|Dates Camped: June 12-14, 2009|
|Check current conditions: Park Staff (951) 659-2607.|
|Reservations: Call (800) 444-7275 or reserve online|
I grew up camping and hiking all over the western U.S. with my family; it was pretty much the only way my parents could afford family vacations for us. And those trips remain some of my fondest childhood memories. So, I know from experience how good camping can be for kids and families.
But, I’ve paid my dues sleeping on tent floors and using primitive outhouses. Camping just isn’t my thing anymore. I’d much rather rent a cabin in the woods or a motorhome now. However, that can get expensive and does limit where we can stay. So, my new rule is that I will give in to occasional camping trips, but they have to have flush toilets, showers, and restrooms that are cleaned every day (like I said, I’ve paid my dues roughing it). What does this usually leave us with? …California State Parks. Having spent most of my childhood camp trips in national parks, I was surprised to discover how much nicer the facilities are in our own state parks. Let’s just hope that this level of cleanliness, convenience and service remains intact in California’s current budget crisis.
For Father’s Day weekend, in 2009, Jeff and I took the kids to Mount San Jacinto State Park as our first “family” camp trip (this was exactly 8 weeks before our wedding). We invited my 12-year old niece Jade for the whole weekend. And my parents and 16-year old niece Vivian (who live nearby) came up for part of the weekend as well.
Mount San Jacinto SP is about 2 hours from Los Angeles or San Diego, and is located in the second highest mountain range in Southern California (high enough to get snow during winter). It contains part of the Pacific Crest Trail and is accessible from the Palm Springs Tramway. There are two campgrounds within the park, Stone Creek and Idyllwild. We opted for the Idyllwild Campground since it’s walking distance to the town of Idyllwild (one of my favorite Southern California towns), and the kids hadn’t visited the town yet.
The Idyllwild Campground was just perfect for our family. The campground was very clean, including the restrooms and showers, and the ranger station had bundles of wood for sale each night. The sites were spacious enough for two vehicles and two tents (we went with a regular drive-in family site), included plenty of shade, had enough shrubs between each site to offer privacy, and provided a storage box that could be locked up when leaving camp for the day.
We did not do as much hiking as we’d hoped, because Hunter and Jade were both sick, and I was dehydrated from the mountain air. But, we did squeeze in a couple short hikes, took the kids off-roading, and spent our final afternoon wandering through the town of Idyllwild.
The kids loved the campground and the park. And, I’m sure we’d go back for another weekend if we could find hiking trails that allow leashed dogs. One of our constant sources of frustration is that California State Parks allow dogs in the campgrounds, but not on the trails (not sure if they think campers don’t hike, or if they expect us to leave our dog unattended in the campground). So, although we love our state parks, we don’t visit them anymore since getting a dog.