California State Parks

Family Hiking Milestone: 13 Miles at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

It's been four months, since our milestone hike: 13 MILES with our toddlers.  I think I have emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually have come to grips with it.  Believe me this isn't our normal deal when we hike with our toddlers but we were meeting up with some Twitter Hiking All Stars: Russ Beebe ~ Winehiker WiticulturePaulina Dao ~ Little Grunts and David Wherry ~ Hiker Adventures.

Yes, it rain a few times in California this year.
My husband had been captive to his cubicle for a couple of weeks, so an 8 mile hike sounded like a good time and a good workout since we knew we would have to carry the kids most of the way.  My daughter can barely hike 1/2 mile but my son had hiked up to 5 miles in the past, so we planned to carry them quite a bit.  Nothing that we haven't done before hikers pace vs. non-kid hikers is completely different, primarily in how fast/slow one hikes.  Either way we were up to the challenge.

It was a rainy day (WHAT?!) in the San Francisco Bay Area, as we headed out to Felton in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  The second we started hiking in the rain, I had immediate flash backs to hiking in the Peruvian Andes and it put me in a great mood.  Our kids hardly ever hike in the rain, but of course they enjoyed splashing in the puddles.

Russ, Paulina and David were in the front of the pack and we were in the back.  Our kids like to play the "in-and-out game" for the first hour of hiking, until we encounter an uphill they don't want to hike.  I can't remember all the details of our hike, now four months behind me but the things that stood out in my mind were:
  • Green ~ Everything was GREEN!  The Bay Area, especially the East Bay is brown ahem...golden most of the year and only turns green during the winter rains.  In this severe drought year, there was only like a 4 week period where water was flowing in our seasonal creeks and everything was green.  It was really refreshing.
  • Big Ben Tree ~ Not really too much to say about this except show pictures.
The whole familia fits inside Big Ben. Photo Courtesy of Little Grunts.

Getting to 13 miles....

We all were having a blast enjoying snacks, resting, taking pictures and eating that we took a little wrong turn due to so many fallen trees on the trail as well as many trail markers were destroyed or removed (see WineHiker comments below).  We realized our mistake 2.5 miles out from where we should have taken our trail, putting us at 5 miles added onto our 8 mile hike.  A 13 mile hike isn't all that difficult as a day hiker, but when you have 30-50 lbs of human plus snack, water and gear every step is well....hard.  I think I really earned my hamburgers and fries that day.

I'm smiling but I'm crying inside! Photo Courtesy of Hiker Adventures

Well, there was nothing we could do but hike and hike as fast as we could because the winter daylight was short.  I don't know what happened with my children, I think God answered my prayers as we hiked along that kids wouldn't have a meltdown.  With a steady flow of candies, I mean snacks...water, being carried, singing, hand holding, my two and four year old made this 13 mile trek at Henry Cowell Redwoods.  At one point my husband carried both our toddlers because they both wanted Daddy to hold them.  Russ turned to me and said "Is that fair?" and I said, "I carried them for 9 months each, 1 mile won't kill him."

Oh by the way, did I tell you we calculated that our son hiked SEVEN of the THIRTEEN miles!
That's my boy!

I don't know what else to say about this hike, it was beautifully hard but worth every minute. It was a great family hiking milestone that we got to share with some great people.  What stands out the most in my mind now, is that the next day as my husband and I laid on our living room exhausted, Mr. David Wherry was running across the Golden Gate Bridge.  Oh someday, we will no longer be kid-carrying sherpas!  More pictures please and pass the cheese....

Group effort to get across! Thanks David and Russ!! Photo Courtesy of Little Grunts.

Lime Kline left overs....

Fun Times!

These niños....

Trail Report Detials
Who: Five Adults, Two Toddlers
Family Friendly: Very Difficult (due to distance)
Mileage: 12.9 miles, 13+ with extra walking around

Elevation Change: 2625 ft
Trails Description: Pretty much up a mountain and back down.

Trails: Bennet Creek Trail - Fall Creek - South Fork - Cape Horn - Lost Empire - Big Ben Tree (Not the Trail, the actual tree).  We continued onto Lost Empire Trail, instead of taking Big Ben Trail for the added five miles.  Continue onto Big Ben Trail and take Fall Creek Trail all the way to the Parking Lot.  

I'm glad I know what my family is capable! What is your family's hiking limit? 

Related Links and Posts:

  1. Henry Cowell State Park: Big Ben Loop #winehike by Little Grunts
  2. Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park Wine Hike by Hiker Adventures
  3. Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park ~ California State Park Website

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Road Trip Camping: Pismo State Beach ~ North Beach Campground

We love to road trip for any reason!  Mainly because we get to see more of our surroundings and it's usually less expensive than flying a family of four anywhere.  Our latest adventure took us on a road trip to Pasadena for the American Hiking Society Board of Directors meeting.  Road tripping  allowed us to bring more of our regular car camping gear unlike our previous camping trip where we flew to Orange County.

This year we have been lucky enough to camp three times on California State Park coastal campgrounds: Half Moon Bay State Beach, El Capitan State Beach and now Pismo State Beach - North Beach campground.

The Campgrounds

In most of my previous beach camping California experiences, beach camping is not really camping on the beach! The campgrounds are usually near a beach but not on the sandy beaches, North Beach campground at Pismo State Beach is no different.  The one thing that stood out about North Beach was the SPACIOUS campgrounds!

Having spacious campgrounds are really great for car camping because we normally set up our mansion tent, but on this occasion we brought our backpacking tent which looked really tiny in our giant campground.  In the picture above, my husband is walking in the campground next to us (empty) and the neighboring camp was the 1st RV in the distance.  The large space did allow our kids to run around and climb trees without worrying about them running into the next campsite.

