There aren’t many cities where a kid can jump on a bus and go camping.

San Francisco is one of them.

The Rob Hill Campground, located on 4 acres at the top of the Presidio’s tallest hill, opens today (May 3) after a two-year, $4 million makeover. It’s the only campground in San Francisco, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Rob Hill can accommodate 120 visitors a night. Reservations are open to families and large groups – through the Camping at the Presidio program, Presidio Trust officials are bringing in large numbers of urban kids who have never spent a night among the eucalyptus trees.

“We’re trying to help create first experiences with the outdoors,” said Craig Middleton, executive director of the Presidio Trust, who oversaw the project with the help of a grant from the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund.

A camping trip in the city begets an overnighter in the Sierra. “And pretty soon,” Middleton said, “maybe they’re hooked.”

Michele Gee, deputy director of the Crissy Field Center, said the Presidio hopes 3,000 to 4,000 youths will spend a night at the campground this year.

Strategic spot

The history of Rob Hill, a strategically held piece of land since the Ohlone Indians called the Presidio home, can be enough to hold the attention of most kids.

At a steep 384 feet above sea level – directly above Baker Beach – Rob Hill offers an expansive view of the bay and ocean. In 1776, members of Juan Bautista de Anza’s expedition walked along the hillside and decided that’s where they’d build the Spanish Presidio.

By 1852, U.S. Army engineers planned to build a fort on the spot named “Redoubt,” but workers instead built a small lookout station known as “Telegraph Hill” – not to be confused with the hill across town that houses Coit Tower.

So the name “Rob Hill” came from the survey marker “Redoubt, Telegraph Hill.”

Michael Boland, chief planning, projects and programs officer for the Presidio Trust, worked on the campground restoration and is especially excited to see Rob Hill reopening.

After World War II, while much of the Presidio was closed to the public, the Army fashioned Rob Hill into a campground for use by Boy Scouts. As a boy, Boland was one of the visitors.

“It was a dusty spot in the woods,” Boland recalled. “And calling it that was generous.”

Today, the redesigned campground is state of the art.

The main pathways leading to 24 miles of hiking trails are gently sloped for wheelchair users. The benches, tables and even parts of the Great Room, a large covered structure where students will gather to learn about the ecosystem, were built from Monterey Cypress trees felled in the national park.

“It’s as green a campground as we could make it,” Boland said.

One thing that hasn’t changed: The site is still beneath the westernmost point of the Pacific flyway. On Friday morning, migrating raptors passed overhead.

At night, campers can hear the foghorns. In the morning, seals’ barks come in loud and clear.

On a recent hike, Middleton said, he looked west at the expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Below, he saw the vibrant city. To the east, he could see the tip of UC Berkeley’s Campanile. The juxtaposition was inspiring.

“Seeing all of those things at once,” Middleton said, “was quite an experience to take in. We’re hoping kids will feel the same.”

Camping reservations

A limited number of spots for groups or families at the Rob Hill Campground are available for the 2010 season, which runs until Oct. 31. Reservations can be made with the Presidio Trust at (415) 561-5444, and are limited to two-night maximum. They can also be made at www.presidio.gov starting today (May 3).