When I envision camping I picture undisturbed wilderness and sounds of trees blowing in the breeze among singing birds. Backpacking provides this ability to see nature off the beaten path, experience nature’s pristineness and escape the summer crowds and noise of car camping sites. However, not every backpacking trip needs to be a multi-day ordeal. No matter where you are in the SF Bay Area there is an accessible and beautiful location near you. Read on for my regional favorites and a complete catalogue of all backpacking sites within two hours of the SF Bay Area.
I spent an overnight here in the beginning of May 2015. While the campsites and trails were bustling that Saturday morning the backpacking camp was the perfect place to set up a hammock and read a book, listening to the sway of the nearby trees. Surrounded by giant redwoods and a short walk from the original Page Mill site it is a perfect get-away.
Hike to Site: 2.4 miles
Transportation: Drive one hour into the Santa Cruz Mountains
Water: Available a quarter mile away, requires filtering
Black Diamond Mines is one of my favorite parks. It has these beautiful rolling hills, an active mine, historic graveyard and a mine that can be self-explored for 200 ft (Prospect Tunnel). It can be a drive to get here from most places (its near Antioch) so backpacking will allow you to visit more of the park’s features and experience its wildlife. Aside from the cows, I’ve seen a coyote strolling across a green valley midday.
Hike to Site: 3.2 miles
Drive: Half hour drive south of Antioch
Water: Available at camp, requires filtering
Angel Island is on my bucket list because its unlike any backpacking I’ve ever done. This is an island in the middle of the San Fransisco Bay with the opportunity to witness Oakland and SF go to sleep as well as experience a sunset through the Golden Gate Bridge.
Hike to Site: Up to two mile hike depending on site
Transportation: Public transportation to public ferries recommended to avoid heavy fees
Water: Unclear, I’ve heard there are some fountains on the loop perimeter
Overview Reservations Map
The Black Mountain Trail Camp requires only a short, accessible hike from Page Mill Road. Nearby you can soak in its striking views of the green Santa Cruz Mountains to the West, the Peninsula cities and Bay to the East and on a clear day, SF to the North. I hosted a Bay Area Explorers event here in May 2015 and was wowed watching clouds crawl over the Santa Cruz Mountains as the sun set over the Bay. Best of all, unlike most Bay Area trail camps, it remains open all winter.
Hike to Site: 1.5 miles and 500 ft elevation gain
Transportation: Half hour drive up Page Mill Road into Santa Cruz Mountains
Water: Available, must be filtered
Bicentennial / Haypress / Hawk Camp / Kirby Cove, Marin Headlands — Walk in sites
Tom King and Mannings Flat 1 & 2, Austin Creek State Recreation Area
Back Ranch Meadows, China Camp State Park — Walk in sites
Sunol Backpack Camp, Sunol Regional Wilderness — Camp on a bushy rolling ridge
Stewarts’s Camp, Ohlone Regional Wilderness — Near Murietta Falls, a rare East Bay waterfall
Maggie’s Half Acre, Ohlone Regional Wilderness — Wake up above fog laden valleys, sleep by Rose Peak
Mission Peak Regional Preserve — Sites are nestled behind Mission Peak
Round Valley Regional Preserve
Sibley Regional Preserve
Morgan Territory Regional Preserve
Anthony Chabot Regional Park
Castle Rock, Castle Rock State Park— FCFS, good nearby rock climbing, cliffs
Lane/Jay/Sunset/Twin Redwoods/Alder Trail Camps, Big Basin Redwoods State Park — First CA SP, giant redwoods
Waterman Gap, Castle Rock State Park — Near the road, stop over on Skyline to the Sea
Butano Trail Camp, Butano State Park — Sleep among redwoods
Shaw Flat, Pescadero Creek County Park — FCFS, beatiful creek, redwoods (map)
Tarwater Flat, Pescadero Creek County Park — FCFS, accessible (map)
Henry Coe State Park — Remote, hot, limited water and the closest wilderness to the SF Bay Area.