Camping with Kids, Travel

Shaver Lake: A Weekend Adventure

Wow! What a great weekend we just had! But also, looking back, what a stressful weekend we just had! The plan was to make the 4 hour drive to Shaver Lake and camp for the weekend at Dorabelle Campground. All of that happened, but it was a bit of a bumpy ride!

Explore Shaver Lake with Kids

The Journey

We kicked it off with our new favorite traffic hack and the kids and I spent the afternoon in Gilroy before picking Chris up from the CalTrain station. I’m happy to report that according to Google Maps, we beat traffic again with this strategy!

The kids and I spent most of the afternoon at Target enjoying the air conditioning and touching all the toys. K is in the middle of some intensive potty training so I grabbed some extra pullups and undies. In true potty training mode I made a big deal about letting him choose his undies and then let him carry them around the store. I swear I was watching him, but somehow he swapped them out for some size 5 Mario Kart ones and I didn’t figure it out until hours later. He wears a size 2. ?

I also let the kids pick out hats from the $3 bin, these were a huge success!

HJ in her Paw Patrol hat

The train pulled up exactly as scheduled and we rolled out with the hopes of making it to the campsite by 8:30. Once we cleared the small amount of traffic that always seems to bunch up in Gilroy, we ran into the horrible but unavoidable delays associated with traveling with young children.

I’ve already mentioned that K is in the throws of potty training and he desperately needed to poop. We stopped twice and gave him nice long chances, but he’s struggling with that, and ended up going in his pullup. So of course we pulled over again to change him.

In Los Banos we stopped to grab dinner (our first ever In & Out experience!) and then hit the road with the hopes of making up some lost time. It was not to be.

HJ suddenly felt the need for multiple bathroom stops and we, once more, found ourselves on the side of the road. At least she is fully potty trained and delivers what she promises. ?

We even made friends with two dogs who came to check out all the action!

Potty break on the side of the road

We use this travel potty and it is fantastic for exactly these situations. You can buy disposable liners, use gallon zip lock bags, or just let the pee fall through onto the ground.

One advantage of these time consuming stops was we got to really appreciate the beautiful sunset!

Sunset on the road Sunset

We finally pulled into Dorabelle campground at 20 past 10 and set up camp. The kids went to sleep immediately and Chris and I settled down on our completely deflated air mattress that had evidently sprung a leak.

A New Day Dawns

After all the frustration of the day before, I woke up feeling incredible. The sun was shining, we had a great camp site, and we were going to spend the day at the lake!

Dorabelle Campground HJ Camping Chairs

I had grabbed the kids their own camping chairs at Target the day before. [That’s an affiliate link, but they were $12.99 at Target and right now they are $28.74 on Amazon. Shop around! Amazon isn’t always the cheapest anymore.] They loved them and it kept them off our laps during breakfast!

After oatmeal and hot chocolate we explored the cave and rocks behind our campsite. I think the kids would have been OK if we’d stayed here all day!

HJ Queen of the Rock HJ and K in a cave


Chris needed to get some work done, so we headed to town in search of a coffee shop with wifi. We found one that mysteriously has no web presence and I can’t link to it! But if you are in the area it shares a deck with Young’s Sporting Goods and is a little blue building. Here’s the street view on Google Maps.

The Errors

Once Chris was safely caffeinated and plugged in, the kids and I went back to the campsite to pack for a day at the lake. The hike to Osprey Cove was supposed to be a mile with a gentle downhill slope, so I didn’t worry too much about overpacking. I made sure I had lunch, sunscreen, swimsuits, a picnic blanket, a floatie for the lake, the travel potty, and the Tula and away we went.

We got a good start and were all feeling positive, when we encountered the first fallen tree in the path. It wasn’t much so we quickly sidestepped it and continued on our way. The trail appeared to drop from a wide dirt trail to a narrow bent grass trail, but we optimistically continued on until the trail disappeared completely.

Shaver Lake Trail
Happily content on the well defined path.

I had begun to think that the bent grass was never intended to be a path, so I doubled back to the first fallen tree. This time I looked more carefully to see that the path actually continued underneath a whole mess of about 5 fallen trees. Past the brambles, the path looked clear and inviting.

I naively decided to wade through the brambles and take 1 kid with me at a time. It took probably 10 minutes for me to maneuver through with K in the Tula and another 15 to go back and lead HJ by the hand. My ankles got pretty scraped up, but I managed to keep the kids in one piece.

