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Home > Close-Ups > U.S. Highway 101 Camping Tips

 

 

Camping Tips on U.S. Highway 101

(Northern California to Washington)

 

 

As I've noted on my Highway 101 Travel Tips page, I've traveled the full length of the Oregon Coast, all 363 miles of it, perhaps 20 or 30 times in my life.  I even used to live on the Oregon Coast -- thus explaining my pale complexion and webbed feet. 

 

The drive on U.S. 101 from northern California to Washington is one of my absolute favorites in the U.S.  Here are my opinions about some of the campgrounds along Highway 101 in northern California, Oregon, and Washington.

 

 

Note:  In the summer time, it’s usually a good idea to pull into any campground in northern California or on the Oregon Coast by early afternoon, since many fill up by late afternoon (if not sooner).  They fill up especially fast on weekends.  

 

Many State Park campgrounds in Northern California, Oregon, and Washington accept reservations.  However, except during summer weekends and holidays, you don't normally need a reservation to camp in State Parks; you can usually find a campsite if you pull into the campground by early afternoon.  

 

Just about all State Park campgrounds on the west coast have showers, but very few National Park or U.S. Forest Service campgrounds here, and elsewhere in the U.S., have showers.  Typical camping fees at State Park campgrounds are around $16 per night. 

 

 

Northern California State Park Campgrounds

 

 

  • Humboldt Redwoods State Park (south of Eureka):  This is the largest redwood state park in the U.S. and has three campgrounds.  The best, I think, is the Hidden Springs campground, located on the southern end of the “Avenue of the Giants” drive (the old Highway 101).  Hidden Springs is a large campground with over 200 campsites and it doesn’t usually fill up, except on weekends and holidays.  There’s a really nice day-use picnic area about a mile north of it, with good access to the Eel River.  The smaller Burlington campground, near the middle of the park, is located next to the state park's Visitor Center and is the only campground in this park which is open year-round.  The sites at Burlington are a lot more open than at Hidden Springs, with nearly all of the sites visible from the Avenue of the Giants highway.  During the off-season, when the crowds are gone, Burlington is a great place to camp, especially during the misty, foggy winter months, which is the best time to visit the Redwoods.  I did a 3-day backpacking trip in this park a few years ago, but I was disappointed because once I climbed a few hundred feet, I broke out of the redwoods and into a typical pine-fir-madrone forest.  It was pretty, but it was also a little disappointing.  Nevertheless, this is a great state park with plenty of good redwood camping opportunities.

 

  • Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park (north of Eureka):  This state park is located on the Newton B. Drury Parkway (the old Highway 101), about a mile north of where it splits off from the new Highway 101.  If you're heading either north or south on Highway 101, signs will point the way.  Highlights of this state park include a large meadow on both sides of the road, which is often filled with elk, a wonderful Visitor Center, and the graveled Cal Barrel Road, providing a quiet, peaceful drive through a redwood grove.  The Prairie Creek campground is usually pretty crowded and fills up almost every day in the summer.  Because of the crowds, the campground isn't one of my favorites but the park offers some of the best “redwood hiking” opportunities in northern California – both short and long hikes are possible, including several routes to the beach, a few miles west.  During the off-season, only the campground's outer loop is open. 

 

  • Del Norte Redwoods State Park (south of Crescent City):  This park has one campground, Mill Creek, which is on the east side of Highway 101.  The Mill Creek campground is pretty nice and doesn’t usually get as crowded as other nearby State Park campgrounds, such as Prairie Creek to the south or Jedediah Smith to the north.  The southern loop of the campground is in the redwoods and the northern loop is in a dense alder forest.  As with most other State Parks, there are usually evening campfire programs here.  The best camping sites are tucked in among a dense redwood forest in the southernmost part of the southern loop, but this part of the campground is usually only open for a few months each year.  Although the campground is open year-round, the number of available sites is restricted during the off-season.  Although I prefer the campground here over the one at Prairie Creek Redwoods, there aren't as many interesting things to do here and the hiking here isn't as interesting.

 

  • Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park:  This is a nice campground on the Smith River, and it's especially popular with families.  I first camped here 30 years ago and have enjoyed it ever since.  However, it’s very crowded and you usually need a reservation in the summer to camp here.  Incidentally, this park was named after one of the first white explorers of this area.  Jedediah Smith was one of the most amazing explorers of the American West in the 1820s and 1830s.  I read his fascinating biography a few years ago and would recommend it to anyone interested in American history.

 

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Above left:  Camping under the redwoods at Hidden Springs campground in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, south of Eureka.

Above right:  The wonderful Cal Barrel Road at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is one of my favorite short drives in America.  It's a three-mile long dirt road that travels through the peaceful redwoods.

 

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Above left:  Driving through the redwoods in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, near Crescent City.

Above right:  They grow 'em big up here in the Redwood Country.  This is also at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.

 

 

Oregon State Park Campgrounds

 

  • Harris Beach (north of Brookings):  Because it’s the first “beach” campground for those heading north from California, this place gets really crowded.  It's not that great, in my opinion, with many sites just a few yards from noisy Highway 101 (including mine the last time I camped here).

  • Loeb (on the Chetco River, east of Brookings):  Much less crowded and quieter than Harris Beach, though perhaps not as scenic.  A good place to camp, though, if Harris Beach is filled.

  • Humbug Mountain:  It’s all right, but it’s right next to Hwy. 101 and you can see (and hear) the highway traffic.  There’s a nice day-use area just south, though, and you can hike to the top of Humbug Mountain.

