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State-run campsites cancelled through late June, but other options exist for people seeking outdoors

Campers won’t be able to pitch a tent at Leo Carrillo State Park beach at least until late June.(Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

Scoring a coveted spot at one of California’s State Parks campgrounds during summer is no easy task, with popular sites such as Doheny State Beach in Dana Point and Leo Carrillo north of Malibu getting scooped up months in advance.

And those who have been itching to pitch a tent and roast marshmallows as summer gets underway certainly are out of luck, for now, with refund notifications sent out in recent weeks to reservation holders that camping is canceled at state-operated sites through June 21.

It’s unclear what will happen beyond late June, into July, with no new reservations for one of the state’s 15,000 campsites accepted until Aug. 1. The campgrounds throughout the state closed on March 17 to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Options for outdoor adventure do still exist and campers are exploring new areas and campgrounds they might not have otherwise.

Other county, national forest and private campgrounds are loosening rules and restrictions, giving options to families hoping for a trip outdoors as distance learning wraps up at many schools in coming weeks.

Two campgrounds operated by the County of Orange – O’Neill Regional Park in Trabuco Canyon and Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park in San Juan Capistrano – were opened a few weeks ago for limited use.

Maria Pope attempts to setup a tent at her O’Neill Regional Park campsite in Trabuco Canyon on Saturday, May 16, 2020. The Park just reopened after being closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

That first day, spots at the county-run sites offered first come were quickly gobbled up with pent-up people ready for outdoor adventure. 

Newport Dunes, a privately-owned area that never shut down during the pandemic, is another option for visitors seeking a taste of the outdoors.

“We’re really busy. We’re the busiest we’ve been in years,” said Andy Stip, director of RV operations. “We’re expecting to have a really good summer, too.”

Most of the amenities, like the pool and inflatable water park in the bay, are still closed. But bathrooms and the general store, with limited hours, are open.

“I think people are eager to get out of their homes and camp, so it has been really good for us,” Stip said. “People are tired of being at home and they are excited to get out of their homes and go camping.”

The Dunes, which sits off Pacific Coast Highway and Jamboree Road, has about 372 RV and tent sites and 27 cottages.

People see camping as a safer option than getting on a plane to go elsewhere, Stip said. He said he suspects there will be a surge of staycations, as well as RV rentals and purchases, as we head into summer.

“It’s their own little house, they can clean it and disinfect it the way they want,” he said. “I think they feel a lot safer camping.”

The campsites are spacious enough – most about 25-feet wide and 40-feet long – to stay away from other campers.  They are also only allowing six people per site or cottage to limit the number of people on the property.

“People have been social distancing, keeping to themselves,” Stip said. “We notice around our property, people are staying around their own groups. It’s actually worked out nice, a lot better than we thought it would.”

Select campsites in the Cleveland, Angeles and San Bernadino national forests have opened in recent weeks, with some of the popular campgrounds like Serrano by Big Bear Lake or near Green Valley Lake already booked on weekends.

At Angeles National Forest, officials are encouraging groups to be limited to immediate family members. Double sites at campground are limited to a maximum of 10 people and visitors should also be self-sufficient and bring all the essentials with them when traveling to the mountains, said John M. Clearwater, public affairs officer for the Angeles National Forest.

The forest was already one of the busiest national forests in the nation before the virus hit.

“We continue to see a massive surges in visitation. We ask that everyone exercise extra patience and understanding with others,” Clearwater wrote in an e-mail. “The outdoor experience should be one of relaxation and rejuvenation.”

Some campers are still holding on to hope that their go-to State Parks spots will soon open.

Surfer Laura Wright had hoped a reservation she made last April at Doheny State Beach, one of the few spots on the sand, would open as summer kicked off and restrictions started to ease.

But she was informed two weeks ago her mid-June reservation was cancelled.

“What better way to take a family vacation and be safe?” she wonders. “You don’t go out to eat, you don’t stay in hotels, you use your own food and camping equipment and then take it home.”

Huntington Beach surfer Laura Klees was stoked when she scored the group site and three more adjacent camping spots for the annual Wahine Kai Surf Club retreat at San Elijo State Beach. When she got word the site was canceled, it was a bummer, she said.

She also thinks camping should be open as a way to get outdoors, but stay away from others.

“You’re social distancing is going to be the same as if you’re at home,” she said. “You’re not going to other people’s campsites. You’re staying on your own campsite.”

Klees has been jumping online weekly to try and score spots, and was able to nab a few for September, October and November.

“We’ll take what we can get,” she said.

Still limited locations – and people’s pent up desire to get outdoors – are also drawing people to discover new areas.

Jessica McIntosh, manager of Coyote Cove Lakeside Camping in Lake Elsinore, said people flocked to the area when they opened up their 100-spot campground during Memorial Day weekend.

This year’s rain has filled up the lake to a good level and the algae is mostly gone, she said.

“People are dying to get back outdoor, it’s been crazy. My phone is non-stop,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of new faces coming through. They are like ‘We love it here, we’ve never been here before.’ We’re kind of like a little hidden gem.”

Source: Orange County Register

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