With some seven million people living in the Bay Area, finding a place to pitch a tent out of earshot from an RV generator can be a challenge. But in Santa Cruz County, you’ll still find a few campgrounds just for tents where the loudest sounds are likely to be waves crashing on the beach or wind rustling through the redwoods.
Manresa Uplands State Beach
The campsites at Manresa Uplands State Beach are perched atop a coastal bluff lined with pines and eucalyptus. They offer stunning views of the ocean and access to a remote section of wide, sandy beach that stretches for miles between Rio Del Mar to the north and the Pajaro River to the south. There are 60 sites for walk-in, tent-camping only. Campers can unload their equipment in a 20-minute parking area close to the campsites and then park nearby in a separate lot. No RVs are permitted, but the campground has showers and restrooms. From the campsites, you can follow a set of stairs down to the beach and walk for miles in either direction. Surfers will also find fairly consistent beach break just offshore. To reserve a campsite, call 800-444-7275.
Forest of Nisene Marks State Park
Six miles beyond the steady stream of day hikers, joggers, and mountain bikers in the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, you’ll find solitude and hushed silence deep in a redwood forest at the West Ridge Trail Camp. The park’s ancient redwoods were almost completely clear-cut by loggers 100 years ago, but second and third-growth redwoods have nearly erased the damage. The land was purchased by the Marks family in the 1950s, and the Marks children later donated 9,700 acres to the state in honor of their mother, Nisene Marks, with the provision that the land never be developed. The resulting park is a semi-rugged wilderness that climbs a coastal mountain range rising from sea-level to 2,600 feet. West Ridge Trail Camp is located six miles from the West Ridge Trailhead parking lot. The trail camp has no water, and fires are prohibited. To reserve, call the Sunset State Beach kiosk at 831-763-7063.
Castle Rock State Park
Separating San Francisco and Monterey Bays, Castle Rock State Park spans 5,200 acres across the highest reaches of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The park includes 35 miles of trails connecting the park to Big Basin Redwoods State Park and other nearby open-space preserves. The park also features sculpted sandstone rock outcroppings that are great for climbing and sweeping vistas of redwood-covered mountains and the ocean beyond. The park has two trail camps: Castle Rock and Waterman Gap. Castle Rock Trail Camp is located on a beautiful ridge 2.6 miles from the main parking lot via the Saratoga Gap Trail. Each of the 20, first-come, first-served sites has a table and fire ring. The campsites also have drinking water and vault toilets.
Waterman Gap Trail Camp is located 9.3 miles from the main parking lot, or 6.3 miles from the north end of the Skyline-to-Sea-Trail, which connects Castle Rock via a 28.2 trail through Big Basin Redwoods State ending at Waddell Beach. The Waterman Gap Trail Camp is nestled deep in the forest and has six primitive sites with a vault toilet. Water is limited and fires are not allowed. Reservations are required and may be made by calling the trail camp reservation line at Big Basin Redwoods State Park at 831-338-8861.