Mather Lake Nature Trails

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Mather Regional Park is the park you just haven’t been to yet! Go east on Hwy. 50, exit Zinfandel in Rancho Cordova, and head south. You’ll see the entrance on your left just after you pass Douglas Road.

According to AllTrails, there are two loops, but based on my experience it’s more like two out-and-back trails. Both are easy, short, and have access to the water.

  • Trail with the lake on your left: If you cross over the little bridge/dam with the lake on your left, you start on a paved trail and then turn off onto a dirt path alongside the lake. When we were there, there were several families fishing along this part of the trail. You can continue for about 1/2 a mile before the trail seems to disappear into the brush, so approx. 1 mile total. If I wasn’t baby wearing and had pants on, I may have pushed on but wouldn’t suggest this with the family.
  • Trail with the lake on your right: The trail follows alongside the lake on a path past some picnic tables before turning away from the lake. Along the way there are educational signs until the trail dead ends at a busy street. I saw more wildlife along this way, including a rabbit, lizards, different kinds of birds, and lots of lizards! This trail is about 1/3 mile each way, so less than a mile total.

Why we love it: This is one of those parks that’s great if you’re just starting to introduce the family to hiking. Plus, it’s minutes from restaurants and activities in Rancho Cordova!(It’s just about three miles from Sacramento Children’s Museum!) I think our family would enjoy coming in the morning to fish – they stock the pond, so that may make it a bit easier!

For the Young Ones (0-10): There’s a playground and picnic tables, so you could have IMG_7582hours of exploration and play.

For the Big Kids (10+): I think bigger kids would enjoy fishing and may enjoy just getting out in nature. I wouldn’t tell big kids that they’re going on a hike. My seven year-old would consider this a “nature walk”.

Keep in Mind:

  • There is a $5 day use fee for each vehicle.
  • When I was there a whole flock of geese were gathered between the lake and the playground and there was bird poo EVERYWHERE. Maybe don’t let the little ones sit in the grass…
  • Most of the park is pretty exposed, so have your sun protection for everyone.

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Around the Area: All the places you’d go to in Rancho Cordova south of Hwy. 50 are no more than ten minutes away! Restaurants and the children’s museum are what come to mind for me.

Difficulty Level: Beginner

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American River Discovery Trail

IMG_6650This short 1/4 mile trail is located at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery, just east of Sacramento in Gold River, California. The best time to come is in the fall, when the salmon are jumping up the ladder at the hatchery, but we had a nice visit smack in the middle of summer.

Why we love it: The trail itself isn’t much, but it’s a nice stroll along the river with some educational signs. Honestly, I’d only do this trail if I’m already at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery for the Visitor Center and to see fish. While the signs say it’s a loop, we took it to be an out-and-back trail because at a certain point it seems like it might narrowly head away from the river and through thick brush. We turned around and, while I forgot to track the distance, it’s at most it’s a 1/2 mile total this way.

For the Young Ones (0-10): If your little one can walk, they can do this easy trail. It’s all exposed, so sun protection is key. Add it on to exploring the Visitor Center and feeding the fish (we fed trout!), and you have a lovely little outing!

For the Big Kids (10+): Big kids might find the Visitor Center briefly entertaining and enjoy feeding the fish. For more of a challenging trail, the American River Parkway trail is immediately adjacent to the parking lot. We didn’t get on the trail and I don’t know IMG_6678much in terms of safety of the trail, but we did see a handful of cyclists going along the trail. Since it’s a really long trail, you can make your hike as short or as long as you’d like!

Keep in Mind: Essentially, just keep in mind that the path is exposed, so you will want sun protection.

Around the Area: The Sacramento State Aquatic Center is close by, so you can always plan to go down to the water after your time at the hatchery!

Difficulty Level: Beginner.

Calaveras Big Trees SP – North Grove

 

Calaveras Big Trees State Park became a state park back in 1931 in order to preserve the North Grove. On Saturdays at 1pm the park offers a free guided hike of the grove from the Visitor Center! Take the guided hike or explore on your own, like we did!

Why we love it: Our family has seen lots of giant sequoia trees along the coast, from Muir Woods up through Avenue of the Giants, so it was nice to head a different direction with way less traffic! At less than two hours from home, it’s a lovely getaway and lots of families enjoy camping at the state park.

For the Young Ones (0-10): It’s an easy and relatively short loop. At less than two miles, the park totes the North Grove Big Tree trail as stroller-friendly (though not after rain) and there are a couple of places children can easily walk through fallen trees (one even has a handrail!).

