Never a Dull Moment at Mammoth!
We first entered the park via the "secret" entrance, byway of a narrow road at the very north of the park, in which we had to take a single car automated ferry across the green river, which was enjoyed by all, and we appreciated avoiding the main entrance besieged by spring break campers!
The Campground itself's best feature is its proximity to the main park attractions. It's a few minute walk to the visitor's center, from which you can catch daily tours of all types ranging from themed cave tours to botony forest walks and guided history walks. Our normally restless kids were so taken by the 2 hr cave tour that they remained in near total silence and awe as we tunneled through this slow moving guided cave walk. You've got to make a reservation for tours - be warned, they fill up quickly. I recommend making a reservation at least a week before in the busy season (March-Sept), although up to a couple days before, you can usually get in, albeit not at your ideal time, most likely. Adjoining the campground is a more than adequate camp store, with all the common items and a few groceries you may need while there. Across a short walkway from the visitors center is also 2 restaurants, if roasting dogs on the fire isn't you thing, one cafe style with an ice cream shop, and another more formal table service in the historical Lodge.
We went in April, one of the area's wetter months, and found the campsites to be well maintained, drained and free from debris. While no one enjoys wet camping, the great thing about this park is that the main attraction is always the same comforatable temp and weather year round - and you can spend a dry several hours while you avoid the rain spurts outside. The camping was quiet although crowded for spring break, sites were averagely spread apart (those near the front and the store had a bit more room) and included hook ups for campers. There's even a place to park your horse if horsecamping is something that interests you, very Kentucky, indeed. Bath houses are average but well maintained as all the park is.
Being a Dyrt Ranger, I sometimes have the chance to try out new products on our adventures. This time I was able to test out the Birler Axe by #CRTK.
As anyone who's ever had to camp in moist conditions will tell you, it's no fun having to cut through a damp piece of kindling or wood. While we could purchase dry firewood at the campground, we had to chop our own kindling, which we found dry on the inside and wet on the bark…the Birler cut threw it like butter.
It's compact size was easy to pack, and while I'd guess it weighs in at about just over a pound, and wouldn't be ideal for most backpackers, it was perfect for some average campsite wear. The quality was high, and it split a log like no body's business. There's enough heft behind it to make chopping easy, yet a short enough handle to maneuver. Balance was great. A leather sheath is sold separately, and while the axe comes with a rubber blade guard, is highly recommend a sheath for it as it's extremely sharp, unlike our old axe which had a hard time cutting through a carrot. We were the envy of the campground.
Lake Santeelah is a really great camping spot on a lake that doesn't get the crowds that some of the other lakes in the area draw. There are a lot of primitive sites along the lake on Joyce Kilmer Rd. It's paved the whole way and easy to find. More sites on a gravel road on the east side of the lake, some are car camping others are hike in. None of these sites have hookups, water, NO RVs. Sites have a tent platform, fire pits and parking area off the road. Camping in February was a perfect. We saw a small handful of cars and one or two boats with fisherman. Otherwise it was extremely quiet and private, bears are in the area so make sure food and garbage are stored during the warmer months. Plenty of fishing for trout both in the lake and in Santeetlah Creek right up the road.
Mount Madonna County Park is located in the redwood covered hills between Gilroy and Watsonville. The towns Watsonville/Freedom are both located a short drive away for supplies, as well as many restaurants, fruit stands, and gas stations. It feels very rural when you are in the campground, however civilization isn't far away.
