I used to hate camping as a kid, but now, especially living in a city, I see camping as a break from the hustle-and-bustle of San Francisco. It’s a great way to get away from my laptop and get out in nature to hike, swim and have a good time. Even day trips to these parks provide enough regenerative time with nature to make me start my week with greater enthusiasm. Here are some of the best camping spots in California — many I’ve been to, some recently, others not-so-recently, and a couple I’ve yet to try.
1. Jenkinson Lake in Sly Park is a beautiful place to camp and enjoy the sun. Sly Park is in the town of Pollock Pines — it’s off highway 50 on your way to Lake Tahoe going east. The lake is incredibly picturesque and sits among a pine tree forest. The air smells like campfires, pine needles and on crowded days, like barbecued food from the campsites. I’ve been kayaking on the lake, which is a great way to see the lake and to cool-off a bit in the water. You can rent kayaks and boats from Memorial Day weekend though Labor Day weekend. The lake also offers fishing, 8 miles of hiking trails and 9 miles of horseback riding trails. There is a nature preserve at one end of the lake where you can see thousands of lady bugs and maybe a bald eagle if you’re lucky. It gets very hot in Sly Park, so you’ll want to find a spot with shade. You can visit for the day or camp overnight. To camp, you’ll need to make a reservation of at least two nights, or three for holiday weekends. The only downside is dogs and babies in diapers are not allowed in the lake because the water is also used for drinking water. The rangers are strict about the park rules, so keep that in mind and you’ll have a great time.
2. Emerald Bay’s boat-in campground at Lake Tahoe has been on my to-visit list for a number years now. This 20 site campground is rarely accessible by road. Guests have to kayak in. The reward for visitors is the chance to experience Emerald Bay, and views of the surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountains, without the droves of tourists who are there during most days. You can launch your kayaks (rented or ones you own) from a couple of places depending on whether you want to kayak for just an hour or three-to-four. The campsite will open July 1, 2013 and be open until Labor Day weekend. Reservations are required. The rate is $35 per night.
3. Bodega Bay is on the coast in Northern California, about an hour-and-a-half drive north of San Francisco. The gorgeous craggy shores and moody weather makes it a great place to relax. The best places to camp are Bodega Dunes and Wrights Beach, each for $35 per night. Keep in mind Wright’s Beach doesn’t have hot showers, but you can use the ones next door at Bodega. Dogs are not allowed on Bodega Dunes beach. This is also a great place to picnic for the day. Forget s’mores for this trip — I often stop at Patrick’s of Bodega Bay to buy a bag of saltwater taffy. Yum!
4. Lassen Volcanic National Park is home to Lassen Peak — an active volcano, in addition to hydrothermal areas. The park also has pristine high-mountain lakes and 150 miles of hiking trails, however you cannot bring your dog on the park’s trails. The park host numerous activities including events for amateur astronomers, clubs for kids and an Art & Wine Festival. Lassen has eight campsites, half of which accept reservations. The fee for camping ranges from $30-$50 per night, groups cost $50. The park’s main road sometimes doesn’t open until mid-June depending on snow fall, so check traffic reports.
5. Yosemite National Park is a must-see place for residents and visitors of California for its grand beauty. The park is a four hour drive east of San Jose. Seven of the park’s 13 campgrounds accept reservations, the others are first come, first serve. Campsites range from rural with no showers to a bit more crowded, but have showers and bathrooms. White Wolf is a first come, first serve site, but at 8,000 feet you get a taste of the high Sierras. All campsites in the Yosemite Valley take reservations and are beautiful but crowded at popular times of the year. To get some solitude you can apply for a Wilderness Permit and camp for a night or two at Little Yosemite Valley near some of Yosemite’s best attractions — Half Dome and Merced River. But you must be hiking the area and present your planned itinerary to get the permit.The park has numerous outdoor activities to suite all tastes.
6. Sequoia National Forest is home to giant redwood trees, lush vegetation and the longest cave in California. The forest is in Sequoia & Kings Canyon and is about a 5 hour drive north of Los Angeles. There are 14 campgrounds in the park, most of which are first come, first serve. Camping costs about $20. The Lodgepole Campground is about 2 miles from the Giant Forest — a grove of redwoods with the General Sherman tree, the largest living tree in the world standing 275 feet tall and 2,300 years old.
7. Lake Almanor is another great place to enjoy the summer sun. Lake Almanor is in Plumas County, about three hours north of Sacramento in Lassen National Forest. I’ve both camped here and stayed in a cabin. Both are good options. The lake is a great place to swim and fish, and at night at lot of people barbecue. The campsites are first come, first serve, but for a fee, you can make a reservation. Camping is $18 per night. Down the street from the campground is a place called Majors Outpost where you can rent ski boats, jet skis and fishing boats.