Ryan W.
San Diego, CA
Joined July 2016
Camper, Hiker, Eco-Restaurant Consultant
At the top of the hill. Small and overlooked.

Umpqua Lighthouse Campground is on top of a hill, which would make sense since there is a lighthouse there. If you are hiking and biking you may not want to make the effort choosing to stay at the bottom of the hill at the crappy RV/Tent camp in the wind or just keep going in either direction to a campground on more level ground, but that would be a mistake. Make it up to the top, and you'll be rewarded with an out of the way, minimally populated camp tucked into the trees just past the lighthouse, and with trails, wildlife and brand new bathrooms and showers.

The Hiker/Biker Camp is just past the entry to the camp, down the trail towards Lake Marie. It has three different areas leveled off with shared storage boxes, fire pits and picnic tables. Each little clear is open to itself but nicely private to the other clearings so if you're traveling with a small group you can take over a whole area if you choose. Unlike most of the other Oregon State Park campgrounds there were not REI branded charging stations or bike tools, but the camp hosts let us plug into their outlets as needed.

They were just finishing the building of brand new bathroom/shower facilities while I was there, but even the portable set up they had was one of the nicest ones I've seen in a campground. Deer were wandering about, and there was plenty of bird watching. 

The main campground area was divided into a loop and straight line stretch. Sites varied from open with privacy trees to entirely shaded. Despite it being a weekend during the summer the camp wasn't full, and it was easy for travelers to pull in and grab a spot.

Walk down the hill to the Lake Marie Trail for a quiet trip around the small lake. A few benches were found along the lake making great opportunities for relaxed reflection or a glass of wine. Shooting off from the LMT were trails out to the Umpqua Bay and the ocean side beaches.

Amenities include:

  • New Bathrooms & Showers
  • Fire pits & Picnic Tables
  • Trails
  • Storage Boxes
  • Firewood for sale.

Oregon State Park Hiker/Biker sites cost $7-8 

*Pro-Tip: There is a really windy, less cool campground at the bottom of the hill near the entry to Umpqua Lighthouse State Park. Go up the hill. It will be worth it. Even if you've been hiking or riding all day. It is better.

The people make or break this place.

I camped here twice this year. Once in June in the Hiker/Biker area, and again in July in a regular site. The experiences couldn't have been more different.

Hiker/Biker is fairly segregated from the rest of camp. The access point is actually before the entry to the main campground itself. My first visit left me surprised at the beauty of the camp. It feels like it is in the wilderness despite being less than a few miles from Florence's cool Old Towne.

The trees here are big, and the ground cover lush with ferns. The trails are canopied by Rhododendrons. Nature paths lead off to Cleawox and Woahink lakes. Sand dunes abut the west side of camp. They seem endless, and otherworldly. At Cleawox Lake day use area there are paddleboats, boards and water toys for rent by the day or hour. Sand boards are available from a temporary space set up in the day use parking area. 

On my first visit the entry Ranger station was closed but the Welcome Yurt was open. Maps, advice, firewood, a lending library was available. 

Honeyman Camp is huge. When I was there in early June it made for a lovely exploration, and seemingly great spaces between campers. In late July the vibe had completely changed. Each of the several hundred spaces was occupied by a seemingly large family with 5 kids to every adult, or 25 belligerently drunk RV campers who felt the need to blast Fleetwood Mac. 

That second visit, in the main campground, made it very clear that your experience here will depend on the quality of people choosing to stay in the same park. All the amenities were the same, but despite it's size, a campsite with stereo speakers set to full boar are hard to ignore even when you're on the other side of camp. Now multiply that by several campsites per loop.

One thing of note: Each campsite is issued a set of rules, including "Quiet Hours". Unlike some other sites in which hosts ignored those rules in an attempt to avoid confrontation the hosts here were on top of it. For as obnoxious as the camp was at 9:45pm, by 10:15 it was silent, and we were able to enjoy the remains of a campfire and view of the stars in the slight clearing between trees.

Amenities include: 

  • Flush Toilets
  • Hot Showers (free and some without having to keep pushing a button!)
  • Picnic tables & Fire pits
  • Welcome yurt
  • Kids playground
  • Access to lakes and dunes (Bear sitings on the path to Woahink Lake in July)
  • Nature Trail

*Pro-Tip: Stop in Old Towne Florence and buy some fresh fish or get a coffee at the local roaster.

Convenience, Rogue, Sand and Trees...also a campground.

The South Beach State Park Campground is at the mouth of the Yaquina Bay in Newport, Oregon. The first thing you'll notice is the wind on the way in. Generally, north to south in the summers, the wind is strong, always strong, like 30 mph or more pretty much all the times according to the locals. It felt like it was raining, but it was just water being blown off the ocean. However, once you're in the campground you don't notice it at all since it is well protected by surrounding dunes and tree line.

There is a Tim Burton-esque trail system surrounding the camp leading out in all directions to the beach and bay. Some trails are blacktopped, some sand, and some horse accessible. Google maps struggled to get me to the correct entrance so pay a little more attention when arriving.

My visit was during Oregon Parks day so camping was free. The Hiker/Biker area is just inside the camp entrance across from the hospitality yurt where you can get hot tea, coffee, ice cream, wood bundles, stickers and Oregon Parks merchandise. The camping (all of it) area itself is pretty open with minimal privacy or separation from your neighbors, but everything is very clean and organized. 

The campground was packed, and the RV/Tent area was essentially a parking lot. It seemed like a lot of families to come to the same place, the same weekend every year. However, it was a well regulated, and well behaved campground. The nice thing about this campground is the location. There are hiking trails, beach access, and it is close to all the amenities of Newport. Once you left the camp on a trail you could wander the trees without seeing anyone for awhile if you needed to get away.

