[Day 1] Camping at Cleveland National Forest

My friend invited me to a local camping trip and at first, I said no because I didn’t have any camping gear. But when she offered to lend me some, I just had to say yes! The last time I actually went camping (like legit camping) was when was 12 and was on a cross-country trip with my family. I was excited to get back into camping but I haven’t had a chance to do so. So I took this invitation as an opportunity to learn how to camp again.

We were heading to Cleveland National Forest and camping at El Prado Group Campground. I was going to carpool with my friend so I headed over to her place. She has a hatchback and thought it would be enough space but we ended up moving everything to my Tuscon. And good thing we did because we filled the backspace!

Gif: packed trunk space

The two of us had a lot of stuff. I think we had 2 tents, 3 sleeping bags, 2 sleeping mats, 1 box of arts and craft things, 1 icebox, 1 box of cooking utensils, a guitar, 2 folding chairs, and our clothes and shoes?

We took the 8 for about an hour and a half and made a small pit stop right before heading into the Park. Once you get off the Sunrise Hwy exit and take Old Hwy 80 to find the last supermarket and gas station. We followed signs for the gas station but if you want the actual pinpoint, use Mountain Super Market. We ended up getting ice here and noticed it was already really cold.

We wanted to get to the campground before sunset so we were rushing but when we saw something amazing, we stopped to take pictures. And that was right before getting into the park. There was a viewpoint and the sunset was just beautiful. We took a moment to take in the beauty before getting back on the road. If you have more time, drive slow and enjoy the mountain views.

pic: mountain view from the viewpoint

Once we got to the campground, the sun was already gone. So we pitched our tents as fast as possible. It got dark really quickly and it was also very windy. My tent almost flew away! Thank goodness a tree branch caught it. After pitching the tent, I got to meet the other ladies. They were all friends of my friend and they were all awesome ladies! They all pitched their own tents and all brought an abundance of camping gear, including snacks 🙂

The sun was gone instantly and we started our firepit right on time as it got to freezing really fast. We all sat by the fire and got to know each other and talked about life. It was really peaceful. Because it was still winter, there weren’t a lot of campers. When we were all sitting in silence, the sound of the wind, the branches brushing against each other, birds and other animals, and the firewood crackling, were all sweet sounds of nature.

pic: campfire

We ended up going to bed a little early to make sure we were prepped for the hike the next day. Once I was in my tent, the temperature hit me so hard. It was FREEZING! Even in the below 0 degree sleeping bag, my toes were not heating up. Plus, the high-speed wind that was shaking my tent didn’t help. It took a while but I think eventually, I passed out. If you are going camping during the winter, make sure to pack thick socks to keep your toes warm, maybe double layer your sleeping bag, and take some heat packs to keep you warm. (This is my notes for future events)

pic: my tent under the stars

Right before going to bed, I took this picture. The wind was so strong that even on my tripod, my phone couldn’t standstill. But I really loved being able to see so many stars with my naked eyes. Not my best photo of stars but I hope you enjoy it.

Weekend getaway: sequoia national park day 1

Every time my parents visit the US, we try to do a small family gathering by traveling together. My brothers live in opposite coasts and usually we only get to see our parents once a year. However, with covid this year, we couldn’t all meet up since the domestic flights were still pretty packed and we didn’t want to risk anyone’s health while gathering.

So the ones that were together decided to go camping. We asked dad to pick between Yosemite and Sequoia and he picked Sequoia. I instantly went to Sequoia National Park’s website to make sure they were open and luckily they were. The website had all the information about what would be open and what would remain closed. I tried to book their lodge but they were already filled up for the days we were planning.

And when I checked the campgrounds, they were also all booked! This was 2 weeks prior but they were already booked, weekdays and weekends. For campgrounds, they had limited number of spaces available (for social distancing) and you can make reservation 3 months in advance, so it must have booked up quickly. We ended up reserving a lodge about 6 miles out from the Foothill entrance in Three Rivers area called Western Holiday Lodge.

On the day of our trip, we had a slow start. We stopped by the Asian Market to grab some food and snacks for the trip. Plus, we were on vacation and decided to take it slow. When we arrived, the lodge didn’t seem too bad. The check-in process was very quick and the staff were all wearing masks. There were people grilling in the picnic area and kids playing in the playground. It was very family-friendly. The rooms were spacious too but the amenities for the rooms were slightly different so that was interesting. We booked 2 rooms and room A had a seating area with a sofa and coffee table while room B had a mini kitchenette. Both rooms had a fridge and microwave. If you have an amenity that you need, I would let the lodge know ahead of time.

We arrived late (around 6pm) and started cooking dinner right away. The sun was already starting to set and we needed the light to cook. The balcony had enough space to place our small burner and grill. We pan grilled samgyupsal (pork belly), washed up some veggies, opened up some side dishes we brought from home, and microwaved rice! And Voila~

There were not a lot of restaurants around the area so it might not be so bad to bring food and prep them at the lodge. There is only one BBQ spot so come early and claim it or bring your own! If not, bring microwavable food.

We were able to cook and prepare dinner before the sunset and that sunset was on point! The drive wasn’t too bad but we wanted to make it slow so after dinner, we just enjoyed some free time and each others’ company. I loved looking at the sunset glow and relaxing. Day 2 was going to be a full day!