Pacific Northwest: Camping

More detail about the campgrounds our Pacific Northwest trip. We stayed at a couple municipal campgrounds (Campground by the Lake, Saratoga Lake Campground), a commercial campground, NFS and BLM campgrounds, national park campgrounds and dispersed camped.

Picture galleries are interspersed through out this post. Click on a picture to view in a new window.


  1. Kalaloch Campground: Camping on the a bluff over the Pacific Ocean? Only way it would have been better was some sunnier weather. We had to play the walk-up game and camped the first night in B-17 (spur within the A loop). This site was spacious and relatively level. It was farther away from the bluff in the trees. On the second night we scored the bluff site A-25, a large rather private site with trees and bushes separating us from neighbors on both sides. A-27 is a very similar site. Some minor leveling was required in A-25. D loop prime sites are D-24 to D-30; D-24 is on the bluff while the other sites are across the road from bluff. All have clear views of the ocean.
  2. Lone Fir Campground: Just off of WA-20 in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, this campground is tucked in amongst the trees with a creek running along the back campsites. These sites (~14 to ~20) are the prime sites and were occupied when we came through. We camped in site 23, which was level and a pull through. This was one of the larger sites at the campground. Sites 23 – 26 are large and would be top on our list for camping in despite the proximity to the (little traveled) road.
  3. Water Canyon Recreation Area: This is a campground on BLM land near Winnamucca, NV. This canyon has a creek running through it. Along that creek are apsens; creating a stark contrast with the surrounding desert. After crossing onto BLM land, there is a campsite up the road approximately 1 mile. This site has  along the creek and is lower than the road. It is a little hard to see because there is a site adjacent to the road, don’t be fooled, this a separate site in a prime location. Continuing another mile up the road, there is another site right along the creek in a large clearing. We didn’t level up on this site as well as we would have liked, but it nice. Alex was able to play in the creek and we hiked up the upper access road (closed in the winter). There are additional campsites accessible if you have a high clearance vehicle.

Least Favorites:

None really. If anything we found South Beach State Park to be a little crowded, but it was close to town and had beach access. We weren’t on the beach, but close enough.

Also note that the bike path in South Lake Tahoe is a joke. It is narrow and unpaved at places. Where it is unpaved the transition is from bumpy black top to sand. If riding at night, a bright light is a must.

Biggest Pleasant Surprise:

Lava Beds National Monument: We did not know what to expect heading to this campground. The campground is at the south end of the park, and fortunately for us, we came in the south entrance. We arrived to find a nice mix RV and walk-in tent spots. We stayed in B23, one of the larger sites that could accommodate a RV in the mid-30 foot range. Most sites were relatively flat. Be sure to check the site stubs closely, we found that were several days expired; it doesn’t seem that the rangers come through that often to remove the expired stubs.

The campground was within a quarter mile of two caves (Indian Wells and Mushpot) and the visitors’ center. The visitors’ center had a great brochure outlining the difficulty of the caves. There were several trail heads within the campground or at the visitors’ center that provided access to a variety of caves.

Commercial Campground:

Camp Coeur d’Alene got our business because we needed to dump and our RV dump station app had already failed us twice. Combined with Alex waking up early from a nap, our goal to push further east was thwarted. Technically camped along the shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene and took Alex out on a paddle boat. There was plenty of space for Alex to run around. We dumped our black and grey tanks, filled up with fresh water, and did laundry to ensure clean underwear all the way home.

Dispersed Camping:

After a successful dispersed camping experience in Bighorn National Forest during our Northern Rockies trip, Dave was looking forward to another positive experience. This experience did not start out as well as it was difficult to determine where the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest began and private property ended. It also didn’t help that we were on the fringes of the national forest and the road passed in and out of the forest.

We found a decent spot to pull off the road and set up camp. Slightly pitched to the left and front, we decided to walk further up the road. The view did not disappoint.

