Family camping travel in the United States is a time-honored tradition, filled with memory-making activities of arguing of the proper way to pitch tents, sometimes fruitless fishing, and boiling the world’s worst coffee over a campfire while early-to-rise children are far more awake and less cantankerous than their exhausted parents. Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? Obviously, there’s a lot more good than bad in terms of summertime camping (or it wouldn’t be a tradition). One company that’s long ensured that the great memories outweigh the “attack of the million mosquitoes” memories is Kampgrounds of America. KOA has over 475 camping spots in the United States and Canada. Each is unique to its destination, but with a variety of amenities and the most friendly staff (and even food service!) to ensure that whatever level of roughing it your family wants to experience while camping, your KOA vacation will fit the bill. Case in point: family camping at the Ventura Ranch KOA Campground in Southern California.
The first annual “Bloggerfest” was held at the Ventura Ranch KOA Campground, and my family and I joined several other bloggers from the Los Angeles area (and one from Berkeley). Hanging out with like-minded travelers for the weekend was fun, of course, but what surprised me was how completely, absolutely terrific the KOA campsite was for my family.
The Ventura Ranch KOA Campground is in Heritage Valley, an hour and a half drive north of Los Angeles. This makes it close enough for a non-stressful car trip but far enough away to feel like a complete getaway. It’s also one of the Kampgrounds of America that is open all year, due to the famously fabulous Southern California weather. Even when it’s hot (Heritage Valley doesn’t get cooling ocean breezes), it’s not humid. The 76 acre property has nature trails through wilderness and along a creek, but also has open space for all levels of camping. Strolling the grounds, a guest sees everything from cars parked next to pup tents, to RVs, to permanent tee-pees, and more…seriously. A friend of mine stayed in a “Glamour Tent,” which looks as deluxe as any supplied by a private guided safari tour.
Given the choice, my family really roughed it. We stayed in one of the “Glamour Cabins.” Poor us, right? These cabins are incredible. Air conditioning, television, full kitchen, queen bed and loft with additional sleeping space…This is glamping in its finest form.
There’s no way anyone could ever call this sleeping situation “camping,” but the rustic appeal of the cabin in the woods is strong. The design of the Glamour Cabins fits in perfectly with the aesthetic of a camping experience without the grit or cold, damp sleeping arrangements. Besides, we spent very little time in our cabin: there was too much to do on the campground property.
A centralized, but spread out playground of sorts brings camping families together; my kids made a beeline for the tetherball, while other children tried the peddle carts, climbing wall and the huge Jumping Pillow (think bouncy house without the roof, but with water). There is a very popular 800 foot long Dual Line Zip Line, which is going to be increased in length next summer, and an area set aside for the pool, which should also be constructed and completed over the winter.
A day of hiking and exploring and running around and playing and splashing in Santa Paula Creek’s watering hole is plain, pure outdoors fun for everyone. I’d have thought all the children would be exhausted by nightfall, but the Ventura Ranch KOA Campground staff also has child-friendly nighttime hikes. The kids all rallied for this after some time spend engaged in that all-American camping classic, roasting marshmallows and making new friends by the fireside.
There are plenty of loosely organized children’s activities at the campground on the weekends, such as horse shoes, craft making and tee shirt tie dying. But just relaxing and watching the wildlife is a great way to spend a camping weekend in Southern California too.
Speaking of wildlife, we saw lots of the usual suspects; frogs and tadpoles in the creek, rabbits and hawks eying each other, an owl at dusk. But it was the peacocks that really captured my kids’ attention; we first heard their distinctive cry (well, scream) during the walk between our car and the registration desk. These peacocks are all over the Ventura Ranch KOA Campground, and weren’t brought in for the pleasure of the guests. They are descendants of peacocks that actually predate the campsite, having been traded to the indigenous Chumash over a century ago. What they were traded for is lost to time, but today, it’s pretty clear that KOA campground is the end-game winner in this transaction; what a delight to wake up in the camp and see peacocks roosting nearby.
Ventura Ranch KOA Campground is undergoing a few upgrades right now, such as the aforementioned zip line extension and pool plans. These are temporary and minor inconveniences. What’s permanent, however, is the memory of an alternately peaceful and exciting weekend of camping to be had at this KOA Campground in Southern California. It’s an easy getaway from Los Angeles, and for those wary of roughing it, it’s also glamping at its best. My family is already looking forward to a return visit.
Thank you, Kampgrounds of America, for hosting my family on this weekend camping – er, glamping – trip at Ventura Ranch KOA.