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Trip Report Santa Cruz Mountains Camping Guide

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Here is a write up of the various public parks with places to camp in the Santa Cruz Mountains. This list includes places in Santa Cruz and San Mateo Counties. Most campsites cost between 10 and 35 dollars.

From South to North

Mount Madonna County Park - I am embarrassed. I live a couple miles from here and have never been here. Here is their web site.
http://www.sccgov.org/portal/site/parks/parksarticle?path=/v7/Parks%20and%20Recreation,%20Department%20of%20%28DEP%29/Find%20a%20Park&contentId=b9f18a77d9784010VgnVCMP230004adc4a92____&cpsextcurrchannel=1

Sunset State Beach - South of Santa Cruz near Watsonville. Campsites on a bluff overlooking the ocean. Reservations recommended far in advance.
http://parks.ca.gov/?page_id=545

Manresa Uplands State Beach (Formally called Sand Dollar) - Walk-in camp sites along a bluff overlooking the ocean. Closed winters.
http://parks.ca.gov/?page_id=545

Seacliff State Beach - South of Santa Cruz in Aptos, this camp site offers beach side RV camping year round. Tent camping not recommended.
http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=543

New Brighton State Park - Just south of Santa Cruz in Capitola. Campsites sit on a bluff overlooking the ocean. Very popular site and reservations are recommended far in advance.
http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=542

The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park - Backpacking sites only. About 9 miles form the visitors center and 3 miles from Olive Springs Road.
http://parks.ca.gov/?page_id=666

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park - Just north of Santa Cruz on HWY 9, Henry Cowell is located in giant redwoods trees. Nice enough to be a destination in and of itself but also a nice central spot to use as a base of operations for exploring Santa Cruz and surroundings.
http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=546

Big Basin Redwoods State Park - California's first state park, Big Basin has the biggest trees in the Santa Cruz Mountains (that are easy to get to).
http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=540

Castle Rock State Park - Backpacking sites only about three miles from the parking lot.
http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=538

Butano State Park - Just north of Santa Cruz, Butano is a nice park among giant old growth and second growth redwood trees. Close to HWY 1, this spot is an ideal location for travelers plying the San Francisco to Monterey route. Not recommended for large RVs and trailers over 24'.
http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=536

Portola Redwoods State Park - Long, winding, one lane mountain roads keep most people away from this park. Their loss can be your gain. Some of the biggest trees in the Santa Cruz Mountains can be found in this park in the Peters Creek area. This park is nearly always empty. Not recommended for vehicles longer than 21'.
http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=539

Memorial Park - Near Pescadero. A very nice family camping site among old growth redwoods.
http://www.co.sanmateo.ca.us/portal/site/parks/menuitem.f13bead76123ee4482439054d17332a0/?vgnextoid=947bc8909231e110VgnVCM1000001d37230aRCRD&cpsextcurrchannel=1


Illegal Camping
It is illegal to sleep in your car within Santa Cruz city limits. However along HWY 1, there are many turn outs and if you get tired after dark it is acceptable to pull over a catch a few z's.
Camping on beaches is illegal but if you are in a jam, the beaches north of Santa Cruz are your best bet. Don't camp against cliffs as rocks can and do fall. Make sure you know where high tide is so you don't wake up to waves crashing against your tent.

Private Camping
There are many many private campgrounds, from KOA to Costanoa to YMCA camps, but I won't cover them here.

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