The night was a little creepy – Jess heard a four wheeler come down the hill and was positive it stopped near the RV. She then thought she heard someone(s) walking around the RV. The dogs did not bark, but she woke up Dave anyway. It was not a restful night, although everyone came out of the experience unharmed. If we had continued on MT-43E for about 10 more miles, we would have come upon a campground just shy of I-15. This campground was along the Big Hole River in a stand of trees. If you are in the area, check this campground out before going off into the wilderness.


Pacific Northwest: Yellowstone and Grand Teton

We last visited Yellowstone in July of 2015, and were frustrated by the shear number of people also there. We thought that coming later in the season would improve our experience, as less people would be there. While the crowds were reduced at the end of September compared to July, there were many more people than we expected.

Also unexpected was the fog, which made it hard to see some of the features, especially later in the day as the air was cooling (at Grand Prismatic Spring the fog was very thick and swirling with the wind). The fog also made it challenging to see wildlife and pedestrians along the side of the road. We definitely slowed down leaving the park due to poor visibility; as our elevation decreased, the fog began to dissipate.

We were did walk the Fountain Paint Pots and Grand Prismatic Spring Nature trails. Both were board walks that went past multiple thermal features. These walks were smooth and easy for Alex to navigate, but people added a challenge. There was not a railing at all points to ensure a little boy stayed the course. It required some herding of Alex to make sure he didn’t run into people or fall off the walkway. There were stairs to Grand Prismatic Spring; Fountain Paint Pots did not have stairs, but there was one steeper grade.

Pay attention to park bulletins if you are camping late in the season. We wanted to camp at the Tower Falls campground, but it had closed three days prior. Additionally, there was road construction just south of the North entrance, requiring a significant re-route through the park. After reviewing the campgrounds that were still open (Mammoth Hot Springs, Madison, Slough Creek, and Lewis Lake) , we re-routed to the West entrance because Lewis Lake still had availability and we did not have to take the detour. We drove along the Gallatin River on US-191S; the fall colors were absolutely beautiful along this route.

We exited Yellowstone via the South entrance and drove through John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway and Grand Teton National Park to Coulter Bay Village. This route allowed us an up close view of the damage caused by the fire earlier in the park from earlier this summer. The fire damage, along with the low level of Jackson Lake, emphasized the drought that western states have been suffering.

When is the best time to visit Yellowstone and Grand Teton? We wish we knew. Rangers said that social media (people being warned about the crowded conditions during the summer) has extended the peak season closer and closer to season’s end.


Click on a picture to launch the gallery in a new window


Northern Rockies: Campgrounds

Our favorite and not so favorite campgrounds of the trip. If a campground isn’t summarized in great detail here, don’t worry. It was a good campground that we liked and would go to again, it just didn’t have quite enough to make our trip highlight reel.


  1. View from our dispersed campsite area.
    View from our dispersed campsite area.

    Dispersed camping off of FSR 20 in the Bighorn National Forest, WY: Our first dispersed camping experience on our first night of our Northern Rockies adventure.  Okay, so this wasn’t technically a campground, but it was a great campsite. We found a spot just after a cattle gate (called Texas gates in Alberta) among some trees. There was a lot of cow pies around and we weren’t sure if we were going to wake up surrounded by cattle (didn’t happen). There was a meadow across from our chosen spot with some rock outcroppings that Alex enjoyed climbing on. Road desperately needed a grader to smooth out the washboard and fill in the pot holes, but worth the shaking and rattling. We plan on more dispersed camping in the future.

    Alex climbing on a rock formation that was used as a shelter in the past.
    Alex climbing on a rock formation that was used as a shelter in the past.
  2. 2016NR_2Medicine03
    Alex throwing rocks into Two Medicine Lake.

    Two Medicine Campground at Glacier National Park, MT: There were multiple things to really enjoy about this campground. There was a lake, which was excellent for throwing rocks in. There was Wolf Mountain, that towered over the campground. And then there was the view that was a short walk away from our campsite. There was a plethora of hiking trails that could be accessed from the campgrounds. A quick and relatively flat bike ride away was the general store, boat rentals, and a boat tour (for fast access to the other end of the lake). Really couldn’t ask for a better campground.

    View of Two Medicine Lake.
    View of Two Medicine Lake.