Hiker/biker area had faux fencing built up to separate sites and wood platforms to get tents off the ground which I haven't seen in any other hiker/biker camps. The fences were a bit weird but made it easy to lock up a bike, hang some laundry and would a good stop if I were traveling with a hammock.

Amenities include:

  • Camp Store
  • Storage box with usb charging station
  • Raised wood platforms for tents
  • Flush toilets
  • Hot free showers
  • Access to beach & trails
  • Walking distance to Rogue Brewery, Yaquina Bay State Park, South Beach State Park, 
  • Bike Stand and tools
  • Fire pit and picnic tables

Pro-Tip: In Newport, just across Yaquina Bay, is the Newport Bike Shop. It is one of the few bike repair shops along the coastal Oregon Route. If you get a $35 bike tune up you can take a break in their upstairs lounge with tv, wifi, fridge with beverages, and washer/dryer.

Welcome to Partytown.

Devil's Lake State Park Rec Area Campground (it's a mouthful) is right on the edge of town. That is convenient if you're trying to access things in town. It really sucks if you're trying to actual "camp". This is a party spot for local ruffians, and an RV parking lot for people who want to get away without losing any sort of amenities whatsoever.

The Hiker/Biker area is just a little patch of grass on a hill just inside the entrance to the left. The hill makes it hard to find any flat ground for a tent, and you are adjacent to a road to the north and a single family home to the east. The coast highway is a block to your west. Basically, it is a lawn. 

There is lake access but the lake is more of a pond. Ocean access is across the highway about 15 minute walk. You can also just walk into town for a beer if you want. Being so close to town makes it an easy place for people to go and get rowdy too. 

The camp hosts here have given up on enforcing any sort of rules in the park. There were people openly doing drugs. The site across from the host had a keg and set up speakers blasting some terrible classic rock. On a trip the the bathroom I saw the camp host looking out the window at the loudest site in camp, and then just pull his shade in the RV down. And not even joking, at one point a group (college age?) woke me up with shouting as they cheered on their friend who was getting laid in the tent. Another group was doing night skateboarding through the park in loops.

However, if you're just passing through you'll have everything you need to get through the night here including a hot shower, bike tools, and charging station. 

I gave this place two stars because the amenities are there. If based on my experience alone it would be zero, but I am sure there are days when it is fine.

Amenities: 

  • free hot showers
  • storage boxes with USB charging stations for phones and lights
  • Picnic Tables
  • bike racks
  • bike repair station
  • flush toilets
  • Wetlands nature trail
  • lending library

Oregon Hiker/Biker Camps are $7-8 (this one is $8)

Pro-Tip: If you're heading south stop at Big Mountain Coffee Roastery. It is decent, a little kitschy, and has AC/Wifi. Plus it is a very small, local business to support.

Cape Lookout for the Hiker/Biker win.

In May/June I rode a bicycle down the coast of Oregon. Cape Lookout was the first hiker/biker camp I stayed at after leaving Portland, and it set the standard by which all other camps would be judged.

The area around camp is fairly rural until you crest Whiskey Creek Road (heading south). Neterts Bay spreads out in the distance, along with a dense pine forest. The road in is smooth and blacktopped. The trip in will overwhlm the senses with the lushness of all the green (in the spring), the freshness of the fragrances and the always magic of the Pacific.

Camp itself splits in two parts. RVs, Car Campers and Tents on the north side. Hiker/Bikers on south. They are connected by both beach, trail and a blacktop road to a day use area. 

The north side is nice but fairly packed in. You better like your neighbor. There are also yurts and cabins available on this side. The cabins looked more appealing being a little separated at the foot of the North Trail. I camped on the south side so this review primarily reflects that space.

The hiker/biker site was flipping awesome. A dozen plus sites tucked under giant trees but close enough to ocean to view it through the trees, and listen to the crashing waves at night. The sites were close to each other but the ground growth including ferns reaching over my head made for a fairly private camping experiences.

Also, awesome amenities. After a long day of riding (or hiking) Cape Lookout offered: 

  • free hot showers (on the north side)
  • storage boxes with USB charging stations for phones and lights
  • Fire Pits
  • Picnic Tables
  • hiking right out of camp (Birding!)
  • bike racks

There was also plenty of firewood lying around, as well as bundles available at the entry. There are plenty of hiking trails leading out both sides of the camp, and you can go for over 3 miles along the beach out of camp towards the Neterts Bay Peninisula.

Oregon Hiker Biker Sites are $7-8.

*Pro-Tip: If you are headed south on foot or bicycle there is an 875' climb immediately leaving camp. It is a beast. Fairly vertical. There is a lookout point about halfway up you'll run into plenty of others who need a break.

It's the beach and only the beach that will bring you here.

There is one reason and one reason only to stay at South Carlsbad Campground, and that is Carlsbad State Beach. It's a pretty convincing reason. The sand is perfect. The waves consistent. The water warmer than normal (which probably isn't a good thing in the long run, but it feels like the Caribbean Sea right now.

The actual campground is huge and narrow with one road splitting the sites down the middle. All the sites are roughly the same with the major differences being depth and the amount of shade. The ocean side sites are premium priced ($50 during peak season) and the road side is more affordable ($35) but still pricey for a campsite. Especially one that has no privacy and is backed up against a highway. The Pacific Coast Highway but still. Sites are on sand, have a picnic table and a fire pit…and that's about it. If you're lucky, we weren't, you'll have some shade or privacy to one direction or another. Not many sites do so google earth it if you can. There are pay showers, flush toilets and a camp store with booze, ice cream bars and flip-flops if you forget yours.

