Can’t-Miss Camping Around the Bay Area

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Although it seems like there’s a dedicated national month (and day and week) in honor of just about anything these days, we’ll bite on National Camping Month, which kicks off in June. It’s a great excuse to grab the tent and sleeping bags for a few nights under the stars. Fortunately, there are plenty of choices for outdoor lovers in San Francisco, which means that, in theory, you could go camping every weekend in June and barely scratch the surface.

Here, our picks for some can’t-miss camping around the Bay Area, each spot targeting a specific type of outdoor lover—and and all guaranteed to make for some very happy campers.

Butano State Park, San Mateo County

Wake up to towering redwoods at Butano State Park.
Wake up to towering redwoods at Butano State Park. Ray Bouknight

Best For: A Family Weekend Getaway

When the effort to round up the kids and the gear seems like more hassle than the reward, here’s what you do: Toss everybody and everything into the car and make the hour-ish (depending on traffic) drive to Butano State Park, in the South Bay. Once there, awash in the serenity of a secluded redwood grove, you’ll be glad you did. The 4,728-acre park features 21 drive-in campsites (and 18 walk-ins) nestled among towering redwoods, with plenty of wide open space for little ones to run around in and an expansive network of trails ideal for some quality family bonding.

Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, Calistoga

Trails in Bothe-Napa Valley State Park have a magical quality.
Trails in Bothe-Napa Valley State Park have a magical quality. Blane Bachelor

Best For: Campers Who Hate Cold Showers

It’s hard to top the location of Bothe-Napa Valley State Park: nestled among some of Napa finest vineyards, amidst miles of trails through fairylike-forest, and less than a two-hour drive from San Francisco. But those who like their roughing it not quite so, well, rough, will most likely zone in on creature comforts like clean restrooms (with flush toilets) and showers with hot water. There’s also a pool that’s perfect for cooling off after a day exploring the 10 miles of trails. After the sun sets, crack a bottle of wine snagged from a nearby winery and toast to the good life in the great outdoors.

Henry W. Coe State Park, Morgan Hill

Henry W. Coe State Park offers more than 250 miles of hiking trails.
Henry W. Coe State Park offers more than 250 miles of hiking trails. Aaron Fulkerson

Best For: Campers Who Can’t Get Enough Hiking

A few years ago, this 87,000-acre park was slated for closure thanks to state budget cuts. Thankfully, it was spared, and there’s no better time to visit than late spring and early summer, before the weather makes it a little too hot for prime enjoyment. About 250 miles of hiking trails  and old ranch roads beckon for exploration, from easy-to-moderate day hikes or more ambitious backpacking excursions.

Kirby Cove Campground, Mill Valley

Not a bad sight to wake up to, and it's all yours at the campsites at Kirby Cove.
Not a bad sight to wake up to, and it’s all yours at the campsites at Kirby Cove. Tom Hilton

Best For: Time-Stretched City Dwellers

Though it’s so close to San Francisco that you just may be able to pick up a wireless signal, put away your gadgets to fully enjoy this pocket of outdoor paradise right on the beach. Tucked into a tiny, sandy cove just west of the Golden Gate Bridge on the Marin side, Kirby Cove is often overlooked by the tourist hordes, making its four-spot campground feel like a delicious secret as well as the perfect place to recharge. All four sites are protected from the wind among eucalyptus and Monterey cypress, but snag spot 1 if you can get it. By sunset, day-trippers on the beach are long gone, leaving you to savor the jaw-dropping city views in solitude.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Big Sur

With views like this, no wonder the campsites at this state park book up months in advance.
With views like this, no wonder the campsites at this state park book up months in advance. Amy Meredith

Best For: Persistent Planners

Snagging a coveted spot for the two rarefied campsites—arguably, among the most gorgeous in the state, if not the country—is best left to those who have the dogged determination to plan at least six months out. That’s how high the demand is for these idyllic spots, which, nestled along the Big Sur coastline among Monterery cypress just steps from the Pacific Ocean, are hard to top for their views, solitude, and pure outdoor bliss. So, on the first of every month, set an alert and get ready to jump into the online reservations fray at 8 am Pacific.

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