    The downside of this campground is the sites for bigger rigs are down by the lake. The view is beautiful, but the sites go fast and there is more traffic due the day use parking. The other sites are back in the trees, feel more secluded, but some are difficult to level a small rig like Abby in. All that considered, we will be back.

    Campsite: #47, side pitched

    Prime campsites: 95, 96, 94, 97, 93 – very close to the lake and relatively secluded. Looked rather level. Larger rigs check out sites 85 – 91. Sites 1 – 10 may also be able to accommodate larger RV or truck/trailer combinations.

    Wolf Mountain at Two Medicine Lake.
    Wolf Mountain at Two Medicine Lake.

Least Favorites:

  1. Calgary West Campground in  Calgary, Alberta, Canada: The much maligned commercial campground. Nothing truly wrong with this campground, but we prefer national forest, state parks, dispersed camping or national parks. This campground was clean with a decent laundry facility and a pool. Alex had fun on the campground and walking about. As typical of commercial campgrounds, sites were rather close. Roads were gravel and some places needed a grader to come through and level things out. The road into Loop B is a bit steep, and Abby’s front wheels slide on the gravel while backing into our site on the hill. When approaching this campground, the first thing you see is the storage area – don’t panic, the sites are small but not THAT small.
  2. Many Pines Campground in Lewis and Clark National Forest: This is likely on our least favorite list because we really wanted to disperse camp that night, but chose our forest roads poorly. Campground wasn’t bad – sites were well spaced and rather level. Each site had a parking area and then a separate area with picnic table and tent pad. Campground closes in September. Winter comes early in Montana.

One of the winter planning projects is to get maps from the forest service and determine if we can pick out dispersed camping sites. Also, we need to better familiarize ourselves with the rules of each forest regarding dispersed camping.

Biggest Pleasant Surprise:

  1. Lake View Campground in  Bighorn National Forest: Our intent was to disperse camp for our last night on the road, but we saw this as we were headed on US-16E and stopped. We overlooked Meadowlark Lake, not far from a ski lodge of similar name. Sites were well sized and level. Campground was well maintained and the pit toilets were clean and pleasant (!) smelling. The spur that contains sites 1 – 6 runs parallel to the road, but there was little traffic so it wasn’t too disturbing. We camped in site 6, which was the closest to the road; a steep embankment kept Alex away from the road. A trail led down to the lake not too far from the site. While not dispersed camping, we were very happy with this campground.

    View of Meadowlark Lake facing away from Abby.

Northern California: Summary

Route for our Northern California Adventure.

Our northern California excursion made leaving much harder. We realized that there were so many more adventures we wanted to go on while in California. Unfortunately, the timing did not work out. We will be back someday.

Our route was just shy of 1000 miles, at 982. We averaged approximately 16 mpg for the trip. Abby felt very sporty without the cargo trailer.



Favorite Campgrounds

  1. Wesport-Union Landing State Beach: Our favorite campground of the trip. Camped on a bluff, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, falling asleep to the sound of the ocean. What more can you ask for? Beach access? Even better. Fantastic campground that the locals know about. You can grab a spot as soon as someone leaves. Make sure there isn’t an item left at the site indicating that a camper is coming back.

    Beach that can be accessed from the Westport-Union campground.
    Beach that can be accessed from the Westport-Union campground.
  2. Manzanita Lake Campground, Lassen Volcanic National Park: Our second favorite campground. This park has versatility. Hiking, skiing and snowboarding (in June!), and lake activities. A very nice park and informative visitors center. Really enjoyed our hike up to Crags Lake. Other trail-heads accessible in or near the campground; other trails through out the park.

    View near Crags Lake.
    View near Crags Lake.
  3. Stand of young redwoods.
    Stand of young redwoods.

    Mill Creek Campground, Redwood National and State Park: Some sites were in some very dense tree cover. We had a sunnier site with a creek directly behind us – Alex loved splashing in the water. Lots of hikes accessible from the campground.

