Michael I.


Joined April 2018

Avid hiker and I love nothing more than sleeping on the ground in the great outdoors. Northern California is home, but I love exploring anywhere new.

Beautiful campground in the redwoods

Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park is a beautiful location with a wonderful campground. The campground is intertwined among a pretty dense redwood forest. There are a lot of sites (145) in a pretty small area, but with the number of trees and dense undergrowth of ferns each site feels quite private.

There aren’t a ton of hiking options from the campground, but you can take the Trestle Loop Trail or Alder Basin Trail around the campground and perhaps combine the two with the Hobbs Wall Trail which takes you out to Highway 1 in a big loop of about 6.7-miles and about 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Another trail, which I did not hike when I was there, but looks nice is an out and back along a trail that parallels the West Branch Mill Creek leaving from the north end of the campground between sites 108 and 109. If you go all the way to the trails end at Hamilton Road the trail will be 4.5-miles round trip with 1,200 feet of elevation gain.

A great spot for those wanting to spend their days on or near the water.

Ice House Reservoir is a great camping spot for those wanting to kayak, canoe, SUP, or fish. There isn’t a lot of great hiking in the area. There are a few out and back trails, but nothing that compares to some of the spectacular hikes a short driving distance in just about every direction from Ice House. The one exception to this rule that I am aware of is the hike to Big Hill Lookout. This hike is about 7.6 miles round trip with a total elevation gain of about 1,250 feet.

I do believe there are a number of OHV trails in the area, but don’t know about the accessibility of those trails from Ice House or your ability to store trailers at Ice House.

Ice House Reservoir is great for fishing, kayaking, canoeing, or stand up paddle boarding. The reservoir gives you plenty of places to explore on the water and plenty of great spots for fishing.

The campground itself is pretty developed and sites are relatively close together, but not too bad. Lots of nice tall trees, but not a lot of low growth making the campground feel pretty open.

Nice relatively urban campground. Great for Mountain Bikers!

Spring Lake is a local destination for summertime fun and cooling off. This regional park is located on the southeast edge of the city of Santa Rosa and is surrounded on three sides by neighborhoods. That being said, this park is nice and while you won't feel far from civilization, it's a nice spot to spend a weekend.

Connected to Spring Lake Regional Park to the west is Howarth Park, a small city park offering a train ride, carousel, jump house, petting zoo and pony rides. The park also has multiple tennis courts, some trails as well as Lake Ralphine where you can fish, SUP, or bring your own boat. If you are interested in paddling however I would recommend Spring Lake, which is much larger giving you more areas to explore.

Connected to the west of Spring Lake is Trione-Annadel State Park, a wildly popular spot for local mountain bikers. In fact, as a hiker I tend to avoid Annadel because there are so many mountain bikers, many of whom unfortunately ride as if there is no chance of them coming upon a hiker. That said, there are miles upon miles of trails in to explore Annadel State Park.

Camping at Spring Lake is fine, but reminds me of bit of a KOA with the way it’s set up. All campsites are in a couple of small loops centered around bathrooms and showers with most all of the sites being set up for RVs. There are a few tent sites, but it just doesn’t feel like camping to me personally.

Recently they have added cabins which look really cool, but I have not stayed in one yet.

Popular for a reason!

Although I have yet to stay at Sky Camp this is my choice among the Point Reyes trail camps. The view is beautiful, there is great beach access and Alamere Falls is just a short beach-walk away.

There are some nice day hike options out of Wildcat Camp if you’re lucky enough to spend a couple of days there. I liked heading south on Coast Trail past Wildcat, Ocean, Pelican, and Bass Lakes and then returning via Lake Ranch Trail an Alamea Trail for great views back out to the Pacific.

The hike in from Bear Valley is about 6.6 miles, although there are a ton of different ways to hike in from there, and you’ll gain about 1,000 feet on this most direct route. Coming in from the Palomarin Trail will take you about 5.6 miles and 900 feet of gain to get to Wildcat.

One thing to be aware of with Wildcat Camp is the small field mice that can get into the food storage boxes. Bring some steel wool or a critter-proof container to keep food safe, even inside the locker.

