Big River Campground in the Jackson Demonstration State Forest is probably an overlooked campground and I can see why it might be. Our family tends to be spur of the moment road-trippers so we rarely make camping reservations, yet we are able to camp ALL the time. We find places like Big River Campground and which we thoroughly enjoyed.
I am very glad that at the beginning of the year, we inadvertently started an awesome family camping project which has brought us many cherished family memories. We nicknamed it "Sleeping Under the Stars". Twelve months later we have "completed" our family project's goal which was to...
Camp outdoors for at least one night, each month for the entire year
Now you may ask why there are quotes around "completed". If I had followed my own rules, we should have camped in December but we didn't. Why? Well it wasn't because the weather was bad (Is the weather in California ever bad?) or that we did not have time. The reason was my pregnancy...our last camping trip was pretty painful to sleep on my luxury camping pad, I knew that it would only get worse if we camped a month later.
But the "Sleeping Under the Star" results are in...
- 21 nights camping, over 11 months in 12 different campsites in two states
- We camped at five (5) California State Parks, two (2) National Parks, two (2) Regional Parks, one (1) Private Campground
- One WHOLE week of continuous camping and two successful backpacking trips with our toddlers in tow!
I still haven't had a chance to write about all the locations we visited but I still wanted to share the bits and pieces our year long project! So here I go!!
Camping by the beach is always fun, throw in a Mavericks surfing competition, friends, and crazy big waves and it becomes very memorable! The huge crashing waves sounded like fireworks all night long. Half Moon Bay was a great location to start our project.
California winter camping is beautiful, especially when we were having record break warm temperatures for February! We spent a Valentines Day grilling up the BEST heart-shaped rib eye steak and enjoying the California coast with our little family! We love camping by the beach.
When you think of Orange County, camping is not usually the first thing that comes to mind but we had a very relaxing time at O'Neill Regional Park Campground. Dry creek exploration along with a visit by some beautiful tropical birds definitely ranked high on our "outdoor fun" list!
We love to road-trip! Throw in some camping are we bound for a great time. We made a one-night stop at Pismo State Beach on our way to Los Angeles. We had some delicious Mexican food that night and enjoyed sand dollar collecting the next morning before continuing on down the road to LA.
Our first family backpacking trip of the year with so many firsts!
From rattlesnakes, to carrying in our own water, to trying some dehydrated meals, this hike-in campsite was a great way test out the "backpacking with toddlers" water again!
June 2014 ~ Sequoia National Park: Dorst Creek Campground and Pear Lake (Backpacking)
Our longest camping trip EVER! Six blissful days at Dorst Creek Campground in Sequoia National Park. Wildlife visits everyday and countless memories made on this little piece of National Park.
We decided to incorporate a overnight backpacking trip at Sequoia National Park and do an overnight backpacking trip to Pear Lake. The kids had a blast on this 7 mile (14 mile Round Trip) in and out hike to Pear Lake, and our 4 year old son hiked the ENTIRE way!
July 2014 - Lake Camanche: South Shore Campground - Valley Springs, California
When we camp, we normally just camp with our family and a few close friends! But once a year we attend my church family camping trip of about 100 people! This campground might not be my first choice but it sure does have a great place to cool off: Lake Camanche. A great "plus" of someone else organizing the camp is that someone else does all the cooking!
Pregnant Camping Month #1: This was also the first month, of "Pregnant Camping" but no one knew about it yet except my husband and I!
August 2014 - Salt Point State Park: Woodside Campground - Jenner, California
Not only do we love camping with our children, but we love taking our Jr. High and High School students from my church, camping! Thanks to our partners at Latino Outdoors, we were able to take our group camping at Salt Point State Park. Our students hiked through the Pygmy Forest, played soccer on a beautiful Northern California beach, learned to chop wood, make fire, and cook over an open flame!
Pregnant Camping and Hiking Month #2: This is where I started noticing how even in early in my first trimester, I needed lots of WATER and snacks!
September 2014 - Mount Diablo State Park: Live Oak Campground - Clayton, California
I wouldn't call this a "failed" camping trip, but we were so confident in our camping skills we failed to check something very important, our cooking options. We planned to cook all via firewood but didn't realize because of the drought and Mt. Diablo's fire danger level we could only use stoves and coals. Thankfully we brought our backpacking stove which we used a lot during our one-night camping trip on the "Devil Mountain"!
Pregnant Camping Month #3: I needed to bring more padding and pillows for my ever growing belly.
October 2014 - Shenandoah National Park: Big Meadows Campground - Stanley, Virgina
I think this was our most memorable overnight camping trip because it was our only "Out-of-State" camping trip, we were dying for cold weather and we finally got to test out how warm our tent and sleeping bags kept our little family! We still had some hiccups, like not being able to find the water spigot until the morning and running out of diapers. YIKES!
Pregnant Camping Month #4: For some reason this was the best night of sleep I remember so far in my pregnancy!
November 2014 - Spring Lake Regional Park: Group Campground - Santa Rosa California
Photo Credit Latino Outdoors
As a Regional Coordinator of Latino Outdoors I was able to get my Wilderness First Aid Training Certification! That was a goal that I really wanted to complete this year. Of course the training was held outdoors and we camped for two nights at Spring Lake Regional Park! Not only did I get my certification, my children were able to come along, my husband and fellow church youth worker Nate also got their certification! Thank you so much Latino Outdoors!
Pregnancy Camping Month #5: This was it...it was pretty rough couple nights sleeping, even with lots of pillows, and thus ended camping for 2014.