At this point I was proud that I had overcome this obstacle but also pretty sure I’d made a bad decision by even attempting it. I should have continued cross country when the path disappeared and just forced my way in the direction of the lake.

I continued down the path which promptly dead ended into a mess of 20+ fallen trees. At this point I was hot, worried about the kids getting burnt, and there was no shade in sight. My options were to go through this new mess of trees (not happening), go back through the original mess of trees (also, not happening), sit and cry and beg Chris to come rescue us (close, this almost happened), or just cut towards the lake in the most direct route I could find. I chose to cut straight towards the lake which involved climbing over just 1 fallen tree. I left HJ and climbed over the brambles with K in search of some shade. By the time I made it back to her I was fully panicked that she had been eaten by a bear since she’d been by herself probably 3 minutes.

No one was eaten by a bear and the worst HJ and I had was a light dusting of sunburn. Still, I would definitely not do any of that again.

HJ Triumphant
HJ celebrates, we made it past the fallen trees!

Shaver Lake!

We took a break for lunch in the shade before we continued onto a trail I had found. We followed it around the lake for awhile before it started veering off into the woods. At this point we just pushed our way through the tall grass to the lake and rejoiced that we had finally made it! That “1 mile gentle downhill” to the lake had taken us 2.5 hours!

Shaver Lake Lookout
Shaver Lake! Now how do we get to it?


I’m happy to report that from here out the weekend was smooth sailing! Shaver Lake is beautiful and the weather was phenomenal. We splashed around in the water, sat in our doughnut floatie and, after the initial shock, the water was perfect for swimming!

We could see dozens of little sand beaches around the lake, each with 0-1 families enjoying it! Somehow Shaver Lake has managed to avoid the crazy crowds found so many places in California. There were even empty campsites at Dorabelle this weekend!

Kids on shore of Shaver Lake

Chris joined us after an hour and we dragged our picnic blanket into the shade for family nap time. All four of us slept at least a little and HJ had some quality talks with Daddy once they woke up. They even concocted a plan to float all the way back to the campsite in the doughnut floatie! We didn’t make it the whole way, but it was fun!

Floating in Shaver Lake

On the return trip we walked along the beach until Open Street Map told us we were right in front of our campsite. We just happened to spy a tiny bent grass path which led right into Dorabelle campground! What a difference the route makes!

We spent the evening exploring the rocks around our site, roasting hotdogs and marshmallows, and finally falling asleep under the stars. It was truly a wonderful evening!

Kayaking on Shaver Lake

Sunday morning we made pancakes and hot chocolate before breaking down camp. It always takes so much longer to pack everything up then I imagine, but we were able to be in the car by 9:30. We took the short 5 minute drive to Shaver Lake Watersports at the Marina to rent kayaks. It cost $10 to enter the marina and $25 to rent 2 kayaks for an hour. We chose one single person kayak and one double, and each kid got a turn in both kayaks.

It was the kid’s first kayak trip and they had a great time! The weather was perfect and the water was shining like diamonds with all the sunshine. We took the kids to each of the closest buoys they touch and we landed on a nearby beach to search for subjects to rescue (we were the royal family).

I think we could have stretched this out to a half-day rental, but we wanted to get home early so we loaded up the car and headed down the mountain. The kids fell asleep immediately and we made much better time going home!

Lizard on Shaver Lake
Can you spot the lizard in this picture?
Lizard on Shaver Lake
Here he is!

Kayaking Shaver Lake

Even though we had a rough start and some bumps in the road, Shaver Lake was incredible and we had a wonderful weekend. This was our first just-our-family camping trip in California and I’m calling it a success! Check out my post on tips for camping trips with toddlers or my post on tips for beach trips with toddlers for some of the things that helped smooth the bumps in the road!

We like to check out new places, but I’m also scheming how to get back to Shaver Lake before the summer ends! It’s an incredible spot!K in Kayak on Shaver Lake


This post contains affiliate links, if you make a purchase through my link I will earn a small commission.

4 thoughts on “Shaver Lake: A Weekend Adventure

  1. Despite all the issues that you overcame in terms of getting to the campsite and then getting to the lake, there is no doubt from your account and your lovely photos that it was definitely worthwhile! This looks like a really fabulous spot and within easy reach for a great weekend. I will have to remember this for the next time I am in your general area.

    1. Definitely! I don’t regret a thing! Except trying to climb over those trees… ? It’s a great spot! Especially to get away from the crowds!

What do you think?