N Cal camp sites with facilities and a short hike in?
May 25, 2015 7:13 PM   Subscribe

My kids have expressed interest in camping, so I checked out a car camping site today, and I'm pretty sure won't work for us. (Specifically, there was loud music being played on car stereos; in general, it seemed like the very low barrier-to-entry of car camping led to a lot of noise and general trashiness.) But my girls are hiking lightweights, and honestly I'm no hero either. Where could I take them camping somewhere with (at least!) toilet facilities, and, ideally, shower facilities, that requires a hike of around an hour to get to? Special super bonus - somewhere within an hour or two of Silicon Valley? Ideally in the redwoods? Thanks!!
posted by fingersandtoes to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Big Basin has some walk-in spots, but none quite that far... anyway, I like it the best and it's very close to the valley. The Wasthai campground is like a 5-min walk from the parking lot, but it's not car camping where you have your tent beside your car.

Apparently Castle Rock has hike-in camp spots but I've never camped there:

"Castle Rock Trail Camp — Located 2.6 miles from the main parking lot via the Saratoga Gap Trail, this camp is situated on a ridge. Each of the 20 first-come, first-served sites has a table, fire ring, nearby piped drinking water and vault toilets."

Probably about as close as you'll get to your requirements.

Big Basin has lots of redwoods, Castle Rock not as much.
posted by GuyZero at 7:21 PM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Point Reyes is the first place that comes to mind. Here's a list of the hike-in campgrounds; they all have toilets and water (but no showers).
posted by asterix at 7:21 PM on May 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

In the Santa Cruz area, Henry Cowell State Park has a lot of easy to access sites, Forest of Nisene Marks is a little less developed and located in Aptos. The University of California Santa Cruz Campus has some really wonderful redwood hiking trails and is very easy access, also right next to it is a site called Pogonip, which is an old country club allowed to return to the wild. Any of these sites are well maintained, and people are pretty considerate of each other. Also, you have the ocean option of West Cliff Drive and Natural Bridges, a beautiful six mile walk along the cliffs by the ocean, very easy pathway.
posted by effluvia at 7:22 PM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Before you rule it out entirely, especially as an initial experience, you should know that car camping is roughly a million times less awful when it's not a long holiday weekend or, ideally, any sort of weekend. The best compromise is if you can get a nice site without electricity in decent proximity to a latrine at a campground that also has an RV section off in the distance, which is where you'll find the flush toilets and showers.
posted by teremala at 7:57 PM on May 25, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Portala redwoods state / Sam McDonald park has some fantastic hike in camp sites. The county jail used to be in the park, and one of the prisoner make-work jobs was to build, maintain and improve the hike in camp sites. So there are flat surfaces, pit toilets, cast iron fire rings etc. the sorts of things you expect for car camping.

Last time I camped there there was still dry firewood set out for campers, circa 2006. The jail closed around 2002, and I don't think the firewood will still be there.

Bonus: you can bike out there too.

Also, I camped at some of the hike in sites in Henry Coe, and found those to be a more challenging hike/ride than the sites in Portola redwoods. Enjoy.
posted by u2604ab at 8:11 PM on May 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Two not-quite-perfect options:
Angel Island requires a ferry AND a hike. No redwoods, but stellar views of the Bay.

Hendy Woods is definitely car camping, but we were there just last weekend and it was very chill and quiet in the evenings. I mention it mostly because of the fantastic old growth redwoods.
posted by gingerbeer at 8:37 PM on May 25, 2015

Pinncacles is fun. No redwoods, but hiking trails and caves! Unfortunately, no camp fires at the moment, which is kind of what camping IS to kids.
posted by ctmf at 8:56 PM on May 25, 2015

Van Damme state park in Mendocino has really nice campsites about 2 pretty-flat miles in (an hour with kids). Picnic tables, fire rings, a basic outhouse and one bear-proof trash bin. And they are in the middle of a spectacular old-growth redwood forest by a burbling creek amid Jurassic ferns. It's so amazing.

But it's a rough outhouse and no running water (you'll need a water filter which you can buy for about $60).
posted by amaire at 9:00 PM on May 25, 2015

Best answer: Portola Redwoods is great. Big Basin is so popular and has so many sites, it's always crowded, but Portola is right down the road...
posted by bradbane at 9:47 PM on May 25, 2015

Best answer: x2 on Portola State Park in San Mateo County. It's over the hill towards the coast, but not on the coast, so it's somewhat out of the way. I haven't camped there recently, but one of the rangers and her family used to live on site, and my impression was that it was a well maintained, well loved park. Not a party location, and very peaceful under the trees. It can get foggy and damp, so do bring warm clothes, even in summer. If you want a quiet night under the stars, trees, and/or fog, I think it would be just what you're looking for.

u2604ab mentioned Sam MacDonald County Park for camping, but it's actually Memorial County Park that has the camping; Sam MacDonald does not have any family camping. Memorial is a more crowded camping experience than Portola -- 158 sites (Memorial) vs. 53 (Portola). It's also more accessible than Portola, less out of the way, and it accommodates a lot more campers and traffic than Portola. It's still a nice park and I camped there a bunch as a kid, and more recently with my own kids. It does have a small store on site, so if you need supplies or treats for the kids, it's easy to make it happen. It's a nice county park. In wet years they (used to?) dam the creek and create a wading/swimming area, but probably not this year.

Have fun where ever you go!
posted by mosk at 11:36 PM on May 25, 2015

Best answer: Because of the drought, you may want to call ahead to find out what the shower/toilet situation is in any California public campsite. Unless you really do want to rough it.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 1:10 AM on May 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

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