Almost everyone there had LARGE RV campers, except for us and a few other tent campers.  The tent campers were the minority but once again everyone turned off their generators at the appropriate times.  I have noticed that a lot of coastal campgrounds draw the RV camping crowds.  The RV campers at North Beach were very luxurious and people would lay out rugs, patio furniture, plastic flower decorations, etc.  There was a lot of glamping and comfort camping going on at North Beach.

Location: Pismo Beach, California - 80 miles North of Santa Barbara (Google Map & Campground Map)
Reservations: Seasonal on Reserve America, otherwise walk-up 1st come 1st serve
Daily Price: Off Season Walk Up Rate $25/Night - On Season check Reserve America
Facilites: Drinking Water, Restrooms, Showers, Fire Pit and Tables

North Beach

We arrived at our campsite just before sunset, so we quickly setup our tent and headed for the beach.  I love watching my California sunsets and we had been promising our children to play at the beach for a couple of hours, so we made sure we got there before the sunset.

Pismo State Beach ~ North Beach and Pismo Creek
There are two trails at North Beach campground: Beach Foot Trail and Meadow Creek Trail.  Beach Foot Trail is the path to the actual beach, not an actual hiking trail but a walkway to the beach that passes the campground amphitheater and bathrooms through a eucalyptus grove.  The Meadow Creek Trail (which we did not explore) heads off to the Monarch Butterfly grove and loops around the Pismo Beach Golf Course according to the map.

Beach Foot Trail and the Amphitheater

The sunset was gorgeous and even though it as quite chilly the kids splashed around in Pismo Creek and made sand castles until it became dark.  Dinner was at a Old Juan's Cantina less than 2 miles south of North Beach Campground, near the south end of Pismo State Beach - Oceano Campground.  Unless we are full blown car camping we usually eat out for dinner.  No mess or cleanup at the campsite.

The next morning we cooked breakfast before we headed out to the beach one more time.  The kids were going to be in the car for a few more hours before we arrived to our final destination in Pasadena, so we wanted the beach to tire them out.  We made more sand castles, found sand dollars, ran away from the waves and walked up and down the beach.

This year we have been camping quite often at California State Parks, especially along the California coast.  Even though I prefer a more rustic, out of the way campsites, I am truly enjoying my California State Parks this past winter and spring.

Have you ever had the pleasure of visiting one of California's great State Parks?

Join in on the conversation by leaving a comment here! You can also join in on the conversations on Chasqui Mom's FacebookInstagram and Twitter that is updated daily with outdoor activities and other wonderful posts and links from #OutdoorFamilies!

Related Posts and Links:

  1. Chasqui Mom's California State Park Visits
  2. Pismo State Beach - California State Parks

Celebrating Children's Birthdays Outdoors

As you probably figured out the outdoors is a large part of our lives, so when milestones come around like celebrating our little ones birthday's we like to indulge our children in the outdoors.  This last year we tried something new, we asked our little ones where they wanted to go for their birthdays.  I already knew the answers before they even said where they wanted to go:  the beach and the snow!

Sandy Venice Beach ~ My Daughter's Wonderland

During the last days of summer, my little girl turned two years old and even though we celebrated my little "Tinkerbell" with pizza and family we wanted to give my daughter want she loves the most, the beach.  We headed over to a special beach (the one my husband proposed to me), Venice Beach one of four beaches at Half Moon State Beach.  I was happy to celebrate my special girl at a place that I have fond memories of.

My daughter loves the outdoors and in particular the sand at the beach, so why not let her enjoy her favorite place on the day she entered into this world.  We packed a little picnic, played in the sand, ran away from the waves but it didn't last too long because it was one of those cold summer Northern California beach day.

Snowy Yosemite Valley ~ My Son's Birthday Wish

Ever since our road trip to Rocky Mountain National Park over the summer, my son had been dying to go play in the snow.  When he saw white glaciers on the tops of the Colorado mountains, he yelled with glee "Mommy!! That is SNOW!! Let's go get our snowboards and go down the mountain!".  Almost every day since he had been asking to go to the snow, so a few days before his birthday California had one of the very few storms that turned Yosemite Valley into a white winter park.  After a few days after his bowling birthday party, my son's birthday wish came true!

The excitement was almost unbearable for him, we sang Happy Birthday all day long and he kept on saying that it was "Christmas time now".  He had a lot of firsts on his 4th birthday like building a snowman, snowshoeing, sledding, and snowball fight.  Yosemite National Park was a magical snowy birthday for our little mountain man.

An Outdoor Tradition We Will Continue

I love loud birthday parties with all my extended family but at the same time I love the quietness of celebrating my kids birthdays outdoors, just the four of us.  Watching my kids enjoy and explore the outdoors with wonder is one of the great aspects of parenthood.  Thank you God for entrusting me with my beautiful babies!

Love you my children.

Do you have any outdoor family traditions? For birthdays, anniversaries, etc?

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California Winter Family Camping: El Capitan State Beach

I mean really, sometimes I almost feel bad for living in California while the rest of the United States of America is in the Polar Vortex.  Middle of "Winter" camping on the California coast isn't really all that bad.  We take any opportunity to head outdoors whether, hiking, camping, backpacking or just a day outdoors.

Over Valentine's Day weekend we extended a Southern California business trip to include a two-night camping trip at El Capitan State Beach.  We were hoping to find a more "Hiking" place to camp but most of my husband's co-workers recommended El Capitan, a place along the coast where they all like to escape to.  We were sold on El Capitan because it was by the beach and I really wanted to drive home to San Francisco by the Pacific Ocean.

