Top 5 Family Friendly Hikes Near Ventura County California

Perfect California hike for my 3.5 year old

For those who have been stationed in Port Hueneme, California you know how much of a hidden gem it is. For those who have never been to Port Hueneme, not only are you incredibly close to the big cities, but you are also in such a gorgeous part of California. The beaches are stunning, coastlines are rocky and scenic at every turn, and hikes with ocean views are in every direction.  Living in California is not cheap and it’s not for everyone, but it suited our family’s needs perfectly.  We love being outside so California was very kind to us. As a mom of two boys (three if you count my sweet husband) we were always finding fun things to do on the weekends (“adventures” as we call them) and it was always a bonus if it was free. Our family grew to love hikes, and they became our most common form of adventures.  We hiked everywhere from Santa Barbara to Santa Monica to Santa Clarita.  Our favorite area to explore was throughout Malibu and we did do a few repeats, but we really tried to do as many different hikes as we possibly could in our time there. So—here are my top 5 favorite family-friendly hikes near Ventura County.

View of the hills in southern California

TOP PICK:  Solstice Canyon Loop

Ruins from an old Malibu home

Located in the Santa Monica mountains this is a beautiful 3-mile loop trail.  This hike is great for all skill levels and includes a waterfall, ocean views, and ruins of an old Malibu home.  The parking lot is very small for how popular this hike is, so we learned quickly that it’s best to park along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) and walk in to the hiking trail otherwise you will waste a lot of time waiting for a parking spot.  One of my favorite things about this hike are the ruins of an old mansion.  The ruins can be found pretty close to the half way point of the loop which makes for a rewarding and motivating push to keep going.  We’ve done the loop going both directions and from my personal experience it’s best to do the loop counterclockwise.  By going counterclockwise, you can tackle the majority of the elevation gains and get the tough part of the hike over with before the heat sets in.  There is little to no shade as you climb the outer half of the trail so it’s advisable to avoid hiking it mid-day in the heat. If you do the trail counterclockwise, remember to stop and check out the views of the valley and the ocean behind you (it’s a great excuse for a water break too).  As you make the final descent you will start to hear the sounds of running water which will lead you to the base of the waterfall.  The handful of times I’ve hiked this trail I’ve never seen the water raging but you do need to prepare yourself for a jump or quick scramble to the other side.  Once you’ve crossed the water you are able to explore the grounds of the old mansion.  The grounds are a great place to hang out, eat lunch, or just hang out for a while.  There are lots of sitting spots and shade so it’s easy to find a comfy spot to rest, eat a snack, and drink up some electrolytes (please remember to take all trash with you though!)  The remainder of the hike would’ve been the driveway to the old home so it’s a nice wide-open path with pretty minimal elevation change.  For families hiking with young kids, you can just take the driveway in and out and eliminate the full loop for an easier trail.  The out and back route will still give you a good workout but it will make it more tolerable for the kids to complete on their own.  There are bathrooms at the start of the trail but those are the only facilities throughout the hike. This was truly my favorite hike because of the location, the scenery, and the features within the hike.  Whenever we had company visiting that wanted to hike, we took them to this trail.

Stairs leading up to the waterfall along the Solstice Canyon trail

Hot Springs Canyon Trail

Hot Springs Trail featuring the Santa Barbara coastline

Located in Santa Barbara this is a 3.7 mile moderate leveled loop trail.  The toughest part of this trail is the elevation gain.  With nearly 1,200 ft of elevation gain this trail is definitely higher on the intensity trail.  My boys never fully hiked this trail by themselves, but they did get out of their packs at miscellaneous times and walk portions of the trail.  (We used the Osprey child carrier packs for both of our boys and really loved them)  You will have to be mindful of the trail as you first get going as it shares a trailhead with a neighboring trail.  Both trails are beautiful so you won’t be disappointed if you happen to go the wrong direction though.  But for the sake of the hot springs, keep your map open for the first mile or so to track your route.  Once you are on your path it’s a big loop so it’s rather easy to stay on course.  This hike has some amazing views of Santa Barbara and on a clear day, a beautiful view of the Channel Islands.  To get to the hot springs you will have to commit to the major elevation gain.  By the time we actually reached them we were both so hot and sweaty that soaking in a hot pool didn’t sound very enjoyable plus our boys were reaching their limit in our packs so we didn’t stop and swim–but I did reach in and at least feel the water.  I’ve heard the pools can be absolutely packed on certain weekends so my recommendation is to start pretty early in the day or go later in the day on the weekends and if you can, stick to hiking it on a weekday.  Once you get past the hot springs the trail begins to make the descent (but it still will rise and fall so don’t expect a straight downhill jaunt after the hot springs).  I loved this hike because of the hot springs, rock formations, and the view.  The trail is easy to walk—it doesn’t require rock scrambling, leaps across a river, or anything crazy which was important for me because of wearing my son on my back.  Due to the elevation gain and the fact that this hike isn’t fully shaded you do need to be sure to pack lots of water and a snack to keep you fueled up.  Parking can also be a struggle due to it sharing the same trailhead so be prepared to park further down the neighborhood (and be mindful of tow-away zones).  All in all, this hike is beautiful, scenic, and so rewarding! Plus—the drive up to the hike is along the coast and who can be upset about that?!


