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15 Bay Area Backpacking Trips Near San Francisco

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You don’t need to travel far to go backpacking in the Bay Area. Below are my favorite Bay Area backpacking trips, the best part is all of these destinations are less than two hours from San Francisco. Some backpacking sites in the East Bay and Marin are even easily accessible by public transportation.

This post started as a list of 15 parks in the Bay Area that allow backpacking, but it has grown into a comprehensive list of backpacking areas less than 2 hours from San Francisco. Some of these sites require advance reservation, but many offer first come first serve spots for Bay Area backpackers.

UPDATED 4/26/21: Unfortunately all of the wildfires in 2020 damaged a lot of our local parks and closed a lot of my favorite backpacking sites. I’ve updated the list below to note which Bay Area parks are currently closed due to wildfire damage.

Backpacking Trips in Marin County

Hiking and backpacking in Sonoma and Marin is always beautiful! My favorite time to visit is during the spring when the wildflowers are in bloom and the hills are awash with color. Despite the abundance of hiking trails in the area there are only a handful of places that allow backpacking. All of the backpacking sites require advance reservations, but you can easily snag a backpacking reservation at some spots (like Hood Mountain).

Admiring the view while backpacking Point Reyes Coast Trail to Wildcat Camp

Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes is a wonderful year-round destination for backpacking. The park has four backpacking areas for hikers and additional camping areas for kayak campers. The hike-in sites are extremely popular, and it can be difficult to snag a backcountry campsite on the weekend. If you have a flexible schedule and can backpack during the week it is possible to create a loop and do a multi-day backpacking trip in Point Reyes.

Sky Campground

The Sky Campground is the easiest campground to get to. It is a 1.4-mile hike from the Sky Trailhead to the campground. There are 11 individual sites and one group site tucked into the western side of Mt. Wittenberg. Backpackers here have sweeping views of Point Reyes, Drakes Bay, and the ocean.

Coast Campground

The Coast Campground has the easiest beach access. The campground is nestled in a small grassy valley and the beach and tidepools are a short 200-meter walk. Backpackers can access the camp by hiking 1.8 miles from the Laguna Trailhead, near the Point Reyes Hostel. Or, for a longer trek, hikers can start at the Coast Trailhead and take the Coast Trail 2.7 miles into camp. (Hikers who want to access the campground via the Coast Trail should check with rangers before heading out because this route is subject to seasonal flooding and closures.) The campground has twelve individual sites and two group sites. The sites are spread out into two groups, and sites 1-7 have more privacy and a bit more protection from the wind coming off of the water.

Wildcat Campground

The Wildcat Campground is a short walk to the beach and the very popular Alamere Falls. Backpackers can hike 6.3 miles from Bear Valley, or start at the Palomarin Trailhead and hike 5.5 miles along the Coast Trail. There are five individual sites and three group sites. Three of the individual sites are small sites that only hold up to four people. Some of the sites have beach views, but all of the sites are a short stroll to Wildcat Beach.

Glen Campground

The backpacking sites at Glen Camp are the most quiet and secluded sites in Point Reyes. The camp is located deep within a wooded valley protected from the ocean breezes. To reach the sites campers must hike 4.6 miles from Bear Valley. There are 12 individual sites that accommodate 6 people, and no group sites.

Fees: Campsites are $20 a night, and large group sites cost $40-50 a night.

Reservations: Reserve online up to 6 months in advance at Recreation.gov.  If you are granted a backcountry camping reservation you still need to check-in at the Bear Valley Visitors Center to pick-up the permit and parking pass on the day that you backpack.

Additional Info: No pets, no drones, and no campfires. Fires on the beach are allowed, but you must pick-up a separate permit from the Bear Valley Visitor Center. The park has recently introduced a no-show policy. If you reserve a campsite, but do not show to pick-up your camping permit and don’t cancel your reservation you will be charged an additional $20 fee on top of your camping fees. Please be kind to other campers and cancel your reservation in advance if you do not plan to use your site. All campsites have a pit toilet, picnic table, and a food storage locker.

