Where to go Camping

Parent Q&A

Select any title to view the full question and replies.

  • Last minute lake or river camping sites

    (5 replies)

    We've had to change our camping dates due to unforeseen circumstances and I despair of finding a good place to camp. We want something walking distance from a lake or swimming hole in a river, tents that are not next to RVs, lots of shade, capacity for a large group (up to 20 - side by side camping sites are fine), kid friendly, hopefully within 1-4 hours of the bay area, Kayak friendly, swim friendly. We prefer lush vegetation and sites that have some privacy from others. Our kids are 6 months, 5, 11, 12, 14 and 17. All of the archived reviews are very old and I'm sure conditions have changed since them. I've heard, for example, that the rivers are swollen and currents swift this year, so maybe a lake would be preferable. Oh, rustic (no internet, no TV, electricity optional) cabins would be great too. I really hope this is not to much to hope for!

    Thanks in advance.

    Caswell Memorial State Park is very nice, and often has spaces available with not a lot of advance notice (not none, though).  Definitely shady and lush (riparian woodland). I had some friends who went mid-June, though, and they said the water was so high it swamped the swimming beach. You can reserve a site, but can't choose (and won't be assigned) a specific campsite. Because of this, it's hard to tell how many sites are actually available when you use the online reservation system. I don't know whether they have group sites available.

    Brannan Island State Park almost always has last minute spots available, has great swimming on Three Mile Slough, BUT it doesn't meet your criteria for shady and lush. It's in the Central Valley, is dominated by grass (dry at this time of years) with a few oak trees in the camping area. They definitely have a group site.

    You may want to check out Oakland's Feather River Family Camp. It's near Quincy, and seems to fit your description pretty well.  We just got back from an incredibly relaxing vacation there, filled with inner tubing, bike rides, swimming, arts & crafts, hiking, and meeting other nature loving Bay Area folks.  I'm pretty sure they have some space still available for later in the summer.  Google OFRC; Oakland Feather River Camp.

    Our family (7 adults & 5 kids) had no reservations for July 4 weekend. Some of us were able to go on Thursday before & we got 2 beautiful sites at Letts Lake in Mendocino National Forest. A bit long to get there - a windy road, but it was lovely. Everyone enjoyed the shade trees & the warm lake - even the 6-month-old! 

    There are tons of non-reservable shady sites in the Crystal Basin area of the Eldorado National Forest by Loon Lake, Union Valley reservoir and another lake whose name i forget. Also, this was pricey for camping but we recently camped at Mendocino Magic right on the beautiful, pristine, private lake, with kayaks left at our campsite, it was a short but uphill walk in but they drove our stuff.

    We recently camped at Jackson Meadows, which is an hour above Truckee.  We loved it.  Quiet, green, beautiful lake.  3.5 hour drive.

  • Camping Spot for Labor Day?

    (2 replies)

    I would like recommendations for Labor Day. All of the state parks are booked, so we're open to private campgrounds. Wish list includes:

    Able to reserve for Labor Day

    Car camping (not hike in)

    Water, showers

    Near water, preferably ocean or river

    Store on site for ice, ice cream, emergency supplies

    Less than 3-hour drive from Bay area

    Some privacy (i.e., can't hear your neighbor's conversations)


    You can probably get a spot at KOA in Cloverdale -- it's quite nice as KOA's go.  It has a pool and fishing pond, plenty of space to roam, shaded areas among the trees (important, as it can get hot up there!), and yes, a store, with very nice folks working there. The property is very close to the Russian River, and there is a swimming area nearby. My kids loved it when they were smaller. Have fun!

    National forests also have campsites.  https://www.recreation.gov/unifSearchResults.do

  • We are looking for some recommendations for great cabin camping with small kids for the fall/winter/spring within a short drive from Berkeley.  Ideally, we are looking for a great location, with lots of activities that are family friendly for young kids (ages 3&5).  A plus for short distances (ideally less than 2 hour drive). We don't mind walking in to cabins, but probably need to keep that walk to a mile or less due to young kid ages.  Thanks!

    How about Hendy Woods cabin tents near Occidental? You could go to many nearby sights and enjoy a simple weekend out in the redwoods.

    When my daughter was little we really had fun at the Petaluma KOA. There are cabins directly across from the playground. There is also a clubhouse, pool and petting farm. It is not really camping, but a fun change of pace with lots of outside time for a few days.

    The YMCA Family Camp at Lake Sequoia is awesome!  It is a little longer drive than you prefer but totally worth it. It is out by Sequoia National forest past Fresno. Maybe 3 hours from Berkeley?

    They have different levels of cabins to rent or you can get a campsite.   All meals are included with the fee so you don't have to bring food - just snacks for between meals and evenings.   They have a drop off to little kids and then separate activities for ages - kids, tweens and teens.  There is a lake to swim in and to csn take out boats.   A craft shack to make things and then activity in the evening - campfire, game night, karaoke.

