When someone says, “Let’s go camping,” do you A) air out the sleeping bags; B) check the RV tire pressure; or C) develop a sudden cold?
Camping is evolving to include everyone from dedicated wilderness backpackers to those that need a comfy bed, hot shower, and flush facilities.
Camping is pervasive on the Mendocino Coast. The variety of campsites and styles might be surprising. You can camp among redwood giants, on a riverbank, a secluded Pacific beach, under a bridge, or glamp in style surrounded by forest and woodlands. You can camp with your horse, or sleep on a working coastal farm.
There is plenty to do while coastal camping. You can enjoy peddling, paddling, hiking, whale watching, birding, surfing, boating, and fishing, in rare and spectacular settings.
Photo Credit: Mary Charlebois
1. Camp With Giants
Navarro River Redwoods State Park offers two very extraordinary camping spots. Choose between the redwoods along the Navarro River or on the beach where the Navarro enters the Pacific.
Driving from east to west through Anderson Valley, along Hwy 128, you’ll go through a “redwood tunnel” 11 miles long. It’s called a tunnel because the redwood giants are so tall they only allow dappled sunlight to reach the road. Don’t hurry through the drive. There are pull outs for stopping and smelling the redwoods. Get to know some of the oldest trees on earth.
Camp among redwoods at Paul M. Dimmick Campground. It’s on Hwy 128, 6 miles east of CA Hwy 1 and Hwy 128 junction.
This is a small, quiet camping area among redwoods with access to a creek. Tents and RVs (up to 30 feet) are welcome. Group and ADA sites are offered. Each site has a picnic table and a fire pit with a grill. Toilets are available.
Water is available but may be turned off during droughts. So be prepared and bring some with you. Refuse receptacles are provided, but the park asks you to pack out your trash when you depart.
Reservations are not always needed, but it’s best to call the park ahead to make a reservation.
Pro Tip: No matter the time of year, plan to dress in layers. Even in summer, it can be cool and damp at night, while it’s hot and humid in the daytime. Winters here are mild but can be foggy.
Photo Credit: Mary Charlebois
2. Camp With Driftwood Sculptures
Navarro Beach Campground is also located in Navarro River Redwoods State Park. From Dimmick Campgrounds, continue the 6 miles along Hwy 128 until you reach the junction of CA Hwy 1. Turn west across the bridge. The camping area is less than a mile from there.
This park area is where the Navarro River empties into the Pacific Ocean. The Navarro River deposits lots of driftwood into the sea. It was once used as a logging highway, delivering felled trees to lumber mills downstream. In addition, trees and branches fall into the river via natural means. So this is what locals call a driftwood beach. The wood is taken out to sea where it may drift for years until the right tide returns it to shore, gray and smooth.
Driftwood sculptures are ubiquitous with the sandy beach. I’ve seen everything from small wooden artworks to huge multiroom condos. Collect some wood and build your own. Take photos because the next high tide may return your creation to the sea.
A sandy beach, sand dunes, and wetlands are a part of the landscape. Just offshore are small rocky islands that were once a part of the mainland. Also, you can fish and kayak in the river and ocean.
There are 26 primitive sites. Potable water is not available, so bring your own. Chemical toilets are provided. Campsites are available on a first-come-first-serve basis.
Pro Tip: Wander through Anderson Valley on Hwy 128. Stop and visit farm stands, cheesemakers, and wineries to fill your picnic basket and cooler for an authentic taste of Mendocino.
Photo Credit: Mary Charlebois
3. Camp On A Beach
Pitch your tent where the surf lulls you to sleep. Kayak, SUP, surf, fish, comb the beach, spearfish, snorkel, scuba dive, or sit around an evening fire ring — all on a secluded beach.
The sand beach is wide and compact. First, get nature’s pedicure by walking in the sand and saltwater. Then, get a volleyball or horseshoe tournament started. There’s a playground for the little ones and limited WiFi for all.
Westport Beach & RV Park Campgrounds has beach or wooden tent sites, RV sites, and ocean view cottages. In addition, you’ll find WiFi, a well-stocked store, rental gear, hot showers, restrooms, playgrounds, and laundry.
Pro Tip: Westport Beach is a popular place for groups. Secluded and quiet, it’s often the site of destination weddings. The park owners also have similar campgrounds closer to Mendocino — Caspar Beach & RV Park Campgrounds.
