Amanda M.
Santa Barbara, CA
Joined August 2018
• Adventurer • Photographer • Competitive Pole Dancer • Radiography Student • Animal Lover • #raccoontime
Lopez Lake

Lopez Lake Recreation Area is 15 minutes behind the “Village” of Arroyo Grande, CA.

Lopez is a frequently visited spot for us - We generally camp in a primitive site the back of the Squirrel Loop of the park. The Squirrel Loop is not a lakeside loop (you cannot see the lake at all from here), but we have found it to be one of the quieter, less trafficked campground in the park. The Squirrel Loop is nestled inside a canyon, surrounded by big, beautiful live oak trees.

Lopez Lake is a very large campground with many different loops, so many of which are nearby the lake. If you haven’t been to the campground before and are not worried about reserving a site ahead of time, take some time to drive around the park when you arrive to see what area you would most like to camp in - there are a lot of great spots here there and everywhere!

Each site has a picnic table and a fire ring. There are clean plumbed bathrooms, and coin-operated showers. Lopez has full hook-ups for RVs, and a marina to launch boats. There is a small but well-stocked convenience store in the marina with food, ice, firewood, beer, fishing gear, etc. There is also a small cafe located in the marina store, with limited hours.

Lopez Lake is the home of the Mustang Waterpark, a small, but super fun water park. I believe the park is closed during the fall and winter months, but is open during the spring and summer. Swimming is allowed in the lake, and there are some “beach” areas that have been cleared of lake plants and rocks for safe swimming.

Hiking to Big Falls is a fun adventure if you want to leave the campground. There are certain times when the falls are not accessible without 4WD, however, we have been in severe drought conditions in Central California for the last few years, so you don’t have to worry about crossing any deep creeks, if any. A super low clearance vehicle may have a challenging time crossing the creek beds, even when dry. The drive to Big Falls trailhead from Lopez is short, but probably takes 15-20 minutes as you are driving through a curvy, narrow canyon road. The hike is through live oak trees most of the way, so most of the hike is nice and shaded. Keep and eye out for salamanders when crossing the creek beds! While it is unlikely, black bears mountain lions have been spotted on the Big Falls trail, so be aware of your surroundings. Here are directions to the Big Falls trailhead: http://www.hikeslo.com/big-falls/

WARNING : While the possibility of a black bear sighting is fairly uncommon, black bears are seen every year at Lopez Lake. You are in black bear county, and there are no bear boxes/ food lockers at Lopez Lake. I would suggest locking your food and coolers up in the car at night to avoid attracting wild animals to your campsite.

CAMPSITE SPECS

Fees: $35/night (primitive site)

Plumbed Toilets: Yes

Drinking Water: Yes

Showers: Yes (coin-operated)

Picnic Table: Yes

Firepit: Yes

Cooking Grate: Yes

Shade: Yes

Cell Service: No

Animal Bins/Food lockers: No

Trash: Yes

Figueroa Mountain

Figueroa Campground is a 33-35 site campground behind Los Olivos, CA. It is surrounded by live oaks and gorgeous manzanita trees, so there is a lot of shade available.

Each site has a fire ring and a picnic table. There are no hook ups, and only pit-toilets are available. Note that there is NO DRINKING WATER available at Figueroa Campground, so be sure to bring plenty of water, especially if you plan to hike or backpack through the area.

There is a a lot of hiking trails available in the nearby area. Both Figueroa Mountain and nearby Grass Mountain are extremely popular hiking spots, especially in early spring when the wildflowers bloom in late March or early April . During the wildflower bloom, the sides of the hills and mountains can look solid vibrant ORANGE from afar - the wild California poppies grow dense in this area. Purple mountain lupine flowers are also found during the wildflower bloom.

If you or anyone in your party does not want to/cannot hike, the top of Figueroa Mountain is completely assessable by car - all of the big lookout points for optimal wildflower viewing are accessible by car, so the wildflowers are essentially accessible to everyone, hikers or not.

The Davy Brown Creek and Manzana Creek trails are also accessible from the Figueroa Mountain area; the area is popular for cyclists and off-road cyclists.

WARNING: You ARE in black bear country! While it is unlikely that a black bear will enter the campground, I would suggest locking your food and coolers in your car at night, as there are no food lockers in the campground. When hiking be aware of your surroundings: Black bears, coyotes, mountain lions, bob cats, and coyotes have been seen on the trails.

While the campground is fairly remote in the the hills, you are only 20 minutes away from Los Olivos, and 30 minutes away from Santa Ynez. Los Olivos has a great market with groceries, a bakery/coffee shop, a deli, and beer and local wine. There are many local vineyards, wineries, and breweries nearby. The Firestone Walker brewery, taproom, and Resturant is close-by - we highly recommend their food and beers!

CAMPSITE SPECS

Fees: $20/night (+ $10/ extra vehicle)

Plumbed Toilets: No - vault

Drinking Water: No

Showers: No

Picnic Table: Yes

Firepit: Yes

Cooking Grate: Yes

Shade: Yes

Cell Service: No

Animal Bins/Food lockers: No

Trash: Yes

Carpinteria State Beach Campground

Carpinteria State Beach Campground is a one of our frequently visited “staycation” spots. We live in nearby Santa Barbara, but will use Carp State Beach as a midway meeting point when friends from Southern California and Central California meet up.

The campground is pretty large, and caters mostly to RVs and trailers. There are loops within the campground that are essentially just asphalt lots with small dirt spaces for fire pits and picnic benches - these are intended for RV campers, but we have tent camped there in a pinch. Since we are tent campers we do prefer to camp in the grassy tent sites, but they are limited in number and tend fill up quickly. Because of the moderate year-round weather, Carpinteria State Beach Campground stays pretty full all year long!

The campground has full hook ups, clean plumed bathrooms, and coin-operated showers. There are grocery stores and conscience stores within short walking distance for anything you might need. Train tracks run directly behind the campground, so there is some noise pollution from the passing trains.

The campground is at the very end of downtown Carpinteria, right next to the ocean. There are no “ocean front” sites, but the beach is a quick 1-minute walk from essentially anywhere in the campground. Some small sandy dunes separate the campground from the beach, and there is an accessible paved boardwalk running along the length of the dunes. There are beautiful tide pools just south of Carpinteria State Beach Campground that are a must see. Check the tide charts on the internet to visit the tide pools at low to mid tide.

While we really enjoy camp cooking, we tend to opt to walk into town to eat when camping in Carpinteria. Linden Avenue is right next to the campground, and is the main street in downtown Carpinteria. There is a wide variety of restaurants, breweries and coffee shops downtown. Island Brewery CO is a local favorite just on the edge of the campground - while I don’t think they have food available (yet), their beer is GREAT! Their avocado beer is a must try - I know it sounds weird, but it’s delicious (and doesn’t taste like avocados)! Rincon Brewery is a few blocks up from the campground, and also has great beer, and TASTY FOOD!

CAMPSITE SPECS

Fees: $45/night (normal campsite)

Plumbed Toilets: Yes

Drinking Water: Yes

Showers: Yes (coin-operated)

Picnic Table: Yes

Firepit: Yes

Cooking Grate: Yes

Shade: No

Cell Service: Yes

Animal Bins/Food lockers: No

Trash: Yes

Nira Campground

Nira is a small, primitive campground in the San Rafael wilderness behind the Santa Ynez Valley. The campground is a bit of a haul to get back to, and is often used as a base for backpackers entering the San Rafael wilderness or the Manzana Creek trail. I myself have only tent camped at Nira, just to go somewhere different - my boyfriend and his friends have backpacked out of Nira into the San Rafael Wilderness and to the Manzana Schoolhouse on multiple occasions.

