Best Tent Camping-Northern California-5th Edition  by Wendy Speicher

Best Tent Camping-Northern California-5th Edition Guide Book

by Wendy Speicher (Menasha Ridge Press)
Best Tent Camping-Northern California-5th Edition  by Wendy Speicher
The Golden State provides a spectacular backdrop for some of the most scenic campgrounds in the country. But do you know which campgrounds offer the most privacy? Which are the best for first-time campers? Wendy Speicher has traversed the entire region, from coastal Santa Cruz to rugged Yosemite to the forested Oregon border, and compiled the most up-to-date research to steer you to the perfect spot!

© 2018 Wendy Speicher/Menasha Ridge Press. All Rights Reserved.

Trails from the "Best Tent Camping-Northern California-5th Edition" Guide Book
Displaying trails 20 of 50.

Displaying trails 1 to 20 of 50.

Drive 5 miles off US 101 on Mattole Road through incredible stands of redwoods (use daytime headlights) and come to Albee Creek Campground 0.3 mile up an access road on the right. This beautiful campground is framed by Albee Creek on the east and Bull Creek on the south. A big draw in the park is the Eel River, with springtime canoeing and the wildflower bloom. Hike down along the Eel, and pick up the River Trail where the Big Trees–Albee Creek Trail loops back around near the Rockefeller Loop. From here, the River Trail heads down the west side of the Eel to the Children’s Forest, where a stone marker records the names of local children who died in the early 1900s. The fire-hollowed trees here once were goose pens. The round-trip just tops 5 miles.
Weott, CA - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
Not to be confused with Antlers RV Park & Campground, which is a private campground just a quarter mile down the road, Antlers Campground offers one of many opportunities for tent camping around Lake Shasta. Antlers Campground is located at the tiny town of Lakehead and is much larger than it first appears. Several loops wind through the tall oaks, firs, and pines. You won’t be lounging on the beach or jumping into the lake from your campsite here. The campground rests on a cliff above the lake, and depending on water levels, that cliff can be quite significant. There is lake access at the boat ramp and by half-hidden trails, but be careful. By the way, Lake Shasta doesn’t have any beach areas, just plenty of smooth red earth both below and above the surface.
Lakehead, CA - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
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Eagle Lake is so uniquely beautiful that you have to go there, and it is so far from anywhere that you have to stay for a while. Don’t bother lugging food supplies all the way to Eagle Lake—buy everything in nearby downtown Susanville, a town so western that you’ll expect Wyatt Earp to saunter out of one of the square brick buildings on Main Street in his bowler hat, toting a six-gun. Then you’ll look around and see the supermarket, gas station, and bank. All the same, Susanville is a real cowboy town. Of course, many sites are first come, first served. You can also camp in a reservable site if you arrive and find it empty. Just check with the reservations host (in a separate trailer from the campground host), who will tell you if the site is open for the day. The best plan is to arrive, find a site that you would be happy with, park the car, and then nose around to see if you can find something better.
Susanville, CA - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
Mammoth Lakes and the surrounding areas overflow with outdoor recreation opportunities. Tall, voluminous mountains draped in wintry white blankets become lush oases for summer camping. Sapphire lakes sparkle, lively creeks tumble over granite boulders, and hordes of people coming from every direction jockey for a piece of wilderness to call home for a night. This is not your usual state-park camping. First off, the grounds are privately owned and operated, in conjunction with a kitschy bed-and-breakfast, by the Bramlette family. In the campground, jackrabbits scamper between the sage tufts. Western tanagers and red-winged blackbirds perch in the bushes. And the dry air, combined with some of the least light-polluted skies in the country, yields unparalleled stargazing from your very own hot tub.
Benton, CA - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
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This park is the granddaddy of all the incredible California state parks. Big Basin has wonderful camping, as well as tent cabins with interior wood stoves. Lovely Wastahi Campground is all walk-in tent campsites, with the farthest campsite 200 feet from the parking areas. Huckleberry is all walk-in as well, with the farthest site 50 feet from the parking. With Blooms Campground and Sempervirens Campground, Big Basin has another 102 developed campsites for RVs, but the park doesn’t feel at all crowded. The huge redwoods give Big Basin a certain eerie calm. 14-day stay limit (7-day stay limit in summer), 30-day stay limit annually; 8 people/ site; reservations recommended on holidays and summer weekends.
Boulder Creek, CA - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
Head up Blue Lakes Road near Carson Pass, but make certain you have all your ice and supplies, because it’s a long way back to town. The nearest shopping is at Woodfords, or up over the pass and down at Caples Lake—but they don’t have much. For the first 7 miles off CA 88 (Carson Pass National Scenic Byway), you’ll breeze along the nicely paved Blue Lakes Road by the West Fork Carson River. Then the road turns to dirt for the last bone-jarring 5 miles to Lower Blue Lake. The Blue Lakes have everything but motorboats: trout, granite islands you can swim to, meadows full of wildflowers, rugged granite ridges, and clear-blue water cold enough to ice down a six-pack. This is heaven.
