Last Fall, Grace and I planned a group camping trip for about 15 of our friends to celebrate Grace's birthday. Because of the number of people and our priority of having our own plot of land out in the wild away from civilization and other campers, there were a lot of logistics involved! But through some diligent planning and a bit of luck, it turned out to be one of my favorite weekends of last Fall if not all of 2016. Though it's been a few months, today I want to share a bit about that trip and my tips for planning a group camping trip!
Also, I was truly having so much fun that weekend that I forgot to take many photos, so some of the photos in this post are from the website advertising the place we rented, and some others are my friends' that they posted on social media. But overall the best representation of the weekend is the video below, which my videographer friend Bia made to commemorate our experience. Watch it to get an idea before reading the rest of the post!
The location of our group camping weekend was Joshua Tree, an area we've visited and loved many times since living in Southern California. Once we decided that we wanted to plan a group camping trip for Grace's birthday, we spent a ton of time trying to find the perfect spot that could accommodate 15-20 people. I would say that was the most difficult aspect of the planning process. We really wanted to get a place with at least a bathroom for our friends who weren't as comfortable in the outdoors, and we needed somewhere to cook large group meals. We wanted it to be within 1-2 hours of LA, and we needed something affordable, as we were committed to paying for the space on our own so that our friends would only have to contribute by bringing whatever food and drinks they wanted. This was especially important to us because a few of our friends were buying camping gear specifically for this trip, so we didn't want the trip to be a financial burden on anyone. Our budget was about $300-400--pretty tight to find a place where 15-20 people could stay for a whole weekend!
But, Hipcamp came through with the perfect place. (By the way, Hipcamp doesn't know me. I just love them.) We camped at Skycamp Joshua Tree, which has three separate campsites within it. Normally, you can reserve just one of the sites, and then there are communal areas to share with other campers. But we decided to reserve all three sites so that we would have the entire place, including communal areas, to ourselves. I can't say enough great things about Skycamp. It's a flat plot of land surrounded by mountains and desert scenery. There is a large covered space that serves as the communal kitchen and outdoor dining area, and there is a really nice bathroom setup with a flushing toilet (as opposed to a porta potty situation). There is even an outdoor shower with hot water! It was pretty chilly on the weekend that we camped, but other than that, I really can't imagine a better setup for a group camping trip.
My first tip for planning a group camping trip is to plan EARLY if you can. If you can get people to contribute to the cost, you can likely afford something pretty great. But even if you want to front the cost yourself, there are group sites out there that I've seen for around $80 a night. Usually, those less expensive places are within a larger campground, so you might not have as much privacy, but it's a great option.
And in the same vein as planning early, I really recommend just biting the bullet and booking something, even if you don't necessarily have confirmation that the weekend will suit everyone's schedule or the location is to their liking. Grace and I have found a few times when planning group camping trips or getaways that we just have to rent something or make a reservation, and if it works for other people's schedules, they can join us. In every case, we've ended up having a group be able to join us, but if we tried to plan with everyone's input, the planning would get stilted and we'd never actually get the plan off the ground. Executive decisions are key!
Once we had it booked, we needed to get everyone organized. I recommend a combination of Facebook events (If you use Facebook) and Google Docs. We made a Facebook event to get the camping weekend on people's radar, and then within the event we included a link to a Google Doc. The Google Doc helped us keep track of who was coming (for purposes of buying food), and it helped match people who needed a spot in a tent or who needed a ride to Joshua Tree with others who had room in their tent or car. We also had a space for people to write whether they were bringing food to share and whether they had any outdoor games or gear to contribute.
Speaking of food, for the group camping trip we kept it simple. Given the variety of palates, dietary restrictions, etc. of our friends, we figured we would let them bring their own preferred meats or non-meats to grill, favorite snacks, and alcohol/other beverages. Grace and I brought enough food to make a basic hot breakfast for everyone each morning with about 60 eggs, a few cartons of croissants from the Costco bakery, and a few boxes of veggie sausages (we don't eat real sausage but we were happy for people to bring their own). Then for dinners, most people brought burgers and other foods to grill, and we provided a side that everyone could customize to their liking: grilled potato packets! I diced a bunch of raw potatoes and laid out a variety of toppings, like cheese, chopped tomatoes, vegetarian "bacon bits," green onion, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper, and more. Everyone could take foil sheets and make their own potato packets with the toppings they liked, seal them up, and put them on the grill for 20-30 minutes. It was the tastiest addition to the grilling meats and veggies that everyone brought.