Russian Gulch State Park (Lucy Autrey Wilson / Shutterstock.com)
4. Equestrian camping
Russian Gulch State Park Equestrian Camp has staging areas, corrals, and water troughs provided for “equestrian only” trails and campsites.
Ride the trails through the forest. Tents and RVs are welcome. Only four campsites are available; reserve early. Make reservations by calling the District Office at (707)-937-5804.
Pro Tip: Other equestrian trails are available in the area. One of the most popular is Big River Trail, a few miles away.
Flowers at the Oz Farm (Photo Credit: Mary Charlebois)
5. Farm Camping
Yurt, geodesic dome, and cabin camping are hosted at Oz Farm on the Garcia River. Indulge in Oz Farm’s bounty, hike the forest, swim the river, or explore the coast just minutes away.
Oz is 100 percent off the grid and fully sustainable. The working farm and cidery always welcome extra help if you have a mind to get your hands in the dirt while visiting.
Pro Tip: The Point Arena Lighthouse and Point Arena-Stornetta Unit of the California Coastal National Monument are 7 miles away. The 152-year-old lighthouse is still guiding the way for maritime vessels. Stornetta’s lands are a geological wonder. You can see the San Andreas Fault where it opens above ground.
Photo Credit: Mary Charlebois
6. Camp Under A Bridge
The Pacific Ocean, Albion River, and wetlands border the campgrounds. The wooden Albion River Bridge looms high above, looking a bit like it’s standing on stilts. Launches, docks, and marinas are available for all types of watercraft.
Albion River Campground & Marina is surrounded by water on three sides. It sits at the bottom of the steep and narrow Albion River Gorge, crossed by a 150-foot-high wood bridge.
This is a water world. Fishing, kayaking, and canoeing are popular with access to the Pacific or the quiet and calm Albion River. The marina has room if you’d like to bring a boat.
Tent and RV camping sit together community style. RVs are available to rent. Bring your food and libations; the 28-foot trailer has everything you will need, including cable TV and WiFi. A well-stocked store, snack bar, showers, restrooms, and laundry are available for campers. Kayak and canoe rentals are available as well.
Pro Tip: Planning on an extended visit? Weekly and monthly rates are available for sites and boat births.
oliverdelahaye / Shutterstock.com
7. Glamp In A Forest
On a bluff overlooking Mendocino Bay, surrounded by forest, luxurious in safari tents with wood floors, real beds, down comforters, and sunset decks. Indulge in hot showers stocked with plush towels and organic bath products. Wi-Fi and electricity are available. Breakfast is included. This comfortable camp is family and pet friendly.
Mendocino Grove is modern camping with luxurious creature comforts to enhance your commune with nature. In the 36-acre property, there is plenty to do. Bocce ball, horseshoes, guided nature hikes, hammocks, yoga, barbecues, campfires, and the most glorious sunsets you’re likely to see.
Beaches, rivers, and parks are less than 2 miles from the grove. Mendocino Village is the center for eateries, libations, galleries, and shopping.
Pro Tip: The Ford House Visitor Center and Museum and the Kelley House Museum will fill you in on this historic village and the surrounding area.
Getting To The Mendocino Coast
You will want a car on the Mendocino Coast. If you’re arriving in an RV or auto, bring along or rent a bicycle for touring.
The Mendo Coast is 3 hours north of San Francisco or 4 hours south of Eureka. Follow Hwy 101 to Willits and turn west on Hwy 20. Hwy 20 ends at Fort Bragg, CA Hwy 1, and the Pacific. Head north for Fort Bragg or south to Mendocino.
Spending time outdoors is more popular than ever. Immersing in nature has a positive effect on everyone. Some say it soothes the soul and makes spirits light. The Mendocino Coast has many outstanding parks and camps. All have spectacular settings, whether ocean-side or deep forest.
The laid-back lifestyle of the area makes the coast a perfect place to unwind and unplug. Experience local life at eateries, shops, galleries, and museums. Ask a local where they like to eat, or where their favorite sunset spot is located. Head to Noyo Harbor and try a whale watching tour, then fill up on seafood fresh from the boat.
No matter what your camping experience or requirements, on the Mendocino Coast, you’ll find a campsite to love — really.
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