And it's busy…all the time. Most sites are booked in advance most of the peak seasons and the camp also acts as the access point for locals and tourists accessing big portions of the beach. With nearly 200 sites and additional traffic be prepared for sand always being kicked up, kids wandering aimlessly and noise from generators, partiers and traffic.

That all sounds not so great, but the location of the camp on the cliffs overlooking the beach is still pretty great. It's not Big Sur, but it if you're looking for beach you won't find a finer spot to camp just about anywhere in SoCal. San Elijo Campground down the road is a smaller version of Carlsbad SB but is also hard to get a spot in without reservations.

Overall, I'm giving Carlsbad SB Campground 2 1/2 Tent Stakes of Awesomeness. It isn't wilderness, but it is the beach. The location makes it worth it. Car, RV or Van camping is more fun that tent camping just because of all the sand, and to cut down on noise, and surf spots within walking distance. 

Pro-Tip #1: California has its own reservation site now. reservecalifornia.com. You can still see the basics on reserveamerica but can't actually reserve it. The new reservecali site is kind of a dick.

Pro-Tip #2: The far south end of the camp has the most shade/privacy brush, and only has sites on the ocean side so you'll have far more privacy.

Pro-Tip #3: Google Earth your site. The difference between sites next to each other is big when you're talking about any versus zero shade.

Pro-Tip #4: Pizza Port Brewing for pizza and beer. You'll be glad you did.

Howard's Gulch Campground in Modoc National Forest

Howards Gulch Campground • Modoc National Forest • $12

Northern California • Basin & Range Birding Trail 15 Northeastern location

Just past a hundred miles of farmfield coming from the North we enter the Modoc National Forest, and turn left against our GPS’ wishes into Howard’s Gulch Campground (Forest Service). Pay attention to the signs. It's analog but it's right. It’s a small, primitive camp in Northern California with 12 sites. Two which are walk in only and none which are for large RV’s. The fee is $12 which is significantly more than the next campground down the road which is free, but the consistency of the Forest Service sites makes it worth it. 

The trees are tall and red, and according to a conveniently placed sign, coniferous. There are also signs indicating common birds of the area and their habitats, along with a 1.5 mile trail built by the U.S. Forest Service, California Department of Forestry and the California Department of Corrections. The trail has been dedicated “for your hiking pleasure…” This campground is also part of the Basin & Range Birding Trail system of Northern California and Southern Oregon.

Like all forest service campgrounds there is a fire pit and a picnic table in each site. Most of the sites are spaced relatively privately, but since you’re in the middle of nowhere you’ll probably be sharing the camp with one, maybe two other campers. In addition, some sites have a stand alone charcoal grilling set-ups.

Trails like this one lead right from camp. Bring your binoculars.

There are plenty of water taps. At least five, but since it isn’t potable there isn’t really much benefit. Since the water is being “treated with chemicals” I wouldn’t even recommend boiling it for use leaving it for the dousing of fires, but the camp is under no-burn restrictions. Rightfully so, considering the summer California has had so far.

Toilets are standard vaults, but there are three of them for 12 sites. Two of which are recent new builds. Being low in the gulch you’re surrounded by walls on three sides to the outer side of the camp loop. The inner loop still backs up to a cliff wall for an unusually located tall mound…and OHMYGOD MY WIFE JUST CHOPPED HER THUMB! SHIT! SHIT!SHIT!SHIT!SHIT!SHIT!SHIT!

The reason to camp here is…you’re on your way somewhere else most likely. Coming from Oregon to Yosemite or Tahoe or vice versa. But if you do you won’t be disappointed and if you like birds you’ll be pleasantly surprised. The nearest town is at least 20+ miles if you need anything so come prepared. My Wife's thumb is fine by the way. Despite a serious scare at the time. She field dressed it like a boss using our first aid kit (which we've since upgraded). She'll have a reminder scar, but her badass level went up like a million points. I give Howard’s Gulch 3 Tent Stakes of Awesomeness for being a solid campground with nice sites and trails leaving right from camp but not much else going on. Also, there is no indication of who Howard is. I certainly didn't meet him.

Pro-Tip #1: Prepare for summer heat. You aren’t at elevation here.

Pro-Tip #2: Bring binoculars.

Pro-Tip #3: Bring water and anything else you might need. No place near by to get anything.

Oh Ridge Campground • June Lake, Inyo National Forest

Oh Ridge Campground • June Lake, Inyo National Forest • Site 147 - Gull Loop.

Fees Vary

If there is full 4g wifi available is it really camping? Is something you’ll have to ask yourself when you pull off June Lake’s South Loop entrance to Oh Ridge Campground. Oh Ridge is a site you come to for one reason one reason only, June Lake. As blue as any Caribbean Sea and as crystal clear as water melting directly off a glacier this lake is beautiful. Surrounded by snowcapped Eastern Sierra Mountain peaks and a half dozen campgrounds June Lake is a popular spot for families and random travelers who spot it on the map. This is the kind of place a reservation goes a long way since they rarely have openings during the summer. That said, even if the sign says “Campground Full” stop and ask. They may just have one site left stashed away somewhere for you.

The camp has flush toilets and there is a camp store just outside the gates with survival amenities like ice cream bars, souvenir straw hats, maps, beer and pay showers. Each site comes equipped with a grill, fire ring with grate, bear box, patio table (in varying shades of disrepair) and flat to nearly vertical spot for your car, rv or tent. Every several sites has a wind shield wall. There doesn’t seem to be a pattern to their placement, but if you can get one it sure comes in handy. The winds come in over the mountain range to your west in the early afternoon and get gusty.

Your views from your site will vary. You’ll partially see rocky mountain peaks in the distance and forested areas to the left and right. Scrub brush and green going up the hill behind you block any views of the road or highway. More immediately you’ll be looking directly at your neighbors SUV or RV or Tent or dog. There is little to zero separation. This isn’t a wilderness retreat.