Nira is the second, smaller campground back on Sunset Valley Road - Davy Brown Campground is up the road a little ways. Nira is small, with only 12 sites in a densely wooded live oak grove. The oaks provide a lot of shade and help separate the various camp sites. The Manzana Creek runs behind the campground; the main road leading into Nira is right above the campground, however, you’re pretty far back in the hills, so there isn’t a lot of noise from traffic.

Each site has a fire ring and a picnic table. There are no hook ups and only pit-toilets are available. There is NO DRINKING WATER available at Nira Campground, so be sure to bring plenty of water, especially if you plan to backpack through the area.

WARNING: You ARE in black bear country! While it is unlikely that a black bear will enter the campground, I would suggest locking your food and coolers in your car at night, as there are no food lockers in the campground. When hiking the Manzana Trail be aware of your surroundings: Black bears, coyotes, mountain lions, bob cats, and coyotes have been seen on the trail. CAMPSITE SPECS

Fees: $20/night (+ $10/ extra vehicle)

Plumbed Toilets: No - vault

Drinking Water: No

Showers: No

Picnic Table: Yes

Firepit: Yes

Cooking Grate: Yes

Shade: Yes

Cell Service: No

Animal Bins/Food lockers: No

Trash: Yes

Limekiln - the prettiest place in Big Sur!

Limekiln State Park is one of the many campgrounds located off of Highway 1 in gorgeous Big Sur, CA. Limekiln is one of my very favorite places to camp EVER. There are three different areas to camp in; the beach, by the creek, and in the redwoods. All three areas are gorgeous and magical. I have camped in both the redwoods area, and down by the creek.

We have camped in site 16 in the Lower Creek area the last couple times we have camped at Limekiln, as it is the most secluded area to camp in. There are only 3 sites down in the Lower Creek area, and they are fairly small sites, so large parties cannot camp there, which leaves it pretty quiet. You are still surrounded by redwoods down in the creek sites, and listening to the creek is so relaxing and peaceful.

Each site has a firepit and picnic table. The campground has plumbed toilets, coin operated showers, and drinking water.

We like to cook in the campground, plate our food, then walk over to the beach to eat in front of the ocean. The beach is essential a private beach, as the surrounding cliffs block it from other areas of Big Sur.

The trails through the redwoods are easy hikes, and absolutely beautiful. There is a small waterfall down one fork in the trial, and the old, decaying lime kilns are down the other fork - they are a must see! The history of the lime kilns is very interesting, and worth reading about.

One time the camp hosts told us about the bats that come down the creek at dusk - they told us to go stand on the bridge that connects the beach sites with the rest of the campground, and ait for the bats at dusk. I’m sure bats are not everyone’s cup of tea, but we enjoyed seeing them fly around the bridge and down the creek.

Limekiln, in my opinion, is one of the prettiest places in Big Sur, and is a must see!

CAMPSITE SPECS

Fees: $35/night

Plumbed Toilets: Yes

Drinking Water: Yes

Showers: Yes (coin-operated)

Picnic Table: Yes

Firepit: Yes

Cooking Grate: Yes

Shade: Yes

Cell Service: No

Animal Bins/Food Lockers: No

Trash: Yes

Wawona - Yosemite without the crowds!

Yosemite is one of my very favorite places in The world, but I have yet to camp in Yosemite Valley. One, the valley campgrounds fill up IMMEDIATELY when registration opens in March of each year, and two, I do prefer to be in quieter campgrounds with more space in and between sites. Wawona is within the gates of Yosemite National Park, and is about 25 minutes away from the valley floor - it’s not too far of a drive, but it’s on the windy mountainous Highway 41 into Yosemite.

Wawona is located next to the Merced River, so I chose a riverside campsite. The river was by no means at the heels of the site, but it was less than 50 yards away at the time we were there, and we were there in drought conditions.

Wawona has nice clean bathrooms and we had our own bear bin in our campsite. Camping amongst the trees and next to the Merced was gorgeous and peaceful, and I recommend it it anyone who does not want to camp like sardines in the Yosemite Valley.

CAUTION: be extremely aware of bears while camping in Yosemite National Park! Each campsite in Wawona has a bear bin - USE YOUR BEAR BIN! Bears are known to break into cars to snack from coolers or any food or toiletries are left out. The bear bins are quite large, so coolers do fit inside - bears can still smell food in coolers inside of cars, and apparently recognize a cooler when they peak into your car windows. If you have to leave your cooler in the car, it is suggested that you cover it up with towels or gear to hide it from site. On the same note, do not leave any of your toiletries or snacks inside the tent with you. In general it seems that the rangers seem to have good control over the bears that have been tagged and are constantly monitored, but not all bears are tagged, and even the tagged bears will make their way into Yosemite campgrounds. Be smart and safe in bear country!

CAMPSITE SPECS

Fees: $26/night peak ($18/night non-peak)

Plumbed Toilets: Yes

Drinking Water: Yes

Showers: No

Picnic Table: Yes

Firepit: Yes

Cooking Grate: Yes

Shade: Yes

Cell Service: No

Animal Bins/Food lockers: Yes

Trash: Yes

Crane Flat - Yosemite National Park

In the summer of 2015, my (now) boyfriend and I decided to plan a very last-minute hike up Half Dome. We finalized the decision to go about six weeks before our trip in the third week of September, therefore had missed the window of opportunity to reserve a valley campsite by about 5 months. The only available campgrounds in Yosemite were the ones outside the valley, and we decided to try out Crane Flat campground.

The Crane Flat Campground is about 19 miles outside Yosemite Valley off highway 120 - it takes around 35 minutes or so to travel by car from Yosemite Valley to Crane Flat. Crane Flat is a nice and peaceful campground surrounded by trees, and at the time was at less than half capacity. While camping in Yosemite Valley would have been more convenient for us on the day of our Half Dome hike, we enjoyed the peace and quiet of the nearly empty Crane Flat campground.

The campsites in Crane Flat have bear bins, fire rings, and picnic tables. The toilets were plumbed but there are no showers available. I imagine Crane Flat fills up during the peak seasons, but the sites seem to be more spread out than the sites in the Valley. If you want to avoid camping in the Valley, Crane Flat or Wawona campgrounds are both great options!

We spent our first day doing easy hikes around the valley floor, swimming in the Merced River, and keeping our fingers crossed that we would win the lottery to hike Half Dome. We did, so we climbed it the next day.

We were exhausted the day after our Half Dome hike, so we decided not to drive to the Valley. We swam in Tenaya Lake which was still FREEZING in September, but it felt good as it was hot out. We drove past the Big Oak Flat Entrance and out to Groveland, where we had lunch and drinks at the Iron Door Saloon. The Iron Door Saloon is a family friendly restaurant and bar that is apparently the oldest continuously operating saloon in California. It’s a little tourist-trappy, but I’ve enjoyed it the couple times I’ve been there, and they have good burgers and drinks for cheap.

