The Bay Area has no shortage of spectacular hikes with staggering scenery and endless vistas but exposed trails can become uncomfortably warm, especially for tiny tots who don’t always celebrate when they hear “Let’s keep hiking.” Fortunately, the Bay is also bursting with shady forests and covered canopies. Bring your little trailblazers on one of these cool walks among slugs, bugs and brooks and “hiking” will take on a whole new meaning.
Pioneer Tree Trail, Samuel P. Taylor State Park
Beauty is abundant in Samuel P. Taylor State Park but one of the most beautiful things about it is how otherworldly it feels despite the fact that it’s so accessible. From the mystical picnic area set along the creek, follow this meandering loop to the Pioneer Tree, a stunning old growth redwood surrounded by a forest of younger ones. Mushrooms, ferns, moss, spiderwebs, dew drops and salamanders are just a few of the many features your kids will love exploring.
Length: 2.1 miles, loop
Cataract Falls Trail, Mount Tamalpais Watershed
When water is flowing, you’ll find mini falls and mounds of mud to slosh in along this out-and-back trail. Even if your kids aren’t in the mood to make it all the way to the main falls, there are plenty of attractions along the way. Pack a picnic to share creekside or at one of the picnic tables about halfway in and have fun scampering across bridges and over rocks. This one will get everyone’s hearts pumping!
Length: 4.8 miles, out and back
Sequoia Bayview Trail, Joaquin Miller Park
Wide, flat, mellow, shaded: this is literally a walk in the park. If your kids would rather be on wheels, bring along their scoot and dirt bikes (be sure to keep your eyes open for mountain bikers who share the trail). Enjoy lunch in a redwood grove and hike under varied canopies from bay laurel to oak and madrone. Want to keep rolling? Longer trails extend in all directions from here. Though Covid protocols are still in place, you can make advanced reservations and take a plunge into nearby Roberts Pool to top off your afternoon.
Length: 2.8 miles, out and back
West Ridge, Graham, and Dunn Trail Loop, Roberts Regional Recreation Area
Adjacent to Redwood Regional Park in Oakland (also packed with cool walks in the woods), this is a shady haven with some ups, downs, bumps and twists. This is part of an 87-acre area of second growth redwood trees and is a perfect place to pop out of the city and soak up the majesty of the redwoods without having to drive or hike far. You’ll find a viewing deck and interpretive signs, meadows blooming with wildflowers and a popular playground where you can unwind after your explorations.
Length: 3 miles, loop
Purisma Creek to Grabtown Gulch to Borden Hatch Mill Loop, Purisma Creek Redwoods Open Space
Banana slugs, butterflies and ladybugs abound on this lush, forested path near Half Moon Bay. Since many people flock to coastal trails with vistas, you won’t have to share this quiet wilderness with hoards of humans. This is a longer loop for little legs, so come prepared for a full day in the forest, or plan on turning this into an out-and-back and simply turn around when you’re ready to return to civilization.
Length: 6.3 miles, loop
Six Bridges Trail, Butano State Park
A creek for feet-dipping, mud for stomping and six bridges for crossing—what little explorer wouldn’t love this misty, magical trail? Some trails in Butano State Park are currently closed due to fire damage, but this one is currently open and brimming with life. Interpretive signs and an artificial bat house add to the experience, and you can easily make the hike longer by continuing on to Butano Creek Trail. Nearby Pescadero makes for a fun place to begin or end your day. Try a bowl of Duarte’s famous artichoke soup or a sip of chardonnay at Sante Arcangeli’s tasting room while the kids romp around Harley Farms.
Length: 2.2 miles, out and back
Sanborn Loop to Indian Rock, Sanborn County Park
Super shady and spectacularly scenic, this rigorous hike is more than a leg-stretch. Escape the nearby Saratoga crowds and head up the San Andreas Trail, making your way up some decent inclines. You’ll pass through the walk-in campground which might inspire a return for a night or two, as it’s an idyllic spot to spend time soaking up the shade. With lots of boulders to climb, steps to scale, and rocks to toss, this will keep the most energetic of the bunch entertained for hours.
Length: 7.7 miles, loop
—Julie Honan Johnston