But it is a great camp in the vacation with the family sort of way. The June Lake swimming area is nestled in the camp. There are kayaks and paddle boards to rent and the sun and scenery is incredible. For a week with your kids (if you have them) or a night passing through on a roadtrip this is a great spot. It is also within a half hour of the Eastern Yosemite Entrance at Tioga Pass making it a good location for exploring this side of Yosemite without risking not getting a site closer or in the park itself.

If you’re looking to interact with nature a little more privately and with a few less noisy plague infected chipmunks this might not be the place.

Oh Ridge gets 2 3/4 Tent Stakes of Awesomeness for location and incredible lake. It gets docked for privacy, wind and worn out sites. But really, location and lake will win out 4 out of 5 times.

Pro-Tip #1: Bring your tent down to the lake and set it up. It will help with the wind and the sun. Just be sure to stake it down.

Pro-Tip #2: Car or Van camping works well here because the ground isn’t great for tents. Rock and sand with a slant.

Pro-Tip #3: The back sites, Owl & Deer Loop, have better views but almost zero shade. Not worth it.

This review is also available on the One Wild Life Field Journal.

Fallen Leaf Campground at Fallen Leaf Lake, South Lake Tahoe

Fallen Leaf Campground • South Lake Tahoe

$34.50 - 36.50 • Sites 078, 156

Pulling into Tahoe via Stateline, Nevada is like pulling into a Las Vegas/Up North baby. Casinos and resorts turn into camps and fudge shops. From the East you’ll pass thru all of that, past the Camp Richardson and finally turn away from Lake Tahoe into Fallen Leaf Campground. If you’re going to camp in Tahoe you’ve made the right decision. Fallen Leaf Lake is at the rear of the camp. While smaller and not as well known it is also not overly trafficked, crystal clear and surrounded by hiking paths along the water.

Fallen Leaf Campground is a massive 206+ site compound complete with its own store, shower houses and if you travel past the camp all the way to the other side of the lake (and other campgrounds) an ice cream shop. That said, Fallen Leaf Campground does a great job of keeping an “out in the woods” vibe. It is absolutely that place that families go year after year after year, but if you can get a site on the outer loop you can still have some separation, plenty of trees and with the lake so close, feel like you’re in the heart of nature. One of the better jobs by a large scale campground I’ve experienced.

But be prepared. It’s going to be full of kids and dogs and campers who are not necessarily out there to experience nature but to see family and friends and likely drink a caseload of Bud Light a day. There may also be bears. Bears are everywhere here. Or so we heard. We never saw one, but the camp staff and campers around us all had bear stories that "just happened yesterday! or last week! or in 1950!" Basically, bears. There are bear boxes at each site, and kids everywhere you probably won't be a bears first target. Just be bear aware. Across the main road from the campground is the mighty Lake Tahoe. It was okay. Lots of people, lots of choppy waves. We preferred setting up the hammock by Fallen Leaf Lake.

The showers were nice but pricey. Four U.S. Quarters for 3 minutes. You can get done what you want but no more. There are about four per loop (give or take 25 sites) but we never had a problem finding one open. There are no outlets for charging or bathroom appliances though. The older bathrooms along the inner loop are dated and worn but have accessible outlets if you need some juice. The toilets everywhere are flush and each loop has at least one camp host staying on it. The staffers were friendly, helpful and accessible.

The outer loop is where you want to be if you are looking for any privacy or traveling alone. The inner loop, with its lack of privacy, was the spot for large groups. On our second night we stayed in the inner loop and our neighbors had booked 19 sites for incoming family and friends. It’s tough being in the middle of that when you weren’t planning on joining a new family. The outer loop sites are mostly well shaded and have a lot more privacy, as well as lake accessibility if you are in the back row which I’d recommend. At $34.50 you want the best spots. It also forced me to ask myself, “How much is too much for a campsite?”

Fallen Leaf Lake Campground gets 3 Tent Stakes of Awesomeness. In Tahoe, you’ll never escape the crowds or tourists, but Fallen Leaf Lake Campground does a good job of insulating you somewhat from that while maintaining a nice campground on the edge of a lovely lake. No blasphemy intended but I’d spend the day at Fallen Leaf Lake over Lake Tahoe any day.

Pro-Tip #1: Site 078-079 are massive pull-thru sites but great if you’re tent camping. More private, well shaded and closest to the lake and free downed firewood.

Pro-Tip #2: Site 156 sucks. Unless you want to look at stars. No shade or privacy. A long way from any shower/bath house and electric wires running above you.

Pro-Tip #3: Firewood is readily available downed by the lake or on trails if you’re willing to put in five minutes of effort. 

Pro-Tip #4: The Baldwin ruins aren’t worth it, but the walk around the lake or along the Morraine Trail is.

Pro-Tip #5: There is a decent wind that starts early to mid-afternoon coming in against the shore over the lake. It is blocked to the camp, but mornings are the best time for lake time. Mornings are glassy on the lake for paddle boarding and kayaking as well, but choppier in the afternoon.

REVIEW: DENNYS CREEK CAMPGROUND IN SNOQUALMIE NATIONAL FOREST

Denny Creek Campground • Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington

Standard Tent to RV Sites - $20-32.00

Group Sites - $84

When you pull off HWY 90 into Snoqualmie Pass you’re going to be tempted to stop at Dru Bru Brewing just off the exit on your left. We understand the desire, but look temptation in the eye and keep moving forward. You’ve got a sixer in the cooler and just three miles ahead is Denny Creek Campground.