CAUTION: be extremely aware of bears while camping in Yosemite National Park! Each campsite in Crane Flat has a bear bin - USE YOUR BEAR BIN! Bears are known to break into cars to snack from coolers or any food or toiletries are left out. The bear bins are quite large, so coolers do fit inside - bears can still smell food in coolers inside of cars, and apparently recognize a cooler when they peak into your car windows. If you have to leave your cooler in the car, it is suggested that you cover it up with towels or gear to hide it from site. On the same note, do not leave any of your toiletries or snacks inside the tent with you. In general it seems that the rangers seem to have good control over the bears that have been tagged and are constantly monitored, but not all bears are tagged, and even the tagged bears will make their way into Yosemite campgrounds. Be smart and safe in bear country!

CAMPSITE SPECS

Fees: $26/night peak ($18/night non-peak)

Plumbed Toilets: Yes

Drinking Water: Yes

Showers: No

Picnic Table: Yes

Firepit: Yes

Cooking Grate: Yes

Shade: Yes

Cell Service: No

Animal Bins/Food lockers: Yes

Trash: Yes

Humboldt Redwoods SP - Hidden Springs Campground

I have stayed at site 26 at the Hidden Springs Campground in Humboldt Redwoods State Park twice. For my first stay I chose site 26 on a whim, using the campground map and online campsite photos to try to find a secluded spot. Secluded it is! There is a paved space to park above the campsite, and a narrow little path leading down into the site - maybe 10-15 yards, it’s not far at all. The site is completely surrounded by redwoods, and you cannot see the neighboring sites at all - it’s perfect for me. This seems to be true of many other sites in the campground, though some are more open.

The site has a picnic table, a wooden bin/food locker to store things in, and a fire ring with a grate (we always travel with a small collapsable grate, but appreciate when the fire ring has the real thing). The bathrooms were clean and plumbed, and the facility had nice, clean, hot, coin-operated showers. The ranger kiosk sells wood.

The redwoods in the area are simply stunning - the views from Highway 101 and the Avenue of the Giants are beautiful. There are a bunch of different hiking trails around the campground area, and the Eel river is right next to the campground.

It was extremely hot and humid the last time we visited, and the mosquitos were AWFUL. I’ve never had so many bites in my life, but that’s mother nature for you. The temperature will drop off later in the evening, making it more pleasant for sleep.

If you love the redwoods, you shouldn’t be disappointed, the campground is beautiful!

CAMPSITE SPECS

Fees: $35/night

Plumbed Toilets: Yes

Drinking Water: Yes

Showers: Yes (coins)

Picnic Table: Yes

Firepit: Yes

Cooking Grates: Yes

Shade: Yes

Cell Service: No

Ben Ries Campground - Hidden Redwood Gem!

Butano State Park is an absolute gem! It is a smaller park than many of the other redwoods parks in Northern California, so it was very nice and peaceful. Butano is a bit off the beaten path to get to, but so worth it. There are some car sites available, but we had a walk in site. At the time we went, you were assigned a site by the ranger - we happened to get the very last site that was tucked back on a little hill, so it was very nice and secluded. Every site is surrounded by giant redwood trees, and it is an absolutely gorgeous campground.

We forgot our tent on that trip, but that ended up being a GREAT mistake! We set up our air mattress on the tarp, and falling asleep and waking up amongst the still, quiet redwoods was absolutely magical.

The park is so green and lush, shaded, with a nice moderate temperature. There are plenty of hiking trails, and a creek nearby.

I would love to return to Butano some day!

CAMPSITE SPECS

Fees: $35/night

Plumbed Toilets: Yes

Drinking Water: Yes

Showers: No

Picnic Table: Yes

Firepit: Yes

Cooking Grate: Yes

Shade: Yes

Cell Service: No

Animal Bins/Food lockers: Yes

Trash: Yes

Washburn Campground at San Simeon State Park

Washburn Campground at San Simeon State Park

The Washburn Campground at San Simeon State Park is our go-to campground for quick and easy camping in Central California. My boyfriend and I met at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and love visiting SLO and the surrounding areas. If we don’t want to pay to stay at a hotel and can’t crash with some friends, we like to set up our base-camp at Washburn, the primitive campground within San Simeon State Park. SSSP does have full campsites with hookups on its Creek Campground, but we prefer the views and the star gazing at the primitive Washburn sites - Washburn is on the top of a hill, with beautiful views of the ocean and surrounding hillsides and mountains. The fees for the primitive Washburn sites are $18 per night, versus $35 per night for the full campsites in the Creek Campground.

San Simeon State Park is easy to get to, as its right off Highway 1. You can make a reservation ahead of time, but you cannot select a specific site until you arrive. The ranger will ask you to go check out the campgrounds, and compile a list of site numbers that you are interested in. Once you return, they will go over the list with you and if one that you like is available, that site is yours.

Each primitive campsite has a fire ring and a bench, and there are pit toilets available. These are the nicest pit toilets I have seen anywhere. There are water spigots in Washburn, which have had running water for the last year or so; the water had previously been shut off due to the drastic drought. I believe there are plumbed toilets in the lower Creek Campgrounds, but we have yet to go down and confirm that.

Some sites are on the perimeter of the Washburn are more barren, but most sites have trees for some shade. Because you are right by the ocean, it can get pretty cold at night. Each site has a picnic bench and a fire pit - I can’t recall if the fire pits have grates. We generally do not cook while we camp at Washburn, as we usually pick something up in the nearby cities. Sebastian’s Store in San Simeon has GREAT burgers and various barbecue sandwiches. There is also a Hearst Ranch wine tasting room in the same shared building that sells frozen steaks from Hearst Ranch - great quality steaks, if you will be camping for a couple nights I suggest getting some Hearst steaks to cook while you are there.

There is a great new-ish restaurant and bar called Centrally Grown just down the road on Highway 1. This place has great, locally sourced food, and a good bar. We have been there for dinner, breakfast, and just for drinks, and have always had a great experience - the view from the upstairs restaurant is GORGEOUS. Centrally Grown is part of what looks like a compound called Off The Grid - it has a Bed and Breakfast, some goats and chickens, an event space for bands, and a very very interesting garden. Even if you want to just stop in for a coffee or pastry, I think Off The Grid is worth seeing - we like sitting in the garden with coffee.

I am a rock hound and Central California beaches have some reach rocks! To the North is Big Sur, so small jade can be found. There are moonstones from Cambria, and lots of agate and quartz.

The small town of Harmony (literally - it has a population of 18) is worth the visit - there is a lot of local art to be seen and purchased there at the hand blown glass shop and the pottery shop. There is also a winery and ice cream.

The elephant seals are always fun to go watch, and individuals can sometimes be seen on San Simeon beach. This beach is open to the public, and the seals are not behind any barriers as they are at the rookery. If you see a seal on the beach, give him lots of space and don’t harass him - elephant seals are huge animals, and are quicker than you’d think.

The Firestone Walker Brewery is in nearby Paso Robles - if you like beer, the tour is super interesting, and they have a tap room and store. The tap room restaurant is very good.

