens and wilderness.  We spent the entire morning exploring the art sculptures on the villa lawn, the Italianate Garden and the Phelan Cactus Garden.  These botanical gardens were large and interesting enough to keep our preschoolers happy for a good long while: they loved running around exploring all the different paths and checking out the statues. The cacti were especially appealing to the boys as they had seen them in books before our visit.  The cactus garden was also full of lizards, juvenile southern alligator lizards and western fence lizards, and they were mesmerized watching these creatures scurry about. In fact, we had so much fun in the more formal gardens that we never even made it to the trails (our original goal).  Watch this space…..

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cactus outside the Italianate Garden

Montalvo has free parking and the gardens are open to the public all year round unless there is a big event taking place.  Next time we plan to bring a picnic and stay for the day so we have time to hike some of the back woods trails too.

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This September we took advantage of Portola Redwoods State Park’s reprieve from closure and booked a campsite for a weekend of hiking and exploring.  I’d only ever visited the park before in winter when I found it a little limited and gloomy (perhaps because they’d removed the bridges and hence cut us off from most of the hiking trails for the season).  This time, however, we really enjoyed ourselves.  Perhaps it was the weather or the company or the great hiking trails, but we found Portola Redwoods to be a really fun and easy spot to visit with kids in the summer/fall.

anyone know where we are?

The Camping

The camping is a bit of a mixed bag. As is always the case with state parks, the sites vary in privacy and exposure.  Although most of the sites in the main camping areas around the bathrooms are fairly large, they are also very open: there is almost no vegetation and few trees and it’s pretty much like camping in a field.  I would imagine it gets very busy and noisy in high season–not ideal for camping with small children.  I would recommend avoiding these loops and picking some of the sites on the edges of the campground (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 14, 28, 29, 38, 39, 40) if you want peace and privacy. And, don’t worry, the walk to the bathrooms from these sites is not the endurance hike some internet reviews make it out to be!  The campsite facilities at Portola Redwoods are limited. There are a couple of washrooms but the only hot, running water is to be found in the pay shower s(bring quarters).  There are plentiful potable water taps and trash cans dotted around the campground. Firewood is available for purchase round the clock at the park office and visitors’ center, which is nice.  I had read that this park is often plagued with mosquitoes, but we didn’t really see any this trip and I only received a couple of bites (which is exceptional as I am, apparently, so tasty that a lone mosquito twenty miles away will usually seek me out).

An Easy Hike: The Sequoia Nature Trail

This short, easy trail leaves from behind the park office, goes down a gentle hill to the Pescadero Creek, crosses the water and loops through the woods on the other side, before returning over the same bridge and back up the trail to the visitors center. At 3/4 mile it’s a perfect little trail for very small children and reluctant hikers.  It wouldn’t be ideal for strollers, but you could make it round with a rugged jog stroller as long as you didn’t mind carrying it up and down some steps by the river.  I have to say that I think this trail is a little dull as guided nature trails go, but it does have the big positive of a rocky riverine beach where kids can spend time paddling and throwing stones. The visitors center is also worth a visit either before or after the walk.

Tiptoe Falls

A slightly longer hike

You can extend the Sequoia Nature Trail by skipping the ‘loop’ across the river and instead heading down the Iverson Trail once you’ve crossed the creek.  The Iverson Trail loops through a spectacular part of the woods and loops back across the Creek to the picnic area by the park office.  It’s a fairly easy trail (a little over a mile) with just a little clambering and no long ascents/descents. Our boys really enjoyed this as a quick hike that was a bit more satisfying than the nature trail.

A Longer hike for 2-5 year olds

We took the Old Tree Trail from near the visitors center and then headed left up the hill on the Slate Creek Trail. At the junction with the Summit Trail we turned right and searched for ‘The Summit’ before heading down the hill, along the Service Road and onto the Iverson Trail. The boys were excited to see the Iverson Cabin Site and were a little disappointed that a) it’s only a pile of rubble and b)they weren’t allowed to play with said rubble. But they loved Tiptoe Falls a little further along the trail where we stopped for lunch and a paddle.  From there it’s a short walk back up to the park office.  This loop was a little over 4 miles and lots of fun, with some interesting ‘stops’ along the way. The ascent up to the summit is fairly arduous, however, and not for a toddler who doesn’t like to walk and the trail is definitely not stroller suitable.

An unamed beach off the Iverson Trail

And if you don’t feel like hiking, you could easily pass an afternoon exploring the creek and throwing rocks into the water.

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A couple of weeks ago we were looking for a morning hike that we could combine easily with an afternoon on the beach at Santa Cruz, and ended up at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.  This was our first trip to Henry Cowell.  While it looked beautiful from the brochure, most park reviews and trail guides seemed to suggest there weren’t many fun, short walks for little ones.  I’m glad, however, that we finally made it out there.  I can report that it is indeed a gorgeous park and that there are a number of fun activities and hikes that are perfect for the 2-5 year old age range.

