Thursday, February 19, 2015

Toddler Outings: Fun Spots for Creek Splashin'

Stevens Creek near McClellan Ranch, Cupertino
Like many toddlers, Toddler X is irresistibly drawn to creeks. He loves to wade in them, splash in them and throw rocks in them -- and I swear, he loves to fall in them, usually soaking the only set of clothes he has and making for a long walk back to the car.

With wet weather a few weeks ago and glorious sunshine forecast for this week, it seems like an excellent time to check out the South Bay's best creeks. Here are a few of our favorites:

** Note: Obviously, evaluate the conditions before you allow your toddler to wade into any creek. I do not warrant that these activities are safe, and it is entirely your responsibility to determine whether any given activity, at any given time, is acceptable for your own child. In addition to water hazards, be aware of the wildlife in the area and plants like poison oak. ***

Stevens Creek
Stevens Creek between McClellan Ranch Preserve and Blackberry Farm, Cupertino. This is our most-frequented creek for splashing and rock throwing -- it's close to home, a lovely setting, and very accessible. There's even a marked "Water Access Area" (right off the paved trail, close to the Blackberry Farm side), though that spot can get crowded and is not the easiest for a toddler to access.


Creek entrance at the Water Access Area
We prefer a more hidden spot on the McClellan Ranch end....


To get to this spot, follow the fence along the 4H farm/community garden toward the creek, then it's up to you to explore a bit down the dirt paths that lead to its banks, as I can't really think how best to direct you to the special spot (you have to go over a log at one point -- we often leave strollers parked there.). There's a nice beach-ish area, stones and pebbles for wading on/throwing, and a deep pool at the roots of a tree, where a tossed rock makes a delightful plop.

A picnic on the bank

You can park at either the McClellan Ranch or Blackberry Farm parking lots -- a walk along the trail to the creek access points is one of our favorite fitness/nature outings (check out the two posts for details on the area in general and added fun on both ends of the trail).

Here's a map where I've tried to pinpoint, as closely as possible, where this peaceful spot can be found. But you know what? Seeking it out is half the fun!

Adobe Creek
Adobe Creek at Hidden Villa Farm, Los Altos. This is a great splashing spot that we've enjoyed twice in the past few weeks -- once before the rain and once since, and the transformation was pretty cool. Inside Hidden Villa, head toward the goat area (at the main split -- chickens/pigs to the right, goats to the left -- you head left), then continue past it up the trail.


The creek is next to the trail on your lefthand side, and there are tons of easy access points in the 200 yards past the goat enclosure. One of the best "beaches" is just below the picnic tables on the lefthand side of the trail. There's a gentle incline down to the water, then a nice level area along the bank and a pretty wide sandbar in the middle (even after the rains).


Toddler X has really enjoyed splashing here with pals, and there are usually several other kids doing the same thing. The setting is shady and peaceful, and there are three or four conveniently located picnic tables.

Here's a map where I've tried to pinpoint, as closely as possible, where the creek splashing areas can be found. Note that there is a parking fee ($5) to park at Hidden Villa, but with the toddler-friendly garden, animals, creek and trails, it's more than worth it.

Adobe Creek at Shoup Park

Adobe Creek at Shoup Park, Los Altos. Yep, Adobe Creek continues on down from the Los Altos foothills and flows through the Redwood Grove Nature Preserve and Shoup Park near downtown. This was our most recent splashing adventure -- we were there last Friday -- and one we always enjoy. Last year, by the end of May, Adobe was dry through the nature preserve, but fortunately it continues to flow nicely right now (late April), so enjoy this water play/playground combination while you can!


No need for a special map for this one! This water entry spot is among the area's most accessible, with easy parking in the Shoup lot or on University Avenue, and a large, easy to access "beach" located just below the playground areas. It can get pretty busy as a result -- see picture above -- but there's plenty of room for everyone. Enjoy!

Splashing in Silver Creek

Silver Creek at Silver Creek Linear Park, San Jose. We've only been to this spot once, but it was so, so cool that it is definitely on our list for a second visit. From the Silver Creek Linear Park playground (parking lot is off Yerba Buena, part way up the hill -- here are the coordinates), follow the path down toward the trees/water.

You follow this arrow...
Down this path...
To get to this lovely creek.
You'll find a delightful little glen alongside the creek, with ample shade and easy creek access.

Bring a blanket -- this would be a great spot for a picnic!
Combined with some playtime on the structures at the top of the hill, this is a fun toddler adventure.

Here's a map where I've tried to pinpoint, as closely as possible, where the creek entrance can be found.

Los Gatos Creek at Vasona
Los Gatos Creek at Vasona Park, Los Gatos. This is another very popular creek-splashing spot, and one we've been enjoying since Toddler X was about 18 months old (see picture below -- man, it's gone by fast!). The best "beach" (all pebbles and not very comfortable to walk on barefoot) is in between the Oak Meadow bridge and Vasona Lake, right alongside the Los Gatos Creek Trail.

We've found good amounts of water in the creek and actual flow (we never stomp in creeks that aren't flowing) over the years, even in late summer (these pictures were all taken in August or September). The beach and creek are very easily accessible, and you'll usually find other families (and some friendly ducks) hanging out down there as well. 


It's an easy outing to combine with a visit to the Oak Meadow or Vasona playgrounds (go with Oak Meadow if you have the choice), or a ride on the Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad or Mason Carousel.

I don't recommend entering the water once it begins its approach to Vasona Lake -- it gets really shallow there and stagnates, and yuck -- nothing grosser than stagnant water. Up closer to the Oak Meadow bridge I feel more comfortable.

Here's a map where I've tried to pinpoint as closely as possible the main creek entrance spot, but if you just start at the Oak Meadow bridge and walk toward Vasona Lake, it's hard to miss it on the lefthand side of the trail.

Aptos Creek
Aptos Creek at Forest of the Nisene Marks State Park, Aptos. While not as conveniently located to the South Bay as the other creek spots above, Nisene Marks and the creek that flows through it are definitely worth the drive over the hill. Although I'd visited Nisene Marks several times in the past, our recent visit with Toddler X was the first where we took time to explore Aptos Creek. Summary: it's fantastic!

What sets it apart -- particularly in the little beach area pictured above and immediately below -- is the ground surface. As we approached the creek, I saw what appeared to be wet muck, and immediately regretted letting Toddler X get so close -- the weather was chilly, and I didn't have a second set of shoes for when he sank knee deep in mud. But guess what? He didn't, because the banks of the creek are not mud -- they're sand! This fantastic little beach is made up of very wet, packed sand -- you could walk on it practically without squishing at all! 

A sandy beach!

There are several entrance spots to the creek (indeed, several of the hiking trails at the park actually require creek crossings), but our favorite is the one pictured above -- if you park in the main lot just past the park entrance and set off to your left, then veer right on the Old Growth trail, you'll hit it. Another that was almost as cool, but a very different feel -- all rocks, good for throwing but a much greater risk of slipping -- can be found by taking the path from the main lot that follows the road further into the park -- the creek will be on your lefthand side. That location is pictured below.



The park as a whole is incredibly beautiful, and with the creek thrown in, it's a fantastic toddler adventure. Just be sure to go on a warm day and pack backup clothes!

These are just a few of the spots where Toddler X has enjoyed splashing in the water. I'm sure there are many, many others that we haven't visited yet, and I'd love to hear your suggestions! Here's what my Facebook readers had to say.

As always, be sure to keep your toddler safe on these adventures!

Happy toddling!

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