Best Vacation Lodges in California
December 13, 2017
"Find the Game and Stay, Find the Fish and Settle in" trumpeted the copy of a 1962 trailer ad that appeared in one of the outdoor magazines at that time.
Beyond the fact that I enjoy perusing vintage outdoor ads, I do have a point. In 1962, the question of where to stay was an issue for hunters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts. And the same question remains today.
At the end of the day, when you're bone tired after filleting those big salmon, or hooking all those trout, or dragging out that handsome buck, where are you going to stay?
Are you going to rough it in a tent? Will you drop big dollars to enjoy the comfort of a well-appointed trailer or RV? Or perhaps you'll drive the miles back to town at the end of the day to stay at a motel.
To be sure, we've all got opinions about outdoor lodging, and we've all got our own individual styles. Yet, there are some options that most California hunters and anglers seem to be less aware of. I'm talking about state and federally owned "public cabins."
If you want to get away to the wilderness for a little hunting or fishing, state and federal agencies in California offer dozens of lodging opportunities in the form of cabins located near some of the state's best destinations for anglers and hunters. In general, they offer rustic lodging and you are responsible for providing your own food, stove, cooking utensils and other necessities. Let's take a look at some of the great options scattered around the state.
JEDEDIAH SMITH REDWOODS STATE PARK
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is one of the true jewels of far Northern California, and that's saying a lot in a state that features hundreds of miles of Pacific Ocean beach, vast stretches of high mountains, massive rivers and pristine lakes.
Jedediah Smith is the most northern of a series of redwood parks that dot the Northern California coast. The park is a short drive from the ocean and boasts an ancient forest of massive redwoods. The forest is vast, making up a 7 percent of the world's remaining old-growth redwoods. Lodging opportunities abound within the park, with 62 standard RV accessible campsites along with 18 tent-only sites.
In terms of cabins, the park features four of them, all of which are ADA accessible. The cabins have electricity, heaters and lights, but no kitchens or bathrooms.
Within the cabins there is no smoking, cooking or open flames. Each cabin has a fire pit, BBQ pit and picnic table. No pets are allowed.
The cabins sleep a maximum of six people. Each features two bunk beds. There are no mattress pads, so you'll need mattresses and sleeping bags.
Cabins begin at $80 per night. Prices may vary by season. For reservations, visit www.reserveamerica.com.
The park is located in Del Norte County, which includes a number of outstanding freshwater and saltwater fisheries.
The Smith is the largest wild and scenic river in the United States that has been left un-dammed. Since the river system maintains almost 200 miles of hospitable salmon and steelhead habitat, the river sees some of the finest runs of Chinook salmon and steelhead in the country.
The river is also home to cutthroat trout, some of which reside in the river year-round while others run to salt.
The area averages about 100 inches of rain per year, which explains the powerful flows of the river. The free-flowing river has been known to rise or fall as much as six feet in a day and is admired for its exquisite emerald green color.
Once heavily logged, most of the watershed is made up of parks. Most of the river is easily accessible from paved state highways or county routes.
Angling methods include spin, bait and fly-fishing. For salmon and steelhead trout, the best times are January through March. For Chinook salmon, the peak season is October through January. With special regulations, you can fish for cutthroat trout in Late April through November.
The famous Klamath River also offers great king salmon and steelhead fishing. For Chinook salmon, fish the spring run (May â€“ July), the fall run (August â€“ September) or the winter run (October â€“ December).
Ocean fishing for salmon and rockfish is great during the seasons off the Del Norte County Coast out of Trinidad and Crescent City. In May through September it's salmon season. Make sure to check with the Department of Fish and Wildlife for the latest regulations.
From May through December, fish for black, blue, copper, yellowtail, vermilion and other rockfish, lingcod, sea trout, and cabezon. During some seasons, you can troll for albacore tuna.
Nine miles east of Crescent City on Highway 199 - 707-465-7335 - parks.ca.gov
AccomModations: Four cabins with electricity and heaters are available.
MCARTHUR-BURNEY FALLS STATE PARK
The area around Burney is known locally as California's intermountain region. Deer are abundant in the hills and mountains. To deer hunt in this area's national forest lands, you'll need to draw a C-Zone tag. Purebred mule deer and blacktail deer are present, as are mule/blacktail hybrids.
For the bird hunter, the region boasts both waterfowl in the form of ducks and geese as well as species such as quail, doves, grouse, turkeys and even wild pheasants.
Fishing in the Intermountain region is focused on trout residing in both the area's deep cold lakes and mountain streams, but there are warmwater species such as catfish and crappies available too.
McArthur-Burney Falls State Park is an ideal headquarters for hunters and anglers that want to access opportunities in the Intermountain region.
The park is situated within the Cascade Range and Modoc Plateau.