Location: Goleta, California off of Highway 101- 17 miles North of Santa Barbara
Reservations: Only seasonal on Reserve America, otherwise Walk-up
Daily Price: $35-45 a individual site (depends on the season). Winter Walk-up Rate we paid $35/night
Facilities: Drinking water, Restrooms, Showers, Camp Store, ATM, Picnic Tables and Grills
Campsite Visited: Campsite No. 29 (Shaded, partial Pacific Ocean View)

We arrived at El Capitan shortly before sunset, and set up camp: our large family camping tent, hammock and camp gear.  I knew by the time we finished setting up camp it would be dinner time and after my husband working all day, driving a few hours, neither my husband nor I would want to cook, so we planned to head into Goleta for some Mexican Food.  We normally don't eat out while camping but it had been a very long day for both my husband at work and as well as me dealing with preparing for our camping trip from our hotel!

Oooh! The Ocean!!
After dinner we headed back to El Capitan and went straight to bed.  There was so much excitement during camp setup that the kids (and us) were exhausted, so we all headed into our mansion of a tent for a good nights rest.  If you follow my blog, you know that my daughter is a TERRIBLE sleeper but our first night at El Capitan my daughter slept ALL night long and I actually got to sleep very well for once!

My kids knew we were camping near the ocean, but we never had a chance to go down to the beach when we arrived.  The second my kids woke up, they heard the ocean and wanted to see it so we just opened our tent window and let them see it.  It is awfully nice to camp on the California Coast!

Valentines Day at El Capitan State Beach

The two times we've been camping this "winter", Half Moon Bay State Beach and El Capitan State Beach have been beach locations.  We normally like to hike during our camping trips but we haven't done any hiking in either of these trips because the beach being steps from out tent!  I love the ocean and my kids love ANY water source so to incorporate the beach into our camping is wonderful.

There are 10 miles of hiking trails at El Capitan but on this occasion we just walked down to the rocky beach.  At first there was actually no beach in sight, just small waves crashing onto the the rocks but we found a tiny sandy spot and as the hours went by the sandy beach grew.  The kids splashed and ran away from the waves, my husband sat on the rocks and enjoyed reading his books and I explored the tide pools.  We all eventually were splashing in the waves but I LOVE exploring tide pools.

During our little lunch break we had pleasure of seeing dolphins and even brown pelican making amazing dive into the water.  There was a large patch of seaweed/kelp floating by so I'm assuming there were fish for the dolphins and pelicans to eat!

We had a great day splashing at the beach but after a "tragedy" struck (a small toy was washed away at sea) it was time to say goodbye to the beach.  We retreated back into our giant mansion tent so the kids could play and my husband and I could doze off in our warm tent.  After we had recharged a bit, we took a trip into Goleta to get a few more food supplies and ice cream to soften the blow of the lost toy at sea.

After returning to camp, we started preparations for our dinner when all of a sudden we heard helicopters above and a crowd had formed by the cliff.  I investigated with my kids and there was a Search and Rescue effort for our kayaking camp neighbors.  A couple hours later, our camp neighbors returned obviously with their spirits down....they had shown up midday, quickly setup camp and headed out to sea.  Another camper came over a little later and offered them beer and I could see they were definitely "deflated".  Worst camping trip ever for them, the "mom side" of me wanted to go console them but then I thought if I were in their position I wouldn't want anyone to ask me ANYTHING, so I let them be.  They didn't seem happy.

It was Valentines Day, normally my husband and I go out for Round Table Pizza but since we were camping, I wanted to do something special, ala Jesse and Melissa Style!  We love steak, so why not get a heart shaped steak?!  It was one of the most delicious steaks I've ever eaten, in addition to mashed potatoes and dutch oven peach cobbler!

Get in my belly you rib eye steak!
After dinner the kids and I laid in the hammock and stared at the almost full moon and stars, while my husband cleaned up.  The kids get very clingy when night falls because they are scared of the dark.  The only time I like it because I get to cuddle with my babies.  The kids fell asleep very quickly and my husband and I enjoyed sitting by the fire and laying in the hammock in peace....silence.

Something I will never forget from this trip is my daughter waking up around 2 or 3 a.m. in the morning on our last night and said "Mommy, those trees are amazing...." in regards to the tree branch shadows on the tent ceiling. Just a random thought she woke up to tell me and then passed out again.  That's my girl.

I love my family, I love California and I love camping.

Related Posts and Links:

  1. Wave Crashing Family Camping & Mavericks at Half Moon Bay
  2. El Capitán State Beach - California State Park Website

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Wave Crashing Family Camping & Mavericks at Half Moon Bay

What a way to start the new year! Family camping by the beach and a phenomenal California surf competition, all before January even finished.  It all started a few weeks ago when we decided to take advantage of our unseasonably warm weather and camp for a night near the coast.  I tried a few other California State Parks but Half Moon Bay State Beach reservations were half empty and it was as close as camping on the beach as one can get.

The Stars (more like the waves) Aligned....

A few days before our quick camping trip, I scanned through my Twitter feed and saw "Mavericks [Surfing] Competition might be held this Friday!"  I literally start going into hyper sonic mode and try to tell my husband what I just read.  I stalked news media for the next two days until it was confirmed that the Mavericks Invitational 2013-2014 was going to be held a few miles from our campsite.  Joy!

Green means, Go! Surfs up!
I'm not a surfer, nor will I probably ever surf but that doesn't mean I'm not fascinated with it.  I'm a California girl, born, raised and I'll probably die here.  I LOVE the beach, it's my happy place and it's a world of wonder especially the once a year 40-60 foot waves where they hold the Mavericks Invitational.  Ever since I found out about this competition I've wanted to attend but it just never happened, so I was beyond thrilled that it happened during our camping trip.

