State Parks Winter Closures

Winter campground closures and other seasonal updates for Santa Cruz area state parks.

by Maya Desai

Oct. 31, 2014—The times are a-changin’ as autumn descends upon us. Here are some seasonal schedule and access changes to keep in mind as you plan your outdoor fun for the winter season.

Nisene Marks Winter Closures

The seasonal bridges at Forest of Nisene Marks State Park came down for the season on Oct. 12 and will be re-installed in spring. The lower bridge connects to Marcel's Forest/Old Growth Loop and the upper bridge to the Vienna and Terrace Trails, closer to the steel bridge. Fear not, however. Adventurous hikers can easily cross the streams using rocks as stepping stones.

If you want to park at the Porter Family Picnic Area in order to get that much closer to destinations like Loma Prieta Epicenter and Five Finger Falls, West Ridge Trail Camp Loop or Hoffman's Historic Site, keep in mind that the gate past the steel bridge closes when the rangers feel the road is too water-logged. The gate re-opens when the road dries out. Normally, this means the road is closed all winter. But our recent dry winters mean that occasionally the road dries out and the gate is opened.  

Weekend Bus Service to Big Basin and Waddell Creek

If you’ve been meaning to take the bus to Big Basin Redwoods State Park, now is the time! The 35A bus route to Big Basin stops for the season on Dec. 17, and will begin again in mid-March. On weekends, you can catch the 35A at the Santa Cruz Metro Station at 8:30am. By 9:45 you'll be disembarking in Big Basin. After a beautiful day of hiking through the Santa Cruz Mountains along the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail bound for Waddell Beach, perhaps pausing along the way to admire Berry Creek Falls, you can catch the 40 bus 40 bus back to Santa Cruz at 5:15pm. The bus stop is along Highway 1, right at Waddell Beach. Relax on the scenic 40-minute bus ride home. Bus fare is $2 each way.

Backcountry Trail Camp Closures

For the backpackers out there, keep an eye on the date when planning your local treks.

Big Basin backcountry camps (Jay, Lane, Sunset, Twin Redwoods and Alder) close Oct. 31-May 1, but the Big Basin Skyline-to-the-Sea trail is always open for day use. Slate Trail Camp in Portola Redwoods and Waterman Gap Trail Camp in Castle Rock State Park also close from Oct. 31 to May 1. For those of you who can't wait to get back on the trail, you can reserve your permits for May backpacking on March 1 by calling 831.338.8861.

The horse camp at Rancho del Oso is also closed Oct. 31-May 1.

Year-Round Backcountry Trail Camps

Locally, two backcountry trail camps remain open year-round. One is Castle Rock Trail Camp in, yes, Castle Rock State Park. It's available on a first-come, first-served basis, costs $15 a night (bring exact change and fill out self-registration form; rangers check this) and has firewood for sale during the wet season. Has drinking water, too, and trash cans. Novice bonus: it's only 2.6 miles from the entrance. Learn more about it here.

The other is West Ridge Trail Camp in Nisene Marks. This rustic camp ($5 per person/night) has a pit toilet, no water and allows no fires—only backpacking stoves—at its six first-come, first-served sites. Rangers appreciate it if you stop at the kiosk or call 831.763.7063 to give them your information (for safety purposes).

Santa Cruz Area Park Campground Closures

Some of your favorite state parks are hunkering down for the winter, but they'll re-open in the spring. Here's a winter update on our local state parks:

Manresa Uplands: camping closed Nov. 1 through April 15
Portola Redwoods: camping closed on Aug. 6 due to drought, will re-open April 1
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park: Closed Nov. 1, will re-open April 1
Butano State Park: Closed Dec. 1, will re-open April 1

Year-Round Santa Cruz Area Campgrounds

Not all parks close for the winter, though. Here is where you can go camping during the winter (bring layers!):

Big Basin Redwoods State Park: camping is open year-round (RV, tent and tent cabin)
New Brighton State Beach: camping is open year-round (RV and tent)
Sunset State Beach: camping is open year-round (RV and tent)
Seacliff State Beach: RV camping is open year-round! There is no tent camping at Seacliff, alas.

You can make reservations for all of the above at

Mt. Madonna County Park: The yurts and RV and tent campgrounds at this Santa Clara County park are open year-round. Sweet!
Laguna Seca Recreation Area: This Monterey County park at a world-famous racetrack offers RV and tent camping year-round.

Year-Round Fire Rings

For a winter bonfire, the 10 fire rings of Seabright State Beach are open year-round. Layer up to revel in the warmth of the fire and the sound of the surf.

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