Bay Area Backpacking with Kids
March 24, 2024 10:16 AM   Subscribe

Hi! One of our kids is interested in "backpacking" and so we are trying to find a Bay Area option. In my dreams, this would be a loop that we could do over two nights and three days, with about 2-3 miles to walk each day between the trailhead and the campsites, though I'm not even sure if that's the right distance, having never tried this with kids. But we're open to other options!

It would be great to experience a range of places (e.g. under trees, ridge/hilltop). It would be soon, i.e. in early April, so we'd need somewhere that might still have available weekday reservations.

Us parents have done a lot of backpacking, so we have most of the gear we would need. We have an 8yo and 4yo and think may end up carrying the younger one at least part of the way. (We have a kid carrier backpack.)

Other mild preferences: fewer neighbors, warmer / more sun, pit toilets, maybe not tables though(?).

I've found a few good website lists but would love your input!
posted by Spokane to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
How old are they?
If they're 10ish or older, they can carry a pack. Pick a percentage of weight from online guides.
Also, I recommend NOT a loop, but backpacking to a chosen central site and doing, for example, a day hike to a peak.
I did my first 5 miler with no pack at 5ish?
posted by atomicstone at 10:21 AM on March 24

I just checked the Point Reyes map and if you're able to get reservations at Coast Camp/Sky camp and come in off Limantour road something like this seems very doable. The sites are usually booked up but if I recall they do have some reservations that aren't released till 2 weeks in advance so if the timing is right it might be worth a shot, or at least for some future trip.
posted by 12%juicepulp at 10:25 AM on March 24 [4 favorites]

Agree Point Reyes coast or sky camp is ideal for a first backpacking trip for kids, especially coast camp with the beach right there. You can still day hike up into the forest, or do a loop with sky, though that is a long/steep hike so probably wouldn’t do that on a kid’s first trip. Other places we went with kids are Henry Coe and Hood mountain (though I would call the latter re conditions as some sites are still closed since fires there.)
posted by loopsun at 10:43 AM on March 24 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks. They're 4 (turning 5 soon) and 8. The 8yo is really adventurous and athletic so I was thinking he might be able to carry a little something, plus it would give him the "backpacking" experience he's asking for. Thing is we don't really have a pack for him so we'd have to rent or buy something. I don't want him to think it's like carrying a heavy school backpack. Not planning to load him up with much! But just want him to see that with a hip belt it's a different story.

I'm nervous about getting reservations at Pt. Reyes but will try! It seems like they're booked but like there may be some released at 7 am day of that we could try for...
posted by Spokane at 11:34 AM on March 24

You can sign up to get notifications of cancellations here for Pt Reyes and other campgrounds.

The REI Tarn backpacks work well for that age and you could rent one to try it out before committing.
posted by loopsun at 11:56 AM on March 24 [3 favorites]

For a very quick overnighter, I recommend Black Mountain Backpack Camp on the Peninsula.

I've never been, but I would take a look at the multitude of hike-in camps at Henry Coe.
posted by extramundane at 1:03 PM on March 24 [2 favorites]

Chiming in to say that Point Reyes is pretty much exactly what you're looking for.

Henry Coe, on the other hand, is decidedly not. It's one of my favorite places in the world and a place in which I've backpacked extensively; I wouldn't recommend it as a fit adult's first backpacking trip, let alone a child's. Describing the terrain as strenuous is an understatement.
posted by jesourie at 2:26 PM on March 24 [3 favorites]

You can rent equipment at Sports Basement (and I think REI?) so that's an option for renting a kid's backpack maybe?

Some of the east bay regional parks allow backpacking. The Sibley one would be a bit too crowded/basic. The Black Diamond Mines one maybe? There is a cool mine tour the kids might be interested in too.
posted by latkes at 2:49 PM on March 24 [1 favorite]

I've also had good experiences backpacking at Los Padres - easy to get to pretty quiet places after just a short hike from parking lot. But it's a huge sprawling park with lots of road closures so will take a little research to find the right spot for you.
posted by latkes at 2:52 PM on March 24

You might take a look at the Sunol Regional Wilderness and neighborhood. If you head west there is a campsite just below the summit of Mission Peak. If you head east there are a bunch of camps on the map (afraid I'm not familiar with that side).
posted by Standard Orange at 9:53 PM on March 24 [1 favorite]

If you've backpacked in the Bay Area, I would pick a place you already like and feel comfortable with. Point Reyes is good for kids and beginners in general (ran into a group of younger Girl Scouts there who seemed to be having a great time). However, if there's a winter storm coming in, it can also be terrible. My son and I hiked into Sky camp once and the ground was so saturated and the wind so strong that our 6" tent stakes just ripped out the second we staked one down. Definitely foggy a lot of the time, too.

I don't recommend Castle Rock in Santa Cruz, very, very buggy. Butano I haven't been to except as a day hike, nice but foggy. Of course, the reason I haven't been overnight is because weekend reservations are very tough to get. Weekday should be much easier. Mission Peak is a huge elevation gain for beginners, plus the water isn't potable so you'd still have to filter. Camp is nice, though.
posted by wnissen at 5:12 PM on March 25

Oh oh oh... Angel Island! It's a super fun family trip.. you take the ferry and walk in and you can still buy snacks at the snack bar!
posted by latkes at 6:05 PM on March 25

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