  • Cape Blanco:  I like this State Park and campground a lot, partly because it's not usually very crowded.  This park is about five miles off Hwy. 101 and it's nicely secluded.  There’s a lighthouse here that offers tours to the public and you can walk down to the spectacular beach.  However, being on peninsula that sticks out into the ocean, it can get pretty windy and foggy here.  Along with plentiful campsites, there are a few basic cabins in the campground with nice views of the coast that cost around $30 a night.

  • Bullards Beach:  A very nice (but very popular) campground, and another one of my favorites.  There’s a lighthouse here that’s open for tours and it’s only a few miles from Bandon, which has a lot of interesting things to see.  This campground is getting really popular with retirees and their RVs, however, and during most times of the year, it's best to either have reservations or to pull in before 4 p.m. if you want a campsite.

  • Sunset Bay:  A few miles west of Coos Bay and North Bend, Sunset Bay State Park has a nice campground.  Located on a dead-end highway, it's off the beaten path and there's beach access nearby, although the beach really isn't that great here.  There are two other interesting day-use State Parks nearby further down the road.  However, Sunset Bay is really popular in the summer (especially with locals) and it fills fast.

  • Umpqua:  This campground caters to dirt bike, dune buggy, and ATV enthusiasts who like to travel across the nearby dunes, so don’t bother camping here unless you like the sound of irritating dirt bikes.  I've driven through the campground a few times to check it out, but I've never camped here because of all the dirt bikers.

  • Tugman:  Not very impressive with no special features or attractions and lots of cookie-cutter, bland and exposed campsites, but a good place to stay if everything else is booked up.

  • Jessie Honeyman:  One of my favorites and a favorite for kids because of the lakes, playground, and sand dunes.  I haven't rolled down the towering sand dunes here since I was a kid, but I still enjoy hiking the few miles across the dunes to the Pacific Ocean.  Although the campground is very large, it can get pretty crowded, so arrive early.  There are also several USFS campgrounds along Highway 101 south of here.

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Above left:  Cape Blanco State Park near Port Orford, on a glorious afternoon.

Above center:  The Cape Blanco lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse on the Oregon coast.  Tours are given daily during the summer. 

Above right:  Camping at Honeyman State Park, near Florence.  There are lots of lakes and high sand dunes here, and a nice campground.  I first camped at Honeyman when I was in diapers.  It hasn't changed much since then -- come to think of it, neither have I.

 

  • Carl Washburne:  Not too impressive and not too much for kids to do here.  Although the beach here is impressive, it's a half-mile away and on the other side of Highway 101.  The campground is pretty dark and worn out.

  • South Beach (south of Newport):  Just o.k. from what I’ve seen on my drive-throughs, although I’ve never camped here.  It's just a few miles from the city of Newport, which is either good or bad.

  • Beverly Beach:  A pretty campground with safe beach access under Hwy. 101.  Very popular, though.

  • Cape Lookout (near Netarts):  Part of this campground got washed away a few years ago but they've since reopened it.  It’s a nice place and well off the beaten path.

  • Oswald West:  This campground only has “walk-in” sites (push carts are available free of charge to tote your stuff from your car to the campsite 20 or 30 yards away).  Since I always sleep in my truck, I’ve never camped here -- but it looks interesting.

  • Nehalem Bay:  It's near the beach, but the campground isn’t very interesting because there are few trees and the campsites all look the same.  Yeah, it's pretty bland -- but it works in a pinch.

  • Fort Stevens:   This park has the largest state park campground in the U.S. and it's one of my favorite state parks in America.  The campground, with nearly 600 sites, is pretty nice.  The older loops (lettered A through O) are more worn but are more forested.  I prefer the newer loops (numbered 1 through 287), which are more open and have better restrooms.  If you stop at this park, be sure to visit the wreck of the ship “Peter Iredale,” see the WWII fortifications, and drive to the tip of the Columbia River jetty.   Because of its proximity to Portland, this campground often fills up on summer weekends.

 

   

Above left:   The bow section of the "Peter Iredale" at Fort Stevens State Park.  The Iredale was beached during a storm in 1906 with no loss of life.  Every time I visit, it's a little smaller.

Above right:  Camping at Fort Stevens State Park.

   

 

Washington Campgrounds

 

  • Fort Canby State Park:  This park is near Ilwaco, just across the Columbia River from Oregon.  It has a nice campground with a large, interesting museum which has a great display on the Lewis & Clark Expedition.  The park offers great views of the Columbia River bar and it’s a good place to stay if nearby Fort Stevens State Park in Oregon is filled (which it often is during the summer).

  • Olympic National Park:  The scenery and wildlife in Olympic National Park are absolutely spectacular.  Although this park receives a lot of visitors, it's so large and spread out that it rarely feels crowded.  My favorite campgrounds are at Hoh and Sol Duc.  Hoh has great rain-forest hiking, and at Sol Duc, you can hike a mile to the impressive Sol Duc waterfall.  If you visit Olympic, be sure to drive up to Hurricane Ridge east of Port Angeles for one of the best views in the Northwest.  As with other National Parks, there are no showers in the campgrounds.  

 

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Above left:  The majestic Olympic Mountains of western Washington, from chilly Hurricane Ridge.  Yes, that's snow in the foreground.

Above center:  Olympic National Park has a lot of great campgrounds, including this one at Sol Duc. 

Above right:  Sol Duc falls (right) and river (left) in Olympic National Park.

 

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Above left:  Hiking on the mossy Hoh River trail.

Above center:  Sword fern on the Hoh trail after a morning shower.

Above right:   A curious elk at the Hoh campground in Olympic National Park.