Got Family Traditions? Y’all Come!

Up in the high sierra, an hour above Jackson, California, lies a place that has become an virtual magnet for family traditions. This would be called “Stockton Silver Lake Family Camp.” (If the word “camp” sounds too oogie, know that rustic-but-bearable is a much more apt term. No more hauling dishwater up from the creek!) The “camp” is for families, and consists of about 50 rustic cabins (yes, cabins!) walking distance from Silver Lake, up on Highway 88.

Since the opening of this camp in 1921 by the City of Stockton for its citizens and their families, it has been the summer respite for thousands of children, adults, and seniors, who like being together out in nature to enjoy all the amenities of gorgeous Silver Lake, while meeting new friends year after year and coming “home” each night to their own cabin.

The camp is open to not only Stocktonians but all who are interested. Campers now come from Woodland, Dublin, San Jose, Manteca, Modesto, San Francisco, and elsewhere. Traditionally, families come up once to sample the experience, become hooked, and grab a few friends or relatives to return for a longer period the following year, and then return year after year. What inevitably happens is that children who grew up at camp bring their own children, and generation after generation ends up experiencing the beauty, camaraderie and recreation available to them at Silver Lake. They become bred-in-the-wool campers who look forward every year to new or old adventures. One of the campers, in her 80’s, goes year in and year out, and calls Silver Lake Camp “home.” Her husband stopped going regularly but she continues to go, loving it as she does and unable to stay away from all her Silver Lake friends each summer. Another camper and her husband, now in his 80’s, has ties to Silver Lake Camp from 1946! New families are trying out this camp each year and find it welcoming to single moms and dads, small children, teenagers and seniors.

In 2009, the City of Stockton deigned to open this camp for the first time, ostensibly because of the economic downturn. This would most certainly mean the camp would fall into ruin and be lost forever. The Silver Lake Campers Association, a little membership organization that used to provide extra amenities to the camp, stepped up to save the camp, which is on leased U.S. forest land. This was a small band of simple camp-loving volunteers who jumped in to make it happen. The camp has entered its 5th year as a thriving camp under these miraculous volunteers, whose learning curve was incredible and whose tenacity has seriously saved this camp for all those traditionalists and generations to come.

The camp itself has 50 cabins, each with two sets of bunk beds as well as a double bed and a dresser. Campers have to bring their own bedding, usually sleeping bags, some serviceable footwear and clothing for warm days and chilly nights, and little else. All meals are provided, even sack lunches for hikes. Cabins can often be booked in close proximity to one another for families and small groups who require more than one cabin. A central bathhouse offers toilets, sinks and warm showers, with an adjacent laundry room. A first-aid station is manned 24/7, also.

In addition to the cabins, the whole camp is a playground for all ages, including a central lodge where people gather to, eat, play games and generally recreate with other families or their own. There is a huge campfire pit for the almost-nightly group campfires and singalongs, attended by young and old alike, where traditional campfire songs are sung, announcements are made, and sometimes skits are trotted out by the children.

An Arts and Crafts shack provides varied activities each morning for children, under the tutelage of an adult supervisor. Hiking, both organized and otherwise, short and long, goes on daily. Boats and canoes are available for rent across the lake for those interested in boating or fishing. The camp itself has kayaks and a canoe that can be checked out without charge on a first-come, first served basis. There is tetherball, volleyball, horseshoes, table tennis, and sometimes adult arts and crafts. There could be a slide show in the lodge after dinner, bingo, or just “game night.” There is a small library and game center in the corner of the lodge.

All in all, people who want a wholesome family experience in the rustic environment of Silver Lake Camp can build traditions of their own—and will find it contagious!

Judy Bonfilio