Hiking the Marin Headlands with NatureBridge

We’re not a big hiking family. We love hiking, especially me because hiking means my husband takes the kids out of the house for an hour or more, allowing me to work in peace, but taking the time to hike as a family is different. Recently we shook that up a little as we took part in a perfect, family-friendly hike around the Marin Headlands.

Ever heard of NatureBridge? I hadn’t until my family was invited to take a hike around their Marin campus, the Headlands Institute. The Headlands I knew from visits as a kid or explorations as a teenager with a new driver’s license, trying to go as far away from home as possible without crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. My kids have seen a lot of Marin, but hiking around the Headlands was something new, so we decided to try it out.

The hike was perfect. In fact, the entire experience was pretty cool. We got to check out the Intertidal Laboratory first, gently touching sea stars, hermit crabs, and more, then we saw taxidermied animals, skulls, and shark teeth. The kids were totally engaged, and even though they arrived at the Headlands campus a little tired, they were excited for the hike to begin.

The hike was perfect for young kids, as well as older. My son is five and he loved it, while the oldest kid in our group was nine, and he seemed to enjoy it just as much. It was an easy hike, but our guide broke it up with activities like animal charades, which kept it interesting, while it gave the smallest legs a rest. We were on the Animal Families of the Headlands hike, with – obviously – a focus on animals who live in the Headlands. We tracked some animal prints, noted animal trails, and by the end, the kids were able to identify specific tracks and the type of animal that would have created a trail based on size and height of clearing. We ended on the beach with some sand exploration, noting the different colors of sand granules and their source. The kids ran on the beach, still full of energy.

It was a three hour hike for $15 a person. It’s a huge bargain. They are undercharging for how much we got out of the hike.

If bonfires and s’mores are more enticing than a hike, NatureBridge offers that too. There are at least three more nighttime bonfires on their schedule through the rest of the year. Coming up this month is an Ocean Aglow Family Night Hike & Bonfire, with a short hike to Rodeo Beach to look for bioluminescent plankton in the sand before a campfire with songs and s’mores under the moonlight. Awesome, right? All for $12 a person.

Even though we live down on the Peninsula, I’m tempted to hold a birthday party at the Headlands Institute. They have a variety of activities to pick from, depending upon the child’s interesting, including dissecting squid and using the ink to draw tattoos. While I thought their parties sounded great for the kids, my husband turned to me and said HE wants to have his birthday party there.

The importance of spending time in nature, and allowing kids unstructured play outside is clear. NatureBridge has four campuses (three in California and one in Washington) and is expanding into the greater Washington, D.C. area. If the Headlands isn’t nearby, maybe Yosemite is. The Headlands Institute is at a beautiful location, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s secluded, generally not too hot, with varying hiking levels and easy access the beach. It makes for an excellent family outing.

Disclosure: The cost of the hike was waived for me and my family. The opinions are my own.

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