Mavericks Festival: Oceano Hotel & Spa Grounds

A few years ago the Mavericks audience was able to see the competition from the Pillar Point Beach/Cliffs near the area marked as "Mavericks" on the map.  Unfortunately in 2010, a HUGE wave came onto the shore and took down bystanders and media personnel, so now it it prohibited to watch from the shore.  Sadness.  I understand why it is prohibited now but it would still be really cool to see with my own eyes.

The Oceano Hotel & Spa now hosts the Mavericks Festival, here's a quick review on it:
  • Jumbo Tron Viewing ~ There are two huge Jumbo Trons on the opposite ends of the festival, lots of room for everyone to view.  The general audience brought chairs, blankets and set up for the day but there was a VIP area which was more expensive of course.  The viewing was a live feed that occasionally would lose signal but the announcer would jump in to fill the gaps.
  • Mavericks Competition ~ The competition it self was really fantastic to see, each "round" was called a heat and we quickly learned some surfing terminology, like "Air Drop" and of course "Wipe Out".  I didn't know any of the surfers but Grant "Twiggy" Baker from South Africa became our favorite real quick, who eventually won the competition.  I know...there were many Bay Area local surfers in the competition but Twiggy was awesome and no one could deny it.  I loved how the audience would go into a lull but  the energy would pick up along with the waves.  There was a local band playing "beach music" from Pacifica which was entertaining to listen too, GoPro was doing a giveaway which we signed up for but left before they announced the winner.
  • Logistics/Cost/Parking ~ The festival is located in the Oceano Hotel & Spa Parking Lot, no real view of the ocean but it's walking distance away. There were FOUR levels of tickets ranging from $15-1,000/ticket, we purchased the $15 tickets online the night before.  I had read in other reviews that the festival had sold out online in the past years so I didn't want to risk it and purchased it online.  I was able to download all our tickets on Eventbrite App and the ticket hostess just scanned my phone at the entrance.  Parking is available at the Half Moon Bay Airport but we parked for free about a mile away on Pacific Coast Highway 1 and walked along the Coastal Trail to the festival.  There is a bike valet if one decided to ride your bike to the festival.
  • Family Friendly Activities ~ There was only one real family friendly activity, the Skate Park, which is geared more towards older children who can skateboard.  My toddlers were a little bored because they wanted to go to the beach and there weren't toddler friendly activities.  They were only partially interested in watching the surfing competition on the Jumbo Tron.  Hint, hint....maybe more kid-friendly activities (rock climbing, a portable playground or inflatable slides, etc)!  I saw lots of families with younger children, so family friendly activities might be a great addition.
  • Food/Beverages ~ There were food trucks galore!  In particular, The Sanguchon a Peruvian food truck that I've been dying to check out.  It was was DELICIOUS by the way!  I was so fixated on The Sanguchon truck I can hardly remember the other food trucks but other foods included paella, garlic fries, burritos, grilled sandwiches.  Cliff Bar and Red Bull were also there giving out free samples as well.  There was a free water station as well as a a Sierra Nevada station on every corner.

Overall, we had lots of fun at the Mavericks Festival watching the competition and eating delicious food.  We left in the middle of the festival to walk around Pillar Point Harbor and found a little beach and creek for the kids to run around before returning to watch another heat.  News media was all around Pillar Point Harbor, from CNN to NBC with helicopters flying all around Half Moon Bay.  I am definitely going to return someday to the Mavericks Invitational/Festival but maybe when I have enough money to charter a boat out to the waves so I can see them myself!!  Truly amazed by the surfers physical strength, expertise and courage to go out in those enormous waves.

Wave Crashing Camping at Half Moon Bay State Beach ~ Francis Beach

We left the Mavericks Festival before the Final heat and walked along Coastal Trail to our car on Pacific Coast Highway 1.  We couldn't check into our campsite until 2 p.m., so the Mavericks Festival was a good way to spend the day.  My original plan was to hike around Pillar Point but all roads were blocked off due to the competition.

Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail

The First of Many Camping Trips
As I mentioned earlier, we just wanted to get away for a quick camping trip and not spend time driving far away for a one-night camping trip, so Half Moon Bay State Beach was the perfect place to start our camping adventures for 2014.  Half Moon State Beach is actually comprised of four beaches, Francis Beach being one of them, 52 campsites and it feels far away from the city even though it a few blocks away from downtown Half Moon Bay.  We are not RV campers and probably will never be, but I must mention that this was primarily a RV campground, yet with a few tent campers interspersed around.

Mi Casa - ALPS Mountaineering: Three Room Camping Tent
We had reserved Campsite #40, which was an RV/tent site with partial shade, a picnic table, fire pit with a grill and the road ran behind it.  Not my ideal location but cars hardly drove by and in the morning we were able to see all the horseback beach tours ride by, which added the "California Factor" to the campsite.  NOTE: There are Tent-Only sites which are almost on the beach (near the bathrooms), which I'm assuming must be reserved way in advance.

The campground was pretty quite overall, there was close to no RV noise which was hardly noticeable over the crashing waves.  Once darkness rolled around, all the RV campers went into their homes and it seemed like we were the only ones there.  Nice.  I think we were the only ones in our area with a fire going, which we cooked Chicken Shish Kabobs.  After dinner, our toddlers fell asleep (Yay!) and we waited for my friends' husband to arrive.  Once he arrived we all proceeded to have second dinner, one of the many reasons we like camping.  It was a chilly night and we all ended up smelling like smoke because we huddled so close to the fire for the rest of the evening.  Fun times.

