Sierra Discovery Trail

IMG_4529PG&E’s Sierra Discovery Trail is an interpretive loop trail that is full of educational signs describing the local plants, geology and wildlife of the area. This 0.8-mile trail is located off of Highway 20 and Bowman Lake Road near Alta, CA. Sarah’s family was camping in the Tahoe National Forest at White Cloud Campground along Highway 20 and checked out this trail during the day.

Why we love it: The Sierra Discovery Trail is a fun and easy trail for kids and dogs alike.  This trail begins at a gazebo that provides interpretive information about the area, including hydropower operations and local history.  The trail ventures through a marsh over a wooden boardwalk and continues over a bridge and through a mixed pine and fir forest along the Bear River to a scenic waterfall overlook. This trail offers an easier option by veering to the right after the bridge.

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For the Young Ones (0-10): The younger kiddos will enjoy stopping along the trail at the various river access points and checking out the signs with pictures of plants and wildlife. There are benches along the way to hang out and enjoy the scenery.

For the Big Kids (10+): Big kids will enjoy reading the interpretive signs and stopping along the river.  There are various points along the river to enjoy fishing as well.

Keep in Mind:

  • Be mindful of the changing river flows. Multiple signs are posted along the river warning of the possible rising flows.
  • There are restrooms (vault toilets) near the parking lot but not many other facilities nearby. Plan ahead and bring snacks or lunch and plenty of water.
  • This trail is at a higher elevation so it is typically covered in snow during the late fall and winter months.

Around the Area: There are many great local food options in the Nevada City and Grwaterfallass Valley area. One of our favorite eateries is Summer Thyme’s Bakery and Deli in Grass Valley. This local café has yummy sandwiches and pastries as well as a play kitchen area to keep kiddos busy.

Difficulty Level: Beginner

Guest contributor Sarah Perrin is a wife, mother of one boy and two dogs, wildlife biologist, home baker, and outdoor enthusiast who enjoys exploring the California foothills and Sierras with her family and friends.



Burney Falls


I’ve wanted to see Burney Falls for a very, very long time! At over 3 hours from Sacramento, we decided the best way to spend time at Burney Falls is to camp at McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park! If you decide not to camp, it’s still easy to get the falls once in the park, provided the crowds don’t max out the park’s capacity.

DSC_3964Why we love it: Burney Falls is unlike any waterfall I’ve ever seen! As per the park’s website: The park’s centerpiece is the 129-foot Burney Falls, which is not the highest or largest waterfall in the state, but possibly the most beautiful. Additional water comes from springs, joining to create a mist-filled basin. Burney Creek originates from the park’s underground springs and flows to Lake Britton, getting larger along the way to the majestic falls. We did the hike early in the morning, before there were many other people on the trail, and it was glorious!

For the Young Ones (0-10): The falls overlook is just a few minutes from the parking lot,IMG_7514 making it easy for the entire family to enjoy the falls without even taking a hike! The Jr. Ranger program (technically for those age 7 and up, but there were younger kids there) is a sweet half hour program you can learn more about at the Visitor’s Center. There’s also a General Store where people line up for soft serve ice cream!

For the Big Kids (10+): For young ones that are hikers + the big kids, hike down to the bottom of the falls where you’ll feel the mist, and then take the Falls Loop trail (see map on pg. 6) at under 1.5 miles roundtrip! The trail will take you around and up near the top of the falls and back to the falls overlook. While we were on the trail, my hubby and six year-old spotted a badger!


Keep in Mind:

  • There are approx. five miles of hiking trails in the park, but many are closed due to winter damage.
  • If you’re looking to cool off, head to Lake Britton at the back of the park.
  • The park advises that if the park reaches capacity, you should not park along Hwy. 89 because your vehicle may be subject to citation and tow.
  • The bathrooms are outside near the General Store, and there seemed to always be a line. Get in line before anyone says they need to go!
  • There is no cell phone service in the park.

