Lace up those hiking boots and get your gear together... it's time to hit the trail! Marin County is a paradise for families who love the outdoors, with over 50% of the county's land dedicated as protected open space. The Point Reyes National Seashore, Mt. Tamalpais State Park, and the Golden Gate National Recreation area are only a few of the outstanding natural resources that we have right in out own backyard. It's a great way to both educate children about nature and the environment and to get some exercise.

On this page, we've collected all our posts on family-friendly hikes, walks, beaches, and other outdoor activities and resources. If you have a favorite hike or place you'd like to share, or if you'd like to submit an outdoors-related post as a guest contributor, please contact us.

Watching the Salmon of Lagunitas Creek

January 2, 2013

Salmon crossing on Lagunitas Creek While many think of heading out to Point Reyes for whale watching in the winter, it's also possible to get a glimpse of another fascinating aquatic creature in Marin County: the coho salmon. Winter, from approximately late November through February, is spawning season for the endangered coho salmon, and West Marin's Lagunitas Creek is home to one of the largest populations of wild coho in California. There are several places along the creek where you can view these magnificent fish on their final journey upstream.

January is one of the best times to go look for coho in Lagunitas Creek, especially a few days after a rainstorm. Salmon can range in size from two to three feet, and the spawning males turn a bright red color and develop a hooked upper jaw called a "kype." Spawning female coho are a darker, more muted red with a white tail. Salmon fresh from the Pacific which haven't yet developed their spawning colors are a gray or olive color. You may also see steelhead trout in the creek; both male and female steelheads are silver with black-spotted backs and pink stripe down the side.

Coho salmon spend the majority of their lives in the Pacific Ocean, but travel back to the freshwater streams where they were born to spawn. After spawning, the adult salmon die and the life cycle begins again. Young coho hatch in the fresh water, where they live for about a year until they make their trip downstream to the ocean.

Hiking with Kids: Sonoma Overlook Trail

November 3, 2012

Sonoma Overlook TrailWe love to visit the Sonoma Valley, especially during the fall. The weather's usually great, and it's a fun Wine Country destination for families, with family-friendly wineries, historic sites, and more. If you're up for an easy hike with the kids while you're there, check out the Sonoma Overlook Trail in the north end of town. With sweeping views of Sonoma Valley and interesting things to see along the way, it's well worth seeking out.

The trailhead is adjacent to the entrance to the Sonoma Mountain Cemetery at the end of 1st Street West, just north of the Sonoma Plaza. It's well marked, and there's a kiosk with trail maps and information. Make sure you pick up a brochure to take with you on your hike so you can learn about the plants and animals that live in the area.

The round trip is approximately three miles, although shorter hikes are possible. While the Sonoma Overlook trail winds uphill with a considerable change in elevation, there are plenty of gently sloped switchbacks which make the climb easy for anyone. In fact, you don't really realize how far you've climbed until you come into a clearing that offers a spectacular vista of the valley below.

Hiking with Kids in Marin: Samuel P. Taylor State Park

September 26, 2012

Samuel P. Taylor State ParkSamuel P. Taylor State Park, located off Sir Francis Drake Boulevard just outside of the small San Geronimo Valley town of Lagunitas, is a favorite spot for outdoor recreation for Marin County families. Situated among towering redwoods, rushing creeks, and oak woodlands, the park really has something to offer for everyone. While Samuel P. Taylor State Park boasts numerous family friendly trails, some of the best and most accessible are located right near the park headquarters and main picnic areas.

The park is named after Samuel Penfield Taylor, who came to California during the 1849 Gold Rush, and went on to found the West Coast's first paper mill on the park site in 1856. The land that is now the park later—after the arrival of the railroad—played host to Camp Taylor, a popular resort that offered camping, a hotel, dancing, swimming, boating, and more to guests from the 1870s to the early 20th century.

Now it's a prime spot for outdoor recreation in Marin. Start your visit at the Camp Taylor entrance to the park, where you can purchase a day-use pass and get a park brochure and map. Then park your car and stake out a spot in the picnic area. The main Azalea picnic area here is sited in a delightful redwood grove along Lagunitas Creek, where Taylor's hotel once stood. Each site has a picnic table and a BBQ grill, and drinking water and clean restrooms are located close by. It's really a magical place to have an al fresco lunch or snack, especially if it's a warm sunny day.

