Our favorite local place to take a family hike is at Uvas Canyon, just south of the San Francisco Bay Area. We have been hiking here since the boys were being carried in hiking backpacks. Given the abundance of shade, the beautiful waterfalls (unusual for the area!), a small stream that the boys get to hop across, and the flexibility of trail lengths, it is a wonderful place to either hike with a friend, or to take the family.
There are many different options for trail lengths. If you just want to see the waterfalls, it is about a half mile each way, but that is a little short for us. Our favorite hike is a 3 miles, starts with Alec Canyon Trail, continues onto the Contour Trail (where you have to cross a stream that may not be passable after heavy rains), and finishes at the waterfalls. You can add an extra mile and a half if you go to see the Triple Falls. And if you want a longer hike, you can get on the Knibbs Knob Trail and hike until you are tired.
Alec Canyon Trail
If you want to do our favorite hike, after parking, continue past the bathrooms and picnic area until you come to a large sign. Follow the arrow to the left for Alec Canyon Trail and Contour Trail. Going a little further, there will be a big map of the park and a fork in the road. You will want to stay on the Alec Canyon Trail and take another left.
At this point, there will be a bit of a climb. When the kids were little, it was challenging, but they could easily be bribed with an m&m, a handful of dried cranberries, or some sort of trail mix, when they reached certain points. It is a nice, wide path with lots of shade.
At the top, there is a nice bench with an amazing view point. Shortly after the bench, you will encounter a sign post. If you want to add a little less than 1.5 miles to your hike, consider staying on the Alec Canyon Trail and continue to the Triple Falls. Otherwise, take a right onto the Contour Trail.
The Contour Trail
The kids have always loved the next section of the hike, and to be honest, I love it too. The Contour Trail is quite narrow and is completely shaded. When a kid thinks of “hiking,” this is exactly the type of trail that they are likely to envision. Just make sure to watch out for poison oak. Leaves of three, leave them be. There is a ton of it.
A little ways down the trail, you will encounter a cute little bridge that may or may not have a little water running underneath it. The kids always like crossing it.
From here, there will be steep cliffs, tree roots to scramble over, and nice vegetation. Sometimes we will spot some birds. Other times, there are small critters.
The park is also signed for mountain lions, but fortunately, we have never come across any of those. The good news is that our boys tend to make so much noise, that they are not likely to startle any animal that we may come across.
The next part of the trail is my favorite part of the hike. You will begin to hear the sounds of the water, there will be a steep, often slippery path/steps down to the stream. Hiking boots are advisable for this section. If there has been a lot of recent rain, the stream may not be crossable, and you may need to head back the way you came. There is only once that we have considered this, but we ended up making it across. Most of the time the rocks are exposed enough to hop your way across to the other side.
On the other side, the path will become a bit easier and you will have some nice views of the stream.
The Waterfall Loop Trail
From here, you will continue until you reach the waterfalls.
When the kids were little, they would be quite tired at this point, but the waterfalls would usually get them excited again and they would be able to walk a ways without too many complaints.
And there are quite a few places for them to stop and play in the water or with rock, sticks, and leaves. Again, make sure they know what poison oak looks like.
In the spring, you might spot some nice flowers. Maybe a banana slug too, if you are lucky. And the kids always enjoy watching leaves, sticks, and pine cone-like objects float from one side of the bridge to the other.
On the other side of the bridge, Jeremy and I usually take the easy path, while the kids will scramble across the stream and hop on a different path that meets up with ours.
At this point, there is a nice wide path that can take you back to parking lot, to the campgrounds, a loop around the waterfall area, or you can branch off and do more hiking on the Knibbs Knob Trail. Close to the parking lot, there are quite a few picnic tables, and a restroom.
Uvas Canyon is a great local hike on the south side of the Bay Area, maybe 40 minutes southwest of San Jose.
One thing to be aware of is that advance parking reservations are needed on weekends and holidays. This is a relatively recent requirement. You cannot buy a pass at the entrance and will most likely be turned away. There is no other parking nearby. Go to the Uvas Canyon website and either book online, or call the number.
Alternatively, you can book a campground site, albeit further in advance. It really is a lovely place to camp.
Once you have parking dealt with, Google Maps will get you there. Take 101 to Morgan Hill, exiting at Bailey Avenue. From there, take McKean south to Croy, and take Croy to the park entrance. On arrival, show your reservation to the kiosk booth and continue to the main parking lot.
Enjoy your hike! Consider either printing a trail map or taking a picture with your phone at the Alec Canyon Trail head.