Last-minute camping in the Bay Area?
June 25, 2008 7:16 PM   Subscribe

Last-minute camping within ~2 hours of San Francisco?

What are some good(ish) campgrounds where it's likely I could get a spot this coming weekend, June 27-29, with no reservation or anything? Just 2 people, standard tent/tarp camping, no RVs or vehicle camping. Access to restrooms and water a plus, don't care so much about electricity
posted by rkent to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (14 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
As a kid we used to camp at Muir Woods. It's beautiful.
posted by radioamy at 7:25 PM on June 25, 2008

I've camped at Big Sur with no reservations - short walk from a parking lot to a big field where I pitched a tent on a tarp. It was OK but basic - you're really just there for the awesome seascapes. Also Bothe state park is nice. I remember just showing up with no reservations and it was just fine. They have showers. It's in Napa Valley, near Calistoga.
posted by drmarcj at 7:30 PM on June 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've been searching for short-notice campsites as well, and most everything is booked up right now. One thing you can do, though, is go to, search for campgrounds near SF with your dates. It will return all campsites that aren't booked (and show you which ones are). If you click through to a certain campsite, it will also show you how many vacancies they have. If you really don't want to make reservations, you can shoot for campgrounds with significant vacancies.

The website handles all the reservations for state/federally managed campgrounds, and they also list some private ones (KOAs and such), so you should get a good idea of what's available.
posted by mudpuppie at 7:45 PM on June 25, 2008

Towards the Sierras, Lover's Leap is about 3 hours away, near South Lake Tahoe. The campground is all walk-in and it's usually not that hard to find a spot. There are also a ton of walk-in campgrounds in the Sonora Pass area (~4 hours from SF) that were basically empty when I drove through about a month ago. The scenery is pretty amazing around the Dardanelle/Columns of the Giants area. Of course, there's always Yosemite National Park, but walking in is only doable this time of year if you're willing to show up at Camp 4 at (or before) 8am to wait in line for a spot. Also, the park is in peak season and if you're not hiking in the backcountry or climbing all day, it's like being in an amusement park. I've heard it's not that hard to find camping outside the park near around Hardin Flat.

Southwards, the east side of Pinnacles National Monument is about two hours away and I've never seen the campgrounds full. The campgrounds isn't so scenic, but the monument itself is a beautiful area. However, it may be rather hot this time of year.

I think in the North Bay you can camp near or around the Point Reyes National Seashore, but my experience with that area is limited and I don't know how busy it is or if you can walk in. If it's possible, it's probably the closest camping available.
posted by strangecargo at 7:57 PM on June 25, 2008

Try Samuel P Taylor park in Marin County, a few miles outside of Fairfax going west on the main drag out of town...whose name escapes me at the moment.

The park is great. If you can get in there, it's a great place to hang out. You're only an hour from the city tops if you don't go at major commute time.
posted by diode at 8:08 PM on June 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

There are four walk-in campgrounds at Point Reyes National Seashore; all require permits (and reservations).

Big Sur and Pinnacles are likely to be very smoky, as there are two large fires burning in the immediate area. The North Bay (especially Napa and Solano) are also likely to be smoky, as are most areas within a two-hour drive from SF, sadly. I live in SF and work in western Menlo Park; it was very smoky down the Peninsula today. Is camping a must this weekend?
posted by rtha at 8:11 PM on June 25, 2008

You can camp on the beach in Pescadero without a reservation. Signs say no camping but they're ignored.
posted by sanko at 8:15 PM on June 25, 2008

Pomo Canyon Environmental Camp is a well-hidden, beautiful camp in a grove of redwoods in Sonoma Coast State Park. The sites are quite spread out so it's quite relaxing. There's a nice scenic trail that goes out to the beach. All of the sites at the camp are first-come, first-served. There is a water spigot and a couple 'rustic' toilets.
posted by zsazsa at 8:39 PM on June 25, 2008

Avoid the north bay, fires are making the air quality really dismal up there right now.
posted by iamabot at 10:05 PM on June 25, 2008

There are tons. For starters, check out:
Big Basin
Henry Coe
The ones up in Point Reyes (Coast Camp, Sky Camp) (linked above)
Ones run by the East Bay Regional Park District

Also, check out the Bay Area-specific version of ParkInfo -- they let you map campgrounds in the nine counties that touch the Bay. (I think the statewide version will eventually.)
posted by salvia at 10:43 PM on June 25, 2008

We've stayed at Anthony Chabot (part of the East Bay Regional Parks district, mentioned by salvia) many times over the last ten years or so. It's been great for us to use as a cheap place to stay close to the city. We take BART in from Castro Valley, and the campground is only a few miles from the train station. It's up high and you'd never guess you were so close to such an urban area.
posted by jvilter at 12:44 AM on June 26, 2008

I second Big Basin, near Santa Cruz. We camped there last year the week of Independence Day, got our reservation just a week before - fantastic location, go see the elephant seals at Año Nuevo, go see the Boardwalk, or just snooze in the (sometimes too) warm sun.
posted by DandyRandy at 12:32 PM on June 26, 2008

You will need reservations at Big Basin, Chabot, Henry Coe, and Point Reyes. I would browse Reserve America, but it's not looking too promising for this weekend. Henry Coe seems to have a few spots remaining for ranger-assigned camping.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:02 PM on June 26, 2008

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