Mount Makiling Trail with kids
The main trail to Mount Makiling (Mariang Makiling trail) in Laguna starts at University of the Philippines- Los Banos campus. It takes just over an hour from Makati. Once in UP Los Banos, follow roads that go uphill toward the College of Forestry. Pass the Botanic Gardens on your right and Natural History Museum on your left (both are great places to visit, by the way). The start to Mount Makiling trail is a few hundred meters past the Natural History Museum on the main road. Park to the left just before the gate of the Makiling trail. But if it’s a crowded day, parking will be to your right about 50 meters before the gate.
At the main gate, register and pay the php20 fee and you're on your way (note that on high traffic weekends like Holy Week, registration process is a bit more involved as they also ask for ID). The trail all the way to the summit of Mount Makiling is 8km long, so 4-5 hours to get to the top. If you plan to go to the top, you need to enter the trail by the 9am cut-off time. If you plan to just go to Flat Rocks or Mud Springs (the two main kid-appropriate destinations, 45 min and 2.5 hour hikes, respectively), cut-off times are 2pm and 1pm respectively.
The Flat Rocks hike is probably the one you want to aim for with children. The hike is just off the main Makiling trail and there are notes about this below. But first, some notes about the main trail.
We walked the first 4km of the Makiling trail before turning around with our kids. It was all paved and really well shaded by tall trees. The only thing we had to worry about were cyclists zipping back down the hill and some motorcyclists and a few cars going up the hill. The shade made this a very pleasant walk, and we even had the treat of a vendor walking down the trail with ice candy. Note, however, that he is the only vendor on the trail. Unlike other trails in the Philippines, there are no sari-sari stores along the trail, so pack enough water and food!
Had we continued two more kms (so around km 6), we would have reached Mud Springs, which are: "mud pots, a type of hot spring where volcanic heat and sulphuric acid break down surrounding rocks into clay" (from mountmakiling.org). Sounds interesting! Hopefully someday we make it here.
Ok, about the Flat Rocks trail, this small hike leads to slabs of rock that the Molawin Creek flows over, forming natural pools and little waterfalls. The kids LOVED this! Here is the map for the Flat Rocks trail:
The trail forms a loop with the Flat Rocks in the middle of it. You can visit Flat Rocks by doing the full loop (about 1h40 min, that is excluding rest and playtime at Flat Rocks). Or you can shorten the hike by taking the shorter 30-40min hike TO and BACK from Flat Rocks (the path that is higher up on the map).
1) To do the full loop, just 20 meters away from the main gate you will see the map above and you will veer off the main trail (to the right) and take the lower path on the map that passes through Aranas. It will take you on an uphill hike for about 1 hour. This trail is very adventurous (spider webs in your face, ducking under fallen trees) but a lot of fun and very pretty as it is alongside the river. I wouldn't recommend this way on a wet day because it wouldn't be fun in the mud. You will get to Flat Rocks, rest and play there, then continue on the rest of the loop for about 30-40 minutes.
2) To do just the 30-40 min hike TO and BACK from Flat Rocks (this is the way I would recommend if you have kids younger than 6yo with you), you hike for a longer time up the main Makiling trail (about 10 min) before veering off to the right. From here it is about a 20-30 min slightly downhill walk to Flat Rocks. It's called an easy trail, which is correct and 2 and 3yo can do this walk just fine. But with young kids, look out for tree roots sticking out of the ground they might trip over, as well as some low tree branches which might him them in the face. After getting to and playing at Flat Rocks, you will come back this exact same way.
We played and had a picnic lunch at Flat Rocks, the water is nice and cool. The depth of the pools is about knee-deep on an adult. Bring swimsuits for the kids so they can dip in the water (our kids just hike in their swimsuits so it is easy to change). It is clean and in our experience there is minimal garbage here, thanks to the area being well-managed by the UP College of Forestry. Some websites warn of flash floods if it's raining, as well as leeches so watch out for these- luckily we didn't encounter any. UPDATE: In my experience here, going in the summer (April-June), you probably won’t encounter any leeches. We have also been here in August (when it had not rained for 2 days) and did not encounter leeches. I have been on a different hike in Laguna on a rainy October day and encountered leeches then, so just avoid going here on a rainy day, or within 2 days of wet weather).
Hope you and your family enjoy Flat Rocks as much as we do. Just don’t forget: plenty of water and food, swimsuits and mosquito repellent.
After the hike, go visit the dairy store on the university campus and enjoy a treat from their agriculture department. Fresh milk, chocolate milk, flavored yoghurt, kesong puti (white cheese) and more!