The campground itself is set on an open plateau just a dozen or so feet above the beach and there isn’t a lot of cover between campsites. Site 7 is a bit protected by trees and is the closest to the beach so would be my choice in the future.

Overall this is a wonderful campground and one I long to go back to every time I think about Point Reyes.

Nice Campground but not the best in the park

Coast Camp in kind of the tale of two campgrounds. Sites 1-7 are located on the inland side of the Coast Trail just south of the junction with Firelane Trail. They’re spread out in a scrub-brush area that provides a nice amount of privacy and protection for the wind. The spaces are pretty small and definitely only room for one 2-person tent, but maybe two 1-person tents. The down side about sites 1-7 is the bathroom is a little way away, located between sited 9 and 10; not that far from site #1, but a way to go in the middle of the night from site 7.

Sites 8-13 are in the wide open right along the Coast Trail. They are protected from the wind and ocean by a nice hill, but there is no privacy from the trail or between campsites. Site 14 is a bit move protected by brush, but next to 13 which is a group site (13A & 13B).

Coast camp is nice, but it wouldn’t be my first choice for a basecamp in Point Reyes. We just spent one night on a three-day trip around the park, but it was great for that. For anyone wanting to spend multiple days at a basecamp while exploring the area on a variety of day hikes I would definitely recommend Wildcat camp over Coast.

For trails around Coast Camp, the Muddy Hollow and Estero trails are nice and not heavily traveled. There have been Mountain Lion sightings as of early 2018, so take caution and be aware of recent sightings. The Woodward Valley Trail is quite steep heading inland gaining 900-feet in the two miles from Coast to Sky trails.

Overall Coast is a nice camp in a beautiful area, but there are better options within the park.

Fun Private Park with Lots to Do

Skyline Wilderness County Park is a great little campground just outside of downtown Napa. There are always a lot of RVs there, but thankfully the tent section is separate from most of the RVs. The tent area leaves a little to be desired and is basically just a stretch of grass with picnic tables, BBQs and very little separation or cover from trees. Of course you don’t really think wilderness camping when you think of Napa Valley.

Despite being close to town there is actually quite a bit to do in the park and once you get back from the campground a bit you can really feel kind of far away from the congested Napa Valley. There are quite a few hiking trails and some offer beautiful views of the valley. By far the most popular is the Lake Marie Trail and Fire Road and Manzanita is popular with mountain bikers.

The River to Ridge Trail is nice and provides access to the Kennedy Park, the Napa River, and miles of bike paths, but check at the kiosk if the gate next to highway 221 (Soscol Ferry Road) is open and I have found it to not have a very consistent schedule.

According to a couple of friends that are pretty die-hard disk golfers, the course at Skyline is one of the best and most challenging in the area. I found it to be pretty fun, especially is your expectations are extremely low.

Being Napa Valley there is of course wine tasting and having a parking spot at the campground you have the perfect opportunity to take an Uber or car service to ensure your safety while enjoying Napa’s most famous export.

This is not a park that will provide you with memorable hikes or photos for your Instagram, but it is a decent place to stay in Napa if you’re the type that prefers to sleep in a tent or RV over a very pricey hotel.

Great option for exploring Yosemite Valley and other areas of the park.

Crane Flat is a nice campground and a great option for visiting multiple areas of Yosemite National Park. It’s relatively quiet (as compared to the Valley) and in a good location to make Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows pretty accessible, half and hour and an hour each way respectively.

There are a couple of small trails around the campground, the one we walked on for just a bit left from the west edge of the 500 loop near sites 514 and 516. There is also a trail to Clark Range View (1.5 miles each way) which leaves from the entrance to the 400 loop.

We did see two different bears in our two days at this campground. One walked straight through the camp despite some very excitable people blowing off air horns. Keep your food packed up and kids within eye sight!

I have a love hate relationship with Yosemite because of the unbelievable beauty, but the throngs of people that clog the roads and act like the area is an amusement park and not a natural treasure to be protected. That being said, Crane Flat is a pretty good place from which to enjoy Yosemite as you are relatively close to everything without being in the chaos of the Valley.

