Five Nights in Northern California

See the Golden Gate and Beyond

In this five night itinerary you’ll cross the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and head into the beauty of Northern California. Windswept headlands, pristine beaches, photogenic vistas at every turn … this is a bucket list kind of trip. Make your five nights in Northern California even better with a rented camper van.

Day 1

Cross the Golden Gate Bridge and Drive 3.5 hours north of San Francisco to Russian Gulch State Park. Just north of Mendocino, Russian Gulch State Park combines a three-mile leafy canyon with windswept headlands and pristine beaches. Along the coast, waves crash into a collapsed sea cave called Devil’s Punchbowl, and the photogenic Frederick W. Panhorst Bridge rises gracefully 100 feet from the bottom of the gulch.

Consider hiking the Fern Canyon Trail. You’ll start out with an enchanting 2-mile stroll along Russian Gulch Creek to a fork in the trail. If you continue on the left fork, you’ll arrive at a 36-foot waterfall in only 0.7 miles. Note that Steven Spielberg chose Fern Canyon as a location for Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World!  

Day 2

Continue north, and as you do, check out Glass Beach. Not surprising given the name, it is popular for glass polished by waves, tidal pools, and scenic views. Tonight you’ll stay at Salt Point State Park. Rocky promontories, panoramic views, kelp-dotted coves, and the dramatic sounds of pounding surf will greet you. Pack some warm clothes though. Even in summertime it can be cool here as fog hugs the coastline and ocean winds chill the air. And here’s a bit of trivia for you: sandstone from Salt Point was used in the construction of San Francisco’s streets and buildings during the mid 1800’s. If you look closely at the rocks at Gerstle Cove, you can still see eyebolts where the ships anchored while sandstone slabs were loaded onboard.

Day 3

The King Range National Conservation Area is one of the most spectacular and remote stretches of coastline in the U.S. It stretches along 35 miles of the northern California coastline. About 60 miles south of Eureka, it covers 68,000 acres of land. An abrupt wall of mountains rises 4,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean. 

There are six designated campgrounds in the King Range: Mattole, Honeydew Creek, Horse Mountain, Tolkan, Nadelos and Wailaki. Campsites are first-come, first-served and open year-round. Tolkan, is a first come first served campground with easy access to great mountain biking trails. It even has a small terrain park. 

Day 4

You’ve filled up on beach vistas; it is time to head inland. Located on land donated by former lawyer, entrepreneur and state senator, Arthur W. Way, the A. W. County Park sits on the Mattole River and offers camping and some fantastic swimming spots in the Mattole River. Do this trip in summer time and you’ll want to jump right into the river. Or jump in no matter what time of year, good swimming holes are hard to come by!

Day 5

Add the Avenue of the Giants to your itinerary. You could go either on your way to your next campground, or on your way back to San Francisco tomorrow. This famed road is easily the most scenic drive among the redwoods. Lined by titan trees, the 31-mile Avenue parallels Highway 101 and offers an excellent alternate route through southern Humboldt County. Mostly flat with gentle curves, it passes secluded forest hamlets, campgrounds, and picnic areas. There are also access points to the Eel River, with idyllic swimming, fishing and paddling spots. Numerous trailheads exist along the Avenue, each leading into the magical redwood forest.

Albee Creek Campground is located 5 miles west of the Avenue of the Giants on Mattole Road. It’s in the western portion of Humboldt Redwoods State Park., and open mid-May through mid-October. This 40 site family campground adjoins Rockefeller Forest and offers beautiful scenery, wildlife, and an incredible night sky. Situated on an old homestead, the campground has both second growth redwood forest and open meadows. Albee Creek is very popular, and the campground is often full in the summer season. Site-specific reservations are available from just before Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend. Make a reservation in advance.

Day 6

Time to head back to San Francisco and go back over that glorious bridge.

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