Kid-friendly Hiking Trails
Archived Q&A and Reviews
My son has recently gotten into hiking, just 2-3 miles is a good distance for him. I'm pretty familiar with much longer, steeper trails, but was wondering what is out there for a little guy. Anywhere in the East Bay, Marin or Central CoCo Cty.
There are lots of really great hikes in the East Bay Regional Parks up in the Oakland hills. Sibley park has a short, slightly steep trail to the water tower, a steeper trail to the top of Round top, and a good, up-and-down trail leading off to the mazes; Redwood has a number of really nice, not-too-steep trails (e.g. try the one at the park entrance near the top of Shepherd Canyon, and take the trail to the right of the parking lot). The trail in Huckleberry is a little steeper and narrower, but very beautiful. A lot of these trails are miles long, so you can just go as far as you want and then turn around. Karen
I am looking for a nice place to take short nature walks with my 5-yr-old and 3-yr-old daughters. We live in Montclair (no sidewalks) and I am interested in places where we could go for short, easy strolls after school if we have an little time to kill, as well as places within 30-45 minutes of here where we could take a longer hike on a weekend. We don't want to spend all our time in the car, and our girls are little so it's not worth it to drive a long ways for just a short hike. I would love to take them for after school walks at Temescal, but we always get sidelined by the play structure and beach. Someplace a little more remote, but not too far from civilization either! Any favorite spots in Tilden or Roberts parks? Please share! Ready to Stroll Near Montclair
Hi! I recommend hiking to ''Robert's Peak'' in Roberts Regional Park Area in Oakland (http://www.ebparks.org/parks/roberts). It isn't much a of peak in that it isn't very steep nor is there a view, but it is a perfect destination for little ones. It is a little tricky to find, but a ranger wandering by pointed us in the right direction. Helena
We're lucky to have so many great resources for walking and hiking around here! We take our 2.5 yo and 5 yo hiking around Montclair quite a bit. Some of our favs, roughly in order of complexity: Up the old railroad trail behind Montclair Village; down the canyon behind the golf course (trailhead on Monterery, comes out down by Rocky's Market; the trails (I think the one we take is called Graham) that come out from behind the Roberts picnic area in Redwood Park; pretty much anything in Sibley (labyrinth and extinct volcanoes!); the Big Trees and Sunset Loop trails in Joaquin Miller Park. Some of these are longer than others. Bay Area Hiker (http://www.bahiker.com/kids.html) has a good page about walks with kids. If you don't mind something more urban, our kids have also really enjoyed exploring the area's ''secret'' paths and public stairs using the book ''Hidden Walks in the East Bay & Marin'' by Stephen Altschuler. Walkin' Mama
Have you tried any of the trails in Joaquin Miller park, just down Skyline Blvd. from Roberts? We've been taking our toddler there since she was about 2 years (she'll be 3 soon) and we love it. The Sunset trail is nice and wide and level, and if you turn left onto Skyline from Joaquin Miller blvd, (so, going toward Roberts Park, but before you get there) you can park alongside the Sunset trailhead. There are also some lovely loops starting from the main entrance to the park which is on Sanborn (just off of Joaquin Miller blvd.). The city doesn't provide particularly good trail maps, but I've heard there are better ones to be had, though I couldn't tell you where to find them. We just love exploring without the use of maps. Love our Oakland Parks
If you're willing to climb a little bit (I'm out of shape and it doesn't kill me), one place my son has always liked is Sibley (on Skyline near turnoff to Grizzly Peak). One can take a very short walk on an asphalt path (to the left out of the parking lot), or one can take a (15 min) climb to the water tower (follow the main asphalt path with the shelter to your left), or a longer harder climb (30 min one way) to the radio towers (turn right off the asphalt path and go up), or one can just walk as far as one wants through the cattle gate on the dirt path. As you get older, your kids may like to walk out to the mazes (bunch of different paths to different ones). It's fun, and not too crowded. Karen
I have a 6 and 3 year old. We enjoy Huckleberry Park and Sibley Park on Skyline north of Snake Road & Redwood Park. You do not have to pay to park and the trails meander inland. Huckleberry has a trail which goes up a slight incline to a nice spot with a view. It is often a good turn around spot for us. Further south, Redwood Park has a trail off of Skyline on the west side which lead to the horse corral. Only thing to be careful of is poison oak but you are fine if you stay on the trails which are clear of it. It is a great hike with kids. You can pick up a map at the entrances to the parks. In Tilden Park, we like to walk around Jewel Lake and of course stop at the Little Farm . Edie
My daughter likes nature walks. We usually do the trail around Jewel Lake in Tilden Park and I am looking for other trails that are similar in terms of length, safety, bathroom access, etc. I don't want to have to carry her, get lost, or get attacked. Basically, where does your little kid like to walk in nature? I'd like to hear about your favorite trails in Tilden, Sibley, Lake Temescal, Redwood, or any others you like. Thanks! anon
First of all, kudos to you for getting your 3 year old out for hiking adventures!
