Teen Backpacking & Camping Trips

Parent Q&A

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  • Camping groups for teens

    Nov 14, 2023

    Hello everyone, could someone give me some recommendations for camping groups for my 16 year old son, preferably local ones?

    You may want to try a Venturing Crew.  There is one in Piedmont, Oakland, and Alameda.  It is a coed group, related to Boy Scouts of America.  Very open and accepting.  Lots of quirky teens find their niche here. Lots of mentoring and responsible leadership from the adults and older kids.  I think they welcome 14 through 20 year olds.  https://beascout.scouting.org

    Have your son join the scouts. They go camping all the time. Troop 24 in Berkeley 

  • Hi - I'm looking for a week-long backpacking summer camp for my high schooler. A group called "Lasting Adventures" has the right schedule and great locations (Yosemite, Lassen, or Olympic national parks). Has anyone had experience with them? How was it for your child? I'm hesitant to ship him off with an organization that I know nothing about! Or do you know of another week-long backpacking summer camp that you'd recommend?



    Hi Laura,

    Our child spent many summers with Camp Chrysalis, including both backpacking sessions offered (One is 12 days in the Sierras, the other is 8 days in Sequoia). As a parent I can't speak highly enough of Chrysalis. Co-founder Lee Tempkin is a science teacher during the year, so the campers learn a lot about the biology and botany of their environments, in addition to the camping and backpacking skills they gain. Lee trusts the campers, and they, in turn, respect and listen to him. They learn tons, have adventures, and come home shockingly dirty (put a sheet down in your car when you go to reclaim your kid at the end of the session!) Chrysalis is also very fairly priced - I just checked, and it is the same per day as Lasting Adventures - and offers financial assistance to those in need. If you look at the website you'll also see that they have very little staff turnover; my daughter is a college senior and there are staff that were with Chrysalis when my kid was a nine year old camper in 2007. www.campchrysalis.com 

    Hi-I recommend W.I.L.D.  Wilderness Immersion Leadership Development which is led out of Berkeley by two amazing coaches/mentors for young men.  Here is the website: http://www.backtoearth.org/mission.  My son did this program last summer between his sophomore and junior year of high school.  It is a ten-day backcountry trip with a lot of focus on the experience of young men moving from adolescence to adulthood.  It was spiritual and rigorous.  My son loved it and grew a lot from the experience.  

    I don’t know anything about Lasting Adventures, but as another option, I am a big fan of Camp Chrysalis, which is run out of Berkeley. They have a 1-week backpacking trip    I have two kids who have done different Camp Chrysalis sessions for 7 years, and each has been great. 

    My teenage son has been on Lasting Adventures trips in Yosemite both of the past two summers. He elected to do a one week trip each time. For him, it was a great introduction to backpacking-- more enjoyable than doing it with his parents. He really enjoyed the trip leaders (young people just out of college), and the sense of accomplishment both in miles covered and peaks summited. Both times he went with a friend from school. The first trip he knew two other kids as well, but that was a coincidence. I don't think he'll do it again, but that's not a reflection of the program, it's about where my son's interests lie.

  • My teenagers would like to go backpacking, by themselves.  They are experienced campers, with backpacking as well, and know and practice Leave No Trace.  But, they have always been with adults and groups.  This idea makes me nervous in a lot of ways (they are 15 and 13) but there is also much I love about it, including that they came up with it completely on their own, and it's not always easy to get them to do things together.  I've asked them to come up with a plan and told them that the plan needs to start small, assure me that they can keep themselves safe, and impose reasonable transportation obligations on me.  Any advice from fellow backpacking enthusiasts?  I thought about having them start with a car camping site, but, honestly, I kind of feel better about the idea of them alone in the backcountry than alone in a campground. One problem they have already run into:  They wanted to go to Pt. Reyes, but read that you have to be 18+ to get a permit. Might this turn out not to be possible at all?  They will get some camping and backpacking with family and groups this summer - but that does not satisfy their wish to go out on their own.

    [Moderator Note] Here's a similar question from a few years ago: "16 year olds backpacking in the Sierras" 

    15 and 13 seems a little young for this. Usually the Backpack with just other teens starts in Junior year (16). Is there a place your family is very familiar with? My teen went backpacking with friends, but it was towards the end of high school. Parents drove them to the trailhead and home, which won't be an issue with younger teens.

