Camping Diaries: GLORY HOLE Recreation Area!

I discovered this campground a couple of years ago when I was looking for a campground near the Bay Area. I can’t help but love the fact that it’s called GLORY HOLE RECREATION AREA. How awesome is that! It’s not as dirty as it sounds (I think that a “glory hole” is technically a mining term).

Glory Hole!

I’ve been here on numerous trips – I can tell you that it definitely has some strong pluses and minuses as a campground and “recreation” area – which I’ll get into more detail below.

Roger brought the Shake-weight on our Glory Hole camping trip

One of my favorite memories of Glory Hole happened during a camping trip with the non-profit youth group that I work for. I took them on a “night hike” and soon found out that they were pretty much scared of everything that moved – or didn’t move.  At one point we were all just running and screaming hysterically down a trail after a few of them spotted some glowing deer eyes in the dark and got freaked the hell out! Good times.

Glory Hole’s Positives:

You Can Float In the Lake ALL DAY LONG

When my friends and I came here, we loved the fact that the weather was usually pretty nice (much warmer than the Bay Area), and that the water’s pretty calm. New Melones Lake is a huge body of water that many use for boating and fishing, but the brochures never mention how great it is to float on the water for entire afternoons. After working my non-profit job day in and day out, there’s nothing more cheap and relaxing than a leisurely float. I think we passed out for 2 hours uninterrupted.


The Boating Is Pretty Fun

If you get 10 friends to throw down $15 each, y’all can have yourself a speed boat for an entire day and drag your friends behind you on a raft. It’s pretty much my childhood dream come true. However, if you’re more like me and a bit more broke, you and a friend can pitch in $15 instead and get a double kayak for a whole day. I highly recommend the latter. There’s some fun little islands on the lake to explore, and you can also paddle from beach area to beach area during the day.

Plus…how can you not appreciate the fact that…

The Campground Is Pretty Diverse

I actually care about this a great deal. As a person of color that likes to go camping, it’s nice to not have to deal with much intolerance, ethnic, cultural, class, or otherwise. Families from all over the Bay Area come to New Melones, so chances are you’ll meet folks from Santa Cruz to San Jose at Glory Hole. They often BBQ some deliciousness too, so make sure to be friendly to your neighbors.

Tolerance for messy s’mores eating is a must

The Camp Hosts Are Usually Pretty Nice

After a big dinner of Korean stew and a lot of Jameson, a group of friends and I at site #11 became a bit too rowdy. The events of the night culminated with me screaming hysterically in my hammock as one of the members of our party began to disrobe himself a bit too close to where I was situated (it was a joke, don’t worry). The camp host came over to us and in a friendly way reminded us that it was after 10PM, and that quiet hours were in effect. Isn’t that nice? We checked ourselves and watched our noise levels for the rest of the trip.

The Nearby Town Is Awesome

So friendly! So what if they have frog jumping contests every year? This place ain’t a “hick town”. I really, really like the people who work at the stores in the surrounding area – from the helpful folks at the grocery store, to the Indian guy who sells firewood to me every time I visit his liquor store, they’re all so nice. Be good to them.

On the edge of Calaveras County sits this awesome shop

…And the “Not So Great”

Beware of the Mud and Jagged Rocks

Even though a lot of people bring their kids here, it’s not the most kid-friendly beach. Near the edge of the water you’ll often find jagged rocks sticking out of the ground (fascinating as a geology and earth science observation, but the rocks killed 3 out of 5 of our floaties during our youth camping trip). I love New Melones because 1) I can swim and 2) I bring a floatie. But if you play in the water near the shore, you will be stuck in the mud. Yes, the water is pretty murky. And, it sometimes has mini leeches! Not a big deal, they’re tiny and you can flick them off easily. But still! See what happens when we don’t mind our water resources?

Dry Grass Fire Hazard: The Scenery Leaves Much to Be Desired…For Some People

Personally, I think the area’s purty. But to some, it’s not very scenic to see a lake lined with dry, yellow California grasses. It’s rough, it’s not fun to lay on, and when you put a blanket down over it, it leaves tons of burrs in your linens.  You gotta pick them out by hand. Bring a non-cloth mat instead to lay on! And watch out for splinters if you walk over it with flip flops on.

Bring the non-stick mats

Choose Sites Wisely

I ALWAYS go to the Ironhorse side; the other side is not very scenic. Choose the sites that border the water, and never choose a site on the inside of a loop. If you go to, you can actually get a photo of the sites…but if you’re interested in the EXACT sites that are better, message me. I actually make a list of all the good sites every time I go to a new campground.

Site #11 is narrow but hidden from the rest of the sites. Many of the other sites are more spacious (and wider) than this.

* * * * *

All in all, the sites are cheap (about $22 a night), there’s tons of amenities nearby, and it’s a great close-by escape for us Bay Area peoples. It’s also about a half hour drive from Calaveras Big Trees State Park – another favorite of mine – so there’s never a lack of things to do in that area!

Also check out Natural Bridges – a short hike that leads to an awesome water cave area. Perfect for snorkeling with a headlamp on balmy evenings!

Tree pose at Natural Bridges

*** EDIT *** August 4, 2014 

This is so depressing. I’m sorry to say that I can’t recommend Glory Hole Recreation Area anymore as a prime place to camp. Or swim. Why? Well…in a nutshell: THE CALIFORNIA DROUGHT.

Our extreme drought has taken quite a toll on the New Melones reservoir. Compare the tree line in floating picture (above) and the picture I took just this past weekend. It completely breaks my heart:


People still go to boat there, but the water levels have receded so far down the hills that it would take quite a while to walk down to the swimming areas…


Yet another reason why we should be better stewards of the environment (and utilize our resources better)!

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6 thoughts on “Camping Diaries: GLORY HOLE Recreation Area!

  1. Janet says:

    Great post. I’ve driven by Glory Hole many times (definitely referring to mining) but have never been there.

  2. nice looks like a ton of fun!

  3. Natural Bridges is so nice on a hot day. Fun to bring the floaties down there too.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    I’m taking my family there this weekend and I was wondering which spots you think are the best. We have 5 kids and ages range from 2-10 yrs old. I was looking for a site with lots or shade and near the bathrooms/water. Thanks!

    • Hi Elizabeth,

      It depends on what kind of site you’d like. I liked the Ironhorse campground wayyyy better than the Big Oak one, because despite its name it’s not very scenic. You can Get sites like 9-15, which tend to be shaded but not always very spacious (like my site, #11) which was fine for us. The sites on the 10-14 side can be very sunny, but some do have trees (maybe sites 16 -17? can’t remember correctly). IF you want more room, sites in the inner circle below (like 23, 35, 27, etc.) have more trees. The nice thing about the sites on the outside, however is that they have views of the lake (sites 13-23 have that too).

      Sites on the other leg of Ironhorse are also very nice. The look by 63-69 are nice and some have trees, from what I can remember.

      One thing to note is that the lake water’s levels are VERY low right now due to various environmental factors 😦 so swimming is not as awesome at it usually is (I went last year, but didn’t go this year). The smaller places like Black Bart are nicer than others though for swimming. Also take note of the tiny leeches that are sometimes in some areas (pretty harmless, but a bit gross for some people), and the grass everywhere around New Melones lake is very DRY. That means burs and dry grass will stick to your blankets and may become splinters (sorry, just had to put those warnings out there because you’re bringing your kids :).

      Other than that, have lots of fun!

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