CAMPSITE SPECS

Fees: $20/night (primitive site fee)

Plumbed Toilets: No - pit

Drinking Water: Yes

Showers: No

Picnic Table: Yes

Firepit: Yes

Cooking Grate: Yes

Shade: Yes

Cell Service: Limited

Animal Bins/Food lockers: No

Trash: Yes

Cachuma Lake - in the heart of Los Padres National Forest

I am a native of Santa Barbara, CA, so I grew up going to Cachuma Lake. Cachuma Lake’s main recreational area is on a bluff overlooking the lake. There you can find tent sites, yurts, cabins, and full hookups for RVs. There are also smaller campgrounds at lake level - we prefer to stay in the Mohawk Shores campground, which is at lake level. The Mohawk Shores campsites are in a more densely packed oak grove, offering more shade and more privacy than the upper-level campgrounds. A few years ago they started pricing the “lakeside” sites in Mohawk more expensively than the rest of the sites in the area; ironic though, since the lake has been so empty the last few years due to the drought, and these sites are no longer lakeside.

The campsites each have their own picnic table and firepit with a grate, and water spigots are available in various places around the campground. Mohawk has its own bathroom with flushable toilets and coin-operated showers - the bathrooms and showers are kept clean. I prefer to shower in the showers located in the upper-level campgrounds, as they are in their own individual, lockable stalls, rather than the locker-room type set up in the bathroom in Mohawk. There are multiple dumpsters available for trash AND recycling around all of the campgrounds.

Caution: There is a lot of poison oak around the park!

We have rented a yurt a couple times, and hope to do so again soon. The yurts have bunk beds inside (bring your own bedding!), an overhead light, and a heater. Outside each yurt is a picnic table, charcoal barbeque, a firepit, and a water spigot.

We will often bring an easy-up to use in the day-camp areas in the upper-level of the park. There are oak trees all over the park, but if day use site with a table under a tree gets snagged, it’s nice to have the easy-up for shade - if you have one, I would recommend bringing an easy-up if you are going to camp in the upper level campgrounds, not all of the sites have shade.

A small but well-stocked general store is available, as well a small (expensive) gas station. Cachuma also has a pool (for an additional fee), gameroom, playgrounds/jungle-gyms, and disc golf courses available.

Cachuma Lake is a great place for wildlife viewing and birding. I am a photographer, and love seeing all of the birds that hang out around Cachuma - ducks, coots, Western and Clark’s grebes, loons, osprey, hawks, turkey vultures, turkeys, quail, American white pelicans, cormorants, etc. I have gotten my best birding photos at Cachuma Lake. Deer can often be viewed on the shores of the lake, and we have even seen bobcats and foxes. Pontoon boat tours to view wildlife launch every day from the marina.

Keep in mind that you CANNOT SWIM in Cachuma Lake. Silly, I know, but they justify it because Cachuma lake is Santa Barbara’s drinking water source. You are allowed to boat, kayak, and fish on the lake, but no swimming! Motor boats and pontoon boats are available to rent, and now they even have kayaks to rent hourly! My dad has a small 14 ft fishing boat, and we enjoy taking the boat out on the lake to fish and sightsee.

There are endless trails around Cachuma Lake in Los Padres National Forest. There are some mellow hikes around the perimeter of the lake itself, offering nice views of the lake and the surrounding Santa Ynez and San Rafael mountains.

Figueroa Mountain is near Los Olivos - Grass Mountain and Figueroa Mountain are both beautiful hikes, especially in the spring when the wild flowers are in bloom. Both are strenuous, steep hikes, but the views are totally worth the effort.

Cachuma lake is about a half an hour from the city of Santa Barbara, 15 minutes away from Santa Ynez (if you like to gamble check out the Chumash Casino), 20 minutes away from Solvang, and 20 minutes away from Los Olivos. There is fantastic wine tasting available in any of these small towns, and everywhere in between - you are in the heart of Santa Barbara’s wine country! There are endless tasting rooms available inside the towns, and countless vineyards that you can visit to wine taste. A popular wine trail is on Foxen Canyon Road - it is a lovely drive on a country road with some really beautiful and quality wineries and vineyards.

Solvang is a fun town to visit - it was originally a community full of Danish immigrants, so the Danish theme has stuck. It is very touristy, but even as a native, I still enjoy going to Solvang. There are a lot of shops, antiques, candy stores, restaurants and tasting rooms to visit. We are partial to the Solvang Restaurant, and for more than just their Danish Aebleskivers. If you don’t know what an aebleskiver is - its DELICIOUS. Aebleskivers are round Danish pancakes that are shaped like a ball - they serve them with amazing homemade raspberry jam and powdered sugar. Everything at the Solvang Restaurant is good, from their traditional breakfasts to their Scandinavian offerings to their sandwiches.

More Food Recommendations:

Cold Springs Tavern is a historic site dating back to the 1880s when it was a stagecoach stop. Cold Springs Tavern has a full bar and serves some quality meat selections, including famous Santa Barbara style tri-tip. If you are there on a Sunday, they start serving traditional tri-tip sandwiches around 11am - BEST tri-tip sandwiches around! They cook up the meat on giant barbeques outside, and serve the sandwiches hot off the grill - just tri-tip and fresh garlic bread, YUM. They have homemade salsa and homemade BBQ sauce to dress the sandwich with. Sundays at Cold Springs Tavern is a popular spot for locals to go have a beer or a drink with tri-tip, and there’s always a fun atmosphere.

If you are in the mood for some quality Mexican food, Dos Carlitos in Santa Ynez is a favorite spot.

Los Olivos Grocery has a great deli with delicious sandwiches - both hot and cold - and a good selection tasty deli side dishes. The store also has a good selection of local wines.

CAMPSITE SPECS

Fees: $30/night

**Plumbed Toilets: Yes

**Drinking Water: Yes

**Showers: Yes (coins needed)

**Picnic Table: Yes

**Firepit: Yes

**Cooking Grate: Yes

**Shade: Yes

**Cell Service: Yes - Limited

Animal Bins/Food Lockers: No

Trash: Yes

Mather Campground - Grand Canyon National Park

We camped at Mather Campground a couple of years ago when my brother was driving from California to Boston, MA for his big move. He and his girlfriend reserved a site in Mather for a couple nights before heading to New Mexico to visit her family before the big move. My boyfriend and I️ decided to tag along LAST MINUTE for the first leg of their journey and join them in the Grand Canyon, as I️ had never seen it before.

Had we not been able to stay in the site my brother had reserved months in advanced, there is no way we would’ve gotten a site so last minute. GCNP is an extremely busy NP year round, and during the non-snowy months the campgrounds are packed with campers. With that being said, and considering how huge Mather Campground is (there’s hundreds of sites!), the campgrounds did not feel like a sardine can - I️ was surprised by the spacious site lots, we had plenty of room for two tents on the site, even having two vehicles.

Most of the campsite loops that I️ saw are amongst trees, but they do not provide total shade coverage or privacy from your neighboring sites. There were definitely enough trees to set up a hammock, so if you have one, bring it along! It would also be easy to string up extra tarps for shade or cover from potential storms.

Each site had a fire ring and a picnic table (be aware that fire bans are put into place at certain times during the year, so you may not be able to use that fire pit). The plumbed bathrooms were clean, and coin-operated showers are available right outside the campground, along with laundry facilities. There is a well-stocked general store inside the NP which is handy if you need to replenish your camp kitchen or if you forgot something. There are also restaurants available inside the NP village.

There is a shuttle station right outside of Mather, only a couple minutes away by foot. All of the NPS shuttles are efficient and timely, we like to utilize them whenever we are in a NP, wether you have to or not - using the shuttle decreases the congestion and pollution inside the national park, and keeps wildlife, cyclists, and pedestrians visiting the park safer. The GCNP shuttle can take you all around the Grand Canyon - it’s a great way to see the park!