    I think that's too young. They'll likely be fine as long as everything goes well, but be in completely over their heads as soon as something goes wrong. I'd want them at a minimum to be certified in wilderness first aid which they can only do once they are 16. And even then I think I'd want an adult with them.

    I'd look into the various programs that exist that take teenagers backpacking (although the 13 year old might be too young for most of them).

    Our son has gone on weeklong backpacking trips in the Sierra with us every summer since he was 6 years old. Even now at 16 there is no way I'd let him go without an adult.

    Backpacking mama

    Reading this made me nervous as a mom, but I also recall doing kids-only camping with my friends in my own youth although I was a little older (16). It was part of scouts and was one of the requirements to earn a badge. We did a 4 day / 3 night trek that included hiking, canoeing, working our way through mud carrying canoes, showering under waterfalls, and of course sleeping out and cooking over campfires. It was a whole crazy adventure that I adored and will never forget. This of course was years before cell phones and other things that make it safer today. 13 is a little young but kids vary in their maturity. At the right age if your kids want to do it I think it would be an unforgettable adventure for them. 

    They're just too young for this. I'm a fan of the basic idea too, and am English and we have a fabulous program teaching wilderness independence called the Duke of Edinborough (DofE). But in this program teens spend 2 years with friends learning how to manage themselves in groups of several teens to be in the wilderness alone. They need more prep and to take baby steps first. I don't believe you'll find it legal to drop them at ANY campground. 

    Options: Rent a cabin and have them camp on the property, out of sight but within a 5 min walk of you. Make them plan, pack and prepare EVERYTHING. Including food water and every last thing. NO HELP.  Be extremely safe about fire. Seriously. Or, rent 2 campsites 5 mins walk apart in a large campsite and do all the above. DO NOT ASSIST and let them suffer when they forget important items. Forget the tent? too bad. They sleep outside. Forget important food? they go hungry for 1 night. Etc. Absolutely no parental reminders. Plus make them bring phones, but don't check up on them until an assigned time.

    If they follow the rules as you lay them out and no troubles occur, do it again a few more times. And get them into scouting and outward bound, where this will be taught and give them lots of independence later.

    I'd strongly advise you to wait. I've done a lot of backpacking and also worked in the backcountry and there are so many things that even adults struggle with. There are a lot of dangers, and if something goes wrong, which is not uncommon, it's not easy to get help and someone needs to know what to do. I'd wait till minimum 16, but frankly, even  older. It's cool they want to go though!

    Seems a little too young. What about sending them on a youth backpacking program such as Camp Woolman teen leadership camp. My son worked there - they go on fabulous 10 day backpacking trips with 2 young adult staff. he had wilderness first responder certification and there are planned evacuation points along the route where kids could be picked up in case of an emergency, water was all planned out, etc. There are a lot of other such programs but Woolman may be on the less expensive end and financial aid is available.

    They are too young to go off on their own, even with their experience which is wonderful.  In addition, no state park will allow them access alone unless they are 18 or with someone who is 18.  A group of my daughter's friends found out about this the hard way and lost all their money.  Take them camping and give them a camp site that is all their own, let them be responsible for all their belongings and food while there and give them freedom to wander the park area.  They should check in once a day with you.   Good luck and have fun!

    I teach 13 year-olds (and parent a 3 year old). I take the 13 year olds camping every year and know that a small handful of them could handle a backpacking trip by themselves. I wouldn't leave them in a car campground though. The company is too unpredictable.

    What about you car camping and them just doing a one-night trip out of your basecamp? If it goes well, then you can increase the amount of nights away for the next trip.

    Alas, I don't know anything about permit age which is really at the heart of your question.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


16 year olds backpacking in the Sierras

July 1999

My almost 16 year old son and 4 to 5 of his 16 year old friends are planning a backpacking trip in the Sierras next month. They want to go by themselves and are doing all their own preparations, buying their own supplies, taking a cell phone, etc. We have given him a tentative OK to go, depending on what we think of their plans and pending talking to the parents of the other kids involved. One boy has hiked this area several times with his family and is an experienced backpacker. The others, including my son, are not. One boy who may or may not get parental approval to go was planning to drive them all there. If he doesn't go, the parents of the experienced backpacker would drive them all and pick them up. I feel more comfortable having a parent do the driving, especially mountain driving. Has anyone had experience with teenage solo backpacking trips and know what we should be aware of and prepare for, or reasons why this is a bad idea? I am not a not a backpacker/camper and am not familiar with the Sierras.

