Central California Hikes with Kids
By Wendy Gorton
Central California families are surrounded by a natural playground! As you find ways to get outdoors this fall, consider a few strategies to engage your kids on the trail and help them lead the way.
1. Let them choose! Grab a guidebook, search a website or app like AllTrails.com (choose “kid-friendly” and “5-star” to find appropriate and awesome hikes), and let your kids look at the map and propose an adventure for the family! Ask them to consider length, elevation, and feature, and even have them help plan your snacks and where you might stop for a treat afterwards.
2. Let them navigate. Check out Google Street View to get a preview of the trail, you often can get a 360-view of the trailhead and satellite view of the terrain. Put the map from your guidebook or AllTrails in their hand and ask them, “Are there any turns?”
3. Stop to power-up often. Keep your eyes peeled on the trail for ideal break spots, and take them often! A stump, a shady spot, or a bridge can all be the perfect time to stop, fuel up, and just breathe, listen, and explore what’s around you.
4. Nature journal. Encourage your kids to take a notebook along with them. At breaks, lunch, or on the way home, ask them to sketch what they see, trace a leaf, label a map, write questions they have, and document the journey to enjoy later.
5. Identify. Have kids (sparingly) use the phone to take pictures of interesting plants, flowers, bugs, and head home and use a field guide or the web to identify. Try out the Seek iNaturalist app that will match your image against a database and provide strikingly accurate matches!
6. Game it up. Have a few fun easy nature games in your back pocket, particularly as your family begins to try hikes with more elevation gain. Some great games are iSpy, the Alphabet game (everyone starts with A and calls out items that begin with a letter, trying to make it through the alphabet), and gathering as many acorns as you can in 30 seconds then comparing who got the most with a partner. The trail is full of fun ways to interact with nature. Once you lead the way, you’ll be amazed at the fun games the kids come up with!
Here’s a few Central California gems to explore:
Rock-hop up the River to Tokopah Falls
4.3 miles out and back, 610 feet elevation gain
Sequoia National Park
Highlights: Glacial boulders, waterfall, lodgepole pines, and the massive Watchtower rock
Frolic to the Footbridge Over the San Joaquin River
2.1 miles out and back, 391 feet elevation gain
San Joaquin River Gorge Recreation Area
Highlights: Gorge, wildlife, fall colors, fun footbridge
Do a 360 on Top of Sentinel Dome
2.4 miles out and back, 420 feet elevation gain
Yosemite National Park
Highlights: Amazing views and feelings of accomplishment summiting the Dome!
Climb the Granite Highway to May Lake
2.5 miles out and back, 486 feet elevation gain
Yosemite National Park
Highlights: Views of Yosemite highcountry, beautiful lake
Play Cops and Robbers Around Convict Lake
3-mile roundtrip loop, 62 feet elevation gain
Inyo National Forest
Highlights: Fall colors, huge peaks, lake fun
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