Ron Horii's Bay Area Back
Here are some of my favorite places to go camping in
They are places that I've camped at that are family-friendly, easily
by car, and most have flush toilets, running water, and hot showers.
Olema Valley near Point Reyes National Seashore. This is the best
I've seen for families.They have nature programs and crafts for kids
the day and campfire shows in the evening. Sometimes they show
Sometimes they have live presentations. In the summer, they have
luncheons, including barbecued fresh oysters. The campground has very
facilities. They have hot showers, a playground, game room, camp store,
laundromat, post office, gas station, RV hookups, horseshoe courts, and
lots of open grassy areas for playing. It's a private campground, but
huge. It rarely fills up. I've been able to get a campsite there on a
days notice before Labor Day weekend. Try that at Big Sur! If you call
ahead for reservations, ask for a campsite in the trees close to the
Otherwise, you might get assigned a site in the overflow areas, which
less shady and farther from the showers. The campground is
located right next to the entrance to the Point Reyes Bear Valley
Center. Samuel P. Taylor State Park is a few miles east. Point Reyes
Inverness, and Tomales Bay State Park are a few miles north. Bolinas is
a few miles south. The small town of Olema is next door. The Olema
is protected from the cold ocean wind and fog by the Bolinas Ridge. The
Point Reyes area has endless recreational opportunities. Go to my hiking
page on National Parks for more information on Point Reyes. (Note:
this description was written in 1997. The campsite is under new
ownership, so I don't know how much it's changed. It does have wireless
Internet access now for a fee.)
- Samuel P.
Taylor State Park, West Marin County. This park is in a wooded
canyon along Papermill Creek. Sir Francis Drake Blvd. runs through the
park, just before it reaches the Olema Valley. Unlike the Point Reyes
Campgrounds, this has campsites under redwood trees. Salmon can be seen
running in the creek in the winter. There's a swimming hole in the
creek. The park has 61 family campsites with piped water and hot
showers nearby. Some campsites are perched right on the banks of the
creek. Others are a little farther up in the hills. There are 2 group
campsites are on the north side of the creek. They can accommodate 50
and 25 people and have a large new restroom/shower facility. There's
also a horse camp which can accommodate 25 people. There are day-use
picnic areas in redwood groves, including a group picnic site. Trails
abound through the park. There are flat trails along the creek,
including a 3-mile paved bike trail. Other trails lead up into the
hills, some with spectacular mountaintop views, views of waterfalls,
and giant trees.
Big Sur State Park, Big Sur. This park is one of the crown jewels
the state park system. It's located along the Big Sur River, a few
inland from one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the
It has family campsites in the redwoods along the Big Sur River. The
is mostly shallow and easily wadeable in the summer, but there are a
deep holes for swimming, particularly in
gorge area. The two large group sites are located just outside the main
park, so they are quiet and isolated. You have to walk in a couple
yards and cross the river on a plank bridge, but it's worth it. The
is well-developed, with visitor's centers, amphitheater, 2 camp stores,
hot showers, playing fields, laundromat, and even a lodge and
It's located in the town of Big Sur, so there are other facilities
including some very expensive resorts. Pfeiffer
Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in the state, is nearby.
of all its attraction, Big Sur State Park may be the most in-demand
park for camping. Reservations, particularly during the summer, are an
absolute must. Getting those reservations is as difficult as getting a
reservation in Yosemite Valley. You have to call months in advance. See
my hiking page for more information on
State Park, Santa Cruz Mountains. This huge park was California's
state park, acquired in 1902. It was formed to protect the giant
trees here, and has grown over the years. It has an extensive set of
including group sites, family camps, trail camps, and horse camps. Most
of the campsites are in cool, shady redwood groves. There are also tent
cabins, which have cots and stoves for heating. The park has a
center, campfire center, and guided nature walks. This park is
for its long hiking trails through redwood forests, past waterfalls,
all the way down to the ocean. It also has a short redwood nature
trail past some awesome giant trees. There are also many shaded picnic
areas. The park is in the middle of the Santa Cruz Mountains,
Saratoga and Santa Cruz along winding Hwy 236, which is off nearly as
as Hwy 9. Though it's longer if you're coming from San Jose, the
route is straighter if you Take Hwy 17 to Mt. Herman Road, then take
9 north to Hwy 236. For more information, see my hiking
page on state parks.
