Backpacking Portola Redwoods State Park

Looking for a great beginner backpacking trip? Want to pitch a tent next to some of the biggest trees? Backpacking Portola Redwoods is a memorable and easy beginner backpacking trip in the redwoods near San Francisco.

Slate Creek Trail Camp in Portola Redwoods is part of the Santa Cruz mountains network of backcountry camps. Portola Redwoods is only an hour south from San Francisco, or an hour northwest of San Jose. The total mileage for this overnight backpacking trip is only 5.4 miles, making it a great option for a quick overnight under the trees.

This post covers everything you need to know to plan your backpacking trip at Portola Redwoods.

Portola Redwoods State Park

Portola Redwoods State Park is sandwiched between Pescadero Creek Park and Long Ridge Preserve. The park has 18 miles of trails, two waterfalls and is home to the Peter’s Creek Grove, one of the most remote and scenic redwood groves in the region.

The park is a great place to hike year-round. In addition to the backcountry sites, the park also offers car camping in the summer. The park has limited parking and depending on the weekend the parking lots can fill-up quickly.

The park is located at the end of a narrow winding road and there is no cell service in the park.

Location: Portola Redwoods State Park Visitors Center, Park Office, 9000 Portola State Park Road, La Honda, CA 94020

Map for Backpacking Portola Redwoods

Slate Creek Camp is a 2.7 mile hike from Portola Redwoods’ Visitor Center. Hikers can take the Old Tree trail or the Summit Trail before connecting with the Slate Creek Trail so you can make a nice short lollipop loop.

Map and elevation for backpacking Portola Redwoods.

Hiking Route to Slate Creek Camp

From the visitor’s center look to your right and follow the road across the bridge and towards the campground. As you approach the campground, stay on the road and follow signs towards Campfire Center and Group Camp. You will soon see a trailhead sign on your left for Slate Creek Trail and Old Tree Trail.

Follow the trail until you see a junction on your left. Begin the uphill climb towards Slate Creek Trail Camp. This will be your biggest climb of the day.

After a half mile you’ll reach another trail junction. Head to the right to follow signs for Slate Creek Trail Camp.

After another mile you’ll reach the junction with Summit Trail. Continue straight for another mile to reach the trail camps.

The Portola Redwoods backpacking sites are located at the junction with Bear Creek Trail and Page Mill Site. If you look to the right of the pit toilet you’ll see campsite number 1 and a narrow trail leading to the other backpacking sites.

When you head back to your car you can choose to re-trace your steps, or head left at the junction with the Summit Trail and follow it back to the car. When I hiked the trail in March 2023 there were so many downed trees to navigate around that we opted to return back the way we came. I haven’t completed the full loop yet. If you do the loop please leave a comment below and let me know how it went!

A small tent next to a large tree in one of the backpacking sites in Portola Redwoods State Park.

Best Backpacking Sites at Portola Redwoods

There are six backcountry campsites. 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. (The creek is seasonal. Check with the rangers to verify water availability before starting your hike.)

The backpacking sites at Portola Redwoods are all first-come, first-serve. Dispersed camping is not allowed and on weekends all six campsites are typically full.

Sites, 3, 5, and 6 are the best campsites. Site 6 has the most privacy and it overlooks the canyon toward the creek. Site 5 is probably the second best site because it offers a lot of privacy and it has a small flat area for a tent next to the towering redwoods. At first glance, Site 3 appears to offer a lot of privacy, but it is a little too close to the bathroom for my liking.

The best sites always go first, so it is best to arrive to camp early. Set-up camp at your preferred campsite and enjoy a day hike or play some fun games to pass the time.

Backpacking Portola Redwoods in the Winter

There are some definite benefits to backpacking in the winter. Campsites can be easier to reserve, and there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to filter water from the creek near camp. Winter in the redwoods can be damp and cold, but the ground isn’t usually too muddy and the Bay Area’s mild climate means that it probably won’t get too unbearably cold.

For the 2022/2023 season, the park is trying something new and is keeping the Slate Creek campsites open year-round. If you backpack in the winter season (December 1 to March 31) you will need to haul all your trash out and bring your own toilet paper for the pit toilet. The park does not service the campsites in the winter. Whether or not the campsites remain open for the 2023/2024 winter season depends on how well visitors maintain the sites this year.

Getting to camp may be the biggest challenge to backpacking in the winter. When I backpacked in March 2023 there were a lot of downed trees that we had to go over, under, or through on our way to camp. Maneuvering over the trees was a bit difficult with a large backpack, but the extra obstacles made the trip seem extra adventurous.

Backpacking Portola Redwoods in the Summer

The summer and fall months are the ideal time to backpack Portola Redwoods State Park. The tall trees in the redwood forest offer natural air conditioning, and the warm weather helps to limit the amount of condensation on the tent, or at least helps to dry the backpacking gear faster.

The downside of camping in the summer is that the trails are busier. Portola Redwoods has a seasonal car camping campground that is open during the summer months. Extra day hikers mean that there might be more people hiking near the trail camps during the day.

Another possible downside to hiking in summer is the lack of water. If the creek is low you may not be able to filter water, which means you may need to hike in all of your water. Luckily it is only 2.7 miles to camp with only one short hill to climb.

A trail through a redwood forest. The trail is lined with woodland sorrel and has several large trees.

Backpacking Permits for Portola Redwoods State Park

You do not need a permit to hike in Portola Redwoods State Park, but you do need campsite reservations to stay at the Slate Creek Backcountry Camp. The trail camp is open by reservation only and dispersed camping is not allowed.

After booking your campsite the park will email you a backcountry permit and parking pass confirming your reservation. One backcountry permit needs to be displayed on the dash of each car that is parking overnight in the park.

Slate Creek Camp Reservations

Slate Creek has 6 backcountry trail camps. If you want to backpack on the weekend you should make your reservations as soon as the online calendar opens, 60 days in advance. If you are hiking during the week you have a better chance of snagging a campsite at the last minute.

Making a reservation for Slate Creek is pretty easy. Here are the steps you need to follow to obtain your permit:

1. First, check the trail camp calendar to make sure that there are Slate Creek sites available for your dates.
2. If there are available sites, fill out a backcountry trail camp request online.
3. Check your email for a temporary confirmation from the park. This confirmation will be emailed only if your reservation is accepted.
4. Within 24 hours of receiving the email confirmation, call the park to confirm and pay for your reservation.

Step 4 is probably the most important. You do not have a confirmed backpacking permit until you call and pay for your reservation. If you do not call within 24 hours the park may forfeit your reservation to the next person in line. The Santa Cruz mountains backcountry trail camp guide is a great source for backpacking itineraries and campsite info.

Fees for Slate Creek Backpackers Camp

Trail camps in Portola Redwoods State Park cost $15 per night plus an $8 reservation fee. Parking for one car is included in the permit. Parking for additional cars is $10 per vehicle.

Other Beginner Backpacking Trips in the Bay Area

From Point Reyes to Black Diamond Mines, the Bay Area has several great beginner backpacking trips. Need more inspiration for your next backpacking trip? Check out my complete list of places to go backpacking in the Bay Area.


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The Trailhead

Begin your hike at the Portola Redwoods Visitor Center.

The Route

Follow the Slate Creek Trail for 2.7 miles to the backcountry campsites. On your way back to the car you can choose to retrace your steps, or connect with the Summit Trail to make it a lollipop loop.

Other Details

Dog-Friendly: No Fees: Campsites are $15 per night, plus a non-refundable $8 reservation fee. Camping fees include overnight parking for one vehicle. Additional Info: No dispersed camping allowed, no hiking after sunset, no campfires, and no dogs. 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.

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