Fall camping in northern California; also a good time for camper buying!

Big Sur coast, looking north, featuring a number of scenic campgrounds!

Fall camping in northern California; it’s also a great time for camper buying!

Sutter's Mill, in Marshall Gold Discovery State Historical Park, features a Coloma Campground, a pretty, privately owned campground, right across the American River.

Whether you’re a fan of tent camping, small trailer, larger trailer or motorhome camping, some of the nicest weeks of the camping season lie ahead. We’re blessed, living in Central/Northern California, to have wonderful options within a few hours in any of the four compass directions. Our weather can remain pleasant until well into November or December, so let’s get planning a few camping trips.

For fall exploring and camping, look north, to the Sierra foothills from Coloma (with a pretty campground right across the American River from Marshall Gold Discovery State Park, where John Marshall discovered gold in 1848, triggering the gold rush). Foothill campground gems run all the way south well past Sonora (follow the gold rush route, Highway 49). Don’t overlook favorites like Corps of Engineers campgrounds on New Melones Lake, or camping amongst the giant sequoias at Calaveras Big Trees State Park.

Our '58 Serro Scotty teardrop camp trailer in camp.

Drive an hour south for warmer days and find several scenic campgrounds just off Interstate 5 and Highway 152 around San Luis Reservoir. Or, continue west to Hollister, then south to Pinnacles National Park, almost always an oasis of milder weather and sunny skies.

Just a bit further west is the Big Sur coast, now more accessible with the recent reopening of Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge. State parks along the coast offer campgrounds at Julia Pfeiffer Burns, Pfeiffer Big Sur and Andrew Molera State Parks, providing an ideal respite offering stunning scenery blessed by a pleasant Mediterranean climate.

Or, venture north of the Golden Gate Bridge up the coast to a variety of campgrounds north of Bodega Bay, with many choices all the way to Fort Bragg and Mendocino. Favorites along this stretch include Sonoma Coast, Salt Point, Manchester and Van Damme Beach State Parks. Often beautiful fall weather follows the gorgeous summer experienced along this portion of California’s wild coastline.

Our '64 Serro Scotty Sportsman 13' Gaucho model, before its rebuild began.

And as you head into fall, consider your future camping options. If you’re mature tent campers, perhaps you’ve been thinking about upgrading to a smaller or larger camping trailer. If so, fall and winter are the best times to purchase, as many owners have decided to sell lightly-used campers, or dealers close out new and used inventory.

If you are into light, minimal camping but have aged out of a tent, consider a teardrop trailer, which can be found for sale on Craigslist or eBay, slightly used or older, as well as new models like T@G and Little Guy. Pan Pacific RV in French Camp and Sacramento dealers sell new models. Used teardrop trailers sell for around $3,000 to $6,000; new models from about $6,500 to more, depending on options and size.

We purchased our first teardrop about 10 years ago, and have camped all over the US and Canada with tiny trailers measuring 8 feet long, 4 feet tall and 4 feet wide. They allow you to pack all your camping gear, sleep warm and cozy without setting up a tent, not worry about bears and can be stored in your garage. Best of all, towing with a four-cylinder car, you can still get 26 miles per gallon on the highway.

T@G teardrop trailers are popular newer teardrop models.

A few years ago we decided to move up in trailer size, and bought a ’64 Scotty classic, all of 13 feet in length. We are just finishing a drawn-out rebuild, but, when finished, the trailer offers stand-up room for my spouse, a full double bed in back, a dinette up front, a small sink, two burner stove and Portapotty. Next week, I’ll share more about purchase and/or rebuilding of classic travel trailers like our little Scotty, some small enough to store in a standard garage.

You can find small camp trailers on those aforementioned resale sites, or shop for new trailers such as T@B, Casita, R-pod, A-Liner and others. All of the smaller trailers offer full amenities including bathroom/shower, sleeping up to four people and remain light enough to tow behind four and six-cylinder vehicles. They range in size from about 15 to 20 feet in length, and sell used for around $10,000, or new from the mid-teens to over $20,000, again depending upon options. With any of these small trailers, you’ll be snug in campgrounds, get good gas mileage getting there and can smile smugly when fellow campers arrive with giant fifth wheels, getting 6 miles per gallon from their huge pickup trucks.

New Casita trailers can be towed with four and six cylinder vehicles.

We’re doing the maiden voyage of our rebuilt ’64 Scotty in two weeks, starting with two nights in Yosemite Valley followed by three nights in Pinnacles National Park and several more nights along the Big Sur coast. We will take our Little Buddy propane heater, warm clothes and wet weather gear – and closely watch the long-range weather forecast (actually, I’m kind of hoping for rainy days)!

For more information: On specific trailers, search manufacturers’ web sites; for classic trailers, go to Tin Can Tourists, tincantourists.com, for Serro Scotty Trailers, nationalserroscotty.org. For camping options on Federal or State properties, reserveamerica.com or recreation.gov.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy camping in your world!

A new T@B trailer, owned by our Sacramento friends, is a lovely small to mid-size trailer with a popular retro look.

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    Tim Viall

    Viall is a local travel writer who retired in late 2012 after 10 years as executive director of Stockton, CA's, Emergency Food Bank and six years with the Downtown Stockton Alliance. Previously, a 21-year career in daily newspapers helped shape his ... Read Full
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