We’d almost never advise against stopping at a local brewery, but if you haven’t made a reservation you’ll want to keep moving (if you have then by all means…). Denny Creek fills up most days. Even on the Monday we were passing through only 3 of the 33 spots remained available and there was a car in front of us, and another behind us. Passing through all two blocks of civilization and the new condo construction you’ll pull up onto a road that is nearly 100% jackknife switchbacks. At first you’ll be exposed with wild flowers on both sides, but by the third turn you’re completely emerged in Snoqualmie National Forest with moss covered pines and the glimpse of a river in the distance. You’ll pass dozens of cars pulled off at hiking trailheads for access to the PCT, and even an established parking area for day-use hikers. This is a heavily trafficked corner of the forest a mere 45 minutes from downtown Seattle.

Denny Creek Campground is overseen by Camp hosts, Mitch and his lovely Wife (whose name we never got). They run a tight ship, well-oiled, clean and efficient. They have been hosting here for seven years, and by golly, we don’t think we’ve ever seen a cleaner camp bathroom or had a friendlier chat with a host. They even took time out of their busy schedule to deliver our firewood to us. Fine people to have representing the outdoors.

On our visit sites 14, 16 and 33 were open. The car in front of us passed on 14 so we snagged it. It was okay. Shaded and near the flush toilets. As we hustled to get our payment up to the entry box we passed site 16. Looking at it from the paved camp loop road it looked a little bit like heaven. A pull in for your vehicle with a little pathway back to the site which was nearly 100% private and within seeing and hearing distance of the creek. I stood in the entry, scribbling the new number onto our pay stub and holding the spot while the Wife sprinted to get the car before the lollygaggers behind us caught up and stole it.

When we spoke to our hosts they said, “You got 16? That’s the best one!” And, “Since we opened 6 weeks ago this site has never not been reserved.” We’re calling it road trip luck and saying our thanks. The sites all have the standard picnic table and fire ring, but the fire ring is only partially a manufactured grate with the other part a rock ring. The rocks collected from the river nearby giving it a more nature feel to it, and a downed tree log for seating. There was a enough branches to used for kindling and a burst of flame every now and again, but bringing or buying a bundle of firewood is recommended. No guarantee on downed wood on the inner circles. Bundles run $6.00 from Mitch at the entrance. Our picnic table had cut flowers in a recycled pop bottle from our hosts, and there was a leveled pad for our tent. One of the best functionally designed campsites we’ve ever had.

And all that was just the basics. The river runs past camp making for a lovely gurgling sonnet to fall asleep too, and from our site you could walk out into the middle of the river on downed trees looking up at a mountain on one side and pines on the other.

Besides a great place to sleep, this area is extremely popular for hikers. In addition, to the PCT access points there were multiple hiking trails leaving directly from camp. We took the Franklin Falls trail, a well-groomed trail upstream culminating in the Franklin Falls which isn’t just a view point, but you can actually walk out to it (or shower if you so choose). Just be sure to pick up after yourself. It was disappointing to see trash left behind. We took the Wagon Wheel trail back to camp through the old growth forest. It crossed two paved roadways. Totally hike distance for both was just over three miles and we despite the popularity of the area we didn’t see more than two sets of other hikers the entire time with a departure time of 8:30AM-ish.

The only really con of the camp was at night when most were quiet the occasional semi-truck passing on the highway would interrupt the sound of crackling fire and silence. Despite feeling like you’re deep in the woods and the twisty road in you never really get too far from the interstate. It was easy to overlook for the scenery and experience of Denny Creek Camp which we give 3.5 Tent Stakes of Awesomeness. One of our top scores so far, and favorite memories of our recent road trip.

Pro-Tip #1: Sites 15 & 16. Oh yeah. Those two. If not, watch for group campsites near you. They are open and it is a popular spot for large roving bands of weekend camping children. 

Pro-Tip #2: Reservations recommended. Even during the week.

Big Trees. Big Crowds.

IMPORTANT recreation.gov and reserveamerica.com both list this campground as having water. That is NOT TRUE. There are no water fill up sites. There are also NO BEAR BOXES despite claims otherwise and the requirement that food be kept in them. Bears do frequent the area and are know to be numerous within a mile of camp.

**

Do you like shopping at REI’s parking lot sale? You might love Redwood Meadow Campground in Sequoia National Park. At 6500 feet of elevation and 40 miles from the nearest convenience store it should be far enough out there to minimize the crowds. However, it is located directly across from the trailhead to the Trail of 100 Giants, a 1/2 mile walking tour of some of the biggest trees Sequoia has to offer. Let me be clear, this is not a hiking trail. This is a tourist stop. You’ve been warned. And with a name as cool as “Trail of 100 Giants” plenty of people who are outdoorsy just enough will make the trip. I know what you’re thinking, “Why all this trail talk? Isn’t this a campground review?”

Yes, it is. But the campground and the trail’s proximity have intertwined their destinies. If you are lucky enough to get one of the 13 camp sites, a combination of tent, van or yurt, you’ll be able to step across the road and have your morning coffee on a bench looking up at a maze of overturned sequoia roots shading a gurgling brook, or up at a tree so tall and so wide it is hard to fathom. You’ll also be dealing with the literally, 1000s of tourists who have come to see the trail over a three day weekend (strong recommend for a middle of the week site. Those tourists will have cars that overflow the parking lot, they will use your camp’s vault toilets, and they will continually be stepping out at random into the road or stopping abruptly on the the trail. They will impact your campsite experience. In fact, the camp is currently constructing a yurt general store to provide additional amenities to trail and camp visitors.

