San Francisco's Camp Mather is 100 years old

A beloved and storied family camp where memories have been made by generations of San Franciscans, including one who later became a Supreme Court justice, is celebrating a milestone 100th anniversary.

San Francisco’s Camp Mather is located just outside the gates of Yosemite National Park in Tuolumne County. 

The city first came to the area during the construction of the O'Shaughnessy Dam which til today along with Hetch Hetchy Regional Water System supplies drinking water to San Francisco. The site was built as a sawmill.

"When the O’Shaughnessy Dam was completed, many of the facilities were no longer needed," the city’s recreation and parks department wrote on its website, adding, "In the mid 1920’s, the City of San Francisco designated the property for use as a family recreation area."

Over the past 100 years, the site, nestled among towering pine trees, has served as a getaway for the city’s residents seeking to get off the grid for a respite away from city life and be immersed in nature. 

"Camp Mather offers city residents a unique weeklong outdoor experience, with activities including horseback riding, swimming, hiking, arts and crafts, a ropes course, tennis, archery, campfire talent shows and more," the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department said. 

Campers take part in a wide range of activities at Camp Mather in Groveland, Calif., which is marking its 100th anniversary.  (San Francisco Recreation and Parks )

Generations of families have spent summer days at Camp Mather, which has also served as a launchpad for scenic trips to surrounding iconic locations, including Yosemite Valley and the Tuolumne Meadows.   

File of Camp Mather attendees around the camp fire.  (San Francisco Recreation and Parks )

The rich history of Camp Mather dates back even before the pioneers settled in California, as the land was home to a group of Miwok Indians. 

The city’s rec and park department said, today there are still reminders and evidence of the Miwok’s presence as artifacts once belonging to the indigenous people were occasionally discovered in the area.

Mather has stood the test of time and the wrath of nature, surviving wildfire threats including the massive Rim Fire back in 2013.

Among the list of notable figures that have come through was retired Supreme Court Justice and San Francisco native Stephen Breyer who worked at Mather as a teenager, according to park officials.

On the Friends of Camp Mather website, he’s quoted as speaking about his experience at Camp Mather, describing it as a communal environment where "Anyone could go." 

Breyer went on to say, "You had a mix of the families of firemen, policemen, and doctors and lawyers. They all felt an obligation to be part of the community and to contribute to the community."

Parks officials said today, the site carried that same spirit. The camp hosts inclusive "special weeks" like those designated for families with kids with disabilities, as well as those designed for seniors and a special program for "justice-involved youth," parks spokesperson Tamara Aparton shared with KTVU.

Due to the intense popularity of Camp Mather, the city has set up a lottery which opens in December. Both residents and non-residents can sign up, but the lottery does prioritize resident requests first.

Low-income San Francisco residents may be eligible for a discounted rate.

Either cabin or tent site rentals are offered during the weekly reservation schedule, which started June 2 this season. The final week of camp goes from August 11 to 17.

For residents, lodging fees run from as low as $322 a week for a six-person tent site to $1,367 for a six-person cabin.

Tradition runs deep at Camp Mather with folks returning year after year to create more memories.

"Our oldest employee (in his mid-90s) works there leading nature hikes, and also worked there as a high school kid," Aparton shared.

A scroll through the Camp Mather Facebook page shows scenic photso posted by visitors over the years, conjuring up images of childhood summers spent in the warm outdoors.

One Camp Mather attendee posted about his and his family's activity-filled stay earlier this month. 

"Arts and crafts, ropes course, archery, nature walks, talent show, definitely old timey camp vibes," Matt Gripp said. "If you got little ones and live in SF try to get into the lottery."

This story was reported from Oakland, Calif. 

San Francisco Camp Mather near Yosemite National Park celebrates 100 years of tradition.  (San Francisco Recreation and Parks )