Moon Northern California Camping

The Complete Guide to Tent and RV Camping


By Tom Stienstra

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Whether you’re camping among towering redwoods, along rugged coastline, or in the High Sierra, you’ll always find your perfect campsite with Moon Northern California Camping.
  • A Campsite for Everyone: Pick the right tent or RV site with options ranging from secluded Sierra hike-ins to convenient roadside stopovers, including dog-friendly, family-friendly, and wheelchair accessible options, and strategic lists of the best campgrounds for hiking, swimming, and more
  • Ratings and Essentials: All campgrounds are rated on a scenic scale and marked with amenities like restrooms, trailhead access, picnic areas, laundry, piped water, showers, and playgrounds
  • Recreation Highlights: Discover nearby hiking, swimming, fishing, biking, water-skiing, white water rafting, and hot springs
  • Maps and Directions: Easy-to-use maps and detailed driving directions for each campground
  • Skip the Crowds: Moon Northern California Camping contains many secluded spots and campgrounds that aren’t available in the state’s online reservation system
  • Trailhead Access Campgrounds: Find sites that offer access to the John Muir Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and more, plus essential information on hiking
  • Expert Advice: Expert outdoorsman Tom Stienstra knows his stuff; he’s hiked 25,000 miles in and around these campgrounds for over 30 years
  • Tips and Tools: Information on equipment, food and cooking, first aid, and insect protection, plus background on the climate, landscape, and history of the campsites
Whether you’re a veteran or a first-time camper, Moon’s comprehensive coverage and local insight will have you gearing up for your next adventure.

Exploring more of the Golden State? Try Moon California Camping. Looking for some focused advice on outdoor recreation? Check out Moon California Hiking.


How to Use This Book


The campgrounds are listed in a consistent, easy-to-read format to help you choose the ideal camping spot. If you already know the name of the specific campground you want to visit, or the name of the surrounding geological area or nearby feature (town, national or state park, forest, mountain, lake, river, etc.), look it up in the index and turn to the corresponding page. Here is a sample profile:


The icons in this book are designed to provide at-a-glance information on activities, facilities, and services available on-site or within walking distance of each campground.

Hiking trails
Biking trails
Canoeing and/or kayaking
Winter sports
Hot springs
Pets permitted
Wheelchair accessible
5 Percent Club
RV sites
Tent sites


Each campground profile employs a scenic rating on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the least scenic and 10 being the most scenic. A scenic rating measures only the overall beauty of the campground and environs; it does not take into account noise level, facilities, maintenance, recreation options, or campground management. The setting of a campground with a lower scenic rating may simply not be as picturesque that of as a higher rated campground, however other factors that can influence a trip, such as noise or recreation access, can still affect or enhance your camping trip. Consider both the scenic rating and the profile description before deciding which campground is perfect for you.



This book is divided into chapters based on major regions in the state; an overview map of these regions precedes the table of contents. Each chapter begins with a map of the region, which is further broken down into detail maps. Campgrounds are noted on the detail maps by number.


Author’s Note

Best Campgrounds

B Scenic Campgrounds

B Boat-In Campgrounds

B for Families

B for Fishing

B for Hikes with Views

B Trailhead Camps

B for White-Water Rafting

Camping Tips










Author’s Note

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 hundreds of campgrounds. Each campground was reviewed and checked by research editors, 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 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: Food and cooking gear; Clothing and weather protection; Hiking and foot care and how to choose the right boots and socks; Sleeping gear; Combating bugs and some commonsense first-aid; Catching fish, avoiding bears, and camp fun; Outdoors with kids; and 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

Best Campgrounds

The most common emails I get are those from readers asking me to plan their adventures and to rate campgrounds as launch points for specific activities. I’ve organized the following selections by activity. These are among America’s preeminent campgrounds, so if you plan a trip to any of them, be sure to plan your stay far in advance.

B Scenic Campgrounds

Mary Smith, Shasta and Trinity, tap here.

