Location: Salt Rock State Park, California (off of Hwy 1, about 90 miles north of San Francisco)
Campground: Lower Woodside campground, $35/night (first come first serve during non peak season, reserveamerica.com up to 7 months in advance during peak season May-Sept)
Hike: Prairie loop trail (4 miles)
Trip Date: November 2015
We love to travel right before a holiday, especially Thanksgiving or Christmas, because it seems to be less crowded, and places are generally quiet, cleaned and geared up for the coming crowds. It started four Thanksgivings ago when we went to visit my hubby’s grandmother in Arizona and decided to check out the Grand Canyon on the way home. We arrived at the Grand Canyon a couple of days before Thanksgiving and left the day after. Although the park was not empty by any means, it never felt crowded. We walked the popular rim trail and for huge portions we never saw another soul. It was nature at its best and we loved it! We had Thanksgiving dinner at the El Tovar hotel, so the holiday felt special, not like we were missing out. What surprised us was how different the park felt on the Friday after Thanksgiving. The population density increased incredibly. We were flabbergasted at the long line of cars that seemed to go on forever, coming into the Grand Canyon as we left. We got back home with plenty of time to spend with family and friends. If our schedules permit, we try to plan a trip in this way.
Skipping forward to November 2015, we finally had our campervan that we were itching to use. We had no campsite reservations and most of the popular parks didn’t have any sites available, some campgrounds were just closed for the season. We decided to go somewhere we’ve already been, was guaranteed to find a campsite (first come first serve), and most importantly be an amazing destination. Salt Point State Park, 90 miles north of San Francisco on Highway 1, became our Thanksgiving destination. To ensure that we got a good campsite, we left early on Wednesday, one day before Thanksgiving, and planned/packed to stay for two nights.
The drive to Salt Point is a destination in itself. Highway 1 South of Salt Point is right out of a magazine. These cows tripped me out, they ALL had the same broad white stripe around their middle. So cool… but so weird.
No time for taking picture when we got to Salt Point SP, it was all hands on deck getting the campsite we wanted since all sites were first come, first serve. We drove through the 30 site Gerstle Cove loop, a third of the sites were taken already and the available sites seemed a bit too open for us, but they were fine if nothing else was available. We quickly found our way to Woodside campground on the east side of Highway 1. Only the lower loop of Woodside was open and out of the 39 sites, just 3 were occupied. We instantly liked #57! Sites 34-48 were nice, but they were too close to the road and you could hear every car that drove by. With the campground being so empty and quiet, this was definitely a factor.
With a campervan, you don’t have to set up a tent, but you do have to get your living area ready, like leveling out the van using chocks (assuming you’re parked for the evening). Putting the penthouse top up, clearing the walkway for living room mode, and throwing the sleeping bags (which we hang from hooks in the back) up on the portion of the bed that is not lifted up. Then most importantly starting a fire and relaxing!
The tinted side window and curtains help keep the campervan private. The “windows” in the penthouse top have solid canvas that zip up around it for privacy as well.
One of the many reasons we love Salt Point is because of the hikes, especially the hike to the prairie and the coastal hike. The hike up hill to the prairie through the pygmy forest and back down to the campground is about 4 miles and takes around 2 hours. (FYI the pygmy forest is made up of trees that are stunted in growth by the highly acidic and nutrient free soil they survive in). On the morning of Thanksgiving day we walked from our campsite to the start of Central Trail to do the prairie hike. Central trail is located behind a gate at the end of the parking lot near the entrance of Salt Point (east side entrance).
Prairie (via pygmy forest) hike loop directions: Salt Point map
1) Start the hike at the beginning of Central Trail
2) Turn left onto Water Tank trail (follow sign to pygmy forest)
3) Right onto North Trail (through pygmy forest), which later joins up with Central Trail to the prairie
4) Take Central Trail through the prairie to South Trail (downhill portion)
5) Take a right onto Powerline Trail (good to wear pants or cover legs here, lots of brush)
6) Trail ends at lower Woodside campground loop road between site #49 and 51.
Getting the first glimpse of the wide open prairie after walking through the forest is my favorite part. We’ve only seen the prairie when the grass is dried, but it must be beautiful in the spring when it’s all green. During our Thanksgiving day hike, we encountered only a handful of other hikers, we definitely enjoyed the feeling of “being out in nature.”
We prepped our Thanksgiving dinner that we cooked before we left and enjoyed a leisurely dinner (I swear there were veggies!) before heading over to the west/coastal side of Salt Point to view the sunset.
Did I mention the weather was amazing? It was cold, but there was plenty of sunshine. In November! We found there were more people in the campground and more sites occupied on Thanksgiving night. However, there were plenty of spaces left if anyone decided last minute to come here. Another night of sleeping soundly, but we did turn the heater on for a bit before going to sleep and a bit more in the morning to take the chill off. So glad to have added the Espar heater option to the campervan.
Friday already. We explored the Gerstle Cove area before heading home. We followed a well marked and well traveled coastal trail and just took it all in. The deep blue water, the clear November sky, the seals napping on the rocks, the sound of the gentle waves, the feel of the sun on your face, the taste and smell of the crisp fresh air … So much to be thankful for, indeed!
There was definitely more people in the park on Friday (but Salt Point SP could handle it) and we passed many more RVs and cars making their way North. Regardless of whether you get here before or after Thanksgiving though, you will still experience and be awed by the beauty and specialness of this place.