Campground Review: Part of the Santa Clara County Parks system, this year round campground is available to reserve online - https://www.sccgov.org/sites/parks/parkfinder/pages/mtmadonna.aspx - sites are a bit on the expensive side at $34 per night when I booked, but the amenities sort of justify the cost. The park itself contains miles of hiking trails that wind through the redwoods and along the ridgetops, RV hookups and a dumping station, group campgrounds, an amphitheater, horse back riding, showers (free), day use picnic/bbq areas, and multiple campground areas. We stayed in Valley View 3 - site 325. Initially, the plan was to camp the weekend before, but bad weather made us change our plans last minute. The parks service was helpful in getting the reservation changed to the next weekend, and the weekend went off without a hitch. When booking campsites here, I recommend taking some time to research the campsites as they vary in size and privacy. I would recommend 301, 320, 323, 324 in the Valley View 3 area. They offer large sites and privacy. Road noise is minimal, as the park gates are shut at 8pm, so there is no through traffic coming through at all hours. Campsite 325 was right next to the bathroom, which was convenient but made things noisy around bed time and in the morning. Wouldn't recommend this site if you like to sleep in while camping. All the campsites had the basics, table, firepit/grill, food storage locker and potable water was spaced out about every third or fourth campsite. They are some critters here, I saw a few skunks and one wandered right into our campsite at night, so keep an eye out for them. The facilities were very clean and it was pretty dog friendly. In the summer it might get a bit too hot and there are no rivers or lakes to jump in to cool off. The ocean is about a 30 min drive away. Overall it was a great trip, with only the various campsite sizes and privacy being an issue. If you get a good sized site away from the bathrooms it is a wonderful experience. Overall the campground/park as a whole gets 4 stars with cost and varying campsite sizes being the only cons.
Product Review: As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I get to test products. At Mt. Maddona Park I tested the Cotopaxi Uyuni 46L Duffle from Roanline.com - https://www.roanline.com/cotopaxi-uyuni-46l-duffel-in-del-dia/ - Overall this duffel bag worked great, although it may not be as much of a camping duffel, as more of a weekend travel/flying or work/gym duffel. It worked just fine as a camping bag however. It has multiple spaces to stash gear, one pocket on the front that could fit phones, sunglasses, etc, a padded laptop sleeve, and two large inner pockets separated by a nylon barrier so you can keep clean and dirty clothing separate. It easily held two days worth of camping clothes as well as sweatpants and a large jacket, so space isn't an issue on a long weekend trip. The fabric is tough and any spills or dirt can be wiped away easily. It only has one strap so carrying it while hiking is cumbersome. I see it more as a travel bag than a camping bag. If it isn't fully stuffed, you can easily get away with using it as a carry-on when flying. The materials and multiple separate pockets make it great to keep you gym clothes away from your laptop, other clothes, work stuff or to use as a beach bag to keep things from getting sandy while also being easy to clean. Hands down the best feature of the bag is the one of a kind color scheme. It really stands out, so your bag will be easy to identify in crowded areas or at the baggage claim. I would give the bag 4 stars as a car camping bag, but I don't think that is really its designed purpose. It gets 5 stars as a duffel for short trips or to use going to and from the office/gym.
@RoarksVentures has been to this park multiple times since January of 2018. It is actually one of our favorites. The staff has been kind and welcoming. The conversations started around the warmth of the hot tub have led to continued friendships long after our wheels have left the city.
With the skyline spotted by the leaves of vibrant Palm trees you get a sense that you are camping in a sort of desert oasis. That is, until you hear the roar of the cars on the busy freeway right across the street. Depending on the side of the park you end up camping in determines the volume that you hear that rumble.
Cell coverage is fantastic here allowing for mobile workers, RV movie streamers, and daytime internet explorers to meet all their needs and wants.
The rows are lined with palm trees and full of walkers, joggers and slow time strollers. The people all wave warmly whether they have met you before or not. Along with that the park offers a variety of social events including line dancing, swap meets, ice cream socials and more.
With such close proximity to Joshua Tree National park within a 45 minute drive, an hour to LA, and 20 minutes to down town Palm Springs there is no shortage of quality exploring for any type.
The one knock, other than the freeway is that there has been some increased homeless activity in the tree line that flanks the park. Their used to be a little fence you could walk through to let your dogs run and play. That gate is now locked with a no trespassing sign. I enjoyed running out in the sand dunes in that area and came across a hideout that had several books, which I imagine were stolen from the resort's well stocked library and a gas generator that you wonder if it was stolen from somebody who didn't lock up their belongings at their campsite.
All the same, the park does the best they can and often has a security patrol come through the park every once in awhile to make sure all is well. All that said, I never feel unsafe or worried here. The laughter from the rowdy pool volleyball games puts you at ease.
I already have plans to come back and look forward to doing so. It is still one of my favorite parks. Maybe it could be yours too.