Sierra campgrounds: A top 10 list

The Fresno BeeJune 12, 2013 

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Mono Hot Springs puts campers in close proximity to trout fishing, soaking pools, hiking trails and Doris Lake (above), one of the Sierra's best swimming holes.

MAREK WARSZAWSKI — THE FRESNO BEE

Summer is camping season. So grab the tent and sleeping bag, pack the car and head out.

But where?

To narrow your choices, here are my 10 favorite campgrounds within easy driving distance of Fresno. (For simplification sake, only Sierra campgrounds from Yosemite National Park south to the Sequoia National Forest were considered.)

Disagreements are welcome. After all, that's what lists are for.

Bridalveil Creek

Sure, everyone wants to camp in Yosemite Valley. But in summer, you're better off with a bird's-eye view from 7,200 feet.

It's the nearest campground to Glacier Point — arguably the finest viewpoint in the Sierra — and close to Yosemite's best hiking trails (Panorama, Pohono). The only hitch is you'll have to make reservations the instant campsites become available.

Mono Hot Springs

Beautiful Sierra setting? Check.

San Joaquin River flowing right behind your tent? Check.

Steps from great fishing, soaking pools and hiking trails? Check.

Really, there isn't much not to like. Well, except for the 16-mile drive up Kaiser Pass Road, which takes narrow and bumpy to new levels.

Wishon Point

As a general rule, the smallest campground at a busy lake is often the best. Wishon Point is smaller than nearby Spring Cove and Lupine-Cedar Bluff, so there's less feeling of congestion.

Its 47 sites are well shaded under dense coverage from pines, oak and cedar trees. Some even offer lake views. And you're close to groceries and a boat ramp at Miller's Landing.

Rancheria

Remember what you just read about small campgrounds being the best? Well, that doesn't apply at Huntington Lake, where the largest campground has been completely refurbished after being closed for nearly two years. (College is next in line.)

All 121 campsites have brand new new picnic tables, bear lockers and fire rings with barbecues. Plus all the latrines are new, and some even have (gasp!) flushing toilets. What a concept.

Sheep Creek

When it comes to stunning scenery, the Cedar Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park is hard to beat. And it's still relatively uncrowded, at least when compared to Yosemite.

The trout fishing, hiking, swimming (late summer only) and general sightseeing are first rate, but summertime visitors may wish for a little more shade. At 4,600 feet, temperatures can get pretty toasty.

Camp Edison

Celebrating its 50th year, Camp Edison is not only the best campground at Shaver Lake, it also boasts some of the best facilities you'll find anywhere. Not many campgrounds offer electricity, free cable TV and high-speed Wi-Fi.

Yes, it's huge (252 sites), but the trade-off is you get a boat ramp, modern bathrooms, showers and laundry facilities. The only drawback is the antiquated mail-in (or fax) reservation system.

Gigantea

There are only 10 sites, and none of them have running water, trash service or RV hookups. And the only "facility" is a primitive vault toilet that has seen better days.

So why does such a tiny, obscure campground (along Dinkey Creek Road) make this list? Because it's connected to a giant sequoia grove, which is reason enough.

Saddlebag Lake

I'm cheating a little here, because Saddlebag Lake is in Inyo National Forest.

But if you're looking for stunning alpine scenery (above 10,000 feet elevation) with great fishing and access to incredible hiking and mountaineering, this is the spot. Just pack warm. It can get chilly up there.

Quaking Aspen

Tucked deep in the Sequoia National Forest some 45 miles east of Porterville, you're far from the maddening crowds and close to several giant sequoia groves.

There isn't much fishing up there, but you'll find world-class rock climbing (The Needles, Dome Rock) and some of the best (and least-known) downhill mountain biking anywhere in California. And the aspen trees sure are pretty in fall.

Cold Springs

Want to get away? The long, winding drive from Three Rivers to Mineral King has a way of filtering out most visitors.

Too bad for them because some of the Sierra's best hiking and fly fishing can be found steps from this Sequoia National Park campground.

 

Campground lowdown

Campground reservations in Yosemite National Park, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park and all national forests are available through the National Recreation Reservation System. Go to recreation.gov or call (877) 444-6777 and search by campground name. (On this list, only Sheep Creek, Gigantea and Cold Springs are first come, first served.)

Reservation forms for Camp Edison can be printed out at sce.com/campedison. Phone and walk-in reservations are not accepted.

 

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6218 or marekw@fresnobee.com.

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