Summer will be here before you know it, so if you plan to go camping with your four-legged companion, it’s time to get some dates on the calendar. Whether you’re a gear-head who owns all the latest equipment or have never slept in a tent, opportunities await at public and private campgrounds throughout the state—but only if you reserve soon.
The Glamping Option
Let’s say you’ve never camped—or perhaps you want to enjoy the great outdoors but value comfort and convenience over pounding stakes, huddling in a sleeping bag, and trotting to an outhouse in the middle of the night. Enter the concept of “glamping,” a hybrid word referring to rustic-chic, outdoor-oriented lodging that doesn’t involve pitching your own shelter. It’s a trend that’s finding root all over Northern California, particularly with city-dwelling millennials short on time and storage space.
New on the Scene
Inn Town Campground, just outside the Gold Country town of Nevada City, offers dog-friendly, safari-style platform tents with electricity, real beds, fresh linens, and outdoor sitting space in addition to pitch-your-own tent sites where Spot is welcome. Up north, Mendocino Grove (formerly New Mendocino Campground) offers similar dog-friendly accommodations (nearby restrooms have heated floors!) in a coastal redwood grove just outside picturesque Mendocino Village. In Sonoma County, AutoCamp Russian River is an upscale glamping resort with dog-friendly accommodations in custom-built Airstream trailers (its glamping tents are not dog-friendly, however).
Other options include these “soft camping” alternatives (just BYO sleeping bag):
• San Francisco/Petaluma North KOA: Bring your RV or rent a dog-friendly cabin and find out why this campground, with 312 sites on 70 acres, is rated one of the best in the West. Canine-centric amenities include a dog park and agility course, while for humans, there’s a swimming pool and full schedule of activities.
• Casini Ranch Family Campground, Duncans Mills, Sonoma County: This 110-acre private campground is strung out along a meandering mile of the deep-green Russian River. Bring your tent or RV, and your kayak or canoe and enjoy amenities including hot showers, a social hall, general store, movie nights, beach bonfires, and hayrides.
• Santa Cruz/Monterey KOA, Watsonville, Monterey County: At this award-winning, dog-welcoming KOA just a mile inland from the coast, guests can choose an RV site, a tent site, an Airstream trailer rental, or a cabin that provides shelter while you provide the sleeping bags. Kids get a bounce house and swimming pool; dogs get a playground and a pet bath. You can even have pizza delivered to your site.
• Coloma Resort & RV Park, El Dorado County: This family resort strung out along the American River in the heart of Gold Country (Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park is just across the bridge) offers tent sites, RV sites, dog-friendly tent sites, and pet-welcoming hard-sided cabins. Don’t forget inner tubes and gold pans!
• Yosemite Pines Resort, Groveland, Tuolumne County: Just 22 miles from Yosemite National Park, this popular base camp for visitors has dog-friendly cabins and tent sites. A big swimming pool, petting farm, and even a gold mine are among the amenities.
RESERVING A SPOT FOR SPOT
So, a friend told you about a great public campground to enjoy with your dog. But how do you find one on your own and/or make reservations? Here are three places to start:
• Reserve America handles reservations for 572 federal, state, private and regional park district campgrounds in California (a dog icon designates those that are dog-friendly).
• Recreation.gov is an umbrella site for reservable activities on federal lands, including camping in national forests.
A FEW TIPS
Be aware that most of California’s coastal campgrounds, as well as most in popular destinations like Lake Tahoe, are booked out six months in advance for summer visits, so snagging a last-minute weekend reservation can involve as much persistence as finding a bargain airfare to Hawaii at Christmastime. But it can be done, here’s how:
• Inquire about the cancellation window at your chosen location (30 days at Yosemite, for example), and call that many days in advance of your preferred dates, hoping a spot has opened up.
• Find out if your preferred campsite has any “first-come” or “overflow” sites in its inventory (most do). Take a risk by showing up at the gates about a half-hour before check-out time.
• Some popular coastal campgrounds use a lottery system to distribute sites made available through cancellations. If you’re flexible, this can work. • Choose a campground that operates purely on a first-come basis and arrive on a Thursday if you want to stay over the weekend.
• Go midweek, or wait until after Labor Day.
Main article photo by: Photo courtesy of DogTrekker.com