Campground review: Yosemite Lakes Thousand Trails, Groveland, CA

PHOTO_20140825_174925.jpg We think there’s a lot to like about Yosemite Lakes Thousand Trails, located 18 miles east of Groveland, CA and about five miles west of the Highway 120 entrance to Yosemite National Park.

PHOTO_20140829_193149.jpgThis is a big campground with over 200 full hookup sites plus a large dedicated tenting area, several cabins, and two “Yurt” villages.  There’s a nice playground, horseshoe pits, shuffleboard, volleyball and basketball courts, and mini golf.  Our stay included Labor Day weekend and most of those features got plenty of action.  Our Labor Day stay also included a concert by a talented country-bluegrass band that we enjoyed very much.

After Labor Day things slowed down dramatically and we enjoyed quiet days and pretty star-lit nights.  The campground is located in a valley and a stream runs through the campground.  This is a dry time of the year and there’s a serious drought so the stream wasn’t very impressive but I imagine it’s a lot nicer in the springtime.

PHOTO_20140826_102601.jpg One thing we like about this particular Thousand Trails is the common sense layout.  There’s an area set aside for seasonal residents and near it an area for “retail” non-member RVers.  The Yurt villages and tent area (of course members can pitch their tents in any available RV site if they want) also have their own areas. I wish other Thousand Trails would adopt this common-sense approach.

PHOTO_20140826_102312.jpg The sites along the stream are the most popular.  They are shaded and several are 50 amps.  We thought they were over-rated because the stream was nothing to get excited about, the sites stay full and are close together, and they were difficult if not impossible for those wanting satellite TV.  There are also two “field” sections of the campground.  They are pull through sites but exposed to the full sun.  We opted to stay in the section close to the horseshoe pits.  We had nice afternoon shade, good satellite TV, no nearby neighbors, and (a real bonus for us) using our WiFi Ranger we could reach the park’s WiFi from our camper.

PHOTO_20140830_182201.jpg Usually we use our 4G hotspot for the internet but that’s a complete no-go at this campground.  Using our Wilson Sleek cradle I could get 1 or 2 bars of unreliable 3G – really not enough to even have a decent phone conversation.  That left us dependent on the park’s WiFi.  By staying in the section of the campground closer to the Activity Center we had slow, but somewhat useable internet.    Also, to our surprise, when I went to plug in the electric we had 50 amps – something not even listed on the campground map.

We were disappointed and surprised at how far it really is to Yosemite valley.  Even though a National Park entrance is only five miles from the campground it’s actually about 30 miles down to the valley – and those miles are twisting, turning, and sometimes steep miles.  Here’s a tip: the YARTS bus stops right at the campground and will take you to Yosemite valley.  The cost for the two of us was actually about what we would have spent on fuel driving in and out.  I suggest you drive in and see the more distant sites and then ride the bus for future visits to the valley.  They offer senior adult discounts and even have a three trips for the price of two special.  Also, there’s no park admission fee for those on the bus!

No review of Yosemite Lakes Thousand Trails is complete without mention of Highway 120’s New Priest Grade.  This 7-8 miles of road is a non-stop 5-6%, switchback filled challenge that must be faced to come to the campground.   The uphill side is also the side with the dropoffs.  It will test the vehicle’s engine and the driver’s nerves.  The downhill side hugs the side of the hill and it will test the vehicle’s transmission and brakes and the driver’s skills.  There are two other nearby roads.  One is the shorter and much steeper (15%) Old Priest – no one with a RV has any business on it and law enforcement agrees – RVs are banned from driving it.  There’s another route that includes Greely Hill road.  We checked it out and I decided it was better to just stay with New Priest.  Here’s my take on it: if you are driving a RV that you know is underpowered or overweight or especially long you should think twice before tackling this section of road.  However, most people with a properly set up RV and moderate driving experience can drive it.  Hundreds of RVs, tour buses, and logging trucks do it every week.  The YARTS bus drivers told me that their top of the hill speed target is 25 mph which they gear to hold down the grade.  They also suggested that one keep an eye on oncoming traffic, making room for bigger vehicles, especially those coming downhill.  On one had, this drive should be taken seriously.  On the other hand, a lot of people do it with no problems whatsoever.  We came up the grade about 25 mph and the engine was working hard.  Our clutch fan came on early and stayed on all the way up and a ways beyond.  We came down at 20-25 mph.  I had to tap my brakes on some of the hairpins.  Really, I thought coming down was easier than coming up.

The reward is a nice campground near a beautiful National Park.

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