Aliso Campground

TL;DR: Nice, oak-shaded campground. Free. No water. Vault toilet. Picnic tables and fire rings. Usually empty or not crowded during the week. Some nice hiking options out the back side of the campground. 4 out of 5. Would stay here again.

After our time in the San Bernardino National Forest at the Clark’s Ranch site we continued to make our way Northward to meet our house/cat-sitting dates in the San Francisco Bay Area. We left Clark’s Ranch soon after the daily coffee ritual in order to have enough time to find a quality site for a night or two. We had thought we might continue with our National Forest theme of late and stay in the next National Forest up the coast (which in this case was the Los Padres National Forest) but slowly found that was not going to happen.

We headed first to the ranger station to ask those who should know the forest the best where some good options to dispersed camp were to be found. I am quite sure I did a poor job of hiding my WTF face when the guy behind the counter wearing official garb replied “what is dispersed camping?” After a moment to regain my composure my second question was in regards to their MVUM. Again, my acting skills were put to the test as he responded with an admission of No Clue. I explained what a Motor Vehicle Use Map is and that, by law, the forest has to publish one. More blank looks. I made a quick, surreptitious glance behind him to see if maybe he was only plugged into a 110 outlet instead of a 220 and so might have been under powered for all this high-end computing he was being asked to do.

Seeing this interaction as a lost cause I said “thanks” out loud (while adding “for nothing” in my head) and looked through the racks of paper handouts of various issues and subjects related to the Forest and soon found their version of an MVUM. Ab sol ute POS. Someone should be ashamed. Other National Forests and BLM divisions offer large, fold out, two-sided, legend-included maps and also have downloadable pdf files so you can view them on your phone, tablet or laptop.

Official Paper MVUM. Dog Flying next to it or Scale.
Official Paper MVUM (From Stanislaus NF). Dog For Scale. Both Sides Contain Useful Info.

Many times the pdfs are also geo-referenced so, with the right app and a GPS-enabled device (we use PDF Maps – for you iOS users this is the link to the Apple App Store version) you can see exactly where you are on the map and follow along in real-time as you move about within the boundaries of the map. What was on offer at Los Padres were single-sided 8.5 x 11 sheets looking like they had been printed on a ditto machine. Hey, the 1970’s called and they want their printing technology back. Poor resolution. Poor detail. Lack of scope. Essentially useless for our purposes.

A bit later we found someone driving a Forest Service truck in the parking lot at a vista point in the area and asked him about dispersed camping and he, at least, didn’t say “what.” He mentioned two roads and that you could pull off to the side anywhere along them. Great. Thanks. Off we went. What we found was a disappointment to say the least. Both roads were essentially single lane, and when he said “pull off to the side” he apparently meant those few, tiny turnouts, directly at the side of the road, about the size of the Tacoma itself or at the area very near where some people go to shoot their guns. Willow immediately began to quiver uncontrollably during the few minutes I spent trying to glean any useful info from those crap maps at the open, dirt area near the shooting “range.” For her sanity we left quickly before finding anything worthwhile. On the way out of the “Forest” we did see one van dweller who had set up right in one of those single car-sized turnouts and traffic was going by his van inches away. Zero privacy. Zero beauty. He obviously is a glutton for punishment. Not going to work for my girl and I.

So, you say, what does any of the four paragraphs above have to do with the Aliso in the title of this post? Good question. I am getting to that but wanted to set the tone for why we did what we did. So, after several hours of futility we decided Los Padres was not going to meet our needs in a timely fashion and we need to go somewhere, anywhere for the night. Taking a look at the site showed suitable sites were few and far between. The closest option that wasn’t a pay campground or a parking lot at a casino was the Aliso Campground in New Cuyama which was over an hour away, in the wrong direction and it was already starting to get dark! But, it had a 4.5 star rating which is better than most and we needed something nice after such a crappy and unsuccessful day so we stopped for gas and then started in that direction.

You must understand, we absolutely HATE finding and getting to a new camping spot after dark. It makes finding it, picking the best spot and finally setting up camp all the more difficult than if we arrive when the sun is still up. Plus, we don’t want our headlights or setup noise to disturb any campers that might already be there and settled in for the evening. I actually cannot remember the last time we did get to a new campsite after dark until this day.

After we found the turn off of Hwy 166 and rolled up and over the lane and a half wide Aliso Canyon Road for 7 miles we finally came to the entrance and drove inside. No one was already in attendance so we took a few minutes to drive around the whole site to see which campsite option would suit us the best. We ended up at the far end and proceeded to empty the shell of the Tacoma so we could just sleep after the long, maddening day. At least there was a picnic table at the site and the weather looked good so we just transferred items from the shell to the table and didn’t have to set up the shelter.

The morning arrived with sunlight carving its way through the thick tree cover. Getting a better look around the place we could see that, indeed, no one had arrived after us and we were still the only ones there. Another bonus of utilizing developed campgrounds during weekdays and not weekends.

Willow standing amoung large oak trees at the campsite
A Look Back Down the Site. It Is All Ours.

Taking a walk around the site in the daylight gave us a better lay of the land and Willow got to make her presence known to any ground-dwelling or tree-crawling critters in the area. There’s a new Sheriff in town for the next couple of days varmints. All those gorgeous trees and the ample shade they throw will make utilizing our Renogy Solar Suitcase problematic though. We were actually surprised and delighted that there was not more garbage strewn about like we come across all too often. In our campsite we found the remains of a dragon turned into wood by a wizard’s spell oh so long ago…or maybe it is just a log and we had a bout of pareidolia.