Marin Headlands- Haypress and Hawk Camps

The Marin Headlands is a beautiful place to camp year-round. The park has two backcountry campgrounds. Located high above the Gerbode Valley, Hawk Campground is the most remote campground in the park. Visitors access the site by a strenuous 4-mile hike up the Bobcat Trail, or a 3-mile hike from the Tennessee Valley parking area. There are 3 sites that can accommodate 4 people each.

If you’re looking for an easier backpacking trip, Haypress Camp is accessed via a gentle 0.75-mile hike from the Tennessee Valley Parking Area. The campground has six sites and is located in the valley next to a grove of Eucalyptus trees. Ambitious hikers who live in San Francisco can ditch their car and start their backpacking trip by walking across the Golden Gate Bridge before connecting with the trails into the headlands.

Fees: $5 per night.

Reservations: Reserve sites up to 3 months in advance on Recreation.gov.

Additional Info: Sites have a picnic table and food lockers, but no water. Fires are not allowed. No dogs. Pit toilet at both sites.

Trails wind along the Marin Headlands. Hikers can backpack to Hawk Camp and Haypress Camp in the headlands

 

Angel Island State Park

Angel Island has been on my list for years, and apparently it is on everyone else’s too. These campsites are incredibly hard to reserve, and they book out six months in advance. There’s no question why these campsites are so popular. Angel Island has amazing, unobstructed views of the bay, San Francisco, Marin, and the East Bay, and the campsites are easily accessible to people without a car since the island is just a short ferry ride from most Bay Area cities with a port.

The island has four camping areas with a total of nine environmental campsites. The three East Bay sites are protected from the wind and have great views of the East Bay. The three Ridge sites have views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, but these exposed sites tend to be windy. The three Sunrise sites have views of Oakland and the Bay Bridge, and like the name suggests campers at these sites are treated to an amazing sunrise. The last camping area, Kayak Camp, has two group sites near a beach.

Fees: Campsites are $30 a night plus an $8 reservation fee. The group campsites are $50 a night plus an $8 reservation fee.

Reservations: Reserve sites up to 6 months in advance on ReserveCalifornia.com.

Additional Info: Sites have a food locker, water, picnic table, and a pit toilet. No campfires. No dogs.Access to the island is by private boat or ferry from San Francisco or Tiburon. The ferry service fluctuates with the seasons, be sure to check the schedule (Blue & Gold Ferry Service and Angel Island Ferry Service)

Hikers and backpackers on Angel Island are treated to amazing views.

Sonoma County Backpacking Trips

Hood Mountain Regional Park

UPDATE FOR 2021 SEASON: The park is currently closed due to wildfire damage. About 80% of the park’s 2,000 acres burned during the 2020 Glass Fire.

Hood Mountain is located at the northern end of the Sonoma Valley, about 1.5 hours from San Francisco. The environmental campsites are tucked away in remote pockets of the park, but are still just a two-mile hike from the parking lot. The park has an extensive network of trails and the trails connect to neighboring Sugar Loaf Ridge State Park so it is possible to create a longer backpacking route.

The park offers five backpacking sites that are available with advance reservations. This is a backpacking secret and it’s great place if you want to score a last-minute campsite, even on the weekend. On select weekends the park operates the Sugar Shuttle which makes it easy to do a long thru-hike of Hood Mountain and Sugarloaf Ridge.

Fees: Campsites cost $20 and include overnight parking for one vehicle.

Reservations: Call 707-565-2267 between the hours of 10am to 3pm, Monday through Friday.

Additional Info: No hiking after sunset and no campfires. No water and no trash service, must hike-in all water and hike out all trash. Sites include a picnic table, food locker, and a pit toilet. Dogs are allowed!

Austin Creek State Recreation Area

UPDATE FOR 2021 SEASON: Austin Creek and Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve were badly damaged in the LNU Complex Fire. The park is currently closed until further notice. The park is projected to re-open sometime in the fall or winter of 2021. The Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods are collecting donations to help fund the restoration work.

Located near the town of Guerneville and close to the Russian River, Austin Creek S.R.A. shares an entrance with Redwoods State Natural Reserve. Backpackers are immersed in a thick redwood grove before venturing into more remote pockets of the neighboring park. There are 3 primitive backcountry campsites (Tom King, Manning’s Flat 1, and Manning’s Flat 2), and the hike to reach them varies from 3 to 5 miles depending on the site selected.