Markleeville, CA - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
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All roads that lead to Buckeye Campground also pass the Burger Barn in Bridgeport. Anytime is a good time for an everything-on-it burger, wrapped in wax paper, at the outside tables of this ageless monument to roadside dining. Historic Bridgeport’s Burger Barn is a famous relic of Americana. At 7,000 feet, Buckeye is Big Country camping. The air smells of pine, dust, and cold, rushing water. Buckeye Creek runs right past the campground. The mountain wildflowers grow from the sandy, needled floor among the sage. You look up and see the rocky slopes and, farther on, the white of the glaciers on the peaks: it’s cowboy country
Bridgeport, CA - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
Drive along the windswept coast and turn inland on country roads baked golden in the sun. Turn up the canyon drained by Little Butano Creek and suddenly you are in a redwood rain forest—what an enchanted spot! Look for pygmy nuthatches, winter wrens, chickadees, banana slugs, and newts under the redwoods, Douglas fir, tan oak, maple, and ferns. This is prime camping, and most folks don’t even know it’s here. According to Native American lore, butano means “a gathering place for friendly visits,” and that’s the vibe in Butano State Park.
Pescadero, CA - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
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The towering white peak of Mount Shasta stands center stage in far north-central California, gathering attention from every direction and vantage point. And while there are great outdoor opportunities around and on this magnificent sleeping giant, the Shasta-Trinity Forest off its western shoulder holds a treasury of lakes, streams, and glacial formations. There’s no camping on the lake, but sites are available less than a mile back down the mountain, keeping you close enough for frequent jaunts to the crystal waters, and hiking trails abound throughout the region. Winter brings visitors to Castle Lake for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and ice skating, and anglers arrive for some of the best ice fishing around.
Mount Shasta, CA - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
Crater Lake Campground has the most unexpected charm. You drive off CA 44 across a railroad track toward a mountain in the distance. The mostly dirt road (only 7 miles) winds up around a volcanic cone. Rough only in places, the road brings you to the lip of the cone in a short time, and you can look down on 27 acres of the prettiest little lake surrounded by aspens turning gold in the fall. This is a small campground—only 17 campsites, and most of them are pitched wrong or too small for even small RVs, so this is prime tent camping. The sites are sprinkled up and down the loop to the lake’s edge. Fishing on Crater Lake is pretty good, especially after it is stocked.
Susanville, CA - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
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Lake Tahoe, the queen of California lakes, faces a mountain of woes—population and pollution threaten the lake’s natural beauty—but if you come to D. L. Bliss State Park and hike down the Rubicon Trail toward Emerald Bay State Park, you’ll see Tahoe almost as Mark Twain did. Now, besides being reforested and magically beautiful, D. L. Bliss State Park is a parent’s delight. The place is crawling with kids playing under the pines and climbing the rounded boulders in the campground. We brought our big-city niece to Bliss, and within moments she was running around the campground playing hide-and-seek with all the kids. The flush toilets are immaculately clean, and the hot showers are heavenly after a day of swimming down at Lester Beach (the best beach in Tahoe for kids) and hiking the Rubicon Trail to Emerald Bay and back.
South Lake Tahoe, CA - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
All rangers will tell you Dillon Creek Campground is a good campground. “Ah, Dillon,” the rangers say and smile. “The river down there is nice.” Rangers love Dillon because it is a model campground. The campground host’s trailer sits right at the entrance to where the Dillon campsites file back along the hill. And, located by CA 96, Dillon is easy to patrol. I spoke to the campground host who said, “We had an unruly bear here once and I called for help on my mobile phone. The law was here in 10 minutes.” Did they arrest the bear? I forgot to ask. Beginning in the fall, the name of the game here is steelhead. For anglers, this means the Klamath River in the winter, cold nights around a smoky campfire telling fish stories, and that one hard bite on the line that can only mean steelhead.
Somes Bar, CA - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
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This pretty campground is perfect for families. Just off US 101, Elk Prairie Campground has all the amenities—flush toilets, hot showers, secluded campsites set off in redwoods and maples, and a meadow full of children-pleasing wapiti, otherwise known as elk. These huge animals, Cervus elaphus (or Roosevelt elk, in honor of Teddy, the president who helped protect them), are instant crowd pleasers. The absolute best time to come is in September and October, when the sun shines. Summer is warmer, but expect some fog, and be prepared to dress for it. Spring has rainy spells but also wildflowers.
Orick, CA - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
