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Camp Three Campground Review Camping By Kern River In The Sequoia National Forest In Central California By In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog

We’ve tried a few different campgrounds in the Sequoia National Forest, but this one is our favorite! Right along Kern River, this tents-only spot is great for a summertime getaway for couples or for a group of friends to get out of the city for a few days.


CONTENTS



Where is Camp Three Campground?

Camp Three Campground is located only 10 minutes up the road from the small town of Kernville, CA, which is approximately a 3-hour drive north of Los Angeles, just inside the Sequoia National Forest. Even though it’s so close to the town, you rarely feel like it, allowing you to disconnect from the world (and your mobile network) without losing the convenience of getting anything you need a short distance away.


Even though it is in the Sequoia National Forest, do not confuse that with the Sequoia National Park, which is where you’ll see the giant, gorgeous sequoia trees. But the scenery in the National Forest is still beautiful! You can expect mountains, trees, boulders, wildlife, and the Kern River, just not the huge trees (and no National Park entrance fee either).



How to Get to Camp Three Campground

For whatever reason, at the time we’re writing this, Google Maps actually shows Camp Three Campground in the wrong location. Even though it’s not far off because it just shows it further up the road than it actually is, we know that could get confusing. We’ve reported it to Google, so hopefully it will be fixed, but the map above will lead you to the proper coordinates. As you drive north out of Kernville along Sierra Way, which turns into Mountain Highway 99, look for the sign on the side of the road for Camp 3 Campground. Heading north on this road, Camp Three Campground will be on the left side not far past Headquarters Campground. If all else fails, Google Maps still identifies Thunderbird Group Campground that’s part of Camp 3, so that will lead you to the correct area.


As you’d expect for any camping trip, you will need a car. If you don’t have a car (or need a bigger one to fit all your stuff), we recommend finding inexpensive car rentals through Turo.


If you’re starting in Los Angeles like us, then Camp Three Campground is a 3-hour drive north through Bakersfield to Kernville. We recommend heading out around 10am so you can get to Kernville around 1pm for lunch at the Kernville Brewing Co. before heading the last 10 minutes up the road to the campground, where check-in technically starts at 2. If there’s no one staying in your campsite the night before you, it would probably be fine to get there earlier to start setting up camp before it gets too hot, but lunch at the brewery beforehand has become something we really look forward to!


Between Bakersfield and Kernville, you’ll drive through Kern Canyon. Even though Bakersfield is rather flat, the landscape drastically changes very suddenly as you enter the canyon. The mountains are towering with tall rock faces hugging one side of the winding road while the other side falls away to the Kern River below. This section of the drive is one of our favorite parts of going camping in this area because it is so beautiful! Just make sure that whoever is driving is going to be comfortable with it, because it can be harrowing at times. Remember to take it slow, because there aren’t a lot of guardrails in places where there honestly should be, and if there’s a local behind you wanting to go faster, there are turnoff points periodically where you can pull over and let people pass if needed. That stretch of two-lane road lasts for 12 miles before it opens up a bit more again, so take your time, be safe, and enjoy the scenery!


Entrance To Kern Canyon Landscape Photography In Central California By In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog

About Kern River

Kern River is a Wild and Scenic River, which is an official designation enacted by the U.S. Congress to preserve certain rivers in their natural form. This means that Kern River cannot be dammed and must be left in its free-flowing condition. While this designation is a great thing to have, it also means that Kern River is wildly different depending on what section you visit. Some areas, such as the one by our campsite at Camp Three Campground, are shallow and safe to wade into, while other areas are used for white water rafting tours.


The current of Kern River can be extremely dangerous at times, and has previously caused multiple people to drown. Right around the time we went camping here, a young girl fell off her inflated tube somewhere closer to town while enjoying the river with her family and was nearly strangled by her ill-fitting life vest. Luckily, a man on the edge of the river saw it happen and immediately jumped in to save her, so the story had a happy ending, but it just goes to show that safety in this river is not to be taken lightly.


With that being said, we had a fantastic time in the section of Kern River by our campsite. There are large boulders throughout the river that we climbed on and we were able to wade through water that went up to maybe 3ft deep - just be cautious of the current mixed with the very rocky river floor. Wear water shoes, walk slowly, keep a very close eye on any little ones, and don’t go in if you’ve had a lot to drink. Kern River is a fantastic place to cool off during the summer months as long as you’re staying safe; we even took a few small water guns and had a blast! It’s a beautiful area, so enjoy it!


Camp Three Campground Review Dirt Path And Pink Mountain Sunset In The Sequoia National Forest Photography By In The Great Wide Travel Blog

Facilities at Camp Three Campground

These are some things I think we all need or at least like to know about before we go to any new campground, so here’s what to expect at Camp Three:


Tents Only:

This campground is for tents only; they do not have space for RVs or camper trailers. However, if you’re looking for RV camping in this area, try Headquarters Campground right down the road from here, still along Kern River.


