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Posts Tagged ‘hikes for kids in the Bay Area’

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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