Where There's a Willow, There's a Way

First come, first served camping at Willow Creek on the Sonoma Coast

woman looking at Russian River willow camp

Finding a last-minute campground in the Bay Area can be like finding a parking spot in San Francisco—possible, but painful. 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, 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.

willow camp on Russian River

woman walking willow camp Sonoma Coast

russian river willow camp

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.

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.

BONUS HIKE: If you don’t get a site (or even if you do!), opt for a nearby hike!

Willow Creek Environmental Campground is part of Sonoma Coast State Park and is first come, first served. There is no running water and all campsites are walk-in and tent-only. To reach it from Hwy. 1 going northbound: just before crossing the Russian River, make a right onto Willow Creek Rd. No dogs.

Trending Stories NorCal

View all Stories
  1. Woman hiking the Coastal Trail in the Marin Headlands

    Three Beaches to the Wind

    This beautiful 7-mile (round-trip) coastal hike in the Marin Headlands connects three beaches: Muir Beach, Pirates Cove, and Tennessee Cove.

  2. Damme Good Camping

    Just a few miles south of the town of Mendocino is one of the best hike-in (or bike-in) campgrounds on the California coast. Van Damme State Park follows Little River inland from the ocean, and the nine first-come, first-served environmental campsites can be reached via the Fern Canyon Trail.

  3. Hike Mount Tamalpais Matt Davis Steep Ravine Dipsea to Stinson Beach

    Tam Slam!

    This 8-mile (round-trip) hike is a pure classic, with redwoods, water-flows, and soaring views of the coastline. Oh yeah, and that ladder!

  4. Calaveras Giants

    Contending as some of the tallest, mightiest, and most muscular spectacles in the state are the hulking (and beautiful) trees of Calaveras Big Trees State Park. Hit the trails to witness spectacular groves of giant sequoia redwoods.


Trending Stories SoCal

View all Stories
  1. Sponsored

    Best of the Summer Fests!

    Outdoor winery events featuring films, food, wine, live music, and Sonoma’s cinematic scenery in the background: now that’s a blockbuster summer weekend!

  2. Hiker on Proctor Mountain Loop Trail in Sun Valley Idaho

    Storied Trail

    If ever there was a fairy trail, this 6.8-mile lollipop loop on Sun Valley’s Proctor Mountain is it. The Proctor Mountain Trail is a storied route in more ways than one, starting with its tranquil oasis memorial for a famous writer, Ernest Hemingway.

  3. Two bikers on the Wood River Trail in Sun Valley Idaho

    Two Wheels to Zen

    The family-friendly Wood River Trail goes over an historic bridge, past art sculptures and ranch-roaming horses, all amid sprawling green valley and a mountainous backdrop. Roll out from the Farmers Market at River Run Lodge and pedal the 8-mile (round-trip) ride to Sun Valley’s Sawtooth Botanical Garden.

  4. This Part of the Backbone

    The Ray Miller Trail comprises the final stretch of the Backbone Trail in Malibu’s Point Mugu State Park, and makes an idyllic moderate beach hike during spring and early summer.