Bathrooms:

There are multiple vault toilets available throughout the campground. “Vault” toilets are like porta-potties but are permanent structures, so there’s no flushing and you do NOT want to drop anything in there accidentally. We never noticed a bad smell while we were there, even with the nearly 100° heat in mid-June. There’s no handwashing available though, so make sure you bring hand soap and clean water for that, plus some hand sanitizer.


Water:

There are several water spigots throughout the campground (look near the bathrooms if you’re having a hard time finding one), but our experience in this area is that the water from them is not clean, so we recommend packing in all the water you’ll need. If you do need to use the water from the spigots, make sure you boil it first!


Cooking:

Each individual campsite has its own picnic table and a fire ring with a grill. While the fire ring and its grill set-up differ from site to site, they all had something that would work from what we saw. I love cooking over a campfire, but just remember that you should not rely on the campfire for cooking in case fire restrictions prohibit you from having one.


Bear Boxes:

Every campsite also has its own bear box, which you 100% need to use. While we’ve never seen a bear in this area, we have seen skunks every time we’ve been there, and they are BRAVE. They will get into your trash, even if you’re sitting close by, so use the bear box - especially at night - and do not leave any food out on your picnic table, in a cooler that isn’t bear-proof, and especially not in your tent.


Parking:

Each campsite has space for up to 2 cars within 20 yards of the site, and no sites are equipped for RVs or camper trailers, so bring your tent!


Trash:

There is a large dumpster at the campground entrance where you can take all of your trash on your way out (just remember to store it in your bear box every night!) or at the end of each day, but they unfortunately do not have a similar recycling bin. We would love to see them add one in the future because we always end up with at least one big trash bag full of empty cans by the end of our camping trip.


Camp Host:

Camp Three Campground is actually run by Rocky Mountain Recreation Company, which means that there should always be a camp host on-site to help you, answer questions, and make sure everyone is staying safe. Unfortunately, the camp host wasn’t present during our stay, which was during off-peak weekdays. We didn’t have any problems that we needed help with, but it’s always nice to know that they’re there just in case.


Camping By Kern River At Camp Three Campground Review In The Sequoia National Forest By In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog

Our Experience

For our official-beginning-of-summer camping trip this year, we wanted to get out of Los Angeles with some of our friends for a few days somewhere with water that we could cool off in. We tried looking for campsites by the beach first, but according to the online reservation system, there wasn’t anything available - not even on weekdays booking 2 months ahead of time! I found that hard to believe, but when I called to talk to someone, they said it was true, so we looked elsewhere. (I still don’t believe that was correct, but oh well.)


Luckily for us, there was still plenty of availability by Kern River. We had been there before, so we knew that the area is nice and it all ended up working out perfectly! We had more shade than we would have had at the beach, which saved us from baking in our tents in the heat wave that hit us during those days.


Since we had 7 adults in our group sleeping in 5 tents, we booked 2 campsites side-by-side. While we probably could have all crammed together with our tents into 1 campsite, it was nice to have the space to spread out for a little more privacy. Besides, each campsite only has space for 2 cars to park and we had 4.


To pick out our specific campsites, I looked extensively at the map on the reservation website plus photos from CampsitePhotos.com, which is an excellent resource for basic information about campgrounds all over the United States. I knew that I wanted 2 campsites next to each other with plenty of space for the 5 tents, at least some shade, and I wanted us to be as close to the river as possible. For all of that, I discovered that the west side of the campground would be best. The campsites on the east side of the campground are close to the main road, so you hear and see cars fairly frequently. Not like in the city obviously, but enough to keep you from feeling fully disconnected from the outside world. And the campsites in the middle rarely have shade.


We ended up booking campsites 23 and 25, and 25 was our favorite! That’s the site that had direct access through some fairly dense trees to our own little private beach on the river via a worn path to follow so we wouldn’t get lost. Campsite 27 also has access to the same spot on the riverbank, so we shared it with a few strangers on the first night, but they packed up and left the next morning, leaving the entire space just for our group the whole next day. We ended up spending the summer solstice exploring the river, climbing on boulders, having water gun fights, relaxing on the sand, and enjoying a picnic lunch there on the small beach.


Man Sitting On A Large Boulder At Camp Three Campground By Kern River At Sunset In The Sequoia National Forest With In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog

Water shoes are highly recommended to wade into the Kern River; it’s very rocky and has a lot of big boulders to climb on, which is way easier with water shoes. We bought some inexpensive ones off of Amazon for our Caribbean cruise so now we take them camping too and they work perfectly! They will also help protect you if someone were to break the no-glass rule and take beer bottles down to the river. We’ve never had a problem with that here, but just in case. Don’t take glass to Kern! Keep your drinks to cans only, please, for everyone’s safety.


