Camping outside of a National Park is a good choice and often it is the only choice during the busy summer tourism season. The National Park campgrounds are usually booked solid for weeks in advance, so those who make no reservations will be out of luck. National Park campgrounds tend to be pricey too and the campsite fees are often double what is found outside the park. Overcrowding is also a problem, so there are many good reasons to seek a cozy campsite offsite. Fortunately, the western National Forests or BLM Public Lands nearly always feature campgrounds just outside of a National Park that are designed to handle overflow, which present some good alternative camping options that are worth looking into.
When touring the Lassen Volcanic National Park in California, one of the best offsite camping options can be found in the neighboring Lassen National Forest. The Battle Creek Campground is the spot to look for and it is located on State Road 36 next to the National Park Headquarters, so it is easy to find. The Battle Creek Campground offers the same lava land landscape that is found inside the park and the remnants of ancient flows can be seen throughout the deep pine woods. The Battle Creek Meadows are right next door, which is a premium wildlife viewing area and several hiking trails can be found nearby.
The Battle Creek Campground has 50 campsites with picnic tables and fire rings. Most of the campsites are best suited for vehicle tent camping. Basic facilities along with drinking water are available. The National Forest Service also provides free firewood on occasion, but it is best to check the current fire restrictions before striking a match. The chipmunks and ground squirrels are everywhere in this campground. They are a fun source of entertainment for visitors of all ages, but it is best to keep some distance. Bears roam these woods too, so using bear safe food storage is required. Carrying a few extra tent stakes is also advisable, because the lava rocks underground will certainly cause thin metal stakes to bend like cheap wire.
My own experience at the Battle Creek Campground was a strange one, because of the conditions. I was on an isolation camping tour of the northwest during the summer of 2020 when the Covid Pandemic was getting out of control and just when I crossed the Oregon-California Border, things got much worse. A few gigantic wildfires broke out when I arrived in the Klamath region, so the camping tour quickly turned into an escape from California emergency. It took two days just to get out of the deep woods in northern California and I arrived at Mt Lassen when the wildfire smoke first covered the mountain. The dim sunshine cast an orange color glow over the forest, which can be seen in the photos. One last campout at Battle Creek before doing a quick tour of the Lassen Volcanic National Park on the way to Reno was the evacuation plan. This hasty trip certainly was a weird visual experience.
By the time I got to Reno, the smoke was so thick that the tall casino buildings could not bee seen from a block away, so heading further east was necessary. The 2020 California wildfire season sure did end the last leg of my northwest tour in a big hurry, but getting out of the way of the firefighters was best to do. The eerie orange fire smoke glow at the Battle Creek Campground certainly was memorable and it sure did set a pensive mood!
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