Camp Richardson is a community in South Lake Tahoe, in El Dorado County, California. It lies at an elevation of 6,250 feet in the Sierra Nevada. Camp Richardson includes an RV park (100 sites), campground, a small rustic hotel (about 27 rooms), cabins, marina, restaurant on the beach, general store, bike rental facility, ice cream, and coffee shop.
We stayed at Camp Richardson for a week in June 2022. Aside from one isolated negative experience, we found the staff to be friendly and helpful, and it was a good camping experience. Keep in mind that the weather around the lake will heavily impact your experience. Heavy wind or rain can make being around the lake quite unpleasant.
The location is one of the most compelling aspects of Camp Richardson. The community is on the shore of Lake Tahoe, where there is a beautiful public beach and marina. On the weekends, the beach is bustling, but on weekdays, it was very comfortable. You can rent kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, jet skis, and boats from the Camp Richardson marina.
It’s a 2-5 minute walk from the cabins to the shoreline, and some cabins are directly next to the shoreline. From the campground and RV park, it’s a comfortable 10-minute (½ mi walk) to the lake. Camp Richardson is named after its first postmaster, Alonzo L. Richardson
Overall, the RV park was reasonably clean and well-maintained, and the sites are pretty standard for an RV park like this. Sites are close together, but the numerous tall trees help it feel a bit more spacious. There are many great sites for group and family get-togethers, and the staff was very good about trying to place related parties close together. On the weekend we were there, the RV park was packed, with multiple groups camping together, and a fair amount of partying right up until the quiet time of 10 pm. On weeknights, there were many open spaces, and generally, the evenings were much quieter.
The RV Park accommodates about 100 RVs ranging from 25-40 feet. Most sites have water and electricity and a few sites have sewer hookups. However, for the size of the park, there were not enough bathrooms or showers. Restrooms did not appear to be cleaned regularly, and the stall doors and shower doors were ill-fitting and needed maintenance. The restroom facilities definitely do not live up to the rest of the amenities of the park. There is only one dump station, which is not adequate for a park of this size. For example, on Sunday at check-out time, there was a line of eight RVs waiting to dump at that one station.
Signage for the RV Park is also confusing. Be sure to look at the online map before you arrive, or you’ll drive right past the entrance when you arrive (two of the three drivers in our group missed the entrance).
It’s a 10-minute walk (½ mi) from the RV park to the beach and the shorefront restaurant along a well-defined road. You can drive, but you’ll have to pay for beach parking.
Pope Baldwin Bike Path
Another great benefit of Camp Richardson is that it is directly on a protected (meaning separate from the road and traffic) 8-mile bike path that stretches from Tahoe Valley (the closest town) through Camp Richardson and up to beautiful Baldwin Beach. The bike path is safe for kids, although it can get crowded on the weekends.
If you are in good shape, you can rent bikes from Mountain Sports Center at Camp Richardson ($20 per hour + $5 for each additional hour). However, we rented e-bikes from South Shore Bikes for $20/hour or $60/all day because they had both E-bikes and kids’ bikes. There is a clearly-defined bike route through residential streets (Eloise Ave) from South Shore Bikes to the start of the Pope Baldwin Bike Path. We had some people 60+ in our group, and they found riding the e-bikes to be great fun, and a highlight of the trip.
There are a series of easily-accessible beaches around Camp Richardson (Pope Beach, Kiva Beach, Baldwin Beach), but the obvious choice is Camp Richardson Beach, which is a 10-minute walk (½ mile) from the RV park. The beach was clean with soft sand, and (surprisingly clean) public restrooms were nearby. Lots of people were renting paddle boats, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards (SUPs) at the beach from Camp Richardson Marina. There is a sand volleyball court about 500 feet from the beach. This was a great location to hang out for several hours while the kids played in the Lake with the kayaks and SUPs.
There is also the Beacon Bar & Grill directly on the beach, so you can have lunch and drinks looking out over the beach and lake. Apparently one of the specials is the Rum Runner cocktail (a slushy adult beverage with Rum).
Camp Richardson Marina
There is a full-service marina next to the public beach. Camp Richardson Marina rents jet skis, speed boats (for skiing and tubing), and Pontoon boats.
We rented a speed boat during our visit and did some tubing in Lake Tahoe. You can pre-reserve a boat for a half day (4 hours) or a full day (8 hours). However, you can also show up and rent whatever boat they have available starting in two-hour increments. Boat rentals are expensive, starting at $400 for 2 hours, not including fuel, which for us was about $125 for two hours.