In Lafayette, we enjoy the Lafayette Reservoir, which is frequented by walkers and I feel very safe there. The path around the reservoir is paved, a 3 mile circle. There are trails that branch off of the reservoir and small picnic/fishing areas that go to the water's edge for exploring and snack. There is a fabulous play area at the east end of the loop. I generally jog with my 4 year old in the jogger and the end of the trip is all hers, at the park! Check it out.
The Berkeley Marina loop is gorgeous as well, esp on a clear, warm day. The views of SF and the Golden Gate Bridge are gorgeous. The paved trail is good for trikes as well. I don't feel so safe here on a very quiet day, however. During the week, I would meet a friend to walk with. Weekends, however, there are many people about.
Neighborhood walks are always fun adventures with 3 year olds. There is so much to see and talk about, a walk around the block can take an hour with such a companion! Fellow walking mom
The Lafayette Reservoir is a wonderful place for a three-year-old. The lower trail around the reservoir is a paved, but not too hilly, 2.75 miles. The upper trail is an extremely hilly 4.8 miles. It is not good for a little one, but there are smaller loops you can make out of a combination of upper and lower that a three-year-old could handle. There is a wonderful playground east of the parking lot on the lower trail (to the left as you face the water). But be sure to start your walk the other way (right), and end up there, or you will never leave the playground. There are paddleboats and rowboats for rent (with life jackets) west of the parking lot. And there are ducks and geese to feed, and sometimes a bald eagle in one of the high trees. And lots of people with kids and dogs. Check it out. A Mom and Reservoir runner
We are looking for child-friendly hikes in the East Bay for our three-year old. We used to go to Redwood park when she was in the backpack,but now the single track trails are a little too hard for her to walk on her own, and the wider paths have zooming mountain bikers and some exuberant dogs and we have had difficult and scary experiences with both and don't enjoy having to be so vigilant. I'm looking for relatively flat, wide paths that can be safely wandered by a three year old without a hovering parent. Thanks for your help hiking family
There are lots of places to walk with your wee one, but I think you're going to have to stay away from much of the singletrack around here for awhile.
Try East Ridge out of the skyline gate parking lot, or go park in the lower skyline parking lot - there are alot of options for short, mellow loops out of there. The Bay View Trail in Joquin Miller Park is quite nice and walkable for toddlers, and really has that protected, isolated feel that you get from walking on trails like Redwood Peak or French Trail in Redwood.
Tilden has some good ones too - there's a nice walking path around Lake Anza, some nice trails out of inspiration point, and Big Springs (take the left fork when you get to it) is nice too.