Around the Area: As mentioned above, Lake Britton is fun to check out! Our six year-old could sit by the water for hours, just throwing rocks. People go to the lake to fish, swim, and paddleboard, so there are plenty of activities to do within the state park.

Difficulty Level: Beginner.


Along the trail there are a nice number of benches similar to this one.


McCloud Falls


Middle McCloud Falls from the observation deck.


For Memorial Day weekend our family booked a campsite at McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, but with a check-in time of 2pm, we wanted to take advantage of the day on the way to our campsite. I looked for a couple of things that would be fun but on the quick side, and decided on Hedge Creek Falls & McCloud Falls.


Look closely to see the people by the water at Lower McCloud Falls.


Why we love it: There are three falls to see here – upper, middle, and lower. What was great for us was that we could see all three falls without much hiking effort or time spent; just a quick five to ten minute walk from the parking lot at each waterfall!

For the Young Ones (0-10): It’s an easy-peasy walk from the parking lot to waterfall observation deck at any of the three falls, getting you the view with very little effort! The lower falls were by far the most popular and if you trust the kiddos by water, you can go down to the rocks right by the water. There are also lots of picnic tables and bathrooms at the lower falls.


Upper McCloud Falls


For the Big Kids (10+): If you have some time, take the approx. three mile hike between the falls. We didn’t see all of the trail since we were keeping it quick, but it looks like they did a really nice job of making a solid trail between the falls.

Keep in Mind:

  • The water is frigid and quick. Be extremely careful whenever near the water. We stuck our feet in by the parking lot at upper falls, and my toes tingled from the cold pretty quickly.
  • The parking lot at the lower falls is rumored to always be the most slammed. (Based on our experience, I’d say this is true.) Consider hiking from the upper falls down to middle and then to lower.
  • While the viewing areas seem pretty safe overall, little kids should always be watched closely.

Around the Area: There are tons of hikes and things to see around this general area, but we were just sightseeing on our way to camping!

Difficulty Level: Parking lot to observation decks – beginner.


A view of Mt. Shasta on the walk to the observation deck at Upper McCloud Falls.


Hedge Creek Falls


At 3+ hours from Sacramento (depending on where you live) this short hike may be best saved for part of a road trip going north on I-5, like our family did this weekend.

Why we love it: It’s short and sweet – right off of the highway, the hike is just about one mile roundtrip, and you get to go BEHIND the falls!

For the Young Ones (0-10): It’s a great break after being in the car for a long time (and there’s a port-a-potty in the parking lot)! Plus, the sweet reward of the waterfall is only about a 1/2 mile mini-hike. Just be careful where the trail is slick, and keep little kids away from the edge of the trail.

For the Big Kids (10+): If big kids want to hike a little more, I read that past the waterfall you can keep going a short distance along the creek to get to an observation deck with a view of Mt. Shasta and see where Hedge Creek meets the Sacramento River.


Keep in Mind:

  • The parking area is across the street from the trailhead. Look for the gazebo to see where to go to start the trail.
  • There is lots of poison oak along the way, so stick to the trail.
  • We each ended up with a few mosquito bites, so you may want to have your insect repellant on or ready.

Around the Area: About 45 minutes/an hour prior to getting to the falls, we loved the breakfast tacos at El Zarape in Redding, CA!

Difficulty Level: Beginner.


Upper Yosemite Falls (Yosemite Nat’l Park)


For Mother’s Day, we did our research and had a plan…with managed expectations, of course! With a six year-old and a medically fragile 3 year-old, we try to keep ourselves from setting the bar too high. That’s why when everything goes well, it makes for one AMAZING day! We had an amazing Mother’s Day at Yosemite National Park!

DSC_3773We started our day early, leaving home around the time we’d usually get up on a Saturday. There was a line to enter the park by 10AM, but it didn’t take long to get through. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that since our 3 year-old is permanently disabled, he gets a lifelong Access pass, getting us in for free!