    Not your normal "camping" but a great way to spend time with the family and be outdoors!

    Feel free to intact me with questions. We go every year and my kids love it.

    UC Berkekey also has a family camp type of thing too.  Never been to it though but info is on their website.

    You should check out Costanoa near Pescadero.  There is pigeon point lighthouse near by for whale watching, Bean Hollow State Beach has a fun pebble beach and lots of tide pools and there is berrypicking nearby and a goat farm!

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Reviews of Campgrounds

Single Mothers Camping with 4 year olds

June 2012

I have been dying to break out my tent (even pre baby) and I recently found out that a friend of mine has had the same itch. We've both been camping as kids and are used to the 'tent/roughing it' camping. However, I normally used to head where we could dock our boat so I have no clue on where to go. Here's what my ideal place would entail: I would like our little girls (Both 4) to be able to play in the water comfortably, we are both young(er) mothers with little girls so I would like to stay somewhere that is safe (maybe 24hr park ranger), we would be leaving from Oakland area and I think it's safe to say that our girls could last for a 3 hour car ride, possibly even longer, and just an added bonus-some sort of rented paddle boat would be the cherry on top. So my question is: Does a place like this exist? It would be great to hear advice from other Single Mothers who have camped with little ones. Ready to Camp

I'm a single mom of twin 8 year olds. I have been camping with them every summer since they were 6 months old. They love Pinecrest Lake (30 minutes east of Sonora on Hwy 8). The camp ground is on the lake. There is a small marina for renting boats, a nice sandy beach, and great ranger programs for kids. It is definitely car camping and can be loud and smokey, but the kids adore it. There is a little grocery store that sells ice cream and has an espresso cart so you are not in any way roughing it. They have movies under the stars at the ampitheater. It is low enough elevation that there are no bears so food storage is a little easier (just racoons). Wrights Lake is beautiful and is more rustic (but still car camping). Its a jumping off point for Desolation. I love Wrights Lake, but the kids prefer Pinecrest because there are lots of kids there and more kids stuff to do. We've really enjoyed both. Have fun!

When I was a single mom, I went with a single-mom friend and camped somewhere on the Delta. I wish I could remember the name of the place, but you should be able to google around and find campgrounds there. It's not a long drive. As I recall, we weren't on the beach, as I would have feared my son wandering into the water on his own, but there was a sandy beach nearby. Have fun! Linda

Hooray for you! We camped quite a bit with our little ones. Lake Mendocino and I think they have a place to rent paddle boats (be sure everyone has a good fitting pfd. We have bought inexpensive ones at Big 5. The rental place might not have kid ones and they can wear them splashing around in the lake too). Samuel P Taylor Park is great for splashing in the stream, but no boat rentals (or places to use boats). Dela Valle Resevoir near Livermore is a very pleasant place to camp, but you have to bring your own boats. Teaching good safety is imperative with kids. Bring bug spray, lots of sunscreen and a medical kit mostly stocked with bandaids, tweezers, antibacterial soap, tecnu (for poison oak), & aloe for sunburns. Maybe baby aspirin if you use it as kids can get headaches from heat and dehydration. Keep hydrating lots. Have fun. cocosar

Try Lake Siskiyou. We have been going there every year since my first child was 2 y.o. (now 23). We all love it. Lake Siskiyou is located in Mt. Shasta, about 5 hour drive. When my kids were little sometimes we would stop half away but if the kids can handle car ride you don't have to. The campground have everything you described. It's beautiful, It has a playgound, outdoor movie theater everynight, beautiful lake w/ sand (beach), boat area, inflatable toys for rent, pedal boats, kayaks, Kids love to bike around and lots of places to explore nearby if you want to (waterfalls, other lakes, fishing, etc.). It feels like you are in the woods, secluded but you are not. It is very convenient for first time campers with young children. near beautiful town w/ shopping, cafes, bank, restaurants, library, etc. There is also a restaurant place ran by volunteers that my kids love because of the free game area for kids with books, ping pong tables, pool tables, etc. a plus for us. narnia

Camp Site with Fishing over Father's Day

May 2012

I am looking for a place to take my family car camping over fathers day weekend. We need something toddler, we have a 1 1/2 year old, and dog friendly. My husband would also like to fish. Other than those 3 requirements we are pretty open. Oh and of course someplace that won't already be booked up. Thank for any recommendations. Camp Mom

You asked for a camping/fishing location for Father's Day. Try Lake Del Valle, just southeast of Pleasanton. http://www.ebparks.org/parks/del_valle#activities
Rise and Shine Campers

A group camping destination within 1hr

May 2012

I'd like to get some recommendations for a group camping destination within 1 - 1.5 hr of Berkeley. It will need to be suitable for families with toddlers and we'd like to be able to reserve it in advance. Thank you!

