Top 10 Family Fishing-Camping Destinations

California is jam-packed with places to take your family camping and fishing. But to make our Top 10 list, they must have awesome camping, excellent fishing and something else nearby for family fun! (June 2007)

The spray from Burney Falls kept Tom Smith cool as he caught and released this healthy brook trout at the state park.
Photo by Brian Sak.

No matter where your interests lie, California -- with 4,800 reservoirs and lakes, more than 1,100 miles of coastline and 30,000 miles of rivers and creeks -- has nearly endless camping and fishing opportunities. You might think that finding a quality location to take your family would be easy. But with over two million licensed anglers and even more campers, the selection process isn't always straightforward.

With summer right around the corner, now's the time to dig out the camping gear and begin planning your outings. And the key to selecting a destination they'll talk about for years is making sure that it has something that appeals to every member of your family.

You want well-maintained campgrounds, a better than average potential for catching fish, and non-fishing activities nearby.

Don't know where to begin your search? Take a look at the 10 destinations below. Each offers something different from the others with one simple exception -- the fishing at all of them is excellent.

JEDEDIAH SMITH REDWOODS

This is California's northernmost coastal redwood park, located at the confluence of the middle and south forks of the Smith River. The Smith's crystal-clear waters are often the only ones that remain fishable after winter storms. That makes it one of the state's most fishable rivers year 'round. But the angling here is not for novices.

The stars of the show are the huge salmon and steelhead that move into this river annually. For salmon to 40 pounds, plan a trip between late August and December. For steelhead, try January through March.

You'll catch both species right in the park at popular locations like Cable Hole, Chub Rock and Park Hole. During the summer, you'll also catch resident rainbows.

Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is considered a coastal campground, but lies far enough inland that summer fog is rarely a concern.

There are 108 general campsites, plus several accessible only to hikers and bikers. The river flows right through the park, and anyone with a drift-boat, canoe or inflatable is welcome to float. For information, call the park at (707) 464-6101. For reservations dial 1-800-444-7275.

Campers who want a change of pace can go to nearby Ocean World in Crescent City. You can observe fish from local waters, watch seals and sea lions perform, and caress sharks in a touch tank. For other ideas, call the Crescent City Chamber of Commerce at (707) 464-3174.

LAKE MARGARET

Families looking for a genuine backwoods experience should put Lake Margaret at the top of their list. You'll be only about four miles off Highway 299 in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, it will seem like you've traveled days from civilization. You'll have to join Wilderness Unlimited to go here, but the membership fee is small compared to the experience.

This is a cold-water fishery at its best, with plenty of rainbow, brown and brook trout. Anglers trolling or casting a variety of spoons and in-line spinners take rainbows. Browns are primarily targeted in the spring and fall with floating plugs. Flyfishermen using nymph patterns do best on the brookies.

Camping at Margaret is a wilderness experience, with no amenities available other than chemical toilets. And with just 12 sites, whether in an RV or tent, you'll feel like you have the place to yourself. A caretaker controls access, and a handful of boats are available to members at no charge. If you don't want to row, you'll have to bring your own electric motor and battery.

For more information or to become a member, call Wilderness Unlimited at 1-800-498-9818.

It's unlikely that you'll want to stop fishing at Lake Margaret. But those who do can roar down the Pit River's white waters on a guided rafting adventure. For other ideas, call the Burney Chamber of Commerce at (530) 335-2111.

MCARTHUR-BURNEY FALLS

Described by Teddy Roosevelt as the eighth wonder of the world, this state park's waterfall is a must-see before breaking out your tackle.

The power of 100 million gallons of water per day cascading 129 feet into an eerie blue pool is worth the trip to this remote destination.

Although Lake Britton often pays off for smallmouth bass fanatics, it's the world-class trout streams that have anglers coming back. Rivers and creeks open on the last Saturday in April and close Nov. 15. Some have special regulations, so check your state Department of Fish and Game handbook before going. Beginners should start in Burney Creek above the falls, where in-line spinners take lots of stocked rainbows.

McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park has 128 campsites spread out over 875 acres. The park has restrooms, showers and an RV sanitation station, plus a general store and visitor center near the entrance.

At Britton, there are a ramp, seasonal boat rentals and a roped-off beach for swimming. For information, call the park at (530) 335-2777. For reservations, dial 1-800-444-7275.