Some of these trails have mild hills, but I've found that if I slow down, stop and take breaks when my own little guy needed them, we can usually make it up without too much trouble. I can tell you more if you'd like, feel free to email me. Jen
I feel your pain - we too recently outgrew the backpack. I LOVE Point Pinole (part of east bay parks - ebparks.org). It has flat trails of varying length, is beautiful and not too crowded and you can make a loop. There is also a play structure/picnic area which is a great way to end the hike. I find it can get windy sometimes so be sure to layer clothing. anon
I started a blog a while ago called Bay Area Hiking Mamas, www.pregnanthiker.blogspot.com, which I of course cannot keep up-to-date, but which was intended to review trails for hiking as pregnant mom, mom with baby, mom with toddler. I have a 7 month old and a 3 year old. Our current favorite hike is the Sibley Volcanic Preserve. The best way to start the trail is to the left of the bathrooms, because the climb is not so steep. Make sure you do the Round Top Trail and don't go up to the water tower. Also good are Skyline Trail, very flat but lots of dogs and bikes, so maybe go during the week or early in the morning. Not sure when you avoid the crowd. If folks email me directly, I will put their favorite hikes on the blog too. Andrea
Hey everyone! Looking for great recommendations on short hikes with an 18 month old. She's been walking since 10 months so she is a very good walker. She still needs some assistance with stairs so i think going uphill would be a challenge but not undoable. Where's the best place to introduce her to our local natural beauty? She's too big for the back pack so the distance would have to be under a mile or two. Her dad and i could carry her for the distances she tires out for, but i think she could make the bulk of it... Your suggestions and tips are greatly appreciated! active walker
When my son got too heavy for the backpack, we discovered Roberts Regional Park. There is a map of it at http://www.ebparks.org/parks/robrec.htm#Map We just did the little trail from the parking lot to West Ridge Trail (on the above map, it's below the Graham Trail) and back. It's got to be less than 1.5 miles total. And East of that intersection, the Redwood Bowl (it's mismarked on the above map) is a great place to stop for a snack. We're branching out to more stretches of the Graham trail, going a bit farther on the West Ridge Trail (there's an archery range if you loop around to the far end of the Redwood Bowl). Consider getting an East Bay Parks membership to save on parking costs. Jennie
Tilden Park has a number of good trails for toddlers. For the really little kids, one of the best is the trail to Jewel Lake, near the Little Farm. You can detour to a boardwalk that goes through the marsh and point out the waterfowl and turtles at the lake. To the lake and back is perfectly flat and easy (there's a little uphill if you decide to do the loop around the lake). There is a another trail that takes off from behind the Environmental Center at the Farm and ends up at the lake (that has a bit of uphill too). Then there's Inspiration Point off Wildcat Canyon, with some up and down, but within a toddler's capability for a mile or two. And a nice trail near the pony rides (Lone Oak I think the trailhead is called). And others. You can pick up a trail map at the Environmental Center or at most trailheads. Ann
One great trail for little kids is the loop around Jewel Lake in Tilden Park--entrance off Grizzly Peak in Berkeley. It's relatively flat with dappled shade, there are benches to rest on along the way, and you can get up close to the shore at a couple of points to see tadpoles, turtles, and ducks in action. It's also right next to the ''Little Farm,'' where they have rabbits, chickens, goats, pigs, etc. for kids to check out.
Maps and more info are available at http://www.ebparks.org/parks/tna.htm
To make the complete loop usually takes us about half an hour, including ''duck stop,'' with older kids, and parking is very close to the trailhead. Cornelia
The trail starting at Little Farm in Tilden Park is flat and easy for kids. You can walk around the little lake and continue on Wildcat Creek Trail for as long as you like. Then there's the added bonus of the animals and nature center. Another great trail is Baltimore Canyon in Larkspur. It is relatively flat, although you may need to carry your child in parts. And it follows a beautiful creek through a redwood canyon. If you go far enough, there is a waterfall as well. Bear Valley Trail in Pt. Reyes is one of our favorites, and also relatively flat. I found a great website: www.trails.com and there was a link (http://www.trails.com) for best easy day hikes in the Bay Area... Have fun! Jen
I am an avid hiker with an active 27-month-old daughter, and she enjoys hiking with me. There are many wonderful trails in the area, depending on where you live. We live near Tilden, so I will tell you about those trails. The Wildcat Gorge trail does have some mild hills but our active girl has been climbing them just fine for months. This trail is heavily shaded for the most part, and so is good even in hot weather. The trailhead is just beyond the Pony rides and big field. Another trail just beyond that is the Wildcat Canyon trail (may be called Loop trail on the map). This trail is basically all flat, and has a lot of shady areas. It also doesn't allow dogs, so you don't have to worry about big dogs running up to your daughter. There is also a totally flat and partly shaded Nature trail near the Little Farm that leads to Jewel Lake. This is a great incentive for our daughter to keep going, I just remind her we're going to see the turtles and ducks. These trails are all out-and-back trails, so you can turn back whenever you want. There's also several nice fairly shady trails just above the golf course, the Golf Course trail and I think the Redwood trail. The third trail there, Grizzly Peak trail, is a narrow single-track lined with poison oak, not suitable for toddlers! You can learn more about all the Tilden trails at www.ebparks.org . Redwood Park in Oakland also has some nice trails, including the East Ridge trail (more hills later but the first section is mostly flat).
