Entries in ‘Camping’ Journal

Houseboating Shasta Lake, CA: What to Expect

Friday August 15, 2014 at 7:07 AM | 2 Comments

A three hour drive from the San Francisco bay area to Lake Shasta, we arrived at our destination, Shasta Marina Resort, in the early afternoon. The summer sun was already beating down on us; we were happy to be greeted at Shasta Marina with misters spraying fine curtains of water overhead. Our hosts and owners of Shasta Marina Resort, Anna & John Harkrader, had fled the bay area in 1999, after successful careers and raising a family, to begin a new life on Lake Shasta. Today, their job was to teach a family of two baby boomers with two young adults, along with a yellow Labrador retriever, how to survive and thrive houseboating on Shasta Lake for three days and three nights.

"Shasta Lake" sunset

Shasta Lake Sunset

Our floating paradise

As this was our first attempt houseboating Shasta Lake, we decided on the luxurious 16 Sleeper Thoroughbred houseboat – our motto for this family vacation ‘go big or go home’. Additionally, Shasta Marina Resort offers the 16 or 14 Sleeper Mirage. Manufactured in Kentucky, the Thoroughbred is a 15 x 56 foot, full-wide cabin houseboat with a hull design, offering state rooms below deck. Two private sleeping areas with 2 queen beds, a mirror and sink, are below deck. On the main deck there were 3 state rooms, two with double beds and one with bunk beds. Naturally, “the kids” claimed the double bed rooms and we bunked in the queen stateroom below. The dining table and sofa both convert to double beds if you need the extra space.

The kitchen came equipped with stainless steel appliances, including a 28 cubic foot refrigerator with freezer and ice maker, as well as a kitchen island with bar stools, dishwasher and trash compactor. Our kitchen was stocked with Pottery Barn dishes, silverware, pots, pans, utensils and the ever important coffee maker and wine opener. The dinner plates were huge – large enough to serve Big Foot.

Failed houseboat mooring attempt

After motoring down the Sacramento River arm, we had a failed mooring attempt between Slaughterhouse Island and Thunderbolt Island on day one. “Don’t you remember the fellow saying to ‘stay away from the red clay?’” our 18-year-old questioned the patriarch and newbie houseboater who had selected what looked to be a prime spot surrounded by ankle sucking, muddy, red clay soils. The two men sunk 3 foot, wrought iron stakes into the ground, along with rope attached, to moor our houseboat for the night, only to watch them slide down the hillside like a slow moving lava flow. Sweating and cursing, my husband admitted defeat and we abandoned ship in search of solid ground.

"Shasta Marina Resort" houseboat

Our houseboat from Shasta Marina Resort

Houseboat home in Dolly Cove

With our ski boat bobbing merrily behind us like a baby duckling following mama, we found success at Dolly Cove. After high fives all around, we celebrated our mooring victory with a round of wake boarding with Shasta Dam looming in the distance. Shasta Lake was as smooth as glass that evening and offered a gorgeous mountain sunset as we grilled fresh wild Alaskan Sockeye salmon and munched on Brentwood, California sugar sweet corn on the cob, followed by a relaxing soak in the rooftop hot tub. Eureka, we had discovered California gold on Lake Shasta!

wake boarding "Shasta Lake"

Wake boarding on Shasta Lake

Lake Shasta electronic free zone

The kids liked the large flat screen tv, but quickly learned that this trip would be an electronic free zone. As we left Shasta Marina behind us, we cut loose our ties to our smartphones and television, instead turning to books, card games and remembering how to kick back and go with the flow of the lake. The entertainment center offered DVD and stereo with iPod hookup, enabling us to blast tunes while we splashed into the lake via the water slide on the top deck. Thankfully, music could be piped directly into each deck, so both the baby boomers and young adults could enjoy their own music selections.

"Shasta Lake" vacation

Shasta Lake vacation

Shasta Lake recreation

I quickly learned the boating concept of Shasta Lake. Whoever has the most water toys wins! We had our bases covered at Shasta Marina Resort as we rented a ski boat loaded with water skis, wake board and tube for towing behind the boat, in addition to our Thoroughbred houseboat. Our kids loved wake boarding and water skiing, followed with a soak in the hot tub – good for restoring tired muscles. Everyone loved splashing into Lake Shasta from the upper deck slide! Shasta Marina Resort also rents jet skis – customers must rent accompanying ski boats or jet skis for the same amount of time as the houseboat rental.

Rates vary depending on off season, mid season and high season – check the website for current pricing. High season pricing for 3 nights on the 16 Sleeper Thoroughbred was $4,620, 3 night ski boat rental was $900 for a V6 19 foot boat.

