Camping in Big Sur With Kids

Pre-kids, Doug and I went camping quite a bit. We even bought our huge F-250 partly so we could set up an air mattress in the back and avoid the whole tent situation. We hadn’t been brave enough to try camping with kids until 2014 and even then we only took then 4.5-year-old Reece on a camping trip to the Sequoias because we were fearful of Emme waking up the whole campground during her screaming phase (a “phase” she still hasn’t outgrown, unfortunately).

While Reece enjoyed that camping trip, we learned a few things about what to do better next time. Mainly, he really wanted to hang out at the campsite all the time. We had picked a beautiful area for hiking, but we needed to drive out of the campgrounds in order to do that and it took some convincing each time. Also, he hates to walk, so hiking is not always the best option with him.

Finally, with Emme at 3.5, we thought both kids would be ready, but we knew we needed to pick a campground that we could stay at for most of the trip without needing to drive anywhere. I remembered a camping trip to Big Sur Doug and I had done pre-kids and how at the time I thought it would be a great place to take them. So we looked it up and were fortunate to find any availability during the summer since it gets booked up quickly. My memory served me well and Big Sur Campground turned out to be a great place for a family camping trip.

Big Sur is just about a two-hour drive from Silicon Valley with some gorgeous views along the way. The kids are accustomed to getting to use electronics on long car rides only, but we told them that we were going camping, so no electronics were allowed (aside from a few Pokemon checks on my phone at bathroom stops–not once we got to the scenic parts). With scenery like this, getting there was part of the fun.

Rocky Creek Bridge Highway 1

Rocky Creek Bridge Highway 1 Highway 1 family pic Rocky Creek Bridge Highway 1

Bixby Bridge sign

The Big Sur Campground itself was amazing–beautiful redwoods, friendly staff, cool playground, river to play in with tubes to rent, clean bathrooms and free coffee. Since we booked so late, our campsite itself was just “eh,” but the whole place is beautiful in the middle of the redwoods and we were just happy to be there at all. If you go, book far in advance and try to get a campsite right next to the creek.

One of my favorite things about the trip was how much freedom we were able to give the kids. The playground was close to our campsite and we just sent them over there to play on their own.

Brother sister at Big Sur Campground

When I went over there at one point to remind Reece of some rules and not to go off with anyone, etc, he practically rolled his eyes at me and was like “Mom, all the other kids are here all by themselves too!” He was right and it was pretty neat.

Playground at Big Sur Campground

We also sent them over to the little camp store to buy cookies and ice cream cones on their own a couple times. It was nice to give them that freedom and responsibility and I think they learned a lot from it.

Ice cream by the creek Big Sur Campground

Not to mention it was pretty great for me and Doug to hang out around the fire together with glasses of wine in the evening while the kids were off playing. It was a much more relaxing experience than I had anticipated, since we didn’t have to figure out how to keep the kids entertained all the time.

reading by the campfire in Big Sur
Dirty camp feet and reading The Nest

Mornings were pretty chilly, but the marine layer burned off fairly quickly, giving us nice warm afternoons at the creek. The tubes were fun to float down the river on, although, Emme was scared over some of the “rapids.”

Floating in tubes on the river at Big Sur Campground

Drinking beer by the creek
Emme looks like she’s the one who’s been drinking!

Since it had been awhile since I planned camping meals, I was really unsure of what to make. Once we were there, I realized that simple is perfect.

There’s nothing like a big, hearty breakfast when camping, so we went all out for breakfast with pancakes, eggs and bacon.

mixing pancake batter camping
Mixing pancake batter

Lunches were simply sandwiches and fruit since they are easy to transport in case we wanted to eat them down by the creek or while on a hike.

Dinner one night was steak cooked on the hibachi we brought with corn and sautéed veggies that we cooked the camp stove.

Steak dinner camping

The next night, we had a fun dinner cooking hot dogs wrapped in crescent rolls over the campfire.

hog dogs in crescent rolls camping dinner

I highly recommend this one since it was a huge hit a fun thing to do while camping. We also had corn and salad to go with it.

Overall, it was a successful camping trip and the kids were kind of bummed to go home. I, however, was super excited to take a shower at home. The camp showers were nice, but we got so dirty almost immediately after that it seemed pointless. I’m looking forward to our next camping trip here since we all had so much fun.

We’ll probably hold off another year until we go again to see if Emme does better during the night. Even though we had practiced sleeping in a tent with a backyard campout before we went, she did not do well at the campground. The first night she woke up crying and unsettled about every 20 minutes for a few hours. Then she woke up at 4am to go potty, acting like normal as if she had snapped out of it….almost like she wasn’t actually awake the other times. In the morning she didn’t even remember it. The second night she woke up like that again, but was screaming quite loudly and Doug had to bring her into the truck at 1am for about an hour so that she wouldn’t disturb the campground. She mostly settled into sleep after that, but still woke up a few times crying with me having to calm her down.

I’m not sure how people go camping with younger kids, but a lot do it, so maybe they just have quieter children than we do?? Would love to hear your tips for what has worked well for your family with camping!

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Comments 2

  • Looks like a fun trip. I’m hesitant to camp as an adult so certainly no camping with children tips here! I have to admit though your take on the camping experience does make it sound quite enjoyable!!

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