Check out Samuel P. Taylor State Park in Marin near Lagunitas (recently saved off the list of state parks slated to close July 1, btw!). We've been camping there every year since our oldest was a couple years old, and we love it for car camping - shady redwoods, a creek with easy wading, paved loop in the campground where lots of kids ride bikes, and close enough to town that it's not a disaster if you forget something. Casual Camper

there are a few group sites in the anthony chabot campground in the oakland hills. they do need to be reserved in advance and they often book up for summer, at least on weekends, so i'd call asap. it's a nice campground. anon

Samuel P. Taylor Campground in Marin. Once you're there, it's only another hour to Stinson Beach. We love Camp Taylor

Go to ReserveAmerica.com and check out Alice Eastwood campground. It is just over the GGB Gulia

In the East Bay Regional Parks District, I've done group camping at Del Valle and Tilden Park. I really like the Wildcat View campsite at Tilden, it has a nice covered campfire area and lots of flat spots for tents. I've used it a couple times for preschool camping trips, and it's great for kids. It's near the Little Farm. There's lots of poison oak, but the kids were totally happy playing in the grassy area, and we didn't have any issues. Del Valle has swimming and less poison oak.

EBRPD also has group camping at Lake Chabot and Coyote Hills. I haven't used the group camps at either place, but I've done the family campground at Chabot, and there was a TON of poison oak. We had to lay down the law to the kids about staying on trails and in open spaces (and teaching them what poison oak looks like). Coyote Hills has a lot of wetlands, which makes great birdwatching but may be challenging with really young kids.

I did a camping birthday party for my daughter at Mt. Diablo. There was less poison oak because we were at a higher elevation. The racoons were very aggressive. A racoon-proof box is provided. Use it, or lock things in your car.

Depending on your group size, you can also look at reserving adjacent family sites. This has worked out well for us with groups of up to 18 people. Carrie

I love the Russian River area! Susan

Looking for a great car camping group campsite

Feb 2012

I am looking for recommendations on great group camp sites (25-50 people) that are accessible by car and have toilets and water. Within a few hours of the east bay would be a major plus. Thank you!

I'm hesitant to post this since it feels like a well kept secret, but Anthony Chabot park is great for this. Super close (I can get there from my house in under a half hour), easy car camping and you can get a bunch of sites close together. We camp there with a decent group each year - about 5-6 families, each with 2 or more kids. You get the full camping experience (including fun ranger programs in the summer months for the kids) with the ease of flush toilets nearby. There is a lake but no swimming. Enjoy! happycamper

check out Pinnacles National Monument a bit past Gilroy (we camped with a large Boy scout Troop recently)Also, Mt Diablo, Bodega Bay, Big Basin, Del Valle Reservoir

Group Camping Close to Bay Area

Dec 2011

We have a group of about 9 families interested in camping Memorial Day weekend. Last year we went to Portola State Redwoods which was perfect. But, we didn't get reservations this year before they sold out. Any ideas about other good group camping locations? Thanks. group camper

The East Bay Regional Parks District has a number of group sites: Tilden Park near the Little Farm, Chabot, Del Valle, Coyote Hills, and Redwood. There are also group sites at Mt. Diablo. I've stayed at group camps at Tilden (I like the Wildcat View site), Del Valle and Mt. Diablo, and had a great time at each. Coyote Hills has great birdwatching and biking opportunities.

Farther afield, the campground at Pinnacles National Monument has group sites. The sites aren't anything to write home about (no trees, lots of gophers), but the park is great. On our last trip, we all saw rabbits, quail and a coyote, one group saw a bobcat. Carrie

How close to the Bay do you want? Try Kirby Cove, just west of the Golden Gate Bridge and other sites in the GGNRA. See.... http://www.nps.gov/goga/planyourvisit/upload/sb-camping-2008.pdf At Mount Tam there is Alice Eastwood for groups. See... http://www.mttam.net/activities/camping.html Kirby Cove will knock your sox off!

Camping with a dog

Nov 2011

Anyone know good places to go camping with kids and a dog? Preferably within easy driving distance of the Bay Area, but other places that are particularly nice would also be great. Thanks! Susanna

we have camped at lawson's landing up by tomales bay. huge private campground right on the bay. wide open dune setting. hiking, water, beach... great even in winter if you bundle

also, i highly recommend using airbnb.com to find affordable accomodations in the amazingly dog friendly carmel. i stayed in private cottage with my dog for a solo getaway. lovely. took my dog to the beach (best dog park on the planet earth), took her to dine with me fireside for dinner, took her into every shop... most offered doggie biscuits and water bowls. it rained one day and it just didn't matter. we spent the whole day outside walking, meeting others with dogs/kids... fun stuff. almost felt like camping with the natural beauty.

i am on a tight budget so it is totally doable to have a lovely time even though it is ritzy. oh, and carmel is very, very safe to walk streets a night... crime is practically non-existant in downtown ~~don't need to buy gucci to feel rich in carmel... just breath in the air

