As we continue toward our goal of exploring all the national parks, we knew 2019 would be a thin year in terms of visiting national parks because of a big trip (i.e. family wedding) on the east coast. However, we knew we still wanted to get some camping in around Southern California.

As we mapped out the 2019 adventures and shared it with a few friends, we got interest from a family looking to join in on the fun. The best part is they also have young kids, ages 5 and 2. What could possibly go wrong with four kids ages five and under? Actually, just a small encounter with some fire ants… more on that later.

We planned a weekend trip in mid-May to Big Bear Lake to camp at Hanna Flat Campground. Our friends had never taken their kids camping so we picked Hanna Flat because Big Bear was just a short drive away in case anything went south. As we planned for the trip, we looked at the average monthly temperatures for May. Being at an elevation of 6,700+ feet, Big Bear averages highs of 67 and lows of 35. We took it into consideration, but didn’t think it would get that low.

Well, we were wrong. On Friday evening, it dropped to about 35 degrees. Some people were a bit cold throughout the night, but the most difficult part was getting the four kids warm in the morning once they got out of the tent. We tried hot cocoa and tea, but the concept of moving around to warm up the body didn’t translate. We did the best we could to keep warm with a fire as we waited for the sun to shine on our site.

The campground set up
Bundled up in the cold

Once the sun showed up, morale improved and we loaded up the four kids carriers to start a short hike. There were some trails right near our campsite, so we walked around the San Bernardino National Forest for a few miles and let the kids run around in some open areas.

Kids playing in the hammock
Climbing rocks

As Saturday afternoon approached, I had enough cell service to peek at the weather. The forecast was a bit intimidating. It said to expect low temperatures around 32 degrees with a 40% chance of snow. Knowing the previous night put a toll on people because of the cold, there was a quick pow-wow of the adults to discuss a plan. The decision was made to pack up before it got too cold. I mean, the objective of these trips is to enjoy nature, not have your kids hate you for giving them frostbite.

We loaded up the gear for a drive back to San Diego knowing we made the right decision for everyone (especially when we found out it did end up snowing the next morning). But we also still had the itch to camp, so we jumped online to see where we could camp the following weekend on Memorial Day Weekend.

The other father, Nic, found a great spot on HipCamp in Temecula where we could camp on an “ecoshire” owned by a local schoolteacher, Jim, and his wife. The 35-acre ecoshire was an old landfill that was cleared and is being set up as a sustainable community with a garden, hiking trails, and future earth houses and food forest. More importantly, it wasn’t going to have temperatures in the 30s like the previous weekend.

So we took the 1.25 hour drive to Temecula to explore the ecoshire. The property was beautifully maintained and gave the four kids lots to do. They got to explore the garden and pick vegetables, hike around to all the areas of interest such as the water filtration pond, future food forest, and future earth huts being built. Our friend’s kids also got a ride on the tractor while our kids were a bit skeptical.

Our host, Jim, setting the kids up on the tractor

The one downside to the Temecula camping was an encounter with some fire ants for the 5 year old boy we were with. His inquisitive mind got the best of him. He looked AND touched the fire ants resulting in a painful bite on his hand. Once we all learned the lesson about fire ants, we had a great weekend exploring and watching the sunset over the mountains.

We also stumbled across a tarantula as we packed up camp. It was calm and friendly, but it got everyone very excited.

Here are the big takeaways when camping with another family or friends:

  • Plan meals in advance. Otherwise, a lot of food gets brought and might spoil.
  • Divide and conquer on cookware. You only need so many cast-iron pans at one campsite.
  • Decide on contingency plans in advance if weather gets bad. Luckily for us, everyone was on the same page, but it could have been tough if there were disagreements.
  • With young kids, think about how you’ll keep them warm in the early morning, with warm socks, boots, and warm beverages.
Exploring the eco-shire
Slightly warmer than the week before
The new tent with additional “garage”
fresh kale, parsley, and broccoli from the garden
nice mountain views
and then a tarantula showed up…

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