Sportsman’s report: Camping notes | Sports

Looking out at the beautiful day the mind turns to things that are summery. Remembering family camping recalls some real gems. MacKerricher Beach State Beach in Fort Bragg is one of the biggies for a family with little experience in camping. The sites have hard dirt parking with fire pits, tables, and lots of space for tents, pop-up, and trailers to 30’ are the norm. Bathrooms and showers are usually close by, Ranger hikes in the morning and at least one guided night hike are part of the summer schedule. A two-and-a-half-hour drive from Rohnert Park makes it close for a camp out of more than a weekend. To get there take the 101 to Willits, turn left at the tracks, after you fill up at the Safeway gas station and save maybe a buck a gallon. It’s a long, steep meander to Fort Bragg. Hwy 20 comes out at the coast highway, turn north, a right turn, on Hwy. 1, it’s about two miles give or take two, to the park. This is a great base camp to explore other campgrounds on the Mendocino coast for future reference. Do bring bikes, the trails are safe, mostly. There is a little lake, Cleone, that is stocked with trout, so throw in the Barbie and Spiderman fishing poles from Christmas. There is a wooden walkway that goes out to some wash-rocks, seals and baby seals are often sunning themselves there.

There are beaches to explore, the top beach is at VanDamm State Beach, just south of the seaside town of Mendocino the little village is aggressively aimed at tourists a nice, if a bit expensive, side trip. One beach locals love is Jug Handle beach, a day in the soft sand there is a day well spent. Almost no facilities so pack what you need, it is a short hike back up to your car and the port-o-lets. The Mendocino coast offers many attractions and side trips. Visit ‘101 Things to do in Mendocino’ for a lot of ideas including listings for private camp facilities. An hour south is the KOA and Rock ’n Roll, both private campgrounds. They are south of the Navarro River where it meets the ocean. A bit remote but a beautiful spot to stay. If you decide to try the camping south of the Navarro River, take Hwy. 128 just north of Cloverdale to get to the coast. Beware, the road is twisty, for the first twenty miles or so anyone in your car will need to take carsick precautions. Once the road hits Boonville it is smooth sailing to the ocean. One favorite stop is Gowans apple juice store, they also sell fresh garden veggies and fruit for your meals. There are a few swings and a potty plus a dog walk. The store is about ten minutes west of Boonville, the highway takes a 90 degree right turn just at the fruit stand. Loads of signs to help you zero in. 

On the Sonoma coast the northern most campground is a county park right on the Gualala River, across the river is the little hamlet of Gualala, fun to explore. There is a dusty, private campground just upstream of the bridge, signs to point the way. South is the very beautiful Salt Point State Park, the only decent beach access is Stump Beach. Camping is within the park in beautiful, paved spots, the hills leading down to the ocean are nearly as dangerous as the shoreline. If you camp at Salt Point, a few minutes by Hwy. 1 south is the fantastic Fort Ross Park. Pack your lunch to eat there, it can be a delightful day-long trip. Going back north there are two good campgrounds, Stillwater Cove is a county park with very few campsites but a nice rocky beach. Just a half mile north is the Ocean Cove campground with seaside trails and dangerous cliffs. There is a campground just north of Fort Ross, dusty, spare and traffic on the coast highway looks right down on your camp, a no go.

Bill Hanson is a Sonoma County native and a lifelong sportsman. He is the former president of the Sonoma County Mycological Association. Look for his column in The Community Voice each week.

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