Good Hiking Trails for Kids in the San Francisco Bay Area

My child is full of energy. He bounces up and down, and does sprints through the living room all day. But when it comes time to walk anywhere he all of a sudden gets winded, and wants to be carried. In fact, he will even shout, “I can’t walk!”

As energetic as kids are, they are not long for the count when it comes to taking a hike! Granted their legs aren’t as long and quite frankly the hike is probably a bit boring to them, but I am determined to share with my son the beauty of hiking. There are some great trails in the Bay Area that are well-suited for kid and beginning hikers. They are short enough not to be exhausting, long enough to make you feel as though you actually took a journey, and interesting enough to keep your senses engaged.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur: Total 0.25 to 5 Miles

English: McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns S...

English: McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Big Sur, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The trails at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park are some of the most exciting trails for kids. Many of the trails led down to the Pacific Ocean, where you can also get a great view of the Canyon Falls Waterfall (pictured above). The Canyon Trail is the shortest hike at only 0.25 miles. It begins at the east end of the parking lot and follows McWay Creek to the 60-ft waterfall. 

If your kids need more of a challenging hike, keep going onto the Ewoldsen Trail which begins at the end of Canyon Trail. This trail offers more views of the beautiful Pacific and coastline. You and your child will hit some inclines once you exit the trees. This trail will split into a loop after 1.5 miles, with the total loop being only 2 miles long. The total trail beginning at the parking lot is about 5 miles. 

Learn more about the trails at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.

Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail (South Bay): Total 2.2 to 7.8 Miles

Kitesurfing at Waddell Creek

Kitesurfing at Waddell Creek (Photo credit: mangtronix)

The Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail is one of the most exciting trails for kids because there is a big surprise at the end– the Pacific Ocean. This trail actually begins in Castle Rock State Park headquarters located in Saratoga. The total trail is 34.6 miles, obviously too long for small children. The first 1/3 of this trail is along a highway and relatively unremarkable.

A kid-friendly version of this hike is to begin at Sunset Camp or Twin Redwoods and finish the trail at Waddell Beach. To finish the hike beginning at Sunset Camp, you and your little one will need to hike 7.8 miles. This distance is good for children over 10 that are in fairly good shape. Those with younger children should start the hike at Twin Redwoods and walk just 2.2 miles to the end point.  

Click here for the latest info and updates on the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail.

Muir Woods National Monument Trail Loop in Mill Valley: Total 1.5 Miles

muir woods best kid hike

Muir Woods National Monument offers a designated visitor center complete with a short trail system perfect for tourists who want to bask in the beauty of giant Redwood trees. It’s perfect for beginning hikers just looking to explore some picturesque wilderness areas with their kids. At the visitor center you can hike up the Hillside Trail, which is not as steep or treacherous as it sounds, and then loop back to the Ocean View Trail, which is not near an ocean, to get back to the visitor center. All trails are paved or board-walked, making for a very easy and pleasurable hike. All together the trial system is 1.5 miles long.

Kids will love the huge trees, stumps and creeks that occupy this beautiful space. 

For more information on Muir Woods trails click here

Lake Merritt in Oakland: Total 3.1 Miles

Lake Merritt is not a hiking trail per say, but it is a great place to take your little one for a long walk in the city. The entire 3.1 mile journey is flat, paved and circles the lake. There are a lot of interesting distractions along the way including ducks to feed, boat rides to take, and even Children’s Fairyland. This is more of a city hike, and great for kids that suffer from allergies. The trail is concreted, and although there are trees along the way, there are just a few. 

Additional Kid Hikes Around the San Francisco Bay Area (Source:

North Bay:

Verna Dunshee Trail, Mount Tamalpais: A .70 mile level paved path skirts Tam’s east peak. Easy parking and access, plus restrooms and picnic area.

Ritchey Canyon Trail, Bothe-Napa Valley State Park

Las Gallinas Wildlife Ponds: Level trails edge along a marsh and past wildlife ponds.

Old St. Hilary’s Open Space Preserve Heathcliff Fire Road: takes a rolling course along a grassy ridgetop in Tiburon. Time flies by 
on an out-and-back hike of about 1 mile, as views unfold of San Francisco, Angel Island, and the Golden Gate Bridge. No facilities.

Napa River Ecological Reserve: Flat paths visit a flood plain. Good birding.

Ragle Ranch Regional Park: Gentle paths through a seasonal wetland and old ranch.

East Bay

Rush Ranch Open Space Preserve: Two short and easy loops through marshland and an old pasture.

Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline: The small park has a flat developed section around a lagoon, and a more primitive area with narrow trails that ascend to a ridgeline. The paved path is an ideal loop for parents with kids in strollers, and the entire lagoon area is wheelchair-accessible.

Hayward Regional Shoreline: Perfectly flat trails wind through salt, brackish, and freshwater marshes on San Francisco Bay. Excellent bird watching and an interpretive center open on weekends.

Point Isabel Regional Shoreline: Not only are trails flat and paved, but Point Isabel permits dogs off leash. Easy parking, restrooms, and picnic tables keep the rest of the family happy.

Sobrante Ridge Regional Preserve: After a short climb, a broad trail runs along a grassy ridge. Lots of picnic tables sprinkled throughout the preserve, but no restrooms.

Quarry Lakes Regional Recreation Area: Nearly flat broad paths through old quarry ponds. A great place to birdwatch.


South Bay

Sawyer Camp Trail: Nearly-flat paved path runs along San Francisco Watershed lands.

Baylands Preserve: All but a handful of trails here are absolutely flat. The Hilltop Trails climb very gently, and the other level trails at Baylands are appropriate for walking, jogging, and wheelchair travel. Excellent birdwatching. 

Bald Mountain Trail, Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve: Nearly level short 0.7 mile trail ends at a fabulous viewpoint. A good place for a picnic, but note that there are no facilities and very limited parking.

Coyote Point Recreation Area and Coyote Point Museum: A combined visit to the museum and the recreation area makes for a nice day outing, particularly with children. A limited trail system will not present any challenges to athletic adults.

Wilbur’s Watch: An easy and short hike with incredible views near Pigeon Point.

Larry Lane Trail: This Portola Valley trail climbs easily into a pretty stretch of woods, where in clearings views stretch to the east. Total distance is about 1.7 miles. Scarce parking.

Shoreline at Mountain View: Flat trails, easy parking, and plenty of services, plus picnic grounds. Good bird watching.

Rancho San Antonio County Park/Open Space Preserve: Flat paths wind from the parking lot about 1 mile to Deer Hollow Farm.


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Brandy - The Mother

Hi, I am Brandy and I am "the mother." I enjoy being a mother, friend, and playmate to my son.

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7 Responses

  1. Thank you so much for this handy list of places to hike in the bay area – I will be sure to check them out. And, I must say, you have a very handsome trail buddy :-).

  1. June 18, 2014

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