If you’re not an experienced boater, the friendly staff provides a fairly detailed walk-through of boat operations and Coast Guard regulations. The orientation took about 30 minutes. You are required to stay in about ⅓ of the lake closest to the western shore on the California side of the Lake so that if you need help, the Marina staff can find you. As it turned out because the Lake is so enormous, this was plenty of space for us to explore and tube safely without encountering many boats. We boated on a Wednesday, and although we saw dozens of other boats, none were nearby to us. Finally, when you return your boat, you wait outside of the Richardson Marina. The staff boats out to meet you and then pilots your boat back to the dock. This was actually great for us, since docking the boat is always the most nerve-wracking part of the boating experience.
In June, the water is still quite cold, around 50 degrees. Our kids brought 3/2 mm wetsuits (you can purchase affordable Lemorecn wetsuits for $59) which kept them plenty warm for tubing and snorkeling in the lake water. Although water skis are offered as an option, when we tried to rent them, we were discouraged and told that the water skis were too old.
Hike & Walk: Tallac Historic Site
Just North of Camp Richardson, there is a gentle path that parallels the shore for about 2 miles through the Tallac Historic Site and includes various informational signs along the way.
A century ago, the Tallac Historic Site was called the “Grandest Resort in the World.” It was the summer retreat for some of the San Francisco Bay Area’s wealthy families. The structures and signs give you a sense of this era in Lake Tahoe’s history. The 74-acre tract of land is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Our favorite place along the walk was the foundation of an old illegal casino from the 1800s that used to be located on the shore. Because the closest sheriff in the 1800s was in Placerville (60 miles away), if the sheriff ever tried to close down the casino, they’d get several hours of warning and have time to hide all the casino games before the sheriff arrived.
Hike & Walk: Fallen Leaf Lake
Another slightly longer walk (4 mi roundtrip from Camp Richardson) is to walk along the Fallen Leaf Road and through the Fallen Leaf Campground to the beautiful and tranquil Fallen Leaf Lake. If you want to make it more of a hike, you can follow Fallen Leaf Road halfway around the lake. Interestingly, the “Tallac House” is along this path (although not easily accessible from the road). The Tallac House was featured in the 1992 movie, “The Bodyguard”, when Kevin Costner‘s character, hired to protect the music star (Whitney Houston), runs down a wooden pier and dives into the water to rescue a boy from a boat before it exploded.
Ice Cream Parlor, General Store, Beacon Bar & Grill
No review would be complete without a review of the Camp Richardson Ice Cream Parlor. This was a highlight for the kids in our group, and they visited daily to get their daily two scoops of ice cream. There was a good selection, and the service staff was friendly.
The General Store has a relatively small collection of goods/groceries (mostly beverages), but notably, offers a significant breakfast and lunch menu. A breakfast favorite was the Vikingsholm French Toast, which included a large slice of house-made bread pudding dipped in vanilla cinnamon batter, choice of meat, and two eggs ($14.50).
The Beacon Bar & Grill has a great location right on the lake, with plenty of outdoor seating. We heard from fellow campers that the food was acceptable. We noticed that even on weekdays around lunchtime and dinnertime there was a line to get seated. The menu is eclectic and includes burgers to impressive-looking items like Grilled Strawberry Salmon, Humboldt Fog Goat Cheese Salad, and Open Flame Tri-Tip. According to friends, the “Beach Side” Fish & Chips and the Rum Runner cocktail (a slushy adult beverage with Rum) were the most popular choices.
Phone, Internet & WiFi Access
You should know that there is little or no WiFi or mobile Internet access at Camp Richardson — either on Verizon or AT&T — for most of the day. Texting and phone calls are challenging, and often fail. During the day, you may get 1 or 2 LTE bars, but no actual service. In the early morning and evening when fewer people are using mobile service, you can sometimes get mobile Internet access.
WiFi is available at the Camp Richardson hotel, and they have the WiFi password posted publicly at the front desk. This WiFi only extends about 20 feet around the building. Mobile Internet and stronger 5G service become available as you get out onto the Lake. The beach or marina dock were the best locations for mobile Internet and making calls or sending texts.
Also, Apple’s iMessage service works extremely poorly in low-bandwidth environments like this. If you plan to text with other people at Camp Richardson and you use an iPhone, you’ll need to turn off iMessage and restart your phone in order to send 1:1 texts. These seemed to work, whereas any type of group text failed.
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