Plan Ahead-Camping in the Fall & Winter!

Two things are going to sound strange about this post- one, it’s about the seasons we are definitely not in at the moment- fall and winter. Two, it’s going to encourage you to plan for the rainy season. (Let’s hope that planning for the rainy season will guarantee that we get one!) Why, you ask, am I writing a post about Fall/Winter in the middle of summer? Because here’s what I’ve noticed about the timing of seasonal articles: when you get a lovely article about seasonal lodging possibilities (you know, a lodging possibility that means you won’t be sitting in your tent the whole time?), all those lodging possibilities are already booked. So now is really the perfect time to be booking your cold-weather outdoor weekend lodging, and we’re going to help you out with that.

(Caveat: If you really like camping in the rain, then ignore this post. There are some people who don’t mind being damp for hours, or who don’t mind lying and reading in the tent for hours. I am not one of those people, nor am I a person who wants to try to convince children that it’s fun to be in a tent where you can’t really stand up for hours. If this is you, then this post does not apply. For the rest of us, read on.)

Here’s a major secret– there are a number of bare-bones cabin options around the Bay Area. They aren’t luxurious by any means– think wooden bunks, often without electricity (although some of these DO have electricity!), but they offer a way to be outdoors in the rain without sitting in your tent with cramped legs, AND the majority aren’t excessively expensive. Ok, if your tent is one of those tents that has ROOMS, then you’re set. But our tent is of the minimalist sort, and the idea of spending 12 hours almost sitting on each other in the rain, legs tucked under me, does not fill me with family joy. A place where we can all hang out, maybe play cards, draw, read, etc., with the possibility of standing and moving around? Totally fine.

The three hostels listed below are even more exciting– you have a kitchen available and a living room of sorts!

We haven’t been to all of these (and hence the lack of pictures), but we encourage you to join us in figuring out more options for rainy weather overnights. (I hesitate to call them camping, because, well, it’s not exactly camping, but it’s definitely not plush…) Below are several local-ish state park options, three Northern California hostel options that have family rooms, and a few further afield state park possibilities. Reserve now, Bay Area families! Continue your fall & winter outdoor adventures, even if (hopefully) the rain returns!!

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Bothe-Napa State Park, Yurt

Bothe-Napa State Park

We’ve written about the wonders of Bothe-Napa here, and fall/winter Bothe-Napa offers two possibilities– yurts (above) for $55/night or cabins, for the rather eyebrow-raising $225/night. Stick with the yurt. They look lovely and rain-free. Lots of gorgeous trails in this park, as well as nearby wine-tasting. Clear win.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park

The oldest California state park, Big Basin Redwoods offers tent cabins for $85/night. They are most definitely not five-star hotels, but they do have cozy wood stoves to keep you warm in cold temperatures.

Little Basin

Until recently (2011), Little Basin was a retreat and campground for Hewlett Packard employees. Now connected to Big Basin, the site has several cabins for $105/night.

Clear Lake State Park

While there are not a ton of trails at Clear Lake, fishing abounds at this freshwater lake. Eight cabins for $60/night offer a way to enjoy the outdoors without being rained on in inclement weather.

11020255_10153673594793032_7279367994693246557_n (1)Hendy Woods State Park

We LOVE Hendy Woods. Love, love, love Hendy Woods. Beautiful trails through old-growth redwoods. It’s in the Anderson Valley so wine tasting OR the Anderson Valley Brewing Company, whichever adult beverage suits your fancy. Hendy Woods is packed in the summer, but we stayed in one of the cabins for $55/night last year in March (above)– and it was still stunning. Get it.

Samuel P. Taylor State Park

These cabins, along with the Steep Ravine Cabins (see below) are THE most popular cabins in the Bay Area. These cabins aren’t as tough to get, though. While weekends are pretty much booked until November, weekdays open up once school starts. (Not the case with the Steep Ravine cabins below.)  If you pay close attention to when reservations open, for $100/night, you can stay in a snug little cabin inside of Marin County. But don’t feel sad if you can’t score a cabin– go North. I mean, don’t get me wrong– I love Samuel P. Taylor. It’s delightful. But the redwoods are more impressive at Hendy Woods, or the further afield Humboldt County (see below).

Steep Ravine Cabins

Pros: Amazing location, perched on the hillside between Slide Ranch and Stinson Beach. Pretty much unbeatable views. Cons: Um, almost impossible to get reservations. If there’s coastal fog, you might be hanging out in a fog bank. Fortunately, late fall/winter tends to be less fogged-in. For about $100 per night you can sleep in probably the most popular local outdoor sleeping location in, well, all of Northern California… that is, if you can score a reservation. Most cabins on this list are booked on weekends but have availability during the week, especially as school starts and the fall rolls in. Not so for Steep Ravine. ALL dates are booked in the reservable window, which is up until March 2017. We include them because you should know they exist, although it seems one has about as much chance of scoring a night in one of these cabins as seeing a Siberian Unicorn. But knock yourself out. If you’re trying to get a reservation, do your best and let the rest of us know your secret once you do.