Family members who enjoy hiking can get away from the water on much of the 62 miles of Pacific Crest Trail that wind through the region. For other ideas, call the Burney Chamber of Commerce at (530) 335-2111.

CLEAR LAKE

Considered by many the best trophy largemouth fishery west of the Rockies, Clear Lake offers families a shot at catching that bass of a lifetime. But don't let its name fool you -- the water here is as green as it gets. The pea-soup hue is a good thing, however. The abundance of nutrients gives Clear Lake color and also jump-starts a healthy food chain.

Stands of flooded tules -- and there are plenty lining the shores of the park -- are a favorite hangout of Clear Lake's biggest largemouths.

You can't go wrong weaving spinnerbaits through sparse fronds or working poppers parallel to the edges. Try pitching bulky plastics to openings in thicker vegetation when the bite gets tough.

Four campgrounds offer 147 sites with tables, fire rings and food lockers. Running water is

available in each campground, although only three have developed bathrooms with hot showers. Although there are no RV hookups, there is a dump station.

Boaters have the use of a multi-lane ramp, slips and battery-charging stations. For information, call the state park at (707) 279-4293. For reservations, dial 1-800-444-7275.

Once you've landed your share of bass, take the kids out on the water for some float-tubing fun. Rentals are available in Lakeport, only minutes from the park. For other ideas, call the Lake County Visitor Information Center at 1-800-525-3743.

EAST BAY PIERS

Along the East Bay side of Northern San Francisco Bay, San Pablo Bay and the Carquinez Straights, there are several piers open to public fishing. Piers at Berkeley Marina, Point Pinole and Martinez offer unique angling opportunities. You can fish without a license, have easy access to the water and get a good chance at catching saltwater fish without a boat.

The best part about pier-fishing, which is often good year 'round, is that you never know what you're going to hook. But you can increase your odds of catching particular bay species by going when they're biting. From June through November, one of the most popular targets is striped bass. Try using light tackle to soak live bullhead or pieces of anchovy.

In addition to providing spectacular views of the waters you'll be fishing, the campgrounds at Mount Diablo State Park offer a centralized starting point for day trips to East Bay piers. There are only 56 sites, however, so families wishing to stay here should make reservations early.

Although some sites accommodate RVs to 20 feet, trailers are not recommended. For information, call the park at (925) 837-2525. For reservations, dial 1-800-444-7275.

The San Francisco Bay area offers numerous away-from-the-water opportunities, but one of the most popular is catching an Oakland A's home game at McAfee Coliseum. For other ideas, call the Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce at (925) 934-2007.

LAKE TULLOCH

Most anglers drive right past the turnoff for Tulloch on their way to New Melones, Don Pedro and other well-known Sierra fisheries. They obliviously don't realize that some of the best fishing in the foothills lies only minutes away. Tulloch offers rainbow trout, largemouths, smallmouth bass, and catfish. But during summer, it's the panfish that provide non-stop action.

Anglers catch bluegills from shore around the campground by soaking redworms below a bobber. The secret is keeping your bait just off the bottom.

Upriver from the reservoir, boaters take a variety of species by drifting small soft-plastics parallel to the steep, rocky banks. Casting small poppers to submerged grass works well for crappies.

Upgrades to Tulloch's South Shore facilities have made this one of the nicest campgrounds in the state. Visitors now have more than 100 sites to choose from, including a few with full hookups. There are also some lakeside cabanas and cabins. There's a general store, restaurant and bar in the campground.

Boating enthusiasts will find a multi-lane ramp and marina with berths, gas and rentals. For information and reservations, call the campground at (209) 881-0107.

Families wanting a break from the lake can put on their cowboy boots and tour the restored gold-mining town at Columbia State Historic Park.

For still other ideas, call the Highway 120 Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-449-9120.

MAMMOTH LAKES

Families putting a premium on relaxation will discover what they're looking for at this Eastern High Sierra destination. This is where Ansel Adams and John Muir found the inspiration to fuel their creative endeavors. Whether you choose to cast or play, it will be done at a leisurely pace here. And you'll do it in the shadow of dramatic granite bluffs, regal pines and ultra-clear waters.

Hatchery-raised rainbows are the most common species in creels at Mammoth, although there are opportunities for brookies and browns. Some of the best fishing for both state- and privately planted trout is at Twin Lakes, as well as at lakes Mamie, Mary and George.

