School bells all over California have begun ringing. School has started in most areas, or will start shortly. Football, soccer, band, homework, clubs of all kinds start taking up a lot of time.
What this means for the outdoor types around here is simple. The pressure on the campgrounds, trails, and day use areas is much less now. Tahoe is about to enter the late summer into autumn shoulder season.
What we all know is that when the summer weather is good, the mountains can start to feel a bit crowded. Easily reached spots especially feel that way. While there's always places off the major maps where things are less hectic, summer is vacation time and it's great that so many families take advantage of what we have here.
With the campgrounds having spots available, the best bet is still, if you can swing it, to go camping or hiking during the week. If that's not possible, you'll still enjoy a bit more solitude on the weekends. There's no football in the mountains, and as far as I know, the marching bands aren't up there either.
Where to head to? It's almost mind boggling what's within reach, just in the El Dorado and Tahoe National Forests.
Closest campground is Sly Park in Pollock Pines. Big lake, well run by EID, great campsites, within a short drive from almost anywhere in the county.
Next in line is the entire Crystal Basin Recreation Area. How many campgrounds? A metric ton just about nails it, or to be a bit more precise, around 700 campsites.
Ice House has plenty of space and nicely dispersed campsites, in three campgrounds. It's the closest one when you're headed up into the recreation area. Great places to just sit around, fish, boat, or take long naps.
Gerle Creek has two campgrounds, is smallish and a bit more compact. Great family spot.
Union Valley is big, really big. There are 11 different campgrounds there. A paved bike path rolls through the area, and you can boat, fish or hike all day long, start the next day to do the same thing, and not visit the same spot twice.
Further up the road is Loon Lake. With 7 different campgrounds, two of them for the equestrian types, one boat in spot, there's just too much to do up there for this column to get too far into it. Just go, and enjoy a really fine time. Keep in mind that it can get a bit windy up there.
Wrights Lake is small, and wonderful. One of the three camping areas there is set up to accommodate RV's and trailers, as well as tents.
The other is a tent only area, and the third is a horsie area. They are great places to relax, fish, ride, and paddle your boat.
No motors of any kind are allowed on the lake. Hikes to Twin Lakes, or just up onto the granite, or over to Rockbound Pass, will take you into the great Desolation Wilderness.
Not far past the turn to the Crystal Basin is the Sandflat campground. It's right on the American River, just off Highway 50. Good hiking and splashing about in the river are on the menu here.
Further up Highway 50 there's the Lovers Leap campground in Strawberry. It's on a first come, first served basis. It's small. Hikes to Slippery Ford, or to Horsetail Falls are close by. Of course, there's the world famous Lover's Leap itself, and you'll find the campground a favorite with climbers who are intent on getting to the top of that beautiful chunk of granite.
Once you get to Tahoe, you're faced with even more fantastic choices, and just to add to the list, Hope Valley, Blue Lakes, Woods Lake, Caples Lake, Kirkwood Lake and Silver Lake are all going to call out to you, sooner or later.
As we get deeper into the back end of summer and the budding school year, all those campgrounds will have more spaces available.
It's also a time of year that you have to start paying more attention to when daylight begins to fade out. As we get closer to the Autumnal Equinox, the days are slowly growing shorter and the nights longer.
You just have to pay more attention to the end of the day. You'll want to be back at your campsite before it gets dark.
Take advantage of the great weather and less crowded conditions. Soon enough, snow will begin to grace the Sierra. At least, that's the hope.