Family Hike: Runyon Canyon

Runyon Canyon has been in the news a bit this summer due its recent facelift. It’s an extremely popular urban LA hike in the Hollywood Hills that is known as not only a great workout but also an interesting people watching place and “Instagram photo opp”.

Runyon Canyon east trail

It was closed for four months (April – July 2016) to replace a water pipeline and renovate the main trail. Now it has a newly paved fire road and new water fountains. It hadn’t been on my list of hikes I really wanted to do, but now that I had read about it in blogs and newspapers, I wanted to check it out – and I rallied the family to join me. Continue reading

Summer in Norway: Exploring the Coastal Trail in Kragerø

A new favorite activity during our annual summer trip to Norway is exploring Kyststien i Kragerø, a hiking trail through the municipality of Kragerø following the coastline as much as possible. Our summer home is on an island, but the trail passes right by on the mainland a very short boat ride away.

Kyststien 2015 Soppekilen

The Coastal Trail in Kragerø is a relatively new part of our summer consciousness. It officially opened in November 2013, so this year was our third summer with it. It’s part of an effort to have a continuous trail all the way from Oslo to Stavanger. The idea was to use the old road system that once followed the coastline.

The complete trail in Kragerø is about 40 kilometers/25 miles long, and it is divided into 3 stretches (Fossing – Helle, Helle – Kragerø, and Stabbestad – Ellingsvika). Remnants of the old road system remain but only in small areas. Most of it is under private docks and lawns. The trail runs along the coastline where possible, but at times it has to swing into the woods or over a mountain ridge. Continue reading

Family Hike: Hollywood Sign, Take 2

A hike to the Hollywood Sign has been on my California bucket list for a long time. About two years ago, our family attempted, but we failed. It was a new area to us and we started our outing too late in the day. I chalked it up as being a reconnaissance mission for a future visit.

This past holiday season I finally had a chance to try again. My family was in town for the holidays, and my 11-year-old niece expressed an interest in getting a good view of the sign. Quickly, a little group was assembled for an excursion to the sign. We were my sister, my niece, and my father (in the best attire he had for a hike—slacks and loafers!).

The view as we drove up Beachwood Canyon Drive, approaching what we thought would be the start of our hike

The view as we drove up Beachwood Canyon Drive, approaching what we thought would be the start of our hike

We had a little hiccup in the beginning. I began by taking them to the trailhead at the top of Beachwood Canyon, which I had figured out on our reconnaissance mission was a good place to start. I knew there had been some issues between neighbors and hikers/tourists and faintly remembered that the trailhead had been closed for a while, but I thought that was over. Turns out it wasn’t. The parking at the trailhead was still closed, but there were handouts that suggested we go to Griffith Observatory and begin our hike from there. We had no time constraints so we headed over there. Continue reading

Pinnacles National Park: Highly Recommended!

Pinnacles trailThe other weekend we had an amazing visit to Pinnacles National Park, California’s newest national park (it used to be a national monument). Located in central California, Pinnacles is known for its towering rock formations and talus caves. It’s a hikers’ and climbers’ paradise. The area has also played a critical role in the recovery of the California condor.

SONY DSC

We needed to take a weekend trip to central California to visit Mission San Juan Bautista, which Sonny had been assigned for his school project. Since it was my responsibility to plan the mission trip, I took the liberty of scheduling a stop at Pinnacles on our way home. The kids adamantly objected to the planned visit, but afterwards they reluctantly agreed it was pretty fun and adventurous after all.Pinnacles hiking boulders

Some national parks are drive-through parks, meaning you can drive along a designated road and see much of the park. Pinnacles, however, is not such a park. You have to view it by foot.

Pinnacles hikingThere are two entrances to the park, East and West. You cannot drive from one to the other so you have to figure out which one is best for you. After some research (and much appreciation goes to ChasquiMom’s blog post about her visit to the park), I decided that the East Entrance would be the best choice for us and that our goal would be to hike to Bear Gulch Caves and the reservoir. It seemed like the ideal way to visit the park for the first time, especially with kids.

