7 Park Ranger Programs for Kids

Park Ranger Programs San Diego
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San Diego has many different kinds of park terrains, and you don’t have to be in the mountains to catch a park ranger activity. Head down to the coast at Cabrillo for park ranger walks at the lighthouse, drive up the coast to Carlsbad’s wildlife viewing with the junior rangers, move inland for a wildlife tracking hike or nature storytime at Mission Trails or go south for a guided bird walk at the Tijuana River Estuary. Each of these experiences are so different, that if you did them all you’ll learn something unique from each one. Oh and bonus, all except one of these are completely free!

Bonnie Taylor @famdiego

Mission Trails Regional Park

One of San Diego’s park gems has brought back a lot of their in-person ranger activities, talks and walks. Nature Story Craft with Ranger Heidi is a popular event for kids ages 5-10. Guided nature walks will lead you by the Kumeyaay grinding rocks, learn about animal tracks on the family-friendly wildlife tracking walks, take a guided bird walk, or go back at nighttime for their star parties with the San Diego Astronomy Association.

Nature Story Craft is every 4th Saturday from 10 am-11 am. Guided Nature Walks are every Sunday at 9:30 am. Wildlife Tracking Walks are every 1st Saturday at 8:30 am. Guided Bird Walks are every 3rd Saturday at 8 am. Star Parties are every 1st Friday at sunset.

Mission Trails Regional Park
1 Father Junipero Serra Trail, San Carlos, 92119
Online: mtrp.org

Cabrillo National Monument

These scenic seaside park tours have the best views in all of San Diego. Gaze out across the ocean and look for migrating whales and then turn around to watch sailboats and military ships enter the bay. Take the 1-hour guided walking tour and learn what life was like living at the lighthouse. Then head over to the Visitor’s Center and ask for the Junior Ranger Badge program; this is a great way for kids to learn about the importance of this monument. Try to go during their snake encounter days or when you can climb down into the old military bunkers. On a low tide, walk down to the tide pools by the ocean and you’ll usually see a park ranger walking around giving educational insights about the sea creatures. Try a night hike experience on a full moon with the ranger-led hike by moonlight!

Guided Walk Tours are every Saturday at 11 am and 1 pm. Snake Meet ‘N Greets are every Thursday from 1-2. Open Bunker Days are every Saturday from 9 am-2:30 pm. No reservations are needed for either of these free events, just show up and learn something new. Moonlight Hikes are once a month by reservation only.

Cabrillo National Monument
1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr., Point Loma, 92106
Online: nps.gov/cabr

Michael B. via Yelp

San Dieguito River Park

Rangers lead hikes throughout the year around the lagoon, but if you want to go on your own there are many self-guided interpretive trails to learn from. The San Dieguito Lagoon Interpretive Walk is a flat four-mile out and back trail, so only go out so far as little feet will walk back. (This is part of the eventual 55-mile long Coast-to-Crest Trail that leads out to Julian.) You’ll find 20 discovery points along the way to learn about the importance of the San Dieguito River plants, animals and Kumeyaay people who lived there. Scan the QR codes on the posts, pick up an illustrated booklet or download them ahead of time.

Check their calendar online for upcoming ranger hikes and bird walks around the lagoon. Park in a legal space at the Del Mar Public Works Yard, cross over the bridge to the north side of the river, cross the street and you’ll find the park entry monument.

San Dieguito River Park
2240 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar 92014
Online: sdrp.org

Park Ranger Programs San Diego

South Carlsbad State Beach & San Elijo State Beach

Soak up the views and fresh ocean air while the kids join the junior ranger classes. Bring some binoculars for wildlife viewing because who knows what your kids will see that day, maybe a pelican or even a migrating whale off the coast! Junior ranger classes are through the state, so kids will get a logbook to earn a stamp with rewards as they progress through different activities each week. Kids will learn 12 different activity topics like geology, ecology and safety as they play games, hike trails, observe wildlife and make new friends.

Junior Ranger Classes are held weekly every Friday and Saturday from 3-4 pm at the Carlsbad Campground. Sometimes they’re on the same day and time at San Elijo State Beach, check their calendar for updates. Classes are 45 minutes long and are appropriate for ages 6+.

South Carlsbad State Beach
7201 Carlsbad Blvd., Carlsbad, 92008

San Elijo State Beach
2050 S Coast Hwy 101, Cardiff, 92007

Online: parks.ca.gov

Bonnie Taylor @famdiego

Tijuana River Estuary

Take a leisurely stroll down the McCoy Trail on a guided bird walk at the Tijuana River Estuary. You’ll discover why this habitat is so unique for these 370 species of migratory and endangered birds that stop here on their journey.

Guided Nature Walks are every 2nd and 4th Saturday from 11 am-12 pm; meet at 5th Street + Iris Ave. Guided Bird Walks are every 1st, 3rd, and 5th Sunday at 10 am; meet at the Visitor Center. No reservations are needed for either one. Bring binoculars and just show up to these free guided ranger walks.

Tijuana River Estuary Visitor Center
301 Caspian Way, Imperial Beach, 92118
Online: trnerr.org

Bonnie Taylor @famdiego

Rancho Peñasquitos Adobe Preserve

Help rangers take care of the goats at Rancho Peñasquitos Adobe. Depending on what the goats need when you’re there, rangers will let kids help with feeding or grooming. Go check out the chicken coup next door, walk around the historic homestead or use this as a starting point for your hike into the popular canyon. There is a waterfall at the end of this hike, but it’s a ways out and back so it’s best for older kids and teens to make that trek. The playground is right at the entrance to this preserve with bathrooms and a sports park too. The adobe homestead was built in 1823 and is recorded as the second oldest homestead in San Diego, tours inside are based on availability.

Volunteers are usually taking care of the goats between 1-2 pm, but this varies based on the volunteers’ schedules.

Rancho Peñasquitos Adobe Preserve
12122 Canyonside Park Dr., Los Peñasquitos, 92129
Online: sdparks.org

San Diego Scripps Coastal Underwater Park

See the sea from a new perspective—explore the coastal tide pools with a Birch Aquarium naturalist and learn all about the sea creatures that make this their home. The San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park spans 6,000 acres of ocean bottom and tidelands and was established back in 1929 as an academic research area. Kids will learn how important our tide pool habitats are to our local coastlines and what can be done to protect them.

Birch tide pooling adventures are by advanced reservation for ages 3+ and cost $120 for 6 people per group.

Birch Aquarium
2300 Expedition Way, La Jolla 92037
Online: aquarium.ucsd.edu


–Bonnie Taylor

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