"Shasta Marina Resort" houseboat

Shasta Lake Houseboat Vacation

Houseboating insider tips

Don’t forget your sunscreen! The houseboat roofs are mostly covered, but floating in the 80+ degree lake water was how we spent much of our time.

Plan on packing all necessary food. There is a large cooler on the deck of the houseboat. The marina store sells items such as ice and basic foods, but not produce.

Bring your own bedding & towels – bed sets are available for an additional fee. Check the Shasta Marina Resort website for a complete houseboat inventory list.

Make time for star-gazing – Lake Shasta by moon light will not disappoint!

Pets are allowed for an additional fee.

Expect to pay about $400-$500 to gas the houseboat and $100-$200 for the ski boat gas; depending on usage – ours was a three day trip.

Bring several good books and plenty of bottled water. While the houseboat has clearly marked spigots – lake water and drinking water – I prefer byob (bring your own beverages.)

Keep all windows and hatch to upper deck closed when running air conditioning. In our experience, the air conditioner couldn’t keep up with the demands when cruising the lake. We found it best to moor the houseboat and explore Lake Shasta by ski boat for better fuel economy and maintaining the air conditioning inside the houseboat.

For additional insider tips follow Luxury Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown on Twitter @Nancydbrown and follow @ShastaMR on Twitter.

"Shasta Marina Resort"Check-In Time: 3:00pm

Check-Out Time: 9:00am

If You Go:

Shasta Marina Resort – Shasta Lake Houseboat Rentals
(530) 238-2284 or (800) 959-3359
18390 O’Brien Inlet Rd.

Lakehead, California 96051

Article written by, video and photos courtesy of Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown of What a Trip, Travels from Northern California. I was a guest of Shasta Marina Resort. All opinions are my own.

What to Expect Houseboating on Lake Oroville, CA

Wednesday October 9, 2013 at 5:05 AM | 0 Comments

Lake Orville Marina

Houseboat vacation at Lake Oroville Marina

Does an ideal vacation on the water mean low-key relaxation in a comfortable environment, or taking on new challenges each day? A trip to Lake Oroville in Northern California for my wife and I revealed the perfect compromise for the lounger (she) and the boater (me): Houseboating.

Neither of us had ever been on a houseboat before, so we were excited as we made the three-hour drive northwest of the San Francisco Bay Area in May into the foothills of the Gold Country to Lake Oroville, about 20 miles east of the university town of Chico. Our destination was the Lake Oroville Marina, tucked into a narrow finger of the lake, which is a man-made reservoir carved into forested valleys. While the center of the lake is wide, much of the beauty can be found in the steep forested fingers and coves on the north and south areas of the lake.

Houseboats are clearly the lake’s reason to exist. As we puttered out to the main area of the lake, we saw a quirky array of houseboats, from the huge and fancy (one house boater, we were told, was landing a mini-helicopter on the roof until being told to stop) to the derelict. The overall feeling is family-focused, although I heard from the locals that it can get loud and crowded during the warm summer months.

Lake Oroville Houseboat

Lake Oroville Houseboat

It turns out that all you need to take command of a floating house up to 70 feet long and 25 feet wide is to be 21 years old and have the money to rent the boat. It does help to know the basics of boating and understand marine propulsion, electrical and plumbing systems, but all you really need is a driver’s license and a sizable damage deposit. Forever Resorts, which owns the houseboats on Lake Oroville, has produced easy-to-understand written materials and training videos on-line, and their employees will spend a goodly amount of time taking boaters through all the systems necessary to run a houseboat on the water, from the engines and motoring controls through the electrical system, powered by a bank of batteries big enough to power air conditioning, a full electric kitchen, super-sized entertainment center and enough electric plugs to power half a dozen hair driers.

After we arrived, the half a dozen people on our boat divided themselves into groups along fairly predictable lines: the boaters started opening hatches and electrical panels to see what they could learn before we took off; another group gathered around a cooler of beer and wine, and a third group commandeered the fully-equipped kitchen to whip up some snacks. We were getting off to a good start.

Switching from the helm of a 35-foot sailboat (my usual ride) to the helm of a 60-foot houseboat is like moving from a four-door sedan to an 18-wheeler. While I would not want to drive an 18-wheeler all the time, it can be an enjoyable challenge. Same with a houseboat. Our houseboat had four full staterooms, each with a queen-sized bed. The two upper cabins had windows, the two lower ones were more cave-like, perfect for kids or newlyweds, perhaps. The upper cabins also had satellite TV, a distraction for some and a necessity for others.  It was baseball season, so it came in handy.