We visited Pinnacles on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. We did not realize it was a fee-free day and hence we were not alone at the park. Our plan was to park at the Bear Gulch Day Use Area and hike from there. However, that parking lot was full when we arrived. Fortunately, the park had a shuttle going from the Visitor Center to the trailhead for Bear Gulch Cave. The shuttle only took 24 people at a time so we had to wait for the second pick-up. Good thing my accompanying family members were amenable to waiting about 40 minutes because the alternative was hiking 3 miles uphill to the trailhead. When our shuttle arrived, we both sat with a kid on our laps, as did several other families, and our adventure in Pinnacles began.Pinnacles shuttle

The hike was awesome. It was not your normal hike along a fire road or single track trail. We hiked along cliff edges, under cliff ledges, through rock tunnels, and into pitch dark caves, just to mention some of the highlights. On rock faces at several locations, we saw rock climbers making their way up. The kids had no opportunity to complain or whine as around every curve was something new and different. Also, there were kids of all ages along the trail, so they were constantly reminded that we weren’t dragging them along on something that wasn’t for kids.Pinnacles boulders

On our way up, we took the Moses Spring Trail. When we arrived at the off-shoot for the caves, we ventured boldly through them. We had been warned that we would have to crawl on our knees at one point, but we actually didn’t have to. We just crouched really low. It was pitch black in certain places, and we were grateful for the two flashlights I had brought. Click on a picture to see a larger version.

When we reached the end of the cave, we were uncertain if the trail would lead us to the reservoir or just back down to the trailhead. We couldn’t really tell from the map since we didn’t know exactly where we were. Instead of risking missing the reservoir, we headed back through the cave, now feeling like experts going through it.

Pinnacles MonolithWe rejoined the trail we had left and continued onwards to the reservoir, passing underneath the Monolith (a huge boulder stuck in the gulch) before ascending to the peaceful reservoir just beyond.

Pinnacles Bear Gulch ReservoirThe reservoir was a perfect destination point. We found a place to sit and enjoyed our snacks while watching rock climbers work their way up the face of a rock. At one point, we decided we should head back to the car. To get back, we took the Rim Trail instead of backtracking down through Bear Gulch. The Rim Trail was a more normal trail, no exciting tunnels and caves, but it had very nice views of the gulch below and the area beyond. And we didn’t meet any other people along this trail which was a nice change from before. The trail coming up got very busy at times. In one way, it was great to see so many people interested in nature and the national park, but at the same time, it sometimes felt too crowded.

Pinnacles Rim Trail

And now, what would an excursion in nature like this be without geocaching for me? There was a geocache placed just outside the entrance to the park which we found easily. Physical geocaches, however, are not allowed on lands administered by the National Park Services (though there are some exceptions). Inside the park, however, there was an EarthCache. An EarthCache is a type of virtual cache that teaches the visitor something about how the place was formed or why the place is important scientifically. In this EarthCache, we learned about the geologic and volcanic history of Pinnacles. Logging requirements were just to look through the displays at the visitor center and find something that the writer hadn’t included in their text. Simple enough.

If you’re driving through this part of central California or looking for a fun, outdoorsy weekend trip, I very highly recommend a visit to Pinnacles. You can hike, or climb, to your heart’s content. There are 30+ miles of trails, something for every ability. What we did was perfect for families, a 2.2 mile hike with great variety and adventure. I would love to go back and hike a longer trail that goes farther into the park. I have my eyes set on a hike along High Peaks Trail to Scout Peak or a hike along Balconies Trail to explore the Balconies Cave. It would be really cool to catch a glimpse of a California condor as well.

Pinnacles detail map

A Bird’s Eye View at Parker Mesa Overlook

After our first visit to Parker Mesa Overlook five months ago, my friend and I vowed to return. Though we certainly enjoyed our hike, we knew we were missing out on something big. The guidebook promised stunning 360 degree views, but we saw absolutely nothing due to the extreme fog. We didn’t know if we were looking towards the ocean, mountains, or at houses. We had no idea which direction was where. It was actually an odd, surreal feeling to be so enveloped in fog (you can see a picture here)—an unusual and intriguing experience in and of itself, but we wanted the whole package, which included the views.

