What is it about salamanders that children find so attractive? Even adults don’t seem to mind them as much as they do insects and other creepy-crawlies. Maybe it’s that wide mouth that looks sort of perpetually like it’s smiling? Whatever it is, if you head out to Redwood Regional Park in the Oakland Hills during the rainy season, you can be pretty sure of finding some yourself (if you know where to look)!
What to bring to Redwood Regional Park for salamander discovery
If you have one, bring a little spray bottle of water with you. Salamanders breathe through their skin, and their skin needs to be wet, so if you'll want to touch them, you need to keep your hands wet while you do it.
Spray bottles work well, or a quick pour from a bottle would do as well.
Bring an extra set of clothes so you can let little ones climb around without worrying about keeping the car clean on the way home.
We like to bring lots of snacks or a lunch, and some hand sanitizer: the overall distance of this route is short but there are so many interesting stops along the way that it could easily stretch into a most-of-the-day outing. This is a great outing for a group, and is protected enough that it’s fun in both rain and shine.
Navigating Redwood Regional Park
Start by parking in the Canyon Meadow Staging Area. There’s a fee in the summer but it’s free during the rainy season. The parking lot at the end of the road is small and fills early, but there are a couple of overflow lots further back along the road. There are bathrooms and trail maps at the end of the road.
Walk along the unnamed trail past the bathrooms and into the valley. Almost immediately on your right you’ll see a small path into the redwood trees, to an Andy Goldsworthy-type of art creation area, a remnant of the Art in Nature festival that ran in the park from 2013 to 2015.
Visitors are free to create ephemeral sculptures using natural materials within the log borders. Fairy houses? Mandalas? A shelter for a resting squirrel? It’s all fair game…
When you’ve had enough, wander back to the trail and head deeper into the valley. Hustle the kids quickly past the playground with a promise that they can return later if they have enough energy. Keep an eye out for banana slugs on the trail as well!
Pretty soon the trail crosses Redwood Creek, which houses the native rainbow trout that actually gave the species its name. The stream is a critical habitat for the trout (as well as for the native California newt) and people and dogs clomping their way down the stream bank causes erosion that reduces the water quality, so please don’t cross the fences. Playing Pooh Sticks off the bridge is encouraged, though, if there isn’t so much vegetation that you can’t find your stick when it comes out the other side…
Continue up the Stream Trail, with a possible distraction by a pile of redwood logs on the left side of the trail – great climbing fun for littles!
When you finally arrive at the Old Church picnic area, approximately half a mile from where you started, look around for and gently turn over the logs and rocks under which the salamanders like to hide.
If you find one, wet your hand and put it next to the salamander to see if it wants to crawl on. If not, it’s probably best for the salamander if you leave it alone. Be sure to put all logs and rocks back where you found them, and if you have a salamander to replace then place a small stone to brace the log or rock so the salamander doesn’t get crushed. You’ll know you’ve identified a regular salamander-finding spot if there’s already a bracing stone underneath…
If you get hungry, break out a picnic on the tables; there’s a tap for drinking water as well.
Rinse your hands under the tap and use some hand sanitizer as well; some of the salamanders secrete a chemical through their skin which is toxic if ingested.
If you’re up for even more adventure, look on the fence near the stream from the Old Church area and perhaps a hundred feet or so further into the canyon for hundreds of ladybugs, which are hanging out here in big clusters for the winter. Whenever you’ve had enough, wander back along the trail the way you came (with reminders about the play area to hustle along the stragglers, if you find you need them).
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 and her family can often be found wallowing in mudflats, dipping nets in ponds, and wandering in streams around the Bay Area (but not in Redwood Regional Park!).