8 Best Undiscovered Hikes for Kids in San Diego

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Local hiking spots are a big hit for most people wanting to get outside for fresh air and exercise, but you don’t have to go where everyone else goes. Try one of these “off the beaten path” hikes and you’ll either have long stretches of them to yourself or even the entire trail. Plus, some of these have cool attractions for kids like playgrounds, lakes, and bridges to run over; one of them is even a dormant volcano! They’re all short and sweet, which is perfect for little legs, and most are flat and easy for little bikes or strollers to roll along. Pick out one or all of these and put them on your calendar for a fun family hike.

Lake Calavera

If you’re looking for a little adventure, take a hike on a volcano. Don’t worry, though. It’s considered extinct because it last erupted over 20 million years ago. There are lots of easy and well-maintained trails crisscrossing all over this volcano. The loop trail up and around the lake and over the dam is almost 2 miles, but getting up to the top might be a bit too much for little legs to do on their own. Consider an out and back trip which starts on the easy flat foothills.

Tip: The main entrance is on Tamarack, where the bathrooms are and quick access to take the trail over the dam.

Secret Tip: If you get to the top, you’ll see a chain-link fence and just beyond that is a really cool rock labyrinth and other rock art that others have left behind.

Hours: Sunrise-Sunset
Bathrooms: Yes
Cost: Free
Miles: 0.5-2 miles
Type: Loop or Out and back
Parking: Street
Type: Inland
Dogs: Yes, leashed
Wheels: Not recommended

Lake Calavera
Tamarack Ave. near Strata Dr., Carlsbad
760-936-3098
Online: carlsbadca.gov

photo: Aimee Della Bitta

Batiquitos Lagoon

This one is more of a flat walk than a hike, but this is the perfect introduction to get kids outside and walking in nature. Kids will love seeing all kinds of birds here at these preserved wetlands, including the big blue herons as they glide over the water. Bring your binoculars along to see what you’ll discover flying, floating or wading in the lagoon.

Hours/Lagoon: 9am-3pm
Hours/Nature Center: 9am-12pm
Bathrooms: Yes
Cost: Free
Miles: 3.2 miles
Type: Out and back
Parking: Small lot
Type: Coastal
Dogs: Yes, leashed
Strollers: Yes, Bikes: Not allowed

Batiquitos Lagoon
7380 Gabbiano Ln. Carlsbad
760-931-0800
Online: batiquitosfoundation.org

Chollas Lake Trail

This neighborhood lake tucked into the unassuming neighborhood of Rolando is amazing. You can walk around the lake in about 30 minutes on the easy loop trail, but plan to be here for much longer because there’s a lot to do and see along the way. Bring duck food because there are more variety of ducks here than at any other lake I’ve been to. On the far side of the lake, you’ll find a long out and back walking trail with a huge grassy hill that will tempt kids to climb up and roll down. Near the small parking lot is a fun wood-plank kids' play-house and a Boy Scouts nature trail.

Hours: 6:30am-5:30pm
Bathrooms: Yes
Cost: Free
Miles: 2.3 miles
Type: Loop
Parking: Small lot
Type: Coastal, urban
Dogs: Yes, leashed
Wheels: Not recommended

Chollas Lake Trail
6350 College Grove Dr., Rolando
619-527-7683
Online: sandiego.gov

Louis Stelzer County Park

Sometimes you have to just head out of town to find some peace and quiet and that’s what you’ll find at Louis Stelzer County Park. This used to be Mr. Stelzer’s weekend retreat; which he left to the county to keep as a place for families and kids to have a nature retreat of their own. The 1.5 mile shaded loop trail starts at the stocked koi fish pond, loops up around and ends at the playground.