Great Place to camp and swim with 4 year old

July 2011

I want to take my 4 year old son camping this summer. Ideally to a place that has some water nearby for safe swimming, tubing or kayaking. Open to tent camping, renting a cabin or vacation rental. Thanks! Heather C

We've been going to Samuel P. Taylor State Park in Marin every summer with our kids since the oldest was about 4 (car camping with a tent). It's a relatively short drive from Oakland/Berkeley. The campground is under the redwoods, so it's nice and shady and cool. There's a paved loop road through the campground where lots of kids ride bikes. A short walk through the woods will take you down to a sunny swimming hole where you wade in from a (rocky) beach (bring your Tevas) - no strong current, plenty of shallow area for kids to splash and play. And if, like us, you invariably forget something or find yourself in need of a latte, the town of Lagunitas is just down the road. Enjoy this gem of a park while you can - it's one of the state parks slated for closure because of the state budget deficit. Car Camper

Lake Siskiyou is great-near Mt Shasta. It's perfect for swimming, the campground owns it. You can camp or rent cabins. Look at http://www.reynoldsresorts.com/LakeSiskiyou.html

My family just returned from Lake Jenkinson in pollock pines. It's 2.5 hrs from here in Sierra Foothills outside placerville. An amazing lake with tons of Lakeside campsites and swimming opportunities. We stayed up the street at a rental (VRBO.com). Just gorgeous! Dani

We just spent a day at Manzanita Lake in Lassen National Park with our almost 2 year old. We saw lots of wildlife (including a mama duck with 5 ducklings who came pretty close) and our daughter enjoyed tromping around on a sunny sand bar in the water, playing with pinecones, and watching the kayakers glide by. We stayed at a nearby cabin in Viola, but Lassen has new mini-cabins as well as tent camping. Lots of fun things to see and do! (And not too crowded). Happy Camping!

Free or low cost tent camping?

July 2011

Am in need of a cheaper alternative this year to our annual $40-$60/nt KOA camping excursions. Are there any free or low cost (under $25/nt) tent camping locations out there within 3 hours of the Bay Area? Hoping to bring our beagle, have running water and other families around but am open to suggestions. Ideas? Debbie

Generally the campground managed by a County will be less expensive. Of course, you generally get less services too. Check this site for some options: http://activity.wildernet.com/pages/activityguide.cfm?areaID=CACORG=Camping_ID=1 For about $5 you can get a wilderness permit and go backpacking - you don't need to necessarily hike for many miles and can find a place as close as it feels comfortable. I believe that National Forests allow for free camping in the wilderness. Areas under Land Management might do the same e.g. Upper part of Lost Coast Have fun out there! Giulia

Our family has been camping at San Mateo County Memorial Campground since our son was a baby. It's much less touristy than Big Basin up the road. We love it. Lisa in Oakland

There are many federal, state and regional park campgrounds available for $20-25 per night--not free, but much less than what you cited for KOA. You can find campgrounds on http://www.reserveamerica.com/. And I found this nifty rate schedule for the CA state parks system: http://www.reserveamerica.com/usa/ca/cafeesfamily.pdf. Of course, the really cheap ones are either primitive or hike- /bike-in.

In the immediate area, I have camped at Lake Chabot, Del Valle regional park, Mt. Diablo state park, and Brannan Island State Recreation Area. A bit further afield, I really like Pinnacle National Monument. Even further afield, I have stayed at at least three of the campgrounds at Huntington Lake, which is in the Sierras above Fresno.

If you have a group and would be reserving more than one campsite, it is worth looking at group sites. In the East Bay Regional Parks district there a group camps at Tilden Park, Coyote Hills, Redwood park, as well as Lake Chabot and Del Valle (that's just off the top of my head; there may be more). Carrie

most ca state park camping is about $25/night. you can find campgrounds with rate info on their website: www.parks.ca.gov/parkindex/ also, if you're up for a longer trip, oregon has fabulous camping and a lot of it is free. maia

Camping with no bears

May 2009

I love camping with my family, but very uncomfortable with the idea of sharing the campsite with bears. Is there a place in Northern California that does not have that problem, or where bear are kept under control? I know, they don't hurt, must keep your food away, etc... but still would rather not wake up in the middle of the night with a gigantic bear sniffing my head (from the outside of the tent) as it happened last time. So please don't tell me what to do in the event it happens, or that camping is not for me. I was raised in the Italian Alps and camping with my kids is what I love the most. Thank you. Susanna

Try the Coast Camp site at Point Reyes National Seashore--a lovely 1-mile backpack even doable for young kids and right on the sea--bear free and a beautiful spot. If your kids are older and can do a more challenging longer backpack in, Wildcat Camp at Point Reyes is stunning. Happy Camper

I've camped all over Northern California with nary a bear sighting (even in Yosemite, though I've never camped in the Valley). I would suggest the Coastal Mountain ranges -- there are apparently some bears in the northern stretch, but not many. The campgrounds don't even have the secure bear lockers like Yosemite.

