It is time to make summertime camping reservations in order to get a good site and, in many cases, any site. The most popular sites are booked up already, think camping in Yosemite Valley, a year in advance is the norm. A ‘good’ spot at Cassini Ranch, locally one of our most visited private camping parks, for a group, say on the 4th of July, a year in advance is needed to get your sites side by side. Cassini Ranch is also a destination for those who own camp trailers and RVs. In Quartzite last Feb. there were RVs bigger than my house and cost as much. Many campers do not consider RV use ‘camping.’ Maybe it’s the built in washer/dryer or the Moon Lander size that seems to rule out the Boy Scout concept of camping in the rough. Like many private facilities, it is a mix of RV, trailer and tent camping, usually close to stores or many have a store, swing sets and a porch to sit and eat your ice cream and feed the ducks.
For recommendations on camping sites do a Google search and see what comes up. As always carefully read the url before clicking otherwise you will sink into one of these horrible web sites that take over your search. Sunset magazine has lists of “The Best” campsites in the west, which includes California and ‘Glam’ camping, which is like checking into a hotel with all the windows open and room service. The State of California has their own lists as well as a contractor to handle reservations. Google ‘Camping California’ and visit their sites. Reserve America is an online company that does some government camping reservations, they also offer advice on where to camp. Search ‘Free Camping in California’ to get an idea of what that entails.
On rock hounding trips, sometimes there are no options but to camp in the rough; bring your own water, your toilet is dug by hand and it is an hour or more to the nearest store. On the other hand, camping in the rough is also possible just outside of towns where you can slide in for a burger or to wash the kids’ clothes at the coin laundry. Many of the ‘Free’ camping venues are BLM (Bureau of Land Management) properties, a federally managed system that covers much of the vast holding in the public domain. There is some beautiful stream side camping to be had, free of fee, in BLM lands. Some of my favorites are in the northern Sierras and in the northern half of the state, high alpine camping is high on my favorites list. Some of the camping in the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness is beautiful and primitive, this is a huge management property in the public domain managed by BLM and a part of the Mendocino National Forest. A word of caution here, the roads and conditions can be very primitive.
Recent wild fires have burned much of the wilderness area in our state. To check on conditions before you pack the car, call or visit the local ranger station(s) to see if there are any trees, bushes and wildlife left around what looks good on the map. The individual ranger station for an area will usually show up on the web sites or on good maps. Maps of your target area are a wonderful tool. USGS maps are one of the best ways to get a close-up of the forest roads and use information. Google USGS for directions to map sites. Alternatively, your local AAA is a good source but falls a bit short of a good forestry map specific to your destination. Forestry maps are a bit expensive at $15 or so but you will use it often on your trip. I have a drawer full of forestry maps that I’ve collected over the years. The nearest BLM office is in Ukiah, the folks there are kind and helpful, some will recommend camp sites. Be as specific as you can for the kind of camping you desire. What to the clerk is acceptable may not be for you, think hot, dusty, zero water and cows all over the place in some BLM properties.
Bill Hanson is a Sonoma County native and a lifelong sportsman. He is the former president of the Sonoma County Mycological Association. Look for his column in The Community Voice each week.