Hiking with Kids in Marin: Sky Oaks and Lake Lagunitas on Mt. Tam

September 17, 2012

Sky Oaks and Lake Lagunitas on Mt. TamalpaisIt's no secret that Mt Tamalpais is Marin County's outdoor adventure hot-spot. One of the most popular ways to visit the mountain and its many trails and natural resources is via Sky Oaks just west of Fairfax.

Sky Oaks is home to the Watershed Headquarters for the Marin Municipal Water District, which manages a large part of Mt. Tam's lands (other portions of which are part of Mt. Tamalpais State Park). Sky Oaks offers easy access to numerous trails, picnic areas, and the Lake Lagunitas and Bon Tempe Lake reservoirs. With towering redwoods and Douglas firs ringing the sparkling lakes, it's a beautiful place, and it almost feels like you're up in the Sierras.

For a great family friendly hike, try walking the loop around Lake Lagunitas. The fire roads here are wide and relatively flat, with only a few gentle hills. They're open to hikers, cyclists, and equestrians, and are easily manageable with a sturdy offroad jogging stroller.

Start your hike in the Lake Lagunitas Picnic Area. At the far end of the parking lot, take the signed trail to your left up to Lakeview Fire Road to the lake's dam. On your way from the parking area you'll see a sign noting all the different species of wildlife observed in the area—from deer to bullfrogs to bobcats to bald eagles—along with dates and locations. We saw a couple deer walking across the trail during our hike, as well as red-tailed hawks and a variety of waterfowl.

Hiking with Kids in Marin: Mt. Tamalpais' East Peak

August 14, 2012

Mount Tamalpais East Peak Verna Dunshee TrailI grew up hiking on the trails of Mt. Tam with my family, and have fond memories of walking around the summit of the mountain and marveling at the fantastic views. The East Peak of Mt. Tamalpais is a great place to go for families looking to take a hike with small children, and it also offers what are arguably the most spectacular views of any hike in the San Francisco Bay Area, so it's a great spot to take out-of-town visitors, too.

The easy, paved, .7-mile Verna Dunshee Trail that circles the mountaintop is accessible and perfect for strollers, too, and it's recently been repaved and upgraded. In addition to panoramic views of the Bay Area, the East Peak has a small visitor center and gift shop, as well as a seasonal snack bar offering candy, hot dogs, ice cream, and sodas. It's always a great place to stop for a treat after a family hike.

You'll also find the Gravity Car Barn and Museum near the snack bar. Open to the public on weekends from noon to 4 pm, the Gravity Car Barn pays tribute to the long gone Mt. Tamalpais and Muir Woods Railway, an excursion railroad that from 1896 to 1930 transported visitors up to the summit of Mt. Tam via steam train, and back down to Mill Valley by means of a free-wheeling gravity car, a replica of which is housed inside the gravity car barn and is rolled out when the museum is open.

Hiking with Kids: Bear Valley Trail

July 9, 2012

Bear Valley TrailOne of our favorite places for a hike with the family is Bear Valley Trail. Located at the Point Reyes National Seashore's Bear Valley Visitor Center near Olema, this trail is for many reasons one of the most popular in Marin, and a great spot for novice hikers and children. It's flat, wide, and sheltered from the wind and sun. While there's a slight uphill on sections both ways, it's not too challenging.

Starting at the end of the parking lot, Bear Valley Trail follows Bear Valley Creek all the way to the Pacific Ocean, if you're willing to go that far—it's approximately 8.2 miles round trip. A more manageable destination for those hiking with children is Divide Meadow, which lies at a little over a mile and a half into the trail. There you'll find a wide meadow ringed by Douglas firs. There are benches cut out of fallen logs to sit on, and it's a great place to stop for a picnic. You can usually count on seeing some wildlife here, mostly deer, but on at least one occasion we've seen a bobcat. The trip to Divide Meadow and back is 3.2 miles total.

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