The 129-foot Burney Falls take center stage in the park. The falls, while not the state's largest waterfall, is arguably the most beautiful. Spring fed Burney Creek provides the water for the falls. As much as 100 million gallons of water a day plunges over the falls and then ultimately flows into Lake Britton.
In addition to a plethora of both tent and RV camping sites, McArthur-Burney Falls State Park features 24 one- and two-bedroom cabins situated within walking distance of both the falls and the park's general store.
Each of these new cabins is well-insulated against chilly nights and is equipped with propane heaters, platform beds with foam pads, wood floors and covered porches. Cabins are offered in two sizes, an 18-foot cabin with one set of twin-size bunk beds and a 24-foot cabin with two sets of twin-size bunk beds. These cabins also have extra mattresses that can be used on the floor, making the sleeping capacity for the 18-foot model four people and six people for the 24-foot cabin.
Cabins come with a fire ring for campfires, outdoor table, and space to pitch a tent outside. All rental cabins are a short walk from a restroom with flush toilets and showers. All you need to bring are some sleeping bags and a battery-powered lantern or two, as the cabins have no electricity.
Smaller cabins go for $82 per night and the larger cabins run $105. Prices may vary by season.
To reserve a cabin, go to www.reserveamerica.com.
Over the past 30 years, I've spent a lot of time enjoying the hunting and fishing in the intermountain region. With so many options, it's tough to pick the best of the best. If I had to choose one fishing and one hunting opportunity to focus on, I'd fish for trout in Hat Creek and chase waterfowl and upland birds at the Ash Creek Wildlife Area.
Northeast of Redding, six miles north of Highway 299 on Highway 89 near Burney - 530-335-2777 - parks.ca.gov
AccomModations: 24 one- and two-bedroom cabins are available.
PFEIFFER BIG SUR STATE PARK
The Big Sur/Monterey region of Central California is home to outstanding saltwater fishing opportunities. There are lots of lodging opportunities in this region, but in most cases, you'll pay dearly for a bed in this iconic tourist-rich region. A notable exception to this can be found at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park/Big Sur Lodge.
This state-run facility offers lodging aplenty and the prices are much more affordable than almost anything else in the region.
In terms of camping the park provides 218 tent and RV sites. If camping or hauling an RV isn't your style, The Big Sur Lodge features 62 lodge cottages. Some have fireplaces and some don't. Some have kitchens others do not. The largest units sleep up to six adults. None of the rooms have phones, TV or radios. Pets are not allowed.
Cabins rates begin at under $200 and range up, depending on size and features. Rates may vary by season. To book a cabin call (800) 424-4787 or visit bigsurlodge.com.
Saltwater fishing opportunities are diverse in the Big Sur area. Surf anglers working from area beaches routinely catch handsome surfperch, rockfish and lingcod. For perch, work from the sand. For rockfish and lings target rocky areas.
There is a great sleeper striper fishery along the central coast. It's not uncommon for surf anglers hoping for a 2-pound perch to end up tethered to a 15- or 20-pound striped bass!
Monterey Bay and surrounding waters are a kayak angler's paradise. The main target of kayakers are rockfish and lingcod. Light tackle is the rule here, with anglers tossing a variety of soft plastic black bass style swimbaits and various metal jigs.
Kayak anglers that are in the know routinely round up halibut, salmon and even white sea bass both inside and outside Monterey Bay.
A number of prominent charter boats operate out of Monterey. The fishing experienced by the region's charter anglers can be downright incredible. Deep-water trips to Point Sur produce lingcod to 30 pounds and big numbers of large vermilion rockfish.
Charter boat rockfish and lingcod anglers score most of their fish while dropping shrimp flies, heavy swim baits and metal jigs. At times, live bait in the form of small squid or sardines is available. And this is when things go from exciting to insane. Big lingcod have a tough time laying off a struggling squid or baitfish.
In the spring and early summer, charter boats often target Chinook salmon with both trolling and mooching gear. The salmon average about 8 pounds and range up to and beyond the 30-pound mark.
Late summer and early fall are albacore time for Monterey charter boats. The tuna make a showing in these waters every year, but the numbers fluctuate. When the numbers are up, the action can be fast and furious on hard charging tuna that range from 15 to 45 pounds and more.
Typically, the fish are located by trolling. Once a hookup occurs, the school is drawn into the boat and held close with live anchovies tossed into the water as chum. At this point, anglers hook the albacore with both live baits and artificial lures.
We've covered several of the excellent hunting and fishing base camp options available to hunters and anglers. There's no shortage of opportunities for outdoors enthusiasts to find a spot near the action.
Near mile marker 47.2 on Highway 1; The park is 26 miles south of Carmel - 831-667-2315 - parks.ca.gov
AccomModations: Big Sur Lodge offers 62 cottage-style guest accommodations offer a wide array of options.