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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Little Tree Huggers Bond on Family Hikes

By Kimberly Blaker
What better way to spend quality time with your family and get in touch with nature than a fresh, invigorating walk in the woods, along a river, or on a beach? What’s more, family hikes make for fun learning opportunities for kids and parents alike. So try some of these hiking activities with your youngsters.

Rock Hound Go on an excursion to learn about rocks and minerals. Learn which rocks and minerals are abundant in the area, and have each family member choose several to scout for. Take along a small plastic container with dividers, a descriptive rock and mineral guide, and a magnifying glass for viewing the colors, layers, and details.

Aural Exploration Wander through a forest and listen carefully for a variety of bird and animal sounds. Before you go, visit your library for a DVD or audio CD of birds and wild animal calls. (The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website and app are great resources when it comes to identifying birds and birdsong. See Then download an audio recorder on your phone and carry it on your hike to record some of the sounds you hear. Search the Internet, encyclopedias, and books to discover the makers of calls you can’t decipher.

Tree Tales Borrow some library books that describe the unique features of trees and their history. Use clues such as the shape of the leaves, texture of bark, and size of the trunk to identify the kind of tree.

Four-Legged and Feathered Friends Look for chipmunks and squirrels playing chase or gathering food; birds of prey circling overhead; or grazing rabbits and deer. Talk about what the animals eat, their shelters, and species they are related to. Also, keep eyes peeled for animal tracks to identify and determine how recently they were made.
Creepy-Crawlies Carry an insect book, clear container, tweezers, and a magnifying glass for close examination of insects’ fascinating features. Bring a journal and track the types of insects you find.

Beginner Botany Review some books on plants to spark your children’s interest. On each hiking trip, choose a different trail or area and see what plants grow in certain types of soil, climates, and in each season. As you inspect plants, look for their seeds, and notice the variations. Talk about how seeds travel via the wind or the fur of animals. Carefully brush away the ground cover and look for seeds that have sprouted their roots. Learn how individual plants have evolved natural defenses that protect against creatures that would otherwise devour them.

The Smart Daypack Carry a small daypack, extra clothing, and don’t forget hiking boots. Also bring along hats, sunglasses, sunblock, and insect repellant. When hiking off trails, use safety precautions to protect against tripping, getting lost, or other hazards, such as ticks and poison oak. Be prepared for emergencies: Carry a small flashlight and batteries, watch, map, bandages, and don’t forget plenty of water and snacks. Finally, to make the most of your nature quest carry binoculars, a magnifying glass, and a small camera.

Tykes on the Trail When hiking with children, keep these suggestions in mind: 1. Allow small legs plenty of time for breaks and know your child’s limitations. 2. Be familiar with potential dangers in the area; teach your children trail and animal safety. 3. Before you set out, let your kids know that there may be rules against taking their nature finds home. 

Kid-Friendly Hikes in Sonoma County
Armstrong Redwoods State Nature Reserve See redwoods that are more than 1,000 years old on a network of short trails that, in winter, run along a babbling creek. There’s even a waterfall.

Jenner Headlands Preserve This relatively new park is right on the coast, so hikers are treated to dramatic views of the ocean while walking along trails that travel upward through green grass and daffodils.

Kortum Trail Visit ancient, enormous rocks that mammoths once called home on this easy, flat coastal out-and-back trail. Park at the Shell Beach lot. Go north, to the second outcropping, and look for the shiny spots on the rock’s surface, against which mammoths once rubbed. Go south to visit Russian Gulch Beach and Wright Beach.

Santa Rosa
Taylor Mountain Regional Park and Preserve These trails can get muddy, so grab everyone’s hiking boots and get ready to travel through oak woodlands, verdant meadows, and expansive views. The Eastern Trail is very steep, so start with the more gradual Western Trail; both meet at the summit, making for about a 4-mile loop. Or take the shorter, less strenuous .7-mile Todd Creek Trail, which goes through an oak forest.

For more kid-friendly hikes, go to or see

Kimberly Blaker is a freelance writer and founder and director of KB Creative Digital Services, an Internet marketing agency. See