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Posts Tagged ‘Bay Area hikes for toddlers’

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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and last week we found a gem when we walked out to the tafoni sandstone formations in El Corte de Madera Creek Open Space Preserve.  The trails here are wide and secluded–perfect for toddlers–and this one ended in a spectacular destination that was interesting for the whole family.

The Monkey on a sunlit path

 

I learnt all about local geology and ‘tafoni’ (the little crevices and pocks in the sandstone) while the boys had fun wild-life spotting and running along the windy path.  It’s a bit of a trek at 2.2 miles, but highly recommended for the keen preschool hiker.

sandstone formations in the wood

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I’d never heard of this little gem up in the Santa Cruz mountains near Felton until this weekend, but it sounded so intriguing that we had to check it out.  Quail Hollow Ranch is a 300 acre historic horse ranch and nature preserve boasting a plethora of rare Californian plants and animals and no less than 15 natural habitats.  According to the on site museum, it’s also where the owners of Sunset magazine enjoyed the robust, outdoorsy life that kept them young at heart.

No preserve is complete without a dirt pile

After visiting today, I’d say it’s also a great destination for little boys. It has everything they need: large animals (horses), ducks, woodpeckers, eagles, logs to climb on, mud to squelch near the pond, and a flat but varied trail system to run along and explore.  There was also a man in the car park wearing a snake (I think he’s there the first sunday afternoon of every month).

Quail Hollow's airy trails

Quail Hollow Ranch has a couple of trails but they’re all fairly short and easy for little ones to hike.  We, or rather The Monkey, selected the Discovery Trail for our hike. It was actually a useful introduction to the preserve as it took us around the ranch, a little way up the hill, through the valley and round to the duck pond and picnic area.   There are a couple of other trails we plan to check out on future visits.  The preserve also has a cute little museum with some interesting natural history exhibits.  As usual, we didn’t meet any other families when we were there, which was a shame as this is a great spot to take toddlers to let them roam free (no traffic, no glaring natural dangers etc). And it’s free.

neat trees.

Not sure it’s worth a day trip from Silicon Valley, but if you’re heading out that way it’s a great spot to check out.

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