Spiderman moves are in your future! If you have a young furniture climber at home, it's time to upgrade to the real world and test how well these tiny hands get a grip on sandstone. Of course, backyard jungle gyms with "rock" climbing walls are all swell, but let's face it, why pay for a small plastic rendition of the real thing when you can get it for free outdoors? Here are the best spots where your kids can rock out their balancing skills and body coordination, all the while getting their Vitamin D fix.
Castle Rock State Park
At the top of the Santa Cruz Mountains near Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Castle Rock State Park features miles of lush evergreen madrone and oak forests around sandstone boulders that attract the Bay Area's cream of the crop climbers and photographers. While some boulders are scarily perched atop steep drops, others are an invitation to put down your bags and explore. From small connecting caves to beehive designs or simple round-as-a-turtle boulders, Castle Rock offers fun climbing opps concentrated over a relatively small area.
To make the most of a day out in this beautiful forest, extend the experience and hike the mile-long trail to Castle Rock Falls. The views are impressive! And you might see some real climbers going up the cracks with ropes and harnesses.
It's unfair but in Berkeley, some people have their own backyard climbing rock, courtesy of a volcanic eruption 11.5 million years ago. Minutes from the bustling heart of Solano Avenue, the Thousand Oaks neighborhood of Berkeley is peppered with Northbrae rhyolite boulders, some house-big, some child-size, that scream "scramble please" to passers-by.
Indian Rock Park is your first stop. You can basically park the car and walk over. Find the stairs carved in the rock and make your ascent for unforgettable views of the San Francisco Bay. Kids love to circle around and try their hand - literally - at the rock. Numerous pedestrian alleys make the neighborhood a gem to discover on a sunny day. Remillard Park (80 Poppy Lane) offers not just a giant boulder where kids can defy gravity, but a small playground and picnic tables. Enough to spend a lazy half day outside for sure. As a last stop, check out Mortar Rock where carved steps and a nice rock offer more climbing terrain but also a historical perspective. Go around and look for the mortar holes where Ohlone people ground acorns.
It's not called Rock City for nothing! The Rock City area of Mount Diablo State Park is a mecca for climbers of all ages and attracts families with picnics and backpacks looking for some fun exploration. The Wind Caves are probably some of the most popular rocks for young kids because they can climb inside them and tunnel between rock chambers like they're cave explorers on a mission. Get a map at the entrance of the park to park next to the trail to the Wind Caves. This is an area where sandstone rock has been eroded away leaving large pocket holes in the stone. For adventurous kids, footsteps carved in the sandstone provide a well-marked "trail" along the spine of the formation, all along the top of the wind caves. Bring a picnic lunch, water and blankets; it's going to be a sunny day. If you want to see the biggest sandstone rock of all, follow the trail on the ridge and look for a big monolith called Sentinel Dome. It's a mini-Half Dome set up with cables, carved steps and climbing routes for all levels.
Just keep track of the kids in this area because there are many narrow paths and low bushes that make it easy for a young one to play hide and seek...inadvertently.
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