Our Top 10 Camping Trips

California Favorites


joshua tree boulder hopping rock climbing joshua tree rock climbers desert hike indian cove campground joshua tree camp joshua tree hiking trail prickley pear cactus
JOSHUA TREE - is number one because of JJ…simple as that! He absolutely loves boulder hopping and rock climbing and cannot get enough of Joshua Tree! I find it really difficult to choose a good time to go there because of the extreme weather. It is very cold and windy in the winter and extremely hot in the summer! And…. the weather is not at all reliable in spring and fall when it is still cold at night and can be very hot during the day. Add rain storms that can cause flash floods and you get the picture. What is good to note is that there is plenty of space, reserving spots is very inexpensive and you can get home in a couple of hours or to a motel in much less if you have to. Note: We are going with several families (JJ's group of friends and their parents) this year (2008) during the fall school break and are actually going to spend Thanksgiving camping. My plan is to make and take our traditional dinner with all the trimmings. We will let you know how it goes!!!

It is really beautiful and the best time is after the spring rains and before it gets too awfully hot. There are fewer rattlesnakes in spring before they come out of hibernation too…which I consider a huge plus. My first trip to Joshua Tree involved a very large rattlesnake making its way right through the middle of our camp. Imagine feeling comfortable walking around at night after that!! I love the nights out in the desert! The stars are amazing and the temperatures bearable. The tricky thing is the wind….so everything needs to be tied down or fastened in some way and even then you can often see tents sailing off down the road with a family in hot pursuit! Bring helmets and camel packs for everyone…the whole place is about climbing and hiking. The campground has toilets but they don't flush and no running water…..you need to bring your own for everything. You will need a lot of water!

Two of the best hikes for first-time campers in Indian Cove are the:

1. Indian Cove .06 mile loop (E) which is a great orientation to the desert ecology. Signs teach you about Mojave Desert plants and animals and early human life in this region as you circle the campground.

2. Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail is a 3 mile round trip (MS) trail that provides an amazing reward at the end. It is a big surprise to see the tropical plants and palm grove that make up the oasis even though you are expecting it. JJ slid down the big slick boulder into the puddle but….I was content to drink his water while he was busy!

Take the I-10 to the 62 and use the Indian Cove entrance. Call 1-800-camp to reserve your spot - about $10 per night plus the $10 per car entrance fee for the length of your stay. Note: if the temperatures get too extreme during the middle of the day…drive into town and see a movie in the air conditioning, have a root beer float and get back to the campsite when the temperatures begin to drop.

june lake swim june boulder hopping JUNE LAKE - is fabulous and we all just love the area included in the June Lake Loop and prefer the little campground in June right on the lake. It is important to make reservations early as there are limited spaces that are always full! The June Lake Loop is a 16 mile loop off of Highway 395 on route 158. You pass June Lake and the village and then Gull Lake (the smallest of the 4). Next is the June Mountain Ski and Snowboarding Resort, some nice cabins and lovely homes and then Silver Lake. This is where the trailhead is located for Agnew and Gem Lakes behind the General Store.
gem lake trail Finally if you complete the loop you will find Grant Lake (reservoir), the largest lake in the loop. We always go to june mountain hike the June Lake Marina and rent a boat for the following day. They go fast and we love to get out on the lake every time we visit! The thing about going to June camping is that you can cook as many meals as you want lake agnew and go into town and eat the rest. There aren't any 'fast food' places but we have had some great dinners in town since we made camping 'easy'. Trout fishing is excellent in the stream between Gull and Silver Lake and just marshes silver lake about everyone we talked to 'limits out' early in the day! We are going to give it a try next time. I used to fish as a child and I can still remember the taste of fresh caught brook trout breaded in corn meal! On the other silver lake hand there are always people fishing off the shore of June Lake at the campground and in five years I have NEVER seen anyone catch a thing! Bears are not a big issue at June and when them come around it seems to be where folks are cleaning fish or have left food unattended - but you ALWAYS need to be cautious in bear country and food must be locked up in the bear box - (not in your car or tent) at all times!