The noise pollution from the road isn’t terrible inside the campground at night, road can be heard - there is a lot of travel in and out of GCNP. Also, campers rise early early to catch the sunrise over the canyon or to beat the heat while hiking, so there is definitely a bit of noise made about the campground in the early morning hours.

Be mindful that the Mather sites do not have any sort of food lockers, and there are a lot of critters running around the campground including rodents and elk! There are quite a few BOLD elk roaming around the campground and NP - they seem pretty darn comfortable around people, and go through campsites looking for food and water. Even though they seem relaxed and tame, the elk are still very large, wild animals, and can do some serious damage if provoked. DO NOT approach them, and be respectful and leave them plenty of space. The rodents are relentless, as they always tend to be - be sure to lock all of your food up inside your car at night!

This area is known to have scorpions, rattlesnakes, and other creepy crawlers roaming around. I️ wouldn’t be too worried about rattlesnakes within the campground area, but you never know; be alert, especially around rock piles and pits where they could be hiding. We did not see any scorpions in the campground, but I️ would still suggest keeping your tents zipped up tight at ALL TIMES and keeping your shoes inside your tent or the car - if you keep your shoes out overnight, or any time, really, be sure to knock them together a few times to make sure nothing crawled inside.

Be aware: the ground is HARD and ROCKY. The dirt is hard and packed in, so it was actually very challenging to drive the tent stakes into the ground, even with the help of the butt of a hatchet. Also - the ground is not smooth, and there’s a lot of rocks embedded in the ground. Be sure to bring a thick camp pad or an air mattress, otherwise you are in for an uncomfortable night.

Dogs were allowed in the campground, many of our neighbors had dogs. We happened to be camping with my brother’s bearded dragon, Iggy. She was used to adventuring with my brother on her leash, so she roamed around the rim of the canyon with us as we explored. She slept safe in my brother’s car at night, in the travel cage they arranged for her.

CAMPSITE SPECS

Fees: $18/night

Plumbed Toilets: Yes

Drinking Water: Yes

Showers: Yes - coin operated

Picnic Table: Yes

Firepit: Yes

Cooking Grate: Yes

Shade: Some - limited

Cell Service: NO

Trash: Yes

Animal Bins/Food Lockers: NO

Gore Creek - Rocky Mountain camping off Highway 70

We stayed at the Gore Creek Campground last summer 2017 on a drive from Southern California to Denver, CO. We took highway 15 through Nevada and Utah, and connected to Highway 70 in Utah to Colorado. To budget this trip, we tried to camp most of the way out and back to California - we saved our Airbnb rentals for Denver, where I️ was competing in Pole Theatre USA, an international pole dancing competition. We wanted to find a spot to camp for the night that was close to highway 70 and not toooooo far outside of Denver - Gore Creek Campground was the spot. It’s about 10-15 minutes outside of Vail, and about and hour and a half outside of Denver.

Campsites at Gore Creek are reservable ahead of time on recreation.org - we planned this trip about 6 months in advanced so had no problem reserving a site for one night on a weeknight. This campground is fairly small, however, with fewer than 30 sites, so I️ imagine it fills up quickly during the peak summer months. There are mostly drive-in sites in this campground, but there were some neat walk-in sites in a loop beyond the drive-in sites.

Gore Creek is a beautiful wooded campground that sits next to Gore Creek. There are a few ‘riverside sites’ in the campground, that were 60 yards or so from the creek. We had our pick of the sites that many months in advanced, so we chose site 9 as it appeared to be well secluded and close to the river - both were true! The area is densely wooded, so the sites have a lot of privacy, and the sound of the river is relaxing and peaceful at night, and drowned out most of the noise pollution from the nearby highway.

Each site has a fire ring and picnic table. The camp hosts were extremely kind and welcoming, and kept the grounds and the vault toilets very clean. There is NO WATER available at Gore Creek, so make sure to bring in plenty of water for cooking, washing, and drinking.

WARNING: You ARE in bear country - be bear smart and safe and use your bear box! We had our own bear box in our campsite - I believe each site has its own food locker. Try to lock all of your food and toiletries inside the food locker - they are large, and we have always been able to fit our big cooler into locker. If you do have to leave a cooler in the car, I was once told by a ranger in Yosemite NP that bears can recognize coolers when peering into car windows - he suggested putting put a towel and gear over your coolers when keeping them in the car overnight in bear territory.

There is a lot of beautiful hiking trails in the Vail - Gore Creek area. We did not have much time to explore as I️ had an appointment in Denver in the afternoon, but the area is absolutely gorgeous.

CAMPSITE SPECS

Fees: $25/night

Plumbed Toilets: NO - vault

Water: NO

Showers: NO

Picnic Table: Yes

Firepit: Yes

Cooking Grate: Yes

Shade: Yes

Cell Service: Yes

Trash: Yes

Animal Bins/Food Lockers: YES

Wendover KOA - Bonneville Salt Flats

We stayed at the Bonneville KOA on a road trip from Southern California out to Colorado. Our original goal had been to drive from the SF Bay Area to SLC, UT (US Highway 80 is a very easy, straight shot drive from CA to UT, even for a 650 mile drive), but got a really late start and changed our target to the NV/UT boarder.

The Wendover KOA is definitely a KOA designed for motorhomes and trailers - it’s BARREN - so not a place I would usually want to tent camp. All of the spaces are dirt lots, including the tent sites - no grass, no bushes, no (well, very few) trees, no privacy, no nothing. Again, this is not the environment I would normally want to camp in, but it worked just fine for a short stop between long stretches of driving when covering miles on a road trip.er

This KOA campground would be great for RV users who want to visit the Casinos on the Nevada side of the NV/UT boarder, and for those spending time at the Bonneville Salt Flats for races or recreational fun.

The facilities were clean - clean bathrooms, clean showers. There were fire pits and picnic benches in the camp sites, and WiFi was available on the campus.

KOAs can be really great and convenient (if not full), considering we did not have a reservation ahead of time, and arrived fairly late, but were able to register through an iron ranger near the front office. If you need to find a place to camp in this area, and do NOT have a 4WD vehicle, I️ would suggest camping at the Wendover KOA instead of the nearby dispersed BLM sites located ON the salt flats. When researching where to stop for the night, we considered staying at the BLM campsites as they were FREE and camping out on the salt flats seemed like a cool idea. We decided against it because we didn’t know how my 2WD Honda CRV would fair on the salt, and because KOAs always have nice clean facilities to use.

We got into a conversation with our neighbors about the salt flats (we had never seen them before). They seemed to think we made the correct choice by camping at the KOA rather than the on salt flats… they regularly take off-roading vehicles out to the salt flats, and have seen a dozen or so 2WD vehicles get stuck out on the flats. Apparently the long, vast salt flats are deceptive, and not always as flat as they appear. Also, they said that it can be very difficult to see pooled water while driving out on the salt, so a lot of people get stuck in deep puddles after rain.

