I have been dreaming of camping at Highland Lakes campground ever since I read about a few years ago on Dave’s High Sierra Fishing. After driving CA 4 over beautiful Ebbetts Pass at 8700 hundred feet, I was wondering how much better the scenery was going to get. I turned down the paved road leading to Highland Lakes campground passing several national forest campgrounds displaying the proverbial “U.S. Fee Area” sign. Most were not worth a second look at there is plenty of free dispersed camping sites available along the creek. Expect to pay at least $16 for crowded campgrounds with stove pipe out houses. Drive another 4-5 miles over a bumpy gravel road to get to Highland Lakes. Don’t even think of turning back because it’s worth the drive. We drove it in a full sized Ford E150 van with no problems. My wife is finally used to national forest roads and rarely protests.
I really wanted to make the first few nights special for my wife and two boys as my buddy Dan planned to join us for a few weeks with his 9 kids. My wife really enjoys variety and needs to move every few days to new scenery. I could stay at Highland Lakes easily for a week or two and not get bored. When I need a change in scenery, I go for long runs in the back country. There is no shortage of hiking and running trails here.
When you arrive at Highland Lakes Campground, you get a great deal at only $12 a night. The outhouses are clean and there are 2 water spigots for both campgrounds. I suspect that the water is treated with chlorine. We filtered the water in our Big Berkey Water Filter. This place is quiet. Even when full, there are two lakes and 3 separate camping areas to move around. If you need more solitude, go for a hike in nearby Carson Iceberg wilderness.
The grass was still green and wild flowers were in full bloom. The days were warm and the nights were cool, but not cold.
3 Reasons Why You Should Camp At Highland Lakes Campground
First of all, the campground is not crowded. It’s divided into two separate campgrounds. The Upper Highland Lakes Campground is nestled above both lakes in shady pine forest. Most of the sites give you a good view of one of the two lakes. The Upper Highland Lakes campground offers much more privacy. I prefer the open feeling of the Lower Highland Lakes Campground. You give up privacy for stunning views of both lakes and mountain peaks. Privacy is relative at this campground. The sites are so large and spread out that you get all the privacy that you need. Additionally, the campground did not fill up on both Friday and Saturday nights.
Secondly, both lakes are stocked with trout. At least that is what I have read. I tried fishing the larger of the two lakes and was not successful. I used a rubber raft and tried both worms and spinners. It was early August and I suspect that it’s been over fished.
The third reason is the sheer beauty of these two lakes. I planned on spending a night or two here. We stayed a full 3 nights because this places rocks in scenery. Twin pear shaped lakes at 8,500 feet set in a green alpine meadow with high granite peaks welcomed us. I have to back pack in for days to get to remote lakes like these. How amazing being able to drive 5 miles on a national forest road and camp near this kind of beauty!
Our campsite had a nice view of both lakes. It was so relaxing to drink in the beauty before we prepared our evening meal.
This Is A Tent Campers Paradise
Yes, you may see an rv or two, but if they drive this far, these are not typical rv campers with loud generators. I heard only 1 generator being fired up in 3 days here. The loudest noises that I heard were the continuous Whisper of jets passing by at 40,000 feet.
Most of the campers stayed in vans, pickup campers, or tents. I have a hunch that only seasoned hardcore campers venture this far off the pavement.
I fired up the Coleman stove and heated up corn tortillas and pre-cooked ground beef to make our famous camping tacos. Idy packed home made slaw-sa to top the tacos. It was an amazing meal. We ate cherries and grapes for dessert. The boys cleaned the dishes by the water faucet (this is a no-no) and were reprimanded the following morning by a forest ranger.
By 8 PM, we were ready to prepare for bed. We get so relaxed on camping trips that we tend to fall fast asleep early. I think I was sleeping by 9:30. Kids watched a movie so stayed up later.
Hiking Trails At Highland Lakes
My boys and I went for an awesome hike on our last night at Highland Lakes. The trails are not marked that well, so be sure to carry topographical maps or take note of significant land marks. We hiked to several close by remote lakes and tarns before we attempted to scale one the large peaks. There are excellent marked trails all the way to Spicer Meadow Reservoir, Alpine Lake, and the Iceberg Wilderness. Access to the Pacific Crest Trail is close by at Ebbetts pass.