Camping and hiking with kid and dog: Sierra edition
May 29, 2012 10:15 AM   Subscribe

Looking for camping and hiking spots in the Sierras and foothills where I can take our 4.5-year-old son and/or our dog.

Li'l DakotaPaul is excited about (car) camping again this summer. Last year we took him to Gold Country Campground, which he loved, but I'd like to find places where we spend the days taking short hikes, swimming in lakes, dipping our toes in rivers and streams, and scrambling on rocks or climbing trees. Maybe the camp site has these activities nearby, or maybe we'd have to drive a bit from the site to get to them; either is fine. It doesn't even need to be a campground—if you know of a great spot on National Forest lands where we could just pitch the tent, we'd be up for that.

Also, recommendations for dog-friendly camping site are appreciated. I'd also like to take my dog with me on longer hikes this summer. Can you take them on pretty much any National Forest lands? Where do you take your dog hiking in the Sierras?

We live in Lodi, so three or fewer hours of driving would be ideal, though we'll go further if it's really worth it. Thanks!
posted by DakotaPaul to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
We're pretty fond of the Crystal Basin area. Off of 50 just past Placerville, which is probably just under three hours from Lodi. Three main lakes (Union Valley, Ice House, and Loon) with lots of lakeside camping. Lots of backcountry access all over the place.
posted by Big_B at 11:25 AM on May 29, 2012

We really enjoyed Plumas Eureka. Tons of beautiful glacial lakes and rivers full of fish and camping and hiking in this area. Dog and family friendly. Not sure how far it is from Lodi, though. Probably closer to four hours, which isn't bad if you plan on a couple of nights.
posted by HeyAllie at 11:30 AM on May 29, 2012

I spent this weekend in the Crystal Basin area and second that recommendation. There are lots and lots of campground on both Ice House and Union Valley reservoirs. They vary in amenities (some have bear boxes -- a major plus -- and some only have fire rings). You can find a list of campgrounds in the area here.

Another option, possibly closer to home, is Calaveras Big Trees State Park, or other areas along Highway 4 in the Stanislaus National Forest. The big trees, as it turns out, are really, really big. There's an easy hiking loop through one of the main groves, and there are a couple campgrounds in the park.

One last idea: Jenkinson Lake, off Sly Park Road outside of Pollack Pines, is a really nice park. It's run by the ElDo Municipal Water District. Being less public than national forest or state park campgrounds, it's also a little more expensive. But, many of the campsites are right on the lake. It's a huge park, and well taken care of. It's also close enough to Pollack Pines that you can run into town if you need food or other supplies.

Lassen National Park is quite a bit further from you, but well worth it if you have a little more time to spend. Probably would have to leash the dog, though.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:53 PM on May 29, 2012

Response by poster: Crystal Basin appears to be exactly the kind of thing I'm looking for. Are walk-ins difficult to get at the three lakes?

We already have a reservation for Big Trees in a couple weeks. We played in the snow there a couple months ago, but it'll be our first time camping there.

I love Lassen NP and want to take the whole family there (haven't been since my wife was pregnant), but that'll be a long weekend trip due to the distance. Will keep Plumas-Eureka in mind, too.

Thanks to everyone for the recommendations so far. Please keep them coming!
posted by DakotaPaul at 1:26 PM on May 29, 2012

There are so many campgrounds in the area, I imagine you can certainly find a walk-in at one of them. Union Valley Reservoir is probably easier than Icehouse -- it's more remote, less popular, and takes longer to get to.

We stopped by a few this weekend to check them out (we weren't camping this time). Camino Cove campground was an awesome little place with sites right on the water. (I mean, like you had to be careful where you set up your tent.) Pit toilets only, no picnic tables, but it did have fire rings. Also, it's free. (You have to take a dirt road to get there, but it would be fine for a 2wd car. No major elevation changes.)
posted by mudpuppie at 2:20 PM on May 29, 2012

Mary Smith Campground on Lewiston lake is a great spot.

The walk-in camp sites are right on the lake which has a gradual (safer) slope into the water. Frogs, fish, deer and other wildlife are abundant. Classic rope swing down the road. A five mph limit on motorboats means its quiet all the time.

Mary Smith is also walk-in campground. The sites are about 30 to 50 feet from the parking spot.

We have three dogs.

Finally driving up I5 is a breeze compared to the 80 50 Tahoe corridor.

Get Tom Stienstra's California Camping.
posted by pianomover at 6:37 PM on May 29, 2012

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