Fees: $25 per night. (The camping fee also includes parking for one vehicle. Additional vehicles are $8 per night, per vehicle.)

Reservations: No advance reservations, all sites are first come, first serve. Backpackers must obtain a permit in person at the Armstrong Redwoods entrance station (open daily 10am-4pm) or from the Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods office located near the Armstrong Redwoods picnic area (open Monday to Friday 8am-10am).

Additional Info: Sites come with a picnic table, fire ring, and pit toilet. In dry conditions a fire ban is in effect, check with the ranger to see if fires are permitted. No water. No dogs.

Lake Sonoma

Lake Sonoma is known for its boat-in campsites, but it also has several hike-in sites scattered around the lake. Bummer Peak has 2 campsites accessible by a 1.7 mile hike from the No Name Flat trailhead. Old Sawmill has 9 campsites on the remote Warm Springs arm of Lake Sonoma. The Old Sawmill sites are accessed by a 1.5 mile hike. Lone Pine camp has 7 lakeside sites that are accessed by a 2.1 mile hike from the No Name Flat trailhead. And, Quicksilver has 5 campsites along the Laughing Springs Loop Trail, a 1.1 mile hike from Skaggs Springs Vista.

Kira Johnson wrote a great blog post (with GPS map) about how to create a 16.5 mile backpacking trip in Lake Sonoma. You can find out more details about each backcountry camp at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website.

Fees: $20 per night

Reservations: Reserve online at Recreation.gov. Reservations can be made up to 6 months in advance.

Additional Info: Minimum 2 nights stay on weekends, and 3 night stay on holiday weekends. Sites come with picnic tables and campfire rings. Dog friendly. No potable water (filter from lakes or streams), no trash service.

Sonoma Coast State Park

Sonoma Coast State Park spans 17 miles along Highway 1 from Bodega Head to 4 miles north of Jenner. The park has 12 different beach access points along the coast. It might be a bit of a stretch to call these sites backpacking sites. Sonoma Coast State Park operates two primitive camps that require a quarter-mile walk from the parking area to the campsites. I’m including them on this list because these could be great for beginners who are curious about backpacking, but don’t want to take on a more ambitious trail yet. These primitive camps don’t have water or trash service so everything will need to be carried in and packed out.

Willow Creek Environmental Camp

The campsites at Willow Creek face the Russian River and have a large beach for swimming and fishing. The campground offers 11 first come, first serve campsites are set back from the river and shaded by willow trees. Each site has a fire ring and picnic table, and there is a shared pit toilet. All of the sites are a short one-quarter mile walk from the parking area.

Fees: $25/night. Camp fees include parking for one vehicle, extra vehicles cost $8 per vehicle. To avoid being ticketed be sure to pay for your campsite before setting up camp.

Reservations: No advance reservations, all sites are first come, first serve. Self register at the campground and pay in cash, no credit cards accepted.

Additional Info: No water, no trash service, dogs not allowed.

Pomo Canyon Environmental Camp

The 21 first come, first served campsites at Pomo Canyon are nestled in a shady, second growth redwood forest. Each site has a fire ring and picnic table, and porta-potty toilets. All of the sites are a short one-quarter mile walk from the parking area.

Fees: $25/night. Camp fees include parking for one vehicle, extra vehicles cost $8 per vehicle. To avoid being ticketed be sure to pay for your campsite before setting up camp.

Reservations: No advance reservations, all sites are first come, first serve. Self register at the campground and pay in cash, no credit cards accepted.

Additional Info: No water, no trash service, dogs not allowed.

Backpackers in Henry Coe State Park

Backpacking Trips in Napa County

For the amount of open space in Napa County there surprisingly aren’t a lot of parks that allow backpacking, at least no easily accessible backpacking. If you have a boat, look into the Berryessa Vista Wilderness Park. The Berryessa Vista Wilderness Park is accessible by boat from Lake Berryessa and has a number of dirt tracks to explore.

