First a shout out to a humble coffee mug. Who knew that lump of ceramic could travel an hour and a half up a mountain road to an elevation of 6,300 feet, over campground speed bumps...on top of a Subaru, and still serve up a cup of (cold) joe?
And, boy, did my husband need that coffee. Setting up camp--and camping generally--with a toddler is a challenge. You need extra vigilance to keep face-plants to a minimum and prevent campfire casualties. Then there's (not) sleeping next to a little frog that hops all over your tent, leaving you curled up in a cold corner.
Still, if you don't have any expectation of relaxing, camping with little kids is fun. Really.
Just take a gander at the lovely Buckhorn campground, near Mount Waterman.
Our 19-month-old enjoyed tossing pine cones, singing "tinkle, tinkle, little tar" by the fire, and tasting cocoa. Mom and Dad liked the scenery, including a full moon, and a whole lot of stars you can't see from most of LA County.
Los Angeles River Ranger District
Camp fees $12
If you drive elsewhere in the forest, you'll need to pay an additional $5 for a day use pass.
From the 210 in La Canada, take the Angeles Crest Highway (2) up into the mountains for 34 miles. This campground is about eight miles past the Chilao campground. Start looking for the turn off after you pass the Mount Waterman ski area. The sign is on your right, but the campground entrance is to your left. Signs at the campground will point you to the Burkhart Trailhead.
Buckhorn has water, fire rings, and typical, grungy pit toilets. The Forest Service posts campground conditions and restrictions on
it's website, but is also good idea to call for additional information. There is a warning about bear activity at Buckhorn. I've camped in bear country plenty of times, and know how to take precautions, but wanted more information. I wanted to know if these bears had retained their natural fear of people--or not (as can happen when they become too familiar with people and their delicious trash). When I called, a district ranger told me bears have been spotted in the area, but there haven't been reports of aggressive bears.
BEAR BASICS: Always put your trash in campground (bear-proof) bins. Don't leave food or personal care products--toothpaste and sunblock smell yummy to bears--in your campsite, especially NOT in your tent. It's a good ide
a to put all smelly stuff into a bag and hang it in a tree away from your campsite. If you don't want the bear to eat it, you'll have to hang it so a bear can't climb to it. You can also buy bear-proof canisters, used by backpackers. Don't put it in your car, unless you're willing to risk a break-in.
We hiked a gorgeous stretch of the Burkhart Trail. I got a buzz from all that granite, the giant jeffrey pines (they look like ponderosas) and fragrant incense cedars. I plotted future trips to the high country. Then my husband pointed out we were descending quite a bit; I noticed the trail was getting narrower, and the drop-offs steeper. "That's far enough," I said. "Let's turn around before the boy starts kicking." I starting kicking loose rocks off the path. I was envisioning husband and toddler toppling over into the steep canyon below. It's a distinct problem of hiking with a toddler: you never know when he'll want out. And this trail was no place for a little kid to stand, let alone amble. I was thinking, How old would he have to be before I trusted him on a trail like this? Much older!
Mercifully, the boy fell asleep; the hike out of the canyon was peaceful, and safe.