Camping season doesn’t need to end when winter comes, it just requires a little more planning and a taste for adventure. Many of the upper elevation campgrounds will stay open as long as weather permits and will be half price due to seasonal water shut-offs, while the foothill campgrounds can be mild and sunny and a perfect base to explore Calaveras in winter. Read on for our recommendations.
Upper Elevation: Winter Mountain Camping
A night out in the solitude and quiet of winter can be an unforgettable experience, and it can be quite accessible if you’re using one of the convenient Sno-Park parking areas along Ebbetts Pass near Bear Valley. From these staging areas, for which you will need a parking permit, you can hike or snowshoe a short distance away from the road. If the snow is shallower than one foot, you might want to leave the skis or snowshoes behind and keep it simple with a decent pair of warm boots and gaiters.
We don’t recommend winter camping following heavy snowfall or if it’s in the near forecast for anyone that doesn’t have experience in those conditions. We do recommend you check in with Mountain Adventure Seminars, who have both paid courses and free lectures on avalanche awareness and rescue. Definitely check their free lecture schedule if you’re in the Bay Area, as they will be offering them throughout December and January at REI stores.
The nice thing about using the Sno-Parks or camping at Calaveras Big Trees S (see below) and other Forest Service campgrounds is you stay close to civilization just in case you need to bail out. That said, here are a few tips to help you on your way:
- Pick an open, flat area and stomp out a space for your tent.
- Three season tents with a rain fly will usually suffice unless it’s storming or windy
- If you don’t have a winter sleeping bag, try taking two 3-season bags and stuffing one inside the other.
- Warm feet are critical. Stop into SNAC in Arnold for a solid pair of cold weather boots – or try a puffy pair of moonboots or snowmobile boots.
- Don’t forget ample layering of clothing, as well as hats and gloves. No cotton! It does not insulate and soaks up moisture from sweat that will chill you. Use synthetic materials, down, wool, polyester blends, etc.
- Water! It’s way too easy in the cold to not drink enough water, and no, you can’t eat snow.
- Bring sunglasses and sunscreen, and a headlamp with extra batteries for those long nights.
Winter Camping at Calaveras Big Trees State Park
Be among the first to experience a wintery night under the giant sequoias at Calaveras Big Trees State Park. The park, which just won our 2016 Innovations in Tourism award, offers nightly rentals in its rustic cabins. These furnished post-war cabins are located a short walk from the North Grove Trail, each offers two bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room, and a private bathroom as well as an outdoor fire ring. From $165
Prefer to be closer to the elements? This winter the North Grove campground will stay open for tents and RVs, with coin operated hot showers available. Sites 1-11 can be reserved or sites 12-25 are available on a first-come, first-served basis. From $35
Cabins and campsite reservations: Reserve America
Lower Elevation: Winter Foothills Camping
The mild temps and sunny days of winter make the foothills a fabulous option for camping. Park your rig or pitch a tent among the oaks on rolling green hills and explore the miles of hiking and biking trails, or launch your watercraft at one of our reservoirs’ established year round campgrounds.
Winter Camping at New Melones Lake
Campgrounds are open and available from $18 nightly; Click here for reservations and lake info.
Winter Camping at Lake Hogan
Built in 1964 on the Calaveras River just outside of Valley Springs, New Hogan Lake offers 177 campsites – all of which are currently open, as well as several day use and picnic areas. Most day use areas including recreational trails around the lake are free. There are also now two disc golf courses. Camping is available from $20 nightly; Click here for reservations.
Winter Camping at Lake Camanche
Camping from $16 night / $150 week; Cottages from $115 night / $570 week. More info: www.camancherecreation.com (209) 763-5912.
Winter Camping at Lake Tulloch
Lake Tulloch Campground and Marina will provide the amenities you need for camping, boating and provisions for a great day on the water.
Camping from $23 nightly; Cabins from $100 nightly
For reservations: www.laketullochcampground.com or 800-894-2267