First off, Portola Redwoods State Park is no secret. It’s a beautiful park set deep in the redwoods, on the Peninsula. Towering redwoods, fat banana slugs, shady nooks, hikes of varying difficulty– Portola Redwoods has it all, and you definitely need to reserve in advance. However, we found out this October that there are some “secret” campsites that are truly delightful and must share with you. We’re late on sharing, but fortunately, you’re just in time to make fall campground reservations!
When I went to reserve a site, I noticed there were two campgrounds– the “regular” campground and the “Family Walk-in” sites. I think I made my decision by looking at the map and thinking, “these look like they’re farther away from people” (which is how I may make lots of decisions in my life, but I digress), so I chose Family Walk-in site #61. We stayed at the walk-in sites at Sanborn County Park and I figured it would just involve a little more effort on our part to get to the site.
When we got there, I asked the ranger if there were any kinds of carts to help you get your stuff to the site. He looked at me a bit oddly and said, um, no. He said that our site was pretty close to the parking and that people didn’t usually have any trouble it. This should have informed me that “Walk-in” meant something different to Portola Redwoods than it did to Sanborn.
Upon parking, I realized that walk-in just meant that your car wasn’t within touching distance of your tent, but the site we had (#61) was so close that you might have been able to touch the car, were you able to reach through the bush that blocked the view of the parking lot. The other campsites are a little further away, but all very easy to carry your stuff to. The perfect thing about these campsites are the bushes that separate each site. While you are not isolated by any means, it felt intimate in a way I have never experienced in a large state park campground.
The rest of Portola Redwoods is divine, as mentioned above. The visitor center is warm and inviting, with plenty of books & puppets in the kid corner. We got a great (free) Save The Redwoods activity booklet that gave lots of facts about the trees and ecological systems around them.
Once you head out on the trails, possibilities abound. If you’re interested in old-growth redwoods, you can wander around the visitor’s center, where a stand still exists. A short but steep hike can take you to another grove located near Slate Creek, which is also a great short backpacking destination. A longer hike will take you to the Peters Creek Grove (11 miles round trip). If you’re just looking for hikes, the short Sequoia Nature Trail could work for the smaller-legged set. More hardy hikers can put together a trip of any length, because Portola connects to Pescadero Creek County Park on one side, and at least two of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space districts on the other (Skyline Ridge and Long Ridge).
This connectedness to other parks is one of the draws to this region. In fact, a trip that we here at Bay Area Families Outside would love to put together would be a backpacking trip that started at one of the aforementioned parks and then ended up staying in the hiker/biker campground at Portola Redwoods. Here’s a fun fact for you– the hiker/biker campgrounds at the majority of state parks are usually never full, even at places like Samuel P. Taylor in the summer (a friend did a bikepacking trip this summer and rolled up (ha ha) without reservations and stayed for $10/night). So if you’re too late with a car camping reservation, you could consider hiking in as well.
While you can bring your dog TO the campground, Fido can’t be on any of the trails, so it’s not really that dog-friendly. Because of the amount of redwood forest, this is also a great place to go in wet weather, provided the road is open into the park.