Where to backpack with kids in Northern California

Will you be backpacking with kids this coming summer? Most families who love backpacking with kids are familiar with backpacking options in popular regions such as Yosemite National Park, but the following lesser known areas offer backpacking just as scenic and often crowd-free.


Tahoe and Northeastern Sierra Nevada:

Our favorite section of the Northeastern Sierra Nevada mountain range is located in California’s Plumas County, adjacent to the town of Graeagle. The Lakes Basin Recreation Area, just south of Graeagle up Gold Lake Road, offers 47 trails and over 30 alpine lakes. Some of these trails are available only for day hikers, but link families to backpacking regions. To start out directly on a backpacking route, begin at the Jamison Mine Trailhead en route to historic Johnsville (10 miles from Graeagle) and hike approximately three miles uphill to beautiful Rock Lake. This alpine lake offers idyllic camping, swimming, and rock jumping. Adjacent Jamison Lake offers great trout fishing.

Tip: consider renting a Tahoe vacation home before or after your backpack trip. We like to spend a few days pre-trip in a home, where we can organize backpacking foods, pack our backpacks, and enjoy a few luxurious days before entering the backcountry.

Trinity Alps and Marble Mountains:

Further north near the California/Oregon border, the Trinity Alps Wilderness in Shasta Trinity National Forest consists of chiseled granite peaks and alpine lakes, with elevations from 2,000 feet in creek drainages to 9,000 feet at summits. This wilderness offers many different trails ranging from 1.5 miles to 15 miles at varying levels of difficulty. Spring backpacking is often an option here (in the lower elevations) and mid-week trips are encouraged to beat crowds. Our pick: the five mile hike to Granite Lake on the Swift Creek trailhead. Tip: families will want to arrive early on weekends or during mid-week to secure the prime campsite lakeside.


The nearby Marble Mountains are less populated, and easily accessed from I-5. Our favorite backpacking route through the Marble Mountains is to Campbell Lake, located off the Shackleford Creek Trail (three hour hike). Visibly stunning, Campbell Lake offers great swimming. The Trinity Alps and Marble Mountain region offers many loop trails perfect for families wanting to adjust their trip to suit kids’ abilities.

Lassen National Park:

Lassen National Park is one of the least visited in the US, and we have no idea why! However, families can take advantage of the low crowds and find prime backpacking wilderness with relative ease. Grab a wilderness backpacking permit when you enter the park, and then head east, to where the top backpacking loop trails depart. You’ll find alpine lakes, creeks, and lodgepole pine forests in ample supply. The weather tends toward hot and dry, which means families will encounter fewer mosquitos than in damper areas. If you head toward geothermal regions of the park, bear in mind that camps cannot be set within 1/4 mile of geothermal activity (bubbling pots, etc).


No matter where you backpack, be sure to get the necessary permits at the ranger station or forest service station nearest your trailhead, and check conditions before arriving. Make sure you have a water filtration system or means of fresh water, and bear canisters where required. For more general backpacking tips, read How to Plan a Multi-Day Backpacking Trip with Kids. For gear suitable for kids while backpacking, check out our Travel Gear We Use series.

The above post is written in partnership with VacationRoost.com.

About the author

Amy Whitley AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.




  1. I grew up and backpacked all over the state. I did a lot of trips into Desolation Wilderness when I was young, but it was crowded even then. The Lakes Basin area is beautiful and if you stay in Graeagle there are some of the finest golf courses in the state. The upper Yosemite is a great place to hike too. However, some of the most spectacular scenery is a little further south in the Ansel Adams Wilderness Area and Kings Canyon. I live in Colorado now, but I do miss what California has to offer.

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