Skycamp has a large barrel-style grill, which made cooking for a group easy. In the evenings, we would make bonfires in the rock fire pits, which were set up just below the eating area. After dinner we would have a few drinks and roast marshmallows--my favorite part of the day!
In terms of planning activities, we didn't do much. The Joshua Tree landscape is a great place for videography and photography, which a lot of our friends do for their jobs and/or hobbies, so that kept people occupied. You can also hike right from the campground, so a few of our friends would set off doing that from time to time during the weekend. But overall the main way we spent our time was just enjoying the views and relaxing. With that in mind, one thing I recommend asking people to bring on a group camping trip is their own chair. It ended up working out perfectly at our campground because Skycamp comes with a few chairs and tables, as well as some hanging hammock chairs, but we also supplemented with a bunch of folding "soccer mom" chairs. Being able to make a circle of our chairs for telling stories, eating meals, and playing games like Mafia (haha!) made everyone so much more comfortable, and it would have been a long weekend of sitting on the ground otherwise.
Finally, my last recommendation when planning a group camping trip is to keep an open mind about others' comfort levels and abilities with camping. Grace and I feel very comfortable roughing it for a weekend, but to appeal to a wider interest, we knew that we needed to find a place with a few amenities. Also, some of our friends didn't want to sleep in a tent, so they drove to Joshua Tree just for a day trip to hang out and celebrate. And that was great too! Group camping trips can be a behemoth to plan and execute, so not trying to control everyone's schedule or interests (looking at myself here) is the key to making it smooth and actually FUN.
We are already thinking about doing a similar group trip for Grace's birthday this coming November! It's a new tradition that I think will only get sweeter with time as we get a chance to explore more and more places. That said, I would also gladly return to Skycamp--it's a special experience!
This has nothing to do with the subject of this post, but I wanted to also include a heartfelt THANK YOU here to anyone reading. When I started this blog less than two months ago, I truly never thought more than a handful of people (mainly my family and a few friends) would read it. And that was totally fine with me! I was just seeking an outlet to write and share. I had hopes of building community and reaching people that I'd never meet in real life, but I didn't expect that would happen quickly, if at all.
When I started this blog, I also didn't at all expect to lose Casper within a few weeks. And while that pain is still searing, sharing his story has been such an encouragement and comfort. As it turns out, a lot of people found this blog through Casper, and getting emails from people around the world about him has made my heart swell. Through analytics, I can see where people are reading my blog from (don't worry, not your exact location! Just your country), and it has been amazing to find out that about half of my readers are international! I know this blog is styled as a Southern California camping blog, but I'm hoping that some posts (like this one) will be applicable no matter where in the world you are reading. It has been so exciting seeing all of the countries on my analytics page, and I want to say thank you so much and give a shout-out to: Australia, Canada, Kuwait, Germany, Russia, Ireland, France, Belgium, Norway, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Portugal, Morocco, the Netherlands, Denmark, Slovenia, Sweden, Finland, Spain, Austria, Mexico, India, Georgia, Bulgaria, New Zealand, Ukraine, Serbia, Chile, Singapore, Greece, Brazil, Japan, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Italy, Taiwan, Namibia, Kenya, Guatemala, Romania, Colombia, Egypt, Croatia, Israel, Malaysia, Sudan, Monaco, Nicaragua, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Latvia, Poland, Suriname, and South Africa. I have never been to the vast majority of these places, and I am in disbelief that people from almost every continent are reading! (Still holding out for you, Antarctica). Thank you, thank you, thank you. I realize that about 95% of you probably found me through Grace and the Young Turks, and that's awesome. That you would spend part of your day reading my little blog is beyond humbling. I say this in basically every post, but I really would love to get to know anyone reading, so do feel free to Contact me and introduce yourself. The emails I've gotten so far are so wonderful. Thank you.