Our weekend outing to Lake Casitas was my first camping trip since Girl Scouts, and this time there was no sit-upon or mess kit. Camping today is a first-class affair, with all the creature comforts of home to go along with all the creatures, and the rest of nature.
From the moment we pulled up to the front gates of Lakes Casitas Recreation Area (http://lakecasitas.info), we felt at home. We received a warm greeting from the staff, including the head honcho, Park Services Officer Brent Doan, a nature lover who clearly found his calling as a ranger. I had corresponded by email with Doan prior to our trip, and besides a vast knowledge of the park and its amenities, he also possessed the warmth and patience of a favorite camp counselor. He took the time to answer my many Camp 101 questions, like, “Can we pitch a tent next to our camper?” “ Caan we build a bonfire?” “Can we bring our own inflatable boat?” (Answers: “Yes,” if the tent is on the concrete slab; “yes,” in the fire pit; and, “maybe,” if our boat has a rigid bottom and is quarantined for 10 days prior to use, so ultimately “no” in our case).
Like a Good Neighbor
The camp host, Larry, who also happens to be the manager for Casitas Trailer Rentals (http://www.casitastrailers.com), was the next person to welcome us. Despite a sell-out crowd of 400 campers keeping him hopping, Larry took his time with us – helping us raise our camper awning, showing us the features of our camper, and scooping us on happenings around the lake. He seemed genuinely glad to hang out with us, and he even took time to advise our friends on some tips to restoring their vintage 1969 Monitor camper.
We lucked out in reserving a primo campsite, Angler A-1, which was everything the Lake Casitas website had promised. The site was the perfect size for our two-family party, consisting of four adults and two preschool children. It boasted a beautiful view of the lake, a canopy of shade trees, a grassy play area, proximity to the marina, electric hook ups and unlimited water and sewage. Even as novice campers, we knew enough to appreciate these latter amenities, which can prevent unseemly sewage backups in your shower.Trailer Treasure
Our set-up consisted of an 18-foot Mallard Sport camper from Casitas Trailer Rentals. The veteran camper among us, Merritt, remarked immediately upon entering that it, “Smells fresh.” Indeed, the camper was spic and span top to bottom and extremely well maintained. It had a double bed with a bunk above it, a sofa bed, and a dinette that could convert to a bed. Our entire party could have slept in the camper, snuggly albeit, but our friends chose to sleep under the starts in a 9×9 tent next to the camper.
We also backed up our Suzuki Grand Vitara Ultima and used the SUV’s spacious rear cargo area to store coolers, lounge chairs, towels, fishing poles and other extra gear. The car’s full-time four-wheel drive and touch-screen navigation also came in handy cruising around the campsite and the local Ventura sites, and the traffic info feature helped us avoid some delays on our 80-mile trip each way from Los Angeles to Ventura and back.
Go Jump in the Lake – NOT
The boating rules are strict because Lake Casitas is a drinking reservoir. For that reason, there is no swimming or body contact permitted at the lake, but what the recreation area does not offer in swimming and water skiing it makes up for with Water Adventure, a grand water park with a long and winding lazy river, a shallow kiddie play area with fountains, water cannons and other creative climbing and sliding structures, surrounded by desert-appropriate landscaping and plenty of lounge chair seating, including shady spots available by paid reservation.
Even though visitors are not permitted to take a dip in the water, there is still plenty to do on the lake, like boating and fishing. Casistas Boat Rentals (http://casitasboatrentals.com) at the marina offers motor boats, patio deck boats, kayaks, canoes and paddle boats by the hour or day. We enjoyed tooling around the island in the center of the lake in the six-passenger motor boat one day; and on our second day we cruised, fished and had lunch on a 12-passenger deck boat, which was covered by a shade canopy – which is highly recommended on hot sunny days.
None in our party were experienced boaters, but John and Randy, the staff at Casitas Boat Rentals, were very helpful in giving us instructions on starting the motor, steering and guiding the boat in and out of the slip. John and Randy also gave us fishing tips, and they saved the day by fixing my son’s tangled and broken $15 Star Wars toy fishing rod, outfitting it with pinch weights and tiny hooks. Though the fish weren’t biting by the time we finally hit the water at midday, the boys had a blast casting and reeling in their night crawler worms.
We weren’t ready to go home yet, but after three days of roughing it – after all, we opted out of cable TV hook ups — we went into the town of Ojai where we stayed overnight at the Casa Ojai Inn (www.ojaiinn.com), where we immediately hit the salt-water pool and Jacuzzi. The hotel is well-priced compared to some of the boutique inns and resorts in Ojai, and it was a comfortable and welcome retreat from, well, our retreat. The room was nicely furnished, and after being unplugged for several days, we were happy to have free wi-fi and Direct TV. The inn also offers a complimentary continental breakfast and free passes to the nearby Bryant Street Gym, though we didn’t have energy this trip for the latter.
The inn is close to the Ojai Village, which features a plethora of quaint shops, restaurants, galleries and spas. At the town’s center is the adorable Libbey Park, where my son made fast friends with some local kids playing in a little creek adjacent to the park. The park features large oak trees, a playground, tennis courts, and a beautiful amphitheater with a chine gateway that plays music when you pass under it.
At the end of our stay, we were refreshed and ready to go back to LA. After a quick stop at Ojai Ice Cream for a double-scoop and shopping for a couple souvenirs from Kingston’s Candy Company and Serendipity Toys, we piled back into the Grand Vitara for an easy afternoon drive back to Los Angeles. We were sad to see the pink mountains of Ojai fade out of sight, but it won’t be long before we go back again.