All About Berkeley Family Camps: Echo Lake vs. Tuolumne - 510 Families
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All About Berkeley Family Camps: Echo Lake vs. Tuolumne

Register for Berkeley Family Camp > (the 2023 season still has availability at Tuolomne)

Psst, parents. Did you know there’s a place where you can experience camp songs by the fire, swim in the river, make lanyards, and partake in other summer camp activities from your childhood? It’s all offered at City of Berkeley Family Camps! Yes, you can go to camp again and this time experience it alongside your own children. Best of all, there are scheduled childcare and drop-off activities if you need a little alone time in the great outdoors.

This post is not sponsored. Our team members have gone to Berkeley Family Camps for a lot of years!

River at Family Camp
Splash in the water, dig in the sand, or swim out to the rocks at Tuolumne Camp | Source: Maureen Burke

What is Family Camp?

Not familiar with family camp? Family camp is a rustic version of an all-inclusive vacation. The setting is natural, typically in a forested area, and the swimming might be in a river or a lake. Meals are provided and there are activities galore. The carefree, community-driven vibe is high. Many families love family camp so much, they return every year, visiting the same week. It’s worth checking out if you loved overnight camp as a child or are making up for a missed childhood experience. See a list of family camp options near the Bay Area >

Family camp amphitheater
Enjoy a camp show and songs at the Tuolumne Amphitheater | Source: Maureen Burke

Your Stay at Berkeley Family Camp

Like many Bay Area municipalities and groups, the City of Berkeley operates two family camps. Each has its devotees. Both options are beautifully rustic and filled with classic camp activities. Accommodations are canvas tents at both camps. Most tents also have an attached deck.

City of Berkeley family camps are open to all — residents and non-residents. Registration typically occurs in February. Scholarships are available, too. At registration, families designate the total number of campers. Tents fit up to six people.

I suggest bringing battery or solar-powered string lights to brighten your tent. Mosquito nets were also handy to keep bugs and spiders at bay. Camp chairs and a little side table are convenient for enjoying a beverage on the deck as the sun sets.

Echo Lake Family Camp near South Lake Tahoe

Berkeley Echo Lake Camp is set atop the Echo Summit and overlooks Lake Tahoe along the Pacific Crest Trail. The campgrounds are flat and towering trees offer lovely shade coverage. The camp functions as a family camp for a few weeks, then transitions to a sleep-away camp for ages 7 to 14.

Echo Lake tents differ in size and style. Larger ones may include built-in bunks and have two rooms.

Tuolomne Family Camp near Western Yosemite National Park

Tuolumne Family Camp boasts a riverside location that’s not far from the Western entrance of Yosemite National Park. Tents are situated on a hill and some stair climbing may be required depending on your tent’s location. Sadly, a massive fire destroyed much of the camp in 2013, and most of the trees were burned; it’s a sunnier setting these days.

Tuolumne cabins feature a sunshade over the deck because tree coverage is less. Tuolumne tents offer single cot beds inside. Overall, the grounds have paved pathways, ramps, and other features making it easier for people with disabilities to navigate. Yet, some tents set higher on the hillside have access via stairs only.

Child outside canvas tent at Echo Lake Family Camp
Accommodations are canvas platform tents (Echo Lake camp pictured) | Photo: Maureen Burke

Dining, Meals, and Snacks at Family Camp

Campers are served three square meals from a communal dining hall. The food was surprisingly tasty at both camps. Allergies and other dietary adjustments are accommodated. Food and drinks from home are permitted, or you can purchase some from the camp store at Tuolumne (credit card and Apple Pay accepted).

Happy Hour is a social concept at both family camps at which time, people throw open their coolers (with or without kids!) for a snack before dinner with old and new friends.

Note: All scented items (food, drinks, adult beverages, toiletries, etc.) must be kept in communal bear boxes that are located throughout the camp.

Activities at Family Camp

Programming at Echo Lake and Tuolumne are similar: enjoy theme days, tie-dying, a camp show, archery, and plenty of old-fashioned fun. Little ones can spend time in Kiddie Camp, a daycare-like setting for kids ages 2 to 5. No need to be potty-trained, but counselors may contact parents via pager or phone if a diaper change is needed.

Children 6 and older can participate in activities, like friendship bracelet making or nature hunts, in the recreation hall or nature center. Tweens and teens can try archery or play at the sports courts. Adults may quietly read, learn an art technique, or nap. Everyone can cool off in the swimming areas. Echo Lake has a swimming pool and Tuolumne features a river and beach area. Lifeguards are on duty. The family camp has scheduled activities for nearly every moment of the day; your family can participate in as much or as little as you’d like. Some activities require advance sign up (typically before or after breakfast hour), but most are drop-in friendly.

Activity Board
Daily activities | Source: Maureen Burke

Quiet Hour occurs after lunch daily. Families are asked to stay in the tent or travel off the grounds. Little ones can be dropped off at Kiddie Camp, but it’s helpful to bring some coloring supplies, puzzles, or other quiet activities that your older children can use during this time.

Day trips are totally within reach at both locations and help make your time at camp extra special. At Echo Lake camp, families can easily walk down the fire road to the beautiful trails around Echo Lake. Adventurous families can also trek into the Desolation Wilderness. Tuolumne campers can take a day trip into Yosemite National Park — Yosemite Valley is about 45 minutes away, depending on traffic. There are also a few waterfall hikes nearby, including a short and sweet trail right next to camp.

The Bottom Line on City of Berkeley Family Camp

The city allows families to stay for an entire week, a partial week (Monday through Thursday or Thursday through Sunday), or single nights (limited dates). The camp isn’t overly outdoorsy and is more akin to basic glamping. No prior camping experience is required. You won’t be completely cut off from civilization as there’s limited cell service at Echo Lake, and both locations are not far from proper town (Groveland, CA and South Lake Tahoe, CA).

Register for Berkeley Family Camp > (the 2023 season still has availability at Tuolomne)

My family has spent a week at both locations  — June 2022 at Echo Lake and June 2023 at Tuolumne. We love family camp! I look forward to it every year and can’t wait to continue our tradition. We prefer to stay for an entire week to receive the full camp experience. It seemed as though there were more people on site Thursday through Sunday. We coordinated the trip with a few other families from the local elementary school and it was nice to have friendly faces at camp. However, I’d certainly give it a try even if your family is flying solo. Camp brings out a friendly vibe in everyone.

I love family camp because it’s a wonderful place to spend time if you enjoy the outdoors. Adults can read books, hike, swing from a hammock, hit a bullseye, or learn art skills. Kids will enjoy the freedom of navigating through camp and choosing their own activity schedule. I recommend taking a day trip to get off the campground to keep things fresh. I loved the natural beauty of Echo Lake Camp. The Tuolumne staff is superb and everything is extremely well run and organized. Each camp location is unique, but it’s certainly worth a try!

Have you been to a City of Berkeley Family Camp? Share your experience and tips below!

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