Berryessa Peak Trail

From the description it sounds like the Berryessa Peak Trail may be the hardest, and possibly most type 1 fun trail in all of the Bay Area (a.k.a. the hike will be really, really miserable in the moment). Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District warns that this 16-mile (round trip) trail doesn’t have any access to water and gains 3,500 feet of elevation in 7 miles. Since 1 liter of water weighs 2 pounds you’ll have to carry a lot of extra weight as you huff and puff up those 3,500 feet. Due to the difficulty, this trail that should only be attempted by those in peak physical condition and with a solid understanding of maps and backcountry hiking.

Fees: No fee.

Reservations: No reservation needed.

Additional Info: The trailhead is on Berryessa Knoxville Road at mile marker 20 (east side of the road). There is parking at the trailhead, but no water or restrooms. No campfires. Pet friendly. Part of the trail goes through private land (via an easement agreement), please respect the private land and don’t venture off the trail. Check out a full trail description and GPS maps on Tuleyome.org.

Backpacking on the Peninsula

There are two wonderful places that allow backpacking on the Peninsula. Monte Bello Open Space Preserve is a short drive from Mountain View and Palo Alto. While Pescadero Creek Park is a quiet, lesser visited park tucked into the western side of the coastal range near La Honda Highway 84. The Black Mountain Backpack Camp at Montebello offers easy online reservations and backcountry sites at Pescadero Creek Park are first come first serve. Pescadero is the perfect destination for a last minute backpacking trip!

Monte Bello Open Space Preserve- Black Mountain Backpack Camp

The Black Mountain Backpack Camp is the closest backcountry campsite on the peninsula. Located in Monte Bello Open Space, near Mountain View and Foothill College, the backpack camp is a 1.5-mile hike from the main parking area. The park is surrounded by other MidPeninsula Regional Open Space areas, so you feel like you’re really getting away from it all.

There are four backcountry sites and each site accommodates four people. There is also a group site. The campsite has sweeping views of the Santa Clara Valley. On a clear evening, campers are treated to amazing sunsets. Even if you don’t get an amazing sunset view, it is extremely beautiful to watch the coastal clouds sweep over the hills and blanket the valley.

Fees: Camp fees are $2 per person.

Reservations: Check the online calendar to see if there is availability.

Additional Info: Each site has a food locker. A pit toilet and non-potable water is available. Drinking water must be hiked-in or filtered at camp. No campfires and no hiking after sunset.

Wildflowers bloom in the open space off Skyline Blvd. Spring is the perfect time to backpack in the San Francisco Bay Area

Pescadero Creek Park- Shaw Flat and Tarwater Trail Camps

UPDATE FOR 2021 SEASON: Pescadero Creek Park was badly damaged in the CZU Lightning Complex Fire in 2020. Both Memorial Park and Pescadero Creek Park are closed.

Pescadero Creek is the largest park in San Mateo county. The park has two backpacking sites: Shaw Flat and Tarwater Trail. While I’ve never camped here, it is rumored that these backcountry sites are rarely used and your chances of snagging a campsite are good, even on the weekend.

Shaw Flat Camps is a little backcountry campground tucked away in the woodlands, next to a small cluster of redwoods. It is a 3-mile hike to camp from the Hoffman Creek Trailhead. The eight primitive campsites sites share a single food locker and there is one pit toilet.

Tarwater Trail camp has six backcountry campsites in a grove of second-growth redwood trees. Campers hike in 2-miles from the Tarwater trailhead. The primitive campsites share a food locker, and there is one pit toilet. The campsites don’t have potable water, but campers can filter water from Pescadero Creek a half-mile away.

The network of trails connects to Big Basin, Sam McDonald County Park, Memorial Park, and Portola Redwoods State Park. Hikers could easily combine the trails to create a multi-day backpacking trip.

Fees: $10 per campsite, per night.

Reservations: Campsites are available on a first come, first served basis. Register with the ranger at Memorial Park

Additional Info: Campsites have a pit toilet, but no water. No campfires allowed and no dogs.

Backpacking Trips near Oakland and in the East Bay

You don’t need to go far to find some great backpacking spots in the East Bay. If you live in Alameda or Contra Costa county you also have priority when reserving backcountry campsites. East Bay residents can make reservations beginning in October for backpacking sites the following year. Everyone else needs to wait until December to make advance reservations. This is extremely helpful since the 28-mile Ohlone Wilderness Trail has surged in popularity over the years. But, there’s a lot of other great backpacking spots in the park district too!