The thing about this area is that it is just so beautiful. It is perfect for hiking with the aspens and pines, snow capped mountain peaks, clear blue skis and mountain wild flowers…it often seems like Switzerland. There are virtually dozens of great hiking opportunities and Joe, JJ and a friend finally took the hike all the way up to Gem Lake. We had tried it a previous year and just ran out of water, energy and time. This time I stayed below at Silver Lake with a fabulous book, treats and a thermos of coffee and they made it all the way to the ice cold glacier lake called Gem.

June Lake Campground can be booked at Recreation.gov and sites are about $18 per night. They have a weekly rate and offer flush toilets, potable water and the marina is right there along with a little general store. The camp host will deliver fire wood for a fee - and it is so worth not having to bring or fetch your own! I can't wait for our next visit in July! Look for the entrance to the camp just past the fire station and the big giant bolder on the right….if you get into the village - you missed it!

half dome from glacier point YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK - offers every type of accommodations….A fabulous hotel - The Ahwahnee- yes!, a regular hotel - The Yosemite Lodge, Curry Village (a tent village where you cannot cook so there are fewer bears), housekeeping camp -(where you stay in 'sort of' cabins and can cook) and regular campground camping. All of this is always sold out every single night as Yosemite is one of the greatest natural wonders of the entire world. There are few places more beautiful and therefore many people come to see El Capitan and Half Dome as well as the other wonders of Yosemite with you. GET OVER IT and enjoy yourself as we do every summer.

Curry Village -
It takes us about 6 hours from our house but when we get there we take a couple of tote bags and pillows into the tent and we are good! We take an ice chest and a box of lunch makings and snacks and place them in the bear box with our toiletries. We also bring a couple of camp chairs and flashlights. Since they don't let you check in curry village tent until 3:00 pm we pack swim suits, towels, sun screen and aqua socks (you MUST take them) in a separate bag, have a snack and drinks in a small cooler and walk down to the Merced River for the afternoon. On the way back we arrange for river rafting the next day and while one of us is checking in someone else goes to check on the evening's performance at the small outdoor theater (right behind check in) and to book the campfire or starry night tour for the following night. You sort of need to think and plan ahead. Last year the river was almost dried up….so we went over to the horseback riding stable. It was very expensive and after a lot of discussion and justifying decided to go ahead and go nuts….only to find it was completely booked up except for one time slot two days later. We did go horseback riding (how could you not grab that spot?) and it was excellent and worth every penny (dollar)!

floating Merced River Yosemite River Rafting is really river floating and is good for the entire family. It is so beautiful and at the end there is a bus to take you back to the village. You need to be 5, I believe, and have some exposure to swimming. Wear a hat, plan to get plenty wet and lots of sunscreen. You will need your camera but may wish to opt for a waterproof throw away like we did in Alaska - it is up to you! You are also welcome to take your lunch or snacks along because you can stop along the way and make your adventure longer and BETTER!

is there a bear in there Deer and Bears in Yosemite -whenever you see a crowd there is usually a deer or bear nearby. The parking lot at Curry Village is an old apple orchard and there are often deer munching on low hanging fruit or a bear or two up in the trees stuffing themselves. They are interesting but wild and therefore dangerous….stay back and keep an eye on your kids. We were watching a sleeping bear in a tree and in a split second it was down and had run right through the middle of the crowd….many of us almost had heart attacks on the spot!

Yosemite Starry Nights is a great adventure for city kids as you all meet at the bus stop by the Yosemite Falls at 9:00 pm and walk through the forest to a field at the school that has tarps laying all over it. You lay down on your back and the guide points out all of the constellations and everyone has a lot of fun during the interactive lecture. You see bats diving for insects overhead and can hear coyotes in the distance (not distant enough for us!) and then she encourages your to stay together for the walk back in the pitch dark…no problem….no stragglers!!!

yosemite tourists
Walk, Walk, Walk in Yosemite -there is so much to enjoy with the changing light shining on the rocks, mountains and water falls - it is amazing. Walk up to Yosemite Falls at least once and walk to Bridal Falls too. Yes, it is a pain to find parking - so go early but GO!

