For most three-day weekends, looking for a campsite, a full lake or a fish to cast to, can make you feel like a prisoner of hope.
Not this year. Play your cards right, and there will be no despair when you hit the road for the Memorial Day weekend.
Early melting of snow between 6,000 and 8,000 feet is allowing mountain highways and many roads to open for this weekend. Along with it, many campgrounds are opening as well. That has dispersed campers across a much wider area and offered a much larger range of choices than in past Memorial Days, including last year’s snowbound affair.
In addition, lake levels are not only high across Northern California, but dozens of major recreation lakes are near full and smaller lakes in the high country are right to the brim. Want more: The fishing often has been great this month for bass and trout at reservoirs in the valleys and foothills, and for striped bass this week in San Francisco Bay.
The wild card for the weekend is weather. Mike Pechner, Northern California’s weather wizard, said there is a chance that a low-pressure system could swing through the region Friday night, which would drop temperatures and bring the possibility of showers or afternoon thunderstorms.
Across Northern California, campground availability is good, for the most part, with some prisoner-of-hope exceptions. Three of the sites where it is difficult to get a reservation are the trail camps at Point Reyes National Seashore, the campgrounds in Yosemite Valley, and on the Monterey Bay coast. If that’s your desire, you have to play the reservation game, when the sites first become available over winter.
Roughly 1,200 campgrounds, plus hundreds of private resorts with cabins and campsites, are in play in for the coming summer. Here are more than 100 destinations from which to choose:
Rec-lake levels: Los Vaqueros Reservoir (96 percent full), Del Valle (96), San Pablo (96), Chabot (93), Lafayette (73), Uvas (60), Calero (44), Lexington (48), Anderson (46).
Campsites available: Mount Diablo State Park near Walnut Creek; Brannan Island State Recreation Area on the Sacramento River Delta; Little Basin near Boulder Creek; Henry W. Coe east of Morgan Hill. First-come, first-served: Primary sites include trail camps and walk-in sites at Pantoll and Bootjack at Mount Tamalpais State Park; Castle Rock Trail Camp on South Peninsula Skyline; Henry W. Coe backcountry sites; Santa Cruz Mountain backpack sites.
Campsites booked: Coast, Glen, Sky, Wildcat at Point Reyes National Seashore; Kirby Cove at Marin Headlands; Angel Island in S.F. Bay; Chabot, Del Valle at East Bay Parks; Half Moon Bay State Beach; Butano near Pescadero; Big Basin Redwoods in Santa Cruz Mountains.
Major lake levels: Lake Tahoe, lake elevation measured at 6,228 feet (the natural rim of lake is 6,223 feet and its maximum is 6,229), Stampede (98 percent full), Donner (96).
Campsites available: State Parks: Tahoe State Recreation Area, Sugar Pine Point, Donner Memorial. Lake Tahoe Basin/Forest Service: Bayview, Fallen Leaf Camp, Kaspian, Meeks Bay, William Kent, Nevada Beach all opened this month. Luther Pass is scheduled to open Friday, Blackwood Canyon Campground, June 1. Sold out: Near Emerald Bay, D.L. Bliss State Park and its five campgrounds.
Contact: Taylor Creek Visitor Center, Forest Service, South Lake Tahoe, opens this weekend, (530) 543-2674, http://www.fs.usda.gov/ltbmu.
Yosemite, central Sierra
Road openings: On Monday, Tioga Road was opened for summer from Crane Flat, up past Tuolumne Meadows and over 9,943-foot Tioga Pass and down to U.S. 395 near Lee Vining and Mono Lake. Glacier Point Road was opened three weeks ago. Access to Mariposa Grove is projected to open June 15.
Camps open: All four campgrounds in Yosemite Valley are open, plus Wawona and Hodgdon Meadow. Tamarack Flat is tentatively projected to open Thursday, and Crane Flat is projected to open Sunday. Others along Tioga Road, from White Wolf to Tuolumne Meadows, will be closed this weekend. Waterfalls: With warm weather jump-starting snowmelt early this week, creeks are high and waterfalls are at peak. Major lake levels: Beardsley (99 percent full).
Contact: Yosemite National Park, (209) 372-0200, http://www.nps.gov/yose.
Crystal Basin, Eldorado National Forest: The access road (paved) is clear from U.S. 50 past Ice House to Union Valley Reservoir, with some snow patches as you approach Loon Lake. Camps open: At Ice House Reservoir, three campgrounds open by Thursday; at Union Valley, four campgrounds open by Thursday, six more open Friday; at Gerle Creek Reservoir, two campgrounds open by Friday; at Loon, projected opening date is June 15.
Contact: Crystal Basin Information Center, opens Thursday, (530) 647-5415, http://www.fs.usda.gov/eldorado.
Lakes Basin Recreation Area: Gold Lake Highway is open from Bassetts Station to Graeagle. A look-see last weekend showed that the camps are in good shape for so early in the season. Camps open: Berger, Diablo, Packsaddle, Salmon Creek, Sardine, Snag Lake.
Major lake levels: Frenchman (101 percent of capacity and spilling), Antelope (101), Union Valley (98), Loon (98), Davis (98), Bucks (95), Bullards Bar (94), Ice House (90). In Lakes Basin, Sardine, Packer, Gold, Salmon, Haven, Goose, Long are 100 percent full.
Central Valley & foothills
Major rec lakes: Tulloch (100 percent full), Folsom (97), Don Pedro (94), Kaweah (94), Englebright (93), McClure (92), New Melones (83), San Luis (79), Millerton (78), Eastman (78), Indian Valley (76), Oroville (69), Turlock (69), New Hogan (68), Black Butte (49). Others of note: Lake Berryessa is roughly 7 feet below the rim of the Glory Hole; Clear Lake is 4.8 feet at the Rumsey Gauge (7.56 feet is considered the brim).
Campsites available: Clear Lake State Park, Folsom Lake State Park, Lake Oroville State Rec Area, Millerton Lake SRA, San Luis Reservoir SRA, Turlock Lake SRA.
Road opening: On Saturday, the Lassen Park Highway will open to bicycle traffic, a cool once-a-year event. The road will open Sunday to traffic over the summit at the foot of Lassen Peak. For now, you can drive as far as the Devastated Area on one side, the Sulphur Works on the other. Camps open: Manzanita Lake will open Friday. Butte Lake and Warner Valley are projected to open June 8, others by the end of June. Note: Outside the park, Forest Service campgrounds along Highway 89/Hat Creek are open.
Contact: Lassen Volcanic National Park, (510) 595-4480, http://www.nps.gov/lavo.
Major rec lakes: Whiskeytown (98 percent), Lewiston (94), Siskiyou (90), Almanor (90), Shasta (89), Trinity (78). Road openings: In a breakthrough for Memorial Day weekend, the snow drifts that usually block access in the Trinity-Divide, on Stewart Springs Road to Parks Creek Trailhead, and on South Fork Road at the foot of the Mumbo Basin, have cleared enough to provide access to dozens of hike-in lakes
Source: Tom Stienstra