Black Diamond Mines Regional Park- Stewartville Backpacking Camp

UPDATE: As of 4/26/21 the Stewartville backpacking site is still closed due to COVID. No update on the reopening is available.

Black Diamond Mines is one of my favorite parks in the East Bay. The park is over 8,000 acres, and it is filled with historical treasures to explore- like old cemeteries and secret mine shafts. Spring is the best time to visit because the green hills are covered with wildflowers and the California Buckeye trees are just starting to leaf out.

The Stewartville Backpacking Camp is a 3.5-mile hike from the park headquarters. If you want to make this a more challenging trip you can extend the hike by hiking a less direct route to camp, the park has a large network of trails. The backcountry camp accommodates 20 campers, so unless you have a large group you should be prepared to share the space with others.

Fees: Camp fees are $5 per person and there is an additional $8 reservation fee

Reservations: Call 1-888-327-2757 to make reservations. Reservations must be made at least 5 days in advance.

Additional Info: No water at the campsite (must hike-in all water). Campsites are closed during the rainy months, typically November-March. Picnic tables and a pit toilet are located at the campsite.

Hiking the green hills of Black Diamond Mines Regional Park

Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve

One of the first parks in the East Bay, Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve also has one of the highest peaks. But most visitors know this park for the mysterious labyrinths that can be found at the bottom of the quarry canyons.

The Sibley Backpack Camp is great for families with young children, or for people who want to try backpacking but have a lot of heavy equipment. The campsite is only a 0.2-mile uphill walk from the parking area. The site has wonderful views of Mount Diable, Volmer Peak, and Tilden Park. The site accommodates 15 people and it has two tent pads, two picnic tables, and a pit toilet. The nearest water is located at the parking lot.

Fees: Camp fees are $5 per person and there is an additional $8 reservation fee

Reservations: To make a reservation call 888-327-2757 at least five days in advance.

Additional Info: Dogs are allowed! No campfires.

Ohlone Wilderness Trail

The Ohlone Wilderness Trail spans 28 miles and crosses Mission Peak, Sunol, and Del Valle parks as well as sections of private land owned by the San Francisco Water District. When I was training for the John Muir Trail in 2017 we used the Ohlone Wilderness for our training hikes and backpacking trip shakedowns. The hills are steep and there are plenty of ups and downs to reach the backpacking camps. When you combine all the hills it is extremely easy to climb more than 3,000 feet of elevation in a single day.

There are six backpacking camp areas along the trail. All camps need to be reserved in advance, and the amenities (including water availability) are different at each campsite. Each hiker also needs to purchase an Ohlone Trail Permit. The permit costs $5 each and is good for a year. The permit also serves as your map for trip and shows all of the trails in the area.

Fees: $4 per person for the hiking permit. Camp fees are $5 per person and there is an additional $8 reservation fee.

Reservations: Make reservations at least 2 days in advance by calling 888-327-2757.

Additional Info: Terrain in the area is challenging. The area can get extremely hot in the summer, and some campsites don’t have water. It is best to camp in February to May, although the trails in the spring can be muddy.

<src=”https://www.treesandtents.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Backpacking_Ohlone_Trail-768×1024.png” alt=”An Oak tree in Sunol Regional Park, one of the parks on the Ohlone Trail.” />

Backpacking in Santa Cruz Mountains

The Santa Cruz Mountains has a vast network of wilderness trails and connecting parks, and is a great year-round backpacking destination. Trail easements make it easy for hikers to be creative and discover many hiking loops or multi-day treks. Check out the Santa Cruz backcountry camping guide for details on a number of multi-day backpacking trips in these parks. I’ve also detailed the backcountry campsites in the individual parks (and the epic Skyline to the Sea Trail) below.

All of the campsites in the Santa Cruz Mountains are crumb clean to help protect the endangered Marbled Murrelet, a unique sea bird that nests high in the redwoods. The Marbled Murrelet lays a single egg, and the egg and chicks are extremely vulnerable to predation by jays and ravens. Visitors are asked to be “crumb clean” to help deter jays and ravens from congregating in the area, and threatening the Marbled Murrelet. All of the Santa Cruz backcountry campsites (for every park and trail) are managed through the Santa Cruz Backcountry Trail Camps. Reservation information is included with each site description below, but you can also find more information on the trail camps website.

