The campground host came around riding on his little 4 wheeler and stopped to chat with the family at the next site over. I cracked a beer and set a rock over the tent stakes for added stability. The wind was picking up and clouds were slowly moving north over the lake. The Bibler mountaineering tent I’d set up had already been damaged in a wind storm once before, I don’t take chances. The Dude was tromping around in the dirt, climbing trees, throwing sticks.
The campground host pulled up in a rumble of ATV noise, shut it off and said, “I just wanted to let you know that there is a storm coming in. Could be lightning, thunder and 30 mile winds.”
“woah,” I said. “Well, I’ll batten down the hatches. Thanks!” The camp host pulled off, and I started getting things squared away. I hadn’t checked the weather. Summer storms in the mountains aren’t unusual, and at 8900 feet it wouldn’t be at all surprising for it to snow, even in August. But the tent I brought for the two of us to sleep in should be able to withstand the storm. It does still have a rip in the floor, and one of the rain ownings, and one of the poles is bent, but most of the major damage from the wind storm that blew it into the sage several years ago I’d repaired with seam grip. And as long as I could find some tent stakes to fix it to the ground, we should be OK…
If not, we were only 20 minutes from home, no big deal.
For the second weekend in a row, my son and I have camped out at the closest campground to our house. It’s far cooler and nicer up at Mt. Rose pass at 8,900 feet than it is at our south Reno ranch. And though it would be extremely easy for us to recreate the Samsung Nexus 7 camping video right from our own backyard, I prefer real camping.
Mt. Rose Summit Campground
The Mt. Rose Campground, just above the highway at Mt. Rose Summit was recently renovated, redesigned and rebuilt into what is the poshest campground I’ve ever been too. [It doesn't have showers, it doesn't have RV hookups or pull-throughs cause that isn't camping.] But it does have
- fire rings
- cook tables
- picnic tables
- bear boxes
- bbq grills
- leveled tent pads.
There are USFS vault toilets and water spigots. The campground has 19 standard non-electric sites, some of which are double or triple sites, and 6 tent-only walk in sites. I got a double site and by 6:00 Saturday evening we had 5 cars and 12 people including 5 kids grilling hot dogs and devouring potato chips.
As I said, this is a really nice campground and even though it is small with just 25 sites, I’ve arrived late two weeks in a row and found a site available. It’s not close to the lake or a major river for fishing, and it doesn’t have RV amenities, so for most people it might not be ideal. But it is close to some of the best scenic hiking and mountain biking in the Tahoe basin, so for me it is a perfect place for the last minute camping trip.
My parents and my sister and her husband and son came up from Reno just for dinner and went home leaving my friends Mark and his daughter, and Kevin and his two boys to brave the stormy night.
The double sites have two tent pads big enough for anything short of a M*A*S*H hospital tent.
In addition to being really close to Reno, Mt. Rose campground is right under the relay towers on Relay Ridge and Slide Mountain, so we had full broadband bars on both Verizon and AT&T, so I was able to do my instagramming.
The storm came in as I was finishing off “A Time Of Wonder” and Bowie nodded off (temporarily) to sleep. There were flashes of lightning and thunder though it never got that close to us. We got the cooking and food gear stowed away as the rain let up and the kids all quieted down allowing the three dads to crack a few more PBRs, Oly’s and Icehouses and stoke the fire for a few more hours.
The Dude has been sleeping in his sleeping bag enough recently that he slept well all night. So well that he was ready to rock at 7:00… The dads made coffee, bacon and pancakes while the kids romped all over the hillside above the campsite. Faces were covered with dirt, then syrup.
Things to do at Mt. Rose Summit
The first time we camped at the summit we got up early and rode the Tahoe Rim Trail. The campground is just off the east end of Tahoe Meadow. The Tahoe Rim Trail can be accessed right from the campground entrance. Heading north you cross the highway and head up towards Mt. Rose and in 2.5 miles you can reach Galena Creek Falls, well worth the hike (even if you have to carry your dude) or in 5 miles you can get to the top of Mt. Rose.
Heading down into the meadow from the campground you can hit the Tahoe Rim Trail south to Chickadee Ridge (map), for great lake views, or continue the 9 miles of stellar singletrack to the world famous Tahoe Flume Trail.
For a shorter hike, you can do the Tahoe Meadows Interpretive Trail (map) nature loop that is about a mile in length. Bowie and I took this loop with him hiking and riding his strider bike for the entire trail. There are interpretive displays, bridges and boardwalks that make the trail fun and engaging for little kids. There is no real elevation gain to speak of so it isn’t particularly strenuous. It’s closed to bikes, but accessible to wheel chairs and strollers. I figure it’s ok for toddlers to ride their strider bikes though.
The closest place to hit the Tahoe beaches from Mt. Rose campground are:
The town of Incline village has all the services you would want including:
- bike rentals (Village Ski Loft)
- Groceries (Village Market)
- Breakfast (Wildflower Cafe)
- Burritos (T’s Mesquite Rotisserie)
Mt. Rose Campground charges $17 per site and $34 per double site. Reservations can be made at Reserve America. If you’re a Reno local, this is a great place to escape the heat and have some fun with your hiking or biking buddies and your kids. If you’re visiting tahoe from farther afield, it would be a good spot to camp in style away from the hubub of peak season Lake Tahoe.
Last Minute Camping
When throwing your gear together for a last minute one nighter in the mountains, you have to either be good about packing your stuff so you don’t forget things, or be happy to go without the things you forgot (or invite friends so that at least one of you brain dead dirtbags will remember something). Here are some tips:
- Find a campsite that is less than a 45 minute drive away.
- use duffle bags and gear organizers like the REI kitchen tote to keep your gear ready to grab and go.
- Get your kid in his/her jammies and leave after bath time. This makes the quick overnight pretty painless, and when day breaks you’re already at the trailhead for a nice early start.
- Have an activity planned/Plan on nothing: Nothing is worse than a trying to decide what you want to do at the last minute. Have an activity in mind for the next day. A short loop hike, a greuling summit bid, or just pancakes are good plans. “We’ll figure it out in the morning” is a bad plan.
- Invite your friends for dinner. If the camp site is close, invite your friends up for dinner or breakfast. They’ll think it’s weird, but then when they get there, they’ll think it’s awesome.
After a quick hike up the Mt. Rose Ski Area, we got home in time for lunch and a nap. I don’t know if it was the cool mountain air, the stellar lightning show or the campfire beers that made it such a great trip (it could also have been the pancakes), but we’ll be back.