I’ve written before on how to make a day trip to Yosemite, but this day trip was focused on one goal – getting to just past Columbia Rock on the (Upper) Yosemite Falls trail.


Why we love it: This was certainly a trail requiring many breaks on the way up the 1000 ft. gain in elevation! The beginning is nothing but switchbacks but one you start getting higher, the views are unbelievable! In just 3 miles roundtrip we felt extremely accomplished and rewarded.

For the Young Ones (0-10): You must have children who will listen to your direction, as this can be a very dangerous trail for young ones if not in carriers. Our six year-old did a great job, but we were constantly reminding him to “hug the mountain” and watch his steps. (He actually pointed out more than one adult making dangerous decisions; one going off trail and one doing a handstand on a rocky ledge.) He was incredibly proud to look down at the valley floor and see just how far up he hiked all on his own.

For the Big Kids (10+): The NPS rates the section of the trail we did moderate-strenuous, with a completion of the hike all the way to the top as strenuous. With big kids, you might consider hiking all the way to the top! Just keep in mind that it’s a looonnng hike back down!

We used this pole (on right) to gauge the approximate point at which we should turn around and head back

Keep in Mind:

  • Elevation makes any hike more difficult.
  • To get the best views without doing the entire trail, go past Columbia Rock (you’ll know you’re at the rock by the railing everyone is taking photos from) until you can see both Yosemite Falls and Half Dome in your view.
  • The trail’s sand-like terrain can make it very easy to slip and fall. Be very careful, especially with young ones.
  • Park at Camp 4 to be closest to the trailhead. There are trash cans and bathrooms close by.


Around the Area: We cannot resist a stop at Bridalveil Falls! The parking spaces turn over relatively quickly, and it’s a short walk to get to the falls. This season you’ll get drenched if you go all the way! (Last year we enjoyed a nice mist.) Keep those kiddos close. The water is freezing and standing on the rocks (for anyone) could lead to a life-threatening situation in a blink of an eye.

Difficulty Level: Moderate to Strenuous.

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Cataract Falls


Just down the “road” (Panoramic Hwy) from Muir Woods, the hiking trails continue to weave through Mt. Tamalpais State Park. I organized this hike to Cararact Falls as a ladies-only (no partners, no kids) day trip, with women who all had only me in common! It was a beautiful day and we had a great time – be on the lookout for another ladies-only trip in the fall!

Where we parked to start the trail.

To get to the beautiful Cataract Falls, you drive from Panoramic Hwy down Pan Toll Road, which will take you to Ridgecrest Blvd. For a longer trek, park in the parking area where Pan Toll meets Ridgecrest. For a shorter route (which we took), stop here for the bathrooms and then take West Ridgecrest Blvd. to the left of the parking area. You’ll have to be on the lookout on your right at about 1.5 miles down W. Ridgecrest to see a little parking area (that almost looks like a pullout) at Laurel Dell Rd. (a fire road). This is where we parked and started our ~3 mile hike.

Why we love it:

  • So. many. falls! If you begin the route at Laurel Dell Rd, taking it down until you get onto the Cataract trail (look for a trail sign at the bottom of the road, head right, then over the bridge, and head left along Cataract Creek), you will start at the top of the falls and see them go on and on until what looks like a small finger lake. This is where we turned around and made our way back up, but you can turnaround at any time!
  • Lots of cover from the trees above once you get to Cataract trail!
  • Plenty of places to have a picnic on rocks all along the way.
  • The trail may be short, but you’ll get a leg workout going back up, up, up along the falls!

For the Young Ones (0-10): This is a trail for those young ones you trust will follow directions. While I would fully trust my six year-old on this trail, I know plenty of six year-olds who wouldn’t make safe choices along the falls. Aside from safety concerns, some of the steps up/down may be a bit challenging for short legs. If you have a little one who is perfectly content in a carrier, I would wear a kiddo on this trail without hesitation.