The Waterman Gap backpacking site along the Skyline to the Sea Trail.

Skyline to the Sea Trail

UPDATE FOR 2021 SEASON: In 2020 the Lightning Complex Fire destroyed the Big Basin Visitor Center and burned approximately 97 % of the park’s 18,224 acres. The park and surrounding trails are currently closed to visitors and there is no anticipated re-opening date.

The Skyline to the Sea Trail is a 28-mile trek through Big Basin and Castle Rock State Parks. This is one of my favorite hikes in Big Basin and it tops my list as one of the best multi-day backpacking trips for beginners. Most people spend 3 days backpacking the trail, but you can easily stretch this into a 5-day trip.

As the trail winds through the Santa Cruz mountains hikers pass waterfalls, navigate over cool rock formations, and walk through towering groves of old-growth Redwoods before ending at the beach. There are four backcountry camps along the trail and each camp offers different amenities. Most campsites are primitive, but each campground does have a pit toilet.

Fees: Campsites are $15 per night, plus a non-refundable $8 reservation fee. Camping fees include overnight parking for one vehicle.

Reservations: Check the calendar for availability before submitting your reservation request. Skyline to the Sea Trail permits and reservations can be made three months in advance.

Additional Info: No dispersed camping allowed, no hiking after sunset, no campfires. Water isn’t available at most campsites and it can be difficult to find accessible water sources for filtering. It is recommended to carry-in your water. Camps are only serviced from May 1st to October 31st, if you are hiking outside of this time be sure to bring toilet paper for the pit toilet and be prepared to hike out all of your trash.

Portola Redwoods State Park- Slate Creek Camp

UPDATE FOR 2021 SEASON: All of the Santa Cruz mountains backcountry camps are currently still closed due to COVID. There is no predicted re-opening date. Keep an eye on the state park’s website for more information.

Portola Redwoods State Park is sandwiched between Pescadero Creek Park and Long Ridge Preserve. The park has two waterfalls and is home to the Peter’s Creek Grove, one of the most remote and scenic redwood groves in the region.

To get to Slate Creek Camp campers backpack 2.7 miles from Portola’s headquarters or 14 miles from Big Basin park headquarters. Coming from Portola, hikers can take the Old Tree trail or the Summit Trail before connecting with the Slate Creek Trail to access camp so you can make a nice short lollypop loop if you want to mix things up. There are six backcountry campsites, and each site accommodates six people and comes with a picnic table and a food locker. The campsites do not have potable water, but campers can filter water from Slate Creek, a 0.8-mile walk from camp.

Fees: Campsites are $15 per night, plus a non-refundable $8 reservation fee. Camping fees include overnight parking for one vehicle.

Reservations: Check the calendar for availability before submitting your reservation request. Reservations can be made three months in advance.

Additional Info: No dispersed camping allowed, no hiking after sunset, no campfires. Hike in water or filter from Slate Creek. Camps are only serviced from May 1st to October 31st, if you are hiking outside of this time be sure to bring toilet paper for the pit toilet and be prepared to hike out all of your trash.

Castle Rock State Park- Castle Rock Trail Camp

UPDATE FOR 2021 SEASON: All of the Santa Cruz mountains backcountry camps are currently still closed due to COVID. There is no predicted re-opening date. Keep an eye on the state park’s website for more information.

Fifteen of the 20 backcountry campsites in Castle Rock now take reservations! The backcountry campground at Castle Rock is a 2.3-mile hike from the parking lot. This park is the only backcountry campground that allows campfires fires during the rainy season, of course you’ll have to hike in all your firewood!

These backpacking sites are popular with rock climbers because of the park’s hidden caverns and unique sculpted sandstone formations. Each site has a picnic table, food storage locker, and a seasonal fire ring. There is also a shared pit toilet and a pay phone. To be honest, this isn’t my favorite campsite because you can often hear gunfire from the neighboring Los Altos Rod and Gun Club, but the shooting stops at 4pm and it only happens Thursday through Sunday.

