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Top 5s & 10s From California Camping California Camping

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1) Boulder Lake, Trinity Alps Wilderness-
This beautiful lake sits in an awesome granite bowl with two peaks towering nearby, Yctapom Peak (7,596 feet elevation) and Sugar Pine Butte (8,033 feet). The hike to get here is just two miles from the trailhead near Goldfield Campground, extremely short for such a sensational destination. The lake is perfect for swimming and fishing, with many excellent day hikes available as well. A wilderness permit is required.

2) Toad Lake, Shasta-Trinity National Forest -
Can you imagine an alpine lake at the base of a mountain bowl that offers great swimming and hiking yet requires backpacking only 15 minutes? Toad Lake, set on the flank of Mount Eddy at 6,950 feet, can fulfill that vision with shoreline campsites, the perfect water temperature for swimming, and a great side-trip hike to Porcupine Lake. What's the catch? The drive in features a bone-jarring 10-mile ride on Forest Service roads.

3) Mill Creek, South Warner Wilderness -
There is no more remote wilderness than the South Warners, located in the northeastern corner of the state. That's why so few people visit, making the 1.5-mile jaunt to Mill Creek a joy. Then you venture through Mill Creek Meadow for easy walks and trout fishing. This area is pristine and quiet, with side trips available to see a waterfall or continue on into the interior ridge of the South Warners. One word of warning: the drive here seems endless, as much as 10 hours from San Francisco. A wilderness permit is required.

4) Fern Canyon, Van Damme State Park -
While Fern Canyon and Van Damme are hardly unknown to anybody who has been to Mendocino, the hike-in campsites on the Fern Canyon Trail remain a relative secret. Getting there requires a 1.75-mile backpack hike, in the process passing through a beautiful redwood forest and along a pretty stream. Once you have established your basecamp, several other hikes are available, including one to the nearby Pygmy Forest, which is like visiting a bonsai festival, and others that explore the Little River and the adjacent redwoods.

5) Pomo Canyon, Sonoma Coast State Beach -
Tons of people stream up and down Highway 1 every summer and virtually all of them miss this spot, hidden in a canyon just over the first ridge east of the highway. But here it is, located south of the mouth of the Russian River, with campsites scattered amid the redwoods anywhere from 30 yards to a quarter mile from the parking area. There are some great hikes here, the best being to a ridge with breathtaking views of the coast (a 40-minute hike), as well as down to Shell Beach (2.5 miles).

6) Wildcat Camp, Point Reyes National Seashore -
The Coast Trail is the number one hike in the Bay Area, and its Wildcat Camp is the number one camping spot. Reaching the camp takes a 5.1-mile hike on the Coast Trail, departing from the Palomarin Trailhead north of Bolinas. Your reward is spending the night on an ocean bluff, as well as passing a series of hidden lakes (good swimming here), Alamere Falls (which runs over an ocean bluff and to the beach), a pretty beach, and coastal rock formations. Reservations are required.

7) Trail Camp, Castle Rock State Park -
A 2.8-mile, one-way hike will take you to Trail Camp, at the threshold of one of the Bay Area greatest lands of beauty. The hike on the Saratoga Trail drops into a wooded canyon, emerges at a lookout for a waterfall (beautiful in the winter and spring, often dry at other times), then passes a series of honeycombed sandstone formations as well as lookouts over miles of forest and to Monterey Bay. You then turn left at the junction with the Ridge Trail and tromp for 15 minutes to the campsites. On the way back, make it a loop by taking the Ridge Trail, enjoying a spectacular lookout of Monterey Bay from the top of Goat Rock.

8) Winnemucca Lake, Eldorado National Forest -
This great spot is just a two-mile hike from Carson Pass. The hike is easy, a short climb through a forest of lodge-pole pine, on the way skirting Round Top Peak (10,380) feet, the highest point in the Mokelumne Wilderness. Two other lakes are nearby, Fourth of July Lake and Round Top Lake, making for excellent side trips, though Round Top requires a 1,000-foot climb. A wilderness permit is required.

9) Cathedral Lake, Yosemite National Park -
From any shoreline campsite at Cathedral Lake it is easy to see how the lake was named, with Cathedral Peak (10,911 feet) looming overhead, a perfect spired pinnacle. The lake is easy to reach from Tuolumne Meadows, hiking out on the John Muir Trail toward Yosemite Valley then taking a cutoff trail, a total of 3.7 miles one way. The fishing is very poor and the water a little cold for most swimmers, but the beauty of the surrounding landscape and the possible day hikes make it a winner. A wilderness permit is required.

10) Lyell Fork, Yosemite National Park -
The four-mile walk out of Tuolumne Meadows (8,600 feet) and south on the John Muir Trail is nearly flat and provides access to Lyell Fork and its excellent fishing for brook trout. The beauty is spectacular, with nearby Mammoth Peak and Kuna Crest, and side trips are available to Ireland Lake (10,735 feet), Donohue Pass (11,056 feet), and Vogelsang. The camps along Lyell Fork include hang wires so you can hang your food using the counter-balancing system, well out of the reach of bears. A wilderness permit is required.

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