Campgrounds Within Two Hours of Sacramento For First-Timers
Camping in the great outdoors is one of the quintessential American pastimes. Many have fond childhood memories of piling into the car and heading up to the hills for a few nights of “roughing it.” There’s nothing like sleeping under the stars, telling ghost stories over a cracking campfire, or squishing roasted marshmallows between two graham crackers.
But for those who haven’t done it before, the idea of giving up creature comforts to live off the grid can be a bit intimidating. If you’re not a seasoned camper, it’s best to take baby steps before jumping head-first into a hard-core backcountry adventure. There are plenty of campgrounds near Sacramento that have some of the comforts of home to ease you into your first wilderness trip. Plus, the following locations are less than two hours from Sacramento, so if you really can’t hack it you can easily turn around and come back home.
Clean restrooms, showers and easy access to the wineries of the Napa Valley – what more could you ask for in a camping spot? Bothe-Napa Valley State Park is tucked away in a redwood grove just off the highway. There are miles of hiking and biking trails, a historic grain mill and pioneer cemetery, and a trickling creek. When the valley temperatures climb, you can even take a dip in the campground’s refreshing pool. If you’re not quite ready to pitch a tent, they also have camping yurts available, complete with fire rings and picnic table. Tent sites are $35/night; yurts are $55-$75.
Think camping requires a long car ride on winding mountain roads? Think again. Sly Park is just a little over an hour from Sacramento, with easy access off Highway 50. It’s one of the most kid-friendly spots around, with interpretive trails and a large lake ideal for swimming, boating and fishing. Some campsites are right on the water’s edge and range from $35-$80 a night.
Scotts Flat is another campsite less than two hours from Sacramento, making it popular for weekenders and those short on time. If you’re into water sports, this is the place for you – there are kayak and paddleboard rentals right on the shore. The campground has flush toilets, hot showers and even a playground for the little ones. There’s a scenic picnic area with swimmable beaches, barbecues and tables, plus a store for any items you may have forgotten to bring with you. Campsites are $25-$45 per night.
Located on the eastern shore of Union Valley Reservoir in the El Dorado National Forest, Sunset Campground is aptly named for the colorful skies that fall over the lake come evening. There are several campgrounds in the vicinity, but this one has plenty of space, a boat ramp, a swimming beach and access to a paved lakeside bike trail. There are only vault toilets here, but there are pay showers at nearby Fashoda Campground. Sites are $28 per night.
If you’re itching to see some of California’s old-growth sequoias, head to Calaveras. In addition to towering trees, the park also has nature trails, picnic areas and a visitors’ center. In summer, there are ranger talks, interpretive programs and activities for children. The campground has flush toilets, pay showers and piped water. Bonus: the wine-tasting town of Murphys is just down the road. Sites are $35 per night.
If you’re looking for the Tahoe experience without driving all the way over the mountains, head to Donner Lake. This serene lake just off I-80 has crystal alpine water, a beach, a public boat ramp and plenty of Mackinaw and trout for anglers. In the summer, there are guided tours and programs for families. The visitors’ center depicts the tragic story of the Donner Party while the Pioneer Monument commemorates those who emigrated to California in the 1800s. Campsites are $35 per night.
If you’re a first-time camper who has your sights set on Tahoe, your best bet is D.L. Bliss State Park. Located on the West Shore, it’s easy to access from South Lake Tahoe and close to many of Lake Tahoe’s most popular natural attractions, including Emerald Bay and the Rubicon Trail. The campground has restrooms, showers and a museum. D.L. Bliss is also home to an underwater park, where experienced scuba divers can explore the unique geologic formations below the lake’s surface. Campsites are $35-$45 per night.
If you want to get a taste of camping but want to stick really close to home, check out Folsom Lake. There are two main campgrounds here: Beals Point and Peninsula, both near Granite Bay. Both have hot showers, piped water and flush toilets. Beals Point has an adjacent beach, complete with snack bar, barbecue areas and watercraft rentals. It also has access to the American River Bike Trail, which stretches all the way to Old Sacramento. It’s close to town, meaning you can fuel up, grab your s’mores stuff, and even pick up some takeout if cooking over an open flame isn’t your cup of tea. Peninsula campground is more remote, but still has flush toilets and piped drinking water. It also has boat launch facilities. Sites at each campground are $28-$32 per night.