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Backpacking in Sonoma County

Sonoma County is known for so many outdoor pleasures—cycling, hiking, salmon fishing, tidepool exploration, paddle boarding, horseback riding and kayaking, to name just a few—that its backcountry camping, available only to backpackers, tends to get overlooked.

If you have a yen to get away from it all, strap a pack on your back, and chill out in an isolated campsite for a while, head to one of these two parks:

Hood Mountain Regional Park

A lush 1,750-acre park on the northern end of Sonoma Valley, Hood Mountain offers the most challenging trails in the county's Regional Parks system: 19 miles of trails with an elevation gain exceeding 1,000 feet. The payoff? Sensational views of Sonoma Valley and beyond—on clear days, you'll see the Golden Gate Bridge from Gunsight Rock and the Valley View Trail. Most Hood Mountain trails are geared to experienced hikers in good physical condition.

For backpackers, Hood Mountain offers four environmental campsites in remote settings, reached by hiking in about 2 miles from parking areas. Campers here can stay up to four consecutive nights. Two individual sites near Merganser Pond are reached via the Pythian Road entrance. One individual site and one group site along Azalea Creek are reached via the Los Alamos Road entrance.

Fees: Individual sites are $20 per night and accommodate up to four people. The Group site is $150 per night and accommodates up to 50 people.

Reservations: Environmental campsites can only be reserved by calling or visiting the Regional Parks' office (2300 County Center Dr., Suite 120A, Santa Rosa; 707-565-2267), from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on weekdays. Reservation fees are non-refundable.

Additional Info:

  • All sites include tables, food lockers and tent pads, and primitive toilets are nearby (the group site has three picnic tables, one serving table and room for seven tents).
  • Potable water is not available, so be sure to carry enough drinking water for your needs.
  • Campfires and barbecues are not allowed, but cooking stoves are permitted.
  • Bring a trash bag with you to pack out any trash.
  • Dogs on leash are allowed.
  • Download a map of Hood Mountain Regional Park & Open Space Preserve

Austin Creek State Recreation Area

Austin Creek State Recreation Area: With nearly 6,000 acres and 20 miles of trails that run across meadows and beside year-round streams, through woodlands and over rolling hills, Austin Creek is a recreational dream (it’s also adjacent to Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve, with its majestic groves of redwood trees). The rugged terrain here, which ranges in elevation from 150-1,500 feet, supports a great diversity of plants and wildlife.

Backpackers at Austin Creek quickly find themselves immersed in nature, removed from the everyday world. The Park has three primitive back-country campsites reached via a 3-to-5 mile hike (depending on the campsite): Tom King, Manning's Flat 1 and Manning's Flat 2.

Fees: The base camping fee is $25 per night (Seniors 62+, veterans and disabled people pay $20 per night). The base fee accommodates up to 16 people in a single campsite as well as parking for one vehicle. Additional vehicles pay $8 per night each.

Obtaining a Backcountry Campsite: Backcountry campsites cannot be reserved; they are available only on a first come, first served basis when you apply in person for a permit. Permits are required for backcountry camping, and must be purchased at the Armstrong Redwoods entrance (open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily); they can also be obtained at the Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods office located to the right of the picnic area (open Mon-Fri, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.). With no guarantee that a backcountry site will be available, it's best to arrive early on the day you want to camp.

Additional Info:

  • Each site offers a picnic table, fire ring, and pit toilet.
  • Potable water is not available, so be sure to pack in enough for your needs).
  • Fires are not permitted outside the fire ring; if a fire ban is in effect due to dry conditions, no fires of any kind are allowed (check fire ban status by calling 707-869-2015).
  • Bring a trash bag with you to pack out any trash.
  • Dogs not permitted (except for certified service dogs) at backcountry sites.
  • Download Austin Creek’s Backcountry Camping Guide & Map.
  • Download Austin Creek's Guide to Backcountry Etiquette

Written by Sonoma Insider Suzy Rodriguez.