The rest of the boat is about the size of your first apartment after college, but with nicer amenities, including the kitchen, full bathroom and another half-bath, large-screen TV, entertainment center and a combination living room, bar and dining room where everyone congregates for cooking, eating and parties.

houseboating lake oroville

What to expect on a houseboating vacation on Lake Orville

For a regular boater, leaving the slip and docking safely at the end of a cruise are the most challenging parts of the journey, but also the most fun. But the Forever Resort folks don’t want people banging up their boats so they drive the boats to a staging area and then hand them off to the customers. For my first time on this floating house, I must admit, that was a good idea. But once I was behind the wheel inching our way through the thicket of moored behemoths, it took me all of 10 minutes to figure out that a houseboat is a regular boat, except with a big weight problem. Slow and steady worked the trick; it is not a vehicle for speed-lovers.

Landing one for the night is another story.  Rule No. 1 in boating is not to let your boat hit the bottom. So it was disconcerting when our host pointed out a pretty meadow as a good location to spend the night and then headed directly for shore. As we got closer it became apparent that he was going to run it aground. Apparently this was standard operating procedure. I must have had my head buried in the electrical panel earlier when the instructor said these boats are specially made to land head-first and be tied to shore with stakes each night.  That turned out to be great because we could fish from the back of the boat or hop off the boat to hike, take photos or just relax on terra firma.

When I got back from a hike, the food group had already prepared the sundowners – cocktails in boater-speak —  and good smells wafted from the oven. As the sun set, quiet enveloped the little cove we were in, far away from it all in the forests of the Gold Country. Both the lounger and the boater had had their fill of an ideal vacation that first day.

We awoke in our comfortable queen bed to the low rumble of an engine making its way towards us. It was early, so that could mean only one thing: our fishing guide was arriving.

After a hearty breakfast of DIY omelets, we took turns trooping off two at a time with local fishing guide Ron Gandolfi. It never ceases to amaze me how important local knowledge is for successful fishing and I always hire a local guide to learn the water and what tackle works at any given time of the year.

fishing, Lake Oroville

Janice Fuhrman bass fishing at Lake Oroville

Lake Oroville is loaded with a wide variety of bass. It was voted #24 in the Bassmaster Magazine top 100 bass lakes in the country in 2013. I might have chosen to use the old standby crank bait for bass fishing in early summer, had I not met Gandolfi, who has fished these waters for over 20 years.He tied on a Senko lure, which looks like a big worm, for my wife and I and told us exactly where to cast. Bingo. We had about a dozen hits in 90 minutes and reeled in half a dozen nice sized spotted and one red eyed bass. Ron is sensitive to varying skill levels. He immediately caught on to my lousy fishing skills, but was careful not to make a fool of me in front of my wife; he also made my inexperienced wife feel like a tournament champion.

After we returned from the fishing trip, ate lunch onboard and took a spin in a motorboat rentable by the day to explore some of the nooks and crannies of the huge lake, I could tell my wife was wanting something. We had been so busy that we had failed to have any serious lounging time. So with a glass of wine in one hand and a book in the other, she took the steps up to the roof for some quiet time. The top level of our houseboat model was half-covered with a canopy and half open to the stars. And while we had no kids on our trip, it was easy to see how this level was built for them. A water slide and a wide-open space for roughhousing and sleeping outdoors would have been perfect for kids of most ages.

Our group was small enough to fit on the boat, but in exploring the lake that afternoon, we had seen something else that looked appealing, especially for a larger group: floating campgrounds. Built on floating pontoons, the two-story structures came equipped with a bathroom, outdoor kitchen, picnic-style dining table and plenty of room on an upper level to doze under the stars. These floating islands are hard to get during the summer months, so sign up way in advance if you are interested.

floating campground, Lake Orville

Don’t have a houseboat? Rent a floating campground on Lake Oroville

Lake Oroville is a reservoir, which means the water in it is owned by farmers and big cities (Read: the Central Valley and Los Angeles) and they, more than the needs of recreational visitors, control the lake level. Early in the spring the water is high, cold and close to the tree line. As the season wears on and farmers and lowlanders get thirsty, the lake level falls, exposing lots of rock. It can be a little disconcerting for the nature-loving purist to realize you are essentially in a man-made water catchment. But you get used to it, or forget about it as you are generally having too much fun. If you like high water, go in the spring; if you like warm water, go in the summer and early fall.

After two nights on the lake, we had to make our way back to the marina and head back to reality. I’d had my fix of boating and my wife had the chance to relax and enjoy the natural surroundings. It was truly a moveable feast.