Crashing Waves at Francis Beach
Francis Beach is just down a few steps from the campgrounds but be warned it isn't a swimming beach due to its strong currents.  Plus nobody really "swims" in the Northern California beaches because they are too cold.  My toddlers concept of the "beach" is playing in the sand vs. swimming in the ocean.  They like to roll down a sandy beach dune [Cue Video]....

We spent a little while at the beach before setting up camp so the kids could burn off some energy!  I loved being able to still see the waves at Mavericks/Pillar Point from Francis Beach but the waves right in front of me were strong and large as well.  All night we heard the waves from our campsite, but at some point in the middle of the night the waves sounded like mini-explosions which was really neat to hear.  While the night brought crashing waves and a strong wind, they disappeared with the sunrise.  Everyone slept well, except when the winds became so strong that my son woke up to ask what was all that noise, it's just wind little buddy.....

The morning came, breakfast and packing commenced before we went down to Francis Beach. Our camp neighbors had children similar age to ours and they played together in the trees.  Camp friends are nice because we could easily clean and pack up without major disruption.  We spent the rest of the morning playing in the sand and splashing in the water until the kids got tired of the waves knocking them down.

Thus ends our great first camping adventure at Half Moon Bay.  Surfing competition, giant waves, camping at a great California State Park, family, friends and being in the outdoors.  I love California.

What's your favorite California outdoor adventure?

Join in on the conversation by leaving a comment here! You can also join in on the conversations on Chasqui Mom's FacebookInstagram and Twitter that is updated daily with outdoor activities and other wonderful posts and links from #OutdoorFamilies!

Related Posts and Links

  1. The Excellent Año Nuevo State Park
  2. Half Moon State Beach - California State Parks
  3. California State Parks Website
  4. Mavericks Invitational 2013-2014

The Excellent Año Nuevo State Park

I must say hiking at Año Nuevo State Park, has been my favorite hike so far this year!  Over Father's Day weekend, I wanted to take my husband to a spectacular hike, as part of his celebration of being a great dad and this was the perfect one.  The California Coast, island ruins, sand dunes, the Pacific Ocean, and did I mention the wonderful elephant seals?! This whole hike was four miles with spectacular views.  

This is very kid/toddler friendly hike with hardly any elevation change.  Portions of the trail are in the sand dunes, so we kicked off our hiking boots and experienced our first time barefoot hiking for a couple of miles, which was quite fun.

Getting There
If you are coming from the immediate SF Bay Area, you have two choices to get to Año Nuevo in Pescadero.  Highway 92 to Pacific Coast Highway 1 through San Mateo/Half Moon Bay or the Southern Route through Highway 17 to Santa Cruz to Pacific Coast Highway 1.  On this occasion we took the southern route and encountered lots of traffic but on the return trip we took the northern route with no traffic at all.

Guided Seal Walks and Wilderness Permit
From December 15 - March 31, hikers can only enter into the Wilderness Protection Area with a park guide (docent) and by reservation only.  For more information about making reservations and fees during this please visit Reserve America - Año Nuevo Public Walks and for more general information Año Nuevo's Broucher on Guided Walks.

Since we arrived in the "off-season" reservations were not required, there were no extra California State Park fees other than regular park fees (approx. $10) and a docent was not required to hike.  We did have to check into the Visitor's Center (Marine Education Center) to acquire our Wilderness Permit, which was free.  We didn't have a chance to fully check out the Visitor Center but it did have an impressive interactive information area.

I tried not to get my hopes up about seeing elephant seals just in case they were not there but when we arrived the park rangers informed us that were lots of elephant seals out at North Point.  I finally told our toddlers that we were going to see the elephant seals and boy were they excited, as well as I!  Even a month and a half later my kids are talking about seeing the elephant seals.

Beginning of the trek, views of Año Nuevo Island Ruins 
The Trail
We took the Año Nuevo Point Trail all the way to North Point Trail, approximately two miles (one way), four miles round trip.  The hike from the Visitors Center to the Staging Area (which is the at the border of the Wilderness Protection Area), is a little under one mile, partially paved and hard packed dirt trail.  There is a pond near Cove Beach but it could hardly been seen through the tall plants.  My toddlers usually love being near water sources but since they could not see the pond we just skipped hanging out there.

Tall grass...

Entrance to the protected area
Our little adventure began after we entered the protected area!  Not only did we have better views of the ruins on Año Nuevo Island but the trail opened up and there were lots of low bridges on the trail, which is always a great hiking motivation for my kids.  Soon after we entered the protected area there were also large sand dunes and lots of them!

I will let the following speak for itself.....

As well as.....

If that's not fun then I don't know what is!  The only thing that got my kids hiking again is the fact that we still hadn't seen the elephant seals.  We could actually hear them near by as well and see them from the island.  The sand dunes started near South Point trail head but we continued on and headed towards North Point.  As you can see above we kicked off our boots and started our first time barefoot hiking and I don't know about you but I love the feel walking in sand!

The trail after the sand dunes near South Point was a mixture of sand, grass and twigs but there were portions of it near Bight Beach and North Point that were all sand, so we continued hiking barefoot.  With each step we could hear the Elephant Seals barking louder and louder and we eventually saw them at a vista point near North Point.  Of course we wanted to get as close as we could safely get so we continued onto North Point and encountered more sand dunes for my children to roll in!

North Point view from trail
After hearing the elephant seals barking for a while now, we finally made it to North Point!  My kids were so ecstatic to see them...the elephant seals were swimming, sleeping, barking and even fighting.  Even though it was not required to hike out with a docent at this time of year, the docents were still on the trails talking to hikers.  The docent explained to us that the elephant seals were all young males with a few babies still lurking around and even let us touch a piece of their molten fur.  He explained the larger males come back in a few months, so the ones we saw were "teenager" elephant seals.