So -- Henry Cowell or Portola Redwoods near Santa Cruz, Salt Point in Sonoma County, farther north to Mendocino or Humboldt Counties.

Or you could try the Eastern Sierras around Mammoth.

IMO bears are only a problem in campsites that are heavily frequented by humans. More remote campsites are probably less likely to be visited, simply because there aren't as many people throwing food scraps around there. Erin

Just pick a campsite that is not even in bear territory--like anywhere along the coast, Napa/Sonoma, or outlying Bay Area like Sunol Regional Park. never been bothered by a bear

You'd have to research it to be sure I'm correct, but I would think camping along the coast would solve this problem. I have camped in Santa Cruz and Morro Bay and haven't worried about bears. California has a ton of coastal camping, as does Oregon. Bears Freak Me Out , Too

Camping 1-2 hours from East Bay

April 2009

Hello, I am looking for a camp ground recommendation no farther than 1 to 2 hours from the East Bay. It will be the first time camping with four kids ranging from 2 - 5 yrs old. So, any advice is also welcome. We'd love to stay 2 nights and would like a camp ground that offers car camping AND feels semi-private. Quiet, starry nights. We also would love to be able to access some points of interest either from the site or very nearby -- redwood trees, river, lake, trails, hot springs, etc... Thanks! Jill

Our family loves camping at Henry Cowell Redwoods in the Santa Cruz mountains. The campsites are large and some are quite private (the ones on the outer perimeter offer more privacy than the campsites in the middle). There are hiking trails, redwoods, and a shallow river to splash and play in. You're also right near the roaring camp railroad - taking the train to the beach at Santa Cruz is fun for the kids. (Or it's a quick drive to the beach if you want a break from the moutains). You also have good food options in the nearby town of Felton if you don't feel like cooking every night that you're camping. We've had many fun trips there over the years - it's a good family oriented campground and not too long a drive.

Try Lake Del Valle in Livermore http://www.ebparks.org/parks/del_valle peter

Try Spring Lake in Santa Rosa. The camp sight is not too big and it is right up against a lake that you can swim at. This was the first place we went camping with kids. anon

When my children were younger we camped many times at Cassini Family Ranch in Duncans Mills. It is on the Russian River just a few miles from the ocean, and there is Armstrong Redwood park nearby. It is mostly families and it is nice and clean. Only some of the sites are somewhat private, but you reserve the site you want ahead of time. Ellen

We live in Oakland and we had a great time with our son camping at San Mateo County Memorial Park. It has redwoods and creeks, and it's very peaceful, located just there on the peninsula a 2-hour drive away. The other campers were very mellow and it was definitely NOT a rowdy-drinking-loud music type of park. The best thing about it is that its' first-come-first-served, so as a local you have a real advantage of arriving nice and early and picking your favorite camping spot. We'd definitely go back. Lisa T

Where to go camping with my 14-y-o son?

June 2007

I've promised to take my 14-year-old son camping this summer, though it's something our family hasn't done since before he was born. It will be the two of us and one of his friends. I'd like suggestions for somewhere to go that will satisfy both of us. He didn't like the campgrounds I suggested, because they were too big. He'd like to feel like we're living in nature, and he's more into the experience of sleeping in a tent and cooking outdoors than he's into the destination or the scenery. I have some mobility limitations and can't backpack anymore, but a short walk -- yards not miles -- from a parking space may work. We'd like to avoid campgrounds that attract parties or other noisy groups (e.g. lots of slamming RV doors or people up at the crack of dawn to go fishing) and places that would make us feel unsafe. We can do without showers, but I prefer piped water. Northern or Central California would be good, but we could drive a little further. We'd prefer cooler rather than hot weather. And we'll need something that will be available for 3-5 nights sometime in mid-summer; weeknights are ok. Can anyone recommend specific campgrounds or destinations? Thanks!

I would recommend that you take a look at the book ''Easy Camping in Northern California: 100 Places Anyone Can Camp This Weekend'' by Tom Stienstra It's an informative book, and I know you'll find what you are looking for inside its pages. My family has used this book for the past few years and the author's recommendations are spot-on. Good luck and have fun.

Big Sur would be a good option to camp. It has everything you asked for, like scenic, location(you asked for central or northern california), campground to put tents and cook outside. It also has camping cabins in case you change your mind :) There are many scenic trails to keep you busy at daytime. You have to make reservations way ahead of your vacation time, because it is always booked. Happy Camping!! adit

Good on you! We LOVE to camp and hope our kids grow to share the love.

Close by, I recommend Butano and Big Basin State Parks - their campsites have a good amount of space which can give you that good deepwoods feel.

