Review: Wheeler Gorge, Los Padres National Forest

By Heather

Welcome to my first post. It’s exceedingly negative! I’ll try to be nicer on the next one. We’ll see. So, a few weeks ago back in June 2013, the Outdoor Types crew went camping in Wheeler Gorge in Los Padres National Forest. It came recommended and the Yelp reviews seemed very positive overall.

Oh, ho-ho-ho. How young and naive we were!

One word could very easily sum up Wheeler Gorge: Horrible. But that wouldn’t be any fun now, would it? Let’s get specific and savage the joint!

Problem one

That group at sites 17 and 18. We counted eleven cars (most of which were minivans), 15 tents, at least 22 chairs and at least twice as many people. They also had at least five dogs of all sizes, all of which were kept off leash the whole time. The per-site limit is eight people.

By any measure, these people were completely blowing that limit and the camp host didn’t care. If they weren’t blasting their music (and playing the same song six times in a row), they were line dancing in the street. And if they weren’t doing that, they were busy trashing the bathrooms and letting their dogs run all over tarnation. People all over the campground complained about them. The host’s response when we complained? “Well, I have to watch 600 people all weekend.” We wanted to point out that at least 400 of those people were all crammed into one site.

Problem two

toilet

The bathrooms. We were right across from two of them, so I can attest to this: The camp host never cleaned them the entire time. They went from vaguely unpleasant on Friday to downright putrid cesspools by Saturday afternoon, swarming with flies, toilet paper completely gone from all of the bathrooms and much of it covering the floor. Replacing the toilet paper was the one thing the camp host was willing to do when we complained. Thanks?

Problem three

dumpster

The garbage. That massive group quickly filled the dumpsters, which were overflowing by Saturday morning and resembling a landfill on Sunday. This picture was taken Saturday around noon.

By Sunday, the dumpster was surrounded by trash.

Problem four

Those hosts. With “hosts” like that, why bother having anyone at all? I don’t know if these are new hosts, but they’re useless, negligent and should be fired. The only thing they ever expressed concern about was the height of our fire and selling us firewood. Anything that revolved around creating a pleasant atmosphere for the guests of the campground wasn’t anything they could be bothered with. I mean, sure, they have to manage a large number of people every weekend. But we never saw them managing anything at all. They stayed in their satellite-TV equipped tent the entire time, except to emerge and do a loop around the grounds to try and sell firewood.

Problem five

The location. The campground is right next to the 33 highway, a popular route with motorcyclists. You’re going to learn just how popular it is with them indeed. Fortunately, it quiets down at night.

Problem six

The bugs. Biting ants that get all over everything. Mosquitoes. Spiders.

Problem seven

garbage-1

The campground itself just isn’t very nice. Some sites are shady, others are a mixed bag. But mostly, it’s just scrubby, dirty and sad looking.When we pulled up, the first thing we noticed was all the trash. Plastic bottle caps, plates, cups, beer bottle caps… it was all over the place.

The most comical thing of all, however, were all the cigarette butts left right beside the campfire. I wonder if the person doing that knows you can just go ahead and toss them in? Even our dog was saddened by this pitiful state of affairs:

nabs

However…

If you’re anything like me, you’re reading this review and thinking that perhaps you’ll go anyway and see for yourself. So, here are a few tips:

  • Don’t go. Oh, too late? Okay then…
  • If you’re coming from LA, take the 5 to the 126, to the 150, to the 33. It’s pretty!
  • Get there before 10 p.m., since the gates close at that time.
  • Ojai is about a 10-minute drive and there are a couple of grocery stores to choose from. Von’s is probably the most convenient option.
  • Bring bug spray.
  • There is non-potable water for dishwashing and such.
  • Vault toilets, which aren’t kept up. Be sure to pack your toilet paper!
  • Don’t worry about any of the rules, except for fire. Hosts don’t care – pack as many people into your site as you want, bring as many cars as you want, bring your hard drugs, your drumkit, trash the bathrooms, graffiti the walls and whoop it up into the wee hours.

If you enjoy activities that are disruptive to the peace and comfort of those around you and you don’t want to be held down by “the rules,” man, then this is your home away from home!

Epilogue

I’ve never made an official complaint about a camping experience, but this one moved me to do so. The people at Los Padres National Forest responded within hours and forwarded my message to the concessionaire who runs Wheeler Gorge.

While I’m impressed that they responded to my complaints and took the time to look into them, I’m not impressed that the concessionaire is siding with the host. The host claims, among other things, that he tried to quiet the group and that the cops were even called. That is just absolutely not true – there were never any police there and that group never once quieted down. Every time we walked by the host’s site, they were in their tent watching TV via their satellite dish.

Until the hosts are replaced with someone who actually cares about making Wheeler Gorge a nice place to stay, we’ll be heading elsewhere.

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