Sr. year my son and 5 friends (incl. 2 girls) went camping in Pt.Reyes for 3 nights. They had a fantastic time. I thought of it as pre-dormitory living where they had to figure out how to eat, clean-up, get enough sleep, etc. I sent them with a cellular phone w/ explicit instructions to use it only for emergencies (which there were none of). I'd be concerned about mountain driving, so thumbs up for the parent driver to Yosemite. Sunscreen and lots of water and water purifying tablets are essential. This, plus a good first aid kit and a long rap about safety (buddy system, water purification protocals, dehydration, bears) should suffice especially since Yosemite is a mob scene in summer- they're less likely to be stranded in the wilderness than they are to be over-crowded.

Regarding backpacking safely in the Sierra with a group of 4 or 5 teenagers--all I can say is, it all depends. There are safe places and unsafe places, and there are safe (i.e. careful) kids and unsafe kids. It's encouraging that they seem to be planning thoroughly and that you're reviewing their plans; you might want to get a more expert opinion, maybe from someone at REI or Wilderness Exchange. It would probably be good for the inexperienced hikers to put on packs and spend a few days hiking around the hillier regional parks, like Briones. Blisters are less of a problem close to home. -- John

As someone with 30 years backpacking experience in the Sierra Nevada and elsewhere, and as a Scoutmaster with 10 years of experience working with teenaged boys, I think a teen-aged backpack trip is definitely something that is doable by this group, pending answers to some questions I might have about the trek and the group.

What isn't clear here is the length of the backpack trip in days and miles. If most of the group is not experienced, I would not recommend more than 3 days and 15-20 miles, so that the inexperienced hikers can test their equipment (and personal mettle) without getting too far from civilization.

Has the group applied for (and received) a permit for the area they will be traveling in? Also, some areas are now requiring extra precautions to avoid bears feeding on backpackers' food, including the use of the Garcia bear containers.

I would also recommend some pre-trip training in the use of stoves, map and compass, and first aid.

I do not think that any of the boys should drive to/from the trailhead. In my opinion, a 16-year-old does not have enough driving experience to negotiate a mountain road while fatigued and possibly distracted by his carmates. The disadvantage of not having a car at the trailhead is balanced by having a cell phone for emergencies.

I will be happy to share a backpacking equipment list that we provide for our Scouts. I would also be happy to answer any other questions by parents or trekkers. YiS, Alan Scoutmaster, Troop 24, Berkeley, California

Re: Backpacking advice: I started backpacking extensively with other teenagers starting at age 15 and it was a great experience- but I had done hundreds of miles of backpacking before going without an adult, and went with other experienced teens. For this to be safe however, I think that the experienced teen needs to have enough experience to really know what he is doing in the wilderness, including handling bad weather (even in the Sierra's!), route finding, dealing with bears, and basic first aid. I would want to make sure his parents feel he has the experience and maturity to lead a trip with less experienced backpackers. I would also want to make sure the other teens were mature enough to show good judgment and responsibility without adult supervision. I never had cell phones, but this would make me feel safer as a parent. Whether this would really work depends on going to limited areas of the Sierra's (e.g Tahoe area) where cell phones actually work. -- Rick

There are a lot of closer, safer and easier places to backpack locally. I would look into some local areas and insist my teenager try them out first. It would also help them train for a subsequent trip to the Sierras. If it was my kid, I would just stay nearby wherever they went. -- Nita

Thanks to all who responded about the teenage backpacking trip in the Sierras. My son ended up not going because a death in my immediate family, so he stayed home to attend the funeral instead. Sometimes you wonder if you are getting through to your kids and then they do something that makes it worthwhile. Missing this trip was a major disappointment and expense since they had already purchased supplies. We did not get a single word of complaint from him. We voluntarily reimbursed him for his expenses because we were so proud that he did not ask or complain.

A word to the dads out there. Do not do the typical guy thing of avoiding doctors and toughing out symptoms and illnesses. You are too important to your families.