The birds are chirping. The bees are buzzing. And the sun is shining. It’s summer: time to think about camping. Actually, you may be reading this in spring or fall and those are also great times to camp on the Mendocino Coast.
With more than 75 miles of coastline and dozens of state and private campgrounds, finding a place to camp on the Mendocino Coast is not difficult. Of course, the most popular state parks fill up fast: available spaces at MacKerricher (Fort Bragg) and Russian Gulch (Mendocino) and Van Damme (Little River) go quickly on weekends. Midweek, a few spots are available, but even those are few and far between. But don’t let that discourage you. You’ll likely find space available at Hendy Woods (in Anderson Valley), Paul Dimmick (Anderson Valley) and Manchester State Beach year around.
Here are our favorites and a list of campgrounds — public and private — along the coast (from South to North)
Birds gather along Ten Mile Beach — Our “Best Beach Walk”
1. Best Trails: Russian Gulch State Park’s North Trail through redwoods to a spectacular waterfall; Van Damme’s Fern Canyon Trail from the Pygmy Forest to the Ocean is not to be missed.
2. Best Campground: Van Damme’s upper meadow/forest campground.
3. Best Beach Walk: MacKerricher’s Ten Mile Beach is as spectacular as it is long.
4. Best Stream Walk: Van Damme State Park – Little River.
5. Best County Campground: Gualala Point Regional Park has a river, a trail to the beach and sites nestled in the tall trees.
6. Most Sweeping View: Westport Union Landing State Park offers a 180-degree view with the Lost Coast North and Fort Bragg Headlands South.
7. Best Campground On The Beach: Navarro River Beach offers camping next to a driftwood-strewn sandy stretch, which adjoins the Navarro River and offers sunsets that river Big Sur.
8. Best Campground/RV Park/Beach: Caspar State Beach: you camp at Caspar RV park (tent and RV spaces) with a beautiful, protected beach separated only by a rural two-lane road.
9. Best Bicycle Trail in a Campground: MacKerricher’s paved Haul Road, which bisects the park between camping areas and the ocean. You can ride into downtown Fort Bragg or down to Ten Mile Beach.
10. Best Redwoods: Paul M. Dimmick Campground is nestled among Navarro River Redwoods State Park, along Highway 28.
Dimmick Campground in Navarro River Redwoods
California State Parks Camping Reservations: 1-800-444-PARK (7275) or click at left for online reservations. Consult links below for private campground contact information.
Gualala River Redwood Park (at the Mendocino/Sonoma County line) – campground along the Gualala River in the redwoods.
Gualala Point Regional (County) Park – this is one of our favorites: in a beautiful redwood grove next to the river and access to trails that take you the the ocean and along the public access bluff trail at Sea Ranch.
Anchor Bay Campground – 5-acres nestled in a narrow gulch filled with redwoods. Located in the “banana belt,” on one of California’s most beautiful beaches. This is the only campground with direct access to Anchor Bay’s ¾ mile long Fish Rock Beach.
Rollerville Junction Campground (no website) – located right on Highway 1 (Shorline Highway) at Lighthouse Road, the turn off to the Stornetta Preserve and Point Arena Lighthouse. Overlooking the Garcia River Valley. Close to Point Arena fishing and boat launch pier, as well as the Garcia River for steelhead and salmon fishing. Cabins and tent and RV sites. 707-882-2440
Manchester Beach KOA – RV resort & family campground off Shoreline Highway One among the pines and rhododendrons. Walk to 5-mile long driftwood beach. 124 total sites, including spacious RV (full hookup) sites, tent sites, plus Kamping Kabins and Kamping Kottages.
Manchester State Park – Located just behind the KOA, it is set among the dunes a mile off Highway 1. Often cooled by summer fog. But who wouldn’t want to beat the 100-degree heat inland. And you have views of the Point Arena Lighthouse to the south, miles of beach to explore and and are just a few miles from the new Stornetta preserve – a wonder of cliffs, big waves, a waterfall and stunning views.
Highway 128/Mendocino Coast – 10 miles south of Mendocino
Navarro River Redwoods State Park – there are two great camping spots here: Paul Demmick Campground, set in a grove of Old Growth Redwoods, six miles each of Highway 1. Beautiful setting, but right next to the Highway 128, which is extremely lightly travelled in the evening. I’ve stood in among the trees along the side of the road, after driving from the Bay Area, and had no cars come through for five minutes. And that is mid-day.
Navarro River Beach – where the Navarro River meets the ocean, this is a dramatic setting nestled along the river and high cliffs.
Albion River Campground and Marina – a jumping off point for diving, fishing and adventure on the Mendocino Coast, the campground is tucked between two ridges with ocean views and has a popular cafe, called Flat’s.
Van Damme State Park – may be the best State Park in America: the meadow campground provides campsites in a sunny meadow or in the surrounding big trees — sun or shade. You take your pick. Van Damme has a beach where Craig Comen at Kayak Mendocino will take you into sea caves. You can cross the highway and walk in the Spring Ranch section of the park where you can sit on a carved-out redwood bench to view big waves, see harbor seals in the cove to the far south. By foot or car, you can walk in one of just three pygmy forests in the U.S. — one of a handful in the entire world. The Fern Canyon Loop, which is about 3.5 miles takes you back in time.
Russian Gulch State Park (on State Park’s Closure list for 2012) – Located one mile north of Mendocino Village, Russian Gulch offers a fern canyon trail, a waterfall, a sandy beach, a bluff-top picnic grounds with barbecues, and a blow h0le at the ocean’s edge. Try to get a campsite near the fern canyon for a feeling of privacy. My favorite hike in the park is the North Trail. Most people stay on the Fern Canyon Trail, which is flat, while the North Trail for the first 1/2 mile switchbacks through redwoods until it levels out a couple of hundred feet up. This is one of those hard to get reservation parks, so plan early. The cool weather is a big attraction for everything along the Mendocino Coast in the summer. 707-937-5804 or 707-937-0497
Caspar State Beach – You can’t camp on the beach here, but across the street is the Caspar Beach RV Park & Campground, a few spots for tents, and a lot of trailer and RV sites. You’ve got a store here, soft board and kayak rentals, and the beach itself is a popular surfing spot. You can walk, and you can have a fire on the beach. A pleasant place for a picnic.
MacKerricher State Park – You should also know that MacKerricher State Park just north of Fort Bragg is one of the most popular camping spots in the U.S. Why? I can think of a few reasons:
•A board walk allows you to get out close to the ocean — for wildlife and whale watching (December-April/May) without damaging the habitat.
•The “haul road” (trucks used to haul lumber out of the forests) is a bike, hike and run trail that extends for several miles.
•The haul road leads to Ten-Mile Beach, which I don’t think is actually 10 miles long. But it is long enough to walk for several hours down and back. You can also sit amid the warm sand dunes out of the wind and read or picnic, run, collect sand dollars, check out the (often really big) surf or just stroll along. More often than not, you are likely to find few-to-no-other people on the entire beach. 707-937-5804 or 707-964-9112
Fort Bragg Leisure Time RV Park – From Junction of Highway 1 and Highway 20, go 2 miles east on Highway 20. Nestled among the pines with open and shaded campsites. Leisure Time has 57 campsites and 32 with full hookups, 13 with partial hookups with water and electric.