The campground consists of an outer and inner ring. The inner ring sites ate all decent size but lack any semblance of privacy. They are pretty much open to each other, but with plenty of tall ass trees providing some shad and blocking a bit of line of sight. Sorry neighbor trying to see around that tree while we tested our new camp shower. The effects of recent forest fire are evident everywhere. In our site (005) There where large piles of ash and charred stumps remain. A year ago fire ravaged areas nearby and this location was only nicked by blaze but the effects are lasting. It makes for a dusty overall camp. Prep for a good vehicle wash afterwards.

The outer ring is where it’s at. Particularly, along the West side of the camp where the river runs behind the sites, and the tree cover is a little thicker. The sites here (particularly 004, 006, 008) are far away and down hill from the roadway. They looked pretty idyllic and we were a bit envious that we didn’t have access to the river.

In the evenings the trail visitors had gone back to where they came from and our small park was left with a smattering of campfires, the sounds of the river and the dark shadows of towering trees between which stars sparkled and parts of constellations teased. Those evening fires were aided by the plentiful amount of dry wood on the ground with a hatchet, like the kick-ass one from CRTK we excited to try out for the first time, you could easily put together enough wood for your visit. We had brought some but took advantage of the dry brush for starter and to keep things going when we were running low. 

This summer Nick and Katylyn from Jersey are the hosts. They are only a few days on the job but handling the crowds like pros. They have plenty of helpful tips (Nick has been here before) and were more than helpful. Even with the crowds they were on the ball with the pit toilets, site maintaining etc.

At the Trail of Giants the Sequoia’s all seem to have faces, and histories so long you can feel the a dignified weight settle in the stiller moments of the early morning when the masses have not yet awoken from their slumbers or the evening when their whiskeys are being poured. Those moments make a visit to this camp more than worthwhile. And during the day when they trail is filled past capacity you merely need to head a few miles in any direction and pull off at a forest road or trailhead that is completely free of visitors on even the busiest days to experience the park as a wilder, free place than we can find most of the time in our day to day lives.

Pro-Tip 1: There are two sets of toilets. The one to the rear of the camp is hidden from the entry and not used by trail visitors. It is also shaded making for a better experience than the one closer to the front of camp.

Pro-Tip 2: Kern River Brewing Company. Have lunch there, and beer. Then go to the general store across the street for everything from meat and cheese to hiking boots and rifles. Campfire wood is only $5/bundle and includes more than most bundles we’ve seen anywhere.

Fry Creek Campground is second only to Palomar Observatory Camp across the road.

Just south of Palomar Mountain Observatory (a must visit) Fry Creek is a heavily wooded (oak, fir, pine) campground in a narrow valley surrounded by steep forested banks.

The campsite is really an extension of the Palomar Observatory Campground across the site with a shared camp host (who pretty much sucked during our visits). That site is much better for stargazing, but this one is just as pretty especially in the fall with changing oak leaves. All of the sites are heavily wooded and in a valley with steep walls. That's important because it seems to amplify sounds from the other campsites. No matter if you have good camp neighbors but if your camp neighbors starts setting up a portable chainlink fence for a cadre of dogs they are training…There are some more segregated sites near the back of the camp loop.

There are bathrooms and showers (peak) and even though the sites are near each other they are really private. They each have fire-pits and picnic tables. The sites are decent sized with nice flat spots for at least two tents.

There is a decent hike that loops around the camp with plenty of elevation changes and incredible forest smells. The trail is fairly easy to follow and despite being short is moderately challenging. It takes about an hour at normal pace. Head across the road and you can take the trail all the way to the Palomar Mountain Observatory. It's meandering and plenty of elevation changes. At the top the Observatory Museum has nice bathrooms open to visitors. The museum is free.

Campsites are $15/night.

Palomar has that feeling of magic in the wilderness.

Palomar Mountain Observatory Campground is one of the prettiest spots I've seen to camp close to San Diego in Southern California. When coming from the south it's 7 miles up the twistiest-turniest road into a forest of oak, fir and pine. The campground itself is a loop with sites that are pull in, back-in and park and hike.

The sites are 50/50 well shaded and open air for some of the best star-gazing SoCal can offer. The inner loop is mostly open air but still has shade and trees surrounding the sites. #27 a first come-first serve site in particular was epic with a perfectly clear sky above the camp but also a huge oak tree for shade if you want it.

The campground has three bathrooms. Two set of pit toilets and one with flushing toilets and showers (peak season only). There are also some pre-set concrete slabs for telescopes or cameras. There are two listed hikes that leave the campground. Both are listed as "Easy to Moderate" but in my opinion are closer to moderate (but short) or at the very least, a challenging middle ground.

The hike to Palomar Mountain is 2.2+ miles with 700 ft of elevation. That doesn't account for all the ups and downs which really makes the elevation change feel more like eleventy billion feet. The path itself is well maintained with hairpin turns and a viewpoint over the valley. At the top you'll find the Palomar Observatory. The doors are open most days from 9am-3pm, and it's worth the hike.

Heading across the road the other hike is a loop around Fry Creek Campground. It's shorter at 1.7 miles but prettier and just as up and down as the first. You should really just do both. Take two days to make it leisurely. Seriously.

Campsites at Palomar have a grill, a fire pit with a grate and a picnic table. When we were there they did not have firewood for sale. About a mile away is a general store that does. We just picked up wood from the trail and some leftovers from other campsites. It really just depends on how much effort you want to put into it.

Our only complaint was the campground host. None of the bathrooms had been cleaned and one was covered in what looked like blood from a bloody nose gone wrong. About once a day she'd walk the loop chain-smoking cigarettes with two dogs who would bark incessantly. She'd ask each campsite if they were the "reservation holder" since she hadn't updated them in over a week. Then she'd explain she was sick so she couldn't change the signs or clean. Then she'd light another cigarette and yell at the dog for barking.

Host aside, Palomar Mountain is a great facility, and I'm stoked to go back for some summer camping.

