Hiking With Grandpa on the San Joaquin River Gorge Trail

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It was a crisp December morning and my kids were rambunctious! What better activity to do than hiking with Grandpa. Weekends at home with a five and seven-year-old can be challenging. I’m constantly looking for ways to get them out of the house and doing something. And I also want to spend time with my dad.

Physical activities and fresh air wear them out and make my life as a mom a whole lot easier. What better activity to do than have my kids go hiking with Grandpa. But, will he be up for entertaining my active kids for the day on the trail?

 A phone call to Dad was all it took to plan this day hike. He said yes – let’s do it! The weekend was off to a great start! Because, my kids get to spend what I call the secret ingredient –  quality time with their grandfather.

boy and girl climbing on rocks.

Hiking With Grandparents Fosters Happiness

There is no question that there is a special bond between kids and grandparents. For instance, there are fewer rules and more fun for kids. But, there are additional benefits.

Grandparents have had the responsibility of rearing children. Now, they get to enjoy the pleasures of grandchildren. When kids and grandparents spend time together, studies show it increases happiness for both.

In addition, an Oxford study found a direct relationship between grandparent involvement and positive social behavior in kids.

Likewise, children that spend time with grandparents can develop a sense of family history, they can learn new skill sets, and experience unconditional love. Above all, grandparents give the best hugs!

Although, I’m sure the worry of child-rearing is still there for grandparents. But, gone are the days of discipline and providing. But now, they know they can send them home at night! 

Most importantly, when grandparents go hiking with grandkids they get to experience bonding over nature and the great outdoors together! 

The Expert Seven Year Old Hiker

My son was seven at the time. He had already been on his first hiking and backpacking trip with Grandpa earlier in the summer. Therefore, in his mind, he was an expert hiker now. After all, he had his own hiking pole and he knew what day pack he was going to bring. 

He was super excited to boss his five-year-old sister around. As the big brother, he could tell her everything she needed to know about hiking!  

So, what advice would he give his sister?

He had but three pieces of 7-year-old instruction for her.

  • Follow me so you don’t get lost.
  • If you hear the rattle of a rattlesnake, freeze.
  • Leave your tablet in the car. Papa says no electronic devices on the trail. 

Wiser words of wisdom were never truer than those spoken by my seven-year-old “hiking expert” that day. 

Hiking With Grandpa Requires Bringing Enough Food

On our way to pick up Grandpa, or as we call him Papa, we stopped at the sandwich shop to get some sub sandwiches for our lunch on the hike.

The nice thing about day hikes versus backpacking is that weight isn’t as much of a concern as it is when you backpack.

Unlike packing our backpacks for the weekend, we can pack regular food instead of lightweight freeze-dried or dehydrated food. For example, sandwiches, chips, and even cookies for a treat are not too heavy for short day hikes. We were ready!  

As you may know parents — traveling with children means that they are ALWAYS hungry. Hence, I brought snacks and more snacks.  Snacks for the ride to the hike. And snacks for the ride home from the hike.

I highly recommend that you do this too! And 16 oz water bottles JUST for the hike. Then separate water bottles for the drive home.  

Nalgene Tritan Grip-N-Gulp Kids Water Bottle, Slate Blue - 2
Nalgene Kids Hiking Water Bottles



After getting the sandwiches and picking up Papa, it was just a short drive to our hiking adventure destination.

The San Joaquin River Gorge trailhead was only about 45 minutes away. Living in the Central San Joaquin Valley of California lends itself to many great nearby hiking opportunities.

My dad had hiked this particular trail several times before. He knew that it had a great stopping point for lunch and was only a distance of about a mile from the trailhead. And it had a huge bridge that crossed the San Joaquin River. 

He decided to take us there because he remembered when my younger sister and I were that age. In other words, he figured he would have to listen to my daughter’s moaning and groaning the whole way. A short hike for a five-year-old is like an eternity in their mind. And they won’t let you forget it.

girl eating on a rock by a bridge while hiking with grandpa

San Joaquin River Gorge Trail Was Perfect For Many Reasons

The hiking distance for my kiddos was about all they could handle for a day hike.

