Welp, friends. This is it. Camping Season 2016 is officially upon us. If you are a resident of the Bay Area, you also know that the weather last weekend was delightful and really encouraged getting outdoors. We kicked off Camping Season 2016 with a night in Bothe-Napa State Park and we’re pretty sure it should be on your camping short list.
First, it’s beautiful. Various trees (think maples, redwoods, oaks, madrones, bay) provide shade over the park’s 12 miles or so of trails. While your experience with the Napa Valley might have previously focused on rows of grape vines (nothing wrong with that!), Bothe-Napa demonstrates there is more to the Napa Valley than the wine industry.
The campground is well-taken care of and clean. We were there for an event and the bathrooms were cleaned at least twice by 2pm that day. The campsites are fairly close together but foliage between each campsite helps to create a feeling of privacy. If you are really excited and get a group together, the group campground is pretty great– very shaded and spacious.
Bothe-Napa also has YURTS, should you not be feeling the urge to sleep on the ground! The yurts are fairly reasonably priced ($55-75/night, weekend 2 night min, sleep 4-6 people) and seem quite comfortable. (It should be noted that Bay Area Families Outside has not yet stayed there, so our opinion is just based on appearances.)
When you are not sleeping, the park offers much to do during the day. Clearly, you could drag the kiddos to visit one of the many, many wineries lining the Napa Valley (we will be doing this in June, have no fear!), but you could also take the very short trail to visit the Native American Plant Garden, located near the main entrance. There is also a visitor center, open weekends and busy weekdays.
Bothe-Napa also offers a solid variety of trails for all levels of hikers. The History Trail leads from the day use area at the park to the Bale Grist Mill Historic Park. It’s about a mile there, making it just under 2 miles roundtrip. In this short hike the trail climbs a bit through some wooded areas (not so much that a hearty preschooler couldn’t handle it), and then meanders through meadows, crossing a stream that is already dry. Wildflowers still line the trail, but get on it– they won’t be there for long! Another lovely trail for small people is just following the Redwood Trail up Ritchey Creek, and then switching over to the Ritchey Canyon Trail. You could just wander these trails and have yourself a lovely afternoon with a few redwoods and riparian loveliness. If you and your hikers are ready to be challenged, the South Fork to Coyote Peak trails will give you a good bit of climbing and tricky footing.
Beyond the camping though, there is also a seasonal SWIMMING POOL! It was not open when we went, but from Memorial Day through Labor Day, it’s open weekends from 12-6, with an extra charge. (July through mid-August, it’s actually open on Fridays, too). We were up there on a weekend last summer and loved the pool. It’s spring-fed and feels wonderful on a hot day (of which there are many in Calistoga during the summer). Last summer, we noticed that there were very few people when the pool first opened until around 2:00ish, so if you would like less people with your pool experience, go on the earlier side. However, even at 2pm on a Saturday, it wasn’t too crazy, so you can easily do a hike in the morning and then lounge at the pool in the afternoon.
What’s the downside of Bothe-Napa, you ask? Well, for one, poison oak is not suffering at this park. If you don’t know what it is, familiarize yourself with it before going, because there’s plenty. This is fairly normal for California hiking, but it seems particularly ubiquitous here. Also, while Bothe-Napa does not seem as impacted as Samuel P. Taylor, it’s pretty much the only campground in the Napa Valley, and it’s not a secret. This means that if you want to get in on the camping action, you’ll need to plan ahead. And by plan ahead, I mean months ahead. I managed to snag one of the last campsites on a weekend in June in February. So if you want a yurt, put it on your Google calendar with a few reminders and then type like a madperson.
Remember though– even if you don’t go camping, it’s a worthy destination– beautiful trails plus a nice swim, post-hike? This is hard to beat!
Bothe-Napa is dog-friendly in the campground (on leash) but not on the trails.