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.

Outdoor Safety for Families: Poison Oak is Not Your Friend

June 5, 2011

Poison oakWith our copious amounts of rainfall this season, it's little wonder that we're seeing lush amounts of vegetation in Marin's forests and meadows. Unfortunately, much of this otherwise beautiful greenery is in the form of poison oak, an irritating plant that anyone participating in outdoor activities this summer should be wary of, especially children who may not be on the lookout for this distinctive shrub with leaves grouped in threes.

Please note that this post should not be a substitute for proper medical advice—if you suspect that someone in your family has developed a reaction to poison oak, go see your doctor or a dermatologist.

Volunteers Needed for Angel Island Filming June 14

June 3, 2011

Angel IslandOn Tuesday, June 14, Backcounty Pictures will be filming on Marin County's own Angel Island for part of a PBS documentary about the California State Parks. They're in need of people to include in the film, especially families with children hiking, biking, and enjoying the park. Children in strollers are welcome, too. Approximately six hikers and walkers and four bicyclists are needed for these Angel Island scenes.

Volunteers will should plan on taking the 11 am ferry from Tiburon to Angel Island and returning via the 1:20 pm ferry. Participants will be reimbursed for their round-trip ferry fares.

If you're interested in being part of this exciting project, please contact Amanda Frost by email at frostbiteprod@gmail.com or by phone at (418) 832-9934; make sure you include your name, phone number and email address.

Fun in the Sun at Heart’s Desire Beach

May 28, 2011

Heart's Desire BeachWhen the temperature rises this summer and you need to get away from the inland heat, heading out to the beach is always a popular idea. Unfortunately, the beach experience in Northern California, even on a nice day, can be something of a challenge, and usually involves donning multiple layers of clothing to stave off the cold ocean wind. Swimming at beaches here often involves putting your life at risk, too, with icy water temperatures, pounding surf, and deadly rip currents posing a hazard to even the strongest swimmers.

Let's face it: most Marin beaches are beautiful and dramatic, but you're pretty much limited to walking and playing in the sand.

Fortunately, there are some great local alternatives, if you know where to look. One of our favorite places to hang out at on a sunny day is Heart's Desire Beach at Tomales Bay State Park. On the opposite side of Inverness Ridge from the chillier ocean beaches of Point Reyes, Heart’s Desire is a white stretch of sand running along a calm, sheltered stretch of Tomales Bay. There’s no surf to speak of, and the shallow water is warm and perfect for wading, swimming, and just having fun. The swimming area is surrounded by buoys to keep boat traffic away (except for kayaks and canoes; it's a popular launching and put-in place for those), and there's often an anchored raft to swim out to.

Outdoor Safety for Families: The Tiny and Terrible Tick

May 24, 2011

Adult deer tickWe just got back from our first camping trip of the season, and ran into a notorious and ubiquitous outdoor pest—the tick. We managed to get up-close-and-personal with one of the nasty little critters when we found one hanging out on my son's shoulder when we were getting him ready for bed. Fortunately, it hadn't bitten him yet, and we caught and disposed of the tick quickly and easily. It did reinforce for us the need to be vigilant in looking for ticks after most outdoor activities.

Often as small as a sesame seed, these nasty little parasites can be found all over California—you've no doubt seen the tick warning signs at many trailheads throughout Marin and the Bay Area. While in times past they were regarded as more of a nuisance than anything else, in the last 20 years or so they’ve become vectors for serious health problems, including the infamous Lyme disease. Of course, this article should not be a substitute for genuine medical advice, so if you suspect a real health problem, talk to your pediatrician.

Help Save Our California State Parks—Again!

May 14, 2011

Jack London State Historic ParkBack in 2009 we wrote about the proposal to help alleviate California's budget problems by closing 200 of our priceless state parks. Fast forward to 2011 and legislators again propose to shut down 70 of our state parks—25% of California's state parks system—to help trim the state budget gap. This time the closures are permanent, marking the first time in the century-long history of the California State Park system that park closures would be implemented.

You can see a list and map of the proposed closures here.

This is an incredibly short-sighted, harmful, and embarrassing plan that ultimately will only serve to hurt the state of California, its citizens, visitors, and businesses. Closing parks will have a severe financial impact on nearby businesses that serve park visitors, and the tax revenue they provide. Closure of state parks will also leave them open to potential environmental damage and vandalism.

Have a Mother's Day Picnic in Marin

May 3, 2011

While Mother's Day brunch is always a fun outing for the family, sometimes you want to skip the whole fine dining experience and do something a little more original for mom. How about putting together a picnic and heading out to one of the many great picnic spots in and around Marin County. Here are some of our favorite places to bring out lunch (or brunch) and dine al fresco.

  • The Marin French Cheese Company, otherwise known as the Cheese Factory, is a wonderful spot for families, and for a special occasion like Mother’s Day. Located on Point Reyes–Petaluma Road, between Novato and Nicasio, the Cheese Factory is a great spot where the kids can run and play on their expansive lawn and you can relax on your picnic blanket in a nice shady spot. Bring your own picnic, or buy food at their cheese store and deli, which stocks sandwiches, ice cream, a multitude of different cheeses (of course), soft drinks, and an extensive selection of wine. Read more about the Cheese Factory in our article here.
  • Bear Valley in the Point Reyes National Seashore is home to the park's visitor center as well as a large picnic area complete with tables, restrooms, drinking water, and charcoal grills. Have a leisurely lunch outdoors, and then take a hike—there are a number of different hikes and walks you can do here that are suitable for everyone in the family, including the Earthquake Trail, the Bear Valley Trail, and the trail leading to the Morgan horse ranch.
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