With the unbearable heat these days, malls have become the default pasyalan. But summer is a lovely time to have a nature adventure. Where to go when most of what we have in the metro are small gardens and parks? Well, there’s a virgin forest located in Quezon City where you can go hiking with the whole fam!
The La Mesa Nature Reserve, or La Mesa Watershed, is a 2,700-hectare plot of land that houses the La Mesa Dam, one of the three dams that are a major source of water for Metro Manila and nearby provinces. Because it is the only major watershed in the metro, it is a protected area and is considered as the “last remaining rainforest of its size in Metro Manila.” The reserve is maintained and protected by ABS-CBN Lingkod Kapamilya Foundation's environmental arm, Bantay Kalikasan.
The La Mesa Nature Reserve, which is NOT the same as La Mesa Ecopark, is open to the public with a number of hiking and bike trails that explorers can choose from. And don’t worry — families with young children (and even your pets!) can enjoy the nature trails. There was a family with children ages 3 to 4-years-old who was visiting the reserve the same time we did back in February 2019, and they looked like they had a grand time after the hike was over.
Hiking with kids at La Mesa Nature Reserve
Once you arrive, proceed to the registration area (it’s a large hut with tables and benches) where they’ll give a brief introduction about the reserve and assign you to your guide. This is compulsory — it’s for your own safety, and trust us, it’s easy to get lost inside the forest.
You’ll also be asked to pay Php1,000 for a group of five people. If the number of people in your group is below five, you'll have to split the bill among yourselves. If you go beyond five people, you'll have to pay an additional Php200 per head. The fees collected are used to pay the guides and to maintain the reserve.
There are short trails, from three to six kilometers and longer trails up to 10 kilometers. We opted for the six-kilometer trail as we were unsure if we had enough endurance for a long walk. We later found out that it was a good choice for beginners as it included two “scenic spots” perfect for the ‘gram.
Walking under the shade of the trees is calming and the crunching sound of the leaves as you walk is oddly satisfying. Along the trail, you’ll find giant leaves, anthills, and mushrooms, and even see butterflies and birds if you’re lucky! You also get to cross wooden bridges, which will be exciting for the kids.
There are a number of rest stations on the trail where you can pause, take pictures, and catch your breath. One of the best stops is at the Bangkalan Rest Station, which offers a breathtaking view of the reservoir.
The end of the trail will take you back to the registration area. Our hike lasted around three hours (we lack exercise so this was slow for grown-ups!), just in time for a late lunch. Luckily, we planned ahead and brought food for our group. During our visit, a vendor was selling grilled liempo and rice, boiled eggs, and soft drinks, but we were told they would sometimes take a day off. It’s best to bring baon and water especially if you have younger kids with you.
The walk was tiring but it was definitely a fun experience. While we paused a lot to take photos and videos, we were still able to immerse ourselves in the forest as mobile signal was limited on the trails.
If you’re with your kids, you can make it a learning experience as the guides are well-versed with the area. You can also ask about the tree-planting activity — we heard that reforestation of the reserve is ongoing, and you can plant seedlings in some parts of the reserve. Then again, even if you just walk along the trails and soak up the sun, it’s always nice to be away from the city!
Visiting the La Mesa Nature Reserve
If you’re planning a visit, here are a few reminders:
1. Reservation is a must.
The reserve is open Mondays to Sundays from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. but walk-ins are not accepted. Call their office two to three days before your trip to make reservations. Call +632 938-2540 or text +63 908 797-5322 and look for Beverly Abora.
2. Wear comfortable clothing, and don’t forget your sunblock and mosquito repellent.
While the trees will offer shade, it is important that you and your kids wear sunblock especially if you’re going to be under the sun between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (when the sun’s rays are the strongest).
3. Don’t leave your trash behind.
Be responsible visitors and avoid leaving trash inside the forest. There are designated garbage bins at the registration area, or you can ask your guide where you can dispose of your trash.
How to get to La Mesa Nature Reserve
First things first. Again, do not confuse La Mesa Nature Reserve with La Mesa Eco-park. Although the watershed encompasses the park, the nature reserve is in a different location in Quezon City.
You can find La Mesa Nature Reserve in navigational apps like Waze and Google Maps. It is located along Quirino Highway near Fairview-Novaliches.
If you’re commuting, you may ride a bus bound to Fairview, Quezon City and get off at SM Fairview. Find a jeep bound for “Tungko” and ask to be dropped off at La Mesa H. De La Costa 2 (not Winston Street, which is the eco-park).
If you’re taking the MRT, ride northbound and get off at Quezon Avenue. Ride an FX or jeepney bound for SM Fairview.