The weather in the Sequoia National Forest can be a bit unpredictable, as there has been a sudden wind/rain storm every time we’ve camped there, but the rain has never been significant enough to affect us much. However, make sure all of your tents are securely staked down so they don’t struggle against strong winds. We watched someone have to chase down their tent one afternoon during a sudden storm the first time we camped in this area, and unfortunately, we left our friend’s pop-up shade tent out overnight and sudden winds bent it while we slept, so it had to be tossed. For the most part in the summertime though, you can expect highs in the mid 90s and lows around 60. The river water is pretty chilly and will help you stay cool, so this is the perfect summer camping spot even if there’s a heat wave!


We were also glad to have our Frogg Togg towels for extra cooling power while we relaxed on the beach, plus we stopped by a Dollar Store and picked up some cheap water gun toys to take with us. They helped us stay cool without having to continuously dunk our entire bodies into the river, plus our friends had such a fun time with the water guns too!


Not all campsites have direct access to the river, so if the campgrounds are packed, I would expect campers from the other campsites on that end of the campground to wander through your camp to get to the river to join you, at which point it might get a little crowded. We prefer to go camping on weekdays when we can because they’re less busy so we usually have the place to ourselves. So if you can, go on a Monday-Wednesday like we did!


Even though there’s plenty of clear space at campsite 25, we set up our tent in a small clearing just inside the tree line so it would stay in the shade for practically the entire day. Shade is another thing that not all campsites at Camp Three have, so it’s just another reason to make sure you book a campsite on the western side (closest to the river). We also had a hammock that we set up next to our tent, but we spent so much time down at the river that we barely used it. I’m sure if we hadn’t already set it up, we probably could have found a spot for it down by the river.


After spending our day at the river, we would head back to our campsite to make dinner and hang out before heading to bed. Unfortunately, the drought that California is currently experiencing makes wildfires really easy to start, so campfires weren’t allowed while we were there. With low temperatures around 60 in the summertime, you don’t need a campfire to stay warm, but of course it’s a bummer to go camping and not have a fire! See the fire restrictions section below for where to find this info before you go.


With or without a campfire, be aware that there are skunks in the area, and they are not afraid of you. Hang your trash bags from a tree, as high as you can easily reach, because the skunks will try to get into them - even if you’re sitting close by! We’ve had encounters with skunks every time we’ve camped in this area, so keep the trash off the ground and put it away in your bear box or in the dumpster at the campground entrance as early as you possibly can. Keep your dogs on a leash, especially in the trees and especially at night. We recently experienced having a family member’s well-trained dog get sprayed by a skunk just outside their suburban home because she suddenly chased after it in the dark. We couldn’t even tell what was happening until it was too late, and just believe us when we say that it is not something you want to experience for yourself. So if you see a skunk, LEAVE IT ALONE. Do not attempt to chase it, throw anything at it, or any other nonsense.


Surprisingly, we didn’t see as much wildlife at Camp Three Campground as we saw up the road at Headquarters Campground, but we’ve previously seen California ground squirrels, blue herons, and many other birds in the area. And the skunks. Always the skunks. Mosquitoes can also be a problem at night, so make sure to take bug spray.


Adam Neubauer Relaxing In The Best Camping Hammock While Camping In The Sequoia National Forest At Camp Three Campground With In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog

Recommended Packing for Camp Three Campground

While there’s obviously a lot of things you need to pack for a camping trip, here are a few things that you will definitely need for Camp Three Campground and some other things that will make your trip a lot more enjoyable:


  • Water shoes for walking in the river

  • Swimsuits

  • Beach towels

  • Water toys - we got some simple, cheap ones at the Dollar Store for this trip and they were a big hit with our friends!

  • Cooling towels - we use Frogg Toggs

  • Do NOT take glass to this area - keep your beer, soda, and whatever else to cans please!

  • Sunscreen (always!) and bug spray (mosquitoes come out at night)

  • Propane stove for cooking - do not rely on cooking over a campfire in case of fire restrictions

  • Water for drinking (at least half a gallon per person, per day), handwashing, and whatever else you’ll need for cooking

  • Tub for washing dishes (they specifically ask that you do not wash dishes at the water spigots because the drains will get clogged, plus the water needs to be boiled first anyway) - we found one at the Dollar Store

  • Pot or kettle for boiling water to wash dishes

  • Hand soap and hand sanitizer

  • Sanitizing wipes for your picnic table

  • Trash bags with handles so you can hang it from a tree

  • Pop-up shade tent to go over your picnic table - while several campsites have plenty of shade, your picnic table is rarely under it and cannot be moved

  • Small cooler that’s easy to carry down to the river - you will not want to lug your big cooler down there!

