Quick overnight backpacking trip to Point Reyes, Sky Camp

Last weekend we tagged along with my sister, her husband, and their kids for our second trip to Sky Camp at Point Reyes. This is a favorite of theirs, that we've enjoyed with them for the past couple of years. 

You do have to reserve this a few months in advance, we happened to book this reservation back over the holidays (probably Thanksgiving). 

One of the reasons I realize it's a favorite is that I don't have all that many pictures to share. 

I like this trip a lot for a number of reasons

  • It's a nice almost 2-mile hike without a huge elevation gain on a well-maintained fire road
  • The campsite isn't so far from the parking lot that if you have to head back to the car for something, it is doable. 
  • Water and garbage service are available at the campsite
  • The vault/pit toilets (2) at the campsite are well maintained
  • Campsites are mostly flat and offer food lockers, table, and a BBQ grill  

Be sure to start with checking in with the ranger at the Bear Valley Visitor Center. It is always a good idea when possible to check in with the ranger, even if it's just to get some tips and tricks for the area. In this situation, you get two very important things:

  1. Parking permit for overnight stays
  2. Tent permit

It's also a good chance to grab a map, use a flush toilet, possibly a souvenir, double check your site location, and the final driving directions. The Bear Valley Visitor Center also has a nice naturalist display that isn't too big, but a nice chance to stretch the legs before the 5-10 minute drive to the trailhead. 

One important thing to note at this point: the visitor center is probably the last point you'll have any kind of decent phone connection. On the trail, you'll get some mixed coverage, and at the campsite, there is pretty much nothing. But you are camping, it's good to be unplugged. 

We typically arrive at the visitor center later on in the day, leaving home after lunchtime. It's roughly a 2-hour drive for us from the peninsula up through the city and over the bridge. Once we check in with the ranger and drive to the trailhead, the limited parking isn't too bad as many people are either done for the day or off to look for other Instagram-worthy shots at sunset. On this trip, I did have to wait for about 20 minutes for a spot in the proper parking area. I forgot to ask the ranger about parking on the shoulder nearby. 


Once we put on our packs, the hike itself took about an hour. All of us wore backpacks, younger ones wearing a day pack with more personal belongings. My now 9-year-old daughter has managed a small internal frame backpack with her sleeping bag, pad, clothes, and pack pillow since last year.

It's a great sense of accomplishment when everyone can carry their own stuff. It creates ownership in the adventure. 

Setting up camp didn't take too long, maybe 30 minutes. I've been trying to get my daughters to take more ownership in setting up things like the tent and learning more about how cooking works when camping. This was a great opportunity to let my 9-year-old set up the tent mostly by herself. Then I gave her some time to set up her sleeping area on her own (where we talked again about leaving any food in the tent - we didn't need any uninvited guests). 

The site my sister had reserved was unfortunately occupied when we arrived, luckily we had checked in with the ranger, had the tent permit, and printed reservation. The occupying couple tried to argue that it was first-come-first-serve. But with the paperwork in hand showing the reservation and no cell phone reception, the occupying couple who didn't print anything out or check in with the ranger reluctantly moved onto an adjacent empty site. Later on, I found a sign at the trailhead saying that reservations and permits were required. It's always good to have your printed reservation on hand and to check in with the ranger and to pay attention to whats around you. 

Graciously my sister offered to make her favorite backpacker chicken-guaco-tacos for dinner, and by the time we finished setting up our tent the occupying couple had moved along and she was already starting to warm stuff up. I walked down to the water spigot, filled my largest pot and my canvas washing bucket and returned to heat up water for cocoa later. The guaco-tacos are always a hit with the kids and adults alike, plus there is not much cleanup. 

Once it got dark we turned on our inflatable lanterns, made some cocoa, washed some dishes, read some stories, and chatted quite a bit. When all that was finished up and everything was put away, we said our goodnights and retreated to our tents. Then it was some story time in the sleeping bags and lights out. 

Getting up in the morning, we headed back to my sister's site, warmed up some more water and set up for another round of dishes washing, did breakfast, and let the kids play a bit. It happened to be Easter Sunday so the kids had also found some assorted chocolates. 

For breakfast, we enjoyed things with a small footprint and easy cleanup

  • Via coffee packets and dehydrated milk 
  • Cocoa for the kids
  • Tea
  • Granola bars
  • Instant Oatmeal (some dried fruit and nuts are an easy way to dress this up a bit)

After breakfast, we broke down our tents, packed everything back up, made our last bathroom stop and hit the trail after a fairly relaxed morning. Then down to the ranger station, and a stop for some deep dish pizza at Patxi's Pizza in Greenbrae before heading home on our separate ways. 

It was a quick but lovely weekend, and I think all of us are looking forward to doing it again soon. Also with so much to visit in and around Point Reyes, this trip mostly focused on the overnight. It would be nice to spend more time here, but at the same time, it would be taxing. There are other campsites around Point Reyes too, some you even have to boat to, and I look forward to getting our backpacking skills in shape to enjoy more of those.