Nice Campground in one of the most beautiful areas in the world

Emerald Bay State Park Campground is nice campground located in a spectacular area. The campground itself is fairly big, but doesn’t feel like it the way things are laid out. With the campground running down the point of a peninsula the topography of the area helps the campsites feel a bit more private as well.

There are a few trails that leave from the campground and a handful of places to explore within the campground.

Leaving from the campground are a few trails that take you to beautiful overlooks of either Lake Tahoe or Emerald Bay itself. There I also the Rubicon Trail which takes you west around Emerald Bay to Emerald Bay State Park and Eagle Falls. If you’d like you can also continue on the Rubicon Trail around the other side (north) of Emerald Bay and hike through DL Bliss State Park to Rubicon Point. Going all the way to Rubicon Point would be about a 12-mile round trip hike with 2,200 feet of elevation gain with some spectacular views of Lake Tahoe.

Another hike I would recommend would be taking the Rubicon Trail to Emerald Bay State Park and then doing the short road walk to Highway 89 and the Eagle Falls Trailhead (3-miles one way). You could also drive to the trailhead, but the parking lot is very small and fills up quickly when it is not buried in snow. From there you will fill out a day use permit to enter Desolation Wilderness, my personal favorite place on earth. You can enjoy a nice short hike to Eagle Lake or continue on to the Velma Lakes area. Eagle Lake is 0.89 miles and 540 feet of elevation from the Eagle Falls Trailhead while the Velma Lake area is 4 miles and 1,930 feet of elevation gain from the same spot.

There are also countless trails within a short drive from this campground, or if it surprises you and rains in June like it did for us, you can run to South Shore Lake Tahoe and hide inside a movie theatre for a few hours.

Nice campground in a great small park

Sugarloaf Loaf Ridge State Park is a great little park and campground. The campground is set around an open meadow, but spaces are a bit close together. Nothing special about the campground, no stunning views or strong flowing river, but there is some great hiking and lots of wineries nearby.

From the campground you can easily hike 20 miles around the park. There are a handful of great loop options and a few great out and backs too. My personal favorite hike in this park is at the bottom of the hill from the campground, but can be accessed by trails and a short road walk, and that is the Goodspeed Trail to Gunsight Rock. From the trailhead the hike is 6.5 miles out and back with 2,444 feet of elevation gain (leaving from the campground adds 2.1 miles and 500 feet of gain to the hike).

There are also several wonderful wineries and tasting rooms within a couple miles of the park located around the town of Kenwood. Kenwood also has a few great restaurants and a small market for resupplying. If you drive a bit further to Santa Rosa you can pick up anything you could possibly need.

October 2017 Fires: The park experienced severe damage with almost 80% of the park being burned. As of today, seven months after the fires, some trails in the park remain closed. While the landscape has changed dramatically, the fires have provided an interesting new perspective to the park. Watching the landscape recover from an intense forest fire is very interesting.

Great views, but lacking in things to do at campground

Kirby Cove is a campground different than I have ever experienced before. You’re clearly very close to everything (i.e. San Francisco), while feeling like you are away from everything at the same time.

The campground is located in the spectacular Golden Gate National Recreation Area and down a 1-mile dirt road from Hwy. 1. You’ll get a gate code when you make a reservation so you can access the road.

All sites are walk-in, so depending on which site you get you might want to bring a cart of backpack to haul your gear to your site. We camped in site #1, which was awesome, but also the furthest from the parking lot at about 800 feet each way.

The views from site #1 are spectacular. You’ve got front row seats to the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco to your south. The site is located on a bluff just above the Kirby Cove beach.

Battery Kirby is right there at the campground and interesting to explore. Active from 1898 to 1934 the battery in quite interesting to walk through, despite the vandals that have clearly spent a lot of time there. Aside from the battery there isn’t a lot to do at the campground and we spent half a day picking up garbage at the beach.

There is however a ton of wonderful hiking in other parts of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, but you will need to drive to access the other trailheads.

