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SLO Tribune Article about the new book "Hearst Ranch: Family, Land, and Legacy"
San Simeon Creek Campground Aerial
Don't Wait Until Campfires & Barbecues Are Banned !!!
Don inspecting the Nacimiento Campground ------------------Spring is here !!! firecracker penstemon and sandstone pinnacle
DO BE CAREFUL! There is always danger and III fire restrictions now inplace and stricter rules will likely be instituted some time end of May 2015 because of drought and extreme wild-fire danger ...it was moderate on the coast but high inland...click for current fire restrictions
From my recent Hearst Castle country camping sojourns one important thing I have learned is that the time to go camping in Hearst Castle country is NOW, in May, before drought induced fire restrictions are upgraded again and water services are downgraded; fire restrictions were just finally lowered down from level 4 so now you can have campfires and charcoal barbecues anywhere in the Los Padres National Forest and California State campgrounds; to me if there isn’t a campfire and or barbecue then it isn’t camping.
Bottom line is get camping early without some miracle late season rains the fire restrictions will be upgraded again in end of May or June.
Don’t forget to pack water and hand sanitizer some campgrounds have gone or will sometime this year go dry. Other changes already here and coming soon to some camps and day use areas are the closure of showers and switch from flush toilets and sinks to emergency chemical toilets and hand sanitizer stations; San Simeon State Park has already shut the showers down (SLO Tribune) and replaced the day use area bathrooms with chemical units, Morro Bay State Park Campground still has showers for its paying campers at this time and Morro Strand California State Beach Campground still has running water in the restrooms and throughout the campground and some new hook-ups for RVs too. There are also outdoor showers one at the very west corner of Hearst Memorial State Beach San Simeon lower parking lot; there is also an outdoor shower by the restrooms at Morro Rock.
CAMP BY CAMP RUNDOWN; these are some of the camps I’ve stayed at or visited this March and April 2015/2014:
1. San Simeon State Park Campground - .06 mi south from Hearst Castle Visitor Center : May 4th. 2015 FEES: start at $20/25 for tent camps & up RVs ; over 100 campsites so there is usually room for you but you still might consider online reservations but their online reservations are not site-specific so to get a preferred site I just showed up on a week day mid-morning/mid-week. This is the campground nearest Hearst Castle and the beach is right across the highway; one of the best campground choices good for recreational vehicles up to 35 ft, there is a dump station etc.
ATTENTION still in affect: San Simeon State Park has been declared a Stage 3 Drought Emergency. In order to meet the park's basic water needs, San Simeon has been forced to take a number of drastic measures. The showers and water faucets in the campground have been shut off. They anticipate that the permanent flushing toilets will be closed, and porta potties will be installed. CAMPERS NEED TO BRING WATER FOR CONSUMPTION, hand sanitizer set out on your table is a good idea too. The Dump Station is open for the time being. The latest water and fire restriction information; also make a campsite reservation at ReserveAmerica.
2. Morro Strand State Beach - 27.6 mi south from Hearst Castle Visitor Center :- 15th of March 2015: I spent a night at Morro Bay’s Morro Strand Campground around the middle of March and found some things had not changed; there are still numerous tent sites right next to the beach in the stand (each with fire ring and picnic table) sheltered from the direct ocean breeze only by some scrub brush and small sand berms; one of the few places you can still camp right on the beach (tent sites are still $33.00 for seniors and $35.00 for others). There are no day use areas connected with the campground, which is nice, keeps the riffraff away (there is a very nice Cal State day use area a mile or so away at the very south end of Cayucos). There was no trouble finding a great spot on a Sunday afternoon and I had a fine but all to short stay the weather was nice (still you should take a kite to fly in the afternoon) but the truth is the campground was a real mess; they are just finishing up a major construction project there.
Get ready for a dream come true if you are a RV camper. The construction mess was from a whole line (about 30 new RV pull-ins) of long concrete pads with full hook-ups on each; sorry no cable but who wants to watch TV when you are on a Pacific Ocean front beach camp anyway?). New sites on the land side of the campground designed for ocean views provided to RVs up to 50 feet long. The only downside is that it will also cost you $50.00 per night but you will have to travel a long way before you will find an RV site that can compare. The state reports that the sites will be available to the public sometime in April 2015, so come and enjoy!