Palomar has that feeling of magic in the wilderness.

Palomar Mountain Observatory Campground is one of the prettiest spots I've seen to camp close to San Diego in Southern California. When coming from the south it's 7 miles up the twistiest-turniest road into a forest of oak, fir and pine. The campground itself is a loop with sites that are pull in, back-in and park and hike.

The sites are 50/50 well shaded and open air for some of the best star-gazing SoCal can offer. The inner loop is mostly open air but still has shade and trees surrounding the sites. #27 a first come-first serve site in particular was epic with a perfectly clear sky above the camp but also a huge oak tree for shade if you want it.

The campground has three bathrooms. Two set of pit toilets and one with flushing toilets and showers (peak season only). There are also some pre-set concrete slabs for telescopes or cameras. There are two listed hikes that leave the campground. Both are listed as "Easy to Moderate" but in my opinion are closer to moderate (but short) or at the very least, a challenging middle ground.

The hike to Palomar Mountain is 2.2+ miles with 700 ft of elevation. That doesn't account for all the ups and downs which really makes the elevation change feel more like eleventy billion feet. The path itself is well maintained with hairpin turns and a viewpoint over the valley. At the top you'll find the Palomar Observatory. The doors are open most days from 9am-3pm, and it's worth the hike.

Heading across the road the other hike is a loop around Fry Creek Campground. It's shorter at 1.7 miles but prettier and just as up and down as the first. You should really just do both. Take two days to make it leisurely. Seriously.

Campsites at Palomar have a grill, a fire pit with a grate and a picnic table. When we were there they did not have firewood for sale. About a mile away is a general store that does. We just picked up wood from the trail and some leftovers from other campsites. It really just depends on how much effort you want to put into it.

Our only complaint was the campground host. None of the bathrooms had been cleaned and one was covered in what looked like blood from a bloody nose gone wrong. About once a day she'd walk the loop chain-smoking cigarettes with two dogs who would bark incessantly. She'd ask each campsite if they were the "reservation holder" since she hadn't updated them in over a week. Then she'd explain she was sick so she couldn't change the signs or clean. Then she'd light another cigarette and yell at the dog for barking.

Host aside, Palomar Mountain is a great facility, and I'm stoked to go back for some summer camping.

Two Campgrounds in One.

There are two types of campsites at Upper Sage Flat. The first are lovely shaded sites with the rear of the site adjacent to Big Pine Creek. They have tree cover but are really open to the neighboring sites. Honestly, would have thought they were pretty great if we hadn't stayed at nearby Big Pine Creek Campground (check it out).

The second are the sites on the roadside and they are HOT AS BLAZES. There is almost no shade and they are basically just dirt/sand/rock pads. It's like being in an entirely different campground. Strongly recommend using Google Earth to check the site you're reserving (or first come, first serve if at (lower) Sage Flat campground.

If you're in the river side sites you'll love it. There is a bridge over the river that leads to a trail heading north to the Big Pine Creek Trailhead. You can also walk up the road but the trail is a more interesting option. Plus, it is the narrowest part of the trail you'll run for about 5 miles. That's a good thing because if you make it that first 1/2 mile you'll be fine the rest of the way when it opens up into some pretty incredible trail after passing through Big Pine Creek Campground and Glacier Lodge Cabins & RV park.

Decent pit bathrooms but right in the sun all day so much nicer in the mornings than evenings as far as flies and smell go. Bear boxes, fire pits and picnic tables. ***So basically a 4 if you have river side and a 2 if not. Maybe a 1. Location alone is worth 2. Yep. At least that. But really, try to stay by the river.

Big Pine Creek Is the Big Awesome Campground.

This was our first time at BPCC and it was a great experience. The facilities were very well kept, clean bathrooms and excellent service from the hosts Steve and Annie. Our campsite (017) was well taken care of and we really appreciated the compact, unique feel of the site. Even more so because it felt separate from other sites. We could see that there was room for additional sites, but appreciated that it was kept more private. Wood was about $1-2 per bundle more expensive than other National Forest sites we've been in & the nearby town. The adjacent camp/rv park Glacier Lodge wasn't quite as well cared for really helped set the quality of BPCC apart.

There was a trout stream/river running right through the camp (and a trout pond in Glacier Lodge at the entrance of the park. The water was continually rushing and made for some great sleeping noise. The campsite is literally teeming with wildlife. We had deer, birds, small animals and fish all around us. It is bear country but according to the hosts no bear have been spotted this season much less in camp causing a ruckus.

The draw to Big Pine Creek Campground is the hike to glacial lakes 1-7. We hiked to lakes 1 & 2 and it was EPIC. The hike is uphill and hardish but the trail very well maintained and worth it. We were advised that it would take about an hour per mile (4.5 miles to the 1st two lakes) on the way there and about half that on the way back, but we made it out in about 2.5 hours of consistent hiking. The estimates were fairly conservative assuming you'd be stopping often. The hike back was accurate.

You can also apply for a backcountry camping overnight pass which we plan to do next time. They only offer 25 per night so definitely check into it, but you can camp near the first lakes and hike further. The entire loop (all 7 lakes) hike is estimated at 12 hours. We will be visiting again soon.

Like Sardines in Paradise.

There is one reason to camp here, and one reason only. It is overlooking the ridiculously beautiful San Elijo State Beach & out over the Pacific Ocean. That's a pretty compelling reason.

As a campground they pack you in tight. It's essentially a huge parking lot overlooking the ocean and covered in sand. There isn't much shade but if you can get a spot with a tree…do it (campsites in the 20's generally do). Otherwise it's one big family of rv's with massive generators, kids of all ages running around and drunken adults giving over to trailer park life for a bit. It's right off the Pacific Coast Highway in the town of Cardiff so expect traffic, both car and people. This isn't gettin' back to nature.