We love the Desolation Wilderness area which has two campgrounds - one at Fallen Leaf and one at Wright's Lake. These are beautiful areas with lakes and rivers right in the campground. Family friendly, no crazies.

Any of the national forest campgrounds around the Trinity Alps area would be great too. Even peak summer you can find a spot to drive in without reservations. Like most NF campgrounds, there aren't showers but there are outhouses and piped water at most spots.

I'm interested in the other responses you get! Enjoy. Camper

Hi there, Try Butano State Park. It's gorgeous and very ''back to nature''. It's near Pescadero in the redwoods at the coast. Cool and pretty quiet during the week. It may already be full for the summer but it's worth a try. No showers unfortunately but we had a wonderful time there (plus you can drive down to the ocean and play at the beach). Have fun! Campin' Mama

Yes, I have a suggestion! Try the Lost Coast, the area between Ft. Bragg and Eureka. It's a good 5 hr drive from here, but it just gorgeous. I stayed in the Nadelos campground, which is a very short walk from Wailaki. Nadelos has 8 sites, Wailaki 13, but when I was there, only 3 sites in all were taken. I was able to get a rather secluded site all to myself + 2 dogs. There is a vault toilet and potable water, but that's all for amenities (plus picnic table & fire ring at each site). http://www.redwoodvisitor.org/showrecord.asp?id=523

There are other sites in the King Range as well, and it's cheap as heck. From the campsites, you can hike up to the trail that gives you a fantastic view. It is more cool than hot and the coastline itself can get fogged in easily. I also drove down to Shelter Cove, which was charming (but dangerous for swimming). On the way back, saw a small group of people by the side of the road. It turned out, they were watching 3 elegant elk in the field by the road. An unforgettable trip. Jennie

Big Basin

June 2007

Re: Rustic rental resort camp for 5 families
Big Basins Redwood State Park is only 2-3 hours away, but feels nice and remote. Has nice campgrounds and also cabins (cabins are minimalist, only contain cots, but useful if you don't have a tent; eating and cooking is outside, like camping). Don't want to drive to the Sierras

Big Basin in Santa Cruz. Poison oak, wooded, creek, drive to beach and boardwalk. Barbara

Bodega Dunes

From: Barbara

Bodega Dunes. Ocean beach, sand dunes.


Bothe in Napa. Poison oak, but we spent the time at the pool, so it was OK.

Butano State Park

From: Deborah

A FAVORITE place of ours is Butano State Park, just south of Half Moon Bay and very close to Pescadero. Redwoods and lovely trails. Very good place for children and adults (and even our teenagers love this place). Phipps Ranch is about a mile away -- has small animal farm (pigs, ponies, bunnies, birds, rabbits, goats) to walk through as well as strawberry and ollalieberry fields where you can pick your own. Small roadside market sells beans and fresh vegetables and local honey

Death Valley

Nov 2008

I am thinking of going camping in Death Valley this winter (Jan/feb/March) with spouse and 3 year old son. Is this a good idea or bad? If good, any ideas for campsite? Is Furnace creek good...if so what site? What activities should we think of doing? Hiking or biking? Thanks for your help! Sarah

Death Valley is our favorite desert and I have been there many times. When our child was born we purposely stopped going, because the desert experience is about the beauty of silence and that doesn't mesh with young kids. Although we love to go camping several times per year, we were not about to do that with our routine-dependent toddler, chancing her to keep an entire campground awake and us stressed out and embarrassed. So we took her camping since she was 5. Perfect age and we had great camping experiences with her and she developed her own deep connection with nature. At the age of 9 1/2 we thought she had desert maturity and we took her to Death Valley. What a great time we had as a family and as individuals. It was so worth the wait and we created some beautiful memories there!

Let me answer your questions: The nights are very cold in the winter. I have seen countless campers over the years, hanging out in the diner for pure warmth and light after 5pm. I would certainly not go camping there with a toddler before March. Check if they get any snowfall in March. April is better for camping, but too hot in the daytime and because of that you may also encounter scorpios and rattlesnakes looking to cool down & hide in your tent or motel room (told by motel staff who lives there year-round). We prefer to go in December and we usually check into the Stovepipe Motel. Once we splurged and paid for Furnace Creek and it was great too. After playing all day in the desert, I want to be able to clean up and feel comfy at night. Just adds to a better experience. If you have the easy type of kid that goes along with everything you do, count your blessings. If you have a kid with distinct preferences, for the three year old I suggest visiting the sand dunes, Scotty's Castle and walking into artist palette right before sunset to admire colorful rocks. Zabriskie Point is stunning and even nicer to hike down into, but I don't find that suitable for the comprehension and condition of a three year old. He will probably be more interested in walking on the barrier than enjoying the view. Death Valley has great hikes and sites for adults or emerging adults from Mosaic Canyon, Ubehebe Crater, Natural Bridges and more. You could take your toddler to Salt Creek and Bad Water and the Nature Center, but many things will be lost on him. He'll be happier playing with his hot wheels and you could be having the time of your life in this desert without him if you had a relative at home with your son for 3 days. That's my honest take on the situation - but it totally depends on what your expectations are for a trip like that. I love camping in many places, but in Death Valley I want a motel. Heike

