Backcountry Trail Camps
Welcome to the Big Basin, Castle Rock, Portola & Butano
State Parks Backcountry Trail Camps information page!
Call (831) 338-8861 Monday through Friday between 9am and 5pm for reservations and information.
This information is for Waterman Gap Trail Camp in Castle Rock State Park, Slate Creek Trail Camp in Portola Redwoods State Park, Butano Trail Camp in Butano State Park and Jay, Lane, Sunset, Twin Redwoods, and Alder Trail Camps in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. For information about Castle Rock Trail Camp please scroll to bottom of the page.
A backcountry trail camp is a primitive campsite located near a trail that is used for overnight camping during a backpacking trip. Backcountry trail camps are rustic campsites. Only Slate Creek Trail Camp has picnic tables and there are no fire rings in any backcountry campsites as there are no fires allowed.
The Santa Cruz Mountain Backcountry Trail Camps provide a wilderness experience in the back yard of the San Francisco Bay Area. These trail camps are located within thousands of acres of redwood forest and are connected by an extensive trail system spanning from the skyline ridge tops down to the Pacific Ocean.
Below are some frequently asked questions which will help you plan your trip before making a reservation and so you can make the most of your experience.
How many Backcountry Trail Camps are there?
There are eight backcountry trail camps in the Santa Cruz Mountain State Park Trail Camp system. Waterman Gap Trail Camp in Castle Rock State Park, Slate Creek Trail Camp in Portola Redwoods State Park, Butano Trail Camp in Butano State Park, and Jay, Lane, Sunset, Twin Redwoods, and Alder Trail Camps in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Please scroll to bottom of the page for information on Castle Rock Trail Camp.
How far apart are they?
That depends. Please check a map and look at the Trail Camp Mileage Chart on this page for the distances.
Where can I get a map?
You can purchase individual park maps from most State Parks in the Santa Cruz State Park District. You can purchase a Sempervirens Fund Skyline to the Sea trail map by calling the Sempervirens Fund at (650) 949-1453. They can also be purchased at the park store at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, Big Basin Redwoods State Park and at www.mountainparks.org. Local outdoor recreation supply stores also sell maps of the trail.
How do I make a reservation?
Reservations are required for Waterman Gap, Slate Creek, Butano, Jay, Lane, Sunset, Twin Redwoods, and Alder Trail Camps. You can make a reservation by calling (831) 338-8861 Monday through Friday between 9am and 5pm. Reservations can be made two months in advance on the first day of the month beginning at 9:00 a.m. Weekends and holidays fill up fast so make your reservation early. Please have your itinerary ready when you call. The line may be busy so please be ready to leave a message or call back. Please be aware that reservation procedures may be subject to change.
Are the Backcountry Trail Camps closed during any part of the year?
Yes. Some of the Backcountry Trail Camps are closed from December 1st to April 30th each year. Please call to find out availability. Castle Rock Trail Camp is open year-round. For information about Castle Rock Trail Camp please scroll to bottom of the page.
How long can I stay?
That's mostly up to the way you plan your trip. The trail camps are designated as through camping meaning that you are not allowed stay multiple nights in a row at the same camp. The only exceptions to this are Slate Creek Trail Camp and Butano Trail Camp in which you can stay three nights in a row. As long as you move every night, you can stay in the backcountry you for up to fourteen days.
How many people can stay in the trail camps?
Each trail campsite can hold up to 6 people and you can reserve up to 2 campsites.
If you need more campsites or if you are changing participants to attend you will need to get a group reservation. Group reservations can only be made for Sunday through Thursday nights in order to keep the busy weekend nights available for other campers. You can make a group reservation by calling (831) 338-8861 Monday through Friday between 9am and 5pm.
How much are the fees?
Currently, the trail camps are $15.00 per campsite per night. There is also an $8.00 reservation fee per campsite which is charged for the first night of your stay. The group reservation fee is 25.00. The reservation fees are not refundable.
How do I pay?