There are plenty of bathrooms with token showers. The beach showers have been turned off due to water restrictions. The bathrooms are usually stocked but pretty dirty and even gross. Definitely pack flip flops if you're going to use the showers. The Campground is the main access to the beach for the town of Cardiff so the gates are open to anyone walking through until about 7pm. That means the bathrooms see lots of action from locals and hoboes in addition to campers.

With all those sounding like negatives you might wonder why you'd want to stay here, and the answer is simple. There are moments, usually around sunset, when you can close your eyes, and when you open them the sky is orange, pink and red. The ocean turning from blue to shadow and everyone seems to shut the eff up for a moment where you swear you're alone in the universe. Then you drink a beer and breath the ocean air in deep and are able to ignore the little kid taking a dump in the bush two campsites over.

Pro-Tip: Patagonia is right across the street. Every Sunday Morning they host a "Sea Ramble" coffee & donuts bike ride. About 10 miles and a great way to see Cardiff and Encinitas. They also host weekly events…usually with beer.

Pro-Tip 2: Traffic will suck.

Pro-Tip 3: Haggo's Tacos, Haggo's Tacos, Haggo's Tacos. It's about 10 minutes north on the PCH.

First to Review
Oh Campland. The Epic Hotel of City Camping.

I thought I would hate Campland. It is the opposite of what I imagine camping to be. There are two swimming pools and hot tubs. A stage for music, grocery, arcade, pizza cafe, marina, private beach with water rentals and lots of people (it fills up all summer). Instead I loved it. The same you might love Coney Island. It's perfect for being what it is.

Campsites for RVs are well shaded and they have mini privacy walls separating every couple of sites. Tent sites are a little more hit or miss with shade and you can see they have a large population of car-campers taking the less shaded sites. They have clean bathrooms and showers.

The place is built like a mini city right on Mission Bay with views of downtown San Diego. It's definitely a different type of camping. According to the employees at the desk a lot of the RV sites are reserved years in advance by the same families who come the same week every year. You definitely will see plenty of kids running around and 50 foot rvs towing jeeps and golf carts. There is a big "meadow" near the beach for napping and there is a full stage for music events which they hold weekly in the summer. It is the best spot to watch the nightly fireworks from the nearby Sea World.

They have enforced quiet hours which makes a huge impact with all the families. It is dog friendly. It is a great spot for staying if you want to visit San Diego and be right on the water. The marina has boats, kayaks, surf, etc for rent.

But…It's not really camping! You can walk from there to the main drag of Pacific Beach/Mission Beach or even to the ocean (just over a mile.)

Amenities and dirt to put the tent on.

Ruby's Inn RV Park and Campground serves one big purpose. It provides immediate access to Bryce National Park and Canyon. It is as close to the entrance as you can get camping. But it isn't really camping so much as sharing space on the ground with others who want to get up and go explore the park.

Pros: • LOCATION! Next to the park entrance. • FREE Showers: Not only are they free with your campsite but they are hot, clean and unlimited water which after several weeks on the road was pretty awesome. • Wifi - yes…in a campground. But it doesn't really work unless you're close to the main entry. • Since you're not really camping there is a swimming pool. • Never fills up for tent campers except 4th of July week. • Picnic tables in the tent area for dining or resting. • Firepits (kind of. Poorly dug and small but firepits none-the-less.

CONS: • It is more RV Park than Tent camping. Tent campers don't have designated spots just "areas" to congregate. • Ground is mostly sand/gravel (better for RVs) but if you're on the sand watch where you set up camp. Fire ants. • Lots of people.

TIPS: • If tent camping try to find a spot on the left side (as you enter). There is more trees and shade there. Feels more like camping. • There is a full grocery at the Ruby's Inn Best Western next door, and a mini post office. Good stop for filling up the car cooler. • Mossy Creek Trail is part of Bryce Canyon. You can access it without going into the main entrance. It is off HWY 12 and is an awesome short hike to a cave & waterfall. 98% of people just walk to the waterfall. You can follow the river several miles further (we didn't get all the way to the end) and run into more mini-falls and some beautiful scenery all by yourself. You don't even need to pay at the gate. Not sure why more people don't do this.

Ruby's has been around for 100+ years and is still family owned. Despite it not really being camping it is a good place for access to the park and if you have problems you can talk directly to a person and it will get taken care of.

The Desert in Spring is beautiful and terrifying.

We went to Culp Valley in April just in time to explore the Anza-Borrego State Park during an especially rainy desert season. There were wildflowers everywhere and despite high heat during the day it was so bad you felt like you were in the desert. It's a beautiful time to explore. There is a small city just outside the park where you can get any need supplies, lunch or do some antique/thrifting.

The campground is just West of the state park and at a higher elevation. The sites are first come first serve, and best of all they are FREE! The ground is sand and rock, and outside of clean vault toilets there are no amenities. We had a decent spot with three tents set up and brought our own fire ring. No fires allowed outside a fire ring/pit you bring along. It's a smaller campground and is well known in SoCal but if you arrive before afternoon you'll usually find a spot.

Because of it's location on hill it is subject to gusty winds. Keep that in mind. You will get dusty and check the weather so you set up camp facing away from the wind or you'll get a full tent of sand. The night we were there most recently they broke wind gust records which was unexpected. It was a long night of whooshing wind coming up and over the desert hills before slamming into our tent at speeds nearing tornado strength. That sucked but that was more our fault than the campgrounds.

It's less of a leisure camping spot and there were no big RVs the times we visited. There is a reservable state park campsite nearby if you need more amenities.

This area is know for it's stargazing and the night sky in the desert is incredible. The lights from the nearest town are blocked by the rock.