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THE GREAT OUTDOORS: A RECREATIONAL GUIDE | BY LAND

Call of the Wild

Great Campgrounds Abound in Southern California

June 06, 1997|STEVE HYMON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

What makes a campground great?

Jaw-dropping scenery. Accessibility, but the campground shouldn't resemble a Winnebago parking lot. It helps to have hiking and fishing nearby. Clean restrooms are nice, too, especially if you are accompanied by a reluctant camper (everyone knows a reluctant camper).

During the summer, it's best to have a reservation. If reservations aren't accepted, get to the campground early and have a backup plan in case the campground is filled. Don't expect to arrive Friday night or Saturday morning and find a space.

Three camping tips:

* When it comes to weather, always expect the unexpected.

* Never keep food in your tent, unless you want to get up close and personal with the animals.

* Don't forget the bug spray.

Here then, from north to south, is a sampler of 20 great campgrounds in Southern California:

* Bridalveil Creek, Yosemite National Park--This campground is south of the crowded Yosemite Valley at an elevation of 7,200 feet. There are numerous trails nearby into the backcountry, including the trail to Chilnualna Falls and Ostrander Lake. Facilities: Flush toilets, grills, picnic tables, water. Fees: $10 per night. Reservations: Not accepted. Contact: Yosemite National Park, (209) 372-0200.

* Minaret Falls, Inyo National Forest--The 27-site campground sits alongside the middle fork of the San Joaquin River, about 15 minutes from Mammoth Mountain. The river is loaded with both wild and stocked trout and the Pacific Crest Trail passes through the campground. Nearby attractions include Devil's Postpile, Rainbow Falls and the Ansel Adams Wilderness. Because of heavy snowfall last winter, the road to the campground may not be opening until July. Call ahead. Facilities: Pit toilets, picnic tables, fire rings, piped water. Reservations: Not accepted. Fees: $9 per night. Contact: Inyo National Forest, (760) 924-5500.

* Moraine, Kings Canyon National Park--Located near Cedar Grove Village, Moraine is the final developed campground before the park's considerable backcountry begins. That means plenty of day hikes into the backcountry without having to lug all your stuff in a backpack. The Kings River is in back of camp, too. There are four other camps nearby if this one is filled. Facilities: Flush toilets, showers, picnic tables, fire rings, piped water. Reservations: Not accepted. Fees: $6-14 per night. Contact: Kings Canyon National Park, (209) 335-2856.

* Crystal Springs, Kings Canyon National Park--This is the smallest of the campgrounds near Grant Grove Village and the Grant Grove of giant seqouia trees. There are several short trails through the grove. It's pretty and well suited for families with small children. Facilities: Flush toilets, showers, picnic tables, fire rings, piped water. Reservations: Not accepted. Fees: $6-14 per night. Contact: Kings Canyon National Park, (209) 335-2856.

* Lodgepole, Sequoia National Park--The campground is huge with 259 sites for tents or motorhomes. It's also beautiful. The park's giant forest is just down the road--don't miss the Trail of the Sequoias, which begins near the humongous General Sherman tree and ambles through the woods to Crescent Meadow. The marble fork of the Kaweah River passes by the camp, too. Facilities: Flush toilets, showers, picnic tables, fire rings, water. Reservations: DESTINET, (800) 365-2267. Fees: $6-14. Contact: Sequoia National Park, (209) 565-3341.

* Cold Springs, Sequoia National Park--If the summertime crowds at the Giant Forest section of the park aren't appealing, try this 40-site, tents-only campground in the Mineral King section of the park. The private community of Silverton is nearby and there's also a pack station at Mineral King offering rides into the backcountry. There are also numerous trails nearby heading into the backcountry. Facilities: Pit toilets, picnic tables, fire rings, water. Reservations: Not accepted. Fees: $6-14. Contact: (209) 565-3341.

* Ventana Campground, Big Sur--Ventana is located on the eastern side of Highway 1, entirely within a Redwood forest. Andrew Molera State Park, just up the road, offers trails through meadows and forests, as well as one of the most beautiful beaches in the state. It's worth the long drive. Facilities: Flush toilets, showers, picnic tables, fire rings, water. Reservations: send a $25 check with a note to P.O. Box 206, Big Sur, Ca., 93920. Fees: $25 for one vehicle and two people and $5 for additional people. Contact: (408) 667-2688.

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