With the camping spotlight always shining on California’s West Coast, many recreationists often overlook the Eastern side. But there’s a whole world of beauty, wonder, and recreation there. Stampede Reservoir camping is a fantastic example of the awe-inspiring nature you can find there.
Across the state from those towering redwoods, this region of mountains, rivers, and forests offers unique beauty. Stampede Reservoir is at the edge of Tahoe National Forest and rests in the shadows of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Just over the state line from Reno, Nevada, it’s a lesser-known but worthy camping destination for lovers of the outdoors. There are breathtaking mountain peaks and lush meadows overflowing with wildflowers along with forests of stately pines and firs.
About Stampede Reservoir
This 3,300-acre human-made lake north of Lake Tahoe is just over 50 years old. The founders didn’t build it for recreation or flood control but rather to enhance fisheries’ water flow. More specifically, it was to protect an endangered species – a large sucker fish called the cui-ui (pronounced KWEE-wee).
The earthen-and-rock dam that impounds the Little Truckee River stands 239 feet high and is 1511 feet long. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was in charge of the project, and this federal agency owns and maintains it.
With an elevation of 6000 feet, this high mountain lake offers lots of recreation opportunities on its waters and shores. There’s very little development, so it gives you a satisfying sense of seclusion, too.
Best Time of Year to Visit Stampede Reservoir
The best time to enjoy Stampede Reservoir camping is when the weather is at its mildest. Campgrounds are generally open from late May to early October. It can get pretty hot toward the end of the summer and nippy later in the year, especially at night.
It’s better to visit in the warm-weather season because the water levels are lower in the late summer and early fall. These scheduled draw-downs are a normal part of fisheries maintenance. They can, however, affect some fishing and boating activities.
Things to do While Camping at Stampede Reservoir
With its 25 miles of shoreline, Stampede Reservoir offers many opportunities for anglers. Chinook salmon, also called kokanee, are a top target. Sharing the waters are several trout species, including rainbow trout, brook trout, brown trout, and lake trout (also called mackinaw). There’s also great fly fishing on the Little Truckee River.
On the shores, campers, hikers, and bikers enjoy these shaded and scenic lands, and so do hunters.
There are many watercraft activities to enjoy as well. Motorboating is particularly popular, and a 45 mph limit keeps boaters in check and reduces wave action along the shore.
The calmer waters of the mornings and evenings lend themselves better to kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards. Afternoon breezes are almost tailor-made for sailboats.
Stampede Reservoir Campgrounds
There are many sites for Stampede Reservoir Camping, most of them run by the U.S. Forest, and there are both serviced and dry camping sites. Here are some of the best:
26104 Dog Valley Rd, Truckee, CA 96161
Logger Campground has 252 sites, most of which can accommodate RVs as well as tents. It’s 12 miles from Truckee and seven miles from Interstate 80.
There’s a boat launch ramp nearby, and it’s a short drive to two other reservoirs. You can reserve campsites during the regular season. In the winter, weather permitting, you can only book sites at the Double Bit Loop (at the west entrance)).
There’s a general store within the campground. There’s also a 15-mile long Commemorative Overland Emigrant Trail, which connects with the Donner Camp Picnic Area.
There are vault toilets and potable water, as well as picnic tables, grills, and fire rings. Rates start at $23/night for a single site ($49 for double, $75 for triple) plus a $10 registration fee and $5 vehicle fee.
Emigrant Group Campground
Dog Valley Rd, Truckee, CA 96161
On the south side of the reservoir, Emigrant Group Campground is made for large groups. It can handle RVs up to 32 feet long. The grounds feature four different group campsites. Rates are $97/night for the smaller sites and $201/night for the larger ones.
There are no hookups, only vault toilets, and water. There are horseshoe pits, picnic tables, grills, a campfire circle, and a central cooking area.
The campsite is typically open from late May through early October and you can make reservations up to a year in advance. When it comes to Stampede Reservoir camping, this is a great option for a large group of friends.
Other Sites Near Stampede Reservoirs
While the following campsites aren’t technically in the Stampede Reservoir camping area, they’re a short drive away and well worth visiting.
Lakeside Campground is on the smaller Prosser Reservoir, which is 10 miles north of Truckee. It’s about a half-hour drive from Stampede but offers an experience that’s similar in many ways.
The sites available are for tents and RVs and cost just $20/night. There’s limited shade here, and some sites are in full sun. Many have views of the lake and surrounding mountains.
Prosser Reservoir is popular for canoeing as well as swimming and fishing. There’s a strictly-enforced speed limit of 10 mph on powerboats. A boat ramp is about a mile south of the campground.
Nearby: Boyington Mill Campground
County Road 894, Truckee, CA 96161
Boyington Mill Campground is on the Little Truckee River banks. Little Truckee River is one of California’s top streams for fly-fishing, and the surrounding forest lands have excellent trails for hiking, biking, and off-road vehicles.
The campground offers single-family campsites with a picnic table and a campfire ring with a grill. The campground has vault toilets but no drinking water. Fees are $20/night.
While Stampede Reservoir is nearly six miles to the north, Boca Reservoir is just a couple of miles to the south. Truckee, only 20 minutes away, has a generous offering of restaurants, grocery stores, shopping, and historic sites.
Nearby: Boca Springs Campground
Stockrest Springs Rd, Truckee, CA 96161
Boca Springs Campground is another great option for Stampede Reservoir camping. It is just east of Boca Reservoir, which puts it about seven miles from its sister lake, Stampede. It offers primitive camping like the others, but one group campsite accommodates up to 25 people and eight vehicles. This group site is $66/night while the others are $20.
In addition to hiking and biking, there are opportunities nearby for horseback riding. There’s a boat ramp near the campground on the southwest end of Boca Reservoir. Boca Townsite Interpretive Trail details a transition from a humble construction camp to a bustling boomtown.
Nearby: Boca Rest Campground
Stampede Meadows Rd, Truckee, CA 96161
Located just 15 minutes from Truckee is Boca Rest Campground, a decent site situated where the Boca Reservoir meets the Little Truckee River. Some of the sites are even at the water’s edge.
On the downside, there’s limited shade here. The campground is mostly open areas with a few pine trees and seemingly endless sagebrush.
Boca Rest Campground has 29 sites, and most of them can be reserved in advance. The sites are well-spaced, and each has a picnic table and fire ring. Other amenities are limited to vault toilets and drinking water. Rates are $20/night.
In conclusion, Stampede Reservoir camping is yet another way to enjoy the natural beauty that abounds in California. At the right time of year, it’s a truly memorable outdoor experience. For the ultimate experience, visit when the waters are high, and the temperatures are comfortable.
Be sure to read our guide RV Camping in Northern California: What You Need to Know and the Most Popular Times to Visit.