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Get Out of Town!
It's Camping Season
May, 2010 - Issue #67
Bridalveil Creek Campground in Yosemite National Park is just a few short miles from Glacier Point, which offers jaw-dropping views of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley.
Bridalveil Creek Campground in Yosemite National Park is just a few short miles from Glacier Point, which offers jaw-dropping views of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley.
I wouldn't call myself a camping expert. But having spent a summer driving 10,000 miles and visiting 30 states while living in a VW van, I consider myself an experienced camper.

So in honor of Memorial Day, which is the unofficial start of summer and the camping season, I'm sharing some of my favorite spots to pitch a tent - or park a van - in California.

These come with the following disclaimer: I'm not calling them the "best." That would require visiting every campground in the state, a la Tom Stienstra, author of "California Camping," a detailed guide to more than 1,400 campgrounds in the Golden State. My list is merely a collection of favorite beach and mountain destinations that you too might enjoy visiting.

So dust off the tent, ice down the cooler and let's hit the road.

We'll head for the beach first.

Jalama Beach
Come for the unspoiled beauty of the pristine Central California coastline and stay for the burgers. Situated just south of Lompoc, and far off the well-traveled Highway 101, Jalama is still something of an undiscovered treasure. Spend your days exploring tidepools, fishing, surfing or just walking its miles of wide sandy beaches. End with a Jalama Burger hot off the grill from the campground store.
9999 Jalama Road, Lompoc 805-736-3504 www.countyofsb.org/parks

Plaskett Creek
A perfect stop-over for a road trip up Highway 1, this campground sits on a bluff above the Pacific about halfway between Carmel and Cambria. Just across the highway from Sand Dollar Beach, the largest sandy beach in Big Sur, it offers amazing scenery south of the more popular Big Sur destinations, but without the crowds that overrun the campgrounds further north. Its 45 sites surround a grassy meadow shaded by Monterey Pines and Monterey Cypress. Highway 1, 40 miles north of Cambria
805-434-1996 www.recreation.gov
(search Plaskett Creek)


El Capitan Canyon
It's a stretch to call this camping, given that you're staying in a canvas-sided "safari tent" equipped with a bed and fluffy comforter. But you can cook your own meals in your fire ring and dine outside at your picnic table. Or you can wander down the sycamore- and oak-shaded canyon to the grill and enjoy fresh soups, sandwiches and salads washed down with your choice of cold beer or a bottle of Happy Camper wine. Call it what you want, but it's a nice way to make roughing it a little smoother. 11560 Calle Real, Santa Barbara 805-685-3887 www.elcapitancanyon.com

And now it's onto the mountains.

Cold Springs
At the end of a winding 23-mile dirt road, it's easy to miss this one in the Mineral King area on the way to see the trees in Sequoia National Park. But it's worth every rutted mile to reach what is essentially the front porch of the Sierra high country. From your campsite you can walk into the wilderness and explore miles of trails that carry you to alpine lakes and meadows.
Mineral King Road, Sequoia National Park 559-565-3341 www.nps.gov/seki/index.htm


Bridalveil Creek
While the crowds flock to Yosemite Valley, stay in the high country away from the touristy hustle and bustle. You're just down the road from Glacier Point, with its jaw-dropping views of Half Dome and the waterfalls that cascade into the valley. Nearby trailheads give you a chance to really explore the heart of Yosemite National Park. But the best thing about Bridalveil is it operates on a first-come, first-served basis. So when you need a Yosemite fix, you don't need reservations. Glacier Point Road, Yosemite National Park 209-372-0200
www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm


Onion Valley
At 9,200 feet in elevation, this is one of the highest campgrounds you can drive to in the Eastern Sierra. With only 29 sites surrounded by soaring granite peaks, it's a great place to find solitude. It's also a popular jumping off point for serious backcountry exploration. The trail out of camp leads you on a 2,600-foot climb in three miles to Kearsarge Pass at 11,823 feet. Onion Valley Road, Independence 760-937-6070
www.recreation.gov (search Onion Valley)


Happy camping!
Eric Harnish sold the VW Van and resides in Newhall in a home without wheels.
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