As summer heat sizzles off the Central Valley floor, campers and cliff jumpers flock to Lower Falls on the McCloud River like seagulls to an opened bag of chips on the beach. This is river-swimming paradise. The clean, cool, natural spring–fed waters of the Upper McCloud River tumble through a deep basaltic canyon. The result is three dramatic waterfalls within a 1.5-mile stretch. Each waterfall boasts its own deep, aquamarine pool for thick-skinned swimmers who dare brave the year-round, mid-50s temperatures for the thrill of a chill.
McCloud, CA - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
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First off—Quaking Aspen Campground and Toiyabe Campground are just different loops in one campground in Grover Hot Springs State Park. Secondly, it is a family park. If you’re looking for peace and quiet, you don’t want to be here in the summer when school’s out—the place is full of kids. But if you have kids, Grover Hot Springs (named after Alvin M. Grover, one of the original Anglo owners) is the place to be. There are lots of other kids to play with yours, so you can kick back for a change. There’s a nice warm swimming pool watched over by healthy, young lifeguards; a stream full of fish and other interesting denizens; miles of trails up rounded hills; miles of nontrafficked roads to bike on; grassy meadows; a nearby Western town with a museum, supplies, and horse rentals; a nature trail; hot showers; flush toilets; and a big, uncrowded camp to run around in like a wild animal.
Markleeville, CA - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
Here’s another beautiful campground in Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) land. As usual, the campground is well conceived and well tended. PG&E is mindful of its image and sets out to curry favor with the public, ever apprehensive of its problems when it sometimes has to draw down the level of its reservoirs in late summer to satisfy us energy guzzlers in the flatland below. That’s when folks look around and say, “Hey, Bucks Lake isn’t a lake at all, but a reservoir contained by a dam. And Haskins Valley is named for the valley where the lake is now.” Think summer camping: bring a tent you can stand up in—and sit in your folding chair. Consider a screen house too, as there are voracious mosquitoes in this area; out there when the bloodsuckers are buzzing in your ears, a screen house is worth its weight in gold. Bucks Lake is heavy-duty cross-country-skiing territory.
Quincy, CA - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
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Medicine Lake is beautiful. Hemlock Campground is the first of the three campgrounds you come to on the east side of the lake. After Hemlock you reach A. H. Hogue, and then Medicine Lake. All three are fine campgrounds. Hemlock is more geared to tents, with fewer flat places to park RVs. A. H. Hogue is a little flatter but still favors tents. The flat Medicine Lake Campground attracts the majority of the RVs and trailers. Hemlock Campground is nearest the beach and boat launch. God knows how, but the beach is composed of actual white sand. It even has a natural kiddie pool, protected by a sandbar. Medicine Lake does allow motorboats, but felicitously, there are specific rules and times for water-skiers and motorboat use (check the current rules posted on the bulletin board). This leaves times when anglers are free to troll for the thousands of trout stocked in the lake every year.
McCloud, CA - Campgrounds - Trail Length: 0
In a parallel universe, there would be no Hendy Woods State Park Campgrounds. In 2011, when 70 California state parks were on the chopping block, Hendy Woods was scheduled for closure in 2012. At that time, the park spent approximately $200,000 more each year on operating costs than it brought in. Less than 50,000 people visited the 816-acre park, making it a little too quiet for legislators trying to balance budgets. Fortunately, something about the silent, ancient coast redwoods defies price tags. While the trees, some 300 feet tall and more than 1,000 years old, certainly take center stage, there’s more to do than just wander the woods. Picnicking along the 3.3 miles of river frontage in the park is popular. This gentle section also lends itself to floaters, so bring your own craft and take out at the Philo-Greenwood bridge.
Philo, CA - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
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This campground is my favorite campground in the Sierra Nevada. At 8,600 feet, the campsites are by the pretty Highland Lakes, in a valley full of bright wildflowers. If you can get in on the road to Highland Lakes, it means the snowdrifts have melted. If the snowdrifts have melted, you know the wildflowers are out——this is a short season. To the north, even in late August, Folger Peak has snow fields. Hiram Peak to the south is as big and brown as a warm bear. There are hikes going everywhere. This is off the beaten track. You don’t just happen to show up there, so plan to stay for a while.
Arnold, CA - Campgrounds - Trail Length:
For hundreds of years people have camped on the flat at Indian Well. This is the only level, open ground nearby. Soft pumice covers most of the rocks, so it is easy to pitch a shelter and sleep on the ground. The flat is up high enough that visitors can see for miles. And there’s water in the Indian Well Cave, visible by daylight. Lava Beds National Monument first shocks you then rewards you. The land seems desolate and savage. The visitor center, where you can buy the Lava Beds Caves map book, is 0.5 mile from the campground. Going into the caves is no joke. Bring warm clothes (cold air collects in the caves). A hard hat for your head is a good idea, but at least wear a cloth hat. Never go alone. Come prepared for hot and cold camping.
Tulelake, CA - Campgrounds - Trail Length: 0
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