Backpacking Haypress Campground in Tennessee Valley with a Toddler and Preschooler
My husband and I were big backpackers before kids, so much so that I think we really fell in love with each other on the trail – exploring the beauty of multi-day treks in Yosemite, Death Valley, and Sequoia National Parks. Then we had children, and suddenly we found ourselves doing the type of camping that most people with kids do – car camping.
While I had a newfound appreciation for the ease and comfort of car camping, my heart longed for the feeling of being surrounded by wilderness – miles from any car or store, waking up somewhere few people have seen.
After our second kiddo was born, I realized that babies are actually easier to hike with than preschoolers. I convinced my husband that now was a great time to attempt a backpacking trip. Haypress Campground ended up being the best trip for us to dip our toes into backpacking again without too much of a commitment since the trail is a short 0.7 miles and the trailhead only an hour drive from our hometown in the East Bay Area. See a map of the park here.
We decided to attempt a one-night backpacking trip to Haypress Campground with our 4 year old and 2 year old one spring weekend and had an amazing time. As we walked along the trail, we saw turkey vultures, lizards, giant dandelions for preschool-sized wishes, old remnants of military batteries up on the hilltops in the distance (or Elsa’s home, according to my kiddo), and even met some friendly horses and their riders. Here is what you need to know:
Tennessee Valley and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is on the stolen lands of the Coast Miwok people.
- Book your campsite in advance. All of the campsites in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area are popular spots for camping, and are booked up months in advance. Each campsite allows 4 campers and can be booked 3 months before and can extend up to two days beyond the 3-month booking window. $25/night for a single site, $75/night for the group site.
- Plan to arrive early. Even though check-in for the campsite is at 2pm, you may want to arrive earlier because parking is limited! There is one lot that fills up quickly either by hikers visiting Tennessee Valley for the day or by folks going to the equestrian field up the road. Overflow parking snakes its way along the road father and farther away from the trailhead, making for an awkward place to unload your camping gear from your car and adding distance to your hike.
- Bring a wagon. The trail is flat with few bumps, making for an easy wagon pull but not quite smooth enough for a wagon ride, so keep your kids either walking or in the carrier. Even though it was full of camping gear, our kiddos loved to help push and pull the wagon. It gave them a job to do and kept them occupied along the trail.
- Have a baby? Don’t forget a carrier. Even if your baby or toddler can walk, they will not be hiking .7 miles to the campground or if they want to, they will move out a snail’s pace. Sometimes, I don’t mind walking at a toddler’s pace (aka hella slow) but while carrying a heavy backpacking pack and with my preschooler running ahead along the trail I felt some pressure to keep moving. We used the Trail Magik Kid Carrier on this hike and loved it. I easily put my kiddo into the front pouch as we hiked and got to talk to her about the flowers, the wildlife, and look at what she was pointing out. While in the carrier we had our own little discussion about the nature around us and I loved seeing the wonderment in her eyes. The carrier also saved my hands so I could carry her in the pack and use my hands to carry the various items my preschooler either took off or found and could not carry on her own. It was easy enough to attach mid-trail and to put her down when she just had to see what her big sister was exploring too. See our guide for best baby carriers and other travel recommendations here.
- Pack all the water and water you need for the trip. Each campsite has a picnic table, but no fire ring or grills. Fires are not allowed in this park. You must bring in all food, water, and cooking supplies you’ll need for the whole weekend. We decided to pack in food for lunch, bring in take-out from our favorite Mill Valley restaurant, Sol Food, and bring cold overnight oats for breakfast in a soft-sided cooler. Don’t forget to pack utensils and napkins, and a bag to put your dirty dishes in because there is no sink for washing. PS: If you decide to make a trip to Sol Food, be sure to try the ribs, shrimp, and chicken – oh my mouth is watering just thinking about it.
- Plan a hike to the beach at Tennessee Valley. The trail through Tennessee Valley is mostly flat and wide, with a reward of beautiful sweeping views of a protected beach cove at the end. The hike is 1.7 miles one-way, 2.4 miles round trip, and is an easy route for preschoolers. You pass a picnic table and bathroom right before you reach the beach for emergency potty breaks. Bring a picnic blanket to enjoy lunch with your kiddos before you head back to camp. Read more about our hike to Tennessee Valley here.
- Fill your kid’s backpack with campground entertainment. Read our guide on what to bring to a campground to keep your kiddos entertained here.
If you’re an old backpacker like me and miss the wilderness, this is probably the easiest backpacking trip you’ll find: short hike, not too far away from an urban area (so close that you can bring in take out for dinner…), a bathroom, flat hike that even a wagon can go through – you really can’t go wrong.
Just make sure to check that you packed everything you need for a night removed from civilization, Make that a triple check! We arrived at our campsite after spending the day hiking to Tennessee Valley and picnicking in the late afternoon and soon realized while setting up our tent that we forgot our tent poles. A tent does not work without poles. Although I have spent many nights without a tent under the stars, I was not about to try that out with my babies on our first backpacking trip. I angrily sent my husband back to the car to find the tent poles. With spotty service, I got a text message saying that the poles were not in the car and he had to drive back to get them. What a rookie mistake! You would think we’ve never been camping before!
I waited with my two little girls, wondering how long this process was going to take, and watching as the sun started to set in the sky. He came back 2 hours later, with our tent poles, to enjoy our take-out meal and hurry our kids off to bed.
Although we saw plenty of BIPOC families on the trail out to Tennessee Valley and the campground was full, we were the only families enjoying an overnight at Haypress the weekend we stayed there. We want to try this campground again, this time with all of our gear, and hope to see some more families when we do. Maybe you!
About Angelina: Puerto Rican & Indigenous mama of two. Bay Area native. Salsa dancer. Backpacker. Doula. Angel (she/her/hers) is a co-founding member of the Beautiful Brown Adventures family travel blog for families of color. She has traveled to over 30 countries and loves to explore the world with her two daughters & partner - one ice cream shop at a time.You can find more of Angelina's stories at:website: www.