SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Summer officially begins on Friday, June 21, 2019, which means it is the season to stake your claim and pitch a tent.

The Sacramento Valley's is full of premier camping destinations. Here are five campsites close enough to travel to on a tank of gas...or less! 

1. A Night at Calpine Fire Lookout

In the Sierra Nevada mountains of Tahoe National Forest is a Wildfire Lookout Station you can rent. The Calpine fire lookout is a 1930's windmill-style lookout located 40 miles from the town of Truckee. Don't bring a heavy bag, this three-story structure has no elevator. 

Campers sleep in the observation room, which is surrounded by windows. Calpine fire lookout is managed by the Tahoe National Forest and requires reservations that can only be made online. There is no electricity, but campers will be provided with propane cook stove, lanterns and a clean outhouse. A high clearance vehicle is a must in the summer and campers can hike to the location. The station is open year round, although summer is great for hiking and wildlife viewing and winter is good for snow-shoeing.

Directions: From Sierraville, the lookout is approximately 10 miles north on State Highway 89. During the winter months, access is by snowshoes, skies or snowmobiles on a two-mile trail with a 1,000 foot elevation gain.

Activities:

  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Winter Sports
  • Hiking
  • Camping
  • Biking

2. Camp the Yuba River in Washington, Calif. 

One simply doesn't pass through the little town of Washington, one ventures to Washington. 

This quirky little mountain town is 20 miles from Grass Valley and dead ends at a number of premier swimming holes. Situated along the Yuba River, camping at any one of the four campgrounds in Washington is the place to be on a hot summer day. Surrounded by trees and high mountains, this is a great spot for hiking or a wild ride on your dirt bike or all-terrain vehicle [ATV]. 

The town is centered around the Washington hotel which serves up good food and cold brew. Forget your cell phone, there is no service in city limits. Less than 100 people live in Washington and it is home to one of the last remaining, active one-room school houses. Let the kids run wild, Washington is so small you can call them in with a dinner bell. The best time to visit is between May and October, but make sure to come the second weekend of July for the horse shoe competition.

Directions: From Sacramento, the resort is an hour and a half away on I-80 E. Make sure to turn onto Washington Road off of Highway 20.

Activities:

  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Winter Sports
  • Hiking
  • Camping
  • Biking
  • ATV
  • Gold panning
  • Fishing

3. Pitch a tent at Mount Diablo State Park

Just an hour and a half from Stockton is a camping getaway for hikers, sight seers and insect enthusiast alike. Mount Diablo State Park has camp sites at Juniper Campground and Live Oak Campground. Mt. Diablo is home to a diverse population of wildlife and vegetation. The top of Mt. Diablo is accessible by trail and car. 

The state park is open year-round. In late September and early October, the tarantulas can be easily found as it is mating season. In the evening hours, park interpreters will take you on a tarantula tour. 

Directions: Take Highway 680 to Walnut Creek.

Activities:

  • Bike Trails
  • Hiking Trails
  • Horseback Riding
  • Historical/Cultural Site
  • Exhibits and Programs
  • Guided Tours
  • Vista Point
  • Nature & Wildlife Viewing
  • Museums
  • Geocaching

4. Rough it on the Middle Fork American River

Want a more rugged experience with a lake and two wild rivers? 

Look no further than Auburn State Recreation Area. This is a rafters dream where the North Fork and the Middle Fork of the American River collide. For the fisherman, boat ramps make it easy for larger vessels to access Lake Clementine. You won't find crowded RV parking lots here. Of the three public campgrounds, many have primitive amenities or require you to hike into your camp spot. Both rivers are beautiful, but deserve respect. Bring a life jacket and leave your blow up swimming pool toys at home. Reserve a trip with an experienced rafting guide who will take you through Tunnel Chute, the nation’s only underground white water rapid.

Directions: The park, which is 20 miles long on two forks of the American River, is situated south of I-80, stretching from Auburn to Colfax. The main access is from Auburn, either on Highway 49 or the Auburn-Foresthill Road.

Activities:

  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Rafting
  • Hiking
  • Camping
  • Biking
  • Fishing

5. Pitch a tent or dock a boat at Lake Berryessa

With 673 acres of divers terrain, there's plenty of room to enjoy Lake Berryessa at the Putah Creek Wildlife Area. From luxury "glamping" to under the stars sleeping, there's a place for all at any one of the half dozen public and private camp sites. Located just 28 miles west of Woodland, the quaint little town of Winters is the gateway to Lake Berryessa and worth a stop. The Monticello Dam is key to containing Berryessa’s water and you can’t go home without taking a picture in front of the famous "Glory Hole". It’s the dam’s unique spillway that looks like a giant bathtub drain.

Directions: 10 miles west of State Highway 128 in Winters to just east of the Monticello dam in Napa County, California, 

Activities:

  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Boating
  • Hiking
  • Camping
  • Biking
  • Fishing

Check out the interactive map for more places waiting to be found on Northern California's backroads. Join the conversation with John on Facebook 

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