Before camping here we were warned about the fog horn going off all night, but we didn’t hear it once during the night, so maybe we got lucky.

Beautiful Meadow Surrounded by Campsites

I want to start off this review with one big caveat and that was we literally had the campground to ourselves, with the one exception of the hosts. Because of this I don’t feel like I can say our stay at this campground was representative of what it is normally like, but here’s my review nonetheless.

The campground was beautiful with a wide-open meadow in the middle and lovely late fall trees showing their colors during our November camping trip.

All the sites are located pretty tightly around one road and there are a few large group camps. However, like I said the place was stone quiet when we were there.

The is a nice trail around the campground and a short nature walk from the Visitor’s Center, but other than that not a lot of great hiking right from the campground.

One nearby hike leaves from the Beaver Creek Campground and is just a short drive from the park. We took the South Grove Trail which is approximately 5-miles out and back with about 1,500 feet of elevation gain.

We also did the Lava Bluffs Trail which is a short 2.54 miles round trip with a little under 800 feet of elevation gain.

Overall it’s a beautiful campground and a nice area of the state. Worth a visit for sure.

Okay Campground in Stunning Area

Albee Creek is a decent little campground set in a beautiful area of Northern California.

The campground itself is relatively small with not a ton of cover between sites. We camped in spot #25 which was nice because we only had campers on one side of us. There were a lot of ticks in the field next to our site however, so I guess we ended up with more neighbors than if we had camped closer to other people.

The campground had bathrooms and showers, which were both in nice condition.

There are a few trail options right from the campground, which is nice. We ended up doing a 16.5-mile loop from the campground to the summit of Grasshopper Peak. It was a nice hike with about 3,100 feet of elevation gain, mostly on fire roads.

Firewood is for sale at the Ranger Kiosk and you are required to purchase your firewood there or somewhere else close by to prevent transmission of disease. The closest store for firewood and beer (aka camping essentials) was in Myers Flat. Stop on your way north if you can as it’s a 25-minute drive each way.

Great Campground in a Great Location

Great campground with nice and spacious sites and several trails accessible directly from the campground.

Site number 25 was a real winner. Set back from the road and very large is was great. Also close to the bathrooms without being too close…if you know what I mean.

The creek is also nice to have real close and a great place to spend an afternoon or a full day.

We also enjoyed driving down (east) to the end of the road and hiking Kanawyers Trail (aka Cedar Grove Sand Flats) to the Paradise Valley Trail (aka Mist Falls). See the photos below to see what a great view you get after gaining some elevation on this trail. We did see some very fresh bear scat and heard rumors of other hikers (of which there were many) actually seeing the bear. We did see two rattlesnakes cuddled up right along the trail.

All the campgrounds in the Cedar Grove Village are also close to the Cedar Grove Lodge which is a decent place to pick up food, ice, or other needs.

Nice Campground and Great Hiking

Castle Crags State Park is a family favorite park, as is the hike to the Crags via Crags Trail. The park doesn’t have a ton of trails on offer, but it does have some great ones.

The campground itself is pretty standard. Sites along the road are less desirable in my mind because of the constant traffic going by, but the Upper Loop has some great sites. The Upper Loop is fairly densely wooded so sites don’t seem as on top of each other as other campgrounds. I have not personally stayed in Little Loop before, but with just four sites it seems like it could be nice and quiet.

All campers at Castle Crags State Park, and within a 10-mile range, should be aware of the well-traveled train tracks that parallel highway five. Several train pass each night and you will hear them. Even if you sleep like a bear (more on them later) you will likely hear the train. This isn’t as much of an issue in the Upper Loop, and I imagine Little Loop, but campers in the Lower Loop and Riverside Campground should definitely be aware of this. The train is by no means a reason not to camp here, but maybe bring ear plugs if you think you’ll be sensitive to the sound.

Personally I’ve camped there about half a dozen times and have seen bears more times then I haven’t. Because too many campers aren’t responsible with their food bears in the area have gotten pretty used to people and often come into camp. On our last trip a mom and two cubs were walking just 50 feet north of us in site 52 when the two cubs decided to come closer for a look. They got within about 10 feet of us and the picnic table before mom called them back, but it was a bit concerning (my wife was on top of the picnic table!).

