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Posts Tagged ‘Bay area hiking with preschoolers’

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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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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