For the Big Kids (10+): At the beginning of the loop or in the Visitor Center, you can purchase a pamphlet for 50 cents that explains each of the 26 numbered markers along your way, providing detail on what you’ll see in the area. They may also like the five mile South Grove hiking trail.

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Keep In Mind:

  • Sunscreen and insect repellant are a good idea for this trail. We saw mosquitos in the parking lot, so put on Bug Protector (I’m a brand ambassador) and we were fine.
  • The parking lot fills up fast on a Saturday! When we got back to our car mid-day there were zero parking spaces!
  • While it’s a popular trail, it’s always a good idea to have proper footwear. I cringed seeing flip flops and Crocs. Sneakers work great!
  • There’s a $12 entrance fee to the park for day use.
  • There are lots of little things for little hands to want you to buy in the Visitor Center. From the parking lot, you must go through the bookstore area to get to the museum.
  • The famous Pioneer Cabin Tree/Tunnel Tree fell in January 2017, but you can see what remains after it fell.
  • Out of curiosity, we took the Grove Overlook Trail off of the North Grove loop (around marker 2 – it drops you back on the loop around marker 14) and were the only ones on the much quieter trail. About 1/2 way down the trail, however, we came across a rattlesnake and turned ourselves around, back to where we left the North Grove loop. Read this link for helpful information on rattlesnakes in California.

Around the Area: Just outside of the park in Arnold, Giant Burger is known for their shakes. With nearly 20 flavors to choose from, you can have your pick from pumpkin pie to boysenberry! At only $4.25, one is large enough to split!

Difficulty Level: Beginner.

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Bassi Falls Trail

IMG_6899Once you know how to get there, this is a great trail! (See “How to get there” below.) This is a very popular trail, and it’s easy to see why. Everyone loves to head to the water in the summer, especially a waterfall, and even more so to a waterfall that has natural pools you can swim in!

How to get there: Take US-50, exit Ice House Road and go north for about 16 miles. Make sure to take the turn to the right to stay on Ice House at just over 1/2 a mile from the freeway. The next part is key – after going over a bridge at about 16 miles (there’s no sign letting you know the name of the bridge),  look for Big Silver Group Campground on your left (see photo below – you’ll have passed another campground earlier, so make sure you get the name right!), and make an immediate turn to your right onto an unmarked road. There will be a fork in the road – go left to take a shorter trail (we didn’t go down that road), or straight/right to get to the trailhead  for a 4 mile hike to the falls. You’ll get to what looks almost like a dead end and can park here and walk down to the trailhead. (If it’s still there, you’ll see the sign in the photo below.) However, if you have 4WD, follow the sign down a short road down to get closer to the trailhead. Do not attempt this if you have a low suspension vehicle – there was no way I was going to try in our minivan. I promise this is all easier than it sounds, but I would not rely on GPS to get you there.

Why we love it: It’s a WATERFALL! That’s usually plenty enough motivation for my family. I appreciated the clear trail markers along the way, the many points you can get to the water, and that it was enough of a hike to feel like you accomplished something, but not so hard kids can’t do it.

For the Young Ones (0-10): I took my seven year-old son and wore my 8 week-old daughter, and had a friend with her eight year-old son and four year-old daughter. Honestly, I’m extremely impressed the four year-old hiked the entire thing (including IMG_6930walking and playing all over/around the falls). When you get to the water, just keep going down the trail to find an accessible point. For some, just getting to the lower falls will be plenty of enough for one trip. There are some shallow spots they can splash in, so it doesn’t hurt to bring swimsuits and water shoes

For the Big Kids (10+): Adventurous big kids will enjoy scrambling over rocks and swimming in deeper pools. I’ve read you can also scramble up the rocks to the top of the upper falls, but since I didn’t do this I’m not sure how dangerous it is.

Keep in Mind:

  • There are no lifeguards at the water. Proceed at your own risk and watch children closely.
  • There are no bathrooms so be prepared!
  • At the bottom of the lower falls we encountered lots of big black ants. We didn’t see them at the top of the lower falls or the upper falls.
  • When you get to the upper falls and cross the rocks to get to the water, it is easy to lose sight of where the trail came out onto the rocks. We actually started back on a trail that wasn’t the official trail, so make sure to do something to help you remember.

Around the Area: We saw campgrounds, a camping resort, and maybe a little store (?) along the road to the trailhead.

Difficulty Level: Moderate.

