Backpacking to Five Lakes with a kid
Diane, Pepe and Joanna (6 years old)

Diane, Pepe and Joanna (6 years old)

Diane wrote to me early in the summer to ask some questions about backpacking with kids. We kept up a lively correspondence and as Diane got further in her planning we realized that she, her 6 year old daughter, Joanna, and husband, Pepe, would be passing right by our house in Alpine Meadows as they embarked on their first backpacking trip. Diane had backpacking experience but it was to be Pepe’s and Joanna’s first time hiking with heavy packs. I insisted that they stop by to say ‘hi’ and sort their gear at our house before they took off. It was so much fun to see all their new equipment, share Joanna’s excitement with her stuffed animal affixed to her pack, and go through all of Pepe’s highly organized equipment. Pepe had a lot of concerns about bears after seeing the educational video at Yosemite that describes in graphic detail how destructive bears can be and no amount of reassurance could put him fully at ease. He made it through the night, I’m sure with very little sleep. Read more about how their trip changed my advice in  Backpacking with kids in Tahoe-Tips for success.

 The following is Diane’s account of their trip. They didn’t make their intended destination, Whiskey Creek, partly due to a late start at 2 p.m., but found a beautiful spot to camp about two miles in at Five Lakes on the edge of the Granite Chief Wilderness near Alpine Meadows, a popular day-hiker destination that is deserted once the day-hikers depart.

Guest post by Diane C:

Pepe and Joanna on the Five Lakes Trail

Pepe and Joanna on the Five Lakes Trail

We felt an incredible sense of accomplishment after our first family backpacking trip. The Five Lakes trail up the mountain was strenuous for us “City Slickers” and the extra weight of the packs added to our difficulty, but each step up the mountain helped to clear our minds of our city stress. I could really feel my heart rate increase and my leg muscles burned. Joanna, who is just 6.10 years old, was a trouper. She has been car camping and hiking for 4 years, but this was definitely the most difficult hike she has taken. We took lots of breaks and had plenty of “chocolate power” to help motivate her.  She carried her pack about a third of the way and Pepe and I traded off the rest.

We reached Five Lakes by about 4:00 p.m., exhausted and hot, so we decided to make camp. While Pepe and Joanna cooled off in the cold lake, I searched around for a spot. There are not a lot of options as camping, campfires, and stove use are prohibited within 600  feet of any lake in the Five Lakes basin. After about an hour, I choose a nice plateau that was a couple hundred feet above the lake and we pitched our tent. Campfires were also permitted at this particular time in August.

For dinner I prepared hotdogs (no buns) and some generic deluxe Mac-n-Cheese from the Fresh-N-Easy store using a lightweight portable camping stove. I boiled water from the lake, but the pot from my old camping cookware set was not quite big enough and a bunch of pasta fell out as I was trying to stir in the cheese. It was not good and nobody liked it. Then I boiled more water and cooked the hotdogs.  I cleaned out the mac-n-cheese pot near the lake, got more water and made ramen Noodles, which were actually very tasty as the temperature dropped.    I definitely have to work on improving the menu for our next adventure.

Diane's tent at Five Lakes

Diane’s tent at Five Lakes

Before bed, we placed our bear canister quite a distance from our tent and diligently packed everything that could attract a bear.  In the morning, the canister had not been touched by a bear, or any critter for that matter.  Breakfast was fine – granola with powdered milk for adults, Fruit Loops and milk for Joanna (I brought a single serving box of milk-no refrigeration required).

Overall our supplies were good. We were happy with the REI Flash packs, the Coleman tent, Thermarest pads and  Suisse Sport Trekker Mummy sleeping bags from Big 5 . It was pretty cold at night, but Pepe, the boy scout, brought an extra blanket so I was fine.   I would recommend thermals for the Sierra. We got water from the lake and used the Sawyer PointOne Squeeze water filtration system.  We filled a plastic one-liter Smart Water bottle with lake water and attached the filter to another bottle. We then poured the water through the filtration system. We added water purification pills as an extra precaution. The water tasted good.  No one had an stomach problems afterwards.

The only other issue for me to improve on is that I seemed to have a lot of plastic to carry out. I would recommend taking the time to re-package items with ziplock bags.

Five Lakes-the largest lake

Five Lakes-the largest lake

The morning was absolutely beautiful and I took a swim in the pristine, quiet lake before the day hikers showed up.  We packed up and hiked out around noon. It was much easier and faster going down, that’s for sure, and we had a lot of fun, marveling at how we made it up the mountain the day before and at the spectacular views. There were a lot of people going up the trail. We snacked on salami, apples and Justin’s nut butter packs.

That night we enjoyed a swim, hot tub and comfortable bed at the nearby Truckee Donner Lodge and a visit to beautiful Donner Memorial State Park the next day.

We will always fondly recall our overnight at Five Lakes.  Next year, we hope to visit some Islands off the coast of Southern California where backpacking gear is essential, but the hike to the campsite is low impact. Once Joanna is a little older and Pepe gets over his fear of bears, we would like to come back to Tahoe for another adventure.

Until then — Keep Trekking !


Diane C is an urban explorer and outdoor enthusiast from Santa Monica, California.

All photos by Diane C.



Permits are not required for overnight visits in this area. However, California Campfire Permits are required if using a portable campstove for cooking or building a wood fire. Permits and information about current fire restrictions are available from any Ranger Station or California Dept. of Forestry office.  Free permits are available online at the  after completing a short, 4-question quiz.

Forest Service Ranger Station: 10811 Stockrest Spring Rd, Truckee, CA 96161


Pepe on the Five Lakes Trail

Pepe on the Five Lakes Trail