I stayed here in 2007, and got yelled at in the morning for not having a permit. I tried to explain that as a bike tourist, I didn't know where I would end up at night, but they were not impressed.
It's ok spot, but the terrain is dust, with bedrock about two inches, down, making it hard to get my tent stakes in. When the wind kicked up before dawn, I ended up with dust in my mouth. But I was able to watch the sun set from my tent.
The showers were lukewarm outdoor style, but far better than nothing. I didn't spend much time on the nice little beach here, and instead kept moving up the coast for snorkeling and hiking.
I stayed here in spring of 2007, and was struck by how similar it was to Northern California, with the tall eucalyptus trees, and cute little cabins.
The camping bathroom didn't have showers, but the communal bathroom for the cabins did, and a sympathetic cabin renter let me into that bathroom. (I'm a bike tourist, so I really need the shower.)
I spent two nights here, because the second day I went for the dusk hike among the lava fields. Note to bikers, make friends with someone at the bottom who can drive you up, because it is a big climb not to be biked up in the dark.
There was a pavilion with a stone fireplace that was very attractive for groups.
I guerrilla camped here in 2007, on a bike tour, but there were no obvious camping areas, and the locals having a picnic didn't think there was any camping there. As a biker, I didn't have many other choices, so I pitched a tent in a nook not visible from the road or parking lot, and it was fine for the evening.
I did hear a feral pig rustling in the bushes nearby, and spent the night wondering if I was going to be attacked by a feral pig looking for the empty baked bean can in my tent. To think I was smug when I thought at least I didn't have to worry about bears in Hawaii.
Friday night before one of the Ride-the-Rim events. Too many people, and I was bummed I wasn't able to extend my reservation for the following night.
My site was actually large enough to host another bike tourer who hadn't realized he needed a reservation. There probaby was enough room for even one more tent. The real problem was that we were located next to the party site who kept going as a large group until I told them sometime after midnight that they were too loud. Their yammering had been keeping up a screaming baby a couple sites down, and it was amazing how totally unconscious they were of how much louder they were than the rest of the camp. But hey, that's what it's like when you're at a good party, right? They were apologetic when I told them they were way too loud. My bike tourer got up around 10, maybe and joined them, since he couldn't sleep either.
The toilets were right next to my site. They ran out of paper towels sometime that night, and one of the toilets overflowed, I think.
The showers were far away at the main store/cafe. 75 cents for 4 minutes. I splurged and spent a $1.50. The camp store looked reasonably well stocked, but I got invited up to the Rim to dine at the fancy restaurant by another set of bikers. It was expensive, but the food was good enough to make it reasonable. Normal expensive steakhouse quality. I have been to other expensive National Park restaurants at the same price level with terrible quality.
We breakfasted at the restaurant next to the camp store, and it was reasonably good, but it was ridiculously slow. I think they were short staffed because it was after Labor Day, and they couldn't handle the Ride the Rim crowds. Not sure.
Off season visit, Sept 14: This campground is pretty minimal, and one key thing to note is that only a few sites have tables, and a few sites are just a place to park a car and a firepit. But the birds I saw as I was setting up my tent and wandering around were more various than I typically see in campgrounds, so that was nice.
There is no water, and no trash. There is a vault toilet, and the camping is free. There are no bear boxes. I was mostly concerned about the lack of bear boxes and trash due to my status as a bike camper, with no car to separate bears and food. And in fact, I woke up about a half an hour after falling asleep to what I thought was a raccoon batting at the side of my tent. Probably smelling the empty jerky bag. I sat up a long time wondering what to do. I ended up asking one of my neighbors who was still up to put my food bag in her car, which worked great, except she didn't want to wake up early. We compromised on 8, and that was that. I heard a rustling in the bushes a few times in the middle of the night, but it didn't sound big enough to be a raccoon.
In the morning, I expected the dawn chorus to be amazing, but it was dominated by some really rawcous jays, I think. They were not happy. And then, when I was packing up my tent, I heard the rustling again, and looked in the bushes. And saw a cute little feral kitten. Terrible in a bird refuge, I know, I know. I love birds. And also cats. It was not a dumb cat, either. It was very standoffish, until I started meowing at it, and then it knew I was a sucker, so it started mewing back at me, and followed me to the bathroom. I let it be, but still thought it was damn cute.
Off season visit, Sept 13: After a long bike ride through the National Forest, I arrived after dark. The campground was empty when I arrived, but one truck pulled in just after me, which was a little freaky. Another truck pulled in a few minutes later, and they both headed to the other side of the campground, and everything was fine.
There seemed to be two sizes of camp sites, but it wasn't clear in the dark how they differed. I may have ended up in the double, but I only paid for a single, $15, I think. The vault toilets were decent, the water from the spigot was good. There weren't any bear boxes, but the trash was a bearproof unit.
The trains could be heard much of the night, but they were far enough away to be a low rumbling rather than a heart-stopping clatter. Occasionally they would blow their horns, but it didn't seem like they did every time. Much quieter than the previous night at McArthur-Burney at a site next to the highway. I would choose Shafter for noise every time.
