Adventures Camping

Camping – Del Valle Regional Park

We just got back from our first camping trip in years. It was a mix of awesome, exhausting, and disastrous. Here’s my post adventure recap. I’m hoping that by reflecting on what happened, I can make the next trip easier, more fun, and reduce the chances of completely falling apart (which this one definitely did). I’ll post a separate article about the gear and supplies we brought, what worked, and what didn’t, and how I’m going improve the process.


Getting There

First, what happened… The plan was for the kids and me to leave on Friday after school, have Jason join us on Saturday – possibly for the night (we planned to make this a game time decision after dinner). We were supposed to come home on Sunday. We had super yummy meals planned, a bunch of new equipment to play with, and, well, that was it. We’d go, sleep out, look at the stars, eat fabulous food, and find things to do in the park during the day.

Friday was a bit crazy – I worked my rear end off all day getting ready for it. If I only had camping prep to do that day, I would have been ok. Instead, I had an unusually long home chore list that I needed to get done, and a few unavoidable errands. As a result, I wasn’t ready as soon as school was out, and we left about an hour later than I’d hoped (after me working somewhat frantically for most of the day). We also had to make a grocery store stop on the way for ice and wood. Our local parks require store bought wood because of disease – Sudden Oak Death is a big problem out here in California.

We finally were actually on our way and discovered there was some traffic. As a result, we finally got to the campground about 6:00. We got there, got the tent set up, and sleeping pads and bags for the kids ready (I left my sleeping pad for later). The kids were awesome, helpful, and excited.

Dinner Time

Then they went exploring while I started dinner. That meant fire first – and without kindling, it meant I had to process some of the wood down, which was fun, but took a while. With the fire going, I got the food ready, steaks on the grill, and the table set up with our camp plates etc. The steaks were frozen solid – which I knew they would be. I cook steaks from frozen all the time; they get better char on the outside before the inside gets too well done.

Between the morning packing marathon, the cap set up, the firewood processing, and the constant up and down, back and forth, lift and carry, and no seriously comfortable place to rest… my muscles were letting me know that they were a bit shocked with my decision making. My back and legs especially were fatigued to the point of trembling.

Meanwhile, the kids had a ball exploring a dry creek bed. They saw deer, rabbits, vultures, blue birds, and woodpeckers. When started to get dark, most everything was set up and ready, but the steaks were still frozen in the center. Dinner finally arrived, and it was pretty close to full dark – but it was delicious. The kids had had a ball, and I was feeling exhausted but accomplished.

A Great Night Sleep (for some)

The stars were amazing, and we got to see bats! That was awesome. My youngest also saw his first shooting star. He’s super into space, plants, stars, and astronauts, so that was exciting. Bed time went off without a hitch, and the kids went to sleep in record time. Me, not so much.

My sleeping set up was quite comfy with a new sleeping pad and cheap but perfectly fine new sleeping bag. My exhausted body, however, could have used a good leisurely stretch before bed. My exhausted mind was not really capable of making that happen. As a result, I was achy. Then, the couple in the neighboring camp finished their own dinner and camp set up… and started chatting. Which they continued to do – punctuated by loud laughter – until about 2am. So, to say I slept poorly would be an understatement.


We woke about 6:30, and I managed to keep everyone snuggled up in the tent talking softly until about 7:00. We emerged into the world because we saw deer traveling through the campsite onto the dry riverbed next to us. The kids got up to stalk them, and proceeded to have a fantastic time again for several hours. I got to use my new twig stove to make coffee – which required more wood processing and way more time than I expected. Because I was using a live fire, we couldn’t take the dinner dishes over to the camp’s cleaning station until after the coffee was done. As a result, Coffee and breakfast (bacon and eggs) took way longer than it should have.

Breakfast, clean up, and changing into day clothes was finally complete about 10:30. Because it took so long, two things happened that kind of messed up the morning. The kids mowed through most of the good snacks, and I was exhausted to the point of trembling muscles again. I decided to rest in the car for a while, as it was the only comfortable place to sit.

Saturday – Before the Melt Down

After breakfast, I started waffling about whether we should go exploring or wait for Jason. The camp ground is deep in a valley and has absolutely no cell service, so I really had no idea when to expect him and no way to check. While I waffled, the kids started to get bored. We finally decided to go on a scouting mission in the car so that when Jason got there, we had a plan. We piled in the car and set off… and passed Jason on the way out of the camp ground. We flipped a U, and lead Jason through the maze of the camp ground, and finally were all at the campsite together.

