You know what to pack but where do you go for your first camping adventure?
Picking your destination and duration will depend on what you want out of your camping trip. If you want exciting, long hikes go for places with central campgrounds and lots of day hike options. I call these options “camping with day hikes.” If you want to sleep out in the wilderness with very few other people around go for the “overnighters”.
Yosemite seriously is a paradise for hiking and camping. If you could only go on one trip ever I’d suggested Yosemite.
Camping with day hikes
There are tons of short, half day and day long hikes in Yosemite ranging from granny paths (flat and paved) to 16 hour backcountry slogs. My suggestions here are more strenuous than the average tourist stroll but are not restricted to the extreme hiker.
Camp at Tuolumne Meadows and pick a couple of day hikes in the area such as Clouds Rest, May Lake and Cathedral Lakes. We have done this many times and it is very enjoyable. You can even have a nice beer in the evening without having to carry it on your back all day.
Camp in Yosemite Valley and pick a couple of day hikes such as Yosemite Falls or Nevada Falls via the Mist Trail. If you camp in the valley you can use your own tent at some of the camps but there are also options to use the fixed tents that are already pitched at Housekeeping Camp and Curry Village. We have done this many times. It’s particularly nice in winter when the park is quiet and empty. Hot chocolate from the breakfast bar in the morning will make the chilly air and early starts pretty sweet. And, of course, the fixed tents will keep you much warmer at night as well.
One nice trip would be Sunrise Lakes and Cloud’s Rest. Start at the Sunrise Lakes trailhead, hike out to Sunrise campsite, setup camp and then continue on the hike to Cloud’s Rest. Return to Sunrise and stay overnight at Sunrise. Return the next day. We have not done this whole trip but we have seen the trails and it looks like a nice trip with not too much heavy pack carrying. We have hiked Clouds Rest and it is my favorite hike in the park (so far).
Sequoia National Forest area
Many of the National forests such as Sequoia have dispersed camping. This means that you can drive up the backcountry roads and camp in the cleared areas at the side of the road. You will need to visit the ranger station to find out which roads are open and to get a free campfire permit. This option is actually a good combination of the “away from it all” feeling but without the heavy pack hiking. The roads are empty and you see very few people camping. There are often no facilities at all so you will need to create a fire and dig a hole for a restroom. If you stay close to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park you can visit the sights there in the day time.
California state parks
If you want somewhere closer to home to just try out your gear then there are lots of State Parks close by that have fairly nice camping.
Some suggestions are Angel Island State Park and Big Basin Redwood State Park. Angel Island is right out in the bay opposite Alcatraz and Big Basin in very close to Santa Cruz so both are very accessible to those living in San Francisco or the Bay Area.
I hope these suggested trips give you some ideas to start planning your first trip. Let me know where you go!