Hours: 9:30am-6:30pm
Bathrooms: Yes
Cost: $3/parking
Miles: 1.5 miles
Type: Loop
Parking: Small lot
Type: Inland
Dogs: Yes, leashed
Wheels: Not recommended

Louis Stelzer County Park
11470 Wildcat Canyon Rd., Lakeside
619-561-0580
Online: sdparks.org

Tijuana River Estuary

At the southernmost tip of San Diego is one of the most serene places that few people know about. Where the Tijuana River meets the sea you’ll find 2,000 acres of wetlands to explore. Several trails from 0.3 miles to 1.5 miles long criss-cross out and back all over these wetlands, so pick one and see where it takes you. Along the way you’ll see all kinds of shorebirds and endangered species taking solace here.

Tip: The visitor center and native plant gardens have interactive exhibits, guided bird and nature walks and a junior ranger program.

Hours/Trails: Dawn-Dusk
Hours/Visitor Center: 10 am-5 pm Wednesday-Sunday
Bathrooms: Yes
Cost: Free
Miles: 0.3-1.5 miles
Type: Out and back
Parking: Street
Type: Coastal
Dogs: Yes, leashed
Wheels: Yes

Tijuana River Estuary
301 Caspian Way, Imperial Beach
619-575-3613
Online: trnerr.org

Maple Canyon Trail

A perfect combination of urban + nature combines into this short and easy little hike in the middle of the city. Start on Fourth Ave. where you’ll cross over the historic wooden Quince Street bridge to find a trail entrance on the other side. This will take you down into the canyon and under the bridge for an out and back flat trail. Only walk half as far as little legs will go, so they can make it back to the bridge on their own.

Bonus: at the start of the bridge you’ll find a Little Free Library so bring some old books to donate

Tip: 1 block down is James Coffee and Extraordinary Desserts, plan accordingly

Hours: Sunrise-Sunset
Bathrooms: No
Cost: Free
Miles: 1 mile
Type: Out and back
Parking: Street
Type: Urban
Dogs: Yes, leashed
Wheels: Not recommended

Maple Canyon Trail at Quince Street Bridge
Fourth Ave. + Quince St.., Bankers Hill

Kate Sessions Park Trails

After you take in the distant ocean views from this scenic park (with a playground + bathrooms, by the way), look behind the park to find some trails leading into a wide-open space. These trails have little elevation gain, but there are fun dips that kids will love to run up again and again. It’s a short out and back 0.7-mile trail, so you won’t go very far, but just enough to feel like you’re hiking.

Tip: Bring a picnic lunch and a blanket to spread out because you’ll want to spend the entire day here. This is a popular dog spot, so it’s a great place to bring your pooch.

Hours: 7 am -Sunset
Bathrooms: Yes
Cost: Free
Miles: 0.7 miles
Type: Out and back
Parking: Lot
Type: Coastal, urban
Dogs: Yes, leashed
Bikes: Not recommended

Kate Session Park Trails
5115 Soledad Rd., Pacific Beach
619-525-8213

Vista Conservancy Trail

You’ll score with playgrounds and bathrooms on each side of this long flat trail so it doesn’t matter which end you start at. It’s a mostly shaded trail that winds along a creek and in between some urban neighborhoods. Look for the Native American grinding stones along the way and know that you’ll have to cross some streets to follow this long winding trail.

Start at Wildwood Park and you can explore the nearby Rancho Buena Vista Adobe house.

Start at Brengle Terrace Park (near the tennis courts) and you’ll find a large recreation center and the Alta Vista Botanical Gardens are at the very top.

Hours: Sunrise-Sunset
Bathrooms: Yes
Cost: Free
Miles: 1.5 miles
Type: Out and back
Parking: Lots
Type: Urban
Dogs: Yes, leashed
Wheels: Yes

Vista Conservancy Trail
777 W Vista Way, Vista
760-643-5018
Online: thevistaconservancy.com

Wildwood Park
651 E Vista Way, Vista
760-639-6151
Online: http://www.vistarecreation.com

Brengle Terrace Park
1200 Vale Terrace Dr., Vista
760-639-6151
Online: http://www.vistarecreation.com/

—Bonnie Taylor

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