My family considers Placer County, California, the perfect outdoor playground for kids. Spanning from the low foothills northeast of bustling Sacramento up through scenic Gold Country to the alpine region of western Lake Tahoe, you get the perfect combination of weather and terrain. Too hot in the foothills? Head to the mountains! Too chilly in Tahoe? Drop down to the valley. Here’s a round-up of what we most like to do in Placer County, with options for any family in any season or mood.
When we’re down south in the foothills by the cities of Auburn and Rocklin, we head to Hidden Falls Regional Park for a quick outdoor oasis from civilization. You have 30 miles of trails to explore here, and it’s a great place for easy family hikes or low-key bike rides with kids. (When our kids were small, they especially loved seeing the grazing sheep and goats here!)
If you’re up in the mountain region, you still have your choice of hiking intensity. Start at Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows, where you can make a day of it by riding the Aerial Tram to High Camp at Squaw Valley Ski Resort, then take your pick of trails meandering back down to the scenic village. If you want something more intense, we recommend the Shirley Canyon Trail, one of Tahoe’s best half-day hikes. Burton Creek State Park, located in nearby Tahoe City, has recreational hiking trails, too.
2. Rock Climbing
A favorite activity of my teens, rock climbing walls abound in Placer County. One of the best is the indoor wall at Squaw Valley, located in the Aerial Tram building lobby. You don’t need any experience, and the indoor section is open year round. Tip: if you have younger kids, too, they’ll be entertained on the bungee trampoline in the village nearby. There’s also one at the village at Northstar. If you want to make an entire day of it, head instead to Quarry Park Adventures in Rocklin, where you can let the kids loose amid rock climbing walls, ropes courses, zip lining, and an extensive play space for younger kids. This is a great place to go when you have kids of varying ages; we have come with the teens and younger cousins.
For climbing on the real thing, head outdoors to the Auburn State Recreation Area, where you’ll find some serious rock climbing options at Cave Valley, also known as Auburn Quarry. The other gem in the area is Donner Summit, which features trad, sport, bouldering and multi-pitch routes on some incredible granite overlooking Donner Lake.
3. Indoor Fun
If the weather isn’t cooperating, Placer County has plenty of indoor options to entertain the kids, too, while still allowing everyone to get exercise. Go bowling at Strikes Unlimited in Rocklin, which also has an arcade, a sports bar, and live entertainment at night. Get a bit more daring and try indoor skydiving at iFLY in Roseville, which is thrilling for both kids and adults. The younger ones will love jumping at Sky Zone, an indoor trampoline park in Rocklin. Put your mind to the test at Beat the Room, which provides an escape challenge that will be a hit with the code breakers and puzzle lovers in your family. Finally, Topgolf in Roseville is a fun option for both serious golfers and beginners. You’ll find more than a hundred climate-controlled hitting bays, where you can compete against friends in a number of target games. There’s a full service bar and restaurant, and more than 200 TVs to watch the big game as well.
4. Fairs & Festivals
Try to time your visit to coincide with one of the many festivals Placer County hosts throughout the year. Many are focused on the area crops that are in season, giving visitors a tasty reason to visit. In May, the BerryFest Strawberry Festival in Roseville kicks off the season with everyone’s favorite berries, in addition to carnival rides, and lots of activities for younger kids. The Gold County Fair is held in Auburn the first week of September every year, with carnival rides, livestock and animals on display, and more dining options than you can ever hope to visit. In October, the Eggplant Festival celebrates the namesake vegetable in Loomis, while in November, the Mountain Mandarin Festival is held in Auburn to celebrate the foothill grown Mandarin oranges that are ready for harvest. At both festivals enjoy samples as well as cooking contests, demonstrations from professional chefs, arts and crafts, and live music and entertainment.
Take on the rapids of the American River for some of the best whitewater rafting in the state. Placer County has multiple rafting companies to choose from, but we’ve gone out with both Rise Up River Trips and H2O Adventures. One nice aspect of Northern California rafting: You can do most trips in a day—or even half day—making it possible to sample the sport while leaving time for other activities on your vacation.
The kids will celebrate a trip to Golfland Sunsplash in Roseville, Northern California’s biggest waterpark. You’ll find lots of waterslides, pools, and splash parks in addition to more than 30 rides, miniature golf courses and other attractions. If you’re staying at Squaw or Northstar, you have additional village area pools to enjoy, and lower in the foothills, you can check out Wake Island Waterpark in Pleasant Grove. This is kid heaven with an aqua park, obstacle courses, floating toys, paddleboards, and more. Definitely plan on staying a whole day.
7. Enjoy Tahoe and Other Placer County Lakes
For a day on the lake, the North Tahoe Beach Center is a great place to start. The northwest shore of Lake Tahoe has many beachfront regional and state parks for public use, excellent for day boating and floating. Our favorite is Carnelian Bay. On summer weekends, you’ll want to claim your stretch of sand early in the day. Families can rent boats, paddleboards, and more at the marinas, or even sign up for water ski lessons at High Sierra Water Ski School in Tahoe City. You can rent kayaks here, too, for use along the beautiful shoreline.
If you’re in the foothills instead of in the high mountains, Folsom Lake is the place to cool off, with swimming beaches in addition to hiking, biking, running, camping, picnicking, horseback riding, water-skiing, and boating. Rollins Lake in Colfax, is another excellent option for boating, paddling, water-skiing, and fishing.
8. Ropes Courses
Our favorite ropes course in Placer County is Treetop Adventure Park, primarily because it’s located at relaxed, family-friendly Granlibakken Resort, a staple in Tahoe City. Afterward, grab a pool pass or hike in the area. Another option is Quarry Park, which features a three-level ropes course in addition to zip lines, free-fall drops, and other rock climbing options. There’s also a ropes course at Squaw Valley, where the resort’s ropes course is located in Shirley Canyon. For the more adventurous, Squaw also recently added a Via Ferrata course, which allow visitors to explore one of the area’s most iconic rock faces. The Italian term refers to a hiking and climbing experience that uses permanent cables and steel anchors to take people on narrow ledges that would be otherwise too dangerous to climb.
You’ll find an overwhelming number of excellent mountain biking trails in Placer County. Start with Auburn State Recreation Area, which features more than 30 miles of off-road trails perfect for cyclists. You’ll find another 30 miles of trails at Hidden Falls Regional Park, plus some incredible waterfall views. For those kids who like to do tricks, take your little daredevils to Oak Creek BMX Park in Roseville. The singletrack trail riding in Lake Tahoe is among the best anywhere, and while it can be challenging, you can undoubtedly find trails suitable for older kids. If your crew isn’t quite ready to tackle the Flume Trail, try Tahoe City’s bike paths or North Tahoe Regional Park on Donner Road.
Written by Jill Sanford for Matcha in partnership with Visit Placer County and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].
Featured image provided by Placer County, Erik Bergen.