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Hiking with Kids

Take a Hike, Kids

Getting the Most Out of Taking Your Kids to Sonoma County Parks

Jun 28, 2017

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Sonoma County Regional Parksi s celebrating their 50th anniversary this year. The Parks has been a vital part of land conservation and habitat restoration in Sonoma County, not to mention providing excellent recreation opportunities for people as well.

The best way to say thanks and to ensure that these efforts continue into the future is to use the parks. The $7 you spend to swim in the river at Steelhead Beach, fish at Riverfront Park, catch some waves at Doran Beach, or to hike up Taylor Mountain all contribute towards the vast expenses of park maintenance and care. While environmental stewardship should be important to all of us, volunteering to clear invasive weeds or build trails might not be your thing. So how about simply going for a hike?

There’s really no excuse not to, even if you’re out of shape or have small children. There are a wonderful variety of trails throughout the county that range in difficulty. And since I myself must accommodate a toddler at my heels, I often opt for the easier, shorter trails. I have compiled a list, which will be broken down into two articles, of some short, easy hikes for those of you who are beginner hikers or who want to introduce young children to nature.

My favorite strategy to convince my kids to hike with me is to turn it into a scavenger hunt. If I say to them “let’s go for a hike”, they’ll instantly say no (well, the 11-year-old will). But if I tell them we’re going mushroom hunting or animal tracking or wildflower identifying, they’re all in. So your first task should be to buy some of those laminated field guides to help identify animal tracks, scat, native plants, etc. I’ve bought several at Harmony Farm Supply in Graton, and many visitors centers will have some for purchase as well.

It may also interest your kids to learn about the history of the region. Do a little research before you head out, that way you can spout out interesting facts along the trail and make your kids think you’re super smart. This area is rich in Native American heritage that both you and your kids will find fascinating.

Before you head out the door, please remember these very important things:

• Pack LOTS of food & water. You’re much better off having too much than not enough. Hearty snacks like nuts, cheese, and fruit will sustain your energy.

• Beware of Ticks.This is supposed to be a very back year for ticks due to the amount of rain we’ve had, so keep your ankles protected and stay out of tall grass.

• Wear sunscreen. Even if it’s cloudy or cool, you can still get burned. This is especially important for the kids. And make sure everyone wears a hat.

• Bring a map. You can’t always count on cell service in some parks, so make sure to map out your route beforehand, or print a map at home to bring with you. Getting lost, especially with young kids, would be a big bummer.

Helen Putnam Regional Park, 411 Chileno Valley Rd, Petaluma

This beautiful park nestled among the hills west of Petaluma is perfect for beginners and children. There are 6 miles of trails with gradual slopes and lots to see along the way. The toddler and I chose an easy 1.6 mile loop that took us past the fishing pond, to a vista point, then back down through the grassy hills. The park is abundant with wildlife, so if you stay quiet and keep your eyes peeled, you could spot all kinds of critters. We saw deer, a bullfrog, a king snake, lots of lizards, and even a turkey making a racket. The trailhead even has a shady picnic area and playground, which is a perfect place to have lunch after your hike.

Steelhead Beach Regional Park,9000 River Rd., Forestville

I have the advantage of being able to walk to this beautiful beach from my home, so we’ve wandered the trails many times. The forest is teeming with life and boasts wide paths that are fully shaded by cottonwood, maple, black walnut trees. The short 1 mile loop takes you south to Children’s Beach, which is a great spot for swimming because the beach is large and the water more shallow than at the main beach. The loop consists of two trails,Willow Trail and Osprey Trail. Along the way you can spot lots of native plants like the Dutchman’s Pipevine, Trillium, Stinging Nettle, California fogwort and blackberries. There are several poisonous plants as well (like Hemlock, which is deadly), so don’t touch unless you know what it is! It’s a popular spot for bird watching, so it’s fun for the kids to bring a pair of binoculars along to see how many different kinds of birds they can identify.

Riverfront Regional Park7821 Eastside Rd, Healdsburg

While Riverfront is best known for its two lovely fishing lakes, it also boasts a couple scenic trails. The Redwood Trail is only about a quarter mile long and winds up and over a hill, with a mix of wildflowers fields and Redwood forests. It meets back up with the main trail, which loops around Lake Benoist for a total of 3 miles. There are plenty of spots along the trail to rest on a bench and enjoy the view (while your kids throw rocks into the water or try to catch frogs). You can access the Russian River from this trail, and there’s even a nice secluded beach, but it’s a long way to trek a cooler and inner tubes (trust me, I’ve done it and wish I hadn’t). The lakes used to be gravel mine pits, but were filled with water and are stocked with bass for fishing. The park was purchased in 2002 and is still undergoing improvement efforts, which will eventually include the opening of a third lake to the north.

Foothill Regional Park, 1351 Arata Lane, Windsor

This is one of my favorite parks to hike, with or without my kids. There are three lovely ponds that you can walk around, several vista points with incredible views, and each trail is unique in its difficulty level. None of the loops are more than 3 miles long, although some are much steeper than others. This is a wonderful time of year to visit, as the grass is a lush green and wildflowers are in full bloom. Back before kid #2 was born, my husband and I would jog some of the trails, as they offer nice gradual elevation changes. There are always ducks in the ponds, which you can fish in as well, and we’ve had a lot of luck hunting for mushrooms here in the winter. This too used to be a gravel mine and is plentiful in Obsidian, so make a game of it and have your kids count how many shiny black stones they see (but please don’t take them home with you).

Sonoma Valley Regional Park,13630 Hwy 12, Glen Ellen

I left the toddler with grandma for this one, since it was forecast to be a 100˚ day. So my 11-year-old and I set off for a quick morning hike before the Sonoma valley heat set in. We chose a 2.5 mile loop that varied between flat, smooth areas to steep climbs and beautiful vistas. The paved “Valley of the Moon” trail meanders along a seasonal creek through a valley of Oak forest. It’s shady, serene, and stunning. Near the end of this 1.3 mile section, we headed up the“Woodland Star” trail, which has some steep inclines and that may be too difficult for young kids. My 11-year-old handled it like a champ, and we got a few laughs from all the lizards that kept scurrying between our legs. There are some lovely views up there, and a couple paths that lead down to Sutton Lake, which is very secluded and tranquil. The park entrance has nice shaded picnic areas and a large dog park as well, so bring the dog along and enjoy a picnic lunch after your hike.

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