Biggest Pleasant Surprise

  1. Hidden Spring, Humboldt State Forest: Primarily tent camping and some smaller RV and trailers. Abby is only 24 feet and we were glad she wasn’t bigger. We could hike to a beach/swimming hole at the Eel River. Sites are well spaced.

Least Favorite Campground

  1. Mad River Rapids RV Park: Commercial campgrounds are not our first choice. But there was cell service here and that is what we needed for Jess’ phone interview. So here we stayed.

2016 Colorado Move: Summary

We have arrived in Loveland, CO and have internet! This is no small feat considering we are dealing with Xfinity, the re-branded Comcast. Note to all businesses, changing your name will not wash away the stink of abysmal service. You eventually will have to come up with a new name because you have not solved the underlying reasons for customer dissatisfaction. Any hoo . . .

Our move to Colorado from California did not go as smoothly as we hoped. Moving on the Fourth of July weekend and having to go through a major tourist destination does not result in good time on the road. We spent more time in commercial RV parks than typical for us, but options were limited in some of the areas we were traveling.

Route from Davis, CA to Loveland, CO.
Route from Davis, CA to Loveland, CO.

The trip covered 1,191 miles and took us over the Sierras, across the loneliest road (US-50 in Nevada), and through southern Wyoming. Abby’s mileage pulling the trailer ranged from 13.5 over the Sierras to a whopping 18 across Wyoming (tail wind aided). Dave drove Abby while Jess followed with Alex in car.

We chose to come across I-80 because the climbs were less severe than I-70 through Colorado. We did not count on the 35 mph tail wind in Wyoming which had an extremely positive effect on Abby’s mileage. Coming through Lake Tahoe on US-50 was a critical error and resulted in frustrating traffic that added 90 minutes to our trip.


  1. SacWest RV Park West Sacramento, CA: 2 night stay. Clean, trash pick up at site. Fantastic playground for Alex, pool, and a fenced in, off-leash area for dogs with agility obstacles. Full hook-ups. Restrooms closest to the office were the cleanest. The other men’s restroom, to quote Dave, ‘Looked like something completely unholy happened in it’. One stall was completely clogged and the other had poop smeared through out the stall.
  2. Fallon RV Park  Fallon, NV: 1 night stay. Clean, grass at each site, long sites that fit the 40 foot Abby/trailer combo and station wagon. Full hook-ups. Restrooms are older, but are clean. Fuel and store for supplies.
  3. Whispering Elms Motel and RV Park Baker, NV: 1 night stay outside of Great Basin National Park (will write a separate post). Full hook-ups, sites are smaller so it feels rather crowded when full. Owners are nice and found us a spot on the Fourth of July and let us stow our cargo trailer for a couple nights. Bathrooms are older, but function well and are clean. Bar is open from 4 to  8 pm and the beer selection is more diverse than Bud!

    View from behind the
    View looking way from Whispering Elms RV Park.
  4. Wheeler Peak Campground, Great Basin National Park: 1 night stay, campground elevation is approximately 10,000 feet. 8% grade for 12 miles to campground with tight turns, we left the trailer at Whispering Elms as not to tax Abby. Absolutely beautiful. For smaller rigs, well worth the journey. Check out site 25 or 26 (meadow next to site). Sites can be rather uneven, so bring leveling blocks. No hookups.

    Abby at campsite 26 in Wheeler Peak Campground
    Abby at campsite 26 in Wheeler Peak Campground
  5. Antelope Valley RV Park Delta, UT: 1 night stay, full hookups. Large levels spots with a grass next to each site and a large dirt/gravel area for dogs to be walked on leash. Very nice owners.
  6. Fort Bridger RV Park Fort Bridger, WY: 1 night stay, full hookups. Large level sites with separate parking area for tow vehicles at each site. Lots of grass and dog friendly. Owner is a veteran and is very nice.
  7. Yellow Pine Campground, Medicine Bow National Forest Laramie, WY: 1 night stay, no hook ups. Site size and levelness varies, we camped in site 12 which fit Abby, trailer and station wagon. Some sites are pull through. Surprisingly, copious amounts of mosquitoes.

