I decided to make this post because I have done a super lot of research for this project and I need to keep it all straight and share the results with a few people.
I wanted to do a camping trip for burn week this year because the burn is canceled. I had considered going to the playa anyway but the Elders of the Paiutes have asked that people not do that because it would place a burden and elevated covid risk on the local population which is already at increased risk and lacking vital resources to respond to the pandemic due to centuries of systemic racism and institutional neglect.
So I turned my sights to Tahoe. I’ve been camping there several times in recent weeks, and decided it would be a great place to camp as an alternative burn week. I really liked Tahoe SRA and Nevada Beach Campground.
In July when I made this decision, I checked all the camp grounds in the greater Tahoe area and unfortunately none of them had reservations available for August 28th-September 6th. Luckily there are lots of options for campgrounds which do not take reservations. Though none of these walk-in options provides showers, when I stayed at Tahoe SRA down the road, lots of people showed up after the rangers left for the day to either squat on unclaimed reservations or use the showers, so there are definitely ways to get a real shower if you really want to. But keep in mind that if you’re going to be at the pristine lake all day, you’re going to come back to camp pretty clean.
Walk-In-Only Tahoe Campgrounds
These are developed campgrounds on the lake which do not take reservations. They are first-come, first-serve. So showing up early means you are likely to get a spot. My first choice will be to do lake forest for the first half of the trip (8/14-8/28) and then bayview for the second half of the trip (8/28-9/7).
Bayview Campground: This would be the most ideal option because it’s at the top of the peak surrounding Emerald Bay so it would be an amazing view plus the sites are pretty big and the campground has good reviews.
Lake Forest Campground: This is a great option because it is on the lake and right in the middle of town. Downsides are that it’s close to the noisy main road.
The challenge is going to be showing up in time to get a spot. I would probably shoot to arrive early Thursday morning or Friday morning and it seems very likely that we could get a spot at one of these two campgrounds.
Nevada-Side Primitive Camping
There are lots of primitive campgrounds on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. These have restrooms and water but no showers.
North Canyon Campground (Exact Location): This seems like the easiest one to get to. It’s just off the 50 in the mountains above Secret Cove. The linked location shows the campground entrance and the restrooms. If you keep going on this road, there are also two more campgrounds, both also primitive. All three of these campgrounds have bear boxes so that makes things a lot easier. The one downside is that you can’t drive in. You have to walk in, and it’s three miles from the parking lot to the camp sites. Seems extremely likely to have a lot of openings.
One cool thing about North Canyon Campground in Tahoe is that if you Google it, it will redirect you to a campground in nearby Carson City with the same name. There is nothing at all on Google Maps about the real Tahoe North Canyon Campground location. If you go to street view, you can find it where the topographic maps from the park service says it should be, but Google has not heard about it yet. This is very exciting because probably most people will not know about this or be able to find it.
California-Side Primitive Camping
There are a number of lodges called “huts” along the crest of the Sierra Mountains just to the west of Lake Tahoe. I spoke to someone at the Sierra Club which owns the huts, and they said that while the huts are technically not open for reservations because of covid, they are not locked, and water and restrooms are definitely open and available.
Normally dozens of people will sleep together in a large room in the lodge but obviously that’s not safe right now. The Sierra Club is advising that no one sleep inside because of covid risks, but camping outside in a tent is still fine, according to the person I spoke to at the Sierra Club.
Bradley Hut (Exact Location): This is actually on a road just off 89 so it’s on the way to Tahoe from Sacramento and SF. It’s about half an hour from the nearest grocery store and about an hour to secret cove. Everything in Tahoe seems to somehow be about the same distance from everywhere.
Ludlow Hut (Exact Location): This one is a little closer to things, and also it’s right on its own lake, but it’s a bit more of an adventure to get there with only dirt roads that may require some creative navigation.
One more thing to keep in mind about California-side camping is rain shadow. Because of the topology of the lake, basically all of the precipitation comes on the California side. If it’s going to rain, it will probably be in the north-western area of the Tahoe region.
If the lodges are not to everyone’s satisfaction, I am personally very pro-primitive camping on public lands. BLM land is free for camping and you can basically just show up and camp guaranteed; there are tens of thousands of acres available at each trailhead so there is no limit on how many people can camp there. Also it’s sort of unknown and hard so it’s weirdly not something people take advantage of.
There are lots of good spots very close to Tahoe where the Pacific Crest Trail intersects roads and there are services like bathrooms and water. I found a few good examples where we can definitely camp for free as a backup if the two walk-in sites don’t work out.
Granite Chief Wilderness (Exact location): This is about 26 minutes to the nearest grocery store and about an hour to secret cove which is basically the same as the other campgrounds I’ve stayed at in Tahoe. It has a restroom and water.
I am currently planning to spend the previous week at North Canyon and then show up early Friday morning on the 28th at Bayview and try to get a spot. Bayview seems like the all-around best option. If that doesn’t work, I will try Lake Forest Campground, and then probably just go back to North Canyon. If for some reason all the campgrounds do not work out, then Bradley Hut seems to be the best remaining option.