Caswell Memorial State Park is located outside of Ripon, California, on the Stanislaus River. (Google Map) Leaving Fremont at about 3pm on a Friday afternoon, it took us almost exactly 2.5 hours to get there.
We’ve camped at many state parks, but Caswell is different from our usual places; we tend towards redwoods and mountains. Caswell is mostly about the river, with nary a sequoia to be found. There are definite benefits and highlights to a park like Caswell, but it wasn’t a great fit for us and our camping style.
This trip was just Jamie and me; we’d hoped for a quiet weekend away, with books, cocktails and each other, but that isn’t exactly how it went down…
- Wide, flat roads throughout the park that would be perfect for beginning bike riders.
- Inexpensive ($5/bundle) firewood is available from private sellers just outside the park (it was the only place it was available when we were there) so you can stock up on your way in.
- It’s close enough to town that you can run to Safeway or Walmart if you forget anything. Or Bass Pro Shop, which we did because we’re nerds.
- Convenient river access, but not so close as so cause stress with non-swimming kids.
Here’s the path that leads down to a small beach and the river:
- The location is pretty fantastic. Two hours and change from the Bay Area is totally doable for a weekend, so we were able to get our relaxation on quicker.
- We were able to book it on “short” notice. California state park reservations open (and fill!) months in advance, so when we tried to book about 6-7 weeks out, this was one of the few places that had available sites.
- Many of the sites are lovely! There are some that look like magical little faerie thickets, tucked away in the woods. Look at this!
- While you must make a reservation to camp, the site assignments are first come, first served. We ended up in site 63 (of 63) which was fine as a site, but it was *literally* a quarter-mile walk to the bathroom. That’s far in the middle of the night. Or the middle of the day. And I can’t imagine doing it with a young child who may or may not be on board with peeing in nature.
- The bathroom situation is weird; there are 63 sites and TWO bathrooms, for a total of 8-10 toilets, and there’s an entire loop of campsites that don’t really have a bathroom of their own. (Yes, I’m mentioning this again. Yes, it’s that annoying)
- It was super-duper mosquito-y. They even had warnings posted around about them. We recently picked up a couple of Thermacell Mosquito Repellant (Affiliate) devices and they were VERY effective. We came home with only a couple of bites each. Not too shabby, considering the number of mosquitos we saw!
- It appears that the 8-person limit at campsites is not enforced. We saw many sites with as many as 20 people, one had 7 tents crammed in it. While it obviously doesn’t impact me in my own site, there were multiple sites with huge groups, so it just gives the overall impression of being very busy and crowded for camping.
- It’s noisy. There were multiple sites that had amplified music going at high volume all day during the permitted hours. We had hip-hop from one site, mariachi from another, and the Warriors game from yet another. Lots of continuous noise not made by nature.
- Inconsistent site sizing: I posted a photo of a sweet site in a thicket above, but there’s also this tiny one; I’m actually sitting in my car in the parking spot for this one. There’s not much space for this particular site.
- The shady vs sunny sites are also dramatically different. The river side of the park gets very little shade, and out in the Valley there, it can get really freaking hot in the summer, so I don’t know that I’d want to be in several of those sites. Here’s one example:
There’s a benefit to this site, though. On the other side of those bushes? A lovely river view. (There’s no water access directly from the site; that’s only from the path)
Caswell would be great for a couple of families with kids camping together, provided they get a good site. It wasn’t a great fit for us looking for a quiet weekend.