Also a great asset to have Morro Bay so close a short drive to play and since I didn't catch perch it was delicious fresh rock-fish and chips at Tognazzini's Dockside Restaurant & Fish Market or Giovanni's Fish Market & Galley. There is also Haufbrau with the best in the world French Dip for you beef eaters and a nice bayside walking path to work off those calories. No showers at the campground but there are flush toilets and washing sinks in the restrooms and spigots scattered around the camp also there is an outdoor shower available free by the restrooms at the rock. TIP: popular campground, if you want a premium spot you should reserve online ahead of time
3. Morro Bay State Park Campground - 32 mi south from Hearst Castle Visitor Center : 15th of March 2015; FEE: $35 & higher; everything up and running well including showers, recently refurbished one of the best campground choices especially for recreational vehicles that want plugins/hookups and dump stations etc. Lots of places to enjoy fresh seafood, ethnic food or even fast food, things to do, places to see...
4. Plaskett Creek Campground - 30 mi north from Hearst Castle Visitor Center : 4th of May 2015, this campground is the last choice of the coastal campgrounds, the location next to Pacific Valley Ranger Station close to the beach and some good trailheads...but the camp is not well kept like when the government operated it, lower level looks like a homeless camp, not much privacy for the sites on the upper level. On the upside the wonderful Sand Dollar Beach is just across the highway and it was perfect beach weather when I was there. TIP: park on the highway when going to the beach and avoid the $5 day use fee.
5. Cerro Alto Campground - 35.5 mi southeast from Hearst Castle Visitor Center : 27th of March 2015; FEE: $18; small beautiful campground; choice sites with privacy and separation some by a creek well kept and supported with all the amenities like running water; some temporary construction mess; 20 campsites with fire-rings and pedestal barbecues, 12 campsites are handicap accessible. Atascadero and Morro Bay both close by for food, supplies and entertainment.
SOME MORE DISTANT INTERESTING ALTERNATIVES
6. Nacimiento Campground - 46 mi northeast from Hearst Castle Visitor Center : May 4, 2015, FEE: $15 (the only reasonable fee except for the few remaining free), I like this campground a lot, it's right next to a creek (the Nacimiento River), shaded by giant trees; you can pull your rig next to the camp. Like Kirk Creek there seems to be no water. The Coast Ridge Road is close-by for scenic off-roading.
7. Ponderosa Campground - 49 mi northeast from Hearst Castle Visitor Center : May 4, 2015,, FEE: $20; some sites by the creek (Negro fork to the Nacimiento River) all upper hill camp sites open at time of this; short to long walks from vehicle to camps; very pretty, recentally cared for and little more open and warmer than Nacimiento Campground. Also near the Coast Ridge Road for scenic off-roading. Water is available although it tastes like sulpher. We had fresh trout for dinner when I was last there!
8. Pinnacles National Park Campground - 117 mi northeast from Hearst Castle Visitor Center : March 28th, 2014, Nice inland camping alternative with over 30 miles of beautifully maintained trails in another-worldly landscape with caves. Prices are reasonable ($23 per for my tent site); this is a popular park you probably want to make online reservations.
6. Carrizo Plains National Monument - 106 mi southeast of Hearst Castle Visitor Center : April 7/14, 2014, NO FEES: Get away from the crazy coast and everything else at Carrizo Plains National Monument: Spring Break craziness and overcrowding on the coast caused me to find a nice peaceful place to camp and sightsee not too far away. The park has two nice fee-free campgrounds, 250,000 thousand diverse and unique acres to explore and hundreds of miles of jeep roads to get around on. A few of the unique features are the San Andres Fault, a soda lake, plains and two ranges of mountains, there are also some ancient Indian pictographs. This monument provides countless adventures that are best enjoyed in the spring; it is the sunniest place in California and often exceeds 100 degrees in the summer.
Hearst Castle Country Camping Tips Spring 2015:
1. Get Online Reservations: most everyone is doing it; showing up mid-morning mid-week is often not enough to get you your favorite campsite; it was really busy when I went out because of spring break but many other young folks are using social networking to organize small groups; this is in addition to the usual young family campers...many camp hosts seem to think there will be no break until fall.
2.Take Water and firewood: take along water and or jugs to carry and plan to purify; bottled drinking water and a big bottle of hand sanitizer for the table are good ideas too. Many areas forbid gathering of firewood and the providers of for sale wood are few and the available firewood is expensive.