It turned out that he had had to deal with a crazy line, waiting more than an hour just to get past the park’s entry kiosk. So, we spent another hour or so chatting with the kids reporting out all the details so far, and giving him a tour of the camp and the river bed where they’d made a cairn of all the coolest looking rocks they’d found. When the catch-up was done, it was lunch time… and I discovered I’d left the sausages at home. We had plenty of random things, and I cobbled together a buffet of leftover steak and bacon, a salad, veggies and dip, and hot dog bun/salami sandwiches. While there was plenty to eat, the kids definitely didn’t eat as much as they would have if we’d had the sausages, and I think this was truly the beginning of the downhill slide.


Lunch over and cleaned up, we finally got back on the road to check out a swimming beach that was not far away. It turned out to be a hit – a gravel beach, cool water, and a very gradual slope with lots of wading room. We played and swam for a couple of hours before piling back in the car to get back to camp in time to chill out before we started dinner.

And Then…

And then… the steep descent. The kids were bored and cranky, I was tired and cranky, and Jason was deciding whether he was going to stay the night, or take off after dinner (which was something we’d planned to decide on site). Because of the state of affairs, I (unwisely) introduced the idea of cutting the trip short and going home early. It was a huge mistake. After a ton of discussion, one kid wanted to go, one kid wanted to stay, and they both wanted me to be with them. I tried very hard to gently bring consensus, and failed miserably. We ended up leaving, and by the time we did, we were in complete chaos. All of us were super upset. We recovered slightly on the way home and at home the recovery was accelerated by the introduction of pizza for all and beer for some. Both kids fell asleep, one in the car, and one on the couch after we got home. By the time we went to bed, we were all reasonably recovered.

Root Cause Analysis

Now, it’s the next morning, and I’m going to spend the day processing. Part of the processing is this recap, I’m also going to do a separate post where I review what worked and what didn’t, and make some changes to our gear and packing set up. In the midst of the writing, I’m also going to clean and re-pack our gear, hopefully in a way that makes our next trip physically easier for me, and with some added equipment to avoid some of the problems we had this time.

At the end of the weekend, most of the experience (while exhausting) was really wonderful. The animal sightings, stalking of turkey and deer, bats, shooting stars, food, swimming, exploration, swimming, and comfy wonderful snuggles at bedtime and in the morning were fantastic. Really, the only disastrous part was after I introduced the question of going home early. Next time, no questions – we’ll stay. I’m already trying to make the good memories more lasting than the bad by talking about them and asking the kids about the bits they liked. I’ll continue that for the next couple of days, and our next trip will be soon – and end better!

Interesting bits:

We stayed at the Del Valle Regional Park family campground. The place is well maintained with water, garbage, and recycling stations scattered around in convenient locations. There were bathrooms, showers, and a large outdoor sink for washing dishes. There was always a line for the dishwashing sink when we went, but it was never more than 10 minutes or so.

There’s a campground store with ice, wood, snacks, and a small but well selected selection of camping stuff. Tent stakes, repair kits, paracord, can openers, lighters and matches… most of the things that it would ruin a trip to forget or break were available here. It also had ice cream – which was the only thing that we bought there.

We learned from the relative ease of our entry (we waited behind one car) and Jason’s (he waited more than an hour), that we’ll always come on Friday instead of Saturday morning. We also decided that while the campsite that we chose was good, the one next to it was probably the best in the campground. We’ll take that one next time.

Like all parks around us, you have to be aware of the fire danger. The park district assesses the threat and updates its fire warning level daily. We were fortunate to be able to use fire both days, but limited to fires in the fire pit.


Camping: The park has family camping, group camps, and horse camping (which is super cool). The campground has tent, RV, and tent cabin sites. While we were passing by, we noticed that at least some of the cabins have air conditioning… which seems like cheating, but we were still jealous.

Water sports: the park is home to a big lake, and there are swimming beaches (and you’re only allowed to swim at these beaches), a boat ramp – with boat rentals, and fishing. The lake is stocked with trout and catfish, and has natural populations of bass and panfish. Like all EBRP lakes, you need a California fishing license. In Del Valle, you also need a Fishing Access Permit.

Picnics: there are picnic spots, some of them with enough tables for large groups. You can reserve picnic locations by calling the EBRP reservation line (888) 327-2757.

Hiking: There are tons of trails, and since the park is a valley, some of them are steep (climbing the sides), and some are gentle (following the contours of the valley). Many of the trails are also available for horseback riding.

Getting there:

The campgrounds are accessible via the park’s main entrance (coordinates: 37.58024014512595, -121.68549006554002). Google maps will also lead you straight to Del Valle Family Campground. Remember to download the map, as there’s no cell service in the park.

Camping reservations are available by phone (888) 327-2757 or online via Reserve America. A quick check shows me that even with just a week’s notice, there are tons of spaces available.