Sports Basement's Guide to Bay Area Campsites (by Drive Time) 2021 Edition


So you wanna go camping buuut you don’t want to load all your stuff into the car and drive for 10 hours. Or you don’t want to get up at an ungodly hour just to avoid traffic. Maybe you only wanna go for a day or two to start practicing your backpacking skills but you don’t want to spend a whole day just driving there. Or maybe your kids refuse to be in a car longer than an hour-- apparently that “Are we there yet?” bit never goes out of fashion.

The good news is the Bay Area is chock full of places to go camping, even in San Francisco! To see some of our favorites, just check the map layer(s) with the drive times you can tolerate (click the box in the left hand corner if you don't see the layers). All drive times are estimated generally from San Francisco so make sure to adjust accordingly when you plan your trip (and don't be afraid to use Google's traffic estimates!). We’ve also included the Sports Basement locations so you can get some last minute gear close to your campsite or pick up your camp rentals.

Wanna know more about our super-extra favorite campgrounds? Scroll down past the map for some recommendations and tips on a few of ‘em.

 

Photo of the Bay from the north on top of Mount Tamalpais. Photo courtesy of Jim Harris via Unsplash.
0-1 HOUR: PANTOLL CAMPGROUND, MT. TAMALPAIS STATE PARK

Only a short drive away, Pantoll is perfect for a weekend outing with the kids! You’ll only be in the car for about 45 minutes (Google may say 30, but SF traffic always says otherwise) and you’ll feel like you’re in a whole new world. The campgrounds have all the basics including drinking water, restrooms, and even firewood so you can make s’mores (weather permitting, of course). This place is just far enough to get away from the hustle & bustle yet close enough to take comfort in the fact that city life is just a short ride away. 

Photo of the Kirby Cove Campground, with views of the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.0-1 HOUR: KIRBY COVE

Kirby Cove often takes longer to get to from SF than the East Bay to be honest, just because of traffic and the weird rerouting of roads they've done recently. But if you can find your way in (and a reservation) it's absolutely amazing and really one of the. most accessible spots there is. I am fortunate enough to have a friend who constantly checks for reservations here (I think he might have his own lottery algorithm) and will text me on a Tuesday to see if I want to squeeze in a midweek one nighter, or even just come by for a fire. He also is known for biking over from SF while we bring firewood and glamping supplies in a support vehicle; win-win to the max. The views of the bridge are insane, just pray it's not too foggy if you don't sleep like a rock through fog horns.

1.5-2 HOURS: BASALT CAMPGROUND

People think I'm weird because I keep raving about the bathrooms here, but I made my first visit directly after a desert trip to Bishop where the word "pit" appeared in all the campground names. If you're looking for a spot close to the Bay with running water and showers, this is really the perfect crowd pleaser. Basalt is the perfect camping escape all year round.

A group of hikers make their way through the lush, twisting trails of Pinnacles National Park.1.5-2 HOURS: PINNACLES NATIONAL PARK CAMPGROUND

Pinnacles is one of the smallest and coolest (okay, they're all cool) National Parks in California. It's also one of the youngest, having been named a National Park in 2013. For such a small park, Pinnacles has a massive campground and a ton of activities. Hikers, climbers, birders, people looking to just relax and people looking to try their hand at some funky mountaineering routes can all coexist happily in the park with plenty to occupy them before reuniting around the campfire at night. I would recommend waiting until the summer and fall months to let her uh, dry out a bit from spring showers.

3-4 HOURS: UNION VALLEY RESERVOIR

Union Valley is an incredible camping and outdoor fun area. It's far enough into the mountains and away from the Bay that you can seek out some accessible solitude - though I will warn you the power boats get going at dawn on summer weekends. It's tucked away behind Ice House Reservoir, and pretty close to Tahoe without being, well, Tahoe. Sneak your way back there for fun in the sun. And throw a collapsible wagon in the car for true leisure.

3-4 HOURS: TEN LAKES BASIN, YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK

Beginner backpackers can start practicing their skills on the hike to Ten Lakes Basin. The 13.8 mile hike goes up 2,200 feet for stunning views that are well worth the walk. All of the lovely lakes along the trail give you plenty of options to cool off in. Bonus: you’ll enjoy Yosemite without worrying about the crowds in the Valley. This is one of our favorite spots to take beginner backpackers so if you don’t wanna go it alone just yet, you can sign up for one of our guided backpacking trips to 10 Lakes Basin this summer!

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