Emergency Rooms:

  1. Banner Churchill Community Hospital: We stopped in Carson City, NV for lunch and discovered Alex had 102F fever; Alex received a dose of children’s ibuprofen. When we stopped for the night in Fallon and checked his temperature again, it had risen to 104F to 105F (temporal reading). We were nervous since we were going to head into an isolated area, the fever didn’t respond to medication, and Alex didn’t get upset when we turned off Cars. So Jess took him to the emergency room where his temperature was confirmed and he received a dose of Tylenol. His fever slowly came down and by the time we left he was cranky because Mama didn’t bring enough crackers. A toddler with enough energy to throw a tantrum is a toddler that is feeling good!
  2. Delta Community Hospital: Jess fell while hiking on the Bristle Cone Trail in Great Basin National Park. Unfortunately, her knee landed on a rock and caused a 3 cm laceration. Alex did not like the fact that his pack mule fell down. Dave took over Alex’s pack and we hiked back to camp. After consulting with the park EMT, we made the decision to break camp and drive to the nearest decent medical facility in Delta, UT (100 miles away!). We declined the $40,000 helicopter medivac option, it seemed a bit excessive for a laceration. Jess’ knee took 6 staples to close and the ER doctor removed a lot of debris. The experience got us to thinking that a wilderness first aid course might be extremely beneficial.

June 23, 2016 – Westport Union Landing State Beach

Route: US-101S

CARoute05We did not do this drive in one day. It actually took us two. We stopped and stayed at Mad River Rapids RV Park (clean, nice bathrooms, laundry, just a little too developed for our preferences) in McKinleyville, CA the night of June 21st. Cell reception was critical for the morning of the 22nd because Jess had a phone interview for a job. The saving grace of this stop was Six Rivers Brewery, just 5 minutes away from our campground. We enjoyed their beers.

Just south of Eureka, we debated on taking Mattole road along the lost coast. It is a beautiful drive; we have done it before in a rental car and motorcycle. However, it is twisty with lots of up and downs. We decided not to abuse Abby that badly a few weeks before our move to Colorado. We decided to enjoy the drive along Avenue of the Giants for the scenic portion of our drive.

History: Westport and Union Landing were towns supported by the lumber industry. A complex wharf and chute system was used to load the schooners anchored beyond the dangerous rocks with lumber, tanbark, shingles, wool, oats and railroad ties from the bluffs. The town struggled through boom and bust cycles, and the Great Depression diminished Westport further. The town survives today, unlike other lumber towns along the coast.


With our late start on the 22nd, we started to look for camping in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. We were shut out the previous night at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park; this park is very popular and after hiking to Patrick’s Point, it was clear why. Make a reservation, it will be worth it. We were cautiously optimistic about finding a spot in Humboldt Redwoods. The Burlington campground, where we (minus Alex) camped in 2010 was full, and the park staff recommended Hidden Springs. This was a fantastic recommendation. We selected site 9, which was level and had a nice area for Alex and the dogs. There was some road noise, but the number of cars traveling on the road decreased significantly after dusk.

We got off to an early start on Thursday and as we drove by Westport Union Landing State Beach we saw campsites set up. We stopped to investigate and discovered that this is a first come, first serve campground. We snagged a spot for two nights. Initially, there looked to be a limited number of spots, but there are three camping areas.


View from Patrick's Point towards Wedding Rock.
View from Patrick’s Point towards Wedding Rock.

Various hiking trails are available at Humboldt Redwoods State Park and Prairie Creek. Prairie Creek will have ocean view trails. At the Eel River swimming hole in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, Alex took great joy in throwing rocks into the river. It is an activity he enjoys.

Alex waiting for a wave to come in so he can throw a rock into the ocean.
Alex waiting for a wave to come in so he can throw a rock into the ocean.
Penny and Chewie running on the beach.
Penny and Chewie running on the beach.

2016_Coast05Westport Union Landing State Beach has, well, the beach. This can be walked to and at low tide you can find sand crabs, crabs, giant anemones, and mussels. Alex took a little bit to warm up to the beach and preferred to walk on the harder sand exposed during low tide. Once he discovered this surface, he was eager to run up and down the beach. The dogs were excited to frolic in the surf.