I am not aware of any bad bear encounters where people or bears have been injured, but you may want to check with the ranger station about bringing bear spray. At least bring a whistle or some other way to startle the bear, remember they are pretty used to humans. Most importantly, remember to always lock up your food and any other items with scent inside the bear box. This is extremely important for your safety, for the safety of the bears, and the other campers around you.

As for the hikes in the park, you can’t beat the hike to “the Crags” via Crag Trail. It’s a tough hike and I highly suggest you start early when hiking in the warmer months. You can access this hike from all the camp loops or if you want to shorten the hike a bit you can drive up to the Vista Point. Plan on a side trip to Indian Springs for a water bottle refill and refreshing head-soak. The top section of the trail is very exposed and there is no water, so make sure you bring enough. The trail is steep and requires a bit of scrambling over rocks. Once on the top, after you catch your breath, you will be treated to spectacular views of Mt. Shasta and the surrounding area and lots of great places to explore the Crags. Summiting Castle Dome is possible but includes some class 4 climbing (don’t do this without proper gear or training).

Castle Crags State Park is also nearby the towns of Dunsmuir and Mt. Shasta. Dunsmuir has a good brewery and Mt. Shasta has about anything you could need, including a great outdoor store called The Fifth Season. Other nearby hikes to check out include Black Butte and Castle Lake.

A Great Option for a Very Busy Valley

Tent camping in Yosemite Valley in winter is not for the faint of heart! We were actually one of just a handful of people in the whole campground crazy enough to be in a tent.

The result of the cold was that most people were in RVs. RVs unfortunately means lights and generators and the Rangers did not enforce the generator quiet hours at all.

The nice thing about visiting Yosemite Valley in the winter is that it’s relatively less crowded. It’s still Yosemite and there will be lines for parking and at the more popular places to visit and eat, but nothing like the summer. Roads, pathways, and trails can get very icy, so come prepared.

Considering it’s Yosemite Valley, the sites were actually reasonably far apart. Not so much side to side, but front to back there was a decent amount of space. Behind us was a pretty big open area between our loop and the next.

Upper Pines is close enough to the road and nearby trails that you can easily access the Valley Loop Trail, JMT/Mist Trail, and Mirror Lake Loop trail from the campground.

Yosemite Valley is one of the most spectacular places I have had the pleasure of seeing on this planet and thankfully that’s the case because otherwise the throngs of people would not be worth the trip. Everyone should visit Yosemite Valley at least once in their lifetimes and camping at Upper Pines is a good way to enjoy the valley.

Nice campground, amazing park!

This was a great campground for several reasons. First and foremost for us was that the RVs were separated from the tents. Zero generator noise was a big plus.

Secondly the campground is right along the trail. The Rim Trail runs just to the east of this campground and provides access to virtually the entire park, if you’re willing to hike far enough. We hiked the Fairland Loop Trail from our campsite, which was really nice after a 14-hour drive to get to the park. I also did the Queens Garden-Navajo Loop trails from our campsite.

The campground is also in easy walking distance to the general store (which has showers) and the Visitor’s Center. The shuttles weren’t running when we were there, but the shuttle is also very accessible from the North Campground.

The one complaint we had about the campground was the fact that the bathrooms were closed. I prefer to be way off in the backwoods with nobody and no bathrooms around me, but if I’m around other people in a developed campground that is open, I expect the bathrooms to also be open. The few days we were there in Loop C, loops A to C were all open, but only loop A had open bathrooms. This meant the walk to the bathrooms was quite far and the bathrooms were pretty busy.

Even in the off-season, April, the campground was full by walk-ins by 9am. If you plan to camp here without a reservation, plan to get there early.

Fair amount of snow on the ground in April and into the high 20s at night.

Overall Bryce was by far our favorite of the Mighty Five and we can’t wait to go back!

Huge Campground, Very Busy and Very Open

The sites were pretty nice in terms of being well-maintained, clean, and very established. The campground as a whole was huge and absolutely full.