For the Big Kids (10+): I think this trail gets a full-on “heck yeah!” from the teen sector, but I’m a mom in my late 30s so maybe that wouldn’t be the chosen slang. Regardless, these falls will get a significant thrill rating from older kids.

Keep in Mind:

  • The trail was really populated the Sunday we were there. Not so much as to be annoying, but we certainly weren’t close to being alone – and this means parking is more scarce.
  • Trekking poles are particularly helpful on hikes where you go down, down, down and then up, up, up. Save those knees and help yourself out – bring them if you have them.
  • This trail may not be best for non-compliant little kids, and it may be better to wait a few years.


Around the Area: We headed into Mill Valley and filled our bellies at Playa. While we weren’t their typical clientele and the prices were a bit steep, it sure was tasty!

Difficulty Level: Moderate.

Alamere Falls


So…this is one of those learn-from-my-mistakes kind of experiences. As such, this post will not completely follow the typical format of my posts.

The maintained Coast Trail.

A friend and I attempted this hike and ended up hiking approximately 17 miles without ever actually getting to the falls! There are different ways to get to the falls, and we started at the Palomarin Trailhead, heading to the falls via the Coast Trail. The National Parks Service actually details that the hike to Alamere Falls is a 13-mile hike because the NPS is strongly against anyone taking the shortcut that’s written about in many online articles.


Part of the unmaintained “shortcut”.


My friend and I read many sources that provided different degrees of information about the shortcut, which if all went perfectly would be an 8-mile roundtrip. We decided to go for it. We had checked the tide tables, had plenty of water and snacks, and are experienced hikers. We thought we were prepared. The “shortcut” started exactly where one of the articles gave great detail about, but after a while it disappears. Apparently all the storms this winter blocked it off with walls of brush. After going as far as we could down the shortcut, we turned around and headed back to the main trail. Unfortunately, along our way on the shortcut, we each experienced our first exposure to stinging nettle. (The leaves and stems of the plant are covered with brittle, hollow, hair-like structures that act like hypodermic needles when your skin brushes against them. Chemicals flow through the hollow tubes and cause a nasty stinging sensation and a rash. My husband compassionately treated mine once I got home.)

On the beach, down from Wildcat Campground.

We continued down the Coast Trail to Wildcat Campground, and it provided some gorgeous views. Once at the campground, you can hike approximately 2 miles on the beach to get to the falls. I was SO determined to get there, but after about a quarter of a mile on the beach, we decided to turn back. Clouds were gathering quickly, I had an old injury flair up, and it was much later in the day than we had planned to be hiking. We didn’t have cell phone service, and knew our families would start to worry. Tired and discouraged, we didn’t take the Coast Trail back, but based on a trail sign, we opted for what we thought was a more direct route but was not. (I’m still not sure what we did – looking at a map now, it doesn’t make any sense to me.)

The drizzle that later turned to rain.

On our way back, we discovered there’s a new shortcut, which is marked with rocks making an arrow. (On our way to the original shortcut, we didn’t want to blindly trust something none of the sources we read mentioned). We talked to a few people coming out of the new shortcut who said it led straight to the falls. Please note that we did not personally see if that unofficial trail led to the falls.


Also on our way back, it started raining and the last couple of miles took forever. I am so incredibly thankful my dear friend is such a positive soul that we were able to just get through it!

I would only recommend taking your family on this trail if an adult has previously hiked this trail, any minors are very experienced hikers, and I would not recommend small children be on this trail at all, unless you stay on the main trails and they’re in a carrier.

Keep in Mind:

  • Getting to the Palomarin Trailhead you’ll encounter a stretch of road that is literally all potholes, so take it slow!
  • Mobile phone reception is pretty much nonexistent.
  • There is a ton of poison oak and stinging nettle, so it’s a good idea to stick to the official trails.
  • You must understand the tide tables and how those correspond to the time you plan to be at the falls.

Difficulty Level: Moderate to Difficult.