  • Although the trail was not level, the trail’s elevation gain was slight. That is to say, a little up and a little down, but nothing major.
  • The WOW factor of getting to run back and forth over a huge bridge with a river running underneath was adventurous and exciting.
  • Sticks and branches could be thrown in and watched as the river took them downstream.

What can be a better way to entertain kids than to just let them be kids?

On the hike in, the kids were full of excitement, galloping on the trail, looking at and touching almost everything they came in contact with.

My dad had to point out the poison oak though. He explained that if they touched it they would get blisters that would take a couple of weeks to heal and itch and itch.

So, yet another lesson was learned from their Grandpa.

young boy and girl on a hiking trail in the mountians.


Making Memories Hiking With Grandpa

As we passed other hikers and exchanged pleasantries, the kids found large sticks on the trail to use as makeshift hiking poles. It brought back memories from my hiking days. In short, I was reminded of the adventures and what I used to do when I was a kid on the trail. 

We decided to stop when we got to the bridge over the river. Most importantly, my dad had hiked this trail before and knew my kids’ hiking limits, especially my youngest.

Growing up my sister and I started backpacking when we were the same ages as my own children, 5 and 7. So, my dad has had many years of experience hiking with young children. And, he has not forgotten! But, most importantly he wants my kids to have those memories of hiking with Grandpa.

We crossed the bridge and found a fairly large flat rock off to the side of the trail to sit on.  The sun was shining down on this spot and it looked like the perfect spot for a picnic.

We spread out our food and had a delicious lunch. I wish my dad and I had brought our small ground cloth to lay out on the rock so we could lie out in the sun for a few minutes and catch the warmth of the sun’s rays on this December afternoon.

man and dog sitting on ultralight ground cloth in the forrest
DAKOUT Personal Sized Ground Cloth


Of course, the kids finished first and wanted to run around and play.  They wanted to hike up the hill where there was no path, EXTREME hiking 101!

And then they decided to see what they could throw over the bridge into the river and see if it would sink or float. It was so peaceful hearing the sounds of the river below and the squeals of happiness from the kids!  

In about 30 minutes they had finished throwing everything they could think of in the river. After a while, the kids were done exploring this area of the San Joaquin River Gorge trail.

Furthermore, just as Dad taught my sister and me, my son and daughter were only allowed to throw in rocks sticks, grass, and flowers in the water.

My dad strictly adheres to the “leave no trace” philosophy – pack it in and pack it out. Nature must be protected and trash is an eyesore and ruins the landscape.

 So, after the kids had played to their heart’s content, we decided to clean up and start heading back. The sun was shining and it was getting warm. I knew from my own backpacking adventures that it is much more tiring hiking when it gets hot. And, much of this trail did not have shade.

kids on a hiking trail in the mountians


Homeward Bound After Day Hiking With Grandpa

Meanwhile, I was thankful it was only a mile back to the trailhead where I parked the car. My daughter was getting more vocal about walking back. On the last quarter mile or so to the trailhead, she just kept complaining that her legs hurt. She wasn’t even holding or carrying anything.

All she had to do was walk, moving her own body weight forward one step at a time! Unlike her older brother, whom Grandpa (Papa) calls a mountain goat, this was the extent of her hiking for this trip. 

In short, that is how I knew she was not ready for an overnight backpacking trip yet!  My dad wrote about the muscles you use in hiking and how your body weight and walking can affect your hiking. You can read all about it here. So, I guess her complaints were valid.

As my dad tried to divert my daughter’s attention away from the drudgery of hiking, he would point out every tree and flower and try to get her to name them. He even let the kids make up names for the plants.

As the kids continued to hike back, squirrel holes were investigated and unusual birds were pointed out. Once more the rocks were climbed on and frequent rest breaks were taken.

I’m not too sure that explaining how buzzards eat the dead animals on the trail made her want to hike faster because she continued to drag out her steps and not hike any faster or without complaining. 

In Summary

We made it back to the car and everyone had a fun day. As can be expected, the kids were starving when we got back to the car. After all, they knew their mom had snacks and cold drinks for everyone. Complaints ceased and moods improved. Papa even said he would do it again. Therefore, I guess my little ones didn’t totally scar him from day hiking with his grandkids.

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