Hiking

Mission Trails: 3 Easy Hikes

Recovering during the postpartum period can be surprisingly difficult. Along with learning the feeding and sleeping patterns of a new little human, a momma’s body has a lot of healing to do and there are many other physical and emotional changes those first few weeks (or even months).

For me, this third pregnancy and birth was definitely easier than either of my previous experiences. There was NO WAY I would have had the energy to go for a hike after either Juni or Max were born for quite some time. But for some reason, this time around I felt much better. So by the second week after Sage’s birth, we were all feeling a bit cooped up and decided to go for our first hike as a family of five.


Mission Trails is a wonderful area for finding kid-friendly hikes. The five ‘peaks’ in the park are by far the most popular trails, but there are some lovely canyons, creeks, and grasslands to explore as well. We explored three of these gentle hikes and I highly recommend them if you are in search of hiking experiences for young children. These trails are friendly enough that our kids (ages 3 and almost 2) were able to hike/run/scramble the whole way without having to be carried- a huge plus when you have more kids than you can carry like we suddenly do!

The Grasslands Loop

The Grasslands is a rolling, sunny landscape just to the east of the Old Mission Dam. We parked along Father Junipero Serra Trail near Kumeyaay Lake and followed the paved path down to the bridge crossing of the San Diego River. The pavement soon ends and as the path rises up and out of the river gorge, the views open up until the yellow-gold Grasslands spread out west of the trail. There are several looping fire roads you can take to explore this area. 


The routes we linked together made an enjoyable 2-mile lollipop and took us across the rolling meadows to views of Oak Canyon and an overlook of the dam. The kids enjoyed the many mud puddles left over from the recent storms, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Grinding Rocks are a site of easily accessible mortreros. Our hike ended with tossing sticks into the river ala Whinnie The Pooh. 

Official trail map here.

The Visitor Center Loop

Some adventurous toddler friends (and their parents) joined us one day for a hike beginning at the Mission Trails Visitor Center. It was the day after some more substantial rains so our primary objective was finding some good puddles. We hiked towards the South Fortuna river crossing. We had planned to go all the way to the river, but a fantastic mud puddle was irresistible and we decided to make an old oak nearby our lunch spot and turn around point. 

When hiking with kids, it’s always better to turn around when the little ones are still happy, than to push on to the original objective and end up with everyone throwing a tantrum. We opted for puddle play and a shorter hike this time, and everyone made it back to the trailhead tired but still relatively happy. 

More info about this trail here

Oak Canyon Trail

The Oak Canyon Trail begins at the path that wraps around Old Mission Dam. We followed it past the dam and over the river to the north side of the San Diego River. From there, Oak Canyon and its tributary provide access to the summits of North and South Fortuna, but for our purposes we simply followed the trail to partway up the narrowed canyon. The kids loved all the climbing and scrambling opportunities on this trail. 


There are several huge old oaks along the canyon bottom that make great spots for exploration and snack breaks. Higher in the canyon our littles did some hands + feet scrambling as we followed the rocky creek bed west towards the Fortunas. We chose a good lunch spot with views of some of the small seasonal waterfalls, and then turned around to be back at our car before nap time. This canyon would be fun for older kids as well who would enjoy the mild route finding, spotting, and scrambling as the canyon narrows. There are miles of trail beyond, stretching into the surprisingly remote interior of the park. Plenty of adventure awaits for visitors of all ages. 

More about this trail here

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