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The Insider’s Guide to Sonoma County Camping

Banner with image of a tent, text "Sonoma County CAmping: Insider Tips and Where to Go" and headshot of Melissa KelleyIs there any better way to experience Sonoma County’s unique natural beauty than going camping? It’s an immersive, relaxing experience to make some memories and enjoy the great outdoors. And there’s no shortage of options when it comes to Sonoma County camping.

We wanted to learn a few tips for having a great time camping, as well as some of the best Sonoma County camping destinations. 

So, we spoke with Melissa Kelley, Executive Director of the Sonoma County Parks Foundation. 

Well-acquainted with the best local outdoor activities in our regional parks system, she shared key insider knowledge on how to make your next camping trip a memorable one.

SOMO Village: Why is Sonoma County a great place to go camping? 

Stand Up Paddleboarding at Spring Lake Park

Spring Lake Park

Melissa Kelley: Well, it’s clear that people love camping in Sonoma County because the booking page on our regional parks website is the parks system’s most visited page!

But why wouldn’t people love it here? 

We’ve got great weather year-round and you can camp in any season. I always love the variety of outdoor experiences that you can have here—we have a gorgeous coastline, a beautiful river, oak woodlands, mountains, redwoods… There are so many amazing things to see throughout the county. 

There are also great activities like bird watching, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, paddle boarding, kayaking—you can do it all. There are lots of options for what you can do once you’re here camping. 

We have 200 campsites within Sonoma County Regional Parks alone. This includes RV camping, tent camping, remote or rugged camping, and even a few cabins for rent. We have a lot of variety in terms of the scenery and the experiences you can have while camping in Sonoma County.

Plan Your Trip: 10 Insider Tips for Sonoma County Camping

A couple and their dog sitting outside a trailerMake the most of your next Sonoma County camping trip with Melissa’s top 10 tips: 

1. Plan Ahead

All Sonoma County Regional Parks campgrounds require reservations, even same-day bookings, and many are high in demand. Try to plan ahead to ensure you get a spot in the campground you’re interested in.  

If possible, choose mid-week camping. Fewer people can go at this time, so there are more options available to you. Unless you can book a year in advance, avoid the most popular options like Doran Beach and opt for other locations such as Gualala or Stillwater. These are further north, also gorgeous, and less competitive to get spots. 

More info: Sonoma County Regional Parks reservations and tips for booking.

2. Buy an Annual Pass

When you purchase an annual membership (parks pass) through Sonoma County Regional Parks, you’re eligible for one night of free camping. Even if you just go on one trip, you can apply the free night of camping to your experience.  

3. Set Up a Home Base

Many campgrounds in Sonoma County are close to tons of outdoor activities and adventures. Use your campsite as a home base to do other activities like: 

  • Hiking
  • Mountain biking
  • Swimming
  • Kayaking and paddleboarding
  • Beachcombing
  • Bird watching

4. Plan for the Weather

People tend to book their campsites along the coast assuming it will be warm—it’s California in the summer, after all! But the reality is that there’s “natural air conditioning” coming off the coast with lots of wind. It can get very cool, even cold, in the evenings. Dress accordingly and bring some warm layers.  

5. Arrive Before Sundown

Whenever possible, arrive at your campground before sunset. This way, parks staff or camp hosts are more available if you have any questions.

6. Pack Appropriately

Some campsites like Gualala and Stillwater are fairly remote, so it’s especially important to bring the right gear and supplies. There are fewer options for supplies along the way, so think ahead and bring what you’ll need for your trip. 

7. Be Courteous

Follow all camp rules and be courteous to other people in the campground. This includes being mindful of noise, cleaning up after yourself, and deferring to park staff if any issues come up.  

8. Prioritize Fire Safety 

Sonoma County residents, particularly those near regional parks, are very sensitive to fire safety. Make sure you know the rules and follow all signage. 

If campfires are allowed when you go, make sure you completely put out your fire before leaving or going to bed. If fires are not allowed and you need more illumination, remember to bring a battery-operated lantern with you. There’s no electricity here, so bring light with you!

