Let’s be real. Summer 2020 doesn’t exactly set the stage for the vacation of your dreams…
But we’re lucky. California has some of the best campgrounds in the country, with pretty much every variety of terrain you can think of, from redwood forests to desert lakes.
If you’re looking for a mental health break or some (more) alone time in a place other than your own home, camping might be one of the safest activites out there. You have plenty of space on all sides for social distancing, there’s no need to touch anyone beyond your immediate family (as long as you follow guidelines by keeping it to one household per site) — and if you want to avoid public bathrooms, there are plenty of trees.
On May 23, as Memorial Day was upon us, we wrote an update on some our favorite California state and national parks open for camping. Of course, a lot has changed since then… because that’s the world we live in now.
Here’s what we know now about which campgrounds open this summer. This is by no means an exhaustive list (California is a camping mecca with thousands of options), but it’s a start.
Check details before you go and don’t forget to pack out what you pack in.
Joshua Tree National Park is open (with some restrictions). Group campgrounds are closed in the park, but all of the regular family sites are available. Admission to the park is still a thing ($30 per vehicle), and the National Park Service says rangers will only accept credit card payment to aid with social distancing at the entrance.
The campgrounds inside Joshua Tree are mostly available on a first-come, first-served basis, so you’ll want to have a plan B and C in case they fill up quickly. Some are closed due to summer heat, which can be extreme in the desert climate, so check the website and the weather before you go.
Here’s what’s open:
- Black Rock Campground: Sites 40-60 and 66-99 are closed from May 25-Sept. 3. All other sites are first-come, first-served until Sept. 4, when they’ll be reservation only.
- Cottonwood Campground: Loop B is closed May 25-Sept. 3. All other sites are first-come, first-served until Sept. 4, when they’ll be reservation only.
- Hidden Valley: All sites are first-come, first-served, year-round.
- Indian Cove: Sites 40-101 are closed until Sept. 3. All other sites are first-come, first-served from May 25- Sept. 4, when they’ll be reservation only.
- Jumbo Rocks Campground: All sites are first-come, first-served from May 25-Sept. 3
Yosemite had been closed for over two-and-a-half months, but the park reopened as on Thursday, June 11, with restrictions. The number of visitors will be limited to about half the usual amount… and some visitor centers and campgrounds will remain closed.
“It’s going to be a different kind of summer, and we will continue to work hand-in-hand with our gateway communities to protect community health and restore access to Yosemite National Park,” Acting Superintendent Cicely Muldoon said in a press release.
Reservations are required in advance, for both camping and day use, with a $2 fee — 20% of reservations are held for two days before entry and each reservation is good for seven days. You can find answers to FAQs about reservations here. Reminder: Even if you have a reservation for a campsite, you still need to make a reservation to get into the park.
The only open campgrounds are:
- Upper Pines Campground: At 50% capacity, reservations required. There are currently (as of June 24) no available campsites for July.
- Wawona Horse Camp: Reservations required by phone (209-375-9535), but it looks like you can only camp there if you bring a horse or some other “stock animal”…
Backpacking is allowed, but only if you have a wilderness permit — and that is a whole thing.
For non-campers, Yosemite Valley Lodge, Curry Village, and The Ahwahnee are open, but also require reservations.
Park officials already cancelled all reservations for July at non-open campgrounds and half the ones at Upper Pines to allow for that 50% capacity. Things don’t look too hopeful for August either.
This is all to say, good luck staying overnight in the park this summer.
There are no more campground reservations available for August right now (other than cancellations).
— Yosemite National Park (@YosemiteNPS) June 17, 2020
SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK
Several campgrounds will open after the July 4 holiday, but visitor centers, bookstores, ranger stations, and wilderness permit stations will remain closed. Unlike Yosemite, you don’t have to make a reservation to enter the park for day-use.
All sites require an advanced reservation via Recreation.gov. No walk-up sites this summer!
These campgrounds are open, starting July 6:
SEQUOIA NATIONAL FOREST/KERN RIVER/LAKE ISABELLA
During quarantine, while they weren’t allowed to lead rafting trips, a few bored guides at Kern River Outfitters learned to code… and they managed to make a website that’s a lot more user-friendly than Reserve America (not hard to do because that website is the worst, but impressive nonetheless).
The tool allows users to search open campsites in Sequoia National Forest, near the Kern. And while you can’t go on guided rafting trips right now, you can still wade in the river or bring your own kayaks.
The company also has stand-up (SUP) paddle boards and inflatable kayaks available for Lake Isabella.
The Catalina Express reopened to take travelers to the biggest Channel Island in mid-June. The ferry departs from Long Beach, San Pedro, and Dana Point to Avalon and Two Harbors. Masks are required and tickets are about $37 each way. The Catalina Flyer is also an option if you want to leave from Newport Beach. Campgrounds are open, more info here.
Anacapa Island is also open for hike-in camping. You have to climb over 150 steps with all your supplies, so keep that in mind. Reservations here.
ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST
All developed campgrounds and restrooms were cleaned by park rangers before reopening. But the forest’s small staff hasn’t gotten to all of them yet (they cover roughly 700,000 acres of land, so reopening was no small feat).
A spokesperson for the Angeles National Forest told LAist/KPCC that they are expecting an “above normal” fire season, and conditions are already dry and hot. All of the national forests in California are now barring fires in any undeveloped wilderness areas (fires in campground rings are OK). Small burners for cooking in wilderness backpacking areas are allowed — but be safe.
Parking at some sites require an Adventure Pass, so check before you go.
Open campgrounds include:
- Bear Campground: Hike-in only, no toilets, sites are first-come, first-served
- Bear Canyon Trail Camp: 3 hike-in sites, first-come, first-served
- Hoagees Trail Camp: 14 hike-in sites near a stream, first-come, first-served
- Idehour Trail Camp: 3 hike-in sites, first-come, first-served
- Los Alamos Campground: 93 drive-in sites near Pyramid Lake, reservations here
- Millard Trail Camp: 6 hike-in sties, first-come, first-served, call (818) 899-1900 for current conditions
- Mt. Lowe Trail Camp: 5 hike-in sites, restrooms, first-come, first-served
- Sawmill Campground: 8 drive-in sites, first-come, first-served
- Spruce Grove Trail Camp: 7 hike-in sites, first-come, first-served
- Mountain Oak Campground: 17 sites near Wrightwood, reservations here
- Table Mountain Campground: 111 drive-in sites, reservations here
- Lake Campground: 8 sites near Wrightwood, reservations here
SAN BERNARDINO NATIONAL FOREST
The majority of campgrounds in San Bernardino National Forest , which includes popular spots in Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear, opened before Memorial Day Weekend. A public affairs person with the forest told KPCC/LAist that park officials “are looking into opportunities to open even more,” including campgrounds around Idyllwild and Lydell Creek.
Check this list for more info on specific sites. Forest officials ask that folks only camp with members of their household to avoid spreading the virus.
The park is open and all campgrounds are first-come first-served. We think there will be plenty of room.
Itxy Quintanilla contributed to this story.
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