Oak Grove Regional Park, set far back along Eight Mile Road in the Central Valley city of Stockton, Calif., offers the best forested area for day trips and family outings. The 180-acre woodland offers two trails, a nature center, playgrounds and lots of open land surrounded by hundreds of looming valley oak trees.
The major trails on the site, named after two of the Native American tribes that once lived on the same land, the Yokuts and the Miwoks, intertwine and lead to several different exits, which makes the walk a sort of choose-your-own adventure trail.
Both pathways are mostly flat, but they wind around native California plants such as buckeye, poppies and the ever present oak tree. The Yokut trail is about a half mile long and handicapped accessible, while the Miwok trail is nearly two miles long.
The Oaks Nature Center, located on site, is free for visitors. The center is a perfect place to infuse some education into a nice day at the park. Docents at the center are knowledgeable about California native plants and animals and are used to working with children. The Center is full of animals, many of which can be taken out and touched, including snakes, frogs and turtles.
The short path up to the center has oak trees on all sides, the trunks large and their branches sprawling, covering the ground underneath with hundreds of acorns and oak galls.
The galls, a byproduct of a mutually beneficial relationship between the oak trees and small wasps, fall to the ground after the larvae inside them grow to full maturity. The galls come in a variety of sizes, but the ones at the park are about the size of peaches and are mostly hollow inside, ripened to a Dijon mustard-like color. They are harmless to the trees and make a great artifact to collect while walking along the trails at the park.
Another big draw of the park is the 10-acre lake, where guests can rent paddle boats and water bicycles to get onto to the water. Around the lake are plenty of great spots to have a picnic in the shade of huge willow trees.
Parents need not be concerned about safety as every child under 13 is required to wear a safety vest and there are plenty more available for those who don’t feel comfortable without one. Several families of birds live around the lake, including mallards and geese. You can pack a picnic to enjoy on the side of the lake and bring a few extra slices of bread to feed to them.
Other animals frolic all over the park as well. Ground squirrels are frequent visitors on trails, including many different varieties of birds. The focused trail walker may even be able to see small lizards amongst logs and bushes, or follow the lazy path and loud call of a majestic red-tailed hawk in the sky.