This past weekend we went camping in Big Bear, California, about 2 hours northeast of Los Angeles. We planned the trip about 10 days in advance, when we realized that we'd been going on a lot of trips without each other (Grace to London and Mexico in the past couple of weeks, and me to Palm Springs this coming weekend) and we really needed a quiet getaway! We didn't plan it with the weather in mind, but it turned out to be perfect--LA temperatures were in the 80s and 90s, whereas Big Bear was in the 60s-70s during the day and 40s at night.
We'd been to Lake Arrowhead, Big Bear's sister town, a few times to visit our best friend and her mom who have a cabin there. I'd also been boating on Big Bear Lake a few years ago without Grace. But aside from those experiences, we didn't have a lot of preconceptions about the area.
We had reserved a site at Hanna Flat Campground, and I saw from the map that it was up in the mountains of Big Bear rather than right by the lake. For that reason, we decided to go picnic and stroll by the lake before checking in at the campground so that we could see the water. Through searching on Yelp in advance, I found the Alpine Pedal Path, which was lovely (though a little crowded in the middle of the day on a Saturday). As the name suggests, it's a paved bike path, but parallel to the bike path is a dirt trail that circles the lake with picnic tables scattered around. The nice thing about it from a dog owner perspective is that it's a very wide trail with grass on either side, so if you need to step off the path to let another dog by (which we did a few times), it's easy and not too close for comfort. The photo above and the next few below show our visit to the trail.
Tips for visiting Alpine Pedal Path and walking around the Lake: we parked at the Juniper Point Picnic Area, which was steps away from the trail. To park there (or anywhere recreationally in the San Bernardino National Forest, which includes Big Bear), you need a daily Adventure Pass. We bought ours at the Big Bear Discovery Center, 2 minutes away from Juniper Point. It's $5, cash only. The people at the Discovery Center were SUPER nice and also gave us free maps and ideas for other things to do in the area!
After enjoying the lake, we headed to our campground around 4:30pm. The last couple of miles to Hanna Flat were unpaved, but Grace's Subaru could handle it (and based on the other cars at the campground, smaller cars would be okay too).
We camped at site #62. Our overall consensus on Hanna Flat is that we would absolutely go back. Because it's a couple of miles down a dirt road, there is almost no noise pollution, and most sites were spacious. Ours backed up to some rolling hills and boulders where we hiked around before dinner. The campsite hosts were very welcoming, and we could buy firewood from them too! We had a sweet family camping to our left, and no one to our right, so it we felt like we had our little space to ourselves. That said, we drove over to a different part of the campground to throw away trash, and some people had music blaring in the evening. I guess we just got lucky with our little corner.
Though we loved Hanna Flat, would we camp in site #62 again? Probably not, if others were available. Because we booked it less than 2 weeks beforehand, there weren't a lot of options, but we noticed some sites that were way bigger than ours and even more secluded. Also, between 5 and 6pm, the sunset shone right into our site, making it super bright and hot without a lot of shade. That wasn't a huge deal though; we hiked up the hillside with our folding chairs to wait it out before starting to make dinner.
By the time the sun sunk below the trees, enough to cool off our site, we were hungry. So Grace got to work building a fire, and I started prepping dinner.
As a general rule, I like to eat as well if not better when I camp than I do at home. So that means rather than "camp food" like burgers on the grill and eating off of paper plates, I like to prep things in advance and eat yummy, well-balanced meals out in the wild. We have also invested in nice enamelware for camping and some good camping linens so that we don't throw away things like disposable napkins and plates. Keep an eye out for a camping food post coming soon :)
For this late-spring trip, I went with a fresh Mexican foods menu. While we were waiting for the fire to get hot, we ate aguacate rellenos, or stuffed avocados in Spanish! I made a delicious baby shrimp salad in advance (chopped baby shrimp, mayo, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, lemon juice, and salt and paper) and then at the campsite just spooned some of the salad into avocado halves. We ate the whole avocados con shrimp salad with spoons.
The main course of this Mexican meal was campfire nachos. They were so easy, I'm not sure why I hadn't thought of them before! All I did was heat some corn chips, cheese (either vegan-style or regular dairy works just as well here), and black beans on a cast-iron skillet over the open campfire. Then, once the cheese melted and the chips were brown on the edges, I took the skillet off the fire and split them between two plates. We then topped them with chopped veggies, sour cream, salsa, and lime juice. We also added a little of the leftover shrimp salad on top. Why not?!
All so easy (and I did a lot of the prep work in advance like chopping tomatoes, making the shrimp salad, etc.), but SO good! Of course, we also roasted marshmallows once it got fully dark out (a necessity).
Now, this trip was really sweet and as you can see above, we ate really well, but I would be lying if I said we didn't have one snag in our plans.
Let me back up for this story. So far in our years of camping together, we have been blessed to have been loaned amazing tents from my godparents who also live in Southern California. We have borrowed tents, sleeping mats, gear, etc., while we have taken time to invest and build our own collection. Throughout those years, we have slept REALLY well in tents, with me sometimes sleeping for 9 hours straight and feeling super rested. I kind of figured that's how it would always be with me camping; I just sleep well outdoors. I'm sure you're getting a sense of foreshadowing.
We were further blessed when Grace's wonderful mom decided to send us an AMAZING queen-size down sleeping bag with zip-out sheets (similar one here) as well as a hand-me-down tent that her dad used to use.
Well, the tent had been generally used by just one person (Grace's dad), but it was technically a two-person tent, and Casper usually curls up right in between us, so we didn't think squeezing us all in would be a problem. We set it up in my backyard as a test run, and while tight, we decided it would be comfortable on a chilly night because we would all be cocooned together.
It was not. We are so, so grateful for Grace's mom sending the tent (hi Mrs. Baldridge!!), but it just cannot fit two fully grown humans and an 80-pound dog. Grace is six feet tall, and she could not stretch out her legs and lie flat. So as we crammed into this tent in Big Bear, I basically started hyperventilating and feeling really claustrophobic. I eventually calmed down enough to get a couple of hours of sleep, but it was evident from the beginning--we need to figure something else out for Alaska. Which is fine, it just means we need to go tent shopping! Any excuse to go to REI, and we're happy.
Oh, and Casper panted and breathed so much in the night that it covered the interior of the tent with wet, cold, condensation, which started raining on us around the time the sun came up! Yummy. Below is a photo of Grace getting some rest in the back of her car before we hit the road back to LA. Not pictured: Casper curled up in the footwell underneath her.
So, while I would have loved for my first camping trip post-blog launch to be perfectly Pinterest-worthy, we had a major mishap. But that's okay, and I am going to keep it real when those things happen and write about them here. Overall we still had an awesome time and can't wait for our next getaway (in a little over three weeks, to the Joshua Tree/Palm Desert area). Until then, I'll be blogging about tips from past getaways and other things I've learned. Happy camping!