Best overnight backpacking within 2 hours of the Bay Area

On the heels of our post about the best places to go camping in the Bay Area, today we invited Brice Pollock to share with us the best overnight backpacking spots within 2 hours of the Bay! Brice Pollock is passionate software engineer and adventurer who grew up in the woods of Minnesota and now lives in Silicon Valley, CA where he works for Coursera as an iOS Software Engineer. Professionally, he is a user experience focused developer who writes about living in Silicon Valley and working as a software engineer. Personally, he is an avid hiker and backpacker around the SF Bay Area who writes about his experiences in the Northern Californian wild and the skills he’s learned along the way. Check out both his Silicon Valley and Bay Area Explorers blog here, or follow him on Twitter @BricePollock, or @BAExplorers


When I envision camping I picture undisturbed wilderness and sounds of trees blowing in the breeze among singing birds. Backpacking provides this ability to see nature off the beaten path, experience nature’s pristineness and escape the summer crowds and noise of car camping sites. However, not every backpacking trip needs to be a multi-day ordeal. No matter where you are in the SF Bay Area there is an accessible and beautiful location near you. Read on for my regional favorites.

1. Slate Creek – Portola Redwoods State Park (South Bay)

Portola Redwoods State Park

I spent an overnight here in the beginning of May 2015. While the campsites and trails were bustling that Saturday morning the backpacking camp was the perfect place to set up a hammock and read a book, listening to the sway of the nearby trees. Surrounded by giant redwoods and a short walk from the original Page Mill site it is a perfect get-away.

  • Hike to Site: 2.4 miles
  • Transportation: Drive one hour into the Santa Cruz Mountains
  • Water: Available a quarter mile away, requires filtering

2. Black Diamond Mines Regional Park (North East Bay)

Black Diamond Mines Regional Park

Black Diamond Mines is one of my favorite parks. It has these beautiful rolling hills, an active mine, historic graveyard and a mine that can be self-explored for 200 ft (Prospect Tunnel). It can be a drive to get here from most places (its near Antioch) so backpacking will allow you to visit more of the park’s features and experience its wildlife. Aside from the cows, I’ve seen a coyote strolling across a green valley midday.

  • Hike to Site: 3.2 miles
  • Transportation: Half hour drive south of Antioch
  • Water: Available at camp, requires filtering

3. Angel Island State Park (North Bay)

Angel Island State Park

Angel Island is on my bucket list because its unlike any backpacking I’ve ever done. This is an island in the middle of the San Fransisco Bay with the opportunity to witness Oakland and SF go to sleep as well as experience a sunset through the Golden Gate Bridge.

  • Hike to Site: Up to two mile hike depending on site
  • Transportation: Ferry available from Tiburon, San Francisco, or Oakland/Alameda
  • Water: Fountain available at trailhead, no filter needed

4. Black Mountain – Montebello Open Space Preserve (Peninsula)

Montebello Open Space Preserve

The Black Mountain Trail Camp requires only a short, accessible hike from Page Mill Road. Nearby you can soak in its striking views of the green Santa Cruz Mountains to the West, the Peninsula cities and Bay to the East and on a clear day, SF to the North. I hosted a Bay Area Explorers event here in May 2015 and was wowed watching clouds crawl over the Santa Cruz Mountains as the sun set over the Bay. Best of all, unlike most Bay Area trail camps, it remains open all winter.

  • Hike to Site: 1.5 miles and 500 ft elevation gain
  • Transportation: Half hour drive up Page Mill Road into Santa Cruz Mountains
  • Water: Available, must be filtered

Thanks, Brice!

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