Camping with infants or small children is hardly a relaxing vacation, but the adventure of being (mostly) “unplugged” in nature IS well worth the hassle. For now, while long car rides or even air travel can be challenging, our family has found a few local campsites that get us away from it all for a weekend of fresh air with our kiddos!
We own a small travel trailer which makes camping with little kids much easier. With infants, toddlers or little kids, I recommend renting a motorhome or travel trailer (there are many reliable rentals from dealerships and on Craigslist) which can be delivered right to your site and picked up after your trip. If you decide to use a tent for camping, consider an electrical site so you can use fans or heaters for added family comfort!
Here are the Hainlens's top 5 local campgrounds for camping with small children:
Caspers Wilderness Park: Located in San Juan Capistrano, this Orange County Regional park is simple to reserve, easy to find and gives the sensation of being miles from civilization. If you're new to camping, it's worth a call to the campground to ask about sites before you book – certain, outer sites have lots of cactus and a sheer drop into the dry riverbed! The campground offers an awesome, 3-story nature center with tons of interactive displays, perky rangers and views for miles with the use of their free telescopes. Down the hill from the nature center is a large playground with a tire swing, a zip line, a dinosaur dig and a see-saw. In addition to these fun adventures, Caspers is home to several easy, safe and educational hiking trails where your kids can learn about local plants and indigenous Native American roots. The campsites are large and good for groups (no dogs, though).
O'Neil Regional Park: Like Caspers, this is an Orange County Regional Park, making it easy to book and close to home! This park is located just outside of Rancho Santa Margarita in Trabuco Canyon and is near to several of RSM's amenities like restaurants and a Target. The spots here have less shade and there are no electrical sites. If you opt to camp here, consider a trip in the fall or early spring because the campground can get very hot. There is a playground, several easy hiking trails plus a Nature Center offering interactive programs for kids. You can even reserve a guided nature tour for your family.
San Onofre State Beach, San Mateo Campground: This campground is very near to San Clemente and is inland from it's companion campground, San Onofre State Beach. Located a ½ mile from famed surf spot, Trestles Beach, accessing the beach from the campground is a simple drive or a moderate hike along a dedicated path. This park is perfect for campers who like to surf or visit the beach (without the stress of booking a much-coveted beach campground site!). The campground offers shade, electrical sites, and excellent bike-riding opportunities for beginners. The best feature of this park is that it's ideal for large groups since many of the best sites back up to each other on a green belt. While there are no dedicated kid-amenities at San Mateo, there is an amphitheater that offers kid-friendly nature programs, easy hiking/biking around the large park, the opportunity for a fun beach day at Trestles or San Onofre and possibly a quick trip to the nearby San Clemente pier for ice cream!
Guajome Regional Park: This is a San Diego County Park located in Oceanside. A quick 7 miles inland from the Oceanside Harbor on the easy-to-drive 76 freeway, this park is ideal for new campers and small children. The campground offers two large play structures, a lake with fishing, easy bike trails, tons of beautiful trees/greenery, electrical sites and even a family cabin! And, even though you're “away from it all” here, a 5-minute drive puts you at a Wal-Mart (perfect if you've forgotten/overlooked supplies), a Vons, a Starbucks and, our personal favorite, an In and Out – which we always build into one meal. There truly are no bad sites here (which make it great for novice campers), but the best ones are across the back of the park. For serious bikers (with trailers or iBerts for young kids), there is a dedicated bike from the campground right into Oceanside Harbor which makes for a fun and active family day!
Dos Picos Regional Park: Like Guajome, this is a San Diego County Park located in Ramona. The drive from Orange County is only two hours, but the remote hills and sprawling ranch countryside makes this destination feel a world away. The park is a perfect destination for young campers and families new to camping. There are all types of campsites: electric, group, tent and even a few cabins. Most sites are well shaded, very spacious and easy to access. The public restrooms/showers are very clean and the many loops of the park make it ideal for bike riding. A short walk will put campers at a vast playground and lovely lake for fishing. The rangers host several kid-friendly shows and programs and are extremely vigilant about noisy campers at night. While this is not a great campground for rowdy groups, families with young children will appreciate the quiet, family-oriented atmosphere. Watch out for rattlesnakes if you are in more remote sites and if you're tent camping with no electricity, consider this one for fall or early spring.
Have an amazing summer & happy camping!!