Camping in the Grand Tetons

June 2005

Ever since reading about them in a novel, I've wanted to go to the Grand Tetons. I'd like to camp there Summer 2006, maybe for a week. Has anyone done this? Do you have campgrounds to recommend? Other things to know? How much bearproofing do you need to do when you're in a campground? My son is 5 and we love to hike and paddle in our inflatable canoe (Tahiti K). Also, I'd like to do this as cheaply as possible. Thanks! Jennie

We took our 17 month old to Grand Teton NP last July and it was great. We camped at Jenny Lake campground which is really nice and pretty centrally located. According to books we read, it's hard to get a site there but we cruised in on a Tues/Wed? mid-morning and found what we later realized was one of the ''best sites'' in the place, though many were great. It's near a boat launch which crosses Jenny Lake so many hikers stay around there before taking off for overnites. Oh, it's tent only which is much nicer if you are in a tent. Sunrise at the lake was magical. Take the boat across the lake and hike Cascade Canyon-one of our favorite spots on a month long trip through the Northern Rockies. As for bears, they have bear lockers in each site AND they let you keep food locked in your car. We were surprised when they told us we could keep it in our car (we're used to the Sierras where that's a no-no) but I guess it works for them. Have a GREAT time (you will). Teton Lover

Olema Family Campground

From: Lynn

My children and I have spent many a weekend at the Olema Family Campground and have really enjoyed it. It isn't a beautiful, scenic, out of the way place, but it is right next to Pt. Reyes which is. There are hot showers, a playground, small store, and nightly campfire entertainment (stories and singing) right there. A laundromat, another store and deli as well as a great restaurant are all within short walking distance.

They can be reached at (415) 663-8001. They have a web site at www.campgrounds.com/olemaranch.

Olympic National Park

June 2008

I'll be heading to Olympic National Park w/my husband and twin 3.5 year olds. Our plan is to tent-camp 4 nights. I've never been there and would like to get an idea of a good place to stay and things to do (short - 1 hour long hikes). I'm intrigued with the rainforest area, but would love to hear any recommendations about all of the park Nancy

There are good car camping sites in the Hoh Rainforest and at Kalaloch. Both areas have short hikes. The Hoh has a great junior ranger program. Kalaloch is on the beach. We have spent time there every spring since my daughter was about 2 years old; we both love the area very much. Have a great trip! Rita


July 2003

We'd like to go camping around the Pinnacles in the fall. 1)How's the weather there in Sept.? 2) I've heard the West entrance is more kid-friendly and you can see more without hiking long distances. Do you agree? 3) There's no camping within the parks, but a few campgrounds not far from the park. Any advice re: which campgrounds are nice? We're looking for somewhere quite, with firepits, ideally with toilets/showers, kid-friendly. 4) How long is the drive, from your experience?

www.pinncamp.com is your campground. Their website will tell you which campsites have morning or afternoon shade and you can see on the map how far they are from the showers (pay showers, near the pool) and camp store. PinnCamp does allow dogs, but dogs aren't allowed on Pinnacles trails though so leave your pooch at home. Pinncamp limits your campfires to charcoal and duraflame logs during the fire season to cut down on the chance of a wild fire, so plan your meals and evening time with that in mind. Most sites have a firepit and picnic table but not necessarily a BBQ grill. The sites are mowed weeds, this is NOT a KOA. The creek does not flow, so don't pick you site thinking the kids can play in it. There are wild boars, racoons, deer, quail and hares. The boars are only out at night, I've never had a problem with them but roll up your car windows or you'll have a raccoon inside. As to hiking in the park itself, I see lots of young kids up at the reservoir (no wading or swimming allowed) and that's a decent hike. It can be hot in Sept, plan to take shady breaks and bring full water bottles. There's plenty of Poison Oak so teach your kids how to identify. a rock climber at Pinnacles

Pomo Canyon Environmental Camp

From: Judy

Another camping suggestion (almost car-camping): We camped at the Pomo Canyon Environmental Camp (part of the California State Park system), near the coast and the Russian River, a few weekends ago. There weren't a lot of kids around, but our 3-year old daughter loved it (and so did we!) It's a walk-in campground, which we consider the best of both worlds--almost as convenient as car camping, but much nicer because there are no vehicles in the camping area. (Though you need to pack slightly efficiently if you don't want to walk back and forth a million times to bring in your stuff.) Many, but not all, of the sites are quite private. The drive was a little over 2 hours. (To get there, you turn off of route 1 onto Willow Creek Road, which is just before the Russian River. It's about 3 miles down the road to get to the Pomo Canyon camp.)

