Best car camping in Tahoe
Fallen Leaf Lake

Cooking breakfast at Fallen Leaf Lake

Car-camping on the shores of Lake Tahoe and beyond can be a great way to get little kids ready for the bigger reward—backpacking. Just don’t linger there too long and stay focused on the goal of getting into the backcountry as soon as possible. This brief post is related to another article, Top five first backpacking trips for kids in Tahoe.

The October 2013 issue of Outside Magazine was devoted to outlining a strategy for living bravely, divided into life stages, a blueprint for living a full and active life. Their goal was to get us to rethink life as we know it. Their first stage, 0-20, is arguably the most important because it lays the foundation, and there’s little need for REthinking if we help kids get it right the first time.  If you’re trying to avoid Nature Deficit Disorder consider getting your kids outside from the get-go. If they’ve logged in some nights in a tent when they’re fresh out of diapers backpacking won’t seem so foreign. In the article, Outward Boundless, Ian Frazier says, “By the time you are 20, you should have spent at least a night or two outdoors alone.” Without the “alone” part we can do better than a couple of nights if we start early.

When camping with our small godchildren years ago our goal was to give them something money couldn’t buy, time with us in nature and wilderness skills that would last a lifetime. When they were 4 and 6 the youngest was too young to backpack so for two years we camped in campgrounds around Lake Tahoe as well as more remote campsites to get them used to sleeping in a tent and prepare them for backpacking.

Here are some suggestions for car-camping around North Lake Tahoe and the surrounding area—great for toddlers but once they can hike a mile or two forget the campground and strike out into the wilderness. If your backpacking skills are rusty or non-existent you can spend that time brushing up by taking an overnight backpacking trip with adults (find a backpacking Sierra Club chapter or Meetup in your area), following a backpacking forum on Google Groups or Yahoo Groups and maybe taking an REI class or two.

Best introductory car-camping destinations

Fallen Leaf Lake

On the shore of Fallen Leaf Lake

There are many camping areas around Lake Tahoe that could be good introductory spots to camp, depending on what you’re looking for. If you don’t mind being in a place with wall to wall tents in exchange for easy lake access for the kids and sometimes espresso access for the adults the following are suggested: With the exception of Donner Memorial State Park these are all on or near the west shore of Lake Tahoe.

  1. Tahoe State Recreation Area (next to a shopping center) in Tahoe City
  2. William Kent Campground (closed in 2014 for redevelopment)
  3. Kaspian Recreation Area
  4. Sugar Pine Point Campground
  5. Meeks Bay Campground
  6. Fallen Leaf Campground
  7. Emerald Bay State Park
  8. Donner Memorial State Park
Meadow Lake

Canoeing on Meadow Lake

If you’re looking for something a little more wilderness oriented while still being car-accessible several suggestions are offered in the Sierraville Ranger District, all grouped between Truckee and Sierraville, off Highway 89 (heading north from Truckee).

It’s never too early to plan the next outdoor outing, whether a long hike in autumn, snowshoeing and skiing in winter or camping and backpacking in summer.

See related stories for more information on these kid-friendly hikes, plus a couple of two-night trips.