Not too hot, not too cold: Autumn is the Goldilocks season in the Bay Area and right now is the best time for a family hike. Take your family on a local adventure this weekend to discover an ancient redwood grove, seek out fall colors and—if you dare—hunt for tarantulas. Whatever your level of enthusiasm for nature, we’ve got you covered. Happy trails!
Batteries to Bluffs Trail
Locals know the best views of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge can be found along this trail in the Presidio. Less than a mile long but packed full of scenic views and history, this easy-going hike is ideal for little legs. Don’t miss the concrete ruins of Sutro Baths, which offer a glimpse into San Francisco’s storied past.
Lobos Creek Trail
Who says you can’t go hiking in an urban jungle like San Francisco? Take your little ones out to the Lobos Creek Trail and you’ll be surprised. This half-mile boardwalk is a great mini-hike with the half pints. Monterey pines, monkeyflowers, scattered dunes and a forest of cypress trees make this restored Presidio trail enjoyable during all seasons.
Philosopher’s Way Trail
This 2.7-mile trek in San Francisco’s second biggest park has 14 “musing stations” with quotes to make you think while you walk. And while you’re there, don’t forget to check out the park’s reservoir in the northwest section and McNab Lake near the Sutter Playground. McLaren Park offers an exciting alternative to its busy counterpart, Golden Gate Park.
1229 Mansell St., San Francisco, CA
Take the kids out to see the big spiders. In the fall, Mount Diablo is one of the top places to catch the tarantulas out and about during their mating season. Mitchell Canyon in Mount Diablo offers an easy hike from the staging area to Deer Flat and back. In the spring, this hike is popular for the wildflowers, and the autumn season is a great time to appreciate the oak savanna woodland and pine groves.
Mount Diablo State Park
Mitchell Canyon Rd., Clayton
Ardenwood Historic Farm
Step back in time to explore Ardenwood’s historic buildings and farming equipment before heading off on a trail through leafy orchards. This park is open year round and volunteers regularly offer activities demonstrating life on a still-operational 1890s farm. From April to mid-November on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, you can also ride a train through the park.
34600 Ardenwood Blvd., Fremont
Livermore’s Sycamore Grove is home to one of the largest sycamore groves in the state. The park makes for a leisurely autumn walk on flat terrain. Walk 2.5 miles from the main entrance to Veteran’s Park, an open space park on the other end where the little ones can run loose. And keep your little hikers on the lookout for some of the critters that call Sycamore Grove their home. From frogs and dragonflies to ducks and muskrats.
1051 Wetmore Rd., Livermore
Tilden Regional Park
Hiking is only part of what this awesome park has to offer. It also boasts pony rides, steam trains, a farm and a swimming area at Lake Anza (currently closed due to an algae bloom). And did we mention this park also has a merry-go-round? Tilden Park has it all and will surely be a hit with your little ones. Plus, most of the hiking trails near the park are short and flat, perfect for little legs and feet.
Canon Dr., Berkeley
San Mateo's Sugarloaf Mountain offers you and your little ones a chance to hike a bunch of different trails in one area without having to worry about choosing trails based on length. Each trail averages between a mile to three miles and are marked for your hiking convenience. This beautiful open-space connects San Mateo and Belmont with lush green trees, biking trails and wildlife. Note: Laurelwood Park connects to Sugarloaf Mountain so you can treat your little ones to slides and swings before or after exploring Sugarloaf Mountain.
3471 Glendora Dr., San Mateo
Waterdog Lake Park
This hidden gem is nestled between homes and condos in the hills of Belmont. Waterdog Lake Park provides easy terrain for your little hiking aficionados. One of the many perks of hiking Waterdog Lake Park are the views from the top of the canyon. On a clear autumn day you can take in an amazing view of the bay, see the San Mateo Bridge and see the rising hilltops that run through Hayward. The trails at Waterdog Lake reach a maximum of two miles.
2400 Lyall Way, Belmont
Castle Rock State Park
Majestic coast redwoods, lush Douglas-firs, and wild forests of madrone make the trails at this South Bay park come alive with beautiful nooks and crannies, including those filled with the intricate sandstone rock formations that inspired the park’s name. Holes in the rocks are big enough for the kids to climb through. This awe-inspiring destination will keep you and your little hikers entertained with over 32 miles of hiking and bicycle trails.
Castle Rock State Park, Highway 35
Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve
This preserve is often crowded on the weekends, busy with runners along the paved paths and hikers traversing along the trails. After a long COVID closure, Deer Hollow Farm has reopened to the public. It’s a mile from the parking lot and is a great spot to stop and explore. Check out the animals, vegetable garden, and the big red barn. When you get to the farm, have a snack and peek around. Most of the lower trails in the park all lead to central locations, so little hikers and their parents are free to explore without getting lost or tired.
Cristo Rey Dr., Cupertino
Henry W. Coe State Park
Mild weather and thin crowds attract autumn hikers to the deep canyons and tall ridges of Henry Coe State Park. While the trails here are known for being steep, there are some easy walks as well including the one-mile Ponderosa Trail by the Coe Monument. October is a great time to see the colors change on the big leaf maples and California buckeye trees here.
East Dunne Ave., Morgan Hill
The redwoods protected in this National Monument are some of the oldest in the Bay Area. A study in 2014 found the largest coastal redwood in this grove to be 777 years old—trees here were protected from logging by the burgeoning conservationist movement that led to the National Park System. The boardwalk trail through these beautiful giants is easy to navigate with a stroller and ideal for toddlers. Reservations are required, due to the small car park, so be sure to book ahead.
Muir Woods, Mill Valley
The grazing tule elk and refreshing sea breeze give autumn a new meaning at this Point Reyes destination. Quiet most of the year, Tomales Point is popular with hikers in the fall, when the weather is mild and the elk are out in droves amid clusters of cypress trees. Those giant antlers alone will fascinate the kiddos. One of the coolest parts to Tomales Point, all the hiking trails are perfect for our mini backpackers. Trails range anywhere from half a mile to 2 miles long.
Pierce Point Rd., Inverness
King Mountain Loop Trail
Loop nearly two miles around the crown of King Mountain at this easy-as-pie excursion. Native plants and quiet oak-bay forests make this trail an autumn gem. This hiking trail will have you and the little ones in awe with the views and quiet sounds of nature. It's the perfect hiking destination to disconnect and explore the great outdoors.
Ridgecrest Rd., Larkspur
Note: Be on the lookout for poison oak, so keep the little ones from running into the trails before you get a chance to make a clean sweep of the area.
—Sarah McDonald & Renee Macalino Rutledge
featured photo by Aaron Burden via Unsplash