Lace up those hiking boots and get your gear together... it's time to hit the trail! Marin County is a paradise for families who love the outdoors, with over 50% of the county's land dedicated as protected open space. The Point Reyes National Seashore, Mt. Tamalpais State Park, and the Golden Gate National Recreation area are only a few of the outstanding natural resources that we have right in out own backyard. It's a great way to both educate children about nature and the environment and to get some exercise.

On this page, we've collected all our posts on family-friendly hikes, walks, beaches, and other outdoor activities and resources. If you have a favorite hike or place you'd like to share, or if you'd like to submit an outdoors-related post as a guest contributor, please contact us.

Late Summer Means Blackberries

July 30, 2011

About the end of July you start to see people stopped by the side of the road, poking around in the bushes. No, they're not doing anything strange or unseemly—they're picking wild blackberries! Late summer is definitely blackberry season in Northern California. And what's best is that these sweet little fruits can be had for free just about anywhere, if you're willing to risk stained clothing from all that blackberry juice, as well as the occasional wound from blackberry thorns.

There is a native variety of wild blackberry, the California or Pacific blackberry (rubus ursinus), but that's relatively hard to find these days, having been supplanted by a non-native species, the domesticated Himalayan or Armenian blackberry (rubus armeniacus). This variety, fast-growing, invasive, and considered a pest by many, was introduced as a commercial cultivar in California in the late 19th century, but like so many non-native species prevalent in the state today, it got loose and spread all over the place. An easy way to tell the difference between the two varieties is to look on the underside of the leaves. The California variety is green, whereas the Himalayan is white.

Hiking with Kids in Marin: Deer Island Open Space Preserve

July 20, 2011

Deer Island Loop TrailOne of the great things about living in Marin is that you're never far from open space and nature. A favorite Marin spot for a quick outdoor getaway is Deer Island Open Space Preserve in Novato. Just a few minutes away from Highways 101 and 37 it's a calm oasis of nature that's perfect for a short and easy hike with children.

Despite its name, Deer Island really isn't an island. It used to be at one time, but now it's a hill surrounded only by seasonal wetlands. The 135-acre preserve boasts two main trails, the Deer Island Loop Trail, which circles the preserve, and the De Borba Trail, which goes up and over the hill. Two short spur trails take you to other parts of the preserve.

Shhh… Don't Tell Anyone About Chicken Ranch Beach

July 10, 2011

Chicken Ranch Beach near Inverness in West MarinWhen the weather gets warm, it's time to think about going to the beach. Good, safe swimming beaches with warm weather can be hard to come by in Marin and Northern California, but they're out there if you know where to look. Some of them are hidden gems known only to locals and other insiders. Chicken Ranch Beach, located on Tomales Bay just outside the West Marin town of Inverness, is one of those well kept secrets. (So don't tell anyone about it, OK?)

Like Heart's Desire Beach up the road a bit in Tomales Bay State Park, Chicken Ranch Beach sits on the shallow, relatively warm waters of Tomales Bay. It's a popular place for families, with a gentle, sandy beach and no surf to speak of, only ripples that lap gently on the shore. Kids can wade, swim, play in the sand, and run to their hearts' content. Chicken Ranch Beach is a fabulous place to raise your beach umbrella, spread out a blanket or two, and spend the day relaxing in the sun. Since it's on the opposite side of Inverness Ridge from the ocean, the summer fog often burns back for a pleasant sunny day tempered by cool breezes from the mouth of Tomales Bay a few miles away. The West Marin vistas from the beach are spectacular, too. Unlike the beaches at Tomales Bay State Park, there's no entry fee here—it's free, if you can find it.

Picnics, Nature and Play at Stafford Lake Park

July 6, 2011

Stafford Lake County ParkStafford Lake, the reservoir that provides the town of Novato with much of its drinking water, is also the site of one of Marin's favorite outdoor recreation spots: Stafford Lake County Park. There are so many activities to do at this 139-acre park, and I'm surprised my family and I don't come here more often, especially since it's literally just around the corner from our house. If you haven't been there, you've certainly passed it on Novato Boulevard on your way out to the Cheese Factory or Point Reyes. You owe it to yourself to stop by and see what Stafford Lake has to offer.

One of the things that Stafford Lake offers in abundance is physical beauty—a sparkling blue lake surrounded by hills, trees, and bucolic dairy farms. Wildlife abounds, and we saw plenty of deer and of course a whole flock of the ubiquitous Canada geese that seem to inhabit every park in Northern California. We packed a picnic lunch and ate at one of the many tables scattered throughout the parks shady picnic area. Tables have charcoal BBQ grills, and group areas can accommodate up to 500 people. My kids loved the huge play structure, which seemed to be in like new condition. In fact, the whole park was extremely clean and well kept up.

Outdoor Safety for Families: Rattlesnake!

June 21, 2011

RattlesnakeOf all the creatures you can run into on the trails of Northern California, one that most people seem to be afraid of is the rattlesnake. While several different species of rattlesnake live in California, the variety we have here in the Bay Area is the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus oreganus). While chances are you'll never be bitten by one, it's important to know how best to avoid them and what to do if you are bitten. After all, we do live in snake country. I've never actually run into one while hiking, but I know plenty of people who have.

Unfortunately, rattlesnakes are very common in the hills of Marin and the Bay Area, so it's quite possible you will meet one on a hike one day. There's actually been an increase in rattlesnake sightings in Marin recently, quite possibly due to the unseasonably wet weather and profusion of small animals that are the snake's normal prey.

National Parks Go Fee-Free June 21

June 19, 2011

Redwood trees at Muir WoodsTo celebrate the first day of summer, all of the over 100 National Parks that normally charge an entry fee will be free to everyone on Tuesday, June 21! This is the third in this year's series of fee-free days at the National Parks. Other upcoming fee-free days include September 24, 2011 (Public Lands Day) and November 11–13, 2011 (Veterans Day weekend).

In the San Francisco Bay Area, National Parks that charge an entry fee include Marin's own Muir Woods National Monument, San Francisco Maritime National Park, and the John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez. Other popular parks within a few hours of the Bay Area include Yosemite and Pinnacles National Monument (south of the Bay Area in Monterey and San Benito counties). A full list of fee-free weekend parks across the USA can be found here.

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