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Springtime fun in the SCV

Activities: Gather up the kids and head outside for some local excitement

Posted: April 8, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 8, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Heritage Junction in Newhall provides a glimpse into a rich slice of local history with its many exhibits, including this one, which illustrates many of the common tools used a century or more ago.

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The warmer weather of spring invites Santa Clarita Valley residents to take the family outside and get moving, which is healthy for the body and spirit.

Thankfully, this community offers a lot of activities that are not only appropriate for all ages, many are inexpensive or even free.

Whether you prefer a lazy stroll by the lake, a hike up the hills or a fantastic foray into fresh food, get ready for adventure this spring, right in your own backyard.

Castaic Lake Recreation Area
Castaic Lake is one of the most picturesque spots in the SCV. Round up the family, bring a blanket and some picnic food, then set everyone free to pursue their idea of a good time.

That can mean long strolls on the lush grounds, hiking (there are more than 11,200 acres of parkland and open space to explore), renting a boat, fishing (permit required), a softball game or reading a good book alongside a spectacular lake view.

Open daily from sunrise to sunset, 32132 Castaic Lake Drive, Castaic. General information: (661) 257-4050. Parking is $11 per vehicle.

Ed Davis Park at Towsley Canyon

Former state Sen. Ed Davis championed the preservation of Towsley Canyon, and the park that now bears his name offers a peaceful setting and trails perfect for hiking, mountain biking and equestrian use.

Look out for Towsley Creek and gorgeous rock formations in Towsley Gorge, and plan a stop at the Sonia Thompson Nature Center, with exhibits about the cultural and natural history of the park.

Open daily from dawn to dusk. 24255 The Old Road, Newhall. (661) 255-3606. Free.

Farmers markets
Got any cooks in the family? A trip to the farmers market is an excellent opportunity to get the freshest produce and great ideas on how to fix it from the farmers who grew the crops. The scene’s bright colors and interactive ambience will entertain even the youngest kids. Many artisan foods, such as breads, hummus, honey, nuts, tamales and candy are available, so take your edible treasures home and have a feast.

Sundays — 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m. College of the Canyons, 26455 Rockwell Canyon Road, parking lot 8, Valencia. (805) 529-62661. Thursdays — 4-8 p.m. Downtown Newhall. 29222 Main St., Newhall. Free.


Gentle Barn
The Gentle Barn is a nonprofit organization that teaches compassion to animals, each other and the planet. Located on a scenic six-acre ranch, The Gentle Barn is home to more than 100 rescued farm animals.

Guests can groom horses, brush cows, pet pigs, hold  chickens, play with goats and sheep, and even “hypnotize an emu,” while learning about the residents who were rescued from abuse.

While it’s not promoted, The Gentle Barn leans toward veganism, in case curious little minds make the farm to table connection.

Sundays, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. 15825 Sierra Highway Canyon Country. (661) 252-2440 or www.gentlebarn.org. Suggested donation of $5 per person.

Heritage Junction
History buffs will enjoy the many exhibits here, from the Mogul Steam Engine 1629 to the Mitchell Schoolhouse Adobe, as well as a vintage rose garden.

Vegetable gardens are tended by local gardeners, according to 19th-century custom, while the garden’s walkway bricks were recycled from original foundations of park structures.

There are exhibits galore of artifacts from the pioneer oil and mining industries, railroads, gold discovery and memorabilia from downtown Newhall’s heyday.

A docent is on hand to answer any questions.

Saturdays and Sundays — 1-4 p.m. (excluding holidays). 24107 Newhall Ave., Newhall. (661) 254-1275. Free.

Mentryville
With oil such a hot topic in the news, consider a trip down California’s oil past with a trip to Mentryville.

This 851-acre state park, at the north end of the Santa Clarita Woodlands, features shaded trails and lush landscaping. The easy 0.7-mile trail from Mentryville leads to Johnson Park, a beautiful picnic spot once favored by oilmen who worked in these very fields. Now considered a ghost town, Mentryville still boasts a few of its original outbuildings.

Open daily from dawn to dusk. Pico Canyon Road, off I-5 at Lyons Ave., Newhall. Free.

Placerita Canyon Nature Center
Critter-crazy kids and adults alike will enjoy the live native-animal exhibit inside the nature center, while on Saturdays, an interactive animal presentation is sure to thrill.

Outside there are plenty of self-guided trails, which range from easy to advanced. Many trails boast a historical aspect, including Oak of the Golden Dream, the site of California’s original gold discovery in 1842 and the Walker Cabin, built in 1920 by Frank Walker.

Open Tuesday — Sunday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. 19152 Placerita Canyon Road, Newhall. (661) 259-7721 or www.placerita.org. Family Nature Walk: Every Saturday, 11 a.m.-noon. Animal Presentation: Every Saturday, 1-2 p.m. Free.


Vista del Lago Visitor’s Center
Inside that dome-shaped building with a great view of Pyramid Lake is a plethora of California water history that’s interesting for kids of all ages, including the grown-up kind.

Vista Del Lago is the Water Resources Department’s largest information center, stocked with friendly tour guides who will lead you through or hand you a headset to explore each area on your own.

Highlights include: weighing yourself in water and learning how much water is used by industries, agriculture and typical households, a video presentation with a massive topographical map of California and its water supplies versus the population, a huge mock pipeline and much history throughout.

Depending on your availability and interest, plan on spending at least an hour here. Bring a snack or lunch to enjoy on the wraparound balcony.

Open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Interstate 5 between the cities of Castaic and Gorman at Vista del Lago off-ramp, north and south. (661) 294-0219. Free.

Vasquez Rocks natural area
Vasquez Rocks has served as a popular location shoot for television, movies and films for close to a century, so don’t be surprised if the dramatic rock formations look eerily familiar. Named after notorious California bandit Tiburcio Vasquez, who used the landscape to elude capture, Vasquez Rocks’ prehistoric, jagged shapes and layers of desert colors are truly stunning. There are some serious photo opportunities here, so bring your camera, some water (it can get very hot here) and an adventurous spirit to wind through the easy to moderate trails.

Open daily, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Birds of prey presentation, first Sunday of each month. 11 a.m.-noon, weather permitting.

Ranger guided hikes — second, third and fourth Sunday of each month, except July, August, September, 11 a.m.-noon, weather permitting. 10700 W. Escondido Canyon Road, Agua Dulce. (661) 268-0840. Free.


William S. Hart Park and Museum

Set on lush grounds in Newhall, the former retirement home for silent-screen Western star William S. Hart is a Spanish colonial revival-style mansion that houses impressive Western art, Hollywood memorabilia, and Native American artifacts.

A furnished 1910 ranch house is available for guests to explore unattended, while a herd of bison occupy part of the 260-acre “Horseshoe Ranch” area, along with a live farm animal exhibit and easily navigated trails. Museum tours last approximately 45 minutes to an hour, and handicap accommodations are available.

Open Wednesday - Friday, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. (last tour at 12:30 p.m.), Saturday - Sunday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. (last tour at 3:30 p.m.). 24151 Newhall Ave., Newhall. (661) 254-4584 museum or (661) 259-0855. Free.

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