“When are we going camping again?” “I want to sleep in a tent!” “I love camping, why don’t you take us?” Since our Pinnacles adventure almost three years ago, I haven’t broken out the camping gear and tried camping again. Sure I’ve put the tent up in a backyard. And I’ve broken out the sleeping bags for the kids to sleep on the floor…in their room. But camping? Really camping? With a tent, fire, and being outdoors? No, we haven’t ventured to try that again. So when my friend suggested a one night camping trip for the end of June, I decided to join her. It was short, close by, and let me tell the kids that yes, we would go camping again.
Her husband was away on a business trip, and my husband doesn’t do camping, so it was a girls + kids trip for us. Being that it was only an hour away from home, we decided to meet at the campsite. So around three in the afternoon, we met up on the windy roads of Mt. Diablo to select a campsite at the Juniper campground. We found a great shady spot not too far from a toilet and water source. We took out her massive tent to put up, and worked to get it up with all the offers of “help” we were getting from the four little ones who could not wait to get inside. Once we got it set up and set up the ground rules (no shoes in tent, door must stay closed), we let the wiggling creatures in to explore the tent, and tried to set up the mats and sleeping bags around them (no easy feat).
Once camp was set up and we established food plans, my best friend sprang a little surprise on me. She was low on gas and didn’t want to risk going around the park that way. She needed to leave the park and get gas. So, being the good friend I am, I loaded all four kids into my car and took them to the Summit while she went out of the park in search of gas. My oldest just passed the car seat requirements, so he sat in front, and the three littler ones lined by back seat, as we all drove up to the top of the mountain to see the views.
At the summit was a sight I was not expecting. The visitor’s center was closed, but there was an amazing observation decks you could climb on. Once up, you could see 360 degree views of the Bay Area. You could see the mountains and hills to the east. In the far west, you could see San Francisco and the Bay and Golden Gate Bridge. You could see the urban sprawl and the vast expanses of land with no development. It was an eerie mix of new and old, wilderness and urban.
The kids grew tired of the views much more quickly than I did, so it was time to head down. But first I had to get four to the rest room (one is still in diapers, but he needed to be with us anyway). Then, we needed to reapply sunscreen to all four (2 are blondes, they really need it), and we had to fill the water bottles for everyone (these kids drink a lot of water). All the while I was making sure the little one didn’t try and climb over railings, fall down cliffs, or just generally stop giving me and everyone around us heart attacks. I have to say the older 3 were well behaved, except for the occasional squabble over who got to hold the water bottle.
My best friend and I agreed to meet at Rock City, which was a little further down the mountains. I arrived before she came, but sent her a text and we went in search of some rocks near the parking lot to climb. We were successful in finding some, and my best friend strolled up while we we conquering some fun ones not too far from the car
Once she arrived, we set off on our first legitimate hike. We went in search of the “big rock”. The path let us along some awesome rock formations that had ledges, small caves, good hand holds for climbing, and generally lots of fun all along the way. We joked about the absolute chaos of the situation with the four kids. While this was a fun place to bring kids, we quickly gave up any semblance of control. They were all over the place, some running ahead, some handing out behind. Sometimes they all wanted to climb the same rock at the same time, sometimes they wanted to be in different places. They argued over who got what place, and who got to do what first. And the littlest one worked his hardest to keep up with the older kids. Watch out for him, nothing will slow that kid down.
Now, what I had not mentioned was the extreme heat of the day. As luck would have it, the weekend we went camping was a heat wave in the Bay Area. It was over 100 degrees when we arrived at Mt. Diablo, and it had only cooled to a stifling 98 by the time we hit Rock City. It quickly became clear the kids were tired and cranky from the heat and not drinking enough water. (It was offered to them, but the heat dried them out that much faster). After about 40 minutes of hiking, we called it, and walked the tired kids back to the cars, and drove back to the campsite.
Once at camp, My best friend brought out her camp stove. Due to the high heat, the fire danger was extreme, and they were only allowing propane stoves, no campfires. We had a one burner stove and dinner to make. Luckily we planned for ease, not necessarily health. We cooked some hotdogs in boiled water, and served them with cherries and blueberries (hey, at least we had something nutritious). While they were eating that, we also made some pasta dinner in a bag as an additional side. These guys were hungry because they ate all the hotdogs we brought and them some of the pasta dinner as well!
Now camping wouldn’t be camping without s’mores! Of course, we can’t have a campfire so..we improvised. We put the camp stove on the campfire grill, and had the kids roast marshmallows over the camp stove 😂. The kids were able to…to a varying degree of success. My daughter, concerned with burning her marshmallow, just “warmed it up”, then ate it with graham crackers. My son was obsessed with making sure it didn’t burn. He didn’t want to start a wild fire. My friends daughter was smart, she had her mom do it for her so it was the perfect goodness. Her little one got a s’more, took a few bites, then tried to hand it back to us and run off covered in melted chocolate! Chaos was the theme of the trip!
Once the kids went to the tent, and we were reasonably sure they fell asleep, we broke open the bottle of wine we snuck in (NOT RECOMMENDED!) and drank and chatted for a bit in peace. While I love traveling with my kids, and encouraging them to explore, this was one of my favorite parts of the trip. Getting one on one time with the woman I’ve know more than half our lives, drinking wine, and talking about our concerns, our dreams, our insecurities, our everything. This is the time I cherish, and these days get too few chances. Unfortunately, we too were tired from the heat and stress of the day, so about ½ way through the bottle we too turned in to get some sleep. We made our way to the tent, and managed to wiggle in between the four kids who had managed to turn and take up all the space at that point.
In the morning, our early birds woke up the rest of the group, but soon we all needed to get out to find a restroom. So we slowly got out, stretched out all the kinks (wow, is my body no longer made for sleeping on the ground), and made our way to the rest room. We then made our way back to camp to make hot chocolate and oatmeal for the kiddos. Then they played while my best friend and I had the hard work of packing up and breaking down camp. When we were done, we looked to see how truly gross our kids were. Mt. Diablo has a red clay dirt, and thanks to the bug spray and general nature of kids, it was stuck all over their bodies and faces. My friend had a party she was going to so she did the best she could with wet wipes. I decided to bring my kids home in PJs and put them directly in the shower once we got home.
Once they were as clean as they were going to be and all was packed in the car, we gave our hugs and headed off down the mountain. The kids were excitedly talking about the fun they had and lamenting that the camping trip was not long enough. I was happy to have spent time with my best friend, my god children, and my children doing something outdoors and fun. But I was also glad to get back into civilization and get my Starbucks. A girl needs her coffee!
- North Gate:1300 North Gate Road, Walnut Creek, 94598
- South Gate: 2675 Mt. Diablo Scenic Blvd. Blackhawk 94506
- Times: Gates open at 8am and close at sunset
- Cost: $10 a day per vehicle
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