Camping and swimming in Northern California
July 14, 2010 6:46 PM   Subscribe

Looking for a smallish campsite in Northern California with close driving or walking access to great swimming holes.

Hoping to leave Friday around 1 and looking for something within 2 - 3 hours of San Francisco so ideally would be able to get a spot at a 1st come 1st serve campground. Would prefer a smaller campground, but still car camping as we have some in our group of 4 without much gear to even walk in a mile or 3.

Been focusing on either Yuba river, Stanislaus NF, or Mendocino NF, but the shear number of campsites around all of those makes it hard to find out much detail about them. I've been to a few around Yuba (White Cloud, South Yuba), and 1 in Stanislaus, but would like to try something new if anyone has a favorite out there.

Anyone have any personal favorites that are close to good swimming access and meet the vague requirements above?

Thanks for any ideas!
posted by gatorbiddy to Science & Nature (8 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I would look along Highway 128 between 101 and the Coast. A quick google suggests that your options might be Hendy Woods State Park and Navarro River Redwoods State Park. I'm not certain they have campsites, but it looks like they might, and there is a river there. There might be a fair bit of traffic since I'm not sure how far back they are from the Highway.
posted by slidell at 6:55 PM on July 14, 2010

We just took a day trip to Guerneville near Russian River. Lots of good car camping places around there.

The river was Lovely .. lots of people, but not insane.
posted by duckus at 7:48 PM on July 14, 2010

You've got lots of choices, the closest nice 1st come 1st served campground I've stayed at is Willow Creek Environmental Campground near Jenner. It's right on the Russian River and has maybe a dozen campsites. It's not much of a walk (maybe 1/4-1/2 mile) from the parking area to the campsites, but they don't have any drive-up spots so you won't end up setting up a tent next to a giant RV. They've got wheelbarrows that you can use to haul firewood and stuff to your site.
posted by foodgeek at 7:57 PM on July 14, 2010

Hendy Woods State Park is a short drive from SF Bay and has nice water holes along the Navarro River, when the water level is sufficient. I was there in May, so don't know about current conditions. But you need a reservation though...
posted by TDIpod at 8:48 PM on July 14, 2010

Utica Reservoir, east of Stockton. It's open camping -- park your car, walk around (not a ton) and find a space. Bathrooms are of the porta-potty variety.
posted by waitangi at 10:44 PM on July 14, 2010

This is closer to a 6 hour drive, so not exactly what you're looking for, but Fowler's Camp on the McCloud River is a beautiful, small campground with one of the best swimming holes I've seen anywhere in the West.
posted by Gusaroo at 12:11 AM on July 15, 2010

Seconding Hendy Woods. They have not only campsites but surprisingly comfortable little cabins with wood stove, dining table, and bunks that sleep 4 altogether. Showers close by, wood for sale from the rangers, redwoods to walk/hike in, and swimming holes on the river. Also, the lovely country drive up takes you through the Alexander Valley and Anderson Valley. There are a lot wineries to stop at, with fewer tourists than over in Napa.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 1:15 PM on July 15, 2010

(However, most of our north bay rivers and streams are pretty low now. Wherever you call to check sites, ask what you can expect at the swimming hole. I wouldn't be surprised if some are currently good only for wading.)
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 1:19 PM on July 15, 2010

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