Back Country Trail Camps
This information is for Waterman Gap, Slate Creek, Jay Camp, Lane, Sunset, Twin Redwoods, and Alder trail camps. Please scroll to bottom of the page for Castle Rock trail camp information.A backcountry trail camp is a primitive campsite located near a trail and used for overnight camping during a backpacking trip. The trail camps at Big Basin Redwoods SP, Waterman Gap and Portola Redwoods SP are rustic campsites. There are no picnic tables or fire rings (fires are not allowed).
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 Semperviren’s Fund Skyline to the Sea trail map by calling the Semperviren’s Fund at (650) 949-1453. They can also be purchased at the park store at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, Big Basin State Park and at mountainparks.org.
Where do I start my trip?
If you are parking a vehicle at a trailhead you can start your trip at Castle Rock SP, Big Basin Redwoods SP, or at Rancho Del Oso (the western portion of Big Basin with access from Hwy 1). If you are being dropped off you can start your trip anywhere with an access point to a trail. You will need to check in and pay fees before starting your trip.
Where do I pay my camping fees?
You can pay your camping fees at any entrance station or by self pay envelope.
What if we have more than 1 car?
Parking for one vehicle is included with the camp fees. Each additional vehicle is $10 per vehicle/per night or $8 at Castle Rock SP. You can pay your fees at a park entrance station or by using the self pay envelopes if arriving after hours (if arriving after hours please have exact change or a CA check). Place your receipt on the dashboard on the driver’s side.
Note: Vehicles must be parked in designated areas only. Do not attempt to leave a vehicle overnight on any highways, at Saratoga Gap parking 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 currently no bus service for any of the trailheads at this time. You may wish to contact Santa Cruz Metro at (831) 425-8600 or visit SCMTD.com to confirm or check for changes.
How do I make a reservation?
Make a reservation by calling (831) 338-8861 M-F between 9am and 5pm. Reservations can be made up to two months in advance. Please have your itinerary ready when you call. Please be aware that reservation procedures may change.
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 between 9am and 5pm to check for availability.
Can I bring my dog?
The Skyline to the Sea trail is located in a wilderness area. For this reason dogs are not permitted on the trails. A citation may be issued to anyone hiking with a dog.
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. Please stay on the trails.
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.
How much does it cost?
Each campsite costs $15 per night. A campsite can accommodate up to 6 people. Each person can reserve up to 2 sites. There is an $8 non-refundable reservation fee. Additional vehicles are $10 per night, $8 per night at Castle Rock.
How do I get drinking water?
Potable water is available at Castle Rock, Waterman Gap and Jay camp. There is no potable water provided at Lane, Sunset, Alder or Twin Redwoods. We recommend that you carry water to these camps. Alder, Twin Redwoods and Sunset Creek trail camps are adjacent to creeks, which contained reclaimed waste water. Lane trail camp has no water source. The nearest reliable creek water is located about 3 miles from the camp. A filter or iodine tablets are recommended 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 at Big Basin. However, you should be prepared with rain gear and warm clothing.
Are there any scary 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 a bear proof container or some rope to tie your food in a tree. Raccoons and squirrels can chew and/or rip through packs and tents. There are no bears. 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 along the Skyline to the Sea trail. 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' tall. The plant has hairs on the stem and leaves which sting, redden and blister if touched.
What are the bathrooms like?
All of the backcountry trail camps, with the exception of Jay camp have pit 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 pit toilets.
What do we do with our garbage?
Trash receptacles are available at Castle Rock, Jay camp, Sunset, Lane, Alder and Twin Redwoods. You need to pack out all of your trash from all other trail camps. Please do not bathe or wash dishes in the creeks.
Can I camp with my horse?
Yes, there is a horse camp at Rancho Del Oso. Reservations are required. To reserve the horse camp please call (831) 425-1218. You must have a horse to stay in this camp. Reservations can be made 2 months in advance.
Are your backcountry trail camps closed during part of the season?
Yes, all backcountry trail camps are closed each season from November 1st through April 30th each year. Castle Rock trail camp has 20 campsites with picnic tables and fire rings. Fires are not allowed during fire season. Please contact Castle Rock for fire closure dates.
Trail Camp Information
Trail Camp Information PDF
Click this link to open general information.
PLEASE NOTE: You must have a reservation to camp and be registered into a camp site. Failure to do so can lead to a citation.
Trail Camp Rules
Trail Camp Rules PDF
Click this link to view trail camp rules.
Trail Camp Mileage Chart PDF
Click this link to view mileage chart.