Recently, the San Francisco Chronicle came out with a list of the Bay Area’s 50 best campsites. Uvas Canyon County Park came in at #35, just after Half Moon Bay State Beach and just before Butano Redwoods’ Trail Camp. I’d probably rank it higher, given our experience last weekend.
Why Uvas Canyon County Park? It’s probably a new place for you to visit, if you aren’t already familiar with it. It’s most definitely off the beaten track, a bit past San Jose in the Eastern Santa Cruz Mountains. To get to the park, you must travel through the fairly adorable Sveadal, and the only reason you’d continue along this road would be to get to Uvas Canyon.
The park is tiny but mighty in terms of its trail offerings. The park encompasses probably just seven miles of trails, but there is not a boring step of trail in that seven miles. Uvas Canyon is known for its waterfalls and the most popular trail is definitely the Waterfall Loop. This trail is probably less than a mile altogether, but it goes straight up the hill and then straight down– if you are doing this with smaller hikers, it’s quite worth it to bring a snack, even if it doesn’t look long. All the trails we visited in Uvas Canyon are for the stout of hiking leg– each one required some climbing. If you want a leisurely flat stroll, this is not your park.
If your hikers are ready for a bit more of a challenge, the Contour trail led up the creek and then along the ridge, affording glimpses of the Knibbs Knob trail on the ridge that led steeply out of the campground on the other side of the canyon. Then Contour trail meets up with Alec Canyon trail. From here, you could go back the steep .5 mile to the trailhead, but a short .5 mile in the other direction led towards Manzanita Point, with beautiful views and an explosion of wildflowers. If you are really up for a challenge, the Knibbs Knob trail is a short yet brutal climb for just under 2 miles in one direction.
So you have lots of great hiking, but what about the campsites? Uvas Canyon is, to put it mildly, family-friendly. We joked during the weekend that you might not be able to book a campsite if you didn’t have at least a couple of kids in your party. This means that a) if you have kiddos who are fussy and perhaps not quiet in that fussiness, people seem totally unfazed because, well, they aren’t so far from those years and b) everyone went to sleep early. We were in our tent by 9pm (because, PARENTING) and everything was silent by 10pm. It’s true that quiet hours are 10-7, but no enforcement of quiet hours was needed. I walked through the campsite at probably 8:55 and the majority of campsites were extinguishing their fires or already in their tents for the night. That said, if you’re not someone who wants to hear the dulcet tones of children throughout the daytime/early evening hours, this is probably not the campground for you. This IS the campground to visit with other families, though– renting a couple of adjacent campsites looks like a brilliant plan.
The campsites are mostly reasonably-sized. We would recommend not choosing campsite 21– that was the campsite we had and while it was serviceable, it was not the best site by a long shot. The prime campsites, in our opinion, were 14-18, with 17 & 18 being the best. They are set off the road, tucked under the trees. If you were going to get a couple of campsites with other families, 26 & 27 would be great, or 23-25.
The Santa Clara County Parks continued their stellar record of cleanliness and solid facilities– all campsites had spotless grills, the bathrooms were clean (and had free showers as well!) and the rangers were very present. The parks are also (leashed) dog-friendly.
Unlike Joseph D. Grant, Uvas Canyon does fill up– especially on the weekends. While it isn’t as crazy as Samuel P. Taylor, when we made our reservation a month before our trip, there were only two campsites left. Plan ahead for Uvas Canyon on Friday/Saturday nights. It looks like a fantastic spot to visit on a Sunday night, though– we left around noon on Sunday and it looked like the campground was going to be practically empty.
This park is also best when the waterfalls have some water in them, any time from February onward, depending on the year’s rainfall. It could be a lovely campground, temperature-wise, during the summer, as it’s shaded and probably cooler than most of the surrounding area. However, the waterfalls probably won’t be as full.
In short, Uvas Canyon is a great family camping option, especially if you can get a few other families to go with you. We’ll be back!
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