So one morning recently we headed out to see if we’d have more luck with the views. It was a gorgeous day and no fog whatsoever, only a little haze in the distance. What was immediately noticeable about this hike, as opposed to the first one, was that we could see exactly where the trail was going and what was ahead and around us. At one point, we could actually see where the overlook was and got an idea of what the views might be, and they looked promising.

There's the overlook ahead, the hilltop with the lone tree!

There’s the overlook ahead, the hilltop with the lone tree!

And when we reached the overlook, we were not disappointed. There were amazing views in every direction. We saw the ocean, the coastline north and south, inland to the tall buildings of Century City (or maybe Westwood?), and into Topanga State Park and the Santa Monica Mountains. It was breathtaking and peaceful. We were above all the busyness of the world down below. We sat for quite a while just taking it all in. Continue reading

In the Clouds at Parker Mesa Overlook

What a treat to go mid-week hiking with a girlfriend! We dropped our kids off at school in Santa Monica, and then we headed north along Pacific Coast Highway. Fifteen minutes later, we were high up in the hills of Pacific Palisades at the edge of Topanga State Park, surrounded by beautiful nature and a promise of stunning views.

I had hiked in the same area not long before this. That hike started at the bottom of the hill at a private residence and worked its way up Los Liones Trail and ended at a viewpoint (and then we headed back down). The view that day at the viewpoint was fabulous…

Los Liones Trail view

For today’s hike, we drove up and up to the end of a long, windy road and started hiking about where the previous hike had ended. Today the view was still impressive, but the fog was teasing us and obscured it a bit. My friend and I ventured on.

I had more on my agenda than just hiking and chatting. I had learned that there were seven geocaches right along the route, and with my friend being a geocacher too (she’s the one with whom I hosted a geocaching party earlier this year), I thought we could try to find some caches as well. I also had a travel bug I needed to drop off in a new cache.

Travel bug with viewThe first geocache came upon us quickly, and after initially being sidetracked by what we thought were trails leading to ground zero, we found the cache hidden in a neat pile of rocks off to the side in plain site. I happily said good-bye to the geocoin, but not until I had taken a picture of it with the view of the coast and the fog rolling in. The next few geocaches passed us by as we focused on hiking the uphill climb and were engrossed in conversation. We enjoyed the varied scenery around us and the many adorable bunny rabbits that hopped across the fire road. There were many places to enjoy views, but the fog was coming in quickly so I don’t think we got the full experience.

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As we continued onwards and towards the overlook, we could really see the fog moving in. We were walking in the fog without much knowledge of what was too far ahead of us. Suddenly, we were at the overlook, a nice little flat area with two benches and even a hitching post.

At the overlook was also another cache for us to seek. The geocache description warned of rattlesnakes and advised caution. The cache owner recommended using a stick to probe the area first and then to double check before reaching in or under anything. We were happy to oblige, especially since I had seen a huge rattlesnake on my last hike in this area. Luckily, we found a great probing stick nearby and found the cache without running into any snakes. And I picked up another travel bug to move along.

Unknown view at the overlookThe view at this overlook is supposed to be absolutely stunning. My guidebook states we should have seen 360-degree views. We saw absolutely nothing. The fog had come in so densely that we couldn’t even tell if we were looking at mountains or houses or the coast. I had lost all sense of direction. It was kind of an eerie feeling. We weren’t even really that disappointed that we couldn’t see anything because the feeling of being so surrounded by fog was cool in itself, but we certainly are very eager to come back again to see what we missed!

On the way back down, we found another geocache, but we left the remaining four for our next time up. We even discussed how this would be an awesome hike for our next geocaching party. The fog continued to come in and it even began drizzling lightly. We weren’t bothered by the weather at all; it actually added an unexpected element of intrigue to the outing. It also gave us more reason to return because most likely our next time hiking this trail will feel like a totally different experience.

