Camping in a Tent Trailer at Hat Creek
Camping at Hat Creek
When I was six years old, back in the 1970's my grandparents were camped out at Hat Creek in the Sierra Nevada mountains near Mt. Lassen. At this point in my life, it was the summer after my kindergarten year, and I was at home with my mother and my three year old brother. Things were good, but I was missing my grandparents, who lived nine houses away, right down the street. My grandmother was my best friend in the whole world, and I came home to her house every day after school, where she baked food for me, let me dig holes in the yard, and taught me to read, and be a good student. My grandfather was a middle school woodshop teacher, who used to torture me by tickling me everyday. I was a willing participant of this and would laugh until tears came out of my eyes. With him being a teacher, they were off for the summer in their 1969 Terry travel trailer, towed by a giant yellow Oldsmobile. Grandpa was a great story teller who had my looking for Bigfoot around every tree in our neighborhood on the Monterey Peninsula. Being a shop teacher, he used to let me build all sorts of contraptions from wood in the garage and then he would pretend to grade them as if I was one of his students. This always involved a great deal of hand sanding, which was safe for a small child to do.
When my grandparents got to Hat Creek on their vacation, they got the idea that it would be good to have me with them on their camping trip. My grandfather got in the Oldsmobile and drove seven hours to come back and get me and it was a complete surprise and made me feel very special. He spent the night at our house and drove me back the next day, as their home was rented out for the summer. It was a memorable trip, because on the way back, a diesel truck lost a retread on the highway and it hit the giant Oldsmobile and just bounced right off. I thought that old car with it's 455 V8 was an amazing beast.
My grandfather could not resist the opportunity to educate me along the way, he was born in 1917 and had a unique take on the past. Sensing that I needed a travel break, he drove me to a museum and showed me a giant water cannon used blast away a mountain and extract gold bearing ore, which was used in the 1800's gold rush. The memories of that trip also include fishing in the amazing and beautiful Hat Creek. My grandfather was a good fisherman, but he also knew when they would plant that little stream with small trout. On the day that the fish were being planted upstream, we were on the creek fishing with red salmon eggs. It is what the fisheries used to feed to the little trout. He would cast for me, and I would hold for maybe a minute and a fish would hook-up. I would easily drag it in and he taught me to put the fish on a string line. Every time I caught a fish, I would grab it on the string line and run full-speed across the campground to bring the fish to my grandmother. I am sure the other campers enjoyed this display of childhood joy. I remember that we caught ten fish that day, and they were all very small.
Having this great memory of that trip, I wanted to eventually get my kids to experience that amazing campground as well. My wife and daughter wanted nothing to do with a dry camping adventure, and so my son and I set off for an adventure that would include several days of dry camping and fishing at Hat Creek. This was over 40 years after my first visit, and I returned hoping to find that same amazing and enchanted place of my memories.
Still a Great Camping Location
This campground was visited by my grandparents for 20 years. Unlike modern campgrounds, it is very primitive, but each campsite is massive. I estimated that our campsite itself might have been a quarter of an acre, or about 10,000 square feet. There is a water faucet here and there and primitive restrooms with no shower. There is no electricity, except in the bathroom, just to run an electric razor or a blow dryer. The campsite is along Hat Creek just north of Mt. Lassen state park. There are several campsites in the area, and a forest fire has ravaged the area in recent years to the north of the campground, but Hat Creek was still in relatively good shape.
I looked at some old family photos, and realized that the trees are much taller now and were much wider in diameter. Forty years is a long time in a second growth forest, and the landscape had definitely matured. The fishing was passable, but nothing like it was in the 1970's. I don not believe that the plant schedules in California are anywhere near to being as good as they were 40 years ago. We caught two fish, and it was an effort. Both my son and I are experienced fishermen, and this was no easy task, but the fish were decent sized and tasted great. The views of the big stream, almost a river by California standards, were amazing and the water, which is snow melt fed, was brisk to the touch, but not dangerously cold.
Remembering a Huge Cave
As a little guy, I remembered Subway Cave and wanted to visit it once again. It was only about a quarter of a mile from our campsite, so we could just walk. Being modern people, we just wore shorts, and took our cell phones with us for an emergency. We got there, descended the stairs and felt the cold chill hit us. It was probably 50 degrees in the cave, while it was 80 degrees outside. Also, our cell phone flashlights were not up to the task of lighting up a cave that is almost big enough to play a game of football inside. We walked back and put on more clothes and brought back headlamps and a heavy duty spotlight.
As I child I did not realize that the cave had been modified by people to be safe. As an adult, the massive amount of Gunite that had been sprayed on the roof of the cave was obvious. There were cracks and missing chunks, so it was obvious. California has been in the midst of an economic crisis in the past decade and the disrepair of everything is troublesome. The cave was wired for lighting, and none of it was working. Signage was dated, and the missing chunks of gunite, mean that huge chunks of concrete had fallen. Hopefully, not on a cave explorer. Either way, it was fun, and I relived a memory that was great and enjoyable. My son, 16 years old, thought it was cool, and had never been in a cave that large before.
Camping in a Tent Trailer
We are lucky enough to own a mid-sized Rockwood tent trailer. It makes the camping we used to do in tents, really comfortable. We chose to camp at elevation, because it was the summer and we do not want to try and sleep in the heat. The internet helps us plan this a great deal by looking at weather reports along our route and choosing camp locations that will be in the 60's fahrenheit, or lower at night. I like to sleep in cold weather with lots of blankets, rather than try to sweat my way through a 90 degree night. Our tent trailer is pretty simple, but has a cassette toilet for emergencies only, and a shower that drained into a five gallon bucket. The three way refrigerator did a good job running propane and we always had cold drinks and good food.
The trailer is light and is easy to tow, and we pull it with a Toyota Tacoma. With this combination, we were able to get almost 20 MPG on the highway, and did not have to spend a fortune on gas for our trip. We also had a tonneau cover on the bed, and had massive amounts of storage, if we wanted to carry any extra items, or buy anything special on our camping adventure. This made camping easy, but there was one thing I missed from those early years with my grandparents - grandmas cooking. She would make things like fresh blackberry pies, and they were delicious. No meal in the 70's was complete without a jello dish, which is sort of cliche now, but seemed great at age six. We made up for this with great meals at the little restaurant down the road from the campground.
Chicken Fried Steak
The breakfast at the little Hat Creek restaurant was phenomenal. There is only one restaurant there, so if you read this and head there for camping, you will not miss this location. I am not writing a restaurant review, but seriously, looking at that picture, need I say more? The food was amazing, and we were very hungry, so this was like eating fine cuisine.
The Hiking was Gorgeous
After eating that amazing breakfast, my son and I set out to go hiking. We chose a short three mile loop trail that led us through an area of old extinct volcanic vents. The trail was well marked and the terrain was mild and beautiful. During our hike, the weather changed, as it will in the mountains, and we saw lightning in the distance. As we were in an area with very little tree cover, we decided to head back pretty fast. The trail was loaded with numbered guide points and we had a brochure to tell us what they were, but with the lightning coming, we decided to forego that part of the experience and got back to our car at a good pace.
Over-all, our trip to Hat Creek was still great. Where else do you find huge, inexpensive campsites on a gorgeous alpine creek in California? This is still a hidden gem and it brought back great memories and created new ones for my son. Perhaps, someday, he will take another generation of our family on a camping trip to Hat Creek. My grandparents would get a kick out of knowing they had started a family tradition.
© 2019 Scott P Davis