Great Campgrounds On The Way to Great Places

Waterfall just down the road from Big Bend Campground, Inyo National Forest, California.

Waterfall just down the road from Big Bend Campground, Inyo National Forest, California.

The TrailDirt crew just returned from a foray into Arizona, Nevada, and Northern California (again), and we have some information to share with our readers about campgrounds we stayed in that were “on the way” to some great places. What is meant by “on the way,” you ask? Well, it’s a spot where the day’s driving came to an end, but you weren’t quite at your desired destination. Who would do such a thing on a vacation, not drive close enough to/into the national park they wanted to see? It happens all the time. Folks need to rest and put their feet up and enjoy a bit of the day’s last sun before driving the last one to three hours into their scenic (and most likely, very crowded) destination. Why not get some peace and quiet before heading into a place with wall-to-wall tourists?

Artifacts litter the ground at Homolovi 1 archaeological site, a short walk from the campground.

Artifacts at Homolovi 1, a short walk from the campground.

Eastern Arizona: Heading to Grand Canyon National Park from the eastern side of Arizona? There is a wonderful state park just off of I-40 in Winslow, Arizona, called Homolovi State Park. It is a group of ancient villages that have been partially excavated, with a total of 300 known archaeological sites, a nice visitor center and a great campground. The campground has clean bathroom buildings with private shower rooms. There are sites for tents and RVs of all sizes (up to 83 feet), some with electric and water if you would like to hook up, for $25 a night (cost includes all use of the park). Visit Homolovi State Park’s web site to find out more and make an online reservation for a camp spot. Drive time from Homolovi to Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim: About 2 1/2 hours.

Northern Arizona: Right on Highway 89A, 44 miles north of the Grand Canyon’s North Rim and on the way to national parks in Utah, sits the Jacob Lake Campground. You should be able to score a spot among its 51 sites; drinking water spigots and vault toilets make this a classic forest service campground. Only open from May through October, this campsite is well-cared for and right on a highway on the way to many stunning national parks. The fee is $18 a night for tents and RVs alike, and you can walk over to the Jacob Lake Inn, Restaurant, and Gift Shop from the campground. Visit Kaibab National Forest’s official web page for Jacob Lake Campground hereDrive time from Jacob Lake to Grand Canyon National Park’s North Rim: About 1 hour. Drive time from Jacob Lake to either Zion or Bryce Canyon National Park: About 2 hours. Drive time from Jacob Lake to Las Vegas or Escalante, UT: About 3 1/2 hours.

East-Central California: Heading to Yosemite National Park from the eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada? There are great campgrounds along Highway 120 just west of Lee Vining, California, on Inyo National Forest. Yosemite may be full up with nary a camp spot to be had in the park, but on the eastern side of the park before driving up and over Tioga Pass, you should be able to find room at the Big Bend (17 sites, $19 per night) or Aspen (56 sites, $14 per night) campsites. Big Bend is at the end of a gravel road, and has a 30 foot limit for RV trailers or rigs if you are RVing. Big Bend’s setting is dreamy, tucked into tall pines along a roaring Sierra creek. Pit toilets and drinking water spigots are available. A short walk from the campsite pays the hiker with a beautiful waterfall just east of the camping areas. I slept so well here I was tempted to stay two nights. We noticed many campers were staying four, five, and six nights in a row, making Big Bend their home base for world-class fly fishing and forays into Yosemite. Visit Inyo National Forest’s official web page for Big Bend, Aspen, and other campgrounds hereDrive time from Big Bend or Aspen Campgrounds to Yosemite Village in the National Park: About 2 hours.

View of Lassen Peak from North Shore Campground, California.

View of Lassen Peak from North Shore Campground, California.

Northeastern California: Visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park? Or going on to Reno or Lake Tahoe? The North Shore Campground at Lake Almanor, outside of Chester, California, has RV and tent camping right on the northern shore of Lake Almanor. The setting for camping here is truly one of the most beautiful in recent memory that I can recall. Watching Bald Eagles, pelicans, and other birds flying over the sparkling lake, vying for a place to feed on a few fish that had washed ashore, was astounding. In the distance, Lassen Peak ruled the northern skyline and landscape. This campground is privately owned and well-maintained. The bathrooms have locks on the exterior doors and showers with endless hot water. The tent sites (starting at $29 a night) are just as close to the lake as the RV sites (starting at $40 a night); a few sites have pull-through drives if backing your RV in is not an option. It does get hot enough in summer to go swimming and just splash around. They also provide boat and slip rentals, and personalized site/rig service, from LP tank refills to black tank maintenance. The staff is professional and mannerly, and always making sure trash cans are emptied, bathrooms are clean, and campers are happy. Lake Almanor would be a great destination in and of itself, never mind Lassen Peak. Check out North Shore Campground hereDrive time from North Shore Campground to Lassen Volcanic National Park Visitor Center: About 45 minutes. Drive time from North Shore Campground to Tahoe City, CA: About 3 hours. Drive time from North Shore Campground to Reno, NV: About 2 hours.

Bob Scott Campground right on Highway 50, Nevada.

Bob Scott Campground right on Highway 50, Nevada.

Middle-of-Nowhere Nevada: So you got adventurous and decided to take Highway 50, the “Loneliest Road in America,” across the center of Nevada on your way to Reno/Great Basin National Park/whichever direction you’re headed. Just 6 miles east of Austin, Nevada, right on the highway, is a small forest service campground called Bob Scott. There are bathrooms that have sinks and flushing toilets, and drinking water spigots. The setting is gorgeous, nestled in a very healthy pinon-juniper forest with a stunning view of Bob Scott Summit to the south. There are only 10 sites, one of which is a large group site, and four of which have a pull-through configuration for RV campers. Each site, going for $10 a night (the bargain of all the places where we stayed), is large with tables and a fire pit, and lots of room for tents. If you are exhausted from being on the road and happen to find yourself on Highway 50, don’t forget about this roadside gem. This campground is only open from May through November, snow permitting. Visit Toiyabe National Forest’s official web page for Bob Scott Campground here. Drive time from Bob Scott Campground to Reno, NV: About 3 hours. Drive time from Bob Scott Campground to either Great Basin National Park, NV, or Tahoe City, CA: About 3 1/2 hours.

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