Camino Cove, Tahoe and the Northern Sierra, tap here.

Emerald Bay State Park and Boat-In, Tahoe and the Northern Sierra, tap here.

Wildcat Camp Hike-In, San Francisco Bay Area, tap here.

Steep Ravine Environmental Campsites, San Francisco Bay Area, tap here.

Angel Island State Park Walk-In/Boat-In, San Francisco Bay Area, tap here.

Seacliff State Beach, Monterey and Big Sur, tap here.

Lower Pines and Upper Pines, Yosemite and Mammoth Lakes, tap here and tap here.

B Boat-In Campgrounds

Stone Lagoon Campground, Redwood Empire, tap here.

Greens Creek Boat-In, Shasta and Trinity, tap here.

Lake Sonoma Recreation Area, Mendocino and Wine Country, tap here.

Bullards Bar Reservoir, Sacramento and Gold Country, tap here, tap here, and tap here.

Englebright Lake Boat-In, Sacramento and Gold Country, tap here.

Pleasant Hike-In/Boat-In, Tahoe and the Northern Sierra, tap here.

Angel Island State Park

Azalea Cove Hike-In/Boat-In, Tahoe and the Northern Sierra, tap here.

Emerald Bay State Park and Boat-In, Tahoe and the Northern Sierra, tap here.

Tomales Bay Boat-In, San Francisco Bay Area, tap here.

B for Families

Elk Prairie, Redwood Empire, tap here.

Lake Siskiyou Beach & Camp, Shasta and Trinity, tap here.

Rancho Seco Recreation Area, Sacramento and Gold Country, tap here.

Silver Lake West, Tahoe and the Northern Sierra, tap here.

Lake Alpine Campground, Tahoe and the Northern Sierra, tap here.

Historic Camp Richardson Resort, Tahoe and the Northern Sierra, tap here.

Lower Pines and Upper Pines, Yosemite and Mammoth Lakes, tap here and tap here.

Dorst Creek, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, tap here.

B for Fishing

Panther Flat, Redwood Empire, tap here.

Hirz Bay, Shasta and Trinity, tap here.

Arbuckle Flat Boat-In, Shasta and Trinity, tap here.

Almanor North, South, and Legacy, Lassen and Modoc, tap here.

Snug Harbor Resort, Sacramento and Gold Country, tap here.

Pardee Recreation Area, Sacramento and Gold Country, tap here.

Camanche Lake North, Sacramento and Gold Country, tap here.

Upper Soda Springs, Yosemite and Mammoth Lakes, tap here.

Convict Lake, Yosemite and Mammoth Lakes, tap here.

B for Hikes with Views

Panther Meadows Walk-In (climb Mount Shasta), Shasta and Trinity, tap here.

Summit Lake: North, South, and Stock Corral (climb Lassen Peak), Lassen and Modoc, tap here.

D. L. Bliss State Park (hike Rubicon Trail), Tahoe and the Northern Sierra, tap here.

Angel Island State Park Walk-In/Boat-In (hike to Mount Livermore), San Francisco Bay Area, tap here.

Yosemite Creek (hike to Yosemite Point in Yosemite National Park), Yosemite and Mammoth Lakes, tap here.

Tuolumne Meadows (hike the Pacific Crest Trail north to Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne), Yosemite and Mammoth Lakes, tap here.

Canyon View Group Camp (hike to Lookout Peak in Kings Canyon National Park), Sequoia and Kings Canyon, tap here.

Whitney Trailhead Walk-In (climb Mount Whitney), Sequoia and Kings Canyon, tap here.

B Trailhead Camps

Panther Meadows Walk-In, Shasta and Trinity, tap here.

Goldfield, Shasta and Trinity, tap here.

Woods Lake, Tahoe and the Northern Sierra, tap here.

Pantoll Walk-In, San Francisco Bay Area, tap here.