CAMPSITE SPECS

Fees: $26/night

Plumbed Toilets: Yes

Water: Yes

Showers: Yes (no coins needed)

Picnic Table: Yes

Firepit: Yes

Cooking Grate: Yes

Shade: NO

Cell Service: Yes + WiFi

Trash: Yes

Animal Bins/Food Lockers: NO

Willow Creek Campground - near Granby and Grand Lake, CO

We camped in Willow Creek Campground for one night this passed July 2018 on a road trip from California to Granby, CO. We camped in State Forest State Park the previous night, which was about an hour or so North of the town of Granby. We spent that morning roaming around highway 14 near SFSP looking for moose - and found two! After seeing the moose we decided to head down to the Granby area to try to find a campsite for the night - we were meeting up with family the following afternoon to check into a rental house for a wedding. As we were driving down highway 125 towards Granby, we spotted our third moose of the day! He was skittish and ran away upon seeing us approach him.

Willow Creek Campground was the first stop on our list of potential camp spots - it is a first come first served campground, and we lucked out, there were a few open sites. This is one of those areas that you need pay for both a park pass AND a campsite, but our Interagency Pass qualified for the park pass. The campsites are reasonable at $22 per night.

The campground is near a reservoir, alongside a small river. The sites are fairly primitive, with no hookups available - each site has a picnic table, fire pit, and some had a tent-pad area (ours did). Some of the sites were next to the reservoir or the river; most sites were grassy, good sized, and spread out, but there was very little in the way of trees for shade or privacy. This is an area of Colorado that has been hit by the pine beetle epidemic, so a lot of the pine trees had been cleared from the park, especially in the Willow Creek Campground itself. A lot of the trees across the river were dead and brown - it’s sad that that is such a common site in Colorado these days. There were, however, some very healthy aspens in the area around the park and the reservoir. Because there is so little shade and trees available, I would suggest bringing an easy up, if you have one. This area can get hot in the summer, and thunderstorms happen frequently enough. Willow Creek Campground had drinking water available, and had well maintained vault toilets.

At the time of our road trip, the state of Colorado was in various stages of fire restrictions/bans - in the week that we were traveling around Colorado we stayed in parks with fire bans in full effect, and some with only fire restrictions, all within an hour of each other. Willow Creek had a stage 1 fire restriction, so we were able to burn charcoal and firewood in the designated firepit in the site.

WARNING: You ARE in bear country and there were no bear bins in the campground - be bear safe and bear smart, lock all of your food and toiletries inside your car at night. I was once told by a ranger in Yosemite NP that bears can recognize coolers when peering into car windows, so we always put a towel and gear over our coolers when keeping them in the car overnight.

The campground was nice and quiet, without much noise pollution from the nearby road. The campers were all considerate with their noise levels, so it was a very peaceful stay. The park is very pretty, with lots of small trails. We found little clusters of aspen trees, and saw deer and foxes on an evening walk. I got up early the next morning to see if I could photograph any wildlife, and found the foxes again!

When talking to our neighbors, they suggested that we visit Grand Lake over Granby Lake - they felt Grand Lake was prettier, and they talked up the little village area near the lake. After we broke down camp, we drove to Grand Lake and hiked some the North Inlet Trail - we probably went a mile passed Cascade Falls, then turned around to go back. The hike is fairly easy, moderate, in parts.

The little village of Grand Lake is charming and quaint, and is reminiscent of a boardwalk. There are a lot of gift shops and restaurants along a main road, and we spent a little time roaming in an out of stores. For the rubber ducky lovers out there, Grand Lake has an ENTIRE STORE dedicated to rubber duckies called the Quacker Gift Shop! I collect rubber duckies, so I was pretty excited - they even had a Grand Lake moose “rubber duck” - I had to get him, since we had seen three moose the previous day. He is one of my favorite trip souvenirs ever!

We decided on ice cream for lunch - SUCH A GOOD CHOICE. The ice cream from Grand Lake Chocolates was some of the best ice cream of my life!

After our morning hike and visit to the Grand Lake boardwalk, we headed over to Granby Ranch, a ski resort near the rental house we would be staying in. The ski lifts were operating for visitors and downhill cyclists, so we took the ski lift up to the top of the little mountain - it was a fun ride with gorgeous views! We roamed around on some of the paths for a while, until it started thundering overhead. We raced back to the ski lifts, but they had already been shut down. The resort personnel took us to a yurt that’s used as a warming hut in the winter, and had us stay in there until some stuttle vans could come and take us down the mountain. By the time we got down to the lodge it was about time to check into our house, so we left.

CAMPSITE SPECS

Fees: $22/night + recreation pass fee

Plumbed Toilets: NO - vault

Drinking Water: Yes

Showers: NO

Picnic Table: Yes

Firepit: Yes

Cooking Grate: Yes

Shade: NO - limited

Cell Service: Limited

Animal Bins/Food Lockers: NO

Trash: Yes

Zion National Park - South Campground

Zion National Park is a very busy NP with limited campsites within the canyon proper, so scoring a campsite inside the park is tricky and fairly difficult to plan for. The first time we visited Zion we stayed in the South Campground, back when it was a first-come first-served campground. I heard you can now make reservations for South two weeks ahead of time, but I imagine the spots fill up as quickly as ever.

If South campground still offers sites on a first-come first-served basis like its neighboring campground, Watchman, arrive in the park EARLY! Like 5-6am early! Lines for the campgrounds begin forming around 5 or 6am, and grow quickly. When we first stayed in Zion at the South campground, we timed the road trip so that we drove to Zion in the middle of the night in order to arrive early enough to get in line for South or Watchman campground. Both South and Watchman has had lines 20 cars deep by 6:30 am whenever we have camped inside Zion National Park, so be prepared to get up early to wait in line - I would also suggest having a back-up plan just in case you do not get a campsite in the canyon.

Anyhow…South Campground is inside Zion National Park, adjacent to the visitors center (towards the entrance to the park). The campsites are small, crowded, and very open to neighboring sites - but with that being said, they are still very nice sites, and you can’t beat the backdrop of Zion canyon. Each site has a fire pit and picnic table, and plumbed bathrooms and water spigots are available throughout the campground.

There are no showers in South campground - there are showers (for a RIDICULOUS amount of money) are located a short walk away in the “village” area, where there are also shops, restaurants, rentals, etc. The Virgin River runs adjacent to the campground - it is lovely to swim in when you are visiting Zion in the hot summer months. There is little to no cell reception in the campground - I use Verizon, and could occasionally get a signal in the campground. The signal was a little better in parts of the village.

There are no bins for food storage in the campground - I do not know what kind of animals frequent the campgrounds in Zion Canyon, but I would still suggest locking all of your food inside your car at night.

The visitors center and shuttle station are only a couple minutes away by foot - literally. Much of Zion is inaccessible by personal vehicles, so one must take the shuttle service to get around. The shuttle services are fast and efficient, but there still might be some wait time due to the popularity of the park. The shuttle announces what hikes and sites are accessible at each stop, but it’s good to look at a map and plan where you want to go ahead of time - the different hikes throughout the canyon are pretty spaced out, you don’t want to get off at the wrong shuttle stop.

Zion Canyon can get VERY windy at night - every time I have camped in Zion National Park the winds have howled all night long, from around midnight well into the morning. If you have the option of bringing a tent with a low, sleek profile, I would highly suggest it. The first time we camped in ZNP we brought our large tent, and the wind really whipped it around all night. We used a small backpacking tent for our next trip, and the lower profile tent made less noise in the wind.

The backdrop to South Campground is simply gorgeous! It is in the middle of the canyon, so you are surrounded on either side by tall red cliffs that glow like embers in the morning and at sunset! Surreal!

On this trip we hiked to the lower and upper Emerald Pools. The Emerald Pools hikes are fairly easy hikes, one mile for the lower pool, than an additional mile to the upper pool. The hikes are easy and moderate, respectively.