Inspirations to Get Out

As a family, we try to make good use of our free weekend time together. These days, however, with both boys the ages they are and the interests they have in team sports year round, we always seem to have sports games one day of the weekend if not both! But when we can, we’re eager to get out and do something. It might be visiting a new place or a favorite from long ago, or attending a seasonal or cultural activity or special event.

With that said, it is easy to just end up lounging at home. The brothers generally play well together and we enjoy watching them spend time together. What helps us get motivated and out the door are some “family challenges” we have. We find lists of suggested activities and we set out to complete them. Currently, we have three lists that provide tons of inspiration for our excursions:

MommyPoppins 100 Things to Do With Kids in LA

This is Mommy Poppins Los Angeles’ bucket list “of must-do activities for LA kids.” It covers just about every kind of activity imaginable: hikes, amusement parks, museums, aquariums, and festivals, just to name a few. And the list also provides inspiration to visit various places in the Los Angeles area: Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Malibu, Griffith Park, Catalina Island, downtown, beaches, and many other places. Some activities are definitely more easily accomplished than others.

Best East Day Hikes: West Los Angeles

This hiking guide provides descriptions and maps for 18 hikes that are easily reachable from the West LA area. It is not specifically meant for kids, but since they are described as “easy”, we thought it would work well as a guide for hiking with kids. One feature I particularly like about the book is that it has a list of best hikes for beach/coast lovers, waterfalls, children, swimming holes, views, geology lovers, and nature lovers. We can choose a hike based on an area we want to visit or the kind of hike we want to experience.

Geocaching.com logo

We discovered this challenge quite by accident. I had picked out the Solstice Canyon hike from Best Easy Day Hikes: West Los Angeles, but got my canyons mixed up when looking at a satellite map to see if we could add some geocaching to the hike. I thought we were headed to a canyon with tons of geocaches. Once we parked, we quickly learned that the geocache-filled canyon was not Solstice Canyon, but the one right next to it. It ended up being a lovely hike to a waterfall and ruins of an historic home with amazing views, but it only had one geocache for us to find. That geocache, however, turned out to be one of six in a series put out by someone working in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. At each cache, you can pick up a collector’s card; and in the end, all six cards complete a puzzle. The quest for these remaining geocaches will take us to various places in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area: the Visitor Center in Thousand Oaks, Paramount Ranch, Satwiwa Native American Indian Culture Center, Circle X Ranch, and Cheeseboro/Palo Comado Canyons, all places I’m totally unfamiliar with and eager to explore.

Does your family have any kind of checklist of activities that serves as an inspiration to get out?

 

Geocaching Party at Will Rogers Park

One of my favorite activities is geocaching. I can be a bit fanatical about it, as described here when we scramble to be “first to find” a new geocache in our neighborhood. For those of you who don’t know what it is, geocaching is high-tech treasure hunting. We use our iPhone to seek out containers of all sizes (from ones the size of your pinkie fingertip to huge boxes, see pictures below) in various locations (from within our neighborhood to across the world, in great urban sprawls or deep in the wilderness).

Sometimes we just sign the log and replace it. Other times we also trade trinkets or we may pick up or leave a travel bug or geocoin. Then we go online and share our experiences with the geocaching community. It’s a great family activity. It adds some fun and excitement to what could otherwise just be a “boring” outing according to the kids. It also often brings us to places we would otherwise not have visited or even known about.

This past weekend a friend and I had the opportunity to introduce geocaching to a few families from our school. We planned the event at Will Rogers State Historic Park in Pacific Palisades. It’s the perfect setting for such an activity. In the middle of our urban sprawl is this beautiful escape into the wilderness. Continue reading

Family Hike: Hollywood Sign

first-day-hikesI was inspired by the suggestion of the California State Parks Foundation to explore more California state parks in the new year and then I came across the First Day Hikes initiative… So I suggested a family hike for New Years Day. We made plans to explore Griffith Park and the Hollywood Sign, an area I’ve been eager to hike for a long time. (It turns out the First Day Hikes initiative is actually guided hikes in certain state parks around the country, but hey, we were going out to a park in our state on the first day of the year, good enough for us.)

