We Hipcampers really try and practice what we preach, and that’s why the team decided to take a Fourth of July weekend backpacking trip to one of our favorite and Hipcamp-certified parks—Austin Creek. After a quick stop at the park info station to say what’s up to our favorite operations manager, Tom, and making sure we had the insider tips on our backpacking campsite, the team loaded up and started down the golden grass and oak-spotted trail towards Mannings Flat Campground.
Trekking on the steep downhill through the rolling and secluded hills of Austin Creek was nothing short of magical, as our fresh legs took us four miles through gorgeous panoramic views, the shade of oaks and redwoods, and the occasional strewn-about wild boar trap. With intermittent stops at the murmuring creek traveling alongside to soak a bandana or hat in response to the heat, we eventually arrived at our beautiful destination unscathed and ready for more exploration.
Austin Creek right by our campsite…not bad eh
Now, when trusty Tom told us that we might come across some Cali newts during our stay, we didn’t really think that much of it. That thinking was totally reversed when we stepped into the water and immediately saw a minimum of five newts scatter at the presence of our anthropomorphic appendages. For real, we could write an entire post dedicated to these fascinating and aquatic amphibians that lit up and gave life to the creek. These things were everywhere. After spending a good hour or so playing in the knee deep waters and discussing the possible levels of poison that our amphibious friends possessed, we decided to leave them be and return to our campsite (which was literally 20 feet from the creek, a fantastic place to set up camp).
One of the many newts crawling around our founder’s hand
Let’s take a quick break and explain the glory that is Mannings Flat Campground #1. Situated right next to none other than Austin Creek in all its glory, our campground was luxuriously located next to a spanning meadow and trees as far as the eye can see. Definitely a great place to warm your soul and relax in some truly secluded wilderness. All you really need to know is that you have to see it for yourself.
We had a solid day of backpacking, so that means dinner was undoubtedly on the forefront of our minds. Upon preparing a delicious sweet potato, pepper and onion curry on top of a fan-favorite quinoa, the team sat down to enjoy a much needed meal. We all know how much better food tastes while camping, and this was definitely no exception. After stuffing ourselves to the point of no return, we went that extra step farther (at this point the idea of “return” was 20 miles and 20 pounds in the distance). That’s right, we decided to go classic style and roast some good ol’ s’mores.
Before I dive into the glory that was our s’more indulgence, I would like to preface this with the fact that it took 4 people and 20 minutes of time in the chocolate bar section of Whole Foods to decide on the disproportionate amount of chocolate that we lugged into camp. OK, with that backstory, you understand how we soon became mavericks of the s’more making game by the end of the night. The creative juices were flowing, as we mixed and matched double-roasted marshmallows with coffee, orange, toffee, almond, sea salt, and other chocolates that we’ll refrain from naming for time purposes. I’d like to take this time to give a big shouts out to our co-founder Eric, who displayed some serious culinary creativity with a toffee-coffee chocolate combo marshmallow s’more vision that changed camping desserts as we know it. We added the recipe to the end of our Favorite Camping Meals blog for all those s’mores fiends looking to try it out. Write that one down in your book and save it, I was lucky enough to snag a bite and it was delicious to say the least.
As the night moved on and we exercised our sugar highs, things definitely got a little weirder, as notions of lying naked among the newts were seriously considered by some members of our party. Some whiskey was responsibly sipped and ghost stories shared, then it was time for bed under the magnificent star-lit sky.
Upon waking up the next morning, there was one thing we knew had to be done before heading out, and that was checking out the secret swimming hole half a mile up the river. Oh boy, arguably the highlight of the trip, this sequestered swimming haven was a fantastic morning refresher. Boasting a hidden beach, enough room for some water frolicking, even a 10-foot jumping rock, this hidden gem was an incredible way to wake up.
After our mini excursion, we returned, nommed on some delectable mushroom, onion, and sausage scramble, packed up, and hit the road in the 90-some degree heat. While looking back on this hike back is humorous, that trek was definitely not for the faint of heart. At least during midday, some of the uncovered (yet still gorgeous) ascents were a bear to climb, but we were still able to make it up the mountain with time to spare. If anything, it helped us shed some of those calories from the day before, but we recommend allowing yourself ample time if you find yourself on the same trip.
Not a bad breakfast to say the least
All in all, our backpacking trip through Austin Creek was a great adventure, filled with rolling and stunning hills, many-a-newt, s’more ingenuity, and good company. Definitely a highly recommended route. We can’t wait to see where we are headed next!
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