Memorial Park, Santa Cruz Mountains. This park is located in the
of a complex of adjoining parks: Pescadero, Sam McDonald, and Portola,
linking to an extensive network of trails through the mountains.
Park is located in the redwoods along Pescadero Creek. The family camps
are on one side of the creek, while the 2 huge group camps are by
on the other side of the creek. The creek is dammed up during the
and provides refeshing swimming holes. The family camps are
first-served, so get there early if you want a spot on a summer
The group camps can be reserved ahead of time, but they are very
so may be hard to get. See my San Mateo County
hiking page for more information.
Big Trees State Park along Hwy 4 in the Sierra Nevadas. This park
the site where the giant sequoia trees were first discovered by white
Before Yosemite became popular, this park was the most popular tourist
attraction in the Sierras. The giant trees and stumps here rival those
in the nearby national parks. The park is divided in two by the canyon
of the Stanislaus River. The North campground is located on the
side of the river near Hwy 4. The pine-shaded campsites surround a
grassy meadow. The Squaw Hollow Campround is farther down the canyon,
to the river. The park road crosses the river, allowing access to it
fishing and swimming. It continues up the south shore to more hiking
picnicking areas, and a more remote and untouched grove of giant
south of Hollister. This is a great place to go in the springtime and
fall, but not in the summer. It gets HOT out here. In the spring,
the weather is just right, and the route to the park is paved with
The large campground here is privately run, so it offers amenities you
wouldn't find in a government-run park, such as a swimming pool. The
are shaded by trees and along a creek. The campground is down on the
floor, with the jagged ridge of the Pinnacles looming high above to the
west. The park offers hiking, rock-climbing, and caves to explore. See
my national parks hiking page for
Cowell State Park, Santa Cruz Mountains near Felton. This park is
Hwy 9, not far from Big Basin. It's smaller than Big Basin, but more
accessible from Hwy 17, the main highway to Santa Cruz from the Bay
It has an impressive grove of giant redwood trees and access to the San
Lorenzo River. There's a visitors center and picnic grounds along the
The campground is located in a higher and warmer part of the park in a
grove of bishop pines. You can walk uphill from the campground to a
with a view of Monterey Bay, or you can walk down to the cool redwood
Adjacent to the park is Roaring Camp, with its shops, barbecues, picnic
areas, and steam train rides. See my state
parks hiking page for more information.
State Historic Park. This private campground is located right next
to Columbia State Historic Park in the heart of the Motherlode of the
It's a good place to camp out if you're touring the Gold Country. The
are tree-shaded, which is fortunate, because it can get hot up here in
the summer. They have a swimming pool, shuffleboard courts, and a game
room. See my Gold Country page for pictures
of this region.
- Paul Dimmick
Wayside Camp in Navarro
Redwoods State Park, south of Mendocino. I've
come here many times with friends on abalone-hunting trips. I don't
for abalone, but I love eating it. This is a good place to camp for ab
divers, as it is close to the coast, but inland enough so that it is
and warmer than the coastal parks. It's right alongside Hwy 128 along
banks of the Navarro River. The campsites are in a second-growth
forest. Huge stumps and fallen trunks are reminders of the giants that
were once here. The campsites are first-come, first-served, so go early
to grab one on a summer weekend. The restrooms have running water, but
no showers. The water is usuable for washing, but not
for drinking, so you either have to filter it or bring your own
water. See my North Coast Parks page
for more information.
These are some favorite places that
been to for day visits that are also good for family camping:
Canyon County Park - This is one of the best places in the Bay Area
waterfalls in the winter, a cool place to camp at other times. It has
1133 densely wooded acres on the eastern slopes of the Santa Cruz
Mountains, with steep trails leading to the summit. It has 25
reservable family campsites and a youth group campground for 40 people.
