Modern technology has done a lot to change our ideas of camping. It's pretty easy today to leave home without leaving the comforts of home. To those who long for something more traditional, Portola Redwoods State Park is a perfect getaway. The absence of any cell service is one of the reasons why visitors love this park. That's very ironic because many of the park's visitors work at Facebook, Apple, and Google in Palo Alto, CA, barely an hour away.
So if you're ready to unplug as well, head to Portola Redwoods State Park. It is deep within the Santa Cruz Mountains south of San Francisco. Ancient Coast Redwoods have been protected throughout the park and even the largest tree in Portola is only a short hike from the campground. If you have more time, the Tiptoe Falls or the Peters Creek Grove hikes offer enough to fill your day. There are eighteen miles of trails exploring 2,800 acres in the park, and there is also access to nearby Pescadero Creek (County) Park, with another 8,000 acres of tranquil forest.
The road to the park is exciting, to say the least. Page Mill Road begins near Stanford University and I-280. The road switchbacks slowly all the way to Portola for about 20 miles and provides spectacular views both to the coast and back at the bay if you're blessed with clear skies. All kinds of vehicles make it up the road, but nearly everyone is surprised at how long it takes to get there. Give yourself plenty of time and come with a full tank of gas, food and water.
The weather is variable, and can range from hot and dry to sopping coastal fog. If you're tent or car camping, make sure you're ready for rain and cooler temps. Trails can be wet and muddy and downed trees are common on the trails, especially in spring. Many visitors report frustration with mosquitoes and hornets so repellent and protective clothing is a good idea.
RV Rentals in Portola Redwoods State Park
Transportation in Portola Redwoods State Park
The access road to the park is constant windy turns and steep ledges for a whole hour of driving. Don't head in with a trailer unless you're sure you have space, and come prepared because there are no stores or gas stations nearby. The last few miles are the steepest section, please go slow and watch out for bikes. Inside the park, the road is well maintained with nice gradual curves and parking for extra vehicles and just enough turn-around space for tour buses. The campground is very shaded so don't expect too much from your solar chargers.
Campgrounds and parking in Portola Redwoods State Park
Campsites in Portola Redwoods State Park
Portola Redwoods State Park Campground
There are 53 campsites, but only five of those are large enough for a small trailer or motorhome. Be sure to reserve ahead of time. This is dry camping at the end of a very long and narrow road, so come prepared to be self sufficient. Generators are allowed from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. but please respect that many people visit the woods especially for the peace and quiet. The only services in the park are a weekend visitor center, bathrooms, water, and coin-op showers (sometimes closed in severe drought). There is no dump station and the campground is closed November thru March.
Seasonal activities in Portola Redwoods State Park
Every weekend in June the visitor center at Portola Redwoods SP hosts a Jr. Ranger program for kids ages 3-6. The focus is on animals and how they fit into the diverse ecosystem of the redwoods. There are group activities, a scavenger hunt and simple arts and crafts. Call the park to check dates and program specifics for the year. Meet at the visitor center. The group is usually thirty minutes long and around noon. If you miss the group, don't worry, the wildlife are easy to spot on any hike in the park. Salamanders, newts, banana slugs and crawfish are thriving everywhere you look.
Horseback Riding Pescadero Creek Park
Horses are allowed on the trails a Pescadero Creek Park. The Jack Brook Horse Camp has reservable overnight campgrounds for equestrians and their horses. As long as weather and trail conditions permit there are twenty-six miles of trails to explore in the County park, and the Old Haul Road which connects the two parks is also open to horses (and bicycles)
Bicycling Old Haul Road
This ten mile roundtrip ride through Pescadero Creek Park and Memorial County Park is a popular beginner-level dirt road ride. Access is gained through the service road by the campground amphitheater. It's a gradual ride that is nicely shaded in summer by large second-growth trees, making it feel like you're zipping through a tunnel. Expect relatively little traffic except for a few other bikes and horses in the summer. Dogs are not allowed on any of the trails in Portola Redwoods SP.
TipToe Falls Hike
Follow the signs on the south end of the campground to depart for Tiptoe Falls, a pleasant and fairly level two and a half mile loop trail with access to a couple of small (six to ten foot) waterfalls on a tributary of Pescadero creek. Note that the park uses temporary foot bridges on this path in the camping season. This may mean rock-hopping, climbing across downed trees or simply wet feet in the off season when the bridges are absent. The falls are best seen when the water is moving, but that may mean you'll have to work for it. Don't forget your camera.
Spring Flora and Fauna
When winter gives way to warmer temperatures in April and May the park explodes with life underfoot. There are hundreds of species of plants, mushrooms, wildflowers and insects which are unique to the Santa Cruz Mountains ecosystem. Flowers like the Leopard Lily, a show themselves, attract a host of colorful butterflies and hummingbirds to their sweet nectar. Though collecting is not allowed, you're sure to see many types of mushrooms during the wet season. Be careful while you are exploring the undergrowth because poison oak is common in the area.
Big Basin Redwoods
If you still haven't gotten your fill of giant trees after hiking through Portola, Big Basin Redwoods State Park is only an hour away to the south. Big basin has 183 sites in three campgrounds and the buzz of visitors to go with it. They are here to enjoy California's oldest state park and the tallest tree in the Bay Area, at 329 feet tall. In the off-season, both of these parks are quiet, but in summer many visitors are thankful they're camping in the less-frequented Portola Redwoods SP.