I could go on and on about local trails, so please feel free to e-mail me if you need more info. Gayle
How about some of the trails in the Marin Headlands and Muir Woods? There is a nice flat loop trail that goes around the Rodeo Lagoon in the Headlands. Muir Beach is also nice (only a 30-second walk from parking lot to beach). Muir Woods has a flat loop trail of various lengths. It can be crowded mid-day, though, so best to go in the morning or late afternoon. The hike to Tennessee Valley Beach is nice, though probably too long (I believe it's about 2 miles each way). If you find yourself near Mount Tam, you can drive all the way up to the top of the East Peak and there is a nice short loop trail that goes around it with incredible views in all directions.
Also, Crissy Field is a wonderful place to go: you get beach, water, views, lots of doggies, big grass field to fly kites, and the Warming Hut with coffee and snacks at the end.
Also, I believe that there is a book called something like ''Best Northern California Hikes with Kids.'' You could probably find it in your local bookstore in the California Travel section
I like Sibley Regional Park, in the Oak. hills. Not too much up and down, interesting landscape, and hidden labrinths here and there. The main loop is maybe a mile or so.
Redwood Regional Park, down the road from Sibley, has ridge trails that aren't too up-and-down but can get hot - go on a cool day or bring lots of water and sunscreen. The loop is quite long - several hours at least - but you can go a little ways and come back on one of the smaller loops.
For not so hot days - Briones Regional Park out east of here (near San Pablo Dam Reservoir) is pretty flat and classic california hills and oaks. Very nice.
Smaller, more urban, closer: Albany bulb. It's not a hike but an interesting little walk, for sure. Go all the way to the west end of Marin Ave. A pretty walk through wildflowers and fennel, with art in the nooks and crannies, leads you down to the waterfront which is covered in art by someone named Snuff. The pics can be kind of graphic sexually but I don't think my 19-mo-old would know the difference or even look too closely, with so many other interesting things around. I haven't taken him there recently though... Jen
I found that taking a ''hike'' with a toddler was just not possible because for a 18 month old, EVERYTHING is interesting and worth stopping to look at, pick up, touch etc. So any progress on the hike is unbearably slow. That said, I would try the short walk from the Little Farm to Jewel Lake in Tilden Park.
Welcome to the wonderful world of hiking with kids.
The walk out to Jewel Lake at Tilden Park near the Nature Center is great for young hikers. There is an easy walk with boardwalks that runs through wetlands and over Wildcat Creek that ends to the east of the lake and a single track trail that is more hilly but really fun that will run to the west of the lake. The lake itself is a great destination for people: mud, ducks, turtles, little fish and tadpoles. You could visit the little farm too and the nature center is fun. There's a nice soda machine inside and a cool model of Wildcat Canyon.
Another hike I like to take with my three year old (but we've been going since he was about 18 months) is at the bottom of Sibley Volcanic Reserve. If you take Highway 24 just east of the tunnel and get off at the Fish Ranch rd exit go right and then left on Old Tunnel Rd. Follow the road past the cattle gate to a parking area. This is a section of the Skyline trail that is pretty flat and crosses a creek at several points. There's a great bridge to play Billy Goat Gruff on and some nice giant oak trees. As an aside, this is also a great section of trail for old dogs.
Those are two trails of many that I like. Here are my tips. Always take a snack, water and a diaper. Keep a change of clothes in the car and don't worry about getting dirty. Here is my special secret: a couple hard candies in your pocket for the walk back to the car. Little hikers can bonk fast and a little sugar boost can be just the thing.
Happy trails! Syndallas
We're looking for places to hike with small chilren. Something relatively easy, with a nice view, about 2-3 miles. Ideally, a place that also allows dogs on leash. Thanks in advance!
I find the bay-view walks the easiest and most scenic with a child. The ''Albany Bulb'' (the point of land that goes out into the bay nearest Albany) has a trail, partly paved, that offers views of the bay and San Francisco. If you follow Marin Ave. which turns into Buchanan past the interstate turn-offs and continue straight, you'll enter the park area near the racetrack. There is some parking there and you can go to the little beach (a bit dingy for swimming, but fine for sight-seeing) and continue along the bay. It's quite flat in most places and doesn't involve long distances.