Pfeiffer-Big Sur State Park

There is just one tiny cabin ($70/night) at Pfeiffer-Big Sur State Park (but it has a lovely sloping roof and a more modern look to it!), so you’ll need to plan ahead if you’re going to try to score this little gem. There are 8 miles worth of trails in the park, but Pfeiffer-Big Sur connects to Los Padres Forest, offering you SO many trails to choose from. The Pine Ridge trail can take you to the exceedingly popular Sykes Hot Springs, so be prepared to share this trail with a ton of backpackers. We have not explored them, but I might expect that the other trails are far less traveled.

Brannan Island State Recreation Area ($56/night- one cabin)

Brannan Island doesn’t have much in the way of hiking– its draw is mainly boating/fishing, and fishing in the rain is probably not so much of a draw. That said, there are sections where you could bring a kayak and/or canoe… although kayaking in the rain is also less than tempting. There is one small cabin ($56/night) to keep you dry during a storm.


I hesitate to put the hostel info in this list because, frankly, I want to score a family room at a hostel this season, and we haven’t made reservations yet. However, I must share this information because the two hostels in Marin– particularly Point Reyes– are in stunning locations and are AMAZING weekend opportunities, even in bad weather. Hostels offer a private family room with cooking facilities that you share with the rest of the hostel. They aren’t super-cheap, but they are very comfortable and the locations cannot be beat. If you have older kids who are fine with staying in a gender-specific dorm room, you have more options, but if you want a private family room for smaller people, act now and reserve away.

Marin Headlands Hostel

The Marin Headlands Hostel has one family room for $132/night that can fit up to 5 people. The hostel is located near Rodeo Lagoon, with close proximity to the Marine Mammal Center (very popular with kids), or Point Bonita Lighthouse. Go on a night that Nature Bridge offers a family night hike and campfire! (Read about our experience with Nature Bridge here.)

Point Reyes Hostel 

Point Reyes is one of our favorite Bay Area outdoor spots. The Point Reyes hostel is just up the road from Limantour Beach, and connected to MILES of beautiful Point Reyes trails. There are two family rooms available– one for $105 that houses three people and one for $112 that houses four people. It’s more secluded than the Headlands hostel, and probably my favorite on this list.

Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel

Point Montara’s hostel has private rooms with three beds ($106/night), allowing a stay in close proximity to Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, as well as lots of beach time. Plus, who wouldn’t want to stay in a Lighthouse?

More geographically distant options:

These are other state park options, but we included them in case you wanted to venture further afield. Some of them (like the cabins in Big Trees) will be in colder areas. While the cabins may be insulated, they are cheaper than your regular rentals and may be a bit more rustic.

Calaveras Big Trees State Park

Calaveras has four cabins for around $165/night. They all sleep at least four people, and one can house as many as nine. We have not stayed in these cabins but Calaveras Big Trees State Park is a beautiful location.

Richardson Grove

Richardson Grove (located just off Highway 101 in Humboldt County in the middle of soaringly huge redwoods) has four small cabins (max 3 people each) for $70/night.

Columbia Cottages

So technically these aren’t situated in woods– they’re in Columbia State Historic Park… but the cottages are adorbs and if you have a fourth grader– hey! California history! They’re also close to Calaveras Big Trees State Park or other outdoor options. There are three cottages– the largest sleeps six and goes for $170/night and the smallest sleeps two and runs $126/night. Let’s be clear, though. These are cottages with period furniture in them– they definitely look different than the bare bones options above.

Patrick’s Point State Park

Patrick’s Point (think north, Trinidad– Humboldt County) recently added four small cabins for $80/night. They can sleep up to six people and Patrick’s Point is considered one of the most beautiful locations on the California Coast. Right now, it’s not clear that people know they exist because there’s even weekend availability on upcoming weekends. If you want to experience beautiful redwoods without getting rained on all night, these cabins might be a great option.

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

We camped here in March and it was stunning. Four cabins, sleeping up to six people each, for $80/night. Prairie Creek is around six hours away from the Bay Area, so it’s not a quick trip, but it has some of the most impressive redwoods we’ve ever seen.

Ok, friends. There you have it. It’s a lot of information, but you have quite a few options to get yourselves some reservations so that, come winter time, you can continue your outdoor adventuring. Check for which sites allow pets– several of these sites allow pets but not on the park’s trails, so that’s important to know. Let us all know in the comments if you have a Bay Area find I didn’t list– and reserve away!

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One thought on “Plan Ahead-Camping in the Fall & Winter!

  1. Pingback: Big Sur: weekend adventuring | Bay Area Families Outside

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