While FaceTiming with my sister recently, she turned the camera on her phone to her backyard. I saw a beautiful landscape covered in bright white mounds and smooth shimmering icicles. In Boston, where my sister lives, they were buried in snow, confined indoors unless they absolutely had to step out into the cold for school or work.
Thankfully we don’t face that problem here in the Central Valley. We have immediate access to the great outdoors all year long. While many make the trek to Shaver Lake or Yosemite, there are many hidden gems right in our backyard.
My boys, ages 7 and 9, are always up for an adventure. Who needs toys when you have rocks to climb, tree logs to inspect, and plants to measure? We never plan a specific length of time to hike—we let the kids determine the pace and allow them to stop as often as they want to take in everything around them.
Instead of spending time in front of the television or playing video games, have your kids pull on their sneakers or hiking boots and step outside! There are many places to explore nature, take a hike, discover plants and flowers, and enjoy the beauty of creation all around us. Try one or all of these local treasures with your family this spring.
FOUR KID-FRIENDLY PLACES TO HIKE
Lost Lake Park
Just a few miles north of Fresno, off of Friant Road, is Lost Lake Park. This beautiful park offers a trail that is enjoyable for all levels of hikers. It meanders along the banks of the San Joaquin River with a clear footpath. At only about a mile long, the trail is just right for kids who may not last on a longer or more difficult route.
One section of the trail features rocks with hollowed out holes used by local Native Americans as grinding holes for making acorn flour. My boys love to gather acorns and pretend to grind them as they watch ducks in the river nearby.
With a keen eye you may catch a glimpse of a Bald Eagle, hawks, woodpeckers, owls, and many other creatures. The San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust also offers canoeing trips, camps and various other activities. It’s a lovely area to visit year-round.
Hidden Homes Nature Trail
If you have younger children, a real treat is the Hidden Homes Nature Trail. At only a half-mile long, this path features larger-than-life size animal homes for kids to explore.
Local artists have created a giant eagle’s nest for visitors to climb in, a colorful trail of salmon eggs to follow, a mouse house to crawl through, and giant killdeer eggs to climb on. It’s a nature-safe, hands-on approach for kids to see, feel and explore what our environment has to offer.
Thanks to the interactive makeup of this hike, kids (and adults) can connect better with nature through all of their senses, and be on the lookout for wild animals that this protected setting attracts – from birds in the water to hawks in the sky.
In nearby Madera, Sycamore Island on the San Joaquin River offers fishing, trails and picnicking for families on its 350-acre natural area.
Conveniently located near Valley Children’s Hospital, Sycamore Island Ranch is one of the best fishing spots along the San Joaquin River. It is home to a variety of fish species including hatchery trout, bass, catfish, blue gill and crappie. You can even purchase bait at their bait shop.
If fishing isn’t your thing, there are numerous nature trails for wildlife observation and relaxing walks. And everyone knows hiking builds up an appetite, so you can picnic under the shade of its huge sycamore and oak trees.
Sounds like a perfect way to spend a Saturday with loved ones.
San Joaquin River Parkway
The San Joaquin River Parkway offers many ways to explore and experience the nature around us. Friant Cove is a small site where you can canoe, fish, and have a picnic in the beautiful outdoors. The San Joaquin Fish Hatchery allows the public to view Rainbow trout in various life stages, feed the fish, and watch them jump.
The Coke Hallowell Center for River Studies provides exhibits, gardens, seasonal nature walks, and canoe trips. Visitors can also tour the Historic Ranch House for a glimpse into the past (open weekends).
The Lewis S. Eaton Trail is four miles long and convenient for walking, running, cycling, horseback riding, and nature observation along the bluffs of the San Joaquin River. The Riverside Trail is approximately one mile long. The steep, paved trail descends to the river bottom where visitors can enjoy a sandy beach at the river’s edge.
Whether your family prefers to hike, fish or ride bikes, there’s no excuse not to get outside and enjoy the nature and beauty of our Central Valley. The shorter, interactive trails are perfect for younger children while older kids may prefer the challenge of a longer hike or fishing trip. The important thing is to take advantage of our good weather year-round and encourage our children to take in the picturesque scenes of the natural world around us.