Fort Bragg is about 15 miles down the road. Fort Bragg is the home of North Coast Brewing Company and their very tasty beers. There is a tourist train, called the Skunk Train, that takes riders on a forty mile tour through redwoods and mountain meadows. We missed an opportunity to take Alex on a train ride that he would have loved. There is also Glass Beach, where beauty has resulted from a former city dump.

Overall: Fantastic camping spot. Need to be quick to grab a site. The proximity to Fort Bragg provides extra activities. We could have spend our entire trip camped out on the bluffs.

Morning view from our campsite.
Morning view from our campsite.

June 20, 2016 – Crescent City, Mill Creek

CARoute04Route: CA-96W, Indian Creek Road, US-199S

We got off to a relatively early start because the day’s activities included grocery shopping and laundry! We were westward bound on CA-96W until Happy Camp. We stopped at the Frontier Saloon and Cafe for second breakfast; Dave finally staged his uprising against granola and yogurt and insisted we stop. Portions were generous, food was good. Bacon was amazing – thick cut, not overly salted. Stop in if you are in town.

Our route took us through a remote area; the steep mountain slopes are not conducive to building. The road was twisty and when we crossed into Oregon, Abby earned another state badge. We debated on detouring to the Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve, but it was 45 minutes out of our way and we needed clean undies. We turned south to Crescent City. We arrived and wanted to stop and Port O’Pints, but they didn’t open until 2. And there was no food as far as we could tell. Pre-made salad from Safeway for the lunch win!

Dave standing by the stump of a redwood.
Dave standing by the stump of a redwood.

History: Redwood logging began in 1851, as the gold rush waned. Technological advances made it easier and faster to harvest the large trees. In 1920, key groves were preserved by the State of California. In 1968, Congress created Redwood National Park, protecting the world’s tallest trees and Redwood Creek’s salmon fishery.

Redwood log next to campsite 40.
Redwood log next to campsite 40.

Coast redwoods have been recorded at 370 feet, almost 70 feet taller than the giant sequoia. There are no known killing diseases and are resistant to insects, believed to be the result of high tannin concentrations, which also provides the red hue to the wood. Fog, created by the hot air of the central valley pulling moisture laden ocean air towards the interior of CA, is key to the survival of the coastal redwood.

Stand of young redwoods.
Stand of young redwoods.

Redwood National and State Parks are a cooperative management effort between the National Park Service and the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Redwood National Park, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park are part of the cooperative effort and form a World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve.

Campground: We stayed at Mill Creek campground in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. We were lucky to get a walk-up site, number 41. Sites 40 through 42 are spaced the closest and receive the most sunlight. The sites are level and have easy access to Mill Creek. Sites 39 and 55 are prime sites, spacious and well separated from neighboring campsites. Overall, most sites in the camp well spaced. There are some tent only sites that are extremely secluded – you hike to the tent platform through a tunnel in the foliage.

Alex enjoying the rocks in Mill Creek.
Alex enjoying the rocks in Mill Creek.

Activities: Fishing in the park tributaries of the Smith River for cutthroat trout and hatchery steelhead is permitted. Mill Creek is closed to fishing part of the year. A license is required.

Alex enjoying the hike along Trestle Trail on his pack mule.
Alex enjoying the hike along Trestle Trail on his pack mule.

There are a variety of trails for hiking in the park. The Trestle Trail Loop circumvents sites 1 – 74. Off of this trail, one can access the Adler Basin, Saddler Skyline, and Hobbs Wall (via Saddler Skyline) trails. The California Coastal Trail, which is 1200 miles long, runs through the park. Also in the park is the Damnation Trail, which was used by the Tolowa Indians to reach the ocean to gather shellfish and seaweed. This trail drops 1,000 feet over two miles through old-growth redwoods and Sitka spruce. We thought about attempting this hike, but wisely did the math in advance. The average grade on the trail is 10%. We opted for the Trestle Loop Trail instead. This trail was a combination of a relatively flat and wide path (good for Alex to walk a bit) and some narrow, steep hillside hiking (good time to contain Alex in the pack).