9. Leave No Trace

Care for your regional parks while camping in Sonoma County by leaving no trace. Clean up after yourself and bring everything back out with you.

More info: Leave No Trace—7 Principles

10. Be Bear Aware

Black bears are present in Sonoma County, particularly in North Coast parks like Gualala and Stillwater Cove. Make sure you understand how to stay safe and share the park with bears. Read up on bear safety, pack your food away, and follow all tips and guidelines of park staff. 

More info: How to be Bear Aware

Find Your Campsite: 4 Sonoma County Camping Options

Group of people sitting at a picnic table at Doran Regional Park

Doran Regional Park

There are 200 campsites within the Sonoma County Regional Parks network, plus many other Sonoma County camping options in state parks and privately owned campgrounds or RV parks. To help narrow down your choices, here are four awesome campsites to explore:

1. Doran Regional Park

Doran is a popular camping area with sites for tents, trailers, and RVs. It’s a family-friendly location marked by a sandy beach and calmer waves to enjoy the ocean. 

Location: 201 Doran Beach Road, Bodega Bay

Unique features: ADA-accessible kayak launch, boat launch, calm waves, walking paths, and horse-friendly beach.  

Melissa’s take: “Doran is the most popular park in the Sonoma County Regional Parks system. It’s gorgeous and welcoming for families, but everyone wants to go there. If you’re a good planner and can block out the time a year in advance, book it and have the experience. Otherwise, you can choose somewhere else and have an equally awesome experience.” 

2. Gualala Point Regional Park

Gualala is an oceanfront park in the northwest corner of Sonoma County. There is a small campground with sites for tents, trailers, and RVs; there are no electric hook-ups. Because it is more remote than other campgrounds in Sonoma County, it may be less busy and easier to get reservations. 

Location: 42401 Coast Highway 1, Gualala

Unique features: Secluded, private area, visitors center, 2.9 miles of trails (including an ADA-accessible trail). 

3. Stillwater Cove Regional Park

Similar to Gualala, Stillwater is located on the north coast and offers a quiet, more remote camping experience. The park has a campground with tent, trailer, and RV sites; some have electric hook-ups.  

Location: 22455 Highway 1, Jenner

Unique features: Three miles of hiking trails, including a trail to the historic Fort Ross Schoolhouse.

4. Spring Lake

Spring Lake is a popular park with campsites for tents, trailers, and RVs. Group campsites are available, as are three sleeping cabins.   

Location: 393 Violetti Road, Santa Rosa

Unique features: Playground in nearby Howarth Park, a swimming lagoon in summer months with inflatable structures at the Spring Lake Water Park (make reservations here), and paddleboard or kayak rentals. There is an accessible kayak launch forthcoming at Spring Lake, too. 

Melissa’s take: Spring Lake is a great beginner camping area. If you have kids or have never gone camping before, it’s somewhere where you’re close to all the amenities you would have at home. If things go south, you’re not too far from civilization! It is a popular campground, so you do need to plan ahead to get reservations.” 

Get out in nature, enjoy time with loved ones, and explore this beautiful area on your next Sonoma County camping trip. By keeping these tips in mind, you’re sure to have an amazing experience. 

And if you’re looking for a community that prioritizes outdoor recreation, community, and sustainability, download our project brief to see if SOMO Village is the right place for you. 

Headshot of Melissa KelleyAbout Melissa Kelley

Melissa is the Executive Director of the Sonoma County Parks Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises funds for Sonoma County Regional Parks and the programs that take place in the parks. Some programs that their funding supports include youth or senior-focused initiatives and increasing access to parks for all people. 

The Sonoma County Parks Foundation is a separate entity from Sonoma County Regional Parks, which directly runs the parks and programs. Melissa and her team are, instead, devoted to raising money for the parks to maintain the wonderful system here in Sonoma County. 

As an avid outdoor enthusiast herself, Melissa enjoys hiking, biking, picnicking, and taking walking meetings in the many outdoor spaces throughout Sonoma County. 

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