Almost every public campground in California is dog-friendly, but that doesn’t mean your dog is welcome to hike with you, even on a leash. At most state and national parks, dogs are confined to paved paths, fire roads and picnic areas. If those rules don’t fit your free-roaming style, take heart: There are plenty of other places to camp and hike with your best four-legged friend. Here are two campground-rich areas in Northern California that get the DogTrekker paw of approval.
Crystal Basin Recreation Area, Eldorado National Forest: Five lakes with 25 dog-friendly campgrounds and 700 sites between them dot this 85,000-acre recreation area stretching up Ice House Road from Highway 50 east of Pollock Pines. The lakes are managed by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District for water storage and power generation, and each has its own personality.
Union Valley and Ice House, at the bottom of the chain, are the largest and very popular for camping, fishing, boating and biking on paved trails. Families with kids love Gerle Creek Reservoir, the next lake up the road, for its fishing pier, no-motorboats policy, large campsites and “pirate island” in the center of the smallish lake. Loon Lake and Wrights Lake are granite-bound, high-altitude bodies of water with trails leading into dog-friendly Desolation Wilderness Area.
All campsites and 117 miles of trails in the Crystal Basin are dog-friendly, but watch out for bears! Campground reservations are handled through recreation.gov. Stop at the information center/ranger station on the way up for a map, and bring everything you need for the duration of your stay, as the upper lakes are quite removed from “civilization.” Some sites will be closed a month here and a month there for improvements; check here for a schedule.
Carson Pass Area: Sierra Nevada scenery doesn’t get much prettier than along Highway 88 over Carson Pass. And because most of the lakes and trails in the area are on national forest lands, you won’t encounter as many restrictions on dogs as at state and national parks. One caveat: This is high-altitude country, and unless you have a high-altitude sleeping bag, bring an extra blanket or two and soft, warm hat to keep you toasty at night.
The gem of all the Carson Pass campgrounds, in our DogTrekking opinion, is Woods Lake Campground in the Eldorado National Forest. This first-come, first-served gem is set among Ponderosa pines on a pretty paddling lake off Highway 88. The main attraction: Quick access to a 6-mile loop trail that qualifies as one of the most gorgeous hikes in the northern Sierra. The 25-site campground, open July through October, is set at 8,200 feet, so you’ll want to acclimate for a day or two before setting out.
Hike the loop in a clockwise direction for quick reward with views of Little Round Top, a volcanic peak specked with snow into late summer (you can also climb it, if you’re so inclined). The trail continues to Lake Winnemucca and an area known for stupendous wildflower displays in early July. The Round Top-Winnemucca Loop is in the rugged Mokelumne Wilderness. Dogs must be leashed in the campground and also in the vicinity of Winnemucca, where you’ll encounter many other hikers on the trail. Come midweek to snag a spot, and have a backup plan.
Other campgrounds in the vicinity include Kit Carson, Kirkwood, Silver Lake East and West, Caples Lake, Hope Valley and several sites around Blue Lake, which is managed by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. Summer cabin resorts in the area include Kit Carson Lodge and Plasse’s, the latter of which also has a campground for tents and RVs.