Rancho Sierra Vista

Perfect California hike for my 3.5 year old

Located near Newbury Park this area is full of so many trailheads and routes.  You can hike something different every time you go out which is incredible.  I loved this area for so many reasons, to name a few:  the wildlife, the views, the trails, and the accessibility.  This was definitely the most visited hiking spot of ours due to the location and options.  On random Saturday mornings where my husband and I would decide last minute we wanted to hike, we would typically go here and just pick a direction and walk which was such a blessing.  It took about 20-25 minutes to get up there depending on traffic and parking wasn’t ever an issue because there are so many lots to choose from.  A special aspect of this particular place is the fact that there is an equestrian center right next to it and horse riders were almost always seen along the trails. This area also has a bike route that leads to the ocean so if your family enjoys long rides this would probably be a great option to look into.  We were never able to do that ride but we had talked about it doing multiple times.  This hiking area was perfect for my boys though because there were so many different pathways that if they were reaching their limit we could just turn out on a smaller trail and head back towards the car.  We explored in all directions out there and I will say that while the SE side of the trails were better for the kids, I enjoyed hiking the west side when they were in the packs.  The west side has more of an incline (which my boys didn’t love) and amazing views of the mountains and typically was less crowded which was why I favored it.  The SE side of the area offers waterfalls (during the spring) and more of a valley view and relatively flatter so it is better suited for the kids.  I will say, this area does not offer a lot of shade so bring water and your sunscreen because in the summer it gets very warm.

West side trail at Rancho Sierra Vista


Arroyo Verde Park

A few moms and our kids got together for a group hike at Arroyo Verde

Located in Ventura this hiking area is full of opportunities.  Similar to Rancho Sierra Vista, this area has so many amazing hiking trails that are actually run-friendly (for those who enjoy trail running that is).  If you asked my kids, this is their favorite place to hike.  I will say, I think they like to go there more for the park and playground rather than the trails. But, the trails are great because while it is heavily trafficked, there is space for people to walk both directions and not trip over each other.  These trails also spiderweb so I’m not sure if I could accurately tell you the distance of these hikes because there were some days a bunch of moms would hike it with our littles and we would do roughly 1.5 miles and end with time at the playground or going with a group of adults with the kids in our packs we hiked close to 4 miles.  The wildflowers are AMAZING after a good rainy season and it really is a beautiful area to hike in.  Tip for all visitors—it’s free to enter on weekdays, but it does cost to park on weekends.  This park is FULL on the weekends so just be aware of that before you go.  I prefer to do this trail during the week when I can.  This park also just recently added an all-inclusive playground that is actually really cool and clean so after hiking I do recommend hitting the park and letting your kids run free there while you refuel and rest.  Because this area is used so much, the bathroom facilities are actually pretty nice and maintained so that’s a huge bonus!  From the base it takes maybe 20 minutes to get to the park so it’s also conveniently close.  10/10 would recommend visiting this park even if it’s just for the playground.

Brand new all-inclusive park for kids to enjoy

Wildwood Regional Park

Trail marker advertising Paradise Falls at Wildwood

Located in Conejo Valley I can honestly just copy and paste the initial statement of the previous two hiking locations.  Wildwood doesn’t have as many spiderweb trails, but it does offer a lot of trails that will give you a variety of hiking lengths and difficulty.  This area is actually where we had the boys complete their first no-carrier hike because they have a hike to “Paradise Fall” that’s about 2 miles.  The trail is roughly a mile down to the waterfall and then a mile back so it’s perfect for kids.  A good chunk of the hike is going down to the waterfall, and as you would assume, what goes down, must come up.  My husband and I both agreed that if we could get the boys to complete that uphill climb we would be set to hike regular trails where there is more of a gradual up and down climb instead of straight down and right back up.  As a side bar—as tropical and inviting as “Paradise Falls” sounds, it is not a swimming area so don’t go with intentions of getting in the water.  The first time we hiked this trail was a day or two after a major rainstorm had hit and the trail was so incredibly muddy.  My husband and I had INCHES of mud caked on the bottom of our shoes and it was hysterically difficult to get through some of the flattest portions of this hike.  SO my other piece of advice is to hold out a few days after rain hits because it’s way more fun to be out there when the ground isn’t going to engulf you.

A dry patch of trail on our very muddy day hike

These are just my top 5 favorite hikes in Southern California near the Port Hueneme base.  I can’t emphasize enough how hard it was to pick my top 5 favorites.  I didn’t grow up hiking, and truly I haven’t ever hiked for exercise prior to living in California.  I’m going to go ahead and just be bold and say, if you are stationed/living in California and you don’t go hiking…you are doing California wrong.  Yes, gas gets spendy but seriously, hiking is the cheapest and most rewarding thing you can do to sight see and appreciate California.  For the novice hikers, my first recommendation is to download the AllTrails app and use that nifty little filter button and start exploring your options.  It’s a fantastic app that will also be your guide as you start hiking it so you can put the fear of getting lost aside. 

A family that hikes together, stays together…or so I like to say!

Grab that sunscreen, fill up your canteens, and get your family outside my friends! Happy Trails!