Cronan Ranch Trails

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We did this trail back on March 31st, but I’m just now getting around to posting! Cronan Ranch is located in Pilot Hill, California, four miles north of Coloma on Hwy 49. We chose to do the Long Valley Trail to the river and back. Due to the high exposure of this hike, I would not recommend this on a high temp or sunny date. Our family originally attempted a hike here a few years ago and turned back after a half mile due to the direct exposure and heat.

Why we love it: It’s relatively flat and easy for kids and a great way to test out whether they can take on more miles. Once your kids easily conquer three-four mile trails, you can try this location for five-six miles. We always love a hike with a goal, and on this hike we make it a goal to reach the river. If you take the Long Valley Trail, once you pass the movie set and get to a fork in the trail, stay right to get to the water right away.

For the Young Ones (0-10): Once you get to the river, there’s a bit of shade and kids can spend hours throwing rocks into the river or splashing their feet! There’s even a bathroom not too far from where Long Valley Trail meets the water!

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For the Big Kids (10+): There are many trails you can take at Cronan Ranch, and big kids might like to mix it up to see more. A family picnic at the water would be fantastic for the entire family.

Keep in Mind:

  • The key thing to keep in mind here is sun exposure. As previously stated, it’s not a good idea to do this hike on a high temp sunny day.
  • Bring plenty of water! We used the picnic tables by the movie set as a snack break before making it all the way to the river.
  • Horses are often on these trails, so please remember that they have the right of way and watch where you walk!
  • It’s helpful to print/screen shot this map ahead of time to use for reference.
  • You could probably do the trail we did with a BOB-type stroller, but I wouldn’t recommend a typical lightweight stroller.
  • Depending on tires, etc. of a wheelchair and the grade of some of the slopes, I would not call this trail handicap accessible. (Though I am no expert.)

Around the Area: Folsom Lake for more water fun!

Difficulty Level: Advanced Beginner-Moderate, depending on trails taken and experience.

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Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park

IMG_E4734Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park is located in the Sierra Nevada foothills 12 miles east of Jackson, CA. I have to admit, when I originally learned that this park has just about 1.5 miles of trails I dismissed it and assumed a trip here would be boring. If you’ve been, you know I was completely wrong.

Why we love it: Once you get past the beginning of the North Trail (which runs alongside the main road), it’s then a lovely trail fully immersed in nature. Part of the North Trail is even ADA accessible. The North Trail leads into part of the South Trail and then a paved trail, which you can then take back to the parking lot. The park is a great place for a short and sweet hike, but you can also learn SO much from the museum and outdoor exhibits.

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For the Young Ones (0-10): Hiking here is great for families with little ones. You can give them an introduction to Miwok history and there is plenty of space for them to run around outside near the Reconstructed Miwok Village and Indian Game Field. Please just make sure to watch them closely and keep them off of the grinding rock.

For the Big Kids (10+): There’s plenty to learn for big kids and adults alike in the museum, which is included in the $8/vehicle day use fee. Doing the North and South Trail, spending time in the museum, and exploring the outdoor exhibits off of the paved trail makes for a great overall family experience.

Keep in Mind:

  • There’s an $8/vehicle day use fee.
  • The park is open sunrise to sunset, but the museum is open just 10am-4pm.

Around the Area: Make a day trip to the area, and include Black Chasm Cavern, which is just 1.4 miles down the road.

Difficulty Level: Beginner.

Canyon View Preserve Trail

IMG_E4818Canyon View Preserve Trail is just starting to get the attention it deserves. It’s a short and sweet trail that’s easily accessed from the Park & Ride at the Bowman exit off of Interstate 80, behind Calstar in Auburn.

Why we love it: Personally, I love it because it is so easy to get to and yet you’re still getting out into nature! There are a few benches and a picnic area along the way and the total trail is just about 1.25 miles.

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For the Young Ones (0-10): We encountered tons of butterflies, some roly-polies, grasshoppers, and a banana slug! It’s a good way to get the family out for an easy hike. While there is a bit of a steep switchback at the start/end of the trail, most of the rest of the terrain is pretty even. There were some bees hovering around the wildflowers, so just be careful with little ones getting too close.

For the Big Kids (10+): If the big kids are fast and/or experienced hikers, this may be too short of a hike for them. If they’re game to just spend some quality time with the family, it’s still a nice hike and I wouldn’t classify it as boring.

Keep in Mind: Early on you’ll come to a warning sign about rattlesnakes, bears, ticks, etc. Whenever hiking you should always keep these dangers in mind.

Around the Area: It’s Auburn, so there are tons of things to do and eat nearby.

Difficulty Level: Beginner.