6 Family-Friendly Hikes in San Diego

From the beaches to the parks, playgrounds, and everything in between, San Diego is overflowing with fun outdoor activities for kids. When the weather starts to cool off late in the fall, hiking is an excellent family outdoor activity with effective health benefits for all involved. Kids can exercise, socialize, and learn about plants, animals and the environment, all while being outside in the mild San Diego weather.

The list of health benefits for kids that comes from cardiovascular activities such as hiking are extensive. Kids who are active have stronger muscles and bones, a decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and lower blood pressure and cholesterol. There are also mental health benefits for kids who exercise. Exercise such as hiking reduces stress and anxiety and improves memory and overall mood.

“Take your kids for a hike and make a move to improve their health!”

San Diego Hikes for Kids:

Most of the hikes in San Diego listed below are free and provide ample opportunity for kids to explore. Their skill level is kid-friendly and most have amenities such as restrooms, drinking fountains, and nature centers perfect for an outing with kids.


    1. Palomar Observatory

This family hike is an easy 4 miles, with expansive views and plenty of shade (which is rare for many of the hikes in San Diego), and is also well-maintained. Start at the Palomar Observatory Campground on S6 and make your way up to the observatory, where kids can explore the grounds around the dome, and take a look inside. You can also pay $5 for a tour of the Hale Telescope and turn the hike into an astronomy lesson, but there is plenty to see and do for free as well.


    1. Mission Trails Regional Park

Located just off of Mission Gorge Road just before Santee, Mission Trails Regional Park is one of the most expansive network of trails on this list. The trails range from easy to difficult, short to long, with many kid-friendly hikes available.

Mission Trails is also an excellent place for hikes for kids because of the Visitor & Interpretive Center. They can learn about the nature and history of the land they are hiking on. Restrooms are available in the center and parking is close by.


    1. Lake Poway Recreation Area

The hiking trail around Lake Poway is perfect for a family outing. Although it does have a little bit of varied terrain, the hike is moderate and the trail is well marked. It is a 2.7 mile loop that starts at the parking lot of the recreation area and circles around the lake.

This moderate hike is excellent hike for families because of the amenities the recreation area offers. Kids can use restrooms, see ducks, and hit the playground before and after the hike. Access is free during the week, but the entry station will charge a $5 entry fee for all non-Poway residents on weekends and holidays.


    1. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Although the walk along the paved road up to the trails in Torrey Pines is challenging, the trails at the top are for kids of all levels. There are short loops such as the Guy Fleming Trail if your child is not a seasoned hiker, alongside longer hikes like the Broken Hill Trail for older and more experienced kids. Restrooms and drinking stations line the entrance to the trails near the Nature Center for your family’s comfort and convenience.

The views above the ocean are spectacular, and you can explore multiple trails in one outing depending on how far your kids can hike. The Visitor Center has information for your kids to learn about the native plants and animals they can expect to see on the trail, along with a museum shop that features books, art items, and toys related to the surrounding habitat.


    1. Cabrillo National Monument

Although admission to this National Park isn’t free, it is well worth it to spend the day hiking and exploring with kids. The west side of the park features tidepools where you can park close by, and then walk along a fairly flat path along the ocean with the kids. Just make sure the tide is low and the weather isn’t wet for maximum safety.

The other side of the park has a moderate two-mile hike that wraps around the end of the peninsula. Kids will find expansive views of navy ships, downtown San Diego, and the base on Coronado Island. Kids love seeing the fishing boats passing by along with aircraft and helicopters from the base. There is also plenty of nature to learn about as they are surrounded by native California plants and birds circling overhead. The path is paved, wide, and easy on the way down, although the hike back uphill can be a bit of a challenge.

The center of the park features a Visitor Center with an “Age of Exploration” exhibit and ranger-guided programs. Drinking fountains and restrooms maximize the “family-friendly” experience.


    1. Crestridge Ecological Reserve

Our last hike to enjoy with your family is in East San Diego in El Cajon. The Crestridge Ecological Reserve is a conservation area that includes a 4-mile hike with an easy trail for kids. Coordinate your hike with one of the educational programs that the non-profit Earth Discovery Institute operates to maximize the learning opportunity for kids.

Hiking with your kids is an easy way to burn off energy, improve health, and teach them something new. The mild San Diego weather and close proximity of these hikes create the perfect opportunity to get outside and exercise with your kids in San Diego!

If you have questions about the right activity level for your child, click here to find one of our excellent Family Medicine doctors at Scripps Affiliated Medical Groups!

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