Bark for some of our favorite dog-friendly campgrounds

Dog in sleeping bad with tent in background
Favorite campgrounds.

California is incredibly rich and varied in terms of geography, and its thousands of dog-friendly campgrounds are equally as diverse. From the mountains to the ocean to the desert, there’s no shortage of places to pitch your tent, park your RV or cuddle up in a cabin with your pet if you so desire. We can’t begin to spotlight all of them, but here are a trio of our favorites dog-camping destinations.

Mammoth Lakes
If you’re not rich in gear (or even if you are), bring sleeping bags and pads and rent a cabin at Camp High Sierra, operated by Mammoth Mountain (tent and RV sites available, too). A family favorite for almost a century, the compound encompasses lots of kid activities, from ping-pong to campfire s’more sessions. Dogs are welcome, but they must stay with you at all times. 

Outside that relatively cushy accommodation, there are dozens of places in the Mammoth Lakes region to camp, many of them adjacent to scenic lakes and streams. We’re partial to Convict Lake Campground, adjacent to a gorgeous cliff-surrounded lake that is a photography favorite. Also check out the Lake Mary and Twin Lakes campgrounds, other good choices for those who want to be near the water.

Lake Tahoe
Between state parks, Forest Service campgrounds, city, county and private camping preserves, there are many, many choices—but be flexible to snag a reservation, because they’re all busy season long. DogTrekker.com provides some good references, and this map helps to locate options all around the lake.

Among our faves: The very popular (and hard to get into) Nevada Beach Campground, right on the lakeshore is unique in that dogs are allowed to romp leash-free at its sandy boat-in beach. There’s also a paved, 2.6-mile biking-hiking trail.

Highway 50 Corridor: The southern route to Lake Tahoe holds many attractions of its own, including lakes, streams, waterfalls, numerous campgrounds and multiple entrance points to Desolation Wilderness Area, a vast space where well behaved dogs can accompany you off-leash on day hikes or overnight backpacking excursions (permits required either way). Easiest access is at Echo Lakes, a sparkling pair of gems at Echo Summit. Park in the lot on Johnson Pass Road, get a permit (and refreshments) at the Echo Chalet kiosk and take off on the Pacific Crest Trail

While summer and fall are not the best times of year to enjoy gushing cataracts, you can earmark mark Horsetail Falls and Bassi Falls for a spring or early summer visit next year. Meanwhile, you’ll have good luck snagging a late-season camping reservation at a string of lakes in the Crystal Basin Recreation Area in the Eldorado National Forest north of Highway 50. The series of reservoirs—Icehouse, Union Valley, Gerle Creek and Loon—are managed by the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District (SMUD). All are dog-friendly and very scenic destinations. 

Highway 88 Corridor
The Highway 88/Carson Pass corridor between Jackson and the 8,652-foot pass south of Tahoe traverses a rugged world with myriad camping and hiking possibilities. Kirkwood Lake, Emigrant Lake, Silver Lake, Woods Lake and Caples Lake, to name just a few, all boast developed campgrounds, and there are private campgrounds in the area, too. For hikers and backpackers, the Mokelumne Wilderness is an unleashed paradise to enjoy with your dog. 

A ruff-worthy campground suggestion for dog hikers: Woods Lake. It’s small and first come, first served, so you’ll want to arrive midweek. The main attraction: On-site access to the Round Top-Winnemucca Loop. It’s three miles (one way) to dramatic Round Top, a regional landmark at 10,381 feet, and another three miles to placid Lake Winnemucca. Bring a hiking stick (or two) to test snow depth, as white stuff at higher altitudes can persist all summer long. Bring winter clothing, too, as the campground sits at 8,000 feet and gets plenty chilly.

Posted on: July 27, 2022

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