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Seven Family-Friendly Hikes

Are we there yet? Are we there yet?

Explore these amazing hikes in San Diego where kids have too much fun to ask, “Are we there yet?”

Hiking with children can be a wonderful way to enrich their vacation by allowing them to explore the array of sensory experiences offered in the outdoors. Hiking can provide a welcome and inexpensive break from typical vacation activities. Exploring rivers and waterfalls, spotting wildlife and enjoying quality family time in nature can create lasting and positive memories. Of course, not all children love hiking, and not all hikes are for children.

In curating this list, we selected seven hikes that feature opportunities for wildlife encounters and proximity to water with minimal effort to ensure that children of all ages can have a joyful and impactful experience. Enjoy your hike.  Are we there yet?

Oak Canyon, Mission Trails

Difficulty: Easy - 2.5 miles
Fee: Free
Hours: Dawn to Dusk

This beautiful corner of sprawling Mission Trails Regional Park features a wonderful mixture of historical features, hydrological features, and tactile sensations. The hike begins at the Mission Dam, constructed by Franciscan friars during the Spanish colonial period. Today, the pond created by the dam is a popular bird-watching spot, as well as a great place for children to play. The trail through Oak Canyon winds through aromatic chaparral and the shade of oaks and sycamores before reaching a seasonal waterfall that typically flows during winter and spring.

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Crest Canyon

Difficulty: Easy - 1.7 miles
Fee: Free
Hours: Dusk to Dawn

This hidden canyon lies tucked into a crease in the bluffs of Del Mar Heights. Beautiful woodland of rare Torrey pines presides over aromatic and colorful coastal sage-scrub, which bursts into a glorious profusion of wildflowers during spring. This narrow, looping trail offers plenty of places to short-cut and shorten the loop should the kids become weary of hiking. The halfway point offers a scenic vista over the San Dieguito Lagoon – a haunt for a number of local and migratory bird species.

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Doane Valley Nature Trail

Difficulty: Easy - 1 mile
Fee: $10 fee for vehicles
Hours: Dawn to Dusk

If you wish to introduce your family to an unexpected side of San Diego, take them to the cool forests of Palomar Mountain State Park to follow this short interpretive trail through the best of Palomar Forest. The trail starts from Doane Pond, itself a worthy destination popular with fishing enthusiasts. Deer and wild turkeys are common on this trail and the route follows a seasonal creek through lushly vegetated ravines.

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Kumeyaay Lake, Mission Trails

Difficulty: Easy - 1 mile
Fee: Free
Hours: Dawn to Dusk

This short and simple route departs from the Kumeyaay Lake Campground in Mission Trails Regional Park. Amazingly, the lake and its lush riparian vegetation were once part of a gravel mining operation adjacent to a military base. Careful habitat restoration has led to the lake's present condition, with the cool shade of willows and cottonwoods shadowing the level trail to the banks of two adjoining lakes.

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Lake Cuyamaca

Difficulty: Easy - 1-3 miles
Fee: $10* fee for vehicles
Hours:Open dawn to dusk

This relatively flat, forested trail system travels along the shores of the Cuyamaca Reservoir where a diverse array of bird life congregates and fishermen try their luck. Mule deer and wild turkey sightings are frequent, and history-curious children can learn about the San Diego gold rush at the site of the Stonewall Mine.

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San Elijo Lagoon

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate - 1 to 4 miles
Fee: Free
Hours: Dawn to Dusk

This popular trail network on the south shore of the lagoon offers gentle terrain, an interesting mix of vegetation, close proximity to the lagoon's sparkling waters, and endless opportunities for bird watching. Benches are placed at regular intervals for resting along the Gemma Parks Interpretive Trail. Numerous interpretive signs identify the types of foliage common in the lagoon.

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Rancho Leo Carrillo

Difficulty: Easy - 2-4 miles
Fee: Free
Hours: 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM

This somewhat free-form walking route can be connected with the surrounding community network or can be taken as a wandering stroll through the grounds of film star Leo Carrillo's ranch. Less of a nature walk than a stroll through old California, you will encounter Spanish-style ranch buildings, manicured gardens, a gurgling stream, and the park's resident peacocks.

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*Please seek the advice of a professional outdoorsman or hiker before embarking on a hike with children.

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