Eldorado National Forest | Outdoorsy

Eldorado National Forest
Guide

Introduction

The 786,994-acre Eldorado National Forest became famous in the 1840s during the California gold rush and again in the 1850s when Kit Carson led expeditions across the area. The forest, which is in east-central California was recognized in 1910 when it was separated from a part of Tahoe National Forest.

If you are looking for some fishing, there are 611 miles of fishing streams from the Cosumnes River, the North Fork of the Mokelumne River, and the Middle and South Forks of the American River. There are also 297 lakes with a total of 11,994 acres and a plethora of smaller lakes and ponds throughout the forest where you can find several kinds of trout, salmon, bass, and catfish.

With elevations from 1,000 feet to over 10,000 feet at the top of the Sierra Crest, there are plenty of opportunities to hike up to the top of one of the mountains and get some panoramic pictures to share on Facebook and Instagram. Between the crests of the rugged mountains you can find deep canyons that form the rivers, streams, and lakes where you can fish, swim, or go boating.

You will not be bored here in the winter either with hundreds of skiing, sledding, and snowmobiling trails around the forest. There are also two official wilderness areas, which are the Desolation Wilderness near Sacramento and the Mokelumne Wilderness near Calaveras, where you can get away from it all. Literally. If you want to do some RV camping though, there are 25 campgrounds that can accommodate RVs or campers up to 50 feet long. We have highlighted our top three picks here for you.

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Camping Accommodations

50'
Max RV length
50'
Max trailer Length
Electrical hookup
Water hookup
Generator use
Food storage
Sewer hookup
Dogs & cats

RV Rentals in Eldorado National Forest

Transportation

Driving

Getting in and out of the Eldorado National Forest is easy with the 2,367 miles of roads you can use. While most of the roads are well cared for by the forest service, there are also 209 miles of country roads that are a bit trickier to maneuver with a large RV or camper. Take your driving slow and easy so you can be safe and enjoy the beautiful scenery as well. Just three hours from San Francisco and one hour from Sacramento, you do not have far to go to get to the city.

Take a trip on the Carson Pass Highway, which meanders along the forest and past Silver Lake to the Carson Pass. This mountain pass is easy to follow along Route 88 where you can see the Great Basin Divide, South Fork American River, and the West Fork Carson River. It was all part of Kit Carson’s expedition in the 1850s and was used for shipping during the American Civil War.

In the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in eastern California the forest is bordered by the Stanislaus National Forest on the south, the Humboldt-Toiyabe and Lake Tahoe Basin on the east, Sacramento to the west, and to the north you can find the Tahoe National Forest.

Parking

Public Transportation

Campgrounds and parking in Eldorado National Forest

Campsites in Eldorado National Forest

Reservations camping

Sunset Campground

On Highway 50 east of Placerville, Sunset Campground has 129 campsites open from Memorial Day weekend through August. Most sites are able to accommodate RVs and campers up to 40 feet. Seventy of these sites can be reserved but make your reservations well in advance if you want a specific spot or get here early, especially on weekends and holidays. Campfire grills and picnic tables are supplied at each campsite and some of them have bear boxes for your food.

The campground also has hot showers and flush toilets with running water. You will also find 29 water spigots around the campground. The 25,000-acre Union Valley Lake is within walking distance and has several boat ramps. You can catch Kokanee salmon as well as three kinds of trout here. There are a lot of bears in the area, so lock up food and other scented items in a bear proof container, which are only provided at a limited number of campsites. Pets are also allowed but they must be restrained and supervised during your stay.

Silver Lake Campground

Silver Lake Campground near Pioneer, California has 60 campsites open from June through October. All except three of these sites can accommodate RVs and campers up to 42 feet in length. All sites have picnic tables and campfire grills. There are a lot of bear sightings in the area so make sure you lock up your food and other scented items in a bear proof container, which are only provided at a limited amount of campsites. The campground does provide drinking water at 16 different places around camp, and there are also several vault toilets. However, there are no showers or running water access.

