Top Family Backpacking of 2017: Backpacking Mission Peak

Our top backpacking trip of 2017 was the only backpacking we did in 2017!  Thousands of people hike to the top Mission Peak on any given weekend, but many don't know that there is a backpack camp near the top of Mission Peak. 

Getting ready to start on the Ohlone Wilderness!

We failed our attempt to backpack the entire Ohlone Wilderness in the Spring 2017 due to excessive rains, which was for the best because California was in an extreme drought.  We had been contained to our home for many weeks due to horrible air quality from the Santa Rosa/Napa Wildfires, when the skies cleared up for a weekend.  We jumped at the chance of finding a SF Bay Area campsite since we hadn't been outdoors for weeks.  We are "spur of the moment" family adventurers, so the fact that we were able to find a camp site 5 days before the trek was exciting.

Thankfully, our Ohlone Wilderness permits were valid for a year so when we booked our Eagle Spring Backpack Camp and decided to hike from Sunol Regional Wilderness to Mission Peak and then down into Fremont.  We had a friend shuttle our vehicle to the Misison Peak - Stanford Parking Lot, after we were dropped off in Sunol Regional Wilderness.

Backpacking Trip Report: Mission Peak Regional Preserve

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Parks: Sunol Regional Wilderness, Mission Peak Regional Preserve & Ohlone Wilderness Trail

Camp Location: Eagle Spring Backpack, Mission Peak, Tent Site #4

Mileage: Approx. 10.2 miles (Per Strava)

Elevation Gain: 2,300 ft

Time: 2 days/1 night - Oct 2017

Hours Active Hiking: 5.5 hours - 2 Adults, 3 Kids (Ages 2, 6, 7)

Amenities: Campsite Water, No Campfires

How to Reserve Campsite:  Call the East Bay Regional Park District Office at 1-888-EBPARKS.  $5 per adult plus a $8 Transaction as of 10/2017.

Backpacking Families:  I'm not going to lie, this was not an EASY backpacking trip to do with kids but it is a doable trip with kids.  I would not recommend this overnight backpacking trip to beginning backpacking families but for families who have done a couple of backpacking trips.

DAY 1: Sunol Regional Wilderness to Eagle Spring Backpack Camp

A stream along the Ohlone Wilderness.

Everyone is always excited at the beginning of a backpacking trip!  The Ohlone Wilderness trail continues westward towards Mission Peak, at the Horse Trailer Staging area in Sunol Regional Wilderness.  We were even able to meet an Appaloosa Horse, that an East Bay Regional Park Trail Safety Volunteer was about to ride around the park before we started our trek.  The hike to Eagle Spring Backpack Camp is only 5 miles from Sunol, but it is all uphill and approximately 1,800 ft of climbing.

We knew it would pretty much take all day to get to our camp, so we took as many breaks as we could to allow the kids to hike at their pace.  Our kids differentiate between car camping and backpacking by asking if we drive up to our campsite or we have to walk to our campsite and if they had to carry their small backpack or big backpacks.   Our two-year old toddler had to be carried on and off through out the hike, but our two older children (ages 6 & 7) carried their full backpacks and hike the whole way.

Since it was October, the East Bay hills still hadn't turned "winter green" and we could appreciate the "golden" California Hills.  We saw a few hikers and an illegal bike rider on the Ohlone Wilderness Trail, but we hiked pretty much alone most of the day.  The hike to Eagle Spring Camp was mostly in the shade, which was a blessing because our kids melt with the slightest bit of heat.

We enjoyed pretending that the thousands of newly born flying termites were forest fairies as they came out of the ground and flew around us.  We sang songs, pretended to hit a piñata on a tree, raced to the next tree...anything to distract them from the the uphill climb.  Five and a half hours after we had been dropped off in the Sunol Valley floor we made it to Eagle Spring Camp, two hundred feet below the top of Mission Peak.

Day 1: Eagle Spring Backpack Camp and Hike to Mission Peak

We made it to Eagle Spring camp with a couple of hours left before sunset.  We quickly set up our our two tents underneath the large Laurel Bay Tree.  I think that was the nicest smelling campsite we've ever been at!  The large tree at Campsite 4 was a great climbing entertainment for the kids while my husband and I set up camp.  After we had set up everything, we had some snacks and coffee, left our large packs and headed up for our last small hike of the day to the peak of Mission Peak.

Rejuvenated by snacks and a long break the kids quickly made to to the top of Mission Peak.  The backpack camp is only about half a mile from the peak (1.3 mile round trip) via Eagle Trail & Peak Trail. We wanted to see the sunset from the top so we took our headlamps just in case it got to dark on the way back.

My husband and I enjoyed taking turns napping while our older children hopped from boulder to boulder at the top.  We eventually found the Mission Peak geological marker and my kids proudly took a picture above it.  Behind them were the hoards of people taking the obligatory selfie picture at the famous "looking pole" on Mission Peak.  It was pretty cold and windy, but there were still people taking off their shirts and taking selfies to look cool on Mission Peak.

The cold hit as soon as the sun went down, so we decided to retreat to our protected campsite underneath the Bay Tree.  I've never seen my kids eat so much and so fast, it was cold and they were hungry.  They normally want to stay up and play for a little bit but they were so tired they just wanted to go to sleep.  As a parent, I was perfectly fine with that!  A big plus from backpacking.  

Day 2: Eagle Spring Camp to Mission Peak - Stanford Parking Lot

As morning broke, we started making breakfast and breaking down camp as soon as possible because we needed to stay warm and we were trying to make it to church by 10:30 a.m. (which we did!).  We lightened up the kids backpacks as much as we could and started our 3.8 mile hike down the mountain to our car.  The first mile on Ohlone Wilderness Trail/Eagle Trail from the campsite is flat, but then its all downhill on Hidden Valley Trail which is the main trail that people hike up to Mission Peak.  At first the downhill was a relief to my children but then they realized that downhill hiking was also not easy.

Eagle Spring Backpack Camp: Start of the second day and only picture, our phones died.  

Eagle Spring Backpack Camp: Start of the second day and only picture, our phones died.  


Hundreds of day hikers would gawk at my family and the size of our backpacks.  I could hear them comment, "Where are they coming from? Why are their children's backpacks so big? Why are you complaining, look at them?!".  Some people even high-five our kids on the way down, but there's always a "Negative Nancy" out there.

My daughter was struggling a little bit towards the end, mostly because the small rocks where causing her to slip on the down slope.  A woman went out of her way to say "She is too young to be out here, this is too hard for her, she can't do this.  Give me her backpack and I'll carry it down for her."  I looked her straight in her eyes (trying to hold back my rage) and told her nicely "Thank you, but she can do this and has been doing this for two days".  The woman gave me a stern look and walked away.  I guess what bothered me was how her comments could affect my daughters perception of her abilities.

Thankfully, my daughter saw it as a challenge and after I had helped her for a few minutes by carrying her backpack through the slippery part, she asked for her backpack so she could finish carrying it to the car. 

Once my kids saw the parking lot they happily ran to the car.  Thus, ended our wonderful and only backpacking trip of 2017.  Now everyday when we are roaming around Fremont, I point up to Mission Peak and say to my kids "Who climbed up Mission Peak?!" and they respond joyfully "We Did!!"


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