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Little hikes for little tykes

Wildflowers
Wildflowers

The Reno area is surrounded by some of the most beautiful hiking trails in the West… yes, a large claim, and one I’ll stand by. Just consider the 165 miles of the Tahoe Rim Trail – those alone put this area in a class of its own.

I love a good hike, and it’s a sport I can enjoy with my kids. Let’s face it, I’m not exactly star material in sports that require coordination (um, volleyball… bad idea!) or competition (I just don’t really care who wins). But hiking is all about you and the trail, and it requires no equipment, no special skills, just the ability to put one foot in front of the other.

I’ve found three hikes that I think are especially great for kids, and they’re ones I can take my kids to over and over again and still appreciate their beauty.

1. Spooner Lake Loop – EASY

The trail around Spooner Lake is just about 2 miles, and it’s almost entirely flat. This is the first one we tried with kids – the eldest was only 2, and I carried the baby in a carrier. Yes, it’s that easy a trail. There are interpretive signs scattered around the trail explaining the flora, fauna, and history of the area. The terrain varies from open meadow to aspen groves to pine forest, so while it’s a short walk, it’s an interesting one.

Easy trek around Spooner Lake
Easy trek around Spooner Lake

From Carson City, take Highway 50 West toward Lake Tahoe, and turn onto S.R. 28 at Spooner Summit. Drive about a half-mile to the parking area, which will be on the right. Parking is $12, paid either at the entrance kiosk or via self-pay envelopes.

From Reno, take Mt. Rose Highway to Incline Village, then follow the signs for S.R. 28 South. Take S.R. 28 until you see the Spooner Lake parking area on your left. If you hit Highway 50, you’ve gone a half-mile too far.

2. Marlette Lake – MODERATE

This trail starts at the same place as the Spooner Lake Loop, but heads 5 miles into the Spooner Backcountry to Marlette Lake. Yes, 5 miles one-way is a lot for kids, but if you stay on North Canyon Road the whole way there, it’s an easy ascent. There is a narrow, rocky, winding trail that parallels North Canyon Road for the more adventurous hikers, but I wouldn’t advise this for young kids.

The route to Marlette Lake is interesting, with cabin ruins at the onset of the trail and stone-house ruins at Marlette Lake. The lake is cold, as most High Sierra lakes are, but the water is so clear and fresh you may just be tempted to wade in and cool off. Don’t be scared off by the distance; I had a coworker who once pushed her baby in a stroller the entire way. It’s a long walk, but not terribly difficult.

3. Mount Rose Peak – DIFFICULT

Waterfall on the trail to the Mount Rose Peak.
Waterfall on the trail to the Mount Rose Peak.

My newest favorite trail needs a disclaimer: It’s difficult if you hike the entire way to the peak, 5 miles one-way, the last two of which are absolutely grueling as you climb above 10,000 feet. However, the first 2.5 miles are easy and promise a big reward: a beautiful rushing waterfall.

The wildflowers are in full bloom right now, providing lovely distractions from the mileage under your feet. The path to the waterfall is easy and well-maintained, mostly dirt and sand so no worries of little feet tripping over rocks and roots. There are a few places with steep drop-offs, though, so it’s always good to keep your eyes forward (I’m thinking of my 8-year-old who does cartwheels everywhere she can).

The trail starts with a beautiful view over the Tahoe Meadows.
The trail starts with a beautiful view over the Tahoe Meadows.

If your littles aren’t complaining by the time you get to the waterfall, I highly recommend venturing another half-mile to skirt along a lush meadow and through thick lupine stands. A babbling brook runs along the trail, a perfect place to dunk your toasty toes.

To get to the Mount Rose trail head, take Mt. Rose Highway (S.R. 431) to the summit, and park at the summit parking lot. There are restrooms and picnic tables – you can’t miss it. To clear up any confusion out there: Mount Rose (the mountain) is not the same thing as Mt. Rose (the ski resort). The ski resort is actually on Slide Mountain, the peak opposite Mount Rose.

A lupine-lined path
A lupine-lined path

The trek to the peak is a calf-and-glute-buster, but the views are well worth the effort. You’re rewarded with 360-degree views of the entire Reno-Carson-Tahoe region. You can reportedly see Pyramid Lake on a clear day, and the most stunning views of Lake Tahoe. Looking down over the ski runs at Mt. Rose and Northstar to the west puts the elevation in startling persepctive. And if you do the entire hike, roundtrip, you’ll have covered 10 miles. That’s better than any workout at the gym!

It was on this most recent hike that I learned some important do’s and don’ts of hiking, especially with children:

1. Bring snacks. Seriously, food is the difference between an enjoyable hike and meltdown city… for mama and kids!
2. Water, water, and more water.
3. Don’t forget the Band-Aids. I developed a blister around mile 6 and ended up having to wrap my sunglasses sleeve around my little toe.
4. If your trail is popular, get there early! I drove my daughters two hours to attempt the hike to Eagle Falls only to find that there was no parking. Sure, we ended up spending a lovely day at Tahoe instead, but I’m still kicking myself for thinking we could get to Eagle Falls at 10 a.m. and actually find a parking spot.
5. If your trail has a map, use it! This isn’t just Survival 101, it’s a great way to get your kids interested in the hike and to introduce basic map-reading to them.

I’m still learning the trails around my home, and I’d love some suggestions! Leave a comment with your favorite hike with kids, or with some helpful tips!

View from Mount Rose Peak
View from Mount Rose Peak
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About Bethany Drysdale

Bethany Drysdale
Bethany Drysdale is mom to two little princesses, and is on a mission to stock her wine rack with great-tasting wines that won't break the bank. Swim lessons and new sneakers trump the wine budget in her house, but she won't sacrifice great taste and neither should you! Read more from Bethany at Mama's Wine Rack. Bethany is a former journalist and current public relations professional who decided in 2010 to pair her love for writing with her love for wine, and Mama's Wine Rack was born. She lives in Dayton, Nev., with her daughters Emma and Abbi, husband Sean, and dog Rusty. There is a cat or two calling her doorstep home, and possibly a goldfish in her future. Follow Bethany's quest to fill her wine rack at http://MamasWineRack.com.

4 comments

  1. Lakes Basin recreation area just past Graeagle is fantastic! Frasier falls is a paved trail with beautiful views and about 1 mile roundtrip. Perfect for very little hikers and stroller friendly. Smith lake is an easy hike and Sierra buttes is beautiful, but has a dangerous staircase and some steep drop offs so I wouldn’t recommend for younger kids. The whole area has miles and miles of trails and lakes and tons of camping. It is the area’s best kept secret!

  2. I’m new to the area and paranoid about bears. What are the chances of running into one on these trails? Am I being crazy?

  3. Rj. I have lived here my whole life and have never run into a bear. Chances are very slim with it being moat likely in the early spring or late fall. I would not stress about it.

    Thanks for this great article as I have been trying to decide on some baby friendly trails. These are definitely some good ones

  4. I rely enjoyed the galena creek hike, there are a few different ones to choose from depending on level of difficulty and how many miles you want to do but it was one of my families favorites. Lots of “nature” to see and beautiful views. Hiked with our 16 month old at the time (she’s 18 months now).

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