Morning at Henry Cowell

The Visitors Center

We started our morning in the main part of the park at the visitors center (the Fall Creek Unit of the park looks awesomely rugged, but less suitable for toddler hiking as all of the hikes are very long).  There is a large car park here but parking spaces were in short supply when we returned to our car mid-afternoon, so I would suggest arriving in the morning on the weekend.  The visitors center is wonderful: plenty of interesting, child-friendly exhibits about the park and super friendly staff.  Our boys particularly loved the little booklets they were given about animal-print spotting and the ‘stamp’ table they could use to fill them in. Once completed, the Monkey proudly carried his around the nearby loop looking for prints.

The Monkey in the Woods

The Guided Nature Loop

Right outside the visitor’s center is a short (under a mile) loop amongst the old growth redwood trees called The Redwood Grove Loop Trail. This path is wide, easy and flat–so easy in fact that we even saw a couple of wheel-chair users exploring there in the afternoon.  Unlike many of these parks, there were plentiful ‘nature trail guides’ available at the head of the loop.  You can either purchase one for 25 cents (honour system but you might want to bring change) or borrow a ‘loaner’.  The redwoods in this area are pretty spectacular and the woods are beautiful.  We were there early in the morning, which I highly recommend, and had the loop pretty much to ourselves and could enjoy the wonderful quiet and morning sunlight filtering through the canopy.  Our kids loved the loop and working out what each of the numbers indicated. They also loved the enormous Fremont Tree with a giant, hollow cave beneath it (you might want to pack a small torch for exploring this very cool redwood). This loop is wonderful for very small kids.  On its own, however, it wasn’t too satisfying for our boys –too short and too easy–so we headed on into the park.

Cable Car Beach

At the far end of the loop you can cut through to the River Trail. The boys enjoyed this wide, easy, flat road as it runs alongside the roaring camp railway track and under the railway bridge.  We then took the narrow trail off to the right of the road along the creek.  After a quarter of a mile, this trail leads to the lovely Cable Car Beach.  This is a great spot for paddling and creek play. Our boys loved it and could have stayed for hours.  If you’re planning to camp at the park, this would be the perfect spot–in summer, anyway, when the water is low–for playing with a small, inflatable boat or ring.

Paddling at Cable Car Beach

A Longer Walk up to the Observation Spot on Pine Trail

A hike out to Cable Car Beach via the Redwoods Loop may be enough for many small children: it’s about 1.5 miles there and back and has a fun destination. If you want to walk further you could take a hike up to the top of the ridge.  We took the Eagle Creek trail from Cable Car Beach and then the Pine Trail up to the observation point. We returned via the Ridge Fire Road and Pipeline Road and stopped at Cable Car Beach to play on the way down.  This was a fun, but fairly tough, walk.  If you’re going to attempt it with small kids, be aware that it’s about 4 miles round, has a long ascent, and that the trail at the top is sandy and hard-going on little legs.  Our three year old managed it in good spirits, but the two year old retreated to the backpack for the return leg.  Warning aside, it is a beautiful trail and the sandy landscape at the top of the ridge is interesting and the views magnificent.

The view from the top

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Last week we spent some time camping in beautiful Butano State Park and absolutely loved it.  It’s a quiet, secluded, rugged valley perfect for families with preschoolers and has lots of places for little ones to explore.

The Campsites

Butano effectively has two campgrounds: a car camping area and a series of sites that are ‘walk-in’.

The car camping area is pretty typical for a California state park: the sites are reasonably spaced, there are clean bathrooms with hot and cold running water, and several water stations with potable water. The usual state park rule applies when booking–if you want privacy, always pick a site on the outside of the loop.

Walking-in

We stayed in the ‘walk-in’ area which I thought was really lovely. The sites there were a little mixed in size and privacy, but some of them were gorgeous and pretty isolated for a state park.  Booking is a bit of a lottery as sites are assigned by the staff, but there weren’t any really terrible ones.  The ‘walk-in’ element to this camping is not very arduous. Our site was one of the more private ones furthest from the parking area and we were able to cart all our gear quickly and easily with the help of a hand-cart.  The facilities in this area of the park are more basic.  There are a couple of drinking water stations and one pit toilet.  It’s certainly not for those who like ‘glamping,’ but it is a really nice way to get a small taste of more ‘wilderness’ camping with little kids in tow.  Just bring some hand sanitizer and be prepared to be dirty. It also seems to attract a more outdoorsy type of camper, so if you’re looking for a quiet, relaxing weekend, it’s the place for you.  One of the nicest aspects of the walk-in section was the absence of cars and bikes which made it possible for little ones to wander round and explore in greater safety.