Overall: This was a fantastic campground and would be a fantastic place to set up home base for a couple of weeks and explore the coast. There are endless day trip possibilities. Also, the proximity to Crescent City means it is easy to restock food and clean clothes.

Banana slug
Banana slug

June 17, 2016 – Lassen Volcanic National Park

The route traveled to Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Route: CA-89N

As we drove, Dave commented that the landscape was feeling less like California (grey, rocky mountains) and more like the Pacific Northwest (thick pine forests, lots of logging trucks). A quick consult with the map showed that Lassen National Forest straddles the Sierra and Cascade ranges, which are quintessential California and Pacific Northwest, respectively. The drive was picturesque, with twisty roads following creeks and cutting along the mountain. All the plants were freshly green, having recently shaken off winter’s chill.

Abby parked at the Lassen Peak trail head.
Abby parked at the Lassen Peak trail head.

We were expecting to see much more snow during the drive, since CA-89, the Lassen Volcanic National Park through road, had only recently been cleared of snow and opened. However, we only saw occasional patches of snow. Then we started to climb as we entered the park and the odds were in our favor (and Penny’s) significant snow. It did not take long after entering the park before there was snow, and significant quantities.  The drive was a bit harrowing with the thick fog, but the positive side was we could not see the steep drop offs along the road. If you feel that the government is over protecting you, drive the road through Lassen. There isn’t much government protection standing between you and the drop off.

300 ton rock landed 3 miles from Mount Lassen after the 1915 eruption.

History: Designated a National park on August 9, 1916, in part due to the continuing volcanic activity after the 1915 eruption. President Theodore Roosevelt initially protected the area with the formation of Cinder Cone National Monument and Lassen Peak National Monument in 1905.

Native Americans inhabited the area and believed that Lassen would one day blow itself apart. Lassen Peak was used as a landmark for immigrants on their way to the fertile Sacramento Valley.

Campground: We stayed at the Manzanita Lake campground, in the Northwest corner of the park; this was the only campground open. The other campgrounds were still being cleared of winter related damage. This campground has four loops. Sites can be reserved on loops A and C, loops B and D are first come, first served. Loop D is for tent camping only. There are multiple trail heads in or close to the campground (Manzanita Creek, Crags Lake, Manzanita Lake, Lily Pond Nature Trail, Reflection Lake, Nobles Emigrant). We were in site C44, which was spacious with and felt secluded. Other prime sites in the C loop include C22, C24, C25, and C26. There is no cell service.

Alex sleeping during the hike to Crags Lake.
Heading over the crest to Crags Lake.
Heading over the crest to Crags Lake.
View of Chaos Crags from Crags Lake.
View of Chaos Crags from Crags Lake.

Activities: Kayaks can be rented from the camp store for use on Manzanita Lake. We decided to hike the Chaos Crags trail. The sign at the trail head, which was a solid 0.5 miles away from our campsite, indicated a 2 mile walk with approximately 825 feet of elevation increase. Simple math, done at leisure after the hike, determined that the average grade of the trail was 8%. Math, it rocks. There were sections that were rather flat, and sections that were very steep. The 4 mile round trip took us about 3.5 hours. This time includes the 30 minutes we spent at Crags Lake watching Alex throw rocks into the water and laugh at the ‘bloops’. The hike offered amazing views and took us throw an area that had been affected by fire. The hike was sunnier than expected due to reduced tree cover. And there is cell service! We definitely were sore after this hike.

Snow field along a creek. Penny is clearly happy.

Skiing and snowboarding are also options for activities! In June! Our first night camping, it rained at the campground, but higher elevations received approximately six inches of snow. The through road was closed again to allow for plowing.

Ski and snowboarders at the Lassen trail head.
Ski and snowboarders at the Lassen trail head.

The Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center has great interactive displays. There is a description of the different types of volcanoes (cinder cone, composite, plug flow) and an interactive map that will light up the type examples with in the park with the push of a button (Alex loved this). Another interactive exhibit had a tunnel that was perfect for a toddler to run through; a light lit up as Alex ran through the tunnel. This was also a great source of joy. Two gift shops, an area with children’s toys, a cafe, and theater round out the offerings at the visitor center.

Overall: This is a beautiful park with hiking options that we did not even scratch the surface of in regards to activities and hikes. Note that if you are interested in the Lave Tube caves, which are located in Lassen National Forest, about 45 minutes north on CA-44/CA-89. As our usual, we wish we were spending more time here.

Mount Lassen with a fresh coat of snow.
Mount Lassen with a fresh coat of snow.

Western Trip: Campground Summary


  1. Campsite at Sylvan Lake
    Campsite at Sylvan Lake

    Sylvan Lake Campground at Custer State Park, SD: Sites were well spaced, secluded, grounds were well taken care of. Site was level. Our campsite was tucked away among trees. The campground was not on the lake, but was a quick hike to the lake and there was access several trail heads. Scenery was gorgeous.

    Sylvan Lake
    Sylvan Lake at Custer State Park.
  2. Red Canyon Campground at Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, UT:
    Abby in our campsite at Red Canyon.
    Abby in our campsite at Red Canyon.

    This campground has sites that are a stone’s throw away from the rim of the gorge. Visitors center is a short hike away. Some hiking trails along the gorge rim. Gorgeous scenery. Sites are well spaced and level. We wouldn’t camp here again until Alex is older and listens better. Jess would become instantaneously grey making sure Alex didn’t fall into the gorge. Or he will need one of those child leashes.

    View from the Red Canyon Campground in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area.
    View from the Red Canyon Campground in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area.
  3. Mueller State Park, CO: This campground had nicely spaced, wooded sites. Some sites had a view of Pike’s Peak, but these go quickly on the reservations page. Great laundry facility and playgroud for Alex. Alex’s wagon came into play as our laundry mobile when walking up the hill to the laundromat. Park is well cared for and the staff is friendly. Group sites also available.

    View of Pike’s Peak, obscured by cloud cover.

Least Favorites

  1. Mormon Island State Recreation Area, NE: Campground is next to a lake, on an island, in the middle of the Platte River. The lake is part of Nebraska’s Chain of Lakes; these lakes are water filled excavation pits from I-80’s construction and converted to recreation areas.. We stayed here because it was easy access to I-80, had full hook-ups (needed to run the A/C due to the heat and humidity), and it was approximately the target distance we wanted to drive in a day upon leaving Colorado. The lake’s aroma left a bit to be desired. Campground served its purpose, but it was cruel switch from the Rockies.
  2. Starved Rock State Park, IL: The park website looks amazing! Don’t be fooled, the campground is definitely not amazing. If the campground is in the park, it is on the border. You do drive past the beautiful area to the campground, which is mosquito infested to the point you can’t be outside. We would have rather stayed in a commercial campground.

Biggest Pleasant Surprise

  1. View from the bluff at Great River Bluffs State Park, MN.
    View from the bluff at Great River Bluffs State Park, MN.

    Great River Bluffs State Park, MN: The geological features of this park are the result of minimal glacial drift from any of the four major glaciers. Sites were well spaced and wooded. Some are not level, so check the reservation site, it should provide information. Nice hiking trails with views of the Mississippi River Valley. And there were little chipmunks for Penny to watch from Abby’s window.

    Penny watching chipmunks at Great River Bluffs State Park, MN.
    Penny watching chipmunks at Great River Bluffs State Park, MN.

Biggest Disappointment

  1. Yellowstone, WY: It was Fourth of July weekend. There were hordes of people and we were lucky to get a spot. Campsites were crowded. People were oblivious to etiquette. The bathrooms were not clean. Dave said he would rather take one of the poop bags for the dogs out to the woods rather than use the bathroom. Jess was too scared to see the horrors of the women’s bathroom. There will be a separate Yellowstone post to discuss why this was our least favorite park of the entire trip. I’m sure Yellowstone is much nicer when it isn’t the peak travel season.