Bait-dunkers find success with redworms, while flyfishers favor dry offerings. If you prefer to cast artificials, you'll have to downsize your favorite spoons and spinners.

Several campgrounds in the Mammoth Lakes area are available, with most accommodating both RVs and tents. You should check the specifics of the campground that you're interested in, but nearly all have tables, fire rings, piped water and restrooms.

Supplies, laundry facilities and propane are available in the town of Mammoth Lakes. For information, call the Mammoth Lakes Welcome Center at (760) 924-5500.

The Mammoth Lakes area offers an abundance of alternative activities, but a creepy favorite is a trip to the ghost town of Bodie. For other ideas, call the Mammoth Lakes Visitors Bureau at 1-888-466-2666.

LAKE NACIMIENTO

There are times when it's fun to go where the party is, and Nacimiento is without a doubt one of the state's more social destinations. You'll encounter lots of pleasure boaters, skiers and personal watercraft here, but the crowds don't translate to poor fishing. There are plenty of 5-mph areas and sheriff's patrols to keep things under control.

You'll find opportunities for largemouths, smallmouths and spotted bass, catfish and several species of panfish at Naci. But it's the white bass that tire anglers' arms. If you're on the lake during spring, when water temperatures are in the high 50s, motor upriver and cast spinners in the shallows for spawning whites. Troll crankbaits wherever you find baitfish when waters are warmer.

Nacimiento's facilities are huge, offering over 300 sites in six distinct campgrounds, along with several lake-view lodges. There's a store, restaurant, swimming pool, playground, and courts for basketball, volleyball and horseshoes.

Boaters will like the massive multi-lane ramp and marina with fuel, berths and supplies. Boat rentals are also available. For information and reservations, call the concessionaire at 1-800-323-3839.

To get away from Naci's crowds and experience a bit of California history, visit Mission San Miguel Arcangel or Mission San Antonio.

For other ideas, call the Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce at (805) 238-0506.

BIG BEAR LAKE

The San Bernardino National Forest is known for its winter recreational opportunities, but camping anglers shouldn't overlook the area.

This high-elevation mountain lake, less than 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles, offers some of the finest rainbow trout fishing in the region.

The best way to take rainbows at Big Bear is by slow-trolling, keeping your offerings relatively shallow throughout spring and fall, and deeper during the warmer months. Try a variety of spoons, small minnow plugs or night crawlers, with and without flashers, until you find what the fish want. Areas along the shoreline at the west end of the lake produce most of the trout.

Serrano, open April through November, is one of a few campgrounds within walking distance of Big Bear Lake. You'll enjoy plenty of elbowroom, thanks to 132 size-specific sites. For supplies and a variety of restaurants, you'll need to drive 15 minutes to town. There's no ramp at the campground, but boaters can use the nearby East Launch.

For information, call the Big Bear Discovery Center at (909) 866-3437, and for reservations, 1-800-280-2267.

If you're camping at Big Bear, a side-trip your family shouldn't miss is Moonridge Animal Park, where black bears, mountain lions and other alpine creatures grab visitors' attention. For other ideas, call the Big Bear Lake Chamber of Commerce at (909) 866-4607.

POINT MUGU

For families who routinely visit the mountains or fresh waters, these coastal campgrounds offer a change of pace. Bordering the park, miles of warm sandy beach provide ideal conditions for sunbathing, swimming and exploring. You'll also enjoy some of the best fishing during the dog days of summer.

Plenty of surfperch are taken off the beach at Point Mugu, but you'll want to target the California halibut that move in throughout the warmest months of the year. Use frozen anchovies on two-hook bottom rigs, and cast as far as you can -- if you don't get a bite after five minutes, reel in several feet. But don't stay in any one spot for too long. The key is to stay on the move until you find fish.

At Point Mugu State Park, you'll have the option of roughing it on Thornhill Broome Beach or staying in a developed site at the Sycamore Canyon campground. Developed sites have tables and fire rings. Though there are no hookups, most accommodate small to mid-sized RVs.

For information, call the park at (805) 986-8591. For reservations, dial 1-800-444-7275.

Turn an ordinary Point Mugu camping trip into something special with an excursion to the Channel Islands with Oxnard's Island Packers. For other ideas, call the Oxnard Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-269-6273.

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