The camp staff were very friendly and helpful, but the critters were quite aggressive. I’ve camped in many places and never come across raccoons as bold as Butano’s.  My tip is to secure food and anything scented in the bear box at all times, even when you’re sitting around camp.  These raccoons are not afraid of people.  In addition, the park currently has some issues with wasps nesting in the rotting tree stumps around the campground.  I have to say that we weren’t bothered at all by wasps, but it’s a good idea to keep a closer than usual eye on your kids when they’re scrambling about the woods there and to warn them of the potential wasp danger.

Finally it’s worth noting that there’s not much for sale here apart from firewood. Make sure to pack-in everything else you’re going to need.

What’s there to do in Butano?

1. Animal spotting

There were lots and lots of banana slugs. If your preschoolers are anything like mine, this is a huge plus. We found 70 in 24 hours.  There are also birds a-plenty, deer, raccoons and a few California newts. And plenty of weird and wonderful woodland bugs.

Slug Number 63.

2. Hike

I have to add a warning that, in Butano, unlike some other local parks, there are no super-easy, 1/2 mile, paved walks.  It’s probably not the place to come for your preschooler’s first hiking experience. That said, there are a few fun loops and trails for the more seasoned little one who is able to handle a couple of miles.  We must have covered about 8 miles on three separate hikes, all of which my 3 year old walked and most of which my 2 year old walked.  These trails are not jog-stroller friendly and you’ll need a backpack or child carry for non-walking infants.

One of the Six Bridges

Our favourite walks?

We, and especially The Monkey, loved The Six Bridges Trail. We took the path from the Ben Ries campground to the visitor center and back, a little over two miles.  It’s mostly flat, but there are a couple of short, steep climbs. This is an especially fun walk for preschoolers as they love counting the bridges and watching out for newts.  We also tried the Goat Hill Trail Loop and the Jackson Flats Trail, both of which were narrow and windy, with a few scrambly areas, but which could be completed by our two year old without much difficulty.  Now we can’t wait until the kids are old enough to go all the way out to the Trail Camp for a back woods overnight stay.

A pretty typical stretch of the Goat Hill Trail

3. Check out the Nature Center

It’s small and fairly limited for adults, but the kids wanted to visit twice.  They really liked looking at the topographical map/model, especially at the end, and plotting all the walks they’d done.

Impersonating a tree on the Jackson Flats Trail

4. Creek Play

There are plenty of spots where you can easily access the shallow Butano Creek and our boys had fun playing there.

We had a really lovely weekend at Butano.  The campground was more beautiful and quieter than the average state park and the empty trails were appealing to the kids–challenging without being too hard. This might well become one of our regular camping destinations.

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Earlier this summer we discovered the delightful Kingscote Garden on Stanford Campus–a perfect spot for a picnic or to pass half an hour. Our little ones enjoyed watching fish:

Hoping to catch some fish

and jumping off the garden’s various walls:

We always bring our own chaos to the quietest of gardens

It’s also a tranquil spot for parents to enjoy.

Peaceful. Even with kids.

The garden is small so there’s not enough there to keep kids amused all morning, but it’s so close to the dry lake bed of Lagunita Lake and the beautiful New Guinea Scuplture Gardens that you can combine the three destinations for a fun, outdoorsy couple of hours.

 

 

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Recently some friends mentioned a secluded and hard-to-reach beach at Tunitas Creek, Half Moon Bay and the challenge sounded irresistable. So a few weeks ago we set off to find this mystery spot and ended up having the perfect toddler adventure: a short trek down a reasonably tricky trail to a wonderful, deserted, sandy beach.

A gloriously empty beach at Tunitas Creek

To find the trail to this beach, park (for free) at Tunitas Creek Road off Highway 1 a couple of miles north of San Gregorio and look for an overgrown path leading down towards the creek on the south-side of the road.  Just keep following that thin trail for about half a mile and you’ll reach the shore.  The trail winds under highway 1, along the creek, over a rocky outcrop and along an inland lagoon before coming out on the beach and makes for an interesting trek.  A couple of points to note:

-this trail is really, really overgrown with lots of poison oak. Personally, I wouldn’t attempt it without trousers and a long-sleeved top.

It’s pretty much a green tunnel most of the way down to the sand

-it does involve a little bit of climbing and scrambling. Don’t be put off by this — my three year old could do it pretty much unaided and I completed the path with a large toddler tucked under one arm–but don’t even consider bringing a jog stroller of any type. A back-pack or ergo would be best for very small toddlers and babies.  My little ones really enjoyed the rugged character of the trail and we found it provided just enough challenge to be really exciting for a preschooler.

The Monkey’s favourite part

-it is pretty isolated. It may be over-cautious, but I wouldn’t attempt it without another adult in the party.

The beach itself is expansive, pretty and empty. It also seemed to have more shells than most local beaches and my kids really enjoyed beach combing there.  I have to admit that it was really nice having the beach to ourselves–the kids could really run around and explore without bothering anyone.

We’ll certainly be going again.

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