Rock Creek Lake

Gambling on Walk-In Campsites – Rock Creek Lake Campground

Whenever I plan a last minute adventure I feel a little like a someone at a horse race – stacking the odds versus the payoffs, and ultimately taking a slightly informed leap of faith. Walk-in campgrounds and first come first serve permits are saviors for last minute planners, and an agony. Why is the “Earliest arrival date for on-line reservation is three days from now”? And do you really expect me to “Please choose a later arrival date,” I am obviously committed to looking this up right now even though I know better.

Here is how I plan a last minute trip:

Beaut-Tree’s 7 Steps to Overthinking Last Minute Plans

  1. Find all the campsites in the area, arranging my web browser tabs from most desirable to least.
  2. Pull up Reserve America (or whatever online reservation systems is used) to see the number of walk-in/unreserved spots left on the day I want.
  3. Using a combo of the desirability number of sites I create a list of which places seem like a good bet, I write these down.
  4. Get discouraged and start searching Yelp for other options in case everything falls through.
  5. Consider changing the plan entirely.
  6. Decide this is about the ADVENTURE, and this will be an adventure alright.
  7. Look up the closest forest service/BLM Lands for disperse camping if push comes to shove.
Curtis planning our next day's hike

Planning an actual hike sometime gets put on the backburner until we found our campsite. Plus planning on a picnic table is a well known car camping tradition.

Sometimes, often when you are going to a less popular location at a less busy time of year, the stars align and you can stop after step 3. This weekend because of the predicted cold/rain/snow/thunderstorms at high elevation I am betting that most all of the spots I might want to stay at on Ebbetts Pass will be available… Nevermind I thought about a trip to the coast before deciding to scrap that idea entirely thanks to the daunting demand of campsite there (!)

Rock Creek Campground, Inyo National Forest

Directions: From Hwy 395 turn West at Tom’s Place and follow Rock Creek Road until it meets the lake, then turn left onto the Rock Creek Lake Campground Road. Map

The Rock Creek trailhead is popular entrances into the John Muir Wilderness, obviously I enjoyed my trip to Mono Pass. This means that the campgrounds out of Rock Creek Lake should get booked up a long time in advance of when I was planning my last minute trip… fortunately there are 14 (!?!) campgrounds available along Rock Creek Road. In “Planning” this last minute trip I decided the odds were pretty good that we should be able to find one walk-in campsite available in the  seemingly hundreds of spots. Plus all the campgrounds along the road were easy enough to get to, so if one campground was full we could just try the next.

Rock Creek Campground

Site 1 at Rock Creek Campground did not have a stellar lake view, but it made up for it in having a smaller bit of privacy by our tent pad.

We drove up to the closest campground, Rock Creek Lake Campground is named such because it is directly beside Rock Creek Lake, and thought it wouldn’t hurt to see… go big or go up the canyon… lay it all on the (hammock)line…

It took a full round around the campground checking reservation tags until we saw it – literally the #1 site was available. Everyone else in this part of the campground had reserved their site months ago, now hunkered down with the canopies and coleman stoves that accompany serious car campers. I set up our comparatively tiny two person tent, while curtis ran off to find a reservation envelope.

Enjoying the Sunset Rock Creek Lake

Finding the perfect campsite really does feel like winning the lotto sometimes. AND I WON. Bahaha!

It is so satisfying to watch the sunset next to a lake, knowing you only have a to hike across the beach to get to dinner and bed. Especially when you finally get to relax after gambling with walk-in camping. Winning requires some celebration after all.