On this trip we also went tubing down the Virgin River - SO MUCH FUN! We rented the tubes for $20 at Zion Outfitters, a rental shop right outside the entrance to ZNP. The trip down the river took about two hours, and was a very unique and relaxing way to experience Zion canyon! I will admit, even though it was really hot when we went, I was freezing for the last half hour or so of the float - the Virgin River is always cold. Besides that, I would highly recommend tubing down the river!

TIP: If you have a pair of water shoes/sandals, I would recommend wearing them while tubing!

CAMPSITE SPECS

Fees: $20/night

Plumbed Toilets: Yes

Water: Yes

Showers: NO

Picnic Table: Yes

Firepit: Yes

Cooking Grate: Yes

Shade: Limited

Cell Service: Limited/NO

Animal Bins/Food Lockers: NO

Trash: Yes

Lone Duck Campground - Camping + More!

We stayed at the Lone Duck campground for two nights in September 2017, with the intention of hiking Pike’s Peak. We were in the middle of a road trip from Southern California to Denver, CO, for a pole dance competition that I competed in. After the road trip out, the mental exhaustion of competing in an international competition, and the HEAT, we decided that we would hike Pike’s Peak some other time and just spend our day relaxing before heading to RMNP to camp and hike. Lone Duck Campground is the perfect place to relax!

We are tent campers, and prefer to be in more “traditional” outdoor campgrounds in parks or forests, etc, but for an urban campground, Lone Duck was great! While the layout of the Lone Duck Campground certainly accommodates for RV campers, the campground also has nice little tent sites with grassy areas to pitch a tent. Our site had grass, shade, a picnic table, and a fire ring - everything you need for a basic campsite.

The tent sites are fairly small and open to the neighboring sites, but that is to be expected in these more urban campgrounds. However, we had site T-25, and due to the surrounding shrubbery, it was more secluded than most sites. The campground is right off the highway, so there is some noise pollution from the nearby traffic. Overall the campground was peaceful and everyone seemed to respect the set quiet hours. It is $36 for two people to stay in a standard tent site WITHOUT hookups…the nightly fee increases with added equipment hookups and additional people.

The benefit to camping in an urban campground like Lone Duck is all the extras you don’t find in all traditional, basic campgrounds! Lone duck had a pool, free wifi, and CLEAN, HOT, COIN-FREE showers! After sweating in the summer sun all day, returning to camp and showering is the best feeling in the world.

The camp hosts were very friendly, and provided nice home-cooked breakfast in the morning for only $5! As much as we enjoy cooking when we camp, it was soooo nice not having to dirty up then clean our camp kitchen. The breakfast was very well worth $5!

Lone Duck also had a small pond/lake to fish in, a jungle gym, a game room and a basketball court. We did not partake in any of those amenities, but they make Lone Duck a very family friendly campground where kids can stay entertained!

Since we decided to be lazy and forego hiking Pike’s Peak, we slept in, enjoyed the Lone Duck breakfast, and researched what we could do to beat the heat. We knew we wanted to go to the Garden of the Gods later that afternoon after it cooled off and to see the sunset, but needed something to do before then to escape the heat. We ended up backtracking back up towards our previous stop in Denver, and went to the Coors Plant in Golden, CO. I’m not much of a beer drinker, let alone Coors, but my boyfriend likes beer and enjoys going on different brewery tours. The Coors tour was free and air conditioned, so why not?! The brewery tour was actually very interesting, and at the end of the tour you could choose three glasses of beer in their tap room. Cold, free beer on a hot day? Even I couldn’t say no to that!

After the tour we drove back down to Colorado Springs and went to the Garden of the Gods (which is probably only 15-20 minutes away from the Lone Duck). The park is FREE to enter, and has some spectacular red rock formations that glow like fire in the setting sun. The park is pretty accessible with wide, flat paths around the perimeter of the park and around the popular rock formations. There are smaller, more rugged trails leading up to various rock climbing areas, and hiking trails that extend out away from the park into the foothills. We climbed on rocks and hiked around for a few hours until sunset. The Garden of the Gods is a must-see - the rock formations are incredible, and you do not even have to be a hiker to be able to see and enjoy them!

We decided not to cook back at camp, and stopped at Rudy’s Country Store BBQ in Colorado Springs. We are from Southern California and had never been to a Rudy’s before, and we loved it! I have to admit that I was skeptical of a gas-station restaurant, but I’m so glad we ate at Rudy’s! It was cheap, it was tasty, and it was fun! And I’m always a fan of unlimited condiment bars, so that was a plus!

Overall, I would highly recommend Lone Duck Campground, especially if you like urban campgrounds with extra amenities. We had been debating over staying at a cheap hotel for the night, but I’m glad we stayed at Lone Duck, it was a much better experience than a hotel would have been.

CAMPSITE SPECS

Fees: $36/night

Plumbed Toilets: Yes

Drinking Water: Yes

Showers: Yes (No coins needed)

Picnic Table: Yes

Firepit: Yes

Cooking Grates: Yes

Shade: Yes

Cell Service: Yes + Wifi

Animal Bins/Food Lockers: NO

Gorgeous Rocky Mountain Camping - North Michigan Campground

We found State Forest State Park on a whim this past July 2018. We were on a road trip from California to Colorado for a wedding in Granby, CO. We were camping in Utah at Dinosaur National Monument, but due to the smoke from a nearby wildfire and the high heat of the summer, we decided to cut our stay one day short, and head over to the Rockies a day early. We wanted to be fairly close to our final destinations, Granby then RMNP, but wanted to go somewhere we hadn’t been before. My boyfriend and I are both animal lovers, and our dream was to finally see a moose on this trip out to Colorado. In researching moosey areas on the internet, we found the Moose Visitor Center at State Forest State Park. We figured that a place with a Moose Visitors Center was as moosey as it comes, so we reserved a site online and headed out to Colorado.

It was late afternoon when we arrived, but since we had already eaten, we didn’t have much to do besides set up our tent and sleeping pads for the night. Getting to the campground and visitors center is easy as they are both right off the highways 41 and 14, but it is quite a drive to get to, in general. The scenery is so pretty, that we did not mind the drive to or from SFSP. North Michigan Campground is right by a lake, it is pretty.

The sites are primitive - each site had picnic benches and a firepit, but at the time we visited there was a Stage 2 fire ban in place, so we couldn’t have a campfire. The fire ban included the burning of wood and charcoal - using a propane stove was OK.

There were pit toilets, and they were well maintained. The sites appeared to have once had more in the way of trees and shade, but it looks as though SFSP was hit by the pine beetles, like so much of Colorado. It’s sad to see the destruction the beetles left in their wake, and fewer trees mean less privacy and less shade for tent campers. We would have had a hard time setting up extra tarps in case it had rained that evening. Bringing an easy-up or canopy would be smart in the summer to protect against sun and heat, or a passing thunderstorm.

WARNING: You ARE in bear country and there were no bear bins in the campground - be bear safe and bear smart, lock all of your food and toiletries inside your car at night. I was once told by a ranger in Yosemite NP that bears can recognize coolers when peering into car windows, so we always put a towel and gear over our coolers when keeping them in the car overnight.

We packed up early and arrived at the Moose Visitors Center when they opened. The visitors center was educational and interesting, and the staff was friendly and knowledgeable and answered all of our questions. After studying some maps of the area with the rangers, we decided to try our luck driving along Highway 14 towards Fort Collins.

