Another blue pin goes in our state parks map, this one being the recommendation of a very cool teacher friend. I think he would really prefer I not blog about this place at all, frankly. So let’s just say, it was, meh. It was ok. No big deal. Not worth the trip really. You’ll see from the pictures it was nothing special. Definitely don’t go there.
This region of CA is the quintessential Sierra Nevada experience. As such, you are going to be in for steep climbs and descents, no matter what route you take. This is important to recognize if you’re planning a biking or hiking outing. The climb into the park itself is a serious grind, hitting 15-20% grades in a seven-mile, sustained uphill challenge. And, as with many state parks, as soon as you begin the ascent off the main road, cell service completely drops out. The reward speaks for itself if you’re looking for a genuine, high Sierras, remote camping experience. The upper Jamieson Creek loop straddles a river that is running full throttle right now, following a very wet winter. Meadows along the way are in full wildflower bloom as well, so coming from the north, down Highway 89 most of the way was definitely a treat.
This is not a big rig campground, though we did see some longer trailers managing to squeeze into the sites closer to the river. Our site had plenty of room between other sites and good privacy in the form of trees and shrubs. It was a bit of a challenge to level, including leveling the grill in the picnic table area. Good thing we came prepared. There is also no electricity anywhere in the campground and even the lights in the bathroom are powered by propane.
We got lots of fantastic advice from my buddy, including all the places in the little red town of Graeagle where there’s WiFi. It makes for a perfect little shot of civilization, where you can find everything you might need, including gas, groceries, restaurants, and cute artisan stores. And, of course, cell service. It’s a nice safety net to balance the rustic seclusion of the campground. This worked out perfectly for Richard, who needed to get some work done during the week. I got to hook up with some Altoistes friends who happened to be in the area. I was really worried we’d pass each other as we headed down to town in a cell service dark zone. Had they mentioned they had a huge animatronic gorilla in tow, I would not have been as concerned about missing them. We had a lovely time catching up, including hearing the story behind the gorilla.
We then got to do some driving in the Lakes Basin area, partly to get some beta on whether this would be a reasonable bike ride for Richard. Short answer: yikes nope, at least not the whole thing. Once you get up the huge, relentless climb, the road becomes more of an up and down roll, so that part he was able to do. There are so many mountain lakes up there, I don’t think I could identify which picture belongs to which lake. Around every corner there is another one, each with its own uniquely breathtaking backdrop of snow capped peaks and lush pine forest. The water is crystal clear, being comprised largely of snowmelt. Rivers crisscross the landscape in between. It is just stunning.
On another day, we did a sagged bike trip to the town of Portola. This appears to be a hub of information for the local cyclists. The town park has big displays with maps of all of the popular local rides, complete with mileage and elevation descriptions. It looks like they do a century in that area, so it’s well used to bikes. That afternoon, we returned to Salmon Lake and I got in a nice paddle while Richard rode a truncated, post crazy climb, version of that road.
Hiking was minimal for this trip, but we did try the short trail from the campground up to Grass Lake. We should have known better really. Even though it only says it’s a 1 ¼ mile trail, the first ¾ was a steep, rocky, uphill, stair-steppy climb. Once past that part, it’s not too bad, but it was more than we were prepared for as a late afternoon stretch of the legs. It’s a good thing the days are long and we didn’t have to hurry back before losing the light. I earned my margarita that day.
In a word, I’d sum up this campground as remote. It would actually only take about four hours from home I guess (not towing), but you get the full woodsy experience in a state park run, well maintained campground. There are plenty of national forest campgrounds in the area and up by the lakes, with vault toilets and some sites that might accommodate a small trailer like the Alto. And really, the campground roads are all paved and civilization is a mere seven miles away, so it’s not as out there as it feels. Kind of a high Sierra camping Nirvana. And by that I mean, it’s terrible. Awful and hellish. Stay away for sure.
Total miles from Manzanita Lake: 164.8, 17.7 mpg, 4 hours 30 min. Site 58. A little bit of solar, but not enough to not need the generator. NO cell, not even occasional. Nice bathrooms, though the one right next to us was closed. Dump and potable water on site. Many of the sites are very unlevel, so read the site descriptions carefully when reserving.