Insider Tips

All of this comfort does not come cheaply. The smallest houseboat on Lake Oroville charters for about $600 per day, with the largest 70-footer going for more than $1,200 per day. There is some discounting for longer charters. Still, the 60-footer sleeps four couples very comfortably, with room for 3 or 4 kids sleeping in the living room’s fold out coach or in sleeping bags upstairs on the huge patio.

Another option: If you want to go more casually and pay less, Forever Resorts has an option they call a Patio Pontoon, like a houseboat without walls or bed rooms, which would work for a group wanting to party together and sleep outdoors on couches, floors or on the spacious upper deck.

Bring lots of things to burn on the grill. Each of the boats is equipped with a gas barbecue, and there is nothing more quintessentially American than burning a good steak on the barbecue while floating gently on a boat.

Bring toys. The houseboat acts like a home base, perfect for landing in a remote bay and launching all kinds of fun floating devices like noodles and floating lounge chairs. Lots of visitors bring ski boats or fishing skiffs and tie them up to the mothership when not in use.

Remember to leave time to do nothing. The lake itself is a great place to relax and enjoy nature, or sit on the spacious houseboat deck and read a long book. Or take a good nap in the warm summer air.

Pick your season. Spring and Fall are the best times for the most relaxing experience. Locals report that in the summertime the lake attracts boaters of all types. And the central lake can get pretty full of party boats and water-skiers. Obviously, holiday weekends are only for the young, restless, party-like-there-is-no-tomorrow types.

In addition to California, Forever Resorts has houseboats in Arizona, Missouri and Nevada. Their website has lots of details.

This is a guest post by Spencer A. Sherman who was a guest of Forever Resorts.

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Whitewater rafting in West Virginia



Mother’s Day at Cameron’s Inn and Restaurant in Half Moon Bay

Wednesday June 6, 2012 at 9:09 AM | 0 Comments

Cameron’s Inn & Restaurant in Half Moon Bay, CA.

In honor of  Mother’s Day, the family decided to surprise me with a mini roadtrip down the coast from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay.

I’m always up for being honored and I love that little trip. So, we headed south to go tidepooling and drink champagne (and Odwalla) on the beach. We stopped on the way for a nosh at a favorite joint, Cameron’s Inn & Restaurant (tagline: Cameron’s B&B – Bed and Beverage – “We don’t do breakfast.”). It’s known for the bright red double-decker bus parked out front that serves as the “smoking lounge.”

After pub snacks, video games, and exploring the grounds, which included checking out the previously unnoticed (by me) camp ground/RV park in the back, we headed to Venice Beach.

Sipping Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvee with my husband Dan and watching my children romp on the sandy beach, I felt all warm and fuzzy. Even the decaying sea lion nearby could not dampen the mood. I didn’t want the day to end.

Cozy lodgings at Cameron’s Inn & Restaurant.

Dan must have picked up the vibe and decided to call Cameron’s “just to see” if they had an affordable room that would accommodate the four of us. In fact, they did! For just over $100 we booked Room 3 called “Ships at Sea” for the night. It had two double beds and a private bath. The other two rooms, “The Cottage” and “The Fox and Hound” shared a bath and cost in the $80 range for a Sunday night in late May. All rooms were above the pub, up a narrow staircase. I felt like I had been transported to Worcestershire!

The room was cute and a bit cluttered with the cozy charm and feel of an authentic English inn. Mismatched bedspreads and worn towels — no frills — but everything you need for a comfy stay.

A rockin’ band played downstairs that night, the kids enjoyed roaming around the inn, playing in the Brit-style phone booth and marveling at the creepy pirate by the sign out front. Dan appreciated the extensive collection of beer, some 20 draught and 60-odd bottles. And I explored the tiny Old Village Shop tucked in the corner of the pub specializing in British foods and gift items. Hard-to-come by British brands and quirky English food items compete for space with books and souvenirs in the tiny shop. Delightful.

Insider Tip: If you drive the coast from SF to HMB, be sure to stop at the Moss Beach Distillery. Here you can kick back on the patio beneath wool blankets at sunset overlooking waves crashing against jagged rocks. But beware the “Blue Lady” who has haunted the Distillery for decades, searching the beach for her lost lover.

If You Go:

Cameron’s Restaurant, Pub, Inn, RV Park & Campground
1410 Cabrillo Hwy
Half Moon Bay, California
(650) 726-5705

Post contributed by Lisa Dion of Friscomama.com

Photos courtesy of Cameron’s Inn & Restaurant

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