Chasqui Mom Last Thoughts...
We had a BLAST camping this entire year! This family project started off as a "well let's take advantage of the warm winter weather" and turned into an epic year of camping and backpacking for my family. It has helped us become better campers, our kids LOVE camping and ask to camp all the time now. Many more posts will come of this project because I have experienced so much and can't wait to impart the things we have learned enjoying to be outdoors as a family.
Related Posts and Links:
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Now let's get this straight off the bat: I love camping and I actively encourage families to camp but getting used to camping as a family takes a little work and effort. My kids love so much camping that even when we are day hiking they ask to set up their tent so we can camp. Just like everything else in life, family camping requires effort and frequent practice, with lots of my own practice I have found a few "truths" about family camping.
Truth #1: Parents are TIRED and Children are Refreshed
Per the photographic evidence, I have major bags under my eyes; parents usually wake up tired and the children wake up ready to take on the day. Sleep is a struggle for many families when they take the bold leap to go camping for the first time. My first experience camping as a family was awful but a few adjustments here and there made for better sleep.
My family co-sleeps, so our children feel right at "home" when we are all sleeping in a tent but my husband and I wake up exhausted from our children waking us up for WHATEVER (cold, hot, thirst, etc) reason throughout the night. Even though my kids wake up multiple times a night they still seem refreshed in the morning and yet I am not.
Tip: Try to recreate the same home sleep environment and have the kids practice sleeping in their sleeping bags at home! Also including hiking into camping trips helps the kids sleep.
Truth #2: Everything Gets DIRTY!
Cleanliness kind of goes out the window when you are camping, except for food preparation and bathroom policies. When I became a mom I swear I could see the germs crawling on my pristine baby boy, but camping really helped me get over it. I realized the dirt on my children hands, face and sometimes in their mouth was just going to happen. Remember dirt can always wash off, after you get home!
Tips: Empty a camping box aka plastic storage bin and use it as a small bath tub if the kids get too dirty. Baby wipes are also your friend.
Truth #3: Expect and Plan for Sickness
There's nothing worse than being outdoors and not being prepared for someone getting sick. I have been on few trips where someone was sick and our entire camping trip had to be changed. On our first camping trip as a family of four, my son and I came down with a cold on the car ride to our camping location. Even though we were sick we still managed to have one of our most memorable camping trips. Thankfully we had packed medication just in case.
On another occasion I came down with altitude sickness and we couldn't do anything except go to a lower elevation and completely change our plans. If you are wondering about the picture above, I was having and allergic reaction to exercise, no joke.
Tip: Be flexible! If someone in your family gets sick make sure you have alternate plans like camp games so the rest of the family can still enjoy camping while others can recuperate. Research where the nearest hospital or urgent care in case a real emergency occurs.
Truth #4: Forgetting Something Essential
Something will always be forgotten! From a bedtime stuffed animal, baby wipes, salt & pepper to even sleeping bags something is always left behind. It's always better to bring less when camping, so what has help me reduce the forgetting essential items is having pre-packaged "camping boxes" with everything I know I will need. Then all I really need to worry about is bringing clothes, food and my children's "essentials" such as stuffed animals and special items.
Tip: Truly assess what is really "essential" a few days before to reduce last minute car packing panic! Does your child really need all those toys while camping?
Chasqui Mom Last Thoughts...
Family camping is fun and worth the tiredness...trust me it does get easier when camping with little ones. In the beginning my kids would not sleep in their sleeping bag and now they love it! We recently spent a week camping and all our "camping practice" had paid off because it was truly relaxing and restful for my family. The truth is family camping just needs practice to work out the bumps to make it truly a great family experience!
Do you have any family camping "truths" that you have experienced?
As the Polar Vortex crippled the rest of the North America this past winter, California was experiencing an extremely warm winter. One warm winter night, my husband and I were reminiscing about backpacking/camping as we were making our summer outdoor plans. I was inspired by a fellow outdoor blogger, Tanya Koob's "The Camping Project"where her family camped 40 nights from May to September!
We decided that since we were experiencing 70 degree weather in the middle of January, we were going to take advantage of our warm weather and go camping! One thing led to another and we came up with a little project:
Camp outdoors for at least one night, each month for the entire year
For the past FIVE months we have been able to to continue with our goal with a combination of camping and backpacking:
- January ~ Camping at Half Moon Bay State Beach during the world famous "Mavericks Invitation Surfing Competition. Surfs up!
- February ~ We camped for two beautiful nights during Valentines Day Weekend at El Capitan State Beach. I love my California Winters!
- March ~ Loving the OC Spring time camping at O'Neill Regional Parkin sunny Southern California!
- April ~ Roadtrip camping is always fun, especially at Pismo State Beach: North Beach Campground.
- May ~ Our first backpacking trip of the season, at Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve. Watch out for snakes!
We currently have plans to "Sleep Under the Stars" until August and I'm pretty sure that we will be able to complete our year long project into the Fall and Winter months with some planning and maybe visiting some yurts!
My kids love sleeping in our tents so much, that they ask to set up our tents when we are just day hiking! I encourage you to join our family with our little project and discover how fun it is to make "Sleeping Under the Stars" part of our lives more than a couple times year! In 2013, President Obama declared the month of June as Great Outdoors Month but my wish is that everyone enjoys the Great Outdoors all year long as we are doing with our "Sleeping Under the Stars" family project.
What are your family's outdoor plans for the Summer?
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