Moon California Camping: The Complete Guide
Moon Outdoors California Camping
When I wrote the first edition of this book, I began: “Going on a camping trip can be like trying to put hiking boots on an octopus. You’ve tried it too, eh? Instead of a relaxing and fun trip full of adventure, it turns into a scenario called ‘You Against the World.’ You might as well try to fight a volcano.”
It’s still much the same for many folks—and with the reservation crush at many marquee sites, it can take a winter of planning to book sites for peak summer weekends. For example, the cabins at Steep Ravine on the Marin coast and the campsites with views at Doheny State Beach near Dana Point can be booked six months out within 10 minutes of the reservation lines opening. The sites at state beaches near Monterey Bay can fill in a day. But there are many other options. That’s why I wrote this book: to never get stuck for the night without a spot.
I can always find a spot—often a great spot—all summer long. But you have to know every spot out there in order to take the pressure off and put the fun back in. That’s what this book is all about. Put the mystery, excitement, and fun back into your camping vacations.
Mystery? The mystery awaits you out there on the road as you camp your way amid a series of adventures. There are hundreds of hidden campgrounds listed and mapped in this book that most people have never dreamed of.
Excitement? At many campgrounds, there’s a great payoff to crown your trip: a hike to a great lookout or the big fish at the end of a line.
Fun? The Camping Tips section of this book will help you put the fun back in your trips, especially for families.
Camping is like religion: many paths, one truth. This book is designed for campers from all paths—from fully outfitted RVers to backpackers headed to trail camps on a month-long expedition.
With this book in your hands, the real question is this: “What sets you free?” Answer that question and you can transform your life.
California has roughly 400 lakes that you can drive to, 1,000 lakes that you can hike to, 185 major streams, 20 million acres of national forest, 1,200 miles of coast, and more than 100 major wilderness areas. The best campsites at these lakes, streams, coastal bluffs, and trailheads can offer a portal to a new life and a launch point for daily adventures.
Once you answer the question “What sets you free?” your mission becomes “This is the year I start doing it.” I once almost moved to the Northwest Territories to become a guide, outfitter, and bush pilot. I was offered a great job and at the time thought there was nowhere else to go in California. Hah! In the process of taking flight lessons, I looked down from the pilot’s seat and saw places that I never dreamed existed. That set me free. Since then, I’ve flown 1,700 hours and driven more than one million miles in California and have found more hidden gems than can be explored in my lifetime.
I’ve learned that 95 percent of people go to about 5 percent of these destinations. With this book, you can leave the herd, wander, and be free. Join the 5 Percent Club—the 5 Percenters who find the great hidden spots used by so few. Look at the maps in this book for the areas you want to visit and find the corresponding campground listings. As you study the camps, a sense of excitement builds—a feeling that you are about to unlock a door and venture into a world that is rarely viewed. When you feel that excitement, act. Parlay that energy into a great trip.
The campground maps and campsite listings can serve you in two ways: 1) If you’re on the road late in the day and stuck for a spot for the night, you can find one nearby; or 2) if you are planning a trip, you can tailor a vacation to fit your plans rather than heading off and hoping—maybe praying—that it turns out all right.
You may wish to obtain additional maps, particularly if you are venturing into areas governed by the U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management. Both are federal agencies that offer low-cost maps detailing all hiking trails, lakes, streams, and backcountry camps reached via logging roads. The Resources section at the back of this book details how to obtain these and other maps.
This book lists roughly 1,500 campgrounds. For the 20th edition, each campground was reviewed and checked by two research editors, Donna Sager and Ronda Elliot, with the help of hundreds of recreation specialists. Within these pages is the full spectrum of what’s out there. At one end of the spectrum are developed RV parks. These offer a home away from home, with everything from full hookups to a grocery store and laundry room. An RV park provides a place to shower, to buy food, and to clean clothes. For RV cruisers, it’s a place to stay within a small community of like-minded souls.
At the opposite end of that spectrum are remote and primitive sites that provide a sense of isolation. These are good jumping-off points for backpacking trips like the John Muir Trail, my favorite trek. For this edition, I’ve added a new section on hiking what is widely considered America’s No. 1 hike.
Somewhere in between the two extremes are roughly 800 campgrounds with beautiful settings and some facilities. Most have piped drinking water, flush or chemical toilets, and picnic tables for each site. Reservations are advised for summer weekends, but even when full, the sites at state parks won’t make campers feel as if they’ve been squeezed in with a shoehorn. Even better, these same state parks are often uncrowded during the off season and on weekdays.
Before your trip, you’ll want to get organized, and that’s when you must start putting boots on that giant octopus. The trick to organization for any task is breaking it down to its key components and then solving each element independent of the others. Remember the octopus. Grab a moving leg, jam on a boot, and make sure it’s on tight before reaching for another leg. Do one thing at a time, in order, and all will get done quickly and efficiently.
In the Camping Tips section, I have divided the different elements of planning a trip: 1) Food and cooking gear; 2) Clothing and weather protection; 3) Hiking and foot care and how to choose the right boots and socks; 4) Sleeping gear; 5) Combating bugs and some commonsense first-aid; 6) Catching fish, avoiding bears, and camp fun; 7) Outdoors with kids; and 8) Weather prediction. I’ve also included sections on boat-in and desert camping and ethics in the outdoors, as well as a camping gear checklist.
Getting organized is an unnatural act for many. By splitting up these tasks, you can take the pressure out of planning and put the fun back in. Once you nail these elements down, you won’t need to break down your gear after every trip. In fact, I keep my gear intact so that when I decide to go, I just buy the food and bail for yonder. Some years I’ve spent 150-200 days outdoors, writing through the early afternoon then heading out for adventure in the evening.
Don’t put your life on hold for anything. Make this the year where you start having the fun you deserve—and let this book be the portal to a new life.
—Tom Stienstra, March 2017
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