Finding a last-minute campground in the Bay Area can be like finding a parking spot in the Mission after 6 p.m.—possible, but unlikely. Which makes it all the more special when you snag a sweet spot! Set in a narrow grassy meadow among the rolling spring-green hills of the Sonoma Coast, newly reopened Willow Creek Environmental Campground has 11 walk-in campsites that are first come, first served. And the setting ain’t too shabby: it’s the only state park campground on the Russian River! The campground is primitive, meaning you’ve got to bring in your own water, but there are toilets (though no showers), and sites have picnic tables, fire rings, and storage lockers.
A major highlight here is the spacing between sites, set far enough apart for a good measure of privacy. The farther you walk in, the more seclusion you’ll enjoy, with sites 9 and 11 totally shrouded in privacy—and bonus views of the river, plus small footpaths leading to the shoreline (just watch for poison oak!). Site 8 is also tucked off by itself, and has a trail down to the river. Aside from breezes blowing through the valley and causing trees to creak, Willow Creek is pretty peaceful wherever you decide to pitch your tent. Don’t you just love that new camp smell?!
TIP: Access to the Russian River’s shoreline can be found from a trail leaving directly from the parking area, or campsites 8, 9, or 11.
Willow Creek Environmental Campground in part of Sonoma Coast State Park and is first come, first served. Sites are $25. There is no running water and all campsites are walk-in and tent-only. To reach it from Hwy. 1 going northbound: make a right just before crossing the Russian River onto Willow Creek Rd. It’s located about a half-mile down the road. No dogs.