My son woke up saying he wanted to go on a hike and I knew immediately where we should go. Vasquez Rocks. It has been on our to do list forever. All I knew about Vasquez Rocks was that it’s great for kids who like to climb rocks and that an episode or portion of Star Trek had been filmed there. But, I don’t need much goading to head out on a new adventure, so we packed our bags with lunch, snacks and lots of water and headed out even with the blustery Santa Ana winds swirling around us.
Wow, what an amazing day it turned out to be. We had an awesome day walking on/off the many trails, climbing rocks and hiking up the hills like three billy goats. There are an abundance of easy trails scattered around the park if you aren’t into climbing the rocks. There are also picnic tables and port-a-potties around the parking areas. We opted for lunch sitting on rocks half way up a mountainside, gazing down at the Agua Dulce rock formations and the hills behind.
Vasquez Rocks is a great place to let the little explorers run free. Unlike Joshua Tree where the landscape is scattered with cacti, there are very few cactus plants (although the yucca is pretty pointy!) to get injured on. The rocks are pretty rough in most areas, which makes them great to climb. Be aware, you will get heart palpitations watching the little ones climb up the rocks, but seeing the excitement in their faces when they have reached the top makes it worth the parent panic! Spending the day among the spectacular Agua Dulce rock formations is a unique opportunity to hang out in the land of Star Trek (and the Flintstones and many other films) and a must see for any family with adventure loving kids!
To get your bearings and pick up a rudimentary map, start at the Interpretive Center which is on the right as you enter the main gate. This is a nice new eco friendly building with lots of great information about the park, it’s history and what animals roam in the area. There is a small gift shop and a few live animals on display – a tarantula, rattlesnake and more. This is the only place with running water in the park area, so fill up your water bottles and enjoy using the clean restrooms before heading out. Don’t forget to check out the map and the information sheets for the Nature and Geology Trails if you want to add in a little education during your visit. Outside, on the way to the trails, stop off to see the barn owl and red tailed hawks behind the old ranger house. To see the barn owl, peek through the tiny holes in the barn. Even with a small glimpse, our son loved seeing an owl in real life for the first time. He said that the owl was smiling at us.
If you plan to make a day of Vasquez Rocks, leave your car parked here and venture out on several of the trails that start from outside the Interpretive Center. If you only want to climb the large Vasquez Rocks seen in photos, get back in your car and drive straight at the stop sign, all the way to the end of the dirt road. From there, you can get out of your car and get straight to climbing! Otherwise follow one of the two semi-marked trails leading down to the main attraction.
Nature – Heritage Trail
The Nature-Heritage Trail is not clearly marked, but in reality it doesn’t matter much. Along the trail, you will see signs corresponding to the handout from the Interpretive Center outlining the different plants seen along the trail. One area of interest are the old Indian drawings and mortar holes carved in the rocks.
It’s hard to stay on the trails with all of the rock formations looming above you. We took many side trips up and down the rocks testing out our rock climbing skills. This trail is great to let the kids get the feel of how it is to climb on these slanting rocks jutting out of the ground.
We went off the trail at the main Agua Dulce rock formations and attempted to work our way up the massive formations above. It was so windy with the Santa Ana winds though that we didn’t make it up too far. Instead my son insisted on heading up the mountain across the way. So off we went.
There are many trails zigzagging the mountain side so you can explore to your hearts content. Once you reach the top, the valley behind these hills opens up with many more trails. We spent a few hours meandering the trails, watching horseback riders go by and playing hide in seek in the little cave cutouts. This is a perfect place to just let go and explore. You are never too far away from the Interpretive Center or the parking areas, so don’t worry about getting lost, and just go where you little ones lead you.
Geology Trail & Pacific Crest Trail
The other marked trail at Vasquez Rocks is the Geology Trail. This trail also doubles as the Pacific Crest Trail for some of the way. I have to admit, before I read Wild almost 2 years ago, I had never even heard of the Pacific Crest Trail. For those of you who also might not know, it’s a trail that goes all the way from Mexico along the west coast up to Canada. I could never imagine even doing what Cheryl Strayed did in Wild, but I have been waiting for the day that we as a family could do some sections of the Pacific Crest Trail through day trips and section hiking. So imagine my delight upon seeing that it goes through Vasquez Rocks! I loved being able to walk just that short mile from the Vasquez Rocks gate to the far parking area, day dreaming what it would be like to do this for days on end carrying all of my supplies. I kept wondering how PCT hikers would feel popping up into this area filled with families, couples and day hikers out having picnics and having fun when they are so accustomed to the solitude of the trail.
Anyway, the trail meanders along the other side of the road from the Nature Trail. This trail’s information guide focuses more on the, you guessed it, Geology. It’s a varied trail and pretty interesting. My son had a blast climbing up on the rocks even though this was well into our day at Vasquez. If you follow the trail all the way to the end, it drops you off at the last parking area where you can explore the large Agua Dulce rock formations. From here you can either walk back on the Nature Trail or on the road.
Address: 10700 West Escondido Canyon Road, Agua Dulce, CA 91350
Vasquez Rocks is about 40 minutes from our house in Los Angeles. Surprisingly, it’s actually not too much further than the new Discovery Cube Museum in Sylmar.
Cost: FREE! This makes it even more amazing, there are no parking or entrance fees.
What to Bring: Sunscreen, hats, snacks and lots of water. Even on a cool winter’s day, the sun was shining brightly and was very strong. It is the desert, so remember to bring and drink lots of water. The are no shops in this area, so stock up before you turn off the highway.
Parking: You can park at the Interpretive Center and walk all throughout the canyon and walk around very easily. However if you only want to climb the main rock formations, head to the farthest lot. Turn left after entering and continue until the end.
Other: Vasquez Rocks is probably best for kids 4 years old and up, although we saw many families with babies in carriers. The trails are not stroller friendly, but walking toddlers could also have fun pottering around on the flat trails.