The idea started so innocently.

One night while studying the trail map on the living room floor with my five-year-old son, we found the backpacker’s camp within the Monte Bello Open Space Preserve. And that’s when it happened.

As I counted up the distance from the parking area to the backpacker’s camp, I felt the idea hatch and quickly set fire to all parts of my rational thinking. Two miles seemed like something me and my two young boys could handle. I remember looking at my son with a grin, the zealous look of a madman.

When I told my wife that I was thinking of taking the boys for a “guys night backpacking up on top of a ridgeline” she surprised me with an equal amount of enthusiasm. I knew she would be excited about having a night to herself, but she was more excited for us to get out together and do something challenging outside.

If you’ve ever tried it, you’ll know that camping with kids is a lot of work. And backpacking, carrying all of our camping gear on our backs (well, my back), was going to be harder than it seemed. But when you promise something to your kids (and wife), it’s hard not to follow through.

In my twenties, I did a fair bit of backpacking. But since having kids I have been “out of the game” and have missed the experience of walking with everything you need for a night outdoors. I knew eventually I’d get back to it and would introduce my kids to it all — I just didn’t expect it to happen with a five and three year old.

What also surprised me was how capable my kids have become. Pushing ourselves past our comfort zone as a family helped me realize that we are capable of more than I had thought. And this trip helped remind me that if you have kids you don’t need to wait to pursue an adventurous lifestyle – and that’s a very liberating feeling.

I imagine this all may sound overly romantic to you. But my intention in writing this is to inspire others to get outside and to try something together that seems hard. We certainly had our fair share of temper tantrums (me included) and tough moments – including a pack being thrown from the trail in defiance. But exploring this landscape together brought us closer and I will forever remember this first backpacking trip.

More details on this campsite can be found here – get out there!


Kid-friendly Backpacking Spots in the Santa Cruz Mountains:

As I’ve learned since completing this trip, there are a few other great places to backpack with kids in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Here are two of the other spots that are relatively easy to hike to that we’re considering for our next adventure. See you on the trail!

Alder Camp

Big Basin Redwoods
State Park
Temporarily Closed

Follow Waddell Creek from its mouth upstream for a few relatively flat miles. The Rancho Del Oso Nature and History Center is also worth a visit. Here’s the trail map, preserve info and a great description of the hike to help get you started.

Shaw Flat Trail Camp

Pescadero Creek
County Park

This backcountry site is striking distance from the Hoffman Creek Trailhead. This is a spot we might try in the summer as it can be quite damp in the winter months. Here’s the trail map, preserve info and a great description of the hike to get you started.

About Post

Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 87,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more

Scroll to top