Round the Bend
May 14, 2017 12:00AM
Kids on summer break are as buzzy as 100 Energizer bunnies. Want a no-fail way for them to get out their yahoos? Go hiking!
If you live in Santa Rosa and don’t have a ton of time to drive to a trailhead, Taylor Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve may meet your needs for both convenience and communion with nature. There are two entrances, one on Petaluma Hill Road and the other on Kawana Terrace. Two trailheads can be accessed from the Kawana Terrace entrance, the Western Trail and the Eastern Trail. With its 1,000-foot ascent, the latter is much steeper than the former, so you can choose which one suits your family’s energy level. The trails intersect to form a roughly five-mile loop, so you can go up the Eastern Trail and down the Western Trail, or just go up and down either one. The preserve also serves as pasture for cows, which often stand near the trails. It’s best to give them their space—especially mama cows and their calves (so adorable!)—so they don’t get spooked. Along your way to the top, you’ll be treated to sweeping grasslands (especially on the Western Trail), a variety of birds, blackberries (in season), and even some roaming wild turkeys. When you get to the summit’s expansive vista, the kids can look for familiar buildings or landmarks in the city below. These trails are great for children of all ages, but the uneven, rocky terrain can be hard on strollers. For very young kids, your best bet may be the relatively flat Todd Creek Trail, a little over a half-mile loop through oak woodlands that begins on the lower part of the Western Trail. Watch out after a big rain; all the paths can get quite muddy. There are pit toilets and $7 parking at the Kawana Terrace entrance. Dogs on a leash no longer than six feet are permitted. See parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov for more information.
Armstrong Woods State Natural Reserve offers miles of trails throughout its acres of redwoods. It’s like Muir Woods in Marin County, but on a smaller scale and without the hoards of international travelers (though there are still plenty of tourists to go around). From easy to strenuous, there is a hike for every level of fitness or age of child. If you have small children, you may want to stick to the stroller-friendly Pioneer Nature Trail, which runs around the bottom of the park. Under a mile, the path will take you to the 1,400-year-old Colonel Armstrong tree, the oldest redwood in the reserve, and the Forest Theater, a natural amphitheater. If you want more of a challenge, and have slightly older kids, you can try the 2.2-mile East Ridge Trail hike, which climbs steadily up 400 feet until it branches off on the left to a path that passes a splendid waterfall on its way back down to the picnic area at the bottom of the park. Or you can keep going up another few miles on the East Ridge Trail to the entrance of the Bullfrog Pond Campground and see some incredible views of the surrounding green conifer-filled hills. Do you just want the vistas, but not the hike? Pay the $7 entrance fee, and drive up to the top. Otherwise you can park for free outside the park kiosk and walk in. Flush toilets are in the back bottom half of the park. Leashed dogs are only allowed on paved roads, not on dirt trails. See parks.ca.gov/?page_id=450 to learn more.
The Kortum Trail offers the most bang for your buck, in terms of the amount of work required to earn a view. Just pull into the Shell Beach parking lot, and be swept away by the sight of the ocean splashing against dramatic cliffs. From the parking lot, the trail, which is flat and easy, runs north and south along the shoreline. Going north, you’ll be met by a dirt path as well as wooden walkways that span creeks. Travel just a mile or two, and you’ll find rock outcroppings, where you may see climbers testing their mettle. Keep going, up the hill to a lookout, or take the trail all the way to Blind Beach; but, for safety reasons, neither may be suitable for young kids. Simply turn around when you’re ready. If from the parking lot you take the trail south, a dirt path will lead you about a mile to Furlong Gulch Beach or, a little farther down, Wright’s Beach. You’ll find pit toilets at the Shell Beach parking lot, where it’s free to park. Dogs are not allowed. See parks.ca.gov to find out more.