Here's the (true) description (found at www.mcn.org/1/rrparks/parks/scsb.htm ): Pomo Canyon Environmental Camp - $10 per night, $5 day use. 20 campsites with fire rings, picnic tables, pit toilets and running water nearby. Campsites are within 1/4 mile from the parking lot, one is disabled accessible. Camps are set in a beautiful redwood grove among the ferns. A three mile trail to Shell Beach takes off from the campground, crossing seasonal streams and rising up into the grassland with marvelous views of the river and finally the ocean. To protect the wildlife, no dogs are allowed. This campground is not on the reservation system.

We went up early on Friday, arriving at the campground around 3 pm. Of 21 sites, there were only 4 left at that point. Everything was gone by 4 pm. The hike to Shell Beach was also wonderful, but make sure to bring lots of water, and be sure you (and any kids that are walking) know how to identify poison oak. (None of us got poison oak but we definitely had to be aware of where we were walking and what we were touching for large portions of the hike; there was no poison oak in the camp area.)

Van Damm State Park

From: Diane

we went to Van Damm State Park which is near mendocino. It was a really nice camp ground and with lots of hiking. It's also just across the street from the beach. We took our son who had just turned 8.

More places to camp with kids

Two places I like to camp with kids. Its car camping
Del Valle in Livermore
Caswell Memorial state Park in Ripon, CA (1.5 hours from Oakland, right outside of Tracy). Swimming in Stanislaus River, great camping sites, hot showers, just really nice and shady.. Cindy

Places to camp with children and dogs

June 2008

Is there anywhere around here--within a few hours, say--where I can take my dog camping and actually go on trails? There are some places dogs are allowed in campgrounds, but not on trails, which doesn't do me any good. I went to www.dogfriendly.com but it wasn't helpful. Anyone? Dog Owner

Most places along the coast are picky about dogs. We head inland with ours. Most of the Sierra's are dog-friendly. Lake Tahoe is a good one, or any of the national forests. Our favorite areas are along RT 108 in the Sierras (Sonora Pass). LOTS of camping and hiking and it's all dog friendly. If you like car camping, there's Pinecrest Lake. If you want something more private there's lots of that too. Google Sonora Pass camping. OH - and it's not foggy there. Enjoy!

This may be pushing the ''few hours'' mark, as it'll take 4 or so depending on which trailhead you choose, but Mendocino National Forest is my favorite place to camp with the pup. I can't wait until my son is old enough to head back up there. This is not to be confused with Mendocino - it's inland, not too far from Ukiah. You'll need to visit a ranger station to get a campfire permit. You can actually camp in a large campground near one of the ranger stations the first night and then hike out from a trailhead in the morning, as one option. The area we frequent is more pleasant in the spring, but it's a huge park so I'm sure that varies. You can get a detailed trail map at REI. Wherever you end up, please enjoy it a little extra for me! Jealous (and my dog is too)

check out www.bluelakesrental.com . 2 hours from here, springfed lake, not pricey. hiway 20 is across the lake and is a buzz, but we traded that for privacy, dogproof house and hiking nearby, plus the fish are huge and there are a lot of birds.- no power boats- not like the big lake at all. geneandsharona

Camping with kids and a dog


I'm considering going on a long , 2-4 week camping trip with my 1 year old, 3 year old, and 2 dogs. I'm looking for somthing within maybe 3 hours of the bay area. I'm trying to avoid a typical campground because I would like to be able to let my dogs run around. Any suggestions? Allegra (2001)

Have you seen the website for DogFriendly.com, which gives campgrounds, hotels, and all sorts of travel info. http://www.dogfriendly.com/ Stefanie

If you want to car camp outside of a campground you can camp freely on national forest land. Try some of the dirt roads in the forests. Some need four wheel drive but not usually. Some places I have camped at are: the road to Levitt lake off the top of Sonora pass ( highway 108 in the Sierras). It has a small river which comes out of the lake you can camp along. The lake is beautiful at 11,000 ft but to cold for swimming. Also the road to Virginia Lake on the eastern side of the Sierras off of hwy 395. Here we camped in the trees below the lake along a meandering stream and meadow. You can hike past the lake to the upper valleys and more lakes. People fish in Virginia lake but it's not much for swimming. Another closer place is near Utica Reservoir in Stanislaus National Forest. This is a beautiful setting but more crowded with great swimming and fishing. There are other reservoirs in the immediate area as well ( Union I think). All of these are at least three hours or more from Berkeley. They are all much better for dogs than a campground. Get a Northern California DeLorme (spelling?) map from REI. Look for small roads within national forests land, near streams and lakes, go explore. You will need fire permits. Keep it clean. I have also looked for very short backpack trips which I have taken my kids on and know some of those if you are looking to get away from the crowds. Have fun Lynn