Fees: Campsites are $15 per night, plus a non-refundable $8 reservation fee. Camping fees include overnight parking for one vehicle.

Reservations: Check the calendar for availability before submitting your reservation request. Reservations can be made three months in advance. If you want to try to score one of the five walk-in campsites check-in with the ranger at the Robert Kirkwood parking lot on Highway 35.

Additional Info: No dispersed camping allowed, no hiking after sunset, no campfires. Water isn’t available at most campsites and there are no easily accessible water sources for filtering. It is recommended to carry-in your water. Camps are only serviced from May 1st to October 31st, if you are hiking outside of this time be sure to bring toilet paper for the pit toilet and be prepared to hike out all of your trash.

Butano State Park

UPDATE FOR 2021 SEASON: Butano State Park was badly damaged in the 2020 CZU Lightning Complex Fires. The entire park is closed until further notice.

Butano State Park is located in the Santa Cruz mountains halfway between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay. The park’s Trail Camp is one of the most remote backcountry campsites in the Santa Cruz mountains. Campers hike 5-6 miles from the parking area to reach this camp surrounded by old-growth redwoods.

There are 8 campsites spread across the ridge, and each site accommodates 6 people. The trail camp can be accessed by hiking 5.7 miles along the Jackson Flats Trail and the Canyon Trail, or by hiking 4.9 miles via the Ano Nuevo Trail and Goat Hill Trail. Since hikers have options it is easy to make a loop out of these trails so you can fully appreciate all of the mushrooms, redwoods, newts, orchids, and other amazing nature in this park.

Fees: Campsites are $15 per night, plus a non-refundable $8 reservation fee. Camping fees include overnight parking for one vehicle.

Reservations: Check the calendar for availability before submitting your reservation request. Reservations can be made three months in advance.

Additional Info: No dispersed camping allowed, no hiking after sunset. No water access, must hike-in all water. Camps are only serviced from May 1st to October 31st, if you are hiking outside of this time be sure to bring toilet paper for the pit toilet and be prepared to hike out all of your trash.

Backpacking in the redwoods at Big Basin State Park

Big Basin Redwoods State Park

UPDATE FOR 2021 SEASON: Big Basin State Park was badly damaged in the 2020 CZU Lightning Complex Fires. The entire park is closed until further notice.

Big Basin has several backcountry campsites. Each time I’ve camped at Big Basin we’ve run into a water emergency because we’ve had to give our water to desperate hikers. A lot of campers don’t realize that there are no water sources at Lane or Sunset camps. They roll into camp tired and thirsty only to learn that the nearest water source is about a mile away! Always be sure to carry plenty of water with you when you are hiking or camping at Big Basin State Park.

Sunset Trail Camp

The Sunset Trail Camp is probably the most popular single-night backpacking trip in Big Basin. This is a challenging 10.8-mile roundtrip trek and hikers pass by the stunningly beautiful Berry Creek Falls on their way into camp. While you can hike to camp in either direction, I recommend beginning at park headquarters and hiking clockwise using the Skyline to the Sea Trail and Berry Creek Falls Trail into camp. You can filter water at Berry Creek Falls on your way to camp. There are 10 primitive backcountry sites at Sunset Camp with a shared pit toilet and food lockers.

Lane Trail Camp

Another popular Big Basin backpacking trip is the 12.5-mile round trip hike to Lane Trail Camp. Hiking into Lane Trail Camp escapes the crowds that often surround Berry Creek Falls. From park headquarters take the Skyline to the Sea Trail to the Hollow Tree Trail. On the way back you’ll hike across sandstone formations high above the trees on the Basin Trail before dropping back into the redwoods and connecting again with the Skyline to the Sea Trail. Lane Trail Camp has six primitive backcountry sites with a shared pit toilet and individual food lockers.

Twin Redwoods and Alder Creek

The last two backpacking sites in the park aren’t as popular as the Lane and Sunset trail camps, but they have more privacy and a much shorter hike-in. Twin Redwoods Trail Camp is a 1.9-mile hike from Waddell Beach, or a 10.6-mile hike from Big Basin park headquarters. Right nextdoor, the Alder Trail Camp is a 1.7-mile hike from Waddell Beach or a 10.8-mile hike from park headquarters. Both campgrounds have six primitive backcountry sites and they sit on the edge of Waddell Creek. There is a shared pit toilet and food lockers in each site. Water must be packed-in or filtered from Waddell Creek.

