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Field Notes: 5 Winter Adventures in California You Can Bring the Kids AND the Dogs

Finding fun on the trails for little ones both with and without tails can sometimes be challenge. In today's Field Note, Ruffwear Pack Member Natalie and her family accept the challenge and report back on their discoveries.

We're a blended family of the human and canine variety. We're always on the lookout for spots we can enjoy together. This includes my husband, two kids (Arthur, 4, and Marley, 11 months), and dog named Lola.

We currently live in a 700-square-foot apartment in Long Beach, CA, a city about 20 miles outside of Los Angeles. Long Beach is great: beaches, bike paths, and playgrounds galore. But, every few months we get the adventure itch, and yearn to be exploring the mountains we can see faintly in the distance on a clear day.

To escape our teeny apartment together this winter, we rented an even smaller apartment on wheels (more commonly referred to as an RV) and took off on a California road trip. 

Here are our top 5 kiddo- AND dog-friendly spots we discovered along the way.

RV in a campground with a dog outside and a baby in the doorway

Sledding in Shady Rest Park, Mammoth Lakes

We rolled into Mammoth Lakes on our first day of our road trip, about four hours later than planned. We knew we wanted to get some wiggles out in the snow, but didn’t have enough daylight to go too far. Luckily for us, we stumbled upon Shady Rest Park.

Located just off the main road through Mammoth, you enter the park along a gently winding drive that meanders through a magically green forest. After just a few minutes, we start to hear laughter, and dotted between the trees we see other kiddos shooting through openings on various kinds of sleds. We parked in the furthest lot by the playground (which in a December was covered in a blanket of snow) and chose a smaller hill in the open to test our sleds.

Man, dog, and baby next to a sled in the snow

The space was perfect, and we enjoyed an area that Lola (nice and cozy in her Powder Hound™ Jacket), Arthur, and Marley could get their yips out unleashed and unfettered.

Snow-Shoeing at Hope Valley Sno-Park

We found Hope Valley Sno-Park completely on accident, and it couldn’t have turned out more perfectly.

Halfway through a detour to get into Yosemite that took us just south of Lake Tahoe, we were looking for a dog-friendly place to take a break and play outdoors. After a little research, we discovered all California Sno-Parks were dog-friendly, and with an astounding bit of luck, we were about to drive right past one.

With the sounds of snow-mobiles humming in the distance, we were greeted by a huge, open, sunny winter wonderland and the perfect amount of snow. Stoked was an understatement. As it was mostly flat, we decided to test out our snowshoes, and enjoyed ambling round a small loop while Lola smelled all the smells and did her best to fill up on snow for lunch.

Kid and dog snowshoeing together in the snow

As another surprise, I discovered the Crag™ Leash also makes for a great toddler sling in a pinch after Arthur had snow-shoed until he could snow-shoe no more.

Hiking to Mirror Lake, Yosemite National Park

Our next stop was Yosemite National Park. At first glance, we were worried Lola would have to stay in the RV. But, after chatting to a wonderful Ranger (and picking up a Junior Ranger booklet for Arthur), we learned any trail that is paved is dog-friendly. Mirror Lake - located in Yosemite Valley - is one such trail, and a great length for a toddler, too.

Although it was pouring, we suited up in our raincoats and boots and enjoyed the path that starts out going by one of the campgrounds beneath a canopy of enormous trees. After a little stint along the side of the road, you take another turn and walk between two cliffs of rock Yosemite is so well known for towards the lake. Apparently Half Dome is knocking around somewhere too, but it was so wet and cloudy we couldn’t see a thing by the time we were out of the trees.

Rainy and cloudy view in Yosemite

After making it back from the 2-ish mile loop, we were very thankful for Lola’s waterproof Confluence™ Collar to reduce the delightful smells that come off a wet doggo, and making clean up slightly easier in our RV.

Walking around Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park Campground

Trails in California State Parks and dogs typically don’t mix, but the campgrounds are usually fido-friendly. This happened to be the set up when we rolled into Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, and it couldn’t have turned out any better.

The campground itself was closed for the season, so we were treated to a huge swath of coastal redwoods to explore basically by ourselves. The paths were mostly flat so our toddler could run and discover at his own pace, and there were oodles of downed trees and rocks to keep Lola busy.

Even though it wasn’t a main trail in the park, we had an equal amount of fun roaming through the deserted campground with beautiful trees all around, and will definitely keep an eye out for that trick again in future State Parks.

Family walking with dog on a paved path in a forest

Hiking on the Cerro San Luis Obispo Trail, in SLO

Similar to Hope Valley Sno-Park we stumbled across this gem of a trail by accident after a detour sent us off our path. And, also similar to Hope Valley Sno-Park, it couldn’t have turned out better!

The trail is seconds off the highway and features a mellow, wide path that meanders upwards and treats you to a lovely view of San Luis Obispo from the top. We passed a few other dogs on walks which was fun for Lola, and because we were visiting after a rain, lots of mud puddles for Arthur (always a hit with the kiddos!).

Dog standing on a grassy trail with hills in the background

The trail is less than a mile from downtown SLO, which is nice to walk around all by itself and featured lots of stores with dog water bowls out front. So, after you get your nature fix, you can go in the hunt for some coffee, ice cream, or a dog biscuit to top you off and end a glorious day.