  • California Campfire Permit - even if fire restrictions say no campfires, you should still have this for using propane stoves too

  • Water bucket and small metal shovel - these are required per your campfire permit

  • Don’t forget your first aid kit!


If you’re interested in getting our full packing checklist for camping, let us know in the comments at the bottom of this article!


Camping with Large Boulders and a Small Beach at Camp Three Campground in the Sequoia National Forest Photography by In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog

How to Make a Reservation at Camp Three Campground

Before you start packing, make sure you go onto Recreation.gov to reserve your campsite. The campground is only open from May 27 - September 10, because it can get really cold and/or rainy there the rest of the year. When we went in June, everything was on a prior-reservation-only basis, but towards the end of the season, some weekdays may be first-come-first-serve. For a weekend trip, you may need to reserve a spot several months ahead of time, so as soon as you know when you want to go, check if you can make your reservation.


Reservations are opened up on a 6-month rolling basis, so if your dates are more than 6 months away, check their Seasons & Fees tab to see when the next reservation release is happening.


Each campsite is $30-$32 per night for up to 6 people and 2 cars, which is standard prices for camping in this area. Taking a group of friends and splitting the cost is the best way to do it!


If you need to change your reservation, there may be a $10 fee, depending on the changes you’re making. Cancellations will be refunded minus a $10 fee and any other additional fees paid upon booking, up until the day before your reservation starts. Canceling the day before your arrival will also incur a fee of the first night’s stay.


Adam Neubauer Walking Through Dense Trees Going To Kern River From Camp Three Campground in the Sequoia National Forest Camping Review By In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog

Fire Restrictions at Camp Three Campground

The best information you’ll find about the current campfire restrictions in the Sequoia National Forest is on the U.S. Forest Service website, but even that can sometimes be wrong. The first time we went camping in this area, everything online pointed to us not being allowed to have a campfire, but when we got to Headquarters Campground, the camp host said that it was fine as long as we had a California Campfire Permit. We were able to buy firewood at a roadside convenience store in town, just a 10-minute drive up the road. We weren’t so lucky with fire restrictions on this trip, as there was a no campfires sign posted at the campground entrance, but we made do without and were not uncomfortable.


Regardless of whether or not you’ll be allowed to have a campfire while you’re at Camp Three Campground, you need a California Campfire Permit to use propane cooking stoves too. The permit is free, good for the calendar year, and available online following a short safety video that requires you to answer a few simple questions. All you need to do is print out your permit to show to the camp host if and when they ask for it. I’m sure a phone screenshot would suffice as well, assuming your phone battery doesn’t die. Remember to take a water bucket and a small, metal shovel with you too, per campfire permit instructions.


It’s important to respect the fire restrictions and to pay attention to the simple permit requirements because wildfires are a very real problem in California. Every year, acres upon acres of our beautiful state burn due to someone’s carelessness or even just a lightning strike, so please do your part to keep this beautiful area safe from wildfires.


Mountain Reflection on Calm Kern River with a Pink Sunset in the Sequoia National Forest While Camping at Camp Three Campground Review By In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog

Our Verdict of Camp Three Campground

Camp Three Campground is probably our favorite campground in California so far! It’s not crowded and has plenty of shade and privacy from other campers if you pick the right campsites. The scenery is beautiful and the river will keep you cool in the summertime. All around, we highly recommend Camp Three Campground!


Quick Reference Guide

What

Where

In the Sequoia National Forest

3 hours north of Los Angeles through Bakersfield

1 hour northeast of Bakersfield

10 minutes up the road from Kernville

How to Get There

Car only

Time Commitment

We recommend at least 2 nights so you’ll have enough time to enjoy the Kern River

Cost

$30-$32 per campsite, per night, plus small online reservation fees (was $4 per campsite per night for us)

Reservation Info

Make online reservations before you go on Recreation.gov

Reservations may be required several months in advance, especially for weekend trips.

Some weekdays may become first-come-first-serve towards the end of the season.

Tent camping only

Each campsite can accommodate up to 6 people

Best Campsites

25 (where we stayed), 37, and 45

Facilities

Vault toilets and water spigots throughout the campground

Each campsite has a fire ring with a grill, a picnic table, a bear box, and space for 2 cars to park

Know Before You Go

A California Campfire Permit is required even if you’re only using propane stoves for cooking

Water from the spigots is not clean so take all the water you’ll need

Cell service is minimal at the campground, but you can drive 10 minutes into town for a signal if needed

Our Verdict

Highly recommended. This is our favorite campground in California so far!


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Los Angeles Travel Blogger Phoebe Meador


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