We were lucky enough to book a site on the east edge of the entire campground and therefore were only surrounded on three sides, where most of the sites surrounded on all sides.

The campground is very group- and family-friendly, but not the best for those of us wishing to experience nature and "get away from it all." That said the brewery just outside the park boundary, and a easy walk from the campground, has some great beer so over development has its perks.

Great views, but exposed and sandy

I'm sad to be the first non-five star review, but want to give folks a heads up about this campground so they can be prepared and hopefully have a great time.

First of all the drive out to the campground is really long, but beautiful. Make sure you have everything you need with you because your options are the outpost store and that's about it.

The campground is set up against some large rock formations. Those site set along the rock seemed to be nicer and more protected from the elements, but because of when we arrived to the campground we were limited to one of the more exposed sites.

Bathrooms and showers were pretty nasty. We had been on the road for days but both opted to hold off on showering because we were fairly certain we would have come out of the shower dirtier than we would have entered. Frankly I expected more from a private hosted campground.

The biggest issue for us was the sand and wind. The sand was super fine and got into everything. Upon arriving we started to set up our tent and at this point on the trip we had been car camping for a week so had the set-up and breakdown of our camp down to a science. Nevertheless after getting the tent set up very quickly and only opening the door to put a few pieces of gear in, there was a solid layer of sand inside the tent. We realized that rainfly or not, anything that was placed outside was going to get covered in sand. We opted to put some of our gear and cooler in the tent and we slept inside of the car.

Not sure what the solution would have been other than a solid-walled tent, maybe with a large closed off vestibule, but hope others might be able to bring gear to help minimize this issue. There were some other tent campers at the campground, but most folks had campers or RVs. My one thought is that the sites around the rock formations would have provided more protection.

Overall Canyonlands was beautiful and I wish we had spent more time there.

Bullfrog Pond Campground

This is a great camping spot fairly secluded from the nearby towns.

The campground is a 10-15 minute drive beyond the ranger check-in station, and offers great views, a nice little pond, bathrooms and potable water.

There are some great hikes nearby, either back down into the valley to the park entrance or out west toward East Austin Creek.

The hike out toward East Austin Creek can be done as an approximately 9-mile loop via the Gilliam Creek Trail and then back via the East Austin Creek Fire Road. The trails converge about halfway to give you the option of a 4.5-mile loop. The Gilliam Creek Trail involves a lot of creek crossings, so in the winter or after a storm be prepared to get wet.

The hike back down toward to park entrance can be done via a few different trails and does require you to hike back up, so save some energy for climbing.

The campground is close enough to Guerneville and Monte Rio that is can be a great spot to use as home base while exploring the West Sonoma County Redwoods and Russian River, or for just going out for a restaurant meal for a nice break while camping.

A Great, Quiet Campground and Beautiful Area

This is a great little campground located right near a beautiful lake and some great hiking.

The campground itself is small and first-come first-serve, so arrive early in the day to get a spot at all, much less the best spots. We arrived at about 10am on a Thursday in June and had our pick of the spots. For the three days we were there we only had "neighbors" one of the nights.

Nothing too special about this campground other than it is small, so less chance of getting some obnoxious, noisy group near you. There are pit toilets, but no potable water.

The campground is a short walk or really short drive up to Castle Lake, a truly spectacular lake with great options for hiking, kayaking, or paddle boarding in the summer.

The main hiking trail takes you up to Heart Lake and then offers great views of Castle Lake and across to Mt. Shasta. It's only about a mile each way to Heart Lake and then another quarter mile or so to a nice lookout point.

There is another trail that splits off about half a mile from the parking lot and heads east toward Little Castle Lake and eventually the Mt. Bradley fire lookout if you keep going. From there you can go just about anywhere on a series of fire roads.

Dogs are welcome in the campground and on the trails, but please leash your dogs. There are many other dogs on these trails and wildlife nearby, so keep your dog leashed to protect it and the areas around the trails.

The campground is also quite close to the town of Mt. Shasta and other great hikes like Black Butte and Castle Crags State Park.