Our goal ahead!

I had two goals for us on our outing — to make it above and behind the Hollywood Sign and also to find possibly five geocaches that I’d picked out in the area. Neither goal was accomplished unfortunately, but it was still a fantastic outing, one that I want to try again now that I know the lay of the land. Continue reading

Family Hike: Escondido Falls

Today we set out to check off another of the hikes in Bryn Fox’s Best Easy Day Hikes: West Los Angeles. We’ve set it as a family challenge to complete all the hikes in the book. We have now successfully completed 4 of the 18 hikes described in the book.

Today’s choice was between a beach hike at Point Dume or this hike in Escondido Canyon to a waterfall, both in Malibu. The weather was beautiful but a little cool so we chose to save the beach hike for a warmer day when we could stay and play and possibly swim. We headed out to Escondido Canyon expecting a “delightfully flat” 4-mile hike to a “tranquil travertine rock pool at the base of a 50-foot waterfall,” but what we experienced was something much more arduous and adventurous and stunning.

The hike began with a one-mile trek up along a road. Apparently, the homeowners of the multi-million dollar homes along the road don’t want people driving up and down their road and parking along it near the trailhead. It wasn’t the most exciting start to the hike, but we enjoyed the views of the impressive properties and ocean on this clear day.

Hike along the road to the trailhead

We hiked along the road for a mile before we arrived at the trailhead.

Finally, we saw the trailhead sign; we were happy to reach the beginning of the real hike.  At that point, the hike did become more flat and was pretty straightforward. We crossed a creek a few times and frequently greeted other hikers. We were surprised at how popular this hike was. It seemed to be especially popular with college age kids, maybe from Pepperdine which is nearby.

At one point, Doobie and Daddy ran ahead of Sonny and me. Soon, Sonny declared he was bored. Luckily, before Sonny had a chance to complain too much, he was startled by three horses coming up behind him. We let them pass and it was now kind of fun following right behind the horses. We’d never encountered horses along a trail before! Before we knew it, we were at the waterfall, and it really was a very tranquil setting, especially with the horses lingering in the rock pool at the bottom of the waterfall. It felt a bit like we had been transported out of Los Angeles. Thinking this was our final destination, I brought out my special treat, Norwegian milk chocolate, which was devoured quickly.

First waterfall in Escondido Canyon

At the first waterfall, we enjoyed watching horses and eating chocolate.

But then we noticed people were climbing up and practically tumbling down an area next to us. We decided to see what that was all about. That’s when the real adventure began.  There was no straightforward trail from this point on. We climbed two steps up and often slipped one step back down. We held on to roots, branches, rocks, and rope to keep us from losing our foothold. At one point, we had to wait in line as people took turns using a rope to climb across a steep, slippery slope. We climbed over boulders to cross a now wider, deeper creek. There were ample opportunities to get dirty, muddy, and wet now, just like a muddy lady we had seen and wondered about earlier. And ample opportunities to get injured, just like a lady we’d seen being carried out on a stretcher earlier in our hike.

Hiking to the second waterfall

It wasn’t easygoing to get to the second waterfall!

But it was worth it when we eventually arrived at the top. The waterfall at the top was like nothing we’d seen before and certainly didn’t expect around here. The rock wall was 150 feet high and covered in moss with water running down all over the face. We could feel the coolness and mist from the waterfall as we approached the pool at the bottom of the waterfall. It almost felt like we were in some kind foreign, tropical setting. One day we may return to this hike after some rain. Apparently, the pool at the bottom of the waterfall can become quite large and even be swimmable. That would certainly be a unique LA adventure to experience.

The second waterfall in Escondido Canyon

The second waterfall was so tall that we couldn’t even get the whole thing in the picture!