Not that we need an actual outhouse, we do have a shovel with us (and an actual RV toilet just in case), but it is always a nice bonus to sit instead of squat if you get my drift. We took a stroll over to the pit toilet and were saddened to find that the reason there was no garbage strewn about the campground was that some earlier visitors had decided to stash their trash inside the bathroom for someone else to deal with.

garbage left in the vault toilet
Apparently Slobs Think “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”

You can tell a lot about someone by looking at their trash. In this case we can tell that idiots were here not long ago. How can we tell? Let me count the ways: 1) Buying bottled water=dumb. 2) Drinking boring American lager=no taste in beer. 3) Cigarettes=smelly moron. 4) Diapers=drank too much boring American lager and forgot to use protection. 5) Too lazy and inconsiderate to pack out what they packed in=douche. All that equates to people who are in dire need of a baseball bat attitude adjustment. That’s not just what I think, that’s Willow’s opinion as well. It’s true, ask her and she’ll tell you. We normally make it a priority to pick up garbage and police an area we are staying at so that it is actually cleaner than when we arrived. If we had been carrying 30 gallon trash bags we might have dealt with that big pile but we didn’t and we really had no desire to carry someone else’s nasty, drippy, beer, cigarette, baby poop garbage in our shell where we sleep. So, sorry, we let this one get away from us.

The next day we decided to take a look up the dirt road that started at the end of the campground right where our site was. We could see it on online maps but there was no detail so we decided to take a look for ourselves. It looked to be more than a couple of miles so that rules out doing it on foot for us unless we happen to be chased by syphilitic zombies, which we were not, so we mounted up in the Tacoma and headed out.

After about a half mile or so of regular-width dirt road our trail soon devolved into something more akin to a wide ATV path. The Tacoma is 66.5″ wide and the trail was probably 50+ inches wide in some places so there was a bit of scrapping and scratching of Madrone bushes along the sides as we slowly ambled our way along the trail. It’s a good thing its a truck and I don’t care…that much. Sometimes in 4-wheel drive but mostly not. We eventually reached a spot where an old, gnarled Oak tree had reached thick branches out across the road that were low and stout enough to have done some serious damage to our Yakima rooftop box. There happened to be a nice turn around a little before that impasse so we backed up, turned around and left the truck parked.

GPS track close-up of The Turn-Around Towards the End of the Trail
The Turn-Around Towards the End of the Trail

Our GPS point on the map showed we were not too far from where the road officially ended so we decided to continue the trek on foot.

A few hundred yards past our turn around spot we spotted an open-topped tank and could hear water trickling into it. Willow burst ahead and proceeded to slake her thirst.

Thirsty Girl

It looked clean enough and I was contemplating filling up a container full but I’m not a keen fan of sharing water laced with bovine saliva or other wildlife spit and the map said the name of the spring apparently feeding this tank was named Hog Pen Spring which cannot be an indicator of clean, clear, potable water. Our MSR MiniWorx water filter or SteriPEN could take care of any nasties for us but again, how thirsty am I and how much water, if any, do I need to bring back with us? Just then is when I noticed the dead and rotting bat lying at the bottom of the tank. Extra flavoring for the girl. Yuuuummmmm.

dead, rotting bat at the bottom of the water tank
Nope. Not That Thirsty.

Right about then I decided that we had enough water in store and, if our supply ran low in the next few days, we’d simply ration. I like many flavors; chocolate, sweet, tart, fruit, buttery goodness to name a few. Rotting bat flavor is not on that list. The black, PVC pipe that fed the tank continued on up the hill towards Upper Hog Pen Spring and then entered an impassable brushy area right about the time the map indicated we had reached the end of the road literally and figuratively. We took that as a hint to turn back towards the campground.

GPS track of the Full Exploration
GPS track of the Full Exploration

During our absence from camp a lone motorcyclist had set up camp down at the other end of the campground. Nice. He understood the unofficial guidelines for wide campsite spacing if at all possible. We caught his eye and acknowledged his friendly campsite selection with a silent head bob and then set about preparing an early dinner.  There was lots of downed oak branches which had dried well and we had, a day earlier, gathered a nice pile of campfire fuel just waiting for the right night. This was just such a night and we soon had a nice, reasonable fire flickering away in the fire pit. The next morning the motorcyclist packed up and was out of there by 10am and we again had the whole campground to ourselves! We spent that day relaxing and catching up on our reading.

We had arrived here on a Tuesday and needed to be back in the SF Bay Area by Friday evening. On Thursday morning we packed up and decided to make a mad dash straight up the coast to the Santa Cruz area where we know of several good campsites but that is a story for another time.

2 thoughts on “Aliso Campground

  1. Kim

    Hi Eric and Willow.

    Enjoying the blog. Love the humor and the dislike of those that are rude to the environment. We met you at the Geologists Cabin in Death Valley (from the Riverside 4 Wheelers group). Onyx and Granite say HI to Willow!

    You said you wanted to know about typos — LOL! I can type more than my fair share but I seem do a fair job of finding those of others. Feel free to delete this comment after fixing the typos. For such a long post, not bad at all! (I put the correct word in capitals after the incorrect word – darn those spell checkers that can’t figure things out correctly!)

    1. Willow

      Thanks Kim. It was a pleasure meeting you, your dogs and the group. I have finally made it out of Death Valley today and found some Internet access so I could fix those glaring errors you so generously pointed out. Thanks again for the head’s up. Willow sends a snort to your pups…’cuz that’s what she’s like. Regards, Eric & Willow

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