When I think of camping I immediately think of the scent of pine trees, of crackling campfires, playing in lakes and streams, sticky roasted marshmallows sandwiched between graham crackers, the thrill of trying to find the bathroom in the middle of the night in a forest lit only by the stars and the beam of your flashlight. You are cut off from your To Do Lists, your chores, your work, and ideally the internet. I absolutely love camping for the peace it brings to those few days away.
In Lake Tahoe, you get all of that.
The drive up Highway 395 was beautiful. We stopped in Bishop for lunch, caught a glimpse of Mt. Whitney, passed the Owens Dry Lake Bed and Mono Lake as well as several other lakes. There were several rivers, some hot springs, and even a Japanese concentration camp to explore as well. The drive through the Mammoth area was stunning and I’ve added it to my list of places to visit.
What struck me as I drove North was just how empty California really is. Much of this state is complete wilderness. I drove for 7 hours straight and only found one town with a population higher than 1000. Growing up an hour from LA I am used to seeing people everywhere. I spent my childhood exploring the coastal cities of California and rarely ventured into the eastern or northern parts of the state. To me, California was made up of San Fransisco, Los Angeles Beaches, Hollywood, Yosemite, the deserts and Bakersfield. As an adult, I have found that there are huge parts of the state I have never visited. Everything north of Sonoma County (that’s like 5 hours of driving before you hit Oregon), Death Valley, Mammoth Mtn, and Mt. Whitney. There is even the Kern River and several lakes near where I live, which I have never visited. This is why one of my goals is to travel my own state as much as I can. It is super cheap to be a local traveler and many people never do it.
We wanted to be right near the lake so I chose to reserve a tent site at The Campground By The Lake, in South Lake Tahoe on the CA side. The campground was very large and clean, each site was spacious and had a lot of shade. There were bathrooms with flush toilets not far from the campsites. They have free hot showers and a large washing area where you could wash dishes if you needed to. They sell firewood at the front ranger station and there is a Safeway grocery store less than a mile away.
The local library is on the edge of the campground in case the kids needed a quieter indoor activity or you need internet access. Or even just a place to charge your phone. I found a laundromat a couple of miles away that had free wifi so we were able to wash all our clothes halfway through our trip which meant we didn’t need to bring as much stuff.
The lake is right across the street and has a little beach for kids to swim in. The water was warm in September and so clear you could easily see the bottom through several feet of water. The beach is only a 5-10 minute walk depending on where your campsite is. They also sell ice cream and drinks at a little stand nearby in case you need a snack.
Kayak and boat rentals were also located right on the beach. The day we went kayaking was the day they set up a free concert right on the water. It was amazing! We paddled around in kayaks listening to live music and watching the people dance.
There were only a couple things I didn’t like about this campground. First is that it is basically right in the middle of town, right next to the highway so you will hear cars and city noises. Also, Nevada is just a couple miles down the road, which means casinos galore right on the state line. I honestly hate casinoes so these were an unexpected and unwelcomed sight. Thankfully the campground is far enough away that I never really saw them until we went home. Secondly, I was not prepared for how cold it would be at night. Even in the hottest part of summer I still froze at night so bring a real sleeping bag and extra blankets.
Lastly, the drive up the mountain to get to Tahoe will test you, to say the least. It is curvy and steep with long drop-offs and people drive like they have lives to spare. I couldn’t imagine doing that drive in bad weather. I would probably have a panic attack. I’ll just say, make sure you have excellent tires, have your brakes and radiator checked before you leave, and if you don’t like heights close your eyes and have someone you trust drive.
We had a long list of places we wanted to visit but ended up only going to Alpine Falls, which was beautiful and a blast to explore. The kids had a great time climbing on the rocks and swimming in the pools of water. We did find fresh blood on the rocks, which was sobering. Someone must have fallen earlier in the day and was bleeding quite a bit. I took that opportunity to teach the kids why they needed to be extra careful on the slippery rocks, why we needed to stay away from the blood because it could be carrying diseases, and how to find safe places to enjoy the water. You never know when you will come across things that could be scary for kids, but if you use them as learning experiences kids won’t be afraid, but will instead learn how to take care of themselves and make safer choices.
Overall, we loved our time in Lake Tahoe. This campground would be perfect for the beginning camper because of its proximity to local grocery stores, laundromats, and Starbucks. It has free hot showers and flush toilets that are cleaned every day. There are art galleries, museums, waterfalls, swimming, casinos, water sports and more adventures all within a few miles of the campground. You could easily buy all your food once you arrive or day by day as needed.
My final thoughts on Tahoe:
- Bring extra blankets, even in summer.
- Fill up your gas tank in Nevada or outside of Tahoe. Gas in Tahoe is expensive!
- See what free events are happening and go to them. It’s a great way to experience a new place. In Tahoe, we enjoyed a free outdoor concert, free yoga on the beach, swimming, hiking a waterfall, and there is so much more we didn’t get to.
- Tahoe is definitely a peaceful, and a relatively inexpensive, trip. I don’t remember the exact numbers but I spent about $700-$800 on the entire trip for 5 days, including the gas to drive there and back.
- For free wifi go to the library or take some clothes down to the laundromat.
- Try something new! This was the first time we went kayaking and we loved it! Something we all want to do again.
Tahoe was so much fun I definitely want to go again. There was a lot we didn’t get to see and I can’t wait to go swimming in that sparkling blue water again.