I could have stayed there all day watching the elephant seals but we had to get out of the protected area by 5 p.m. At our 1 mph hiking rate, we didn't want to risk it so we stayed at North Point for half an hour and started back through all the sand dunes.  I truly never seen my kids so happy on a hike, so I will be adding sand dunes to "kid-friendly" hikes.  Our return trip was the same except we decided to take the Upper Pond Trail near the pond which was quite nicely covered with wildflowers and even some wild strawberries.

I truly loved this hike and it reminded me of how great California is! When we want mountains we head to the east for a couple of hours, if we want spectacular view of the Bay Area we just head up on our local East Bay hills and if we want to see the beautiful Pacific Ocean and California coast we head out west for an hour and find this great California State Park!

So here's to this happy California family enjoying one of its great State Parks, Año Nuevo State Park in Pescadero!

Henry W. Coe State Park, Middle Ridge Trail Loop

"May these quiet hills bring peace to the souls of those who are seeking" - Henry Willard Coe

Last Saturday, we decided to do a "long hike" with our toddlers at Henry W. Coe State Park.  We were all itching to be outside after being confined to the house all week from the rain and my awful allergies.  We finally arrived to Henry Coe - Coe Ranch Entrance about 11:30 a.m.  The drive to the park was beautiful and it amazed me how close and quickly it became "not a suburb" of Morgan Hill on East Dunne Avenue.

We parked in overflow parking lot and hiked in 1/2 a mile the visitors center.  My daughter had not slept well (the story of her life) the night before so she was extra cranky so she spent hiking most of the day with +Jesse Avery and I with my son, David.

We arrived at the Visitor's Centers and saw lots of taxidermy animals, like the mountain lion, owls and other various birds.  The Park Ranger was very helpful and we decided to hike the Middle Ridge Trail loop between a 6.5-7.5 mile hike.  She also gave our kids some stickers, so they were really happy.  We gave the kids some chocolate and started up Manzanita Road toward Frog Lake.  The views were amazing on this part of the trail, the view is pictured above.

We finally have figured a method to hike with our toddlers, my husband takes Sophia on his shoulders and hikes as far as he can until Sophia wants to "hike" (aka, play in the dirt).  David and I eventually catch up to them and we have a snack, water break.  I only carry Sophia in the carrier when she's ready for her nap or if shes really cranky or else she's "hiking" on dad's shoulders.

Up, up up Manzanita Trail
David and I saw lots of California Poppies, which he wanted to pick to give to me but I told him those flowers were for looking only.  On the way up David and I saw a Stellar Jay, which looked like a Blue Jay so that's what I called it at the time.  We met up at the trail marker, had snacks, water and talked a little bit with some older hikers from the Felton and Connecticut, who were also taking a break.

We hiked to Coe Monument which was only 10 minute walk from our previous break.  It was rather windy and chilly at the top (approx. 3,000 feet).  The quote at the beginning of this post was the written on the monument, behind Sophia in the picture above.  The hills are very peaceful at Henry Coe SP, I felt like I was at Sequoia National Park.  Most of my childhood camping outdoor memories are at Sequoia National Park with my parents and my older brother.  I remember the smell of pines and how the trees sounded when the wind would pick up.  Hiking at Henry Coe SP had the same feeling the smell of the pine trees and the sound of the trees swaying in the wind.  I loved it.

All along the trails there were amazing Manzanita trees, very tall, the tallest I've ever seen in my life.  Jesse took off hiking with Sophia and I hiked with David for a long time.  I love having alone time with each of my kids and hiking provides this opportunity.  Jesse had bonding time with his baby girl and I had bonding time with my baby boy, who's not a baby anymore.  We hiked on Hobb's Road which was a dirt fire road, mostly downhill.  We saw some Indian Warrior plants, met some older hikers, found some deer tracks, and heard some frogs as we got near Little Fork Coyote Creek where Jesse and Sophia were waiting for us.

Lunch time at Little Fork Coyote Creek, had musical guests! The frogs were quiet for most of the time while we had our lunch but all of a sudden the frogs croaked very loudly, so loud that David and Sophia were scared for a few minutes.  We didn't see any animals until the end of our hike but we definitely heard and saw animal signs!  Sophia almost tumbled into the creek but my mommy lightening speed instincts kicked in and caught her before she fell in.  The creek was almost dry but she would have definitely gotten soaked.

After lunch, we left Hobbs Road and started on Frog Lake Trail to Frog Lake.  It was another 10 minute hike from the creek but we have to stop at every water source we find so the kids can throw pebbles in the water.

I was glad that Frog Lake was an actual lake because some website sources said that later on in the year it's more of an algae puddle.  Here's another picture of Frog Lake on my Google+ account.  I believe there was a campsite on the other side of the lake, but I might be mistaken.  The kids threw rocks in the lake and tried to fall in the lake as well, while I took pictures and had more snacks.  After we left Frog Lake, Frog Lake trail was uphill with some switch backs until we reached Middle Ridge Trail.

More evidences of animals, Acorn Woodpeckers in this case, here's a picture of one when we visited Pinnacles National Park in February this year.

Middle Ridge Trail, the views from here were amazing.  The camera can never truly capture what the eyes can see but it was really beautiful out there.  Sophia had fallen asleep in my front carrier, when we were climbing up Frog Lake Trail and slept most of the way on Middle Ridge Trail.  I had one moment when I was hiking alone with Sophia that was my surroundings came to life.  The winds were blowing and the pines trees were swaying and a dead fallen trees leaves rustled in the wind and I felt like the Earth was singing praises to The Creator and it reminded me of the following Bible verses, Psalm 96:11-13.

     Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
     Let the fields be jubliant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
     Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth.
     He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness.

The Park Ranger describe Middle Ridge Trail as rolling hills which was very true except the part of the trail right after the picture above was taken.  David was a little tired when I took this picture, granted Jesse carried David on his shoulders up this steep part of the trail, which was quite a workout.  We stopped for a break after that uphill climb especially with each of us carrying toddlers.  I was huffing and puffing to get up the hill!

The steep climb was worth it, because at the top of the ridge was full of wildflowers!  There were shooting stars and an abundant of Indian Warriors along the trail, it was really beautiful.  As you can see my son rolling on the floor he needed a break so we stopped for "second lunch" at what looked like Indian Warrior heaven!

Everywhere we turned there were other wildflowers but primarily Indian Warriors.  It was very memorable, surrounded by previously burnt trees trying to come back to life and the forest floor covered in Indian Warriors.  Absolutely my FAVORITE part of the hike.  I took many pictures of different wildflowers but my camera isn't a really good and most of my pictures came out blurry. I believe these white flowers are called California Milkmaids.

After we left the Indian Warrior "field", we figured we had two hours left of sunlight and still had 2-3 miles left.  The trail was still going down hill and my son was tripping and rolling down the trail for fun, but he usually starts acting like that when he's very tired.  We hike at an average 1.5 mph with kids, it seems so slow but that how it is with toddlers.  We finally reached the end of Middle Ridge Trail and had 2.5 miles left on Fish Trail-Corral Trail to reach Coe Headquarters.

Sophia wanted to hike and it was finally safe enough for her to hike on level ground so she actually hiked for a few hundred feet before it the trail started descending.  Sophia bent down to pick up something and then flipped over and took a tumble down the "hill", it took a split second for me to realize she wasn't going to roll down the hill so we just laughed it off.

Jesse carried Sophia and I hiked with David most of the way on Fish Trail before we reached Little Fork Coyote Creek again.  At some point, David was completely done hiking and no amount of chocolate would keep him hiking!  Jesse loaded David up on his shoulders and I flipped my ERGO carrier around so Sophia can ride on my back and I put my backpack on my front-side.

We had another uphill 1.5 mile hike left with toddlers to carry.  I was really getting a work out, really tired and starting to get sloppy with my footwork.  I almost fell down at least five occasions!

With about 0.5 miles left to reach the Visitor's Center, we all see two deer's jump across in some trees near us.  I'm just glad my son and daughter saw some wildlife! I love seeing their reactions when they see "wild" animals when we are hiking.  We finally made it back the visitors center and the kids where beat but it was still another 0.5 miles to the car.  Jesse left us at some picnic tables with snacks and went to retrieve our car.

I thought our adventure would end there but it didn't....midway down the East Dunne Road, Jesse realized he  had a tick in his armpit, so he rips it out and throws it out the window.  I checked the kids but them seem clear and I checked myself and I seem clear as well.  We stopped at Jack In The Box to have some dinner and I'm paranoid that I have a tick.  As we finished up eating, I'm still paranoid about every itch I feel and then I feel an itch on my thigh/butt cheek so I decided to change my clothes.  Low and behold I found a tick on my butt cheek, so I yelled for Jesse and he ripped it out and threw it in the toilet.  That was my first tick ever and I hope I never get one again.


Total Miles Hiked: 7.5 Miles in 6 hours 56 minutes

Manzanita Trail - Hobb's Road - Frog Lake Trail - Middle Ridge Trail - Frog Lake Trail - Corral Trail

Overall this was a great hike, maybe not very toddler friendly and for parents not used to hiking with their small children, but for parents who hike with their kids often this was a great hike. This was our LONGEST hike to date with our toddlers and we had a blast!

Happy Hiking!

Favorite Hike of Two Thousand Twelve

The winner is Portola Redwoods State Park hike back in October.

I loved all the creeks and the shaded trails.  You can read more about this hike in particular HERE.
There are still two weeks left in this year so I might be able to squeeze in a hike!

Fall Hiking at Portola Redwoods State Park

After a morning breakfast and packing up our hiking gear, we loaded up our two toddlers and headed to #49 of 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: San Francisco, (by Jane Huber), Portola Redwoods State Park, last Saturday.  The kids (1 and 2 year old) both fell asleep on the freeway, and off we went through winding Page Mill Road, past CA 35-Skyline down towards the shady California State Park in La Honda.  Last Saturday was absolutely beautiful and this picture was taken a little after passing Skyline as we descended towards Portola Redwoods State Park.

This is the most well maintained California State Park, based on what I read online and it sure lived up to the hype.  The Park Rangers Station was very neat, looked like a nice cabin and had a little museum inside which my kids were excited and scared to see the taxidermy animals.  We didn't see any mountain lions but we did see some wildlife which is always exciting.

We were aiming to do the exact hike that was listed in Huber's Book, 7.4 Miles crossing from Portola Redwoods to Pescadero Creek County Park.  We weren't able to hike the whole 7.4 miles but we got close.  This was by far the LONGEST hike we have done with our two toddlers.  Overall it went very well, and 95% of the time I was not stressed out that a meltdown was going to occur.

We started at the Ranger Station and started down Sequioa Nature Trail which descended towards Pescadero Creek. Pescadero Creek collected into a calm green pool as you can see above.  We saw a large crayfish that I tried to take a picture but it came out too blurry.  I saw another larger crayfish further down Pescadero Creek, but my camera was tucked away.

