A few years back, the dam was raised 21 feet. Since then, the high water covers 74 of the 80 Horse Creek campsites. As told by the camp host, the 6 still above water become boat-in sites. By the time we arrived, the water had receded about 20 feet below this mark, leaving us with several options. Some still soaking wet, and some still emerging. The site we selected was beneath a large shade tree and the last dry site available before the road disappeared below the water.
Angular peaks painted gold with grass and spotted with oaks all but encompass this fluctuating body of water. We were told that most of the time it becomes a long hike just to get from the campground to the water. We were also told that at low water levels the 2240 acre lake plummets into little more than a large puddle. To our benefit the lake went into overflow this last May because of our unusually long wet winter, sporting its highest water level in years. We came in without a reservation, evening time, and during the week.
The camping spots that were dry, were only about 25% full. However, the campground fills up on weekends. Many campers had their boats moored over sunken campsites, just outside their tents. Armed with flush toilets, hot and cold running water, free launching, and free showers, the $16.00/night fee was very reasonable. We paid cash at the camp hosts site, but you can also reserve via the internet (highly recommended if going on weekends).
Though the sites were fairly sizeable, they offered no privacy, no protection from the wind, and no shade beyond a few stubborn trees. Most people we saw were camping in campers or motor homes, but there were some tents scattered around. It appeared to be a popular hillside family campground with a variety of seasonal water sports to entertain them. These were high water, receding water and "Where Did The Lake Go" seasons. We were lucky enough to get there shortly after the opening of the receding water season. Overnight the water level dropped about 2 feet. In a few more days, the entire campground would likely be high and dry.
Now we had not originally intended to even stay at this lake. I had marked it off my summer plans several times because Lake Kaweah's history of being a midsummer puddle. For this visit though, that didn't really matter. We needed a halfway holdover between home and our intended destination. And this was it. And lucky us, it had plenty of water. So with that, our priorities were redefined:
Find a site. Pay for said site. Paddle. Set up camp by moonlight. Eat dinner. Paddle again. Bed. Wake up. Eat quickly. Pack. Hit the road.
Important information from Reserve America website (www.reserveamerica.com/) as of Aug. 2010:
"Seasonal Flooding: Horse Creek Campground experiences seasonal flooding due to rising lake water between mid April and mid July. Reservations are limited during this time. Sites are available on a first-come/first-served basis until they are submerged by the rising lake water or the access road is no longer accessible. During periods of full pool, select sites are accessible via water and boat-in camping is allowed for a $16/night fee. Please contact the Lake Kaweah staff at (559)597-2301 for further information."
Wenonah Itasca (ours), Wenonah Voyager (ours), two or three aluminum row boats with outboard motors, a couple of composite boats set up for waterskiing, and an inner tube.
Located between Three Rivers and Sequoia National Park. Take Highway 99 to Visalia. Go east on Highway 198 for about 30 miles to Horse Creek Campground.
PG&E Recreation Desk: 916-386-5164
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lake Kaweah,
P.O. Box 44270,
Lemon Cove, CA, 93244
Phone: 559-597-2301, Fax: 559-597-2468.