Off season visit, September 12. I rolled in five minutes after 5pm, so the entrance staff had left, and the cafe closed. Bummer. But as I struggled to figure out where to look for a campsite on the park map, I found the hiker/biker site, and got excited about a potentially cheap night.
It was empty when I arrived and set up camp. Two picnic tables, one fire ring, a couple of bear boxes that seemed a little flimsy, and one had noticeable gaps between the wooden boards. That one was empty, but the other one had random bits of helpful things for Pacific Crest Trail hikers who stop through, since the PCT runs past this park.
I headed to the shower, and almost forgot to bring quarters in the event that it cost something, which it did. 50 cents for 2 minutes, and a quarter for every minute thereafter. I was just glad I had quarters to use, since the cafe was closed.
Walked back to my site, dropped stuff off. Headed out to see the falls that are the focal point of the park. And they are pretty impressive. Not hugely tall, but wide, with interesting fractal patterns of falls. Apparently due to three very different layers of rock being eroded away at different rates. There are a number of hikes around the falls.
When I got back to my site, there was a PCT through hiker there. It was interesting to talk to him about his experiences. He was heading north to south, and had started late, missing all the snow in the north. Now he just had to get south fast enough to avoid snow in the Sierras in October and November.
That night, the trucks on the adjacent highway were ridiculously loud. I think there was a particularly loud period from midnight to 1am, and then they started back up again around 5:30am. I think the sites on the other side of the campground would be ok, but anything on the highway side probably got a decent amount of noise. Probably the worst part of the campground, and more annoying than the trains I experienced at two other camps on this trip.
The next morning I was up hoping to get a good breakfast sandwich at the cafe, but they only had standard convenience store food, which mean frozen breakfast burritos to microwave. It was ok, but I didn't feel so bad about missing dinner there the night before. I also stocked up on snacks, knowing I was camping in the middle of a National Forest next, and there would be no food whatsoever. Jerky, Milky Way, Fritos and Cheetos. Probably some other stuff. Then I went out to talk to the PCT hiker, who had gotten not just his restock package, but also a care package from a friend. And he ended up with so much food we both started laughing. He had offered some to me as he started unpacking, and I was hesitant to accept, but thought he could probably spare a few things. But by the end of the unpacking, it was clear plenty of it wasn't going to fit in his bag, so I ended up with a few different bars, and granolas, and the like. Pretty sweet. Another PCT hiker came up as we were wrapping up, and I think he probably got even more.
A long slog up to the Park Entrance, and I arrived at the Visitor Center 5 minutes before the Cafe closed, quick enough to get some hardboiled eggs, jerky, a Snickers, and some hot jasmine green tea. The beer was tempting, but I was dehydrated enough to know it was a terrible idea. The coffee and breakfast sandwich from the cafe the next morning were exactly what I needed, but probably not objectively "good".
I went back out to the parking lot to choose my camping site. The sites are "walk-in" which varies from maybe 50 ft to 200 ft from the parking lot. There is a little berm, which a couple sites sit on top of, and have a beautiful view of Brokeoff Mountain, but also the parking lot. I chose to roll my bike a bit down the hill and a less stunning but still beautiful view of the ridges to the east. Very tightly packed, but different levels and trees kept it from being too bad. I think there was a couple on either side of me, but we were all quiet and tucked into our tents before sundown at 8pm.
There was a bearbox, but it was even more critical to use due to the chipmunks, which attacked one of the energy gel packs that I didn't put in while I went to the bathroom. It bit a hole in the packet, and didn't even stick around to lap up all of the sticky mess. Not a fan. To be fair, it was seeing the chipmunks in the first place that made me put my food in the bear box before heading to the bathroom, so I can only blame myself for not being hypervigilant.
A storm was passing to the south and the wind in the trees was strong but calming, but occasionally the wind would make it to ground level, and kick up the dust from the ground, whipping it through my tent, making it hard to breathe. I think that happened two or three times that night.
The toilets were flush, but the sinks only had cold water, at the bathrooms immediately adjacent to the camp. The Visitor Center just one large parking lot away had hot and cold water, and hand dryers. Also, electrical sockets available next to a bench, for those of us who might need to charge our phones and/or GPS.
An empty camp except for one extremely friendly couple on the Sunday of the weekend after Labor Day. A cool site overlooking Spanish Creek, I ended up at Site 15, where the water rushing over the rocks created some nice babbling brook sounds.
The sites are a little small/close together, but they are well delinated with trees and logs. A bear box is supplied with each site, which is really nice for those of us who don't travel in a car. No hiker/biker spots available, so I had to pay the full $25 which is a bit steep for no shower. The vault toilets were some of the cleanest I'd ever seen. Basically zero smell. The water from the spigot seemed fine, and the camp also provided a large tank of non-potable water.
The trains were definitely loud in the night, because the rails cling to the sides of the canyon, and the wheels scrape against the rails on the curves. I would stay here a couple nights again, because the creek is beautiful, and the valley seems remote, while still being close to a moderately large highway, and Quincy, for restocking. I would definitely be prepared to be woken up, or pack earplugs.