Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Backpacking with Kids at Point Reyes National Seashore

Oh what an adventure! My buddy Catherine is an active, brave mom and asked if I was up for an overnight backpacking trip...with the kids (Marek 6, Gracie 6, and Myra 4.5). Without thinking too long I said YES! Catherine reserved a spot at Coast Camp in the Point Reyes National Seashore in West Marin. Coast camp includes vault toilets and fresh water, with a picnic table and a food locker at each site. Perfect for a first-time backpacking trip with the kids. West Marin is very special, with miles of beautiful ocean and amazing hikes, bays and beaches to explore.

Marek and Myra haven't done a ton of hiking, and none recently, so I took them out on a test hike. I let them know we were going backpacking and we needed to do a little training. The hike I took them on was less than two miles total but a bit hillier than we would face in Point Reyes.

I did a bit of research and at this age all they can really carry is a daypack, lightly loaded. I got them both a Tarn 18 daypack from REI and purchased a separate hydration pack to put in it. They loved having water at the ready and stayed well hydrated. I also got them each a Sea to Summit Delta bowl and lid, and Teva sandals to wear at camp. A bit of a splurge but other than the sandals, they'll be using this gear for years to come. Heck, they might use the bowls forever.

So I put their packs on 'em and out we went.

Ready mom!

I love seeing my kids in nature
On our way toward the (dry) waterfall, Marek was behind me when I heard a shout of "Mommy!", turned back to see him frozen. "Snake, mommy, there's a s-s-snake." Marek was standing still just a few feet behind me. He pointed to the snake next to the trail. I mean right next to it, a couple feet from his feet. The snake was coiled up, looked relaxed, but was doing that tongue thing where it pops in and out of its mouth. Marek was scared, tears were starting to stream. I reached back, asked him to take my hand, which he did, and I gently pulled/led him past the snake.

Far past the snake and our adrenaline was pumping, he was still crying, and so we sat down to take a breather. After we calmed a bit I went back to snap a picture, if I could, of the snake. By now it was slithering away and I could only see his body but...oh my, I saw something on his tail that got my attention.

Yep, that's a rattler. Wow, I shouldn't have led Marek past the snake. We had an option of him walking back and going around another way, had I known it was a rattlesnake, I would have done that. Now I know, Michelle does not know diddly about snakes, assume the worst.

The rest of the hike was less eventful. We arrived at the site of the waterfall, which was bone dry of course. Enjoyed a snack while talking about the drought, and then made the return trip. We were careful when got to where the snake had been, surveying the area before passing through. After we passed I looked around for it and saw him coiled up in some leaves. I snapped this picture (yes, major zoom, I was nowhere near that close to the snake).

What a story the kids had to tell. My story was good too - test hike was a success. Their packs were comfortable, they love having hydration packs, and I felt good about our upcoming backpacking trek.

Tuesday came quickly and we were up early to pack for our adventure. Catherine and Gracie came to the house and eventually, we all piled in the car for the hour drive to Point Reyes.

We stopped at the Bear Valley Visitor's Center to pick up our permit.

"Primary method of travel: Foot" (I love it!)
The kids ate lunch in the car as we drove the final 20 minutes to the trailhead. The kids carried their water, a change of clothes, toothbrush/paste, and a snack. I carried a tent, all three sleeping bags and pads, clothes, the tiny stove, and a few other things. It wasn't too bad, only stuff for one night.

Ok, we're packed up and ready to go!

It was a sunny day with few clouds in the sky. The plan was to bribe the kids with candy every half-mile.

The hike in went beautifully. A few whines here and there, less shade than we wanted, and somewhere between miles 2 and 3 Catherine and I ended up carrying all the backpacks, but on the whole, wonderful. We came upon a deer munching on some vegetation, found funny-looking bugs, and otherwise enjoyed the walk, and the building excitement as we got closer to our destination.

It took us 2 hours, 7 minutes to walk 3 flat, easy miles - roughly 45 minutes per mile. Here's a Garmin screenshot of our hike. And bonus, no rattlesnakes!

We arrived at camp and starting setting up, and when the whine level started to escalate, we dropped everything and took the kids to the beach, a 2 minute walk from camp. And the real fun ensued!

We love you Grace Ann!

Playing with kelp

When it comes to kids and backpacking, a lake, river or ocean nearby is essential. They ran, jumped, dug and played until hunger started calling.

Myra running near our campsite
Our campsite is in the distance (near the porta potty bathrooms)
Back at camp and I realized...I forgot the pot to boil water. This was bad because all our food was dehydrated. Luckily, we had angels for camp neighbors, who happened to have two kids, a 6 year old boy and 2 year old daughter. They saved us with a pot, and with some extra food when our kids were still hungry after eating everything we brought. But they really made our night when they made s'mores! They'd gotten to camp on bikes, making several trips with a bike trailer so they had way more stuff than we did. Thank goodness!

The kids happily eating mediocre dehydrated mac-n-cheese
I'll spare you our tale of woe regarding food, but let's just say I learned a thing or two about how much to bring as well as the importance of measuring water and following cooking directions. Bottom line, with the kindness of strangers, all was good.


And then suddenly, I needed to sleep. I brought my two-man tent (aka a one-woman-and-two-kids-tent), two Thermarest Ridgerest Classic pads for the kids, and my beloved Big Agnes air pad. That, plus three sleeping bags and I think we were all snoozing within 10 minutes. I slept really well and lucky me, no kids up asking for a mid-sleep trip to the bathroom! Score!!

The kids were up early, getting hot chocolate from the neighbors and eating the Lucky Charms we brought. I slept a little late but eventually got up and took the kids back to the beach. The fog hadn't burned off, it was a little chillier than yesterday, but the kids still splashed and played their hearts out.

After the beach, we packed up and started our return trek to the car.

Me and my babes

I wish I could tell you what a lovely hike out we had. And I guess some of it was lovely, but mostly the kids were tired and hungry. Marek and Myra cried all of Mile 2. All of it. It began over Marek getting an m&m that was not his preferred color. And Myra eventually joined in for reasons unknown. The crying got louder, but they never stopped walking and as long as they were walking, I was happy. Happy, because I had no plan to get them back to the car if they staged a rebellion. And I was hungry too.

Something about the Mile 3 break did the trick, no more tears. Again, bring more food, I think more snacks could have helped. Lesson learned. But we made it! Our maiden backpacking voyage was a success!!! We dropped our packs, hopped in the car and drove to Point Reyes Station for a much deserved late lunch, and then home for the evening. What a day, I was exhausted, but happy. We all were.

What a life I have. I lost weight, and I gained this life. Not always easy, but always worth it.


  1. I loved reading about your hike! It sounds great, and wonderful that you can share these excursions with your little ones. You've come so far, Michelle – always an inspiration to me. xo

  2. Sounds like you had quite the adventure! The rattlesnake incident looked pretty scary. Here in the UK we have maybe the odd grass snake and these are very small and (as far as I'm aware) not dangerous. Lovely photos :-)

    1. It was an adventure. And had I known it was a rattler I would have freaked out way more. Thanks for reading :)

  3. Wow, what an experience! The location is beautiful! My kids are only 2 & (almost) 4, but I hope to take them on trips like this when they get a little older.

    1. It's so fun, and chock full of awesome life lessons for the littles!

  4. That looks like so much fun. What a beautiful place! I would have fainted if I saw that snake...EEEK!!

    1. It was a blast! I had to be brave for my boy :-)

  5. what an amazing trip to have with your babies!!! i love the life you have gained for yourself AND for your children! be so proud of yourself!


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