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Solitude nearby? At these environmental camps.

Wilderness camping near San Francisco can be a lot easier-and closer-than you may think. Thanks to the California state parks' environmental campsite program, more than 60 environmental campsites lie within a 90-minute drive of the nine Bay Area counties. Choices range from an island in San Francisco Bay to a redwood grove in Sonoma County.

Such close-in sites make great places to introduce young or unpracticed family members to backpacking or camping, or to try out any new gear. If someone isn't enjoying the experience or it starts to rain, if Junior's pack is too heavy or your new tent leaks, civilization is minutes not hours away. And cooler weather and sparser crowds make October a good time to go.

Most sites are fairly isolated, but some may be within view of each other; ask rangers to describe the relative seclusion of individual ones. Campers are asked to disturb the sites as little as possible.

While the definition of an "environmental" site varies from park to park, camps share common features. Unlike developed sites, these are not directly accessible to vehicles. Reaching them requires a hike, which may be as short as 50 yards or as long as a mile or two. Campers must carry their equipment and often their fuel and water as well. Most environmental sites have a pit toilet, fire ring, and picnic table. Sites hold up to eight people; pets are not allowed.

Environmental campsites are usually available on a first-come, first-served basis, but for those that can be reserved it's wise to call ahead. (Call MISTIX at 800-44-7275; be sure to specify that you're interested in an environmental site.) The cost is $6 per night, with a seven-day occupancy limit; you pay an extra $3.95 to reserve specific environmental sites up to 56 days in advance. (Note that at our press time, a fee increase was pending.) Reserve early-sites go fast at the busier parks. For other details, call the parks directly.

Salt Point, 1 1/2 hours north of Petaluma on the Sonoma shoreline, has five campsites. Sites 4 and 5 are the most secluded and closest to the beach. During October, the weather is clear and not as windy as in summer, but the park is busy during abalone season (April to November), so reserve ahead; (707) 865-2391.

Sonoma Coast, north of Bodega Bay, has just opened the new Pomo Canyon Campground, with 21 sites tucked into a redwood grove. Older Willow Creek Campground has 11 reservable sites along the banks of the Russian River. Neither camp has water. Both are open April through October; (707) 865-2391.

Mount Tamalpais has Steep Ravine Environmental Camp, just south of Stinson Beach. It offers stunning ocean vistas only a half-hour north of San Francisco. This camp features an unusual mix of 6 regular walk-in sites and a cluster of 10 cabins. Cabins ($25 a night) have woodstoves and sleeping platforms, but no toilets or indoor water. Tent sites ($6 a night) are a short walk from the cabins, scattered among the sagebrush-covered hills. Each site holds a maximum of 5 people; (415) 388-2070.

Angel Island has nine environmental sites. On the island's southwest side, Camps 3 and 4 face San Francisco; sites on the east side have less spectacular views but fewer visitors and better shelter from wind and fog. All sites require at least a mile walk, some up dirt trails. Only charcoal or campstove fires allowed; (415) 435-1915.

After Labor Day, ferries to the island from Tiburon, Vallejo, and San Francisco run only on weekends and holidays, once a day. For schedules, call (415) 435-2131 for the Tiburon-Angel Island Ferry or (800) 445-8880 for the Red & White Fleet in Vallejo and San Francisco.

Henry W. Coe, 14 miles east of Morgan Hill, no longer designates its six sites as environmental (hike-in distances of up to 7 miles exceed usual 2-mile limit). The difference is cost: $3 per person per night. Coe takes no reservations; call (408) 779-2728 to check on crowds and space. With the park's acres of golden, oak-covered hills, there's a chance of fire closures during the dry season (only campstoves allowed).

For information on other environmental camps, call the California State Parks Information Office at (916) 445-6477.
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Title Annotation:California state parks' environmental camps
Publication:Sunset
Article Type:directory
Date:Oct 1, 1990
Words:707
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