The reservation and camping fees are paid using a credit or debit card when you make your reservation over the phone. The camping fee includes overnight parking for one vehicle. You will receive a parking pass along with a backcountry permit attached to the confirmation e-mail. You must print and display both on the dashboard of that vehicle as proof of payment. Rangers will verify payment.
What if we have more than one car?
Each additional vehicle is $10 per vehicle, per night at Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Butano State Park and Portola Redwoods State Park. Additional vehicles are $8 per vehicle, per night at Castle Rock State Park. Pay your extra vehicle fees at the location where you are going to be parking the extra vehicle. Pay at the visitor center, park headquarters, or entrance station. If you arrive when the stations are not staffed use the self-registration envelopes. Make sure you bring exact change or a check to use in case you must use the self-registration. Place your receipt on the dashboard in a visible place along with a copy of the Backcountry Permit as proof of payment. Rangers will verify payment.
What if I need to change or cancel my trip?
If you need to change or cancel your trip call the reservation line at (831) 338-8861 Monday through Friday between 9am and 5pm. Call as soon as possible so we can try to accommodate your changes. You must speak with us at least two days before the start of your trip receive a refund for the camping fees.
Where do I start my trip?
If you are parking a vehicle at a trailhead you can start your trip at Castle Rock State Park, Butano State Park, Portola Redwoods State Park, Big Basin Redwoods State Park Headquarters, or at Rancho Del Oso, which is across Highway 1 from Waddell Beach on the coast side of Big Basin Redwoods State Park. These are the only locations which allow a vehicle to be parked overnight. If you are being dropped off you can start your trip anywhere with an access point to a trail. If you are not parking a vehicle in a State Park overnight you must carry the Reservation Transaction Receipt with you as you hike.
Note: Vehicles must be parked in designated areas only. Do not attempt to leave a vehicle overnight on any highways, at the Saratoga Gap vista lot, or at Waddell Beach parking lot. Illegally parked vehicles may be cited and towed at the owner's expense.
Is there any public transportation to the trailheads?
There is limited bus service offered to Rancho Del Oso at Waddell Beach and Big Basin Redwoods State Park Headquarters on the weekends during the summer months by the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District. Please visit www.scmtd.com for information and schedules.
Can I just come on the day I want to hike and get a spot?
Occasionally, a campsite may be available mid-week during the summer months and on non-holiday weekends in the spring and fall. All fees will still apply including the reservation fee. It is very rare that there is an empty campsite on the weekend during the summer. If you would like to make a same day reservation you must call (831) 338-8861 Monday through Friday between 9am and 5pm to check for availability.
Why can’t I just camp anywhere?
Due to heavy visitation, backcountry camping is only allowed in the designated trail camps. Redwood forest habitats are sensitive to impact so please stay on the trails.
What facilities are at the Backcountry Trail Camps?
All of the backcountry trail camps have trash receptacles, bathrooms and an area with a numbered post which is clear and flat for you to set up a tent. Jay Trail Camp and Sunset Trail Camp also has animal proof food lockers in which you must store your food. Slate Creek Trail Camp has picnic tables in each campsite.
What are the bathrooms like?
All of the backcountry trail camps, with the exception of Jay camp have vault toilets. Jay camp has flush toilets and coin operated showers. All the bathrooms are regularly cleaned and should be stocked with toilet paper. Please do not throw anything except toilet paper in the vault toilets because it damages our pumping equipment and is extremely difficult to remove.
What do we do with our garbage?
Trash receptacles are available at all of the Backcountry Trail Camps. You can help us by packing out all of your garbage. Please do not bathe or wash dishes in the creeks.
Can I bring my dog?
The backcountry trail camps are located in a wilderness areas. For this reason, dogs are not permitted on the trails. A citation may be issued to anyone hiking with a dog.
Can I make a fire?
