The Complete Bay Area Backpacking Catalogue

We wanted to follow up with a complete listing of all 51 backpacking camp sites within 2 hours of the Bay Area. Thanks again to Brice for helping out with this! If you didn’t get a chance to read the last post, Brice Pollock lives in the SF Bay Area where he logs a couple hundred miles every year on trail as an avid hiker and backpacker. He writes about his experiences in the Northern Californian wild on his blog and leads an adventuring group under the same name. Like the story? Follow him on Twitter @BAExplorers. New to backpacking? Last Minute Gear is the only shop where you can rent ultralight backpacking gear to test before you invest!

Now, you might be asking yourself: if I’m backpacking and carrying all my gear out into the park, why can’t I camp anywhere I want? Why do I still need to stick to designated camp sites?

Any kind of outdoor activity comes with responsibility: responsibility for the well-being of yourself and your party, and responsibility for the native environment and habitat that you're in (you wouldn't want to be the person who set off one of the largest wildlfires in California history in Yosemite National Park, would you?). By taking responsibility, you can have a great time and want to go back; and the environment can be protected and maintained so as to welcome you back.

Designated backpack campsites exist to help you take responsibility:

  • As a registered backpacker, if you were to go missing, there's at least a record of which campsite you would be at
  • Parks can concentrate amenities on a few sites, meaning that most designated campsites have toilet faicilities and are located near purifiable water sources
  • Campsites are generally located in areas that will minimize impact to the habitat, i.e., not near sensitive wildlife or plant restoration areas

And while there are some parks that allow you to backpack in and set up camp nearly wherever you want, there may still be regulations you need to follow, such as setting up camp a minimum distance from the trailhead. Regardless, any good citizen outdoors should practice the seven 'Leave No Trace' principles. For obvious reasons, we have only inventoried the designated backpacking campsites

This following guide should be used as a starting point to planning (the information was compiled summer 2015). Availability and accessibility will inevitably change as the seasons and weather conditions change. You should always contact a ranger for the most up-to-date park information, to avoid showing up and finding out your favorite campsite has been closed due to mudslide!

As you read our guide, here are some other things to keep in mind:

  • Availability: All campsites will have limitations (e.g., number of camps per group or number of people per camp) because some may be quite small, i.e., only one party permitted
  • Cost: The costs given are for the campsite, but there may be additional fees (e.g., reservation fees, vehicle parking fees, etc.) that change on a regular basis
  • Toilet: Toilets may be anywhere from a in-need-of-repair outhouse to a porta-potty, to a nice ventilated toilet. We basically are helping you figure out if you need to bring a shovel or not! (Note, even if there are toilets you should bring toilet paper, just in case)
  • Potable water: Potable water is almost never available at backpacking camps; in the rare instances that potable water is provided, we have made an indication of this. While many backpacking camps are situated near creeks or streams where you can filter the water, we chose to not indicate this on purpose. Running water is highly dependent on rainfall (and California is in a severe drought); it is imperative that you check in advance with a ranger to see if there will be running water that you can filter on the dates of your trip at your desired campsite. Reminder that if you don't have one, you can rent a water filter from Last Minute Gear
  • Food locker: This is to keep food safe from wild animals. As long as you're in the California wilderness, we encourage you to rent a bear canister to secure your food. For a lengthier discussion on why the bear can is the only assured way of protecting your food from bears, read our protip on bear safety
  • Cooking/ fire restrictions: Cooking when backpacking means camp stoves that use propane gas. Due to safety reasons, open flames and ground fires of any kind are generally not permitted. We have indicated the rare exceptions, where sites have either on-site grills or fire rings for you to use. If you don't have a camp stove, you can rent a stove from Last Minute Gear
View from Skyline to Sea trail
Area Park Campsite Name Cost Toilets? Potable water? Food locker? Fire amenities? Reservations?
North Bay Marin Headlands Bicentennial Free Yes Yes Grills nearby @ Battery Wallace
Haypress Yes Yes
Hawk Camp Yes Yes
Kirby Cove $25 per camp per night Yes Yes Grill & fire rings
Austin Creek Tom King $25 per camp per night Yes Fire rings First come first serve
Manning Flat 1 Yes Fire rings
Manning Flat 2 Yes Fire rings
China Camp Back Ranch Meadows $35 per camp per night Yes Fire rings
East Bay Sunol Sycamore $5 per person per night + $2 Ohlone Wilderness Pass 1-888-EBPARKS
Oak View
Star's Rest
Eagle's Eyrie
Sky Camp
Cathedral $5 per person per night Yes
Hawk's Rest Yes
Maggie's Half Acre Yes
Stewart's Camp Yes
Sibley Unnamed Yes Yes
Black Diamond Mines Stewartville Yes
Mission Peak Eagle Spring
Morgan Territory Unnamed Yes
Round Valley Unnamed Yes
South Bay Castle Rock Castle Rock $15 per camp per night Yes Yes Fire rings First come first serve
Waterman Gap $15 per camp per night + $8 reservation fee Yes Yes 1-831-338-8861
Portola Redwoods Slate Creek Yes
Buta Buta Yes
Big Basin Jay Yes Yes Yes
Lane Yes
Sunset Yes Yes
Twin Redwoods Yes
Alder Yes
Pescadero Creek Park Shaw Flat $10 per camp per night Yes First come first serve
Tarwater Yes
Henry W. Coe China Hole $5 per camp per night First come first serve
Los Cruzeros
Madrone Soda Springs
Sada's Spring
Skeel's Meadow
Two Oaks
Upper Camp
Willow Ridge
Deer Horn Spring Yes
Frog Lake Yes
Lion Spring Yes
Lost Spring Yes
Sierra View Yes
Manzanita Point Yes
Mexican Flat Yes
Old Corral Yes
Poverty Flat Yes
Ridge View Yes