Best Spots to Camp This Summer

Kaya Lindsay

June 28, 2019
Huckleberry Campground Sign

It’s officially summertime in the Santa Cruz Mountains! The summer sun is drying everyone out after a rainy spring, the flowers are in full bloom, and those shady hiking trails have never looked so inviting. With the UCSC students out of town and the locals reclaiming the area, many people are looking around for summer camping destinations. The Santa Cruz Mountains have lots of scenic campgrounds for visitors and locals alike to take advantage of, here are some of our favorites.

Sempervirens Campground at Big Basin

Big Basin Redwoods State Park Campground

Location:​ 21600 Big Basin Hwy, Boulder Creek, CA 95006
Number of sites:​ 142
Camping fee: ​$35/night + $10 per extra vehicle

Description:​ Established in 1902, Big Basin Redwoods State Park is California’s oldest state park. The campground lies in the shade of the towering redwoods, and each site provides parking, bear box, fire ring, and a picnic table. There are bathrooms and water onsite.

Why we like it: The giant redwoods that give the park its name are magnificent to behold, some are more than 50 feet around and 350 feet tall. Hiking or jogging through the redwood groves is a summertime delight. Some of these redwoods are 1,000 to 1,800 years old and may predate the Roman empire. This state park also boasts more than 80 miles of trails! The very popular Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail​ threads its way through the park along Waddell Creek to the beach. This park is a hikers dream with trails that lead by cascading waterfalls, through wildflower covered meadows and out onto windswept bluffs with a dazzling view of the Pacific Ocean.

Castle Rock State Park

Location:​ 15000 Skyline Blvd. Los Gatos, CA 95033
Number of sites:​ 20 campsites
Camping fee: ​$15/night​ ​+ $8 per additional vehicle

Description: ​Open year-round on a first come first serve basis, the Castle Rock Trail Camp is not to be missed. A tent camping site only, the campground is a 2.5-mile hike from the parking area. All water, food, and equipment will have to be packed in. The campground is equipped with trash cans, bathrooms, picnic tables, and fire rings. The sites themselves are cozy and partially shaded by oak trees.

Why we like it: ​The Castle Rock Trail Camp is for adventurous campers only! The 2.5-mile hike to camp makes it a more remote and enjoyable nature experience. This far into the woods campers will be able to hear (and see!) the sounds of nature instead of the sounds of cars. If you’ve only car-camped before, we encourage you to get out of your comfort zone and give the Castle Rock Trail Camp a try.

Make a reservation:​ This is a first come first serve campground. To register and pay your fees, check in at the Entrance Station at the Castle Rock parking lot. If you arrive when the station is not staffed, you can use the self-registration envelopes. Place your receipt on the dashboard in a visible place as proof of payment as rangers will verify payment.

Campground at Henry Cowell

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

Location:​ 101 N Big Trees Park Rd, Felton, CA 95018
Number of sites:​ 107
Camping fee:​ $35/night + $10 per additional vehicle

Description:​ With nearly 5,000 acres of land, visitors can enjoy hiking, horseback riding, picnicking, swimming, and camping. The campground sits among the Sandhills in a heavily wooded area of fir and oak trees. Onsite there are restrooms, picnic table, food locker, fire ring, and a grill.

Why we like it: ​The scenic locations at Henry Cowell include a 40-acre old-growth redwood grove with trees that loom above visitors and provide a shady canopy on the hot summer days. Just a short walk through this grove and you will understand why early preservation efforts focused on these peaceful yet imposing trees. Not to be left out, the swimming hole known as the Garden of Eden is also located in Henry Cowell. This iconic swimming hole brings people from all over Santa Cruz County, and we know why! With easy access to the river and sandy beaches to get your tan on, it’s the perfect place to spend a summer afternoon.


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Kaya Lindsay
Kaya Lindsay

Kaya Lindsay is a writer and photographer with a passion for rock climbing and the outdoors.  In 2016 she converted a Sprinter Van into a tiny home and has been traveling around the US & Canada to pursue her passion for rock climbing ever since. You will most likely find her in a parking lot or coffee shop, camera in hand, planning her next grand adventure. Connect with her on Instagram @OneChickTravels

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