Fires are not allowed at any of the backcountry trail camps. Fires pose a serious danger to both wildlife and people in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Backpacking camp stoves are allowed. Smoking is prohibited. In times or extreme fire danger, called a Red Flag Warning by the National Weather Service we don’t allow the use of backpacking camp stoves in the trail camps. Please check with the National Weather Service at www.weather.gov for any weather alerts and the most up to date information.
Are there other rules I should know?
Yes. This is a protected wilderness area with special rules to protect it for the wildlife that live here are for future generations of park visitors. Please see the Trail Camp Rule and Information PDF on this page for a list of the backcountry regulations. Failure to follow these regulations can result in a citation.
How do I get drinking water?
Potable water is available at Castle Rock, Waterman Gap and Jay Trail Camps. There is no potable water provided at Butano, Slate Creek, Lane, Sunset, Alder or Twin Redwoods Trail Camps. We recommend that you carry water to these camps. Alder and Twin Redwoods Trail Camps are adjacent to creeks, which contained reclaimed waste water. Sunset Trail Camp is located a third of a mile from a creek water source. Slate Creek is located approximately half a mile from the nearest reliable creek water source. Lane Trail Camp is located about 3 miles from the nearest reliable creek water source. If you choose to use surface water, we recommend using a filter that removes particles, bacteria, cysts and parasites larger than 0.2 microns or iodine tablets before consumption.
What’s the weather like?
Typically, it does not rain in the summer months but you should be prepared for cool nights and warm days. In the spring, rain and thunderstorms are common and nighttime temperatures can be in the low 30’s. The fall weather is generally some of the nicest weather in the Santa Cruz Mountains. However, you should be prepared with rain gear and warm clothing. Please check with the National Weather Service at www.weather.gov for any weather alerts and the most up to date information.
Are there any dangerous animals?
The Santa Cruz Mountains are mountain lion habitat. These animals are very reclusive and most people consider themselves lucky if they see one. Raccoons, however, are a problem. They have become habituated to people and are not shy. Do not feed them! You will need to bring an animal proof container or some rope to tie your food from a tree. Raccoons and squirrels can chew and/or rip through packs and tents. Bears are not present in this area. Rattlesnakes are present in some portions of the park. Ticks can be found everywhere, however, if you remain on the trails you decrease your chances of tick bites.
How about dangerous plants?
Poison oak and stinging nettle grow in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Poison oak has a toxin in the oil of the leaves and stems that can cause severe blistering of the skin. Poison oak can grow as a bush or a vine. The leaves are in groups of three and often look shiny. In the fall the leaves turn a red color. Stinging Nettle is a lush plant that grows about 3 feet tall. The plant has hairs on the stem and leaves which sting, redden and blister if touched.
Can I camp with my horse?
Yes, there is a horse camp located at Rancho Del Oso on the coast side of Big Basin Redwoods State Park across Highway 1 from Waddell Beach. You must have a horse to stay in this camp. Reservations are required. The cost is $24.00 per campsite per night which includes one vehicle with one trailer. Each additional vehicle and trailer are 10.00 per night. Each campsite can accommodate up to two horses. Please call (831) 338-8861, Monday through Friday between 9am and 5pm to reserve the horse camp. Reservations can be made 2 months in advance.
Castle Rock Trail Camp Information:
Castle Rock Trail Camp is different from the other Backcountry Trail Camps. It is open year round on a first-come first-served basis. It has trash receptacles, bathrooms and 20 campsites with picnic tables and fire rings. Wood is available for sale during the wet season. Fires are not allowed during fire season. The cost is $15.00 per campsite per night. This includes overnight parking for one vehicle. Each additional vehicle is 8.00 per night. To register and pay your fees, check in at the Entrance Station at the Castle Rock Parking Lot. If you arrive when the station is not staffed you can use the self-registration envelopes. Make sure you bring exact change or a check to use in case you must use the self-registration. Place your receipt on the dashboard in a visible place as proof of payment. Rangers will verify payment. For more information about camping and fire closure dates please call Castle Rock State Park at (408) 867-2952.