Campers planning to visit the Tahoe National Forest this summer should be aware that due to extreme fire danger, campfires are forbidden, even in campgrounds where they have traditionally been allowed. Charcoal fires are also banned. Some campgrounds have okayed the use of camp stoves if a permit is obtained. For those of us who enjoy solitude and are admittedly a bit selfish, the campfire ban is advantageous in that the flocks of folks which typically fill the forest during these peak weeks of summer, seem to have opted out this camping season. My husband and I recently spent three nights at Bear Valley Campground as the sole campers there, the first time in five years that we’ve experienced such a quiet stretch, including stays in the spring and fall. On the fourth night, a young man, Vlad, arrived with his dog in a VW bus. Vlad had just graduated San Jose State and, to celebrate, was taking a leave of absence from his job as a mechanic to travel to Yosemite. We invited Vlad to join us out on the bend at sunset where we had become accustomed to warming ourselves by the radiant vista. The bend–nothing more in mid-afternoon than a rough stretch of road with an unremarkable view–revealed in the slanted evening light, canyons extending to Sierraville. On that night it became a sanctuary, a place to fellowship over God’s masterful artistry in the absence of campfires and s’mores.
Location: Bear Valley Campground is located 17 miles north of Truckee on Highway 89, then 6 empty miles east on Cottonwood Creek, an unpaved road. The campground features 10 free campsites with one source of non-potable water (boil for at least 10 minutes) and 2 vault toilets. This year there is no host at the campground but rangers do make daily rounds.
Where to Buy Supplies: It is possible from Bear Valley Campground to access both Sierraville and Loyalton via scenic TNF unpaved roads. My husband and I, wanting to avoid the crowds that are Truckee at this time of year, decided to check them out. We needed to purchase a Tahoe National Forest Map so we traveled first to Sierraville where the Ranger Station is open M-F, 7:00-4:00. We were expecting to discover a selection of maps but instead found one, a small offering of brochures, and a somewhat indifferent staff. A short distance away at the gas station, however, we were greeted cheerily by a shopkeeper who answered all of our questions about the area, even providing (accurately) the location of a nearby spot where we could find cell reception for our AT&T phones (a mile up the road, at the corner of the first cow pasture.) We purchased very few items at the gas station which has a monopoly on groceries and sundries in town but makes up for its high prices with superior customer service.
Also pricey is Leonard’s grocery in Loyalton. Loyalton is a peaceful, picturesque town and I’m tempted to say that the shopping experience is worth the high prices but the frugal traveler in me balks; so for now, back to Truckee it is. If you do opt for the experience, Leonard’s is a well-stocked grocery–whereas the gas station in Sierraville, while conveniently located near the ranger station, has a very limited selection.