Camping sauvage, wild camping, dispersed camping, whatever you want to call it. It’s not for everyone—the lack of loos puts many off—but if you are into getting away from the zoo-like atmosphere at some campgrounds and have an all- or four-wheel drive car, it can be a spectacular option.

I first was introduced to this in France, driving a tiny tuna can, Renault-5 company car with Plasti-Chenaux—a window fixture company—written across the white car in blue and red. We camped on beaches, on farms and in public spaces often asking if it was all right with the farmer or property owner. It felt wild and crazy to this city girl, but waking up under plum trees or near the crashing waves was memorable.

Cut to many years later and after many a backpacking trip, we now—with two kids in tow—enjoy both hauling our gear on our backs and packing the car to the gills with all of our ramshackle gear and hitting the road. We have camped in the desert, in the mountains, and it is always an adventure. It’s not easy and certainly takes some effort, but with two strapping boys now able to do their share, this trip seemed extraordinarily gratifying.

Some preliminary research, my request to be near a swimmable and paddle-able lake, and a stop at a ranger station to get a burn permit and buy a few good maps and we were off. Into the El Dorado National Forest on fire roads. We passed a few campgrounds and were happy to get beyond that scene with the ATV vehicles and crowded feel. The first night we found a gorgeous mesa with granite rocks and a Sierra mountain view. We made our own fire pit, with the regulatory five foot radius around it. I slept so well that night, it was at about 6000 feet, but warm enough to keep all the tent flaps open so we could star gaze inside our sleeping bags.

Not another car did we see that first day and just one far-off motorcyclist on a ridge. One of my peak moments was pulling out this new refreshing appetizer of watermelon and lime chili flakes sprinkle on it, certainly not something one would be silly enough to carry on a backpacking trip.

Much to my chagrin we packed up our stuff that first morning as my husband did not want to leave our tent stuff unattended while we enjoyed Silver Lake about 25 miles away. He also wanted to have an adventure and chart our route and not go back the way we came. An hour on dusty all-wheel drive roads and I started to get a little nervous, mostly because our car was old and has some issues. Miraculously, we navigated our way to the main road and enjoyed an afternoon of swimming and frisbee at the lake.

Day two, we headed down a different fire road off Mormon Emigrant, a road that is closed in winter. Just a few miles down this one spur, we found a perfect spot with a valley view and complete privacy. Putting up our hammock, high up on a peak and enjoying a cocktail and my current read was one of my favorite things.

Never underestimate the power of water when backpacking or camping sauvage. We headed back to Silver Lake and Plasse’s Resort to rent a kayak and canoe. A day on an island, a picnic, more swimming, frisbee, paddles and a bald eagle sighting and it was time to return to civilization. We have a few more camping trips planned this summer and despite serving us well, we were forced to trade in our creampuff car for a newer, more reliable version. Can’t wait to take her next time, the shocks were shot on creampuff!

Filed Under Adventure Travel, California, Camping, Canoe/Kayak, Hike/Backpack, Lake Tahoe, National Forest, Northern California, Swimming, wildlife


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