3. Go Soon As Possible: I can't stress this enough! It will of course get busier as the season progresses but the real dangers of waiting are the lack of water and possible campfire and barbecue restrictions early this year. What's camping without a campfire and barbecue?
4. Plan Ahead especially important for weekends and holidays: many people now reserve online if possible, this can assure you the most desirable site and keep you from being pushed out of the park back onto the highway. It is already almost impossible to find an open first-come-first-serve site on most of the Big Sur coast campgrounds.
Hearst Castle Country Camping Update May 18, 2015: Spring has sprung all over Hearst Castle Country! Many annual flowering plants and shrubs are in bloom now but browning and dryout is starting, golden are some hills in this poor drought ridden land. It is truly beautiful hurry quickly don’t miss it.
Ponderosa Campground up Nacimiento-Fergusson Rd has already opened the upper part of the camp and the water is flowing in time for the Memorial Day Weekend rush. Get your Memorial Day weekend or anytime after reservations as soon as possible, it is going to get busy and as previously mentioned fire restrictions and drought related problems will start early (like some water restrictions are already in effect on the coast).
I was out again Mothers Day and shortly thereafter things and inland campgrounds were almost deserted, the calm before the storm. Anyway last year I discovered two Ventana Wilderness backcountry campgrounds (listed below) off the grid and cutoff from civilization by a road closure if you care to go a bit out of the way you can camp in a primitive drive in campground that offers all the basics except water. Please do be careful and follow the USDF’s rules, regulations, and suggestions regarding fire.
But do camp out and enjoy and appreciate Hearst Castle Country…Happy Camping!
Head out for Hearst's "Hacienda" Guest Lodge & Hacienda Bar by the Mission San Antonio de Padua
on Fort Hunter Liggett Army Base, Jolon CA
The coast isn't always the best place to be or camp, it can get foggy, or too crazy and busy...so if you head inland up Nacimiento-Fergusson Rd to camp at a spot like Ponderosa Campground why not go a few more miles and get the flavor of the old W.R.H at vintage east ranch headquarters what is now the Hacienda Hearst Guest Lodge by the historic Catholic Mission San Antonio de Padua and take a trek even less traveled and try one of these campgrounds 12 and 14 miles further north of Fort Hunter Liggett Army Base:
8. USDAFS Memorial Campground : - May 11/13, 2015 -- Nice Ventana Wilderness backcountry camping with miles of beautiful hiking trails in another-worldly landscapes of exposed sandstone bluffs, make connections to other trails, back roads, historic sites, and backpack camps also a route along the Arroyo Seco River with close by swimming too. The is a FREE campground, this is not a popular park because it is out of the way and limited to one entrance because of a landslide/road closure; it is first come first serve and does get full like popular weekends such as Memorial Day weekend. Eight primative campsites with all the basics except water and firewood; camp sites have campfire-rings, charcoal grill stands, picnic tables, 2 vault restroom toilets, recycle bins & garbage cans, elbow room and nice views. Go to Fort Hunter Liggett turn onto Mission Road to Del Venturi Road. Travel 18 paved miles to the campground.
9. USDAFS Escondido Campground : - May 10th, 2014, a bit further and higher in elevation than Memorial Campground but also has miles of beautiful hiking trails one which leads to the Arroyo Seco River. The area is teaming with wildlife and beautiful flora. The fee is FREE ; 8 primative campsites with all the basics except water and firewood; camp sites have campfire-rings, charcoal grill stands, picnic tables, vault restrooms, and recycleables & garbage pick-up. Go to Memorial Camp then 3 rough unpaved narrow road miles to the Escondido campground.
More about these camps: These are a couple of rare out of the way “hidden jewels” that hate to advertise so they may stay that way (the already are becoming more popular and fill up at times). There is plenty of great scenic hiking and abundant wildlife if you like those sort of things and a few good campers if you care for a little good human company.
The surreal landscapes surrounding these campsites still bears the scars from the 2008 wildfire that ripped through and burned all the way to the coast a reminder to take extreme care with fire. The large scared trees that survived and the small 6 to 8 foot pine and 3 to 4 foot madrone replacements have are a testament to the hardiness and resilience of nature but are also provide fuel for wildfire should that happen. Please do be careful and follow the USDF’s rules, regulations, and suggestions regarding fire.
But do get out and enjoy and appreciate the Big Sur…Happy Camping!
site in Morro Bay
State Park campground