Rainy days are good days to stay indoors, right? Good days to go to museums, to kids’ gyms, art labs? Good days to spread lots of germs and viruses in those places too…But what if you could reframe your thinking just a bit and see rainy days as awesome days to get outside?
Things look different in the rain. They sound different in the rain. You’re more likely to see the types of wildlife that hide on sunny days. And all you need is a bit of gear (see notes at the end of the article) and a belief that you’re going out to have fun!
Here are some fresh ideas for places to go on a rainy day
Tilden Park behind the Merry-Go-Round
Navigate to the intersection of Lake Anza Road and Brook Road in Tilden Regional Park. Head down to the bottom of Brook Road, park in the lot, and follow the only trail out of the lot 100 feet or so down to the stream. Explore! We’ve found finger-length rainbow trout here as well as lots of banana slugs.
Bonus prize: head a few feet up the Curran trail and keep an eye out for the Fairy Post Office (if you don’t tell your children in advance, they will be doubly excited that they ‘found’ it themselves…). If you like, bring a tiny note or trinket to add to the display, or a (very small) letter to the fairies.
Salamander hunting in Redwood Regional Park
A rainy day is a perfect day to look for salamanders in Redwood Regional Park. The rain falls softly on the redwood needle carpet, and the trees are great for sheltering under if the squall gets momentarily heavy, and your chances of seeing salamanders are much greater because they’re out on the paths exploring rather than hiding under logs!
Annie Burke also recommends mushroom hunting while you're there:
Because forests tend to be the wettest areas, that means MUSHROOMS. They are so cool! I never touch or pick any because I don't want to risk anything. But I love looking at them. Maybe it was the years of watching The Smurfs, but there's just something cool about them. We found lots in Redwood Regional Park along the Stream Trail once.
Cull Canyon Regional Recreation Area
Purists might balk at this one because there’s a good chance that you’ll spend a decent amount of time in a low, dark tunnel underneath a road, but I promise you that kids are going to love it. Navigate to the main entrance of Cull Canyon Regional Recreation Area, off Cull Canyon Road. At the apex of the parking loop (marked “180 parking spots” on the map), there’s a trail marker for the Chabot-to-Garin Regional Trail. After you’ve investigated drinking water and restrooms as needed, park as close to that sign as you can and hike down toward the water. The official trail actually goes up the stream bed through the tunnel under the road; I could see a group of kids spending ages in there checking out the water as it meanders through gravelly channels. The trail wanders into and out of the stream bed for the next couple of miles so you could make quite a day of it with an adventurous group.
Just before you get into the creek there’s a fabulous patch of mud that will hold animal tracks really well if you can get out on a clear morning after a rainy night. We were there a week after the most recent rain and found easily discernible deer and raccoon tracks!
Las Trampas Regional Wilderness
This one’s a real gem, so please keep it special and don’t go with a large group. Park in the Staging Area (there’s only one) at the end of Bollinger Canyon Road. Water, bathrooms, and picnic tables are available. The main parking area isn’t huge so you might end up on the side of Bollinger Canyon Road. Take either arm of the Bollinger Creek Loop Trail: the western trail stays closer to the creek but is on a steeper hill above it, while the eastern trail stays further away from the creek but access is across a more gently sloping field and thus less likely to cause erosion. Tiny waterfalls, a main channel, little pools, trees undercut so you can see their root systems holding them into the bank: it’s all here. You could hike the whole canyon loop trail (1.5mi) – or you could just hang out in the creek for the whole day. For more adventures, consider investigating the area around the stables where the creeks intersect several trails.
Sunol Regional Wilderness
Turns out that 510 Families’ Annie Burke’s favorite spot in Sunol Regional Wilderness is actually awesome when it’s raining as well as when it’s sunny. Learn more about taking kids to Sunol >
Bonus Suggestions: Mud flats after the rain
When it’s actually raining it’s usually nice to be in the trees, which shelter you a bit from the rain and a lot from the wind. But it can be lovely to be out in an open area as the storm is clearing when the world looks freshly-washed. Some of my favorite spots are the mud flats just beyond the visitor center at Crab Cove Regional Park and Point Pinole – just check that it’s going to be low tide around the time you’re there as there’ll be much more to explore (just search the park name plus “tide table”).
A few notes on gear and safety:
For your child: if you’re going to play in creeks, waders are a must-have. Oakiwear brand are made of Neoprene which tends to be warmer, but the shoulder straps are short which means your child will grow out of them quickly. Langxun brand are made of PVC so you’ll need warm layers underneath (old fleece pajamas work great!) but they’re easier to move in and have more growing room. Put warm clothes underneath and a rain jacket on top and your child is going to stay dry as long as they don’t sit in water up to their armpits.
For parents, I’d recommend a rain jacket (obviously); some cheap rain pants can also make the difference between being uncomfortable and staying dry in heavy rain. (Heather uses these.) Hiking boots are fine if you plan to stay on the edge of creeks; otherwise, cheap rubber boots are just as good as the expensive ones. If you wear glasses, a cap under your rain jacket hood is a game-changer for keeping drops off your lenses.
As with all excursions with your child, use common sense when exploring creeks: don’t go in them if the water is very high or moving very fast. But once you’ve decided it’s safe, do try to refrain from commenting on your child’s activities or telling them to “be careful” – there’s a lot of evidence showing that children learn how to manage risk by taking risks, and that the best way to support the development of this capability is to allow low-level risk-taking (and even failure!) in childhood.
And please be mindful of not damaging the creek banks: tromping up and down can push soil down into the water, which makes it a less-than-ideal fish habitat. Try to go in and out of the creek as few times as possible, especially if the entrance/exit is steep, and visit with small groups.
Jen Lumanlan lives in Berkeley with her husband and 4.5-year-old daughter. Upon realizing she had no parenting instinct whatsoever she went back to school for a Master’s in Psychology and started the Your Parenting Mojo podcast to share research-based information on parenting and child development which has now been downloaded more than half a million times. She gets outdoors regularly with her daughter not just because of the scientific evidence on its benefits, but also because if you’re wearing the right clothes it’s really fun – whatever the weather!