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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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.

Independence Trail – East

IMG_3790Taking the Independence Trail – East trail to where it “ends’ (at what looks like an old service road), the hike is about four to four and 1/2 miles total (out and back). You can continue past the obvious road on some unmaintained trails, but do so at your own risk – there’s lots of poison oak, but I’ve heard there are some paths that lead you to a watering hole or the river.

Why we love it: This trail is simple and beautiful + has the fun feature of lots of wooden footbridges – some quite long! Along the way you’ll be treated to glimpses of the Yuba River far below. About 1.75 miles along, there’s a really nice picnic table area just off to the right of the trail.

For the Young Ones (0-10): This trail is great for families who like to explore and have little hikers who will stay on the trail. Like the West side (see my previous post on that end of the trail here), there are “high” and “low” paths that travel together along the way. I’d recommend you keep the little ones on the low. Pay attention to the recent weather though – sometimes the “low” can get flooded or really muddy.

For the Big Kids (10+): While not a challenging hike, I do think this one is interesting enough to hold the attention of bigger kids. For those that can handle more miles, tack on the 5 miles of the Independence Trail – West trail, for a total of nearly 10 miles of hiking. IMG_E3778

Keep in Mind:

  • Last weekend there were no pesky mosquitos, but when our family did the west side in the summer there were lots. Bring repellant just in case!
  • The parking lot is easy to find by entering “Independence Trail ” into Google Maps (it’s on CA-49), and the official trailhead is for both the East and the West trails – with bathrooms!
  • There’s also an overflow parking lot just past the main lot, which has stairs that go up to the East trail.

Around the Area: Less than a mile northeast of the trailhead, you can take an exit to your right and pull into a big parking lot (on Google Maps, Yuba River swimming hole 49 bridge). Here, you have the opportunity to get out of the car, cross a pedestrian bridge, or go down stairs to the river! I bet in the summer it’s a great way to cool off!

Difficulty Level: Beginner.

Note: These photos are from a women-only hike I organized for February! Find more hikes you can join me on (both women-only and family-friendly) on my Facebook page, Family Trail Time.

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Laguna Creek Trail – Whitehouse Creek Trail Loop

IMG_3564Our family is often on the Laguna Creek Trail (see my original post here), and there are lots of places to get on and off of this trail, located in Elk Grove, CA. For this post, I’m focusing on the part of the trail starting at Bond Road, immediately east of the California Family Fitness parking lot (8569 Bond Rd, Elk Grove, CA 95624, Google map here). This loop is just about three miles and is stroller friendly and wheelchair accessible.

Facing the front of the gym, walk to the far right of the building – look for the green dumpsters and playground inside a fence. The trail is immediately to the right. With you’re back to Bond Road, follow Laguna Creek Trail over the bridge to where the trail splits and then go left towards the Whitehouse Creek Trail. A part of this stretch goes through a neighborhood with sidewalks – just keep going straight until you see the a playground/MacDonald Park on your right, and you’ll see where the Whitehouse Creek Trail picks up next to it. Just past the playground, the trail crosses over the creek on your left. Once you’ve crossed over the creek, turn right to continue on the trail.

IMG_3552You will come upon Mix Park on your left, where we usually play on the playground for a bit. Continuing on, the Whitehouse Creek Trail dead ends at Springhurst Drive. Take a right onto the sidewalk to cross over the creek, and then cross W/N Camden Drive to get onto the Camden Greenbelt.This will put you onto a new part of the Laguna Creek Trail. Go straight on the trail until you come to Camden Lake, and then follow the trail to your right (with the lake on your left). Soon you’ll see the bridge on your left that will take you back to the parking lot.

Why we love it: It’s easy. You can see some wildlife (mostly geese, ducks, occasionally a hawk, turtle, or rabbit, etc.) and get in some miles without having to go very far. I love that it’s both stroller friendly and wheelchair accessible.

For the Young Ones (0-10): While the geese along this trail aren’t aggressive (they ignore you or walk away), by the lake you’ll want to watch out for their…ahem..excrement. This “kiddie” hike is great because you can break it up by stopping at one or two playgrounds, which little ones will always appreciate.

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For the Big Kids (10+): Unless your big kids are game for a simple family walk, they’ll most likely be bored on this loop.

Keep in Mind:

  • There are no bathrooms along these trails or at the parks. At Mix Park there is at least one trash can, but this may be the only place along the route.
  • Joggers enjoy these trails so make sure to share the trails.
  • Dogs are allowed on these trails, but must be on-leash.

Around the Area: Near California Family Fitness there are lots of places to grab a bite or treat. We usually use the bathrooms wherever we grab something to eat.

Difficulty Level: Beginner.

Darrington Trail

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After Dayle’s attempt to find Salmon Falls Loop Trail, I attempted to find it for myself. I was told by one person that there’s a loop when the lake is pretty dried up, but in a good Sacramento winter it’s typically pretty wet in this part of the country. I did see a sign for Salmon Falls on the way to the Darrington Trail parking lot, but I also heard that “Salmon Falls Trail” and “Darrington Trail” are used interchangeably, so that may help explain some of the confusion. In addition, after our hike I saw a post on Hike It Baby that said to do the loop, you start at the Monte Vista Trailhead, so maybe I’ll check that out at some point. (Feel free to comment if you have information further clarifying!)IMG_E3191

Why we love it: This trail is approximately 16 miles long, with a campsite at the 8.5 mile mark. We did approximately 4 miles total, and it was a lovely hike to do in our small group of 2 parents and 2 kiddos. We liked the views of Salmon Falls Bridge, Folsom Lake, that the trail wasn’t all flat but not all at an incline, and most of all – playing in a creek that leads to the lake!

For the Young Ones (0-10): I would not recommend this trail for really little ones, or children who are not experienced hikers. While the trail itself isn’t difficult (aside from a short initial ascent), at times it is narrow with a steep drop-off, and there were many mountain bikers we had to share the trail with…without much trail to share. We did the trail with an experienced seven year-old IMG_3292hiker and a really well-behaved six-year old. They had opportunities to goof around at certain parts of the trail, but understood and responded appropriately when there was any slight safety risk. These two had a blast down at the creek and could have spent hours playing in the water.

For the Big Kids (10+): Big kids and adults looking for a longer hike can enjoy quite a few miles out on this trail. I’d suggest also looking into camping to spend more time in the area!

Keep in Mind:

  • $10 Day Use Fee + remember to keep valuables out of sight! Bring cash and a pen.
  • Packs of mountain bikers may pass you on the trail, but every single one of the bikers was courteous and friendly on our hike! IMG_3233
  • Use the following on your phone’s GPS to get to the trailhead: Darrington Trail Parking Lot, 7288-7296 Salmon Falls Rd, Pilot Hill, CA 95664
  • Cell service is intermittent along the trail, so don’t assume you’ll have a signal.
  • To do about 3 miles roundtrip, turnaround at the signs in the photo on the right.

Around the Area: El Dorado Hills has lots of shops and places to eat, but for this hike we just enjoyed snacks on the trail.

Difficulty Level: Moderate (only because of steep drop-offs and the need to share narrow trails with mountain bikers).

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