The Where, When & How of Camping with Kids in San Diego

Before baby, my husband and I were adventure-seeking, camping addicts. We agreed that having kids would not stop us from journeying to the wilderness, but let me tell you, the tiny humans do tend to make things a bit more complicated. Last weekend we took our now 3-year old on his 6th camping trip. I’m now confident in saying that we’ve mastered the successful family camping trip after a bit of trial and error. If you’re ready to take the plunge and enjoy some camping this summer, read on to learn about my tips for camping with a toddler in San Diego!

Where to camp: Green Valley Area Campground. Whether this is your first camping trip, or your fifteenth, you cannot go wrong with Green Valley Campground. Although it’s less than 45 minutes from San Diego, you’ll feel like you’ve escaped to a rustic mountain retreat (especially if you can sneak away mid-week!). Almost all of the sites are shaded by mature oak trees, and offer unique features such as boulders or Manzanita groves, perfect for toddler exploration. There is a picnic table and fire ring at each site, and nearby bathrooms with flushing toilets and, ahem, hot pay showers. You may think that hot showers at a campground are an over-the-top camping luxury, but I assure you that after layers of sunscreen, bug spray, and dirt, you’ll be glad you brought a few quarters!

At 4,000 feet elevation, the warm days are perfect for water play in the camp’s cascades & pools, and the cool nights set the mood for campfires & sleeping bags. The short, but scenic hike to the campground’s falls are what really make Green Valley stand out as the perfect family adventure. Pack up your picnic lunch, bring plenty of water, and head out for an easy hike to the falls. Make sure to pack water shoes and a towel to take a dip in the pools on a hot day, keeping in mind that the falls dry up towards the end of summer. In the late summer months, the days can get hot with little-to-no water in the pools, so make sure you do your research before setting your expectations too high.

Green Valley campsites will run you $30 per night (make sure you bring exact cash). Check in time is 2pm, and check out is 12pm. They do enforce a maximum occupancy of 8 people per campsite (babies and children included), and additional vehicles will run you an extra $10. The campground fills up on weekends, so reservations are a must, and can be made online at Reserve America. If you go mid-week, like we do, chances are you will not need to make a reservation.

Other things to do or see. Bring your child’s trike or scooter. With minimal traffic flowing through the campground, it’s a great place to do a few laps and burn energy. Bring sand toys and a bucket to play in the dirt and collect items from your nature treasure hunt. If there is no water in the falls, drive another 15 minutes up Hwy 79 to Lake Cuyumaca where you can rent paddle boats, kayaks, and go fishing, or continue on up a few more miles to the quaint town of Julian for some lunch and apple pie!

If this is one of your first family camping trips, here are a few of my must-have suggestions to make your adventure a bit more enjoyable:

  • A screened-in porch tent, such as the Coleman Evanston. Having a kid, likely means you have packed a LOT of gear. The covered “porch” on your tent is the perfect place to store your bags, without leaving them out in the open overnight, or taking up room inside your tent. It is also the perfect spot for your kiddo to play off the dirt or out of the sun if you need a bit of a break from the elements. Lastly, we’ve learned the hard way that critters tend to come around at night, and have figured out how to open coolers and bags. With a screen in porch, you can protect your things at night, without having to lug your stuff back and forth to the car.
  • A solar-heated portable camp shower.  Even if you don’t plan to “shower” with it, this portable shower heats water up quickly in the sun, and is ideal for hand & face washing, as well as rinsing dishes. Faucets can be found at the campground every few sites, but the water is cold, and dragging your toddler or dishes down isn’t always the easiest option. Fill up this 5-gallon bladder in your bathtub at home, and have readily available warm water right at your site!
  • A toddler air mattress. This one from The Shrunks is our favorite since it fits a standard crib sheet and provides the toddler rails that keep your kiddo from slipping off the side.
  • Headlamps and/or flashlights. Make sure to bring an extra one for your toddler since they will likely want to use it for hours and drain the batteries pretty quickly!
  • Toddler binoculars. These binoculars by GeoSafari are great for exploring, and encouraging your child to take extra notice of the nature around them…and, we are giving one lucky reader a chance to win a pair for your next trip! These offer comfy fit goggles, blocking out distractions around them and providing a focus-free viewing experience.
  • Tent heater. OK maybe not a must, but this tent heater has sure come in handy for those cooler nights and early morning outfit changes. Pop the heater on for a few minutes before climbing into those sleeping bags, or in the early morning hours when you’re getting ready for the day ahead.

We’d love to hear about your family camping adventures! Comment below for your chance to win a pair of our favorite toddler binoculars to take on your next trip!

If you have camped with kids before, comment with either:

A) One piece of advice for camping with kids, or if this will be your first trip,

B) What you are looking forward to most on your first family camping trip!

10 thoughts on “The Where, When & How of Camping with Kids in San Diego

  1. Bianca says:

    My advice is to just go and don’t stress too much about the little things. Sounds like a life mantra, but I think the most important thing is just t get out there and get our children outdoors. The kids don’t need much. It’s really us that seem to need more for our comfort. Dress in layers and bring s’mores supplies!

  2. Michelle says:

    My family loves smores. My advice is make a list and don’t forget the skewers. And paper towels!!

  3. Jessica Felizola says:

    My son is currently just over 2.5, his favorite place where he’s happiest is outside, he loves to hike and collect rocks and flowers. I can’t wait for him to experience camping for the first time. We go in October. He turns 3 in September.

  4. Darcy A says:

    We bring printed scavenger hunt sheets and love going on hikes to see if we can find all of the items. Kids just love narture & family time, so anything you do with them, they’ll love the bonding experience. We love camping at Lake Henshaw, you can hike, fish, swim and go boating.

  5. Brenda says:

    I grew up camping with my family and can’t wait to go with my wife and our 2.5 year old. We had planned a mother’s day camping trip but the weather (snow) in Mt. Laguna changed our plans. I will look into the Green Valley Campsite. What kind of cridders are you talking about? LOL

  6. Jessica says:

    I’m looking forward to being out in nature. We don’t have a backyard so we are always looking for opportunities to get our little explorers outside. This sounds like a perfect camp site. We will check it out. Thanks for the tips 🙂

  7. Hannah says:

    I grew up camping with all the men in my family involved in scouts and the military, and have missed it! My husband hasn’t really camped, and I’ve not been tempted to try while pregnant, but I’m hoping this summer to go out with our two year old daughter and soon to be born son. I’m most looking forward to watching both kids explore. Since I have very hard pregnancies, my toddler has been stuck at home with me for months. I am so excited to watch her experience reality with all five senses! And my son, too! With our first I think I was a little overprotective, but I have loosened up and want our son to, from birth, touch different textures, and just feel the outdoors! I’ve realized it doesn’t break a baby if you don’t wash your hands

  8. Carol says:

    Trying to work up the courage to take my 1 and 4 year old camping . I’m looking forward to share the love of the outdoors with them

  9. momsguide says:

    As the mom of elementary aged kids, what I have been amazed to see is how neither of them asks for any form of technology when we are camping. They revel in finding sticks, riding bikes, building camp fires, watching birds and bugs, etc. etc. We all feel so rejuvenated after a weekend outdoors. I highly recommend it, and there are many ways to “glamp” and get similar benefits for those families who might need to ease into the idea of camping.

  10. Dana crake says:

    A. For us, the key to camping was a manageable drive time to location. We had to break up a 7 hour drive into 2 days travel. And overnighted somewhere. It made it easier on us. Once we got to our location, going for a walk or a bike ride, or play time before setting up camp was also helpful. It’s important to keep in mind the children need to stretch out after a long drive. 🙂

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