Finding Poison Oak-Free Zones and Dispelling Tick Myths

Poison oak-free Lake Temescal

If last season’s itchies or marathon tick-searching sessions have left you a little reluctant to get out and enjoy the great outdoors–get over it! We’ve got some tips to keep you and the kids safe this year, so you have no excuse not to get out and enjoy hiking with the family in the beautiful Bay Area.

“Leaves of Three, Let Them Be”

We all know the popular saying, right? When it comes to poisonous plants in the Bay, poison oak usually comes to mind first, as it grows wild throughout our golden state in elevation of less than 5,000 feet. That means most trails in the Bay Area have it. The tricky part is poison oak loves to hang out with other plants and trees, even those irresistible blackberry bushes kids so love.
Luckily, it’s fun to show the kiddies how to recognize poison oak’s three-leaf clusters, and once they do, they’re usually pretty good, not only about staying away, but warning mom and dad when you get too close! Poison oak has serrated but smooth edges, often with a bit of gloss to them. The colors will vary from green to red to brownish-orange, depending on the season or the age of the vine. No matter what time of year, every part of the poison oak plant will contain urushiol, the oily culprit for those pesky rashes.
The best bet against poison oak is to stay away from it. Dress the kids up in long sleeves and pants, and teach them the saying. In this case, you may also want to disregard Robert Frost and take the road “more” traveled, as a paved and maintained trail means less exposure to poison oak. Here’s some help with that:
Poison Oak-Free Zones

One way to avoid the plant is to choose open trails that aren’t so woodsy, like Point Pinole Regional Shoreline in Richmond. Also, the Bay Area Orienteering Club has a map listing parks with little to no occurrence of poison oak. Here are some of them:
Bayfront Park in Menlo Park
Berkeley Marina in Berkeley
Lake Elizabeth in Fremont
Shoreline Park in Mountain View
Lake Temescal in Oakland
Other Poisonous Plants:

According to Bay Area Hiker‘s guide (with photos), you should prevent your teething hikers from munching on the following poisonous plants: oleander, blue witch nightshade, poison hemlock, cocklebur, white nightshade, cotoneaster, and oak mistletoe. And the mushrooms that grow at the base of oak trees … well, they’re called “death cap” mushrooms for a reason, responsible for about 6 reported poisoning cases in the Bay Area per year. These smooth, wide mushrooms have green to yellow coloring, white gills, and a white stalk, with a large-rounded bulb at the base that is buried in the soil. All the more reason to bring trail mix along!
Tick Myths De-Bunked

Here are some of the most common myths surrounding ticks, which live in trails with low vegetations, including grassland and brush, where we all love to romp.
Myth: Ticks are only active in the summer.
On the contrary, ticks are most active when it’s cold, meaning fall to early spring. So if you think you’re free and clear from doing the essential tick-check during the winter, think again!
Myth: Most ticks carry Lyme disease.
The good news is, this is false. The chances of contracting Lyme disease from a tick are very low, as only 1 out of 48 species of ticks (the Western Black Leg) are known to carry the bacteria causing the disease, and among that species, only 1 to 2 percent carry the bacteria. However, northern Cali is still an active region for Lyme disease infections, so it’s always good to take precautions.
Myth: There is no cure for Lyme disease.
Unlike the stories that say you can’t be cured from Lyme disease, there’s actually a very successful antibiotic treatment. Remember to do the routine check after a hike, as removal of a tick within 24 hours can reduce or prevent transmission of Lyme disease. Also, in addition to putting them long sleeves and pants, dress the kids in light colors to better see ticks on clothing.
For more suggestions for kid (and dog) friendly outdoor adventures around the bay, check out  Bay Area Hiker’s picks for the most family friendly trails.

—Renee Rutledge