We stopped at various spots along the highway, and ended up walking around the Joe Wright Reservoir for a while. Thunderheads were rolling in, and some rain and thunder started, so we decided to start making our way back towards SFSP then head down to Granby, our next stop. We were around Cameron Pass and had given up on seeing any moose when we saw traffic slowing and cars stopped alongside the road - there were two young bull moose snacking by a small river on the side of the road! We pulled over, turned our hazard lights on, grabbed the camera, and jumped out to see our first moose. The moose seemed unconcerned by their growing audience, and continued to chomp away on their lunch - there was a small ravine between the moose and their human audience, so neither moose nor humans felt threatened.

According to the staff at the Moose Visitor Center, there are only about 1,000 moose in the entire state of Colorado - and here we stumbled across two moose at once! We were ecstatic, and so happy we made the impromptu, unplanned trip out to State Forest State Park! We returned to the Moose Visitors Center to share the experience with the rangers (they record the specifics of moose sightings in the area on a board), and the ranger gave us a high five for spotting our first ever moose.

I would like to return to the area someday to hike, I imagine the nearby trails must be goregous!

CAMPSITE SPECS

Fees: $18/night

Plumbed Toilets: NO - pit

Drinking Water: Yes

Showers: NO

Picnic Table: Yes

Firepit: Yes

Cooking Grates: Yes

Shade: Limited!

Cell Service: NO

Animal Bins/Food Lockers: NO

GREAT campground right outside Rocky Mountain National Park

We stayed at Estes Park Campground at East Portal when we visited Rocky Mountain National Park this past July 2018. At first I was disappointed that we could not Moraine Valley or Aspen Grove campgrounds within RMNP, but I am SO GLAD we ended up staying at Estes Park Campground at East Portal! While it is a private campground and is more expensive than a State Park, National Park, Forest Service or BLM campground ($35 for a standard tent site without hookups…it increases with equipment hookups), I think it was well worth the extra money.

Estes Park Campground at East Portal is a short drive away from both RMNP and the city of Estes Park, so you are nearby everything. The camp hosts were extremely friendly, and shockingly, while there was a fire ban in place inside RMNP and outside the park near the Grand Lake area, campfires WERE allowed at Estes Park Campground at East Portal, so long as they were small and contained within the fire ring (which did have a grate for cooking!). The hosts at Estes Park Campground at East Portal had firewood for sale, and even dropped it off for us at our campsite! They also had ice for sale.

The sites are not extremely private, but are all surrounded by tall, thin trees. The trees are perfect for hammocks, so if you have a hammock, bring one! Also, the trees would be useful for handing extra tarps if a thunderstorm was to pass through the area; we had tarps and bungee cords and ropes at the ready in case a storm came. We were lucky, a HUGE storm had rolled through the night before we arrived, and another started just as we had finished packing up the car to leave Estes Park.

Each campsite has a newly build, raised tent pad to set your tent up on - the management is extremely strict that campers MUST place their tents only on the designated tent pad. I did not have a problem with that, as the tent pad is nice and flat, and has some compacted sandy soil which helps keep the dirt out of your tent. The sites are separated by thin logs placed on the ground.

WARNING: You ARE in bear country, so be bear safe and use the shared bear bins available in the campground! Our party had two adjacent campsites, so we were able to share the shared bear bin amongst just our own party. The neighbor on the other side of us had a bear bin, and it didn’t appear that he had to share his with if his neighbors. Try to lock all of your food and toiletries inside the food locker - they are large, and we have always been able to fit our big cooler into locker. If you do have to leave a cooler in the car, I was once told by a ranger in Yosemite NP that bears can recognize coolers when peering into car windows - he suggested putting put a towel and gear over your coolers when keeping them in the car overnight in bear territory.

The best part about this campground is that it had hot FREE and clean showers!!!! As a California girl who’s used to the extreme drought conditions, having a hot free shower available was absolute heaven while camping. There was also a big farm sink outside the bathrooms for dish washing and water bladder filling - it was extremely convenient.

There is only one trash receptacle area in the campground, up towards the entrance near the playground. Even though the campground is fairly small, we were lazy and kept our trash in the cars at night, and dropped it off in the morning when we were headed out to RMNP. There is also a water spigot near the garbage bins - it was a good reminder that we hadn’t filled up our water bladders for a day of hiking.

Estes Park Campground at East Portal is located at the very end of a road, so it is nice and quiet, without noise pollution from traffic. The campground is only about 20 minutes away from Moraine Park inside RMNP. It was easy to get to and from the NP, where we went each day to hike and search for moose.

We found moose at Sprague Lake, around dusk! A momma moose and her yearling twins came down from the wooded hills to graze on the water plants growing in the shallow lake. They were pretty unconcerned by the crowd of people watching them, but it’s important to still give them their space, as they are very large, wild animals (ESPECIALLY during mating season, and when a momma is with her young babies). The moose were truly an amazing site to see, nobody in my party from California had ever seen a moose before this trip to Colorado.

The camp hosts said moose and elk will occasionally make an appearance at the Estes Park Campground at East Portal. We did not see either while at camp, but we frequently deer and fawns running through the woods directly behind the campground.

WARNING: in the woods behind the campground there is a NO TRESPASSING zone where there are piles of chopped, dead trees - those tree piles contain the remains of the trees that were infected by the pine beetle epidemic that has killed so many trees in the area. The piles will be burned in the winter and should not be touched or disturbed.

CAMPSITE SPECS

Fees: $35/night

Plumbed Toilets: Yes

Drinking Water: Yes

Showers: Yes (no coins needed!!)

Picnic Table: Yes

Firepit: Yes

Cooking Grates: Yes

Shade: Yes

Cell Service: Yes

Animal Bins/Food Lockers: Yes (shared)

Trash: Yes

Nice KOA - beats paying for a hotel!

We stayed at the Grand Junction KOA when driving cross country from CA to NY a few years back. We drove to Grand Junction CO after a long day of hiking and tubing in Zion National Park - we arrived very late, and without a reservation. Even though it was after hours, we were able to choose a tent site then pay for the night at an iron ranger at the front office.

Our site had a patch of green grass to set our tent up on, as well as a picnic table and fire pit (that we never utilized, we just set up our tent and fell into our sleeping bags). The sites had little log fences separating the spaces.

The GJ KOA had very nice, clean facilities - having a hot shower in a clean locker room was a great way to start the morning. Wifi was available, which is always a plus.

The campground (kampground, haha) is pretty far outside of Grand Junction, and is in an industrial area, so we were initially a little sketched out and hesitant about stopping, since we were two women in their early 20s traveling alone. But once we got inside the campground and saw the layout of the grounds, we felt very safe and secure.

We were glad we decided to stop at the Grand Junction KOA, as it was a nice, clean, and safe place to stop for the night. KOAs are not my go-to type of campground for camping, but they are an easy, safe, and cheap spot to stop for the night if you don’t want to spend money on a hotel.

CAMPSITE SPECS

Fees: $26/night

Plumbed Toilets: Yes

Drinking Water: Yes

Showers: Yes (no coins needed)

Picnic Table: Yes

Firepit: Yes

Cooking Grates: ?

Shade: Yes

Cell Service: Yes + Wifi

Animal Bins/Food Lockers: NO

Trash: Yes