The only answer for booked camps.
New California Camping book details hidden spots -- Never Get Stuck Again!
Many state and national park campgrounds are already sold out for the summer, but there remain 800 stellar camps available on a first-come, first-served basis set at lesser known lakes, streams and trailheads in forest.
The only way to find them in one source is the new edition of California Camping, the all-new guide to the state's 1,531 campgrounds by outdoorsman Tom Stienstra.
Even with 150 marquee state and national park campgrounds already booked for most of the upcoming summer, the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, PG&E, Southern California Edison, and regional, county and city park districts operate hundreds of little-known, low-cost sites.
"Get a handle on these and you'll never get stuck for a good spot again," said Stienstra, who was inducted into California Outdoors Hall of Fame earlier this month.
"With the well-known spots filled, a lot of people heading off on vacations get turned into prisoners of hope," Stienstra said. "That is where they launch off on a trip, hoping they can find a spot. There is no reason to be a prisoner of hope. If you know all the spots, you can always find a good spot any day of the year. Never be a prisoner of hope."
According to the California Department of Parks, the state park campground reservation system received 10,700 calls on Feb. 1, an all-time record. Weekend availability at state park campgrounds is already sparse across the board. "I'm sure there's going to be some frustration in the public trying to get campsites for this summer at state parks," said Steve Capps at State Park headquarters.
It is a similar picture at Yosemite National Park, where reservation lines have been jammed since November. This will place added emphasis in the coming summer on campgrounds at state parks in distant reaches of Northern California, as well as at 800 lesser-known sites. There are an additional 500 privately operated camps.
California Camping is the best-selling guidebook in America and was released this week in an all-new format broken down into geographic areas - from the Redwood Empire to the Southern Deserts, with 103 new maps, and detailed listings checked by three resource specialists, and author Stienstra adding his special touch to everything.
It arrives right when residents need it most, with most of the well-known park campgrounds already reserved. "A lot of state parks are already booked through the month of August (and Labor Day Weekend)," said Alyce Peterson of Reserve America, which operates the state park reservation service. "For some parks (the top 15), every spot is taken for every day. The only time you might get a spot is if someone cancels."
A similar phenomenon occurred last year when people largely turned their backs on expensive summer vacations and went camping instead, according to the California Department of Tourism.
There are many reasons for the winter crush on reservations, according to Capps. A key is that the public has learned to work the system, that is, on the first of each month, reservations at a state park become available seven months out for the entire month. That means people could make reservations for Labor Day Weekend (and any day in August) starting Feb. 1. "So we were crushed with calls," Capps said.
California's most popular state park campground is in the Bay Area, the Steep Ravine Environmental Cabins managed by Mt. Tamalpais State Park. The cabins are shacks with wood stoves, set on a bluff overlooking the ocean at Rocky Point, with nearby access to gorgeous hiking trails. "Those are gone in the first 20 minutes," Peterson said at Reserve America.
Others that sell out for the month in the first hour are Sea Cliff in Monterey Bay, and Doheny and San Elijo on the Southern California coast. Sites at 10 other marquee parks that are also booked 100 percent within hours when first available are the oceanfront parks on Highway 1 in Southern California and Monterey Bay.
Jim Luscutoff of State Parks, who manages the reservation system, said there is still campsite space at state parks for summer "if you move inland and north."
"We also encourage people to also look at the shoulder seasons (May/mid-June and September/October)," Luscutoff said. There are roughly 100 state parks with 10,000 campsites on the reservation system, he said. "Another 5,000 sites are not on the system."
That is why campsites that are not listed with reservation services will be the real finds this summer. About 90 percent of the campsites outside of state and national parks are operated on a first-come, first-served basis.
© 1999-2004 Tom Stienstra