Merced River

Yosemite Creek, Yosemite and Mammoth Lakes, tap here.

Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite and Mammoth Lakes, tap here.

Saddlebag Lake and Trailhead Group, Yosemite and Mammoth Lakes, tap here.

Upper Soda Springs, Yosemite and Mammoth Lakes, tap here.

Onion Valley, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, tap here.

B for White-Water Rafting

Dillon Creek, Shasta and Trinity, tap here.

Matthews Creek, Shasta and Trinity, tap here.

Tree of Heaven, Shasta and Trinity, tap here.

Auburn State Recreation Area, Sacramento and Gold Country, tap here and tap here.

Camp Lotus, Sacramento and Gold Country, tap here.

Lumsden, San Joaquin Valley, tap here.

Merced River Recreation Area, Yosemite and Mammoth Lakes, tap here.

Kirch Flat, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, tap here.

Fairview, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, tap here.

Hobo, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, tap here.

Camping Tips


The most important part of every camping trip is this: Get a good night’s sleep. While camping, some people might sleep 7-8 hours . . . but in about a half dozen installments. They wake up with their body half paralyzed, sore in spots, with headaches and general discomfort that makes it impossible to rest deeply. If you get it right, not only will you feel great, but a good night’s sleep will transform your outlook for the great things possible in the coming day.

When I was a little boy, one eve long ago I was in the mountain pines with my dad and my brother. We had rolled out our sleeping bags and were bedded down for the night. After the pre-trip excitement, a long drive, an evening of trout fishing, and a barbecue, we were like three tired puppies who had played too much.

But as I looked up at the stars, I was suddenly wide awake. I was still wired. A half hour later? No change. Wide awake.

And as little kids can do, I had to wake up ol’ Dad to tell him about it. “Hey, Dad, I can’t sleep.”

After the initial grimace, he said: “This is what you do. Watch the sky for a shooting star and tell yourself that you cannot go to sleep until you see at least one shooting star. As you wait and watch, you will start getting tired, then sleepy; your breathing will become rhythmic and it will be difficult to keep your eyes open. But tell yourself, you must keep watching. Then you’ll start to really feel tired. When you finally see a shooting star, you’ll go to sleep so fast you won’t know what hit you.”

Well, I tried it that night and I don’t even remember seeing a shooting star, I went to sleep so fast.

It’s a good trick, and along with having a good sleeping bag, ground insulation, maybe a tent, or a few tricks for bedding down in a pickup truck or RV, you can get a great night’s sleep on every camping trip.

More than 20 years after that camping episode with my dad and brother, we made a trip to the planetarium at the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco to see a show. The lights dimmed, and the ceiling turned into a night sky, filled with stars and a setting moon. A scientist began explaining the phenomena of the heavens.

After a few minutes, I began to feel drowsy. Just then, a shooting star zipped across the planetarium ceiling. I went into such a deep sleep, well, it was like I was in a coma. I didn’t wake up until the show was over, the lights were turned back on, and the people were leaving.

Feeling drowsy, I turned to see if Dad had liked the show. Oh yeah? Not only had he gone to sleep too, but he apparently had no intention of waking up, no matter what. Just like a camping trip.

Sleeping Bags

The first rule of a good night’s sleep is that you must be dry, warm, and safe. A good sleeping bag can help plenty. A sleeping bag is a shell filled with heat-retaining insulation. By itself, it is not warm. Your body provides the heat, and the sleeping bag’s ability to retain that heat is what makes it warm or cold.

The cheap cotton bags are heavy, bulky, cold, and, when wet, useless. With other options available, their function is limited. Anybody who sleeps outdoors or backpacks should choose otherwise. Use a sleeping bag filled with down or one of the quality poly-fills. Down is light, warm, and aesthetically pleasing to those who don’t think camping and technology mix. Down bags are also light, which makes them desirable for backpacking. If you choose a down bag, be sure to keep it double wrapped in plastic garbage bags on your trips to keep it dry. Once it’s wet, you’ll spend your nights howling at the moon.

