What’s better than camping with your own children? Camping with lots of friends and THEIR children! This Monday, November 1st, the East Bay Regional Park system started taking group campsite reservations for the upcoming year, and we heartily recommend getting yourself and your group a campsite. Group campsites are a wonderful way to introduce your children to the outdoors, and a group camping weekend is frankly much easier to organize than you might think. I did a few trips with school groups in my former life as a middle-school teacher and ICO leader, but my first outing as a parent was last June, when we spent the night at Tilden’s New Woodland campsite with 35 people. It was fantastic, and no harder to organize than a “regular” camping trip.
First, you need to secure a campsite. Figure out dates and/or locations you might like and have the information handy when you call. Some campsites (Briones’ Maud Whalen, for example) are walk-in. Campsites generally aren’t a long walk (a mile or less) and many of them allow you to bring one vehicle in to serve as the mule. However, if you are walking in with tiny people, know how far you could ask them to walk before the mustard comes off the hot dog. For older kids, the walk in could be lots of fun and a way to amp up the feeling of getting away from it all.
Consider what amenities your group will be attached to having. Are you going with a group of hearty outdoors people who have no problem schlepping in their own water? Will your group be happier if there are showers included? Does your group want to have a fire? Make a few notes about your preferred campsites/dates before you get on the phone. Consider lesser-known campsites. Tilden and Lake Chabot sites are extremely popular, but Las Trampas and Briones may suit your group better.
Once you have a campsite, you have many organizational options in front of you. My suggestion is to go as low-maintenance as possible. We gave everyone a time to meet on Saturday afternoon in order to coordinate stuff-carrying into the site, but that was the general limit of my desire to manage 35 people. If you have a hankering to cook for a large group on a camp stove, then knock yourself out, but if the goal is to have a mellow time with a bunch of people you enjoy spending time with, then let people figure their situations out.
We also went low-maintenance when we got to the site. Some people went hiking, some stayed at the campsite, but there was no schedule or cruise director organizing activities. Everyone (kids & grownups) was happy. The Tilden campsites are right across from the back entrance to the Little Farm, which is always a good time, but the kids could have stayed and run around in the trees and been just as happy.