The Google calendar alarm went off, reminding us of the hike we had planned all week long. And we felt like canceling. It looked foggy and cold outside our Sunset apartment window. And we didn’t feel as refreshed as we had hoped. Our 18 month-old baby boy had kept us up all night due to yet another cold. It also didn’t help that our 4 year-old daughter woke up repeatedly screaming, “I hate hiking!” at the top of her lungs. But despite all the odds we kept our plan for that Saturday morning.
I really love hiking, I do. But with little kids it’s just…different. With time I have learned that one of the tricks to successfully accomplish almost anything with children is to plan ahead.
Here are some tips that will help make your hike a pleasant and memorable experience that you and your kids will want to repeat.
1. Select a trail that suits your family’s needs.
We choose the Tennessee Valley Trail in Marin. The trail head is an easy 25-minute drive from San Francisco. Just take Route 101 N, exit at Stinson Beach and follow the Tennessee Valley road. There is a parking lot at the trail head that gets full fast but you can park at the sides of the road. We got there pretty late on a Saturday morning, and found parking at the side of the road near the entrance.
2. Pack right, not too much or too little:
-Layers: T-shirt, long sleeve, vest or wind-breaker and change of clothes for the babes.
-Comfortable shoes: My 4 year old daughter insisted on wearing fancy patent leather shoes for the car ride. I packed her running shoes and two pairs of socks in the backpack she also insisted on bringing. I reminded her she would be the one carrying the bag pack during the hike and she replied, “Yes mommy, I will carry it the whole time”. As you can imagine that was not the case.
-Baby Supplies: Diapers, wipes, etc.
-Snacks and Picnic Lunch: We brought a picnic lunch with us since the trail ends in a beautiful beach and eating in a restaurant with our 18 month old is not fun these days. A few perfectly ripe California avocados, wheat tortillas to make our own burritos, boiled eggs, cherry tomatoes, lentil hummus, pealed carrots for dipping, and cheese. We also brought bananas and coconut water for snacks.
-Hats & Sunglasses
-Baby Carrier or stroller.
3. Bring a positive attitude:
Traffic, screaming babies and complaining toddlers can really put over tired parents over the edge. It’s important to expect delays, breathe and concentrate on the big picture. Enjoy your precious time off and turn negativity around.
By the time we got into our car the fog had dissipated and it was a warm and gorgeous day (But even the fog is beautiful it never gets too cold to hike).
Our 4-year old complained pretty much the whole first part of the hike. She repeated that “it was boring” or “she was tired” or “she had a stone in her shoe…” The first half mile we probably stopped around tent times. Eventually we ignored her nagging and redirected the conversation to the landscape around us. The beautiful wild flowers, butterflies, or hawks flying above us were pretty spectacular. I felt like she had been testing us and we didn’t break. After a while she completely turned her attitude around. She started to sing and hop along the trail, and got very excited about the rolly pollies and beautiful rocks she kept encountering. She wondered where the fairies might be hiding and started to ask questions about insects and plants. When we arrived to the beach it was glorious. The baby got off our back and run around the sand. We explored the caves and found a perfect spot to lay down our blanket and catch a rest. On the way back our girl didn’t complain or need to stop once. She really enjoyed herself! She agreed that hiking was awesome and she wanted to do it again. Score!
Tips for the Tennessee Valley Trail
Tennessee Valley Trail is breathtakingly beautiful and perfect for a family hike. It’s 1.8 miles from the trail head to Tennessee Cove, a gorgeous secluded beach perfect for a picnic (or a nap). The trail begins on a paved road and it takes you through lovely hills and flowered meadows that resemble Hobbiton from Lord of the Rings. After a while the road becomes unpaved but it continues pretty flat, easy for toddler’s little feet. A stroller can easily be pushed all the way to the end of the trail.
There are toilets and the beginning of the trail and also near the beach.
Important note: There is a fork in the road where the trail splits. Both trails take you to the beach but the lower path on the left is flat and the trail on the right is steeper as it goes through the hills.
There is a lovely farm stand near the trail head that sells beautiful organic produce. We got some berries and chocolate covered raisins for dessert!