The polyfiber-filled bags are not necessarily better than those filled with down, but they can be. Their one key advantage is that even when wet, some poly-fills can retain up to 85 percent of your body heat. This allows you to sleep and get valuable rest even in miserable conditions. In my camping experience, no matter how lucky you may be, there will come a time when you will get caught in an unexpected, violent storm and everything you’ve got will get wet, including your sleeping bag. That’s when a poly-fill bag becomes priceless. You have one and can sleep. Or you don’t have one and suffer. It is that simple.

Another key factor is a bag’s temperature rating and weight. The temperature rating of a sleeping bag refers to how cold it can get outside before you start actually feeling cold. Many campers make the mistake of thinking, “I only camp in the summer, so a bag rated at 30 or 40°F should be fine.” Later, they find out it isn’t so fine, and all it takes is one cold night to convince them of that. When selecting the right temperature rating, visualize the coldest weather you might ever confront, and then get a bag rated for even colder weather.

For instance, if you are a summer camper, you may rarely experience a night in the low 30s or high 20s. A sleeping bag rated at 20°F would be appropriate, keeping you snug, warm, and asleep. For most campers, I advise bags rated at 0 or 10°F.

But guess how the companies come up with their temperature ratings? Usually it’s a guy like me field-testing a bag before it is commercially released, and then saying, “Well, it got down to 40°F and I was pretty warm.” So they rate it at 30 degrees. Obviously, testers can have different threshold levels for cold, while others base their ratings on how much fill is used.

If you buy a poly-filled sleeping bag, try not to leave it squished in your stuff sack between camping trips. Instead, keep it on a hanger in a closet or use it as a blanket. One thing that can reduce a poly-filled bag’s heat-retaining qualities is if the tiny hollow fibers that make up the fill lose their loft. You can avoid this with proper storage.

The weight of a sleeping bag can also be a key factor, especially for backpackers. When you have to carry your gear on your back, every ounce becomes important. Sleeping bags that weigh just 2-3 pounds are available, although they are expensive. But if you hike much, it’s worth the price to keep your weight to a minimum. For an overnighter, you can get away with a 4- or 4.5-pound bag without much stress. However, bags that weigh six pounds or more may be comfy at car camps but add too much weight for backpacking.

I have several sleeping bags; they range from a seven-pounder that feels like a giant sponge to a feather-light three-pounder. The heavy-duty model is for pickup truck camping in cold weather and doubles as a blanket at home. The lightweight bag is for expeditions.

Insulation Pads


  • "If you’ve ever hiked, camped, backpacked, fished or in any way outdoor-recreated in Northern California, it’s almost guaranteed you’ve garnered guidance from Tom Stienstra. In his four decades as The San Francisco Chronicle’s outdoors writer, Steinstra’s newspaper columns, guidebooks and appearances on television and radio have made him the Yoda of the California outdoors. He’s been everywhere and he knows everything."

    Datebook, San Francisco Chronicle

On Sale
Jul 2, 2019
Page Count
704 pages
Moon Travel

Tom Stienstra

About the Author

For over 30 years, Tom Stienstra’s full-time job has been to capture and communicate the outdoor experience. This has led him across California – fishing, hiking, camping, boating, biking, and flying – searching for the best of the outdoors and then writing about it.

Tom is the nation’s top-selling author of outdoors guidebooks. His documentary on the Tuolumne River received an Emmy in 2017. He has been inducted into the California Outdoor Hall of Fame and has twice been awarded National Outdoor Writer of the Year, newspaper division, by the Outdoor Writers Association of America. He has also been named California Outdoor Writer of the Year five times. Tom is the outdoors columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle; his articles appear on and in newspapers around the country. He also broadcasts a weekly radio show on KCBS-San Francisco.

Tom lives in Northern California. You can contact him directly via the website

Learn more about this author