While much of the world conspires to tear us apart through social media and our addiction to productivity through screens, Mother Nature strives to connect us with songs of leaves rustling in the wind, crisp air cooling our skin and campfires toasting marshmallows. Camping can be that perfect escape to invite her into our lives.
Though, many won’t consider camping as an option because ‘roughing it’ may not be their style. Luckily, Kampgrounds of America has taken that into consideration and built private campgrounds to bridge uncomfortable obstacles.
Instead of hard, dirt floors and a midnight walk to use the loo, KOA offers guests deluxe cabins with hot showers, full kitchens and attached bathrooms beside their warm, fluffy beds. Safari tents are also available for those who want to say they slept in a tent. They don’t have to mention the soft mattress and the African-chic decor also within. Still, children huddled around a firepit, millions of unobstructed stars and an opportunity to bond with loved ones and/or business colleagues can be reward enough for getting outdoors.
There are more than 500 KOA-franchised campgrounds spread across the United States and Canada. We chose the one closest to home, about a 90-minute drive from downtown Los Angeles (depending on traffic, of course!), a glampers paradise called Ventura Ranch KOA Holiday. Modern, tastefully decorated mobile home cabins perch on the foothills of the Topa Topa mountains, overlooking an expanse of green carpeting the valley between Ojai and Santa Paula. The campground offers something for every type of outdoor lover, from that tough and hardy tent camper who isn’t afraid of living without electricity and chilly walks to the bathroom, to whimsical teepees with beds that also require that frosty walk. There are full hookup RV sites and group sites perfect for family reunions or corporate team building events and there are also our beloved, cozy cabins with lofts perfect for tucking in kids and a closing master bedroom for parental privacy.
Though much of Ventura Ranch KOA Holiday was damaged during the epic Thomas Fire, those flames didn’t scorch the spirit of franchise owner, Scott Cory, who mixed the leadership skills he got while working on the KOA corporate team with his boyhood glee to recreate a camping paradise for families, friends and business colleagues. The campsite reopened Memorial Day 2018 and much of the area has been reforested with mature trees to replace the blackened ones and, although most activities have been rebuilt or remained undamaged, his zipline course was burned in the fire. He is awaiting permits to rebuild a higher, longer and more thrilling one next time. He also plans on adding a ropes course, a magical meadow for storytelling and expanding the RV and cabin sites.
“I hope I make some new friends,” my 8-year-old son, Knox, said as we prepared to leave for our KOA adventure.
Though every KOA campground offers different amenities at each site, the following were our favorite Ventura Ranch KOA Holiday activities:
Giant Jumping Pillow
Filled with pumped air and open to all guests under 16 years of age, laugh your way across the 55-foot bouncy pillow, create imaginative games and challenge your balance as you jump for joy surrounded by evergreens and painted teepees.
Rock Climbing Wall
My little monkeys love to climb and not far from the jumping pillow is another opportunity to make friends while exhausting your littles. This is also a chance to show them you’ve still got it and, for corporate events, a time to encourage your team to go beyond what they think they can do.
New to the campground is a dirt bike course perfect for kids to try out their jumps and hug the sides of mud-packed hills as they zip by. Bring your helmet!
Big Foot Adventure Walk
Ribbons of flashlights cut through the night on Saturdays as guests follow a guide on a search for Bigfoot! The hunt follows the trail leading to the Sasquatch’s watering hole, a river bordering the camping area. The night is filled with stories and adventure. You may even spot the huge, furry beast to the delight of children and the parents that get to watch their excitement.
For many kids, cold water isn’t a deterrent from trying to navigate across the rocks of the river that is Bigfoot’s watering hole. If they fall in, it’s a chance to take off their shirts and wade in search of clues to his whereabouts. Rock skipping is also a popular activity there.
At the end of our trip, our little city boys had their shirts wrapped around their heads as they led a quest with their new friends across Bigfoot’s favorite place to drink. For Knox, it was mission accomplished. For the family, it was the break we needed to remember what’s really important.