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Outdoor Toddler Adventures in Reno

With spring upon us, it is time to dust off the old sneakers and get outside again with the kiddos.  There are lots of great adventures locally that are perfect for 2-4yr olds.  Below I’d like to outline some tips and my favorite spots.

SedonaThe first question you may have, or even get from your precocious toddler, is ‘Why’?  Well, being outside together as a family improves health and attention span for our little ones.  Also, having meaningful experiences outdoors as a kid translates directly to having an ethos of conservation and appreciation for nature in adulthood.   Finally, it is cheap and fun, and leads to great naps!

The next question might be ‘how’?   Although I take kids outdoors for a living, my wife and I have learned some of these lessons the hard way with our own kids:

  1. Bring something special to eat along the way.  Our kids’ first reaction to an outdoor trip is always that they would prefer to play with their toys inside.  Having a neat snack or picnic lunch half-way ensures the kids have something to look forward to and can be the bargaining chip we’ve needed to get out of the house.
  2. Don’t plan a destination.   I know the waterfall is just around the corner, but if you’re focused on mileage at this stage, kids often rebel and you’ll miss out on neat learning stops along the way.
  3. In fact, go really slowly.  Kids love to pick up sticks, throw rocks, dig holes, and observe animals.  Take the time to do this with them as this is where the learning comes in.  You’ll be amazed what you see when exploring at the kids’ speed!
  4. Turn questions around on your kids.  We try to work in the Lawrence Hall of Science’s BEETLES Inquiry model to stimulate discussions with our toddler. These kinds of prompts turn a question like “What’s That?” into a fun practice of observation, communication, and connections. Give these questions a try to really get their critical thinking in high gear:
    1. I notice… “I notice this leaf has lots of holes in it”
    2. I wonder… “I wonder if something ate this leaf”
    3. This reminds me of…. “This reminds me of how I eat bread to avoid the crusts!”

Finally, you might be wondering, ‘where should I take my kid(s)?’  These are some of my favorite spots we choose as a family:

eatonandkiddosCallahan Ranch Park (off Mt Rose Highway).  This is a great entry point to exploring the outdoors.  The park has a nice lawn area and jungle gyms.  But, what sets this park apart is the small creek running next to it.  We normally plan to start on the play equipment and then go ‘creeking’.  This is a really manageable creek to walk in, and is well shaded for sun protection.  It is an ideal place to get a 2yr old comfortable with playing in a creek and exploring the rocks, plants, and animals.

Whites or Thomas Creek (Take 431 uphill to Timberline).  These are two great hikes right by creeks with a lot of accessibility right into the water.  Bring old sneakers or ‘creeking shoes’.  There are lots of logs to scoot on across the creeks and it is a lot of fun to turn over rocks in the creek and finding nymphs (juvenile flies and other flying bugs).  These hikes might suit a 3-4yr old better.

walking in water2Dorostkar Park on the Truckee right by the Lavender Farm.   After you cross the paved bike path, there are lots of trails alongside the Truckee.  Also, since it is another low water year, if you don’t mind a bit of cold, you can walk directly in the river and see lots of ducks and crawdads.  Bring a small net to explore with from shore or directly in the river.  When you get cold, you can lay down on the rocks heated up by the sun.  Pick a hot day, and you can stay in the water for ~30mins.  Expect the kids to sleep hard that night!  Best if 3-4 years old and comfortable walking in the water and with old sneakers.

Enjoy your next adventure!  At Sierra Nevada Journeys, we’re committed to teaching science to elementary students through the natural classrooms that surround us.  If your child is 8 or older, think about sending them off to summer camp with us, where they spend lots of adventure time outdoors with qualified outdoor science instructors.  Or, if your child is in elementary school, ask your teacher if they’re doing programs with Sierra Nevada Journeys.  We work in 2/3rds of the elementary schools in Washoe County and would love the chance to work with your kid’s classroom.

Disclaimer:  Please remember that taking your kids outdoors, particularly near waterways, can be dangerous.  Please ensure you are providing close supervision at any of the spots above.  Particularly when walking in creeks or rivers, ensure you understand the speed of flow and depth of the water before getting in as there are many areas and times of year where this could be unsafe for your children. 

Eaton’s bio:

Pic of EatonEaton is the father of an almost 4-year-old son and a 1-year-old daughter and lives with his wife, Kate, in Reno, NV. The CEO of a local education non-profit, Sierra Nevada Journeys, Eaton brings his passion for the outdoors to both his family and his profession. Eaton is a USMC veteran, and served as an Infantry Platoon Commander in Iraq in ’03. He earned an MBA at London Business School, BS in Biology from Stanford University, and was a researcher at the Brookings Institute. Eaton serves on the Board of the Marines’ Memorial Club and Hotel in San Francisco. Eaton is an avid fly fisherman and cross country skier.


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  1. Do you have local hike suggestions for elementary age kiddos?

    • Hi Timbra, I don’t have Elementary age kiddos, but Sierra Nevada Journeys works with them all the time doing outdoor science programs. Three places we bring the students we work with locally are:
      Galena Creek Park (off Mt Rose Hwy) — lots of options here — I’d recommend starting at the visitor center for some ideas if you’ve never been. They have paved and off-road hiking options that are really pretty this time of year.
      Oxbow Park (right near Keystone and 4th St) — really pretty, shaded, park close to urban areas. It is really close to downtown, but can easily feel like you are miles away. Not many vagrants around, which differentiates this park from some other local downtown spots.
      McCarran Ranch — this is a Conservation project by the Nature Conservancy about 15 miles East of Reno / Sparks. This is a really neat area with lots of public access, good trails, and really great restoration programs.
      Lastly, one of our favorites to put on miles is right over the Mt Rose Highway summit in the meadows where you see lots of folks pulling off for sledding and snowmobiling. There are a lot of paths from here to take that are shaded and can either go up/downhill or stay flat through the meadows.

      I hope this helps. Curious to hear your favorites!
      -Eaton D

  2. Jenn

    My 3rd grader enjoys the trails that Eaton refers to right over Mt Rose Highway summit. Lots to explore in that area/space.

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