We crossed the bridge over Pescadero Creek and headed up to Tiptoe Falls.  My toddlers got really excited when they saw the creek and my son wanted out of my husband carrier.  My son hiked most of this 6 mile hike which was pretty amazing for a 2 year old.  It was a somewhat steep hike up to Tiptoe Falls, but everything seems steep with 20-30 lbs of toddler on our backs.  Thankfully this was a very shaded trail which was great, but we still worked up a sweat.

We took a break to check out the Banana Slugs of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Sophia, really wanted to be in the water so off she went into Pescadero Creek.

David, I love him so much, look at that smile.  He was having a blast splashing around Pescadero Creek.  This was a little beach cove right before Tiptoe Falls. The beach cove was much roomier than than falls and entertaining than the falls.

Tiptoe Falls, not very impressive at all but it's a waterfall!! It might be more exciting after a rain.  After visiting the falls we started to really hike, back down Iverson Trail, crossed Pescadero Creek again headed on Pomponio Trail which eventually led us into Pescadero Creek County Park.  Something that I learned on this hike is that having creeks or ponds for my kids to play at was wonderful, they got a break from the carriers and had fun splashing in the water.  There was a slightly difference when we crossed into Pescadero Creek County Park, the trails and surrounding environment was overgrown and not well kept as in Portola State Park.  It's not like we had to machete our way through Pescadero Creek Couty Park though.

I love color and Pomponio Trail and Bridge Trail had splashes of red berries hanging off of trees.  I don't know if these are edible but I thought there were very pretty looking.  By this point Sophia had passed out in my carrier and my son was entertained by my husbands Camelback and eating Gummy Bears, so Jesse and I were hiking as fast as we could.  We can hike pretty fast when both kids are in our packs and the trail has no real elevation change.

I don't ever stop hiking when my daughter is sleeping in my carrier, I have this mindset of "I need to cover as much distance as possible".  We crossed our third bridge where my son got too close to an unprotected railing and started up a hill again.  Halfway up the hill Sophia woke up and we had to stop a little later for a break.

It was 5:00 p.m. and we still had almost two miles to go, which is not very far but we average 1 mile per hour when we are hiking with toddlers.  After our break we, started hiking "fast" and Sophia had a little bit of a hard time towards the end but she made it. We actually saw a Racer Snake, which I thought it was a shoe lace at first.  Its a constrictor and not venomous but we still kept our distance.  If I see one more snake on our hikes, I'm nicknaming myself the "Snake Queen".

We cut through the Service Road to get back to the Ranger Station which we were all happy to see.  We finished our hike at 6:30 p.m.and the kids were happy to be in the car.  I really like this park, it had day picnic area, group camping, individual camping, a pretty ranger station and nice trails with lots of little creeks.

What I liked about this hike the most was Pescadero Creek, it was so nice to hike along a little river, it was really refreshing for the kids and for us parents.  I loved that the trail was mostly shaded and that I saw "wildlife", I also saw two dead mouses and plumage of a bird that once was.

Hiking statistics are as follows:

Elevation was up and down, but it was mostly flat other than going to Tiptoe Falls and going up Old Haul Trail, there was 200 ft degree of difference from the lowest point to the highest point.

Over all it was a 6.2 Mile (once again our LONGEST hike to date with our two toddlers), beautiful weather and scenery, relatively flat hike.  We will definitely visit Portola Redwoods State Park again.

Jack London State Historic Park Hike

We had a wedding to attend to last weekend, so we headed up a day before on August 31, 2012 to Jack London State Historic Park.  After a quick morning of packing (and the night before), I loaded up the two kids and headed toward San Francisco to pick up my husband from work.  We stopped at and IHOP for lunch, because anyone with small children knows that's the place to eat when at any moment you could have two screaming babies and no one will judge you.  We finally got to the park about 2:30 p.m. then realizing that the park closed at 5 p.m. We were aiming to hike 10 miles, but that wasn't going to happen due to the short park hours.

At the beginning of the trail there were a few historic buildings, as well as this beautiful vineyard that followed along the Lake Service Road until it curved around to the back where the Redwood trees are.

This trail led up to the London Lake which was built in 1914, there really isn't a lake there; more like a marsh due to damages in the dam.  People used to go swimming and fishing here.  We took a little break here since the kids were getting a little antsy and the trail up to the lake was uphill.  Both my husband and I had our kids in our backpack carriers, 20-40 lbs of extra weight.

 We continued up Mountain Trail which led up to this opening, I think this was near the Hidden Orchard.  We never found the orchard so it was well hidden.

I'm not to sure what kind of trees these are whether pines, redwoods....but I thought they were pretty.  A funny mothering note:  I still nurse my daughter, which is great during hiking because I don't have to worry about milk spoiling, bottles, etc.  We stopped on Fallen Bridge Trail (where this picture was taken) so I could nurse my daughter.  We hadn't seen anyone on the trails for a long time, so I didn't worry about covering up.  Of course at that very moment a hiker walks by and sees me nursing my daughter, a little awkward.

A nice clearing on our way down the mountain.

Chasqui Mom

Here is our GPS trail map of our hike of approximately 3.88 miles, as you can see we tried to walk around the lake but there was no actual trail to go around the lake so we walked back.  Here is the virtual tour of our trail:   

The elevation chart, elevation gain of 469 ft.

In conclusion, this was a fun hike.  We had a little hiccups such as not know the park closed earlier than we thought. Also, I made the mistake of not bringing a sweater for my daughter.  Children in backpacks get cold quick since they are not walking.  We stopped at the lake and warmed her up since the sun was very warm.  It seemed like a short hike, but when you are hiking with children in backpack it is definitely a workout!  I would definitely come here again once I'm done completing the my list of 60 Hikes in the Bay Area.  Happy hiking!