REVIEW: Lake Piru Campground and Recreation Area
I’ll start this review by answering the first question everyone asks whenever I tell them I’m heading up to Piru: “What’s a Piru?” Well, Lake Piru is up in the Los Padres National Forest in Ventura County, about an hour north of Los Angeles. Lake Piru is a bit of a lesser known spot as it lives right in the shadow of both Castaic Lake and Pyramid Lake. Unlike its two siblings which are pretty clearly visible from the I-5, Lake Piru is nestled deeper in off of Hwy 126. However, I can still manage to get there and back and still have plenty of gas to last me for the rest of the week.
From the moment I made my first call to the campground to the moment I left on my way home, there was a single thing that very obviously stood out to me about the campground… the staff. I’m not sure that I’ve ever met a group of people so willing to go out of their way to make themselves helpful. With every interaction I had with the staff, I was greeted with a big smile and walked away completely content whether I was checking in, renting a boat, buying firewood or being asked to move my car.
I arrived well into the night after the gatehouse had long closed down. Fortunately, as their policy dictates, you can just drive on in and pull up to your reserved campsite (or select an unreserved one if it’s a last-minute trip) and they’ll stop by to pass along your paperwork in the morning. They just ask that you stop by the gatehouse to finish checking in prior to 10:00am. It was a little difficult to choose a spot in the dark as I didn’t want to be blazing my KC’s into everyone’s campsites, but I got pretty lucky with the spot I picked. There’s three types of campsites available: Full hook-up campsite (electric, water and sewage), electric only campsites and primitive campsites (without any amenities). I decided to go with one of the absolute bare bones campsites as I usually pack enough gear in the roof rack of my Jeep to survive the apocalypse in relative comfort. One thing I noticed was that the sizes of the campsites varied pretty significantly. My selected site was pretty large, but the site next to it was only about half to two-thirds of the size of mine.
Each of these primitive campsites consisted of a dirt lot, a picnic table with benches and metal fire pit with a built-in grill. I wouldn’t typically factor the fire pit and grill all that much into my rating. However, when your 30+ year old Coleman Camp Stove decides to spring a leak, catch fire and nearly burn down your canopy on the first morning, it’s nice to have a back-up option to cook your carne asada.
While, I didn’t cook directly on the fire pit grill, it was still quite the saving grace. Fortunately, the campsite sells bundles of wood at a reasonable price and I was able to keep the fire pit going for over twice the time I originally planned. I spent my entire weekend cooking breakfast and dinner over that open flame.
After the disaster with my Coleman stove, I was understandably feeling a bit stressed and more than ready to relax a bit an get on with my main reason for visiting Lake Piru that weekend… the fishing. So, I grabbed the dogs, my poles and my fishing tackle and walked down to the lake. The campsite offers various boat rentals including v-hulls, pontoons and kayaks. But, for day one, I decided to try my hand fishing off the shore. I was told that there’s no limits as to where you can fish from the shore around Lake Piru, so I set off to explore. The different shore areas were quite varied, from little coves with a nice gradual slope into the water where my dogs can play to rockier areas with a steep drop-off great for casting out into slightly deeper water.
After letting the dogs run and play for a while, I finally settled down on one of the steeper rocky areas and threw out my line. About five hours later and a few relocations to new spots, I’d only gotten a handful of nibbles on my Powerbait at most. The weather had been mild most of the day. But around mid-afternoon, the wind really picked up and started wreaking havoc with my casting. However much I abhor being skunked, when I couldn’t manage to get my line more than about fifteen feet out from the rocks, I decided to call it a day and head back to the campsite.
The next morning, after packing up my campsite, I decided to head back down and rent an aluminum v-hull and do a bit of fishing out in the middle of the lake. The rental prices were reasonable, but not super cheap either. I was hoping to make it home before dark, so I opted to only do the 4-hour v-hull rental for $65. After filling out all the requisite paperwork and dropping off my credit card and ID, I took the dogs and my gear on down to the docks. The boat docks are actually anchored a ways out in the water, I assume to prevent campers from taking off with them when there’s no staff around. To get out to the boats, an employee ferries you out on a little barge.
We took a quick trip over and I piled the dogs and gear into the boat and we were on our way. My one main gripe about the boats was the length of the anchor rope. The only time the anchor would actually reach the bottom and hold me in place was when I took the boat a bit closer in towards the shore. Because of this, when the wind picked up, I had to readjust position fairly often. Now, I’m not sure if it was an issue with the Powerbait I was using, the time of day, my location selection or just the fact that I’m far from being a super skilled fisherman… But, even after four more hours on the lake, I could count on one hand the number of legitimate tugs I felt on that line.
Hopefully I’ll be able to return soon and eliminate some of the variables to get a better impression of how the fishing really is up on the lake. All-in-all, I would definitely recommend heading up to Lake Piru and checking out the campgrounds. The staff is fantastic and the prices are reasonable. Plus, the location makes it very convenient for a weekend or even a day trip.
Phone Number: 805.521.1500
Address: 4780 Piru Canyon Rd, Piru, CA 93040
Full Hook-up (Water & Electric): $32 (off-season*) / $44 (in-season*)
Electric Only: $22 / $32
Primitive (No Amenities): $20 / $28
Group Campsites Also Available
* Off-season: Oct. 1 – Mar. 20 / In-season: Apr. 1 – Sept. 30