Sibley Park!! What a great place. The hike is short, a mile or two round trip. In rainy season the path itself is COVERED with chamomile. Our 5yo and 3yo love to pick the chamomile and make tea at home. What makes the hike is druid? labyrinths down in the old quarry. You won't see them mentioned on the map or any of the park literature, but you can find info on the web. Our kids love to follow them to the center and look at all the interesting things people have left there (windchimes, coins, photographs) and leave something. There is one relatively easy to find and very well-trod labyrinth, but climbing around that area will reward you with several more. There is a vernal pool in the quarry which is filled with frogs, tadpoles, salamanders, snails. We've seen snakes, rabbits and banana slugs and darkling beetles as well. The pool is nothing but muck now, but there are still frogs to be seen. After the rains come it will likely get more interesting again. At dusk the rabbits come out. This is a fantastic park. Oh, and you'll meet plenty of people with dogs on leash and quite a few with dogs off leash.
We like Sibley Volcanic Park and Wildcat Canyon. Our almost 3 year old son likes the rocks, gentle slopes, and views in SVP. In Wildcat he loves the stream and plays in the water that drains down the trails during the winter/spring. Dogs on leash are allowed at both places. He's been hiking those spots (as well as a few places in Golden Gate National Recreation Area) since his baby backpack days and now is a serious hiker (can do several miles pretty happily, walking all the way). happy hiker
Funny you should ask -- this same topic came up a few months ago on my single moms' email list, and as an avid (pre- motherhood) hiker, I was able to compile a pretty long list of easy hikes in the East Bay -- and most of these parks do allow dogs on leash (where I know for sure if they do or don't, I've indicated it below). Here's my list:
-- Sequoia-Bayview trail in Joaquin Miller Park -- take Highway 13 to Joaquin Miller Rd, turn left onto Skyline and after the first big bend in the road, look for the trailhead -- you should see cars parked near it. A popular trail for joggers, jog strollers, and people walking their dogs.
-- Stream Trail in Redwood Park. Take 13 to Redwood Road, head east for about 3 miles to entrance of park. The Stream Trail begins near the parking area and is a very flat 2.7 mile trail through redwoods. ($4 parking fee and $1 dog fee)
-- nature trail near the Environmental Center in Tilden Park. This one actually is a one mile loop that goes around ''Jewel Lake'' (more of a pond really). The Environmental Center is not too far from the pony rides.
-- Nimitz Way trail in Tilden Park. This is a paved trail that begins at Inspiration Point, on Wildcat Canyon Road.
-- The Botanic Garden in Tilden Park -- located just downhill from the Brazil Building. Not a trail per se, but plenty to explore. There are free docent-led tours every Saturday and Sunday at 2pm.
-- Huckleberry Preserve (yes, it's a park, not just something to put on your toast!) -- there's a loop trail with a self- guided nature trail.
-- the trail along Upper San Leandro Reservoir. Great views of the reservoir! (I think I've seen people with dogs here).
-- Point Pinole Regional Shoreline -- this is a nice flat park near the Bay -- lots of nice views from the trails. A good place for bicycling too (mountain bikes or hybrids would work better than road bikes since not all trails are paved). Take I- 80 to Richmond Parkway, go west on this road about 1 mile to just past its intersection with San Pablo Ave, then take the next right onto Atlas Dr -- follow this about another mile, to its intersection with Giant Highway, where you will turn left. Go about another half mile, and turn into the park entrance on the right ($4 parking fee, $1 dog fee).
-- Lafayette Reservoir -- there's a paved trail that goes all the way around the reservoir -- I think the total distance is about 2 miles. The parking fee is something like $5.
-- Briones Park -- There's quite a few easy trails here.
-- Hayward Regional Shoreline -- a salt marsh with a 3.6 mile trail -- good place for birdwatching -- however, you'll have to leave the dog at home for this one.
-- lakeside trail in Chabot Park, Oakland -- about 2 miles of paved trail on either side of Lake Chabot -- you can walk all the way around the lake, but that's about 8 miles, and you have to hike up into the hills that surround one side of the lake -- probably too long and strenuous for little hikers. ($4 parking fee, $1 dog fee).
You can get more information about East Bay Regional Parks (including whether or not they allow dogs) at: www.ebparks.org
Happy trails to you! Diane