If you are looking for a fun and unique camping getaway in Northern California, consider adding Frenchman Lake to your bucketlist! Take the family out for an epic lake day or explore off-roading trails nearby to sustain your thirst for adventure! Many California and Nevada residents are drawn to this amazing camping location for the incredible geology, recreational water activities, mountain biking, and the beautiful surrounding Sierra Nevada forest.
Where is Frenchman Lake in California?
Frenchman Lake is a high desert lake located on the Southeastern side of Plumas National Forest. The closest town is the small unincorporated community of Chilcoot, CA and is about 40 miles North West of Reno, NV.
Take Highway 395 north from Reno, Nevada. To get to Chilcoot, take Highway 70 west for 5 miles. Continue 8 miles north on Highway 284 to Frenchman Lake, then turn right, cross the dam, and proceed a mile to the campground.
When is the Best Time to Visit Frenchman Lake?
The months of May through September are ideal for water recreation at the lake. The fall season is beautiful for viewing fall colors and fishing, however the lake can freeze over in the winter.
Where Can I Camp near Frenchman Lake?
You can find camping reservations at www.recreation.gov, which offers a selection of 5 different camping locations near the lake and 170+ reservable sites. Each campground has trash, picnic tables, fire ring and drinking water available. Bear resistant lockers are not provided so be sure to lock up any food and trash before going to bed.
Chilcoot Campground- Situated along Little Last Chance Creek with 40 single tent + RV campsites and flush toilets.
Frenchman Campground - Situated along the shores of Frenchman Lake with 38 single tent + RV campsites and vault toilets.
Big Cove Campground - Situated near the shores of Frenchman Lake with 38 single tent + RV campsites with showers and flush toilets.
Spring Creek Campground - Situated near the shores of Frenchman Lake with 35 single tent + RV campsites and flush toilets.
Cottonwood Springs Campground - Situated about 10 minute walking distance from Frenchman Lake with 20 single tent + RV campsites with showers and flush toilets.
We camped at Cottonwood Springs Campground and, despite not being lakeside, had a fantastic time. The camp sites themselves are quite large and ideal for large groups of people. Doc and June, the camp hosts, were extremely friendly and kept the place sparkling clean; the bathrooms had flush toilets, and they lit candles in the morning to keep the place smelling nice and free of bugs! The fact that you are surrounded by peaceful meadows, large trees, and awesome large rock formations is what I liked best about this campground! Check out our picks for the best camping gear right here.
Things to Do Near Frenchman Lake
Frenchman Lake has two boat launch facilities, making it an ideal location for all of your favorite water activities. The Plumas National Forest is the ultimate Summer playground, with off-roading, hiking, fishing, hunting, and other activities available.
From jet skiers to paddle boarders, you'll see all types of water recreation on the lake; it's a very active spot, especially in the summer. I recommend launching from Lunker Point and exploring some of the magnificent large canyon walls and smaller waterways along the western shoreline.
The creeks have cut through thick volcanic rocks due to ancient lava flows, leaving vertical canyons in a few places along the lake. You must not leave without exploring these areas of the lake!
The best spot to chill out on the sand and have a casual beach day is at the Lunker Point boat launch. Otherwise most of the lake has a sloped and rocky shoreline or soft wet sand, although it is manageable if you bring some chairs and some shade with you!
Shop Stand Up Paddle Boards:
Shop Compact Chairs for Kayaks + Camping
Shop Reef Safe Sunscreen
Yes, Reef Safe is still important at the lake!
If you are looking for a fun off-roading adventure there are plenty of dirt roads to wander off and explore. Plumas National Forest is surrounded by a dense conifer forest and amazing canyons, and likely you'll drive through the stunning Little Last Chance Canyon on your way in. Although if you are looking to get a little bit of mud on the tires, our favorite off-roading trail is the Dixie Mountain Fire Lookout, you can find directions here. We made it up just fine in a stock 4X4 pickup. The views were spectacular and on a clear day you can see many California mountain landmarks such as Shasta, Lassen and Sutter Buttes.
Fishing is a year round activity at Frenchman Lake and yes some even Ice Fish during the winter when the lake freezes over! The main access points on the lake for catching fish are Nightcrawler Bay, Snallygaster Point, Crystal Point, Turkey Point, Salmon Egg Shoal, and French Dam. You can likely catch rainbow trout, brown trout, small mouth bass, and catfish.
Is there Cell Service or Amenities nearby?
We did not get cell phone service at the campgrounds or nearby the lake, although if you head into the small town of Chilcoot you may get lucky with a little bit of service. I noticed some cell service popped in nearby the Goodwin's General Store, which is a small local market that has groceries and general items you might need while camping. The Chilcoot Frosty is right across the street from the General Story and is an old-fashioned hamburger joint serving classic fast-food items and delicious ice cream.