Prior to driving to the Nevada High Desert in June, my husband and I camped in Bear Valley Campground in the Tahoe National Forest. The campground is an excellent place to begin a vacation and decompress.
My family and I discovered Bear Valley Campground in California’s Sierra by fortune and necessity on Labor Day Weekend in 2009 after being turned away from several full South Lake Tahoe campgrounds and many more along Highway 89 east and west of Truckee. It seemed as if every time we pulled into a campground, the party just ahead of us had reserved the last site. One campground manager who shook his head in response to my hopeful inquiry about an available site, told me quietly that we might try Bear Valley Campground. He said he considered it the best, and hastily provided directions.
Darkness fell and we finally settled into a campsite at the Lower Little Truckee Campground. Although grateful for a place to sleep, I couldn’t resign myself to spending the weekend there. It is located beside Highway 89 and the traffic noises along with the bustling campground population were not my camping ideal.
In the morning while my husband stayed with our camp at Lower Truckee, my son and I headed out to Bear Valley, “just to have a look.” We took 89 for a few miles then drove many more miles on a dirt road, wondering if we were lost or had missed the Campground altogether. At last, however, our arrival was announced by a large sign, the officiousness of which seemed incongruent with the anonymous route: “Bear Valley Campground: Tahoe National Forest.”
I quickly and unwittingly lapped the campground twice before a tall, lean white-haired man approached our car. He pointed out the the available sites and recommended I reserve one by leaving my hat on the picnic table. When I asked “How much?” he replied tartly, “If they charged to camp, I wouldn’t work here.”
My son and I retrieved my husband and we moved to Bear Valley, where we came to know the white-haired man as “Mr. Jelly Bean,” a volunteer ranger named for his nature activities with children. Now each year when we return to Bear Valley, we look forward to seeing Jelly Bean there.
Jelly Bean is not an intrusive campground manager. He instructs the occassional inexperienced camper on how to reduce the risk of attracting bears and cleans the facilities with a military rigor. Beyond that, he is a connoisser of solitude himself.
Bear Valley Campground has few amenities: water, picnic tables, fire pits, and two toilets serving 10 campsites. It is an intimate campground, perfect for the camper willing to sacrifice some conveniences for a remote and peaceful camping experience.
The area that surrounds the Campground is comprised of forest, hills, valleys, and meadows, and a network of dirt roads. We walked from our campsite down one of the roads and discovered a beautiful meadow and the carcass of a deer stripped except for the fur just above its hooves.
Dogs are welcome at Bear Valley Campground. The rules state that dogs need to be kept on-leash; we are somewhat lax with that rule. Unless we observe that our dogs are infringing on other campers, we let them lose until twilight, from which point we keep them tied or in the tent. Dog owners beware: at night coyotes brazenly and persistently try to call out the dogs.