1. Photo by Adrian Kok

    You get up at 4 AM, stir the kids from slumber with much grumbling and moans of dismay, spend the next half hour pouring coffee down your gullet while yelling at your kids to hurry up and get dressed, pile into the pre-packed, pre-gassed car, hit the highway by 5 AM, drive for four hours and stop in Fresno, endure 100 plus degree temperatures to feed lunch to your family, wait while everyone takes their time peeing at a Shell station, hit the road again and drive another four hours until you finally come upon that glorious sign that reads, “Yosemite National Park: Entrance ½ mile,” and the kids start shrieking with joy. 

     Then you find yourself in a line of about 500 cars waiting to get in, get your entry fee money ready, keep your kids calm with threats of violence, finally reach the entrance after waiting three more hours in line and find a smaller, less pleasant sign that reads, “All Campgrounds Full.”

    It’s about then that the top of your head figuratively blows off and your kids discover your previously hidden capacity for swearing.

    Now what do you do?

    Well, you can drive south for an additional three or four hours and hope there’s a campground open in Sequoia/Kings Canyon, but as it’s already after 5 PM, you’ll have to set up your camp in the dark… if you find a space. You can see if there are any vacancies at the lodges scattered around the entrance to Yosemite, but trust me, they’ll all be full, too, and even if they aren’t, they’re expensive. You can drive down the mountain and spend the night in Merced or Fresno, but that’s like settling for Detroit when you had your heart set on Disneyland.

    So, where to camp?


    Most people faced with this dilemma turn to the ironically named Fish Camp, located just outside Yosemite’s south entrance. What is ironic about Fish Camp? Well, the only nearby water is a shallow, grassy pond that I doubt contains anything more than minnows. Of course, minnows are fish, but if you’re fishing for minnows you are beyond desperate.


     Bass Lake is another nearly-Yosemite option. I have camped here in the past, and there’s nothing wrong with Bass Lake other than it’s usually crowded, it’s overdeveloped and more often than not it’s filled with bikers—and I don’t mean the types you’re apt to see riding Schwinns. 

    I’m going to spill the beans here, and I may live to regret this, at least I might if you take my advice and get to the place before I do, filling it up and leaving me wondering where I’ll spend the night. I’ll take that chance.

      About a mile west of Yosemite’s north entrance, on the north side of Hwy 120, you’ll find Evergreen Road if you look carefully. 


    Take this road that will eventually lead to the tiny town of Mather and, farther along, to the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. (Be advised that the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is part of Yosemite National Park. If you have not yet paid for park entry, you will have to do so before visiting the reservoir; but if you already paid for Yosemite, be sure to keep your receipt: you will need it.)


    You will wind through Stanislaus National Forest, through some of the prettiest, nearly wild country you’ve ever seen, passing the occasional farm or ranch. Very likely, you will encounter no other motorists. If you come to a place called Evergreen Lodge, you’ve gone a little over a mile too far, because we’re aiming for the Dimond O Campground (and no, I did not misspell it, though someone else may have long ago and it stuck), on the west (left) side of the road. 


     The first thing you see when you enter Dimond O is an old decrepit building that had at one time been the mess hall for Dimond O Boy Scout Camp, which closed in the late 1970s. The first time I went there and saw that building, I assumed that the campground had gone out of business and I nearly left. Fortunately, I decided to explore a little and drove down into the campground, found the host (a very friendly and accommodating elderly couple) and several of the nicest campsites I’ve ever seen. 


     Because Stanislaus is not a national park, tent areas in campsites can be graded; therefore, your tent will be on perfectly level ground, unlike any campsite inside Yosemite. 


     The fire pits have grills that swing away from the fire so you don’t have to burn yourself to tend to your meal, as well as a higher swing arm with hooks from which you can hang pots—or filthy socks, depending on your tastes—to heat over the fire. If you have an adequate conflagration in the fire pit, placing your coffee cup atop the post should keep your beverage warm. Just don’t be a dip and try this with a plastic cup.


    Most of the campsites are reasonably large and have enough vegetation to ensure a measure of privacy. 


    Photo by Tim Messick

    A lovely meadow takes up about a third of the area, and beyond that is the middle fork of the Tuolumne River, here little more than a small, sparkling, crystal clear creek in summertime.



     I have seen tasty little German brown trout swimming around the river in decent numbers, but have yet to catch any. Apparently, they haven’t developed a taste for Power Bait yet, though rumor has it that they love salmon eggs.

    Unless obligated to for family reunions, I always camp at Dimond O when I go to Yosemite. It’s right outside the park with easy access to both the valley and Tioga Pass Road; at an elevation below 5,000 feet, I don’t get as winded as I do when I camp in Bridal Veil Creek Campground in Yosemite, and the nights don’t get nearly as cold, yet Dimond O is so remote that it rarely fills up, hardly any noisy motor homes stay there and it has a truly wilderness feel about it.


     Another plus is the Evergreen Lodge a little over a mile up the road. They have cabins there for those who find camping repugnant (by the way, I don’t want to know you), but best of all, they have a bar, so while camping at Dimond O you can always take a jaunt up the road (it’s even within walking distance) for a nightcap or two if the desire strikes you.


    To explore the local area, head north on Evergreen Road. Once you make the turn (right, that is) from Evergreen onto Hetch Hetchy Road, you’ll pass by Camp Mather, now used by Boy Scouts troops and the occasional summer music festival. The cabins in Camp Mather are very small and lack amenities, but it’s shelter in an area that gets mighty cold at night for most of the year, so stop complaining.


    Continuing on this road, you will eventually reach the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, a place that is perfect for day hikes where you can avoid the crowds of Yosemite Valley. Now a dammed reservoir that no longer serves any real purpose, Hetch Hetchy used to rival Yosemite Valley in its beauty before it filled with water, with towering walls of granite and placid, tumbling waterfalls. While the valley is still lovely in its way, you can no longer take a walk across the meadows lining the valley floor without the inconvenience of drowning.

    So, now that you know all about Dimond O Campground and its environs, do me a big favor and never go there!

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