Camping at the Steep Ravine Environmental Campground
With such close proximity to San Francisco, Mount Tamalpais and Marin County are super popular areas for city-dwellers to get outside and explore! The Steep Ravine campground, in particular, is very popular and difficult to reserve during the high season. I booked this camping trip with my mom back in December, and it was perfect timing to be my June adventure. Read on to learn how to camp here and for ideas on a great coastal weekend!
To book a stay at the Steep Ravine Environmental Camp, you must go to reservecalifornia.com and search “Mount Tamalpais State Park”. Once there, you will see all of the reservable campgrounds at Mt. Tamalpais. Steep Ravine has two options: rustic cabins, or a walk-in campground. I opted to book the campground because the cabins are a little pricey, and were completely booked! You can start reserving campsites 6 months in advance, to the day. I would highly recommend booking 6 months out year-round, and especially for summer months. There are cancellations though, so if you’re trying to plan a last-minute trip, always check! But there is no walk-up availability for the campground or the cabins. The day before your trip, you need to call the phone number provided in your reservation e-mail to get the gate code. Only one car is allowed per cabin & campsite, so plan accordingly. There is lots of parking near the gate on the shoulders of the highway if you’re going in a larger group. Check-in time is at 2:00 pm, and you must exit by 12:00 pm on your last day.
There are 9 cabins and 7 campsites available to book. One of each are ADA accessible, and you must have a valid DMV disabled placard to book those sites. There is one small parking lot, and you have to park and walk to your cabin/ campsite. There are wheelbarrows to borrow to help move your gear to your campsite. Firewood is available for $8/ bundle. You’ll need exact change. Dogs are not allowed in the campground or cabins.
Each campsite has a food locker, picnic table, and fire ring with a grate. Most campsites can fit 2 small/ medium tents in the site. There is a pit toilet and trash cans close to the campsites, and 2 bathrooms with flush toilets closer to