Holiday Hike for Families on the Earthquake Trail

December 16, 2008

Earthquake trail in Point ReyesWhen you're sick of shopping... When you can't stand another Christmas song piped in on the sound system... When you can't bear one more cheesy holiday special on ABC Family Channel's seemingly endless parade of TV movies... Maybe it's time to forget about the Christmas rush, bundle up, hit the trail, and take the family outdoors for a holiday hike.

Fortunately for us, we live in California, and winter is almost like our spring: no snow, no ice, and bright green grass springing up everywhere. It's really one of the most beautiful times to head outdoors and take a hike and be thankful that you didn't listen to your older brother and move out to Chicago, where as I write this it's a balmy 8ºF.

One of our favorite places for a beginner hike suitable for families with small children is the short but satisfying Earthquake Trail out at the Point Reyes National Seashore. The Earthquake Trail follows a route through former farmland and offers an up-close and personal look at the San Andreas Fault and the great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, the epicenter of which was once thought to have been located near Point Reyes.

Trail up to San Andreas FaultLocated near the Point Reyes park headquarters and visitor center near Olema, this short trail probably won't appeal to the hardcore hiker, but it has a number of things going for it for families. First off, the trail itself is paved, which, when hiking with kids during the rainy season and its attendant mud is definitely a plus. The slopes are gentle and easy on little legs, which cuts down on the whine factor. And there's always something to see along the trail; the park service has recently put in a series of children's education panels along the trail that offer fun facts about earthquakes and geology, and are illustrated by students at the West Marin elementary school. Oh, and there's a new, clean restroom facility and drinking fountains located where the trail both begins and ends.

The trail crosses a burbling creek via little bridges at a couple points, and there's the opportunity to hike up the hillside and look at a fence that was continuous but now, thanks to the movement of the San Andreas Fault that bisects it, is about three feet apart. We usually run into some sort of critter while we're out there, too. Last time we were there a short time ago, we ran across two big fat banana slugs and a praying mantis on the trail. Other times we've seen gophers, a gopher snake (lookout, gophers!), white fallow deer, and even a bobcat (from a distance).

banana slug on the earthquake trailAfterwards, the kids can go check out animals of the stuffed-and-mounted variety in the dioramas at the visitor center. Children can also visit the touching table, where they can investigate objects from nature like antlers, shells, bones, and more. Conveniently located next to the touching table is a wood stove, which they light on cold days, and it's a nice place to sit and relax and warm up before you head back out. There's also a gift shop with a good selection of children's nature and history books, as well as T-shirts, backpacks, postcards, and other souvenirs.

It's definitely worth a trip. It's a great place to take out-of-town guests, and it's a pleasant walk at any time of year. Once your kids get older you can check out some of the more challenging trails in the area, but this is a great place to get them used to the outdoors.