D. Grant County Park - this is the largest Santa Clara County Park,
with 9560 acres, located in the valley east of San Jose
en route to Mt. Hamilton. It has miles of hiking trails, meadows,
and creeks. Campsites are located in the rolling hills. It has 40
reservable family campsites with hot showers. There are group picnic
sites and a youth camping area.
Lake/Harvey Bear Ranch County Park - this long fishing and boating
lake is located in the hills east of Gilroy.
A campground with 74 sites is located in a tree-shaded flat right on
the lakeshore. Miles of trails lead through the hills in the
newly-opened Harvey Bear Ranch and Mendoza Ranch sections, which
increased the size of the park to almost 4600 acres.
Madonna County Park - this 3688-acre park is located in the Santa
Cruz Mountains along Hecker
Pass between Gilroy and Watsonville. Groves of second growth-redwood
for shady camping. It has 118 drive-in and walk-in campsites in 4
campgrounds. Group picnic, group camping, and youth camping areas are
available. You can see white fallow deer in a pen. A nature trail leads
around the ruins of the Henry Miller estate. The park also has a
visitor center, amphitheater, and archery range.
Redwoods State Park - this park is located in a deep
valley. Campsites are along the creeks.
State Park, (another
link: Camping California's Wild Coast) - this redwood park is
near the coast. Creeks run through the park in fern-covered canyons.
Brighton State Beach - this very popular beach is located south of
Santa Cruz. Campsites are on the coastal terrace above the beach. Trees
provide scattered shade. Paths lead down the cliffs from the campground
to the sandy beach.
Gulch State Park - this is a beautiful coastal park near Mendocino,
with campsites along Russian Gulch Creek.
Damme State Park - this coastal park is also on the coast near
with campsites along the Little River. Trails lead through lush fern
and pygmy forests.
Woods State Park - this park is located in a forest of giant
along the Navarro River, along Hwy 128. Campsites are located in the
It's inland from the Mendocino Coast, so it is warmer during the summer
than the coastal parks.
State Park - this large park is located on the coast north of Fort
Bragg. It has lakes, meadows, beaches, and coastal bluffs.
Island State Park, "Alone
on an Island (in San Francisco Bay) Angel Island State Park" -
Island is located in San Francisco Bay just off Tiburon. It's reached
ferry from San Francisco, Tiburon, and Vallejo. It's a popular place
bicycling and hiking. Views from the highest point, Mt. Caroline
are among the best in the Bay Area. A hike-in environmental campground
is available for camping.
Skyline County Park - this is a beautiful park located in a redwood
forest near Saratoga. There are RV and walk-in tent campsites. The walk
to the tent sites can be steep, but they located in a deeply-shaded
grove. A nature science center is here, as well as a youth hostel.
Springs - this is a private campground along Hwy 9 near Saratoga in
a redwood forest along Saratoga Creek. It has extensive facilities,
a swmming pool.
Molera State Park - In sharp contrast with nearby Pfeiffer Big Sur,
the campground at this park is rarely full. That's because it's in a
field with little shade and requires a 1/4-mile hike to reach it. It
running water and portable toilets. A mile hike leads to the mouth of
Big Sur River and a beautiful beach.
Camp State Park - this park is located near San Rafael on San
Bay. It the site of a former Chinese shrimp-fishing village. There is a
campground with walk-in campsites here.
- Other Bay Area Parks
- North Coast Parks
- Central Valley/Sierra Parks
- Central Coast Parks
Barbara-Ventura area beaches
The best book on camping in California that I've
Camping by Tom Stienstra (Foghorn
Press, San Francisco). It's a huge thick red book with ratings and
personal opinions on just about every campsite in California.
Moon Outdoors: California Camping by Tom
Menasha Ridge: Best in Tent
Camping, Northern California by Bill Mai
Menasha Ridge: Best in Tent
Camping, Southern California by Bill Mai
Menasha Ridge: The
Unofficial Guide to the Best RV and Tent Campgrounds in California and
the West by Joel Grossman and Christopher
AAA also has a guide and camping maps which you can
up for free if you're a AAA member.
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Area Back Pages Home Page
Ron Horii, San Jose
Created 10/5/97. Last update: 7/14/07