Few outdoors activities are more enjoyable and peaceful than camping. Throw another log on the fire and listen to crackling flames pierce the evening silence. Roast marshmallows. Frighten the kids with ghost stories.
Now's the time.
To get you out the door this summer, I've compiled a list of the best campgrounds within easy driving distance of Fresno, plus a few along the coast. There sure are a lot of them -- I counted more than 160 just taking in Yosemite National Park, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, Sierra and Sequoia national forests and local lakes.
What leaps out is the variety. From facilities with plush amenities in world-famous destinations to primitive sites where you're happy to get a carved up picnic table and fire ring, there's a spot for everyone.
Thanks to the mild winter, even high-elevation campgrounds are already open. (One exception, Rancheria at Huntington Lake, is scheduled to open in mid- to late July after being closed more than a year for refurbishments.)
But before you pack up the sleeping bags or fuel up the RV, be sure to review all the rules and regulations for your chosen spot. Find out whether reservations are required, recommended or not needed. Learn whether they have potable water, trash removal and dumping stations. And since few things can ruin a camping trip like an uninvited bear, proper food storage is essential. If there's a bear locker, use it. If not, secure food inside your vehicle.
Now, on to my list of favorite campgrounds, categorized by activity and locale. Some appear more than once.
Best family destinations: Lower and Upper Pines (Yosemite); Lodgepole (Sequoia NP); Mono Hot Springs (Sierra NF); Princess (Sequoia NF); Azalea and Sunset (Kings Canyon NP).
Best lake access: Lupine/Cedar Bluffs, Spring Cove, College, Deer Creek, Lower Billy Creek (Sierra NF); Hume Lake (Sequoia NF); Camp Edison (Shaver Lake).
Best river/creek access: Wawona (Yosemite); Sheep Creek (Kings Canyon NP); Mono Hot Springs, Kirch Flat, Big Sandy, Dinkey Creek (Sierra NF); Potwisha (Sequoia NP).
Best coastal access: Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park (Big Sur); Montana de Oro State Park (Los Osos); New Brighton and Seacliff State Beaches (near Santa Cruz); McGrath State Beach (Ventura).
Best giant sequoias: Azalea and Sunset (Kings Canyon NP); Nelder Grove and Gigantea (Sierra NF); Redwood Meadow and Belknap (Sequoia NF).
Best nearby hiking: Tuolumne Meadows and Yosemite Creek (Yosemite); Cold Springs (Sequoia NP); Sample Meadow and Clover Meadow (Sierra NF).
Best nearby fishing: Dinkey Creek, Portal Forebay, Mono Creek, Vermilion (Sierra NF).
Best nearby water skiing/wakeboarding: North Shore (Millerton Lake); Island Park (Pine Flat Lake); Camp Edison; Dorabelle (Sierra NF).
Best mountain biking: Nelder Grove (Sierra NF); Quaking Aspen (Sequoia NF).
Best waterfalls: Camp 4, Lower Pines (Yosemite); Lodgepole (Sequoia NP).
Best high elevation: Vermilion and Trapper Springs (Sierra NF); Saddlebag Lake (Inyo National Forest).
Best low elevation: Kirch Flat (Sierra NF); Buckeye Flat (Sequoia NP); Trimmer (Pine Flat Lake).
Best free campgrounds: Sample Meadow and Clover Meadow (Sierra NF); Big Meadows and Tenmile (Sequoia NF).
Best places to avoid RVs: Yosemite Creek (Yosemite); Placer (Sierra NF); Buckeye Flat and Atwell Mill (Sequoia NP); Belknap (Sequoia NF).
Most crowded: Lower and Upper Pines (Yosemite); Lupine/Cedar Bluffs and Spring Cove (Sierra NF); Lodgepole and Dorst Creek (Sequoia NP); Hume Lake (Sequoia NF).