For many of us, Autumn is last call for camping in the High Sierra. The first snows will soon be here, schools are back in session, and we’ll be relegated to the lower elevations. If you want to get one last camping adventure in, here’s a few options for this fall that are a bit further off the beaten path to enjoy.
Rock Climbers Paradise
The Pit Campground At Pleasant Valley
Bishop is considered by many as California’s outdoor playground. You can paddle, bike, swim, or climb to your heart’s content to help improve your physical and mental health. If you love the sun and rock climbing, the Pit Campground at Pleasant Valley is a great choice for your camping / rock climbing adventure. While it may not have climbing within walking distance, for traditional roped climbing you have access to the ORG (Owens River Gorge) and Pine Creek. You’re also only a few miles from legendary Tableland’s bouldering zones known as “The Happies” and “The Sads”. Not enough? If you need more bouldering options, Buttermilk Country is a bit further and worth the drive.
Yosemite Without The Stress
McCabe Flat Campground
Camping in Yosemite is a popular activity especially in the summer. For those that want less stress and more relaxation, we recommend looking outside the park. Within the Sierra National Forest, which butts up against the park, there’s an assortment of options including the McCabe Flat Campground. It offers quaint sites nestled along the mighty Merced River. You can enjoy the attractions of the park and finish off the day by dipping your toes in the sparkling waters that flow from the valley itself.
High Meadow Living By Jennie Lakes
Big Meadow Campground
If you’re looking for a piece of heaven high up in the mountains, consider the Big Meadow Campground. Surrounded by a canopy of lodgepole, red fir, and Jeffrey pines at an elevation of 7,500’ above sea level, you’ll find peace and serenity. Located within the Sequoia National Forest, it’s a great basecamp for hikers that want to take in the lesser known Jennie Lakes Wilderness Area. For those that enjoy fly fishing, be sure to bring your gear because Big Meadows Creek is a popular fishing spot. And last but not least, you can easily access the Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks.*
*Check ahead for access into both Kings and Sequoia National Parks as this past winter was harsh on the entrances and roads causing closures and many needed repairs.
Sleeping Amongst The Giants
Calaveras Big Trees State Park
More than just an expression, Calaveras Big Trees State Park offers you the opportunity to camp surrounded entirely by a large grove of giant Sequoias, some as ancient as the Roman Coliseum when it was new. While technically the two campgrounds are walk-in, they’re located fairly close to the parking area. The park has 129 sites between its two campgrounds, plus a few walk-in rustic sites. For a bit more seclusion, the Oak Hollow campground is tucked further in, closer to the South Grove. Casual hikers will have plenty to love here. More than ten miles of trails wind through the mixed conifer forests.
Soak And Relax At Hot Springs
Grover Hot Springs State Park
Named after Alvin Merrill Grover who built a bathhouse and began to host visitors in 1878 to enjoy soaking in the hot springs, it wasn’t until 1959 that the 550-acre area became a state park. The park itself is a mix of lofty granite peaks, meadows filled with wildflowers, pine forests, and of course the hot springs. You’ll find 75 camping sites that have fire pits, bear-resistant lockers, and even pumped water to the restrooms for showers. You’ll find trout fishing on Hot Springs Creek which is stocked with fish. For hiking, the primary trail is Burnside Lake Trail which provides access to a waterfall and gives you a chance to take in the entire valley. Of course the shining jewel of the park is the hot springs pool – one cold and one hot. The hot soaking pool is kept at 102 to 104˚ F and its mineral water is drained and refilled daily.
Note: The pools are open year-round, except for two weeks of maintenance in September.
Take In The “Show”
June Lake Loop
Although change is afoot, this time of year offers a unique opportunity in the Eastern Sierra. Normally when you think of September, October, or even November, it’s all about cold rainy days. Not here. The sun is still shining and evenings are cool, but the days are still warm. And when it comes to fall colors, the June Lake Loop is arguably THE place to be west of the Mississippi. With the California Alps as your background and blazing yellow leaves around the lakes, you can’t get better than this. In fact, many of the campsites are located under the aspens. Campgrounds such as Reversed Creek, June Lake, Oh! Ridge, and Gull Lake. Like anything that’s natural, it’s up to Mother Nature’s whim. It all depends on when the low temperatures drop in the high country to get the changing of the leaves started. It’s a good idea to read Mono County’s fall color guide to get the scoop on when, where, and more on all things fall foliage.
As you can see, your perfect outdoor fall camping getaway is awaiting. Just be aware that this time of year typically has fire restrictions. And of course, what you pack in, be sure to pack out.
Remember that many parts of the Sierra are trying to recoup after this year’s big winter. That means some campgrounds are currently closed or limiting capacity due to it. So, be sure to check their websites before you plan your trip.
Author: Alex Silgalis
Alex founded Local Freshies® in 2014 to be the #1 website providing the “local scoop” on where to eat, drink & play in mountain towns throughout North America. When he’s not writing and executing marketing strategies for small businesses & agencies, he’s in search of the deepest snow in the winter and tackiest dirt in the summer.