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Hiking with kids! Los Angeles Edition, Part 1

Posted on December 06 2016

Let's face it -- kids and adults alike need space to run and be wild and free. A space with no artificial rules - only natural law - to determine your day's fate. As a parent I think it's a vital responsibility to teach our youngsters respect for this precious Earth, and there's no better way than to let them settle into their natural space within it and become familiar with the most basic order of life that is the wild outdoors. 

For the record, I don't mean let your kid succumb to that coyote you happen upon on your Santa Monica Mountains hike! Even just giving them 2 hours in a national park, away from all the robotic sights, sounds and constructs they are normally engaged with will provide them opportunity to find their place under the same big sky and oak canopy that the squirrels, birds and lizards call home.

I know, I'm preaching to the choir mostly here. You probably already take your kids camping or hiking a few times a year. I don't need to explain to you the virtues of fresh mountain air, of staying on-trail (or off!) or of leaving no trace behind. But for the folks who want to add it into their mix of exercise and fun with your mini-me's, I've compiled a short guide, as well as some favorite spots around Los Angeles, to have a stimulating and educational time with your little outdoor adventure seekers.


And now just a few of our favorite hiking destinations in L.A. for the kiddos:


Channel Islands National Park

is located right off the coast of Ventura, CA, but feels a million miles away from the rest of Southern California. The park has a different vibe than most: the main visitor’s center is located not in the park, but in the Ventura Harbor, where visitors depart for the islands, and the islands themselves remain remote, isolated, and almost completely undeveloped. Don’t let the Channel Islands, and the logistics of exploring them, deter you: this national park is perfect for kids.


Which island?

All the Channel Islands are accessible, but the most easily accessed (and with the most to do for families) is Santa Cruz Island, the largest of the five. Protected coves allow for great snorkeling here, and the camping is easiest (on other islands, backpacking may be necessary). Santa Cruz Island is also the most affordable to travel to, making it ideal for larger family groups.

A single-day trip to Santa Cruz Island can be more than enough to experience the National Park. Santa Cruz (the most easily accessible island) is undeveloped; in addition to the campground, there are only a few ranger cabins (rangers are on-site), evidence of the island’s ranching history, and hiking trails. A dock exists at Scorpion’s Cove, where passengers disembark. For a day trip, we recommend taking an early boat (9 am) out to Scorpion’s Cove, and returning at 4 pm or 5 pm. This gives visitors enough time to experience the island’s snorkeling, kayaking, and hiking.

How to get there:

Island Packers is the official transportation to the islands. They’re located in the Ventura Harbor adjacent to the Channel Islands visitor center (follow the brown National Park signs to the end of the drive along the pier) and reservations should be made in advance. The boat ride over takes approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes, and is certainly part of the fun. At a minimum, you will cruise the open channel alongside plenty of playful dolphins, and when the water is choppy, as it was on our visit, the ride is downright exhilarating.

Kids can stand at the deck and feel the spray of the ocean, and interior seats are also available. The Island Packers crew and staff are all friendly, laid-back, and fun. The cost of an Island Packers passage varies by island and whether your passage is a day trip or camping trip.

If a trip to an island sounds like more time and energy than you have and are looking for a quick hike to regroup with the kids, this next one is good for a few hours and is a great way to get everyone both exercise and breathing room!


Backbone Trail

is a long distance trail extending nearly 68 miles across the length of the Santa Monica Mountains in California. Its western terminus is Point Mugu State Park (north Malibu) and its eastern terminus is Will Rogers State Historic Park in Pacific Palisades. The trail is open to hikers throughout its length; dogs, mountain bicyclists and horseback riders are allowed on portions of the trail as posted.


The trailhead we explore from is on Kanan Dume Road just north of tunnel #1. Big, accessible parking lot - but don't be alarmed if it's full. Mostly these will be mountain bikers and you'll never see them if you're just there for a hike with kids. A few reasons why we keep returning to this trail: the first section to Newton Canyon falls is a mostly shaded trail that winds down the canyon, craddled by shrub oaks, coastal sage scrub and the chaparral ecosystems. Some stretches are simply magical as the trail turns into a tunnel of green with the sun peaking in here and there. My boys don't hike those sections - they run them.

These two recommendations don't do the thousands of miles of kid-friendly hikes in Los Angeles justice. Time permitting, I'll write a part 2!

Happy Hiking families!


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