The 200-acre Silver Lake is within walking distance and has a boat ramp, but they only allow electric motors. The boat is stocked with trout annually and there are also other species such as bass, crappie, and catfish. Make sure you reserve a spot early because they fill up fast, especially on holidays and weekends. You can bring your pet, but they must be restrained and accompanied at all times.

First-come first-served

Big Meadows Campground

About 22 miles east of Georgetown, Big Meadows Campground has 54 campsites and is open from mid-May through October. There are five sites with tent only access, but the rest can accommodate up to 50-foot campers and RVs. Each site has its own picnic table and campfire ring with a grill for cooking. The campground has 11 potable water sites around the park as well as several vault toilets. There are a lot of bears in the area so please lock up food and other scented items in a bear proof container, which are not provided at some of the campsites.

Reservations are not needed but that also means that you have to get here early if you want a specific spot. For example, if you have a large RV, you will need to come early to make sure there is a spot big enough to accommodate your needs. Hell Hole Reservoir is a 1,250-acre lake within walking distance and it boasts excellent fishing for salmon and several types of trout. Pets are welcome but they must be restrained and accompanied at all times during your visit.

Seasonal activities in Eldorado National Forest

In-Season

Biking

Are you a fan of mountain biking? Strap that bike to the RV before heading to the Eldorado National Forest because there is more than 30 miles of bike trails to explore and enjoy. The 6.5-mile Fleming Meadow Loop is an easy but fun trip that is the most popular one in the forest. The 8.2-mile Jenkinson Lake Trail is a moderate trail, and for a challenge you can try the 23.2-mile Pony Express Trail or 11.3-mile Sayles Loop. For a short and easy ride, check out the two-mile Ice House Bike Trail.

Rock Climbing

Just a half mile from Strawberry Lodge east of Placerville, you can find some of the best rock-climbing spots in the west. Although there are other spots around the Eldorado National Forest where you can climb, the most popular spot, is at the Lovers Leap Campground. The east wall of the Lover’s Leap granite rock wall is a 600-foot face that has multi-pitch traditional climbing. There is something for everyone here from beginners and kids to experts so bring the whole family.

OHV Riding

Go ahead and hook up the ATV trailer to the RV because there are two awesome OHV riding areas in the Eldorado National Forest. The Gold Note OHV Route System is 30 miles of roads and trails with camping. The easiest route is the 5.8-mile PiPi Grade and the most difficult is the 5.2-mile Elkins Gold. The Elkins Flat OHV Route System is 69 miles of trails with camping. The easiest is the 1.2-mile X-Over Route and the most difficult is the 23.4-mile Caldor Loop. Make sure you bring your helmet, boots, and gloves.

Off-Season

Sledding

If you have not gone sledding since you were a kid, now is the time to go, so put those sleds and tubes in the camper before heading to the Eldorado National Forest. Mountain Lake Tahoe is located on 40 acres of powder at the top of Echo Summit with a base elevation of 7,350 feet. There are 15 different runs here so you can try them all. The Sierra at Tahoe has 18 easy runs, 18 moderate runs, and 10 difficult runs.

Hiking

Pack your hiking boots in the RV because there are 42 awesome trails in the Eldorado National Forest for you to explore. Sunset Campground has the four-mile Union Valley Bike Trail that is also ADA-accessible and available for roller blading and walking as well. Ice House Campground has the 1.5-mile Ice House Trail available to hikers and bikers. The one-mile ADA-accessible Gerle Creek and Harvest Creek Trails are both located at the Gerle Creek Campground in Pollock Pines. And Kirkwood Lake has the Kirkwood Lake Trail #17E53, which is about a half mile long.

Horseback Riding

If you are an equestrian, you can hook up the horse trailer to your RV now because there are more than 50 miles of equestrian trails for you and your horse to enjoy. In addition, there are three equestrian campgrounds in the Eldorado National Forest so you can camp and hike at the same place. The Dru Barner Campground by Georgetown has several trails and 48 campsites, and Wrights Lake Campground and Loon Lake Camp by Placerville both have access to the Desolation Wilderness with dozens of trails.