Orange-bellied with slit yellow eyes, California newts are quite the opposite of the beach-loving crowd. Their favorite time of year is when it's wet and cold and their favorite activities include hanging out in shaded creeks and hiding under rocks. Fun buddies, right? The good news is, you don't have to go scuba-diving in your local watershed to see them up close. Newts can be safely observed from creek-side trails, along waterfalls, or even on the road when they attempt perilous road crossings regardless of road traffic—sometimes with tragic ends.
Before you go newt-fancying, a note of caution. In the animal world bright loud colors are usually a warning sign that screams "don't eat me." Indeed, the skin of California and rough-skinned newts contains a strong poison that can cause numbing or burning sensations if it comes in contact with open cuts or sores—or if you bite or eat the newt (unlikely but worth mentioning, it's happened before). Therefore, don't let kids handle newts, and you won't have to worry.
Now to see how cute and orange newts really are, check out these places next to you.
There's a reason newts are so fond of the iconic coastal mountain; it's a municipal watershed for Marin County. In newt words, that means full service resort! Lakes, waterfalls, creeks, ponds—Mount Tamalpais hides damp and cold pockets in its folds where newts can fool around and swim at leisure. The best spots to look for them are great trails for kids too.
The easiest is the circular trail around Lake Bon Tempe and Lake Lagunitas. It's a flat trail that goes around Lake Bon Tempe and continues on around Lake Lagunitas and back. If you're lucky, you might spot turtles basking in the sun on logs at Lake Lagunitas. If you prefer a shorter trail from Lake Bon Tempe, follow Club Road to the level of Alpine Lake (that's the lake below) and follow Bull Frog Trail along the creek. It's a good turtle spot in the shallows too. The other option to see newts on Mount Tam is to hike to the pools of Little Carson Falls, a three-mile loop that's challenging but offers a beautiful waterfall as a reward. Bring binoculars to see the newts splashing around the pools.
Directions: To reach Lake Bon Tempe and Lake Lagunitas, get on Sir Francis Drake Blvd from Highway 101 and in Fairfax, follow Bolinas Rd. Go up Bolinas Road approximately 1½ miles to a wooden sign on the left saying "Lake Lagunitas." Turn left onto Sky Oaks Road to the Sky Oaks Watershed Headquarters, the entrance to Lagunitas and Bon Tempe Lakes. To reach Little Carson Falls, continue on Bolinas Road until a dirt parking lot for the Azalea Hill trailhead. The trail for Little Carson Falls is across the road.
Briones Regional Park
Bordered by Lafayette, Walnut Creek, Martinez, Concord and Pleasant Hill, Briones is a gorgeous East Bay park with grassy rolling hills, hidden canyons and peaks. In its eastern half, the park also features vernal lagoons that are an important habitat for reptiles and amphibians. When you get to the side of the lagoon, look around the edges or shallow areas of the pond. You might spot swimming brown newts or floating newt egg balls in the water. From the Bear Creek Staging Area, follow Old Briones Road Trail over the hill to Briones Crest Trail where you will find two ponds on your left.
Directions: To reach the Bear Creek Staging Area on Bear Creek Road, exit Highway 24 at the Orinda/Camino Pablo exit and head toward Richmond. Turn right on Bear Creek Road and travel five miles to the staging area on the right.
Butano State Park
Just off the quaint village of Pescadero, Butano State Park features a beautiful old redwood forest at the bottom of a mountain canyon. As you enter the park, you will see signs to slow down for newt crossings. Do slow down! As mentioned earlier, newts are intrepid road travelers.
To explore Butano's newt hangouts, park at the trailhead for Butano Creek Trail and follow the creek slowly, watching your step for banana slugs and the creek for newts. You can go as far as the end of the canyon where the trail turns around and gets you on a fire road, or as close as the next great splashing spot for kids. Note: bring a change of clothes, Little Butano Creek a fantastic wading creek.
Directions: The park is on the San Mateo Coast, off Highway 1, three miles northeast of the Gazos Creek Coastal Access Point by way of Gazos Creek Road, and about 4.5 miles southeast of Pescadero by way of the Pescadero and Cloverdale Roads.
Now that you have the low-down on newts, slow down next time you see one traveling cross-terrain on the road and remove it to safer grounds. Happy newt-fancying!
Laure Latham is the author of The Best Hikes with Kids: San Francisco Bay Area. Laure grew up in New Caledonia, a remote island in the South Pacific between Australia and Tahiti. Along with her spirited brothers, she spent her childhood years playing in bushes, building forts, climbing trees, fixing kites, and snorkeling around coral reefs. Then one day she really had to grow up. After a stint as a tax attorney in France, she now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area where she writes about the outdoors and travels with her two young daughters and husband. A complete chocoholic and tea-addict, she needs her daily fix to breeze through the day, luxuries she always packs along in her backpack for her hikes.
You can read more about her on her blog Frog Mom.
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