Fees: Campsites are $15 per night, plus a non-refundable $8 reservation fee. Camping fees include overnight parking for one vehicle.

Reservations: Check the calendar for availability before submitting your reservation request.  Reservations can be made three months in advance.

Additional Info: No dispersed camping allowed, no hiking after sunset. No water access, must hike-in all water or filter. Camps are only serviced from May 1st to October 31st, if you are hiking outside of this time be sure to bring toilet paper for the pit toilet and be prepared to hike out all of your trash.

Enjoying the views while backpacking to Lane Camp in Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Backpacking South of San Jose

South of San Jose there is an abundance of open space, but not many places allow backpacking. But, that’s okay because Henry Coe State Park is a backpacking mecca. This region often gets swelteringly hot in the summer and in the winter it occasionally holds snow on its highest peaks. The best time to adventure is in the spring and fall.

Henry Coe State Park

Just east of Morgan Hill, Henry Coe State Park is a massive wilderness with miles of trails. Backpackers could easily spend a week exploring the 87,000 acres. The park is stunningly beautiful in the spring with the hills are green and popping with colorful wildflowers. The park sits at the southern end of the Diablo range so there are plenty of challenging trails, in fact a lot Mt. Whitney hopefuls head to the park to hike Mt. Sizer as part of their Whitney training.

All of the backpacking in the park is dispersed camping so you are sure to find some privacy and solitude. All areas are first come, first serve and the park volunteers and rangers are extremely knowledgeable and generous with their advice. If you don’t want to take on the Mt. Sizer loop in a single day you can easily backpack Mount Sizer and watch the sunrise over the hills. There are numerous options for backpacking, but if you want to head to popular areas like China Hole and the Narrows you’ll want to get to the park early in the morning to snag a permit.

Fees: $5 per person, per night plus a parking fee of $8 per vehicle.

Reservations: First come, first serve. Check in at Park Headquarters

Additional Info: Dispersed campsites don’t have water, toilets, or any other amenities. No dogs. Please follow Leave No Trace principles when choosing your campsite and be sure to pack out all your trash. The Pine Ridge Association has a great backpacking guide for Henry Coe on their website.

Watching the sunrise from camp while backpacking Henry Coe State Park.

When Should You Go Backpacking In The Bay Area?

Living in the Bay Area we are blessed with mild weather that makes backpacking at our regional and state parks possible year-round. For the most part we don’t need to worry about freezing temperatures, like you do at higher elevations. But, there are some seasons that are better than others.

Backpacking in Marin, San Francisco, and on the peninsula is great year-round. The East Bay Hills and inland areas, like Henry Coe State Park are best in the Spring and Fall. This is because the steep trails can get really muddy with slick mud that cakes on your boots. In the summertime, temperatures at Henry Coe and inland parks in the East Bay can reach over 90 degrees. Many of these parks require that you hike-in all your water so I prefer to hike in these areas in the cooler months, typically late-October to late-May.

Packing List for Backpacking

If you’re embarking on your first backpacking trip figuring out what to pack can be overwhelming! The good thing is that you don’t need to bring as much stuff as you might think.

Check out my beginner backpacking gear list to see what I personally recommend. And, if you’re looking to score some deals on high quality brand name gear that will last you for many years to come check out my post on 5 ways to save money on backpacking gear to see how I score discount backpacking gear.

Renting Backpacking Gear

If you’re heading out for your first backpacking trip I highly recommend renting gear instead of buying it. Quality backpacking gear can be expensive and as a new backpacker searching for the right tent, backpack, sleeping  bag, stove, and water filter can be overwhelming. I highly recommend checking out the Superlight Backpacking Gear Bundle from Outdoors Geek. This is affordable rental package provides everything you need for a comfortable trip and the entire package only weighs 10 pounds. Believe me, your back and your body will thank you for not carrying a massive  pack full of heavy gear!

 

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