Swimming in Yosemite -is a must because it does get warm in the summer - sometimes over a 100. The river is ice cold and quite refreshing. The kids also love to go to the public pools at Curry Village and even better over at Yosemite Lodge. They sell ice cream cones at the pool that are delicious and you can sit and watch the falls behind the buildings.

Eating in Yosemite -is the best part of 'camping' at Curry Village. You cannot cook in the village. They have a pizza parlor, Mexican food stand, and a fabulous all you can eat buffet that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. We normally bring an afternoon snack, buy pizza that first night, have breakfast at the Curry Village Buffet every day and alternate between the Yosemite Lodge Food Court and the Curry Village Buffet for dinner. It is more expensive than doing your own cooking so we do take all the fixings for lunches and snacks and keep that out in the bear box near the parking lot. It is really easy to set up an assembly line to prepare lunch (take plenty of zip locks) to carry to the beach or throw in the car. You not only save money but standing in line can take time and cause stress when there is so many wonderful things to see!

Rent or bring your bikes to Yosemite -there are plenty of places to ride bikes and some of them where cars are not allowed. We usually bring the little kids bikes along and rent them for the big folks or let them ride while we walk alongside….don't forget your helmets!

half dome Hiking in Yosemite -is what people do at Yosemite….there are hundreds of well marked hiking trails for all levels of skill. Joe took JJ and Cami on the Nevada Falls hike which is about 6 miles each way. They got past Vernal Falls and had a wonderful experience and are determined to get an earlier start and make it the entire way next time! They had planned to take the Glacier Trail (4 miles) but a week earlier, a family had been attacked by a bear on that trail, so it didn't seem like the best choice. We drove to Glacier Point, had a look around, took some pictures, ate an ice cream and drove back to the village instead.

lake tenaya Lake Tenaya -is one of our favorite places in Yosemite. It is located about an hours drive from the valley floor and is an icy glacier lake located in a gorgeous setting. We take our swimming stuff and lunch and spend the day. Last summer there was a bear that roamed through the picnic area every afternoon and the friendly ranger was there to encourage her to behave. You can climb up the rocks across the street from the lake or just kick back in the sun and enjoy the clear mountain air. We are always sorry to have to leave this special place and always are excited to return and check for changes!

Sequoia Grove -is located near the entrance we use (Highway 41) and is absolutely worth the stop but a long drive from the village. We did it last year, remember the river was missing, and it was just too much time in the car for the little guy! The grove has some ancient sequoias and the trail is simply beautiful and well maintained.

Yosemite can be reached by taking the 99 to Fresno and then jump on the 41 right to the entrance to the park. If you do not have an America the Beautiful National Park Pass…consider purchasing one right at the gate if you will be visiting other parks during the next 12 months! The cost is $80.00 per year and if you are a senior, (age 62 or over) there is a 'lifetime' charge of only $10! These passes admit you and everyone in your car (up to 3 additional adults to all National Parks and offers other valuable discounts. For additional information google -national park passes - and you can read all the details. Remember to fill up with gas just before you enter the park - as there is no gas in the park for sale!

SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK -is simply amazing. We camped there three summers ago and I will not EVER forget the bear activity we experienced on that trip. We camped at Dorst Creek and were told there were more bear encounters there in that area that year than anywhere else on earth. I believe it because we saw them frequently at all hours of the day and night. At first, we were scared and then irritated by all of the drama and stress they created…in THEIR forest! It was required that everyone attends a bear lecture by the rangers upon arrival and they pointed out the importance of knowing your surroundings. You must spot a bear before they start running your way to steal your food or it's too late. If you see them first you can shout, bang pans and lids or blow a whistle! We had to take every single thing out of our cars and leave it on the ground in the open so the bears could inspect them without ripping apart the car. Everything had to be locked up (in bear boxes) and nothing left out even for a moment. All night long the bears kept coming into camp shaking the metal bear boxes and sniffing our tent! The nights were very long and I have not been back there to camp. The campground does have flush toilets and running water in the bathrooms. You can book the campgrounds at Dorst Creek and Lodgepole (as well as many others) at recreation.gov. Note: you can buy a shower at Lodgepole Village near the general store 8 miles away. Just across the road from the village entrance we found a huge pool in the creek just perfect for a swim!

Hiking or walking takes on a new meaning in Sequoia -
The area is spectacular with streams, water falls and a thick carpet of green mosses, ferns and amazing plant life underfoot. There really is nothing like standing and looking up at these amazing trees. Nothing can really prepare you for their grandeur. General Sherman is one of the tallest trees in the entire world and is located in the Giant Grove which has easy walking trails allowing everyone to get the full effect! You will learn that fire seldom has much effect on giant sequoias as it cannot penetrate the think 'asbestos like' bark as well as many other fascinating facts from the friendly forest rangers in the park.

Lake Hume -is about 25 miles from Lodgepole Village and is a great place to take a picnic and spend the day in the sun. There is a delightful rock slide and series of pools feeding into the lake that kept the kids busy for hours. We did have several injuries due to sharp rocks so old cutoffs would be best. Then - there is the floating old sequoia log that has been there for years and years…that the kids climb up on and play king of the log - pushing each other off into the frigid water! Fun!!!

Crystal Cave -opens for the season this year on May 10th and is something we really enjoyed doing as a family. In So Cal there aren't many caves so this experience was a first for JJ. Plan to pay about $10 for adults and $6 for kids for the guided 45 minute tour. You must purchase tickets in person at the Lodgepole Visitor's Center and they sell out quickly. Do not go to the Cave and try to get tickets…you will be disappointed. It is amazing to tour the underground rooms and to see how dark it is when they turn out the lights! The cave entrance is guarded by a huge spider web gate and temperatures are in the 40s so take a light jacket.

devils post pile mammoth mountain trail jj jj mountain MAMMOTH MOUNTAIN LAKES -offers five lakes (Coldwater, Twin Lakes, Lake George, Lake Mary and Pine City) with camping facilities for a total of about 250 spots. There are different services and amenities at each and most take advance reservations through ReserveAmerica. The fees are about $13.00 and campgrounds are open mid June through mid September. We have had great experiences at Pine City and Twin Lakes but you really can't go wrong. The water falls are wonderful at Twin Lakes and you can stay at the Tamarak Lodge if you prefer an indoor experience. The lakes are pristine, ice cold and remember…this is bear country!

camp breakfast camp el capitan campers el capitan beach camping towel rack coastal nap
el capitan tidepools shoreline trail el capitan tidepools el capitan el capitan beach
EL CAPITAN STATE BEACH -is located on the ocean just north of Santa Barbara and can provide one of the best camping experiences anywhere for your family. It is tricky to get a good spot, however, since the railroad runs along the east side of the campground just a few feet away. We had an issue with our site being designated as a handicapped spot at the campground but not on line and were moved to one on the tracks. Well, the train goes through a lot and every time it does it blows a whistle that is teeth rattling and not conducive to a relaxing vacation. You need to book spots from the middle of the campground to the cliff edge (fabulous ocean view) to avoid the train. The shoreline is so gorgeous here and the ocean is full of seals, dolphins, whales and pelicans. The tide pools are beautiful and the walk along the beach is really great north or south! We took a picnic, boogie boards and some sand toys for the little kids down to the tables at the beach and spent the day. El Capitan has a small general store that handles some necessities like bread and milk and ice cream bars- hello!!! You can get bundles of wood there and we did several times! El Capitan has bathrooms, running water and can be booked through Reserve America. The good spots are always booked so start early!

MORRO BAY STATE PARK -is located near my grandson James' home so we have camped there several times. morro bay state park campground It is located on the Morro Bay lagoon near the salt marsh bird sanctuary and walking distance to the morro bay golf course road charming museum. The golf course is next door and as you walk along the road you can plan to run into morro rock view a rafter (group) of turkeys hunting and pecking the ground for bugs. We always follow them around for an hour morro bay golf course lagoon trying to get a great picture and never succeeding. The most amazing thing was when we discovered them roosting high low tide morro bay up in the eucalyptus trees for the night!
state park marina bayside cafe morro bay campground morro bay marina morro bay state park kayak rental morro bay campground bird sanctuary morro bay deer morro bay bird refuge deer family


Morro Bay is a wonderful town and you should plan to spend some time down at the Embarcadero visiting the shops and enjoying the harbor view. embarkadero morro bay morro bay wharf Tidelands Park morro rock trail to morro rock sea otters
You can usually spot a seal or sea otter swimming around in the bay and the giant chess set makes for great photos. Down at the end of the street is Tidelands Park where kids can climb up on a pirate ship and play while you imagine yourself sailing away on one of the many boats moored in the bay! Drive out to Morro Rock and park just before it to see the surfers battling the waves as they come off the rock. Park halfway out near the water and you will see hundreds of ground squirrels and almost always a sea otter or two tied to seaweed and having a nap!

cayucos saloon cayucos main drag rich man poor man antiques cayucos surf company dolphin statue cayucos cayucos pier capt james cass home cayucos
Drive north out of Morro Bay to Cayucos - another charming town with a western flavor. They have some antique shops, a fishing pier and a wonderful old tavern as well as a candy shop that sells fabulous ice cream! (The entire area is amazing and we have been visiting there for years. My daughter Tammy loved it so much she decided to make it her home. Check out our newest website at www.firsttimecentralcoast.com for a better view of this amazing area.

montana de oro state beach montana de oro beach montana de oro creek morro sandspit view montana de oro state park hikers sandspit trail sandspit beach morro bay eucalyptus grove
campground montana de oro popup camper tent camping montana de oro montana de oro facilities group camping montana de oro campsite montana de oro Montana de Oro road
MONTANA DE ORO STATE PARK -is located on the shore south of Los Osos and Morro Bay. As you drive into the area you are struck by the thousands of eucalyptus trees almost look like they were planted - in rows! Well, they were, by some guys from Australia who planned to get rich selling the wood to the railroad. The problem was that the wood was not strong enough and the plan was abandoned leaving miles of trees along the beautiful shore! I have to say that the beach at Montana de Oro is a place where I could literally spend an entire week. The waves are crashing on the beach as a stream joins the ocean running past a cave. The beach is always covered with rocks and shells and gulls are fighting and screeching….it is just overwhelming - it is so beautiful. Not a great place to get into the ocean but a simply fabulous place to enjoy the violence and beauty of the sea! The campground is located across from Spooner's Cove and offer restrooms and picnic tables. There are hiking and horseback riding trails all over the hills and along the shore and fishing is excellent. Montana de Oro gets its name from the golden wild flowers that bloom in the spring. It is always very cool here in the evening and never gets awfully hot even mid day so bring some layers to be comfortable.

beach camping best o both worlds home away from home doheny sb camping DOHENY STATE BEACH -is one of the countries best camping spots and continues to win awards for this honor. Here's an aerial view of Dana Point Harbor and Doheny State Beach (link to http://geology.cnsm.ad.csulb.edu/people/bperry//GrantPhotos/InlandFlightOct05/077DohenyStateBeachSanJuanCreekOct05S.jpg for more info...). We love camping at Doheny every year because it is fabulous and close to home. JJ can invite friends down for the day or evening (or even to stay over) and it is no trouble to have them dropped off or give them a lift home. Book reservations through Reserve America (who else?) and plan to spend an additional $10 parking fee each time you enter. Doheny is a great place to learn to surf but you need aqua socks as the bottom is covered with rocks. The waves are steady, even and fairly easy to catch and the kids surfing are usually friendly and helpful. Don't be surprised if pelicans drop into the water and sit next to you waiting for a meal to swim by while you wait for the next wave. The area is a great place to stay as Dana Harbor is right there with all of its shops, restaurants and attractions. The kids can visit the Pilgrim and nautical museum or you can go whale or dolphin watching on a boat from the marina There is a lot to see and do at Doheny so check with the ranger as you enter to be sure you don't miss out on the fun!

fallen redwood hendy woods hendy woods campsite dawson campsite redwood climbing tree tree walking
HENDY WOODS STATE PARK -is up in Northern California in the redwoods near my daughter Lori's home. Take the 101 North out of Santa Rosa and at Cloverdale take the 128 west to Hendy Woods. The campground is really beautiful providing cool, dense forest camp sites with a lot of room. There are plenty of logs to climb and the river runs nearby.

single file walk navarro river navarro river swim wading navarro stream turtles basking in sun rocks under navarro bridge
The best local swimming hole is under the bridge and JJ spent hours jumping off the huge rock with the "big" kids. The younger kids waded in the shallow water with tadpoles, minnows and snapping turtles. We sat on the rocky beach taking hundreds of pictures and feeling very blessed!

dawson family hendy woods paul's secret swimming hole friends at secret swimming hole castle building We met a wonderful family from Redwood City who took us to a fabulous place at mile marker 3.66 on the 128 towards the ocean. We call it Paul's Secret Swimming Hole - so don't tell anyone or...if you do give Paul credit! We spent the entire day splashing in the cold Navarro River and baking in the hot summer sun on the sandy beach. You can continue down the road a few miles to the glorious Pacific Ocean shore or head back to Hendy Woods.

apple juice press fresh apple juice On the way back to the campground we stopped at a really fabulous rock shop on the right hand side and picked up some treasures. Then, we stopped at the apple orchard on the left side (just before the bridge) and had fresh apple juice. It was amazing and every single one of us drank it down without stopping for a breath! They have an honor system - help yourself and put the money in the box and make change if you need it!

nintendo break chandelier drive through tree We took a sidetrip loop up to see the Chandelier Tree. James really wanted to see the tree you "could drive through" so we stuffed the kids in the car with electronic gear in hand and headed out. The Drive Through Tree Park is located at Leggett and they charge a $5.00 per carload fee for entrance. Be sure to tuck in your side view mirrors before taking your turn because it is tight! drive through tree pond baby frogs hollow redwood antique logging truck The pond is loaded with little frogs, turtles, fish and geese and the gift shop is enticing to all ages. Fires were burning all around the area and smoke was thick so we decided to head towards the ocean down Highway 1. It is a winding road through beautiful old growth but it made Jack sick and halfway to the sea we found ourselves in the middle of a forest fire! It was a bit scary but we made it to the coast and really enjoyed the scenery of the Northern California coastline on the way back. poison oak navarro river bank climb hendy woods climbing tree xxxxx mendocino coast mendocino water sports
We absolutely loved our visit to Hendy Woods and the area where it is located and will return there often. Several little towns are close enough to go get ice or whatever else you forgot (or maybe a latte at the drive through). The area is rural - yet comfortable. There is a lot of poison oak and ivy so show the kids what it looks like FIRST THING. Our favorite town is Boonville and we shopped daily at the Anderson Valley Market and Deli. The friendly ladies there confirmed what we had heard from Paul's wife Liz that Boonville has their own language. It is called Boontling and it was either started long ago by the old folks or the kids - there are different stories 'going round'. So - if you are in Boonville and you are looking for a restroom you might try, "Where is the typin moshe?" or if you wonder when the rodeo is say, "When is the bluebirding tidric?" We hope you won't need a "shoveltooth" during your visit!!!

As we drive through our beautiful state we always stop along the way to see new places and explore new things. Two places we visited on this trip are really worth your while. We stopped at San Juan Batista (one of the original 21 missions and our favorite) on the way north after leaving Los Osos and picking up James.
el camino real mission san juan batista mission adobe statues san juan batista hotel san juan batista
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