All Photos by Garrick Ramirez
It’s a gorgeous Saturday morning and you’re craving a vigorous mountaintop trek, but the kiddos only want to stroll a virtual landscape of pixelated zombies. Sound familiar? We’ve got the solution: easy, scenic hikes with fun surprises and engaging activities that your kids will love. With quality time outdoors and away from the screens, these five outings are your new weekend ace in the hole.
OLD COVE LANDING TRAIL
Wilder Ranch State Park
Parents will appreciate: the secluded beach coves, sculpted sea caves, and majestic views of the Pacific that fill this level 2.5-mile loop trail over dramatic coastal bluffs. Along the way, you’re likely to spot marine life including playful dolphins, grunting sea lions, and migrating humpback whales. You’ll also have numerous opportunities to dip down into sandy pocket beaches including Fern Grotto Beach named for its spring-fed, fern-covered grotto cave.
Kids will love: the wildlife watching, opportunities for beach play, and the big, open space. Be sure to backtrack a bit from the parking lot and visit the historic dairy farm – complete with livestock pens! Regular residents include chickens, goats, horses, and cows. They will also love the enchanting “aloe tunnels” that make for an epic game of hide and seek.
REDWOOD GROVE LOOP TRAIL
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
Parents will appreciate: wondrous groves of towering coast redwoods, the tallest and oldest living things on the planet. The popular, .8-mile loop trail features numbered, informative stops that are keyed to an interpretive brochure available at the Visitor Center. Don’t miss the nearby Bear Claw Tree, the park’s tallest redwood standing 285-feet tall.
Kids will love: being sworn in as a Junior Ranger after completing a series of fun, informative activities in a booklet found at the Visitor Center. Also, the rootin’, tootin’ Old West-themed grounds of Roaring Camp Railroads are just a few steps away! In addition to thrilling steam train rides through redwood forests, kids can participate in activities such as panning for gold and candle making. Be sure to check with Henry Cowell and Roaring Camp for current events/offerings as some may have changed.
SPRING BOX TRAIL
Parents will appreciate: the hidden gems-and incredible diversity of landscapes-encompassed in the park’s 640 acres. For an easy stroll with a big payoff, follow the Rincon Trail from the UCSC campus as it slopes downhill to the eastbound Spring Box Trail. A quick stroll along the Spring Box Trail soon leads to an unexpected spring-fed koi pond tucked beneath a redwood tree. Head back to the Rincon Trail, veer north, and you’ll immediately stumble upon massive, 19th century limestone kilns with the overgrown appearance of an ancient stone temple. Behind the kilns is a spectacular rock garden whose stacks of balanced rocks are dotted with slips of handwritten notes and wishes left by visitors.
Kids will love: marveling at colorful koi fish swimming in the middle of a redwood forest, and scribbling private messages to tuck in between balanced rock piles. However, young ones may be disappointed to learn that there aren’t, in fact, any pogos at this park named for the Native American term for “icy fog.”
THE RIVER TRAIL
Parents will appreciate: the wow-factor that comes up quick with this hike. Park at the Fall Creek Unit lot off Felton Empire and hop on the Bennett Creek Trail. This starts with a bit of downhill (and eventually an uphill you and the kids will climb), but once you’re down, the forest is yours to explore. Follow the Bennett Creek Trail to the fork and either go left or right on the Fall Creek Trail. If you go right, you can immediately let the kids explore by the river, or you can go left, and have some great riverside hiking to explore. For those seasoned little hikers, continue on the left Fall Creek Trail and at the next fork, veer left onto the S. Fork Trail to reach the old Lime Kiln Ruins. Check the map for an easy top-down view of your preferred path.
Kids will love: the opportunities to splash in the river and look for newts, banana slugs, mushrooms.
BYRNE & LEONARD BARTLE TRAILS
Parents will appreciate: the stunning views of the Monterey Bay and Pajaro Valley from AJ’s Point of View, a scenic overlook reached via a moderate 1.5 mile trek along the Byrne Trail.
Kids will love: the many sculptures and trinkets left behind by the park’s former caretaker, the late Jeff Helmer. Helmer embellished the park’s many trails with amusing objects placed among giant redwoods, tan oaks, and big leaf maple trees. Most are found along the Leonard Bartle Trail which branches off from the Byrne Trail and is marked by a hulking wooden sculpture of three bears. Don’t miss the Cathedral Rest Spot with a church pew set in a forest and surrounded by a collection of objects that visitors are welcome to add to. There are many routes to reach these destinations, so reference the park’s trail map to chart a course that works for you and your family-including Fido because dogs are welcome!
Updated January 2021