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Five Best Hikes for Kids

There are plenty of family-friendly hikes in and near San Diego, but it can be hard to know ahead of time which are the best introductions to nature. To help get that lifelong love of the outdoors started (or just get some fresh air!) the Canyoneers put together a list of the five best trails for kids.

So, what makes these hikes kid-friendly? For starters, there are plenty of things to see at eye level for little ones. Some of these trails are starter hikes for little legs and short attention spans. And they're relatively short with negligible elevation gains—this isn't to say kids can't handle harder hikes (many have more energy than their parents!) so if you really want to wear them out, look through our other trail suggestions. Most are also wide with plenty of signage—offering a great introduction to our regional biodiversity—and relatively clear lines of sight. And, to the relief of accompanying adults, these trails include toilet facilities, either with vault toilets at the trailhead or at an accompanying visitor center.

We’ve also included suggested ages and noted which trails are fairly stroller-friendly, but ultimately, every child is different and the grown-ups in charge will know the capabilities of their kids best.

Of course, before heading out, check to see if the trail is open to the public, and be sure you’re prepared. We hope you find a new trail to love or an old favorite to appreciate with a new generation.

Doane Valley Nature Trail – Palomar Mountain State Park
Ages 5+, not recommended for strollers, 1 mile
This nature trail runs alongside Doane Creek and allows you to see the variety of plants that can be found throughout the park. There are 30 interpretive stations that’ll give you plenty of opportunities to stop and learn (and give a great primer on what not to touch on the trails). Learn more.

Living Coast Discovery Center – Chula Vista
All ages, stroller-friendly, 1.5 miles
Tucked inside the Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, there’s tons to explore in this marshland and plenty more inside the center as well (admission fees apply). There’s a lot of variety in birdlife here and you can easily turn birdspotting into a game. Learn more.

Morteros Trail – Blair Valley, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Ages 10+, not recommended for strollers, 1 mile
Grab your water bottles and take in some desert beauty on this trail filled with desert agave and California juniper. You’ll also see the historic signs of Kumeyaay ancestors who harvested and processed those plants on this site. Learn more.

Mission Trails Regional Park Visitor Center Loop
Ages 5+, stroller-friendly, less than 2 miles
If you’re going to start hiking in San Diego, this is the place to do it. Get to know the region’s chaparral and riparian habitat in one of the nation’s largest urban natural parks, and find out how quickly you can get away from city noise. Bonus: this loop is also dog-friendly. Learn more.

Batiquitos Lagoon Ecological Reserve
All ages, stroller-friendly, less than 4.8 miles
If your family is ready to tackle a longer trail together, this is a great start. The trail takes you along the shoreline of the lagoon with plenty of plant life to learn about and lots of birds, including raptors, to observe. It’s also wheelchair accessible. Learn more.

This is the perfect opportunity to teach our youngest hikers how to be respectful of wildlife, our trails, and other hikers while enjoying the incredible biodiversity the county has to offer. If you really want to nerd out together, take iNaturalist along. This app for your phone allows you to upload your nature finds and contribute to scientific research. For more information on iNaturalist, visit our Community Science resources. Our Canyoneers also offer in-person, guided hikes throughout the year, taking a break in the summer months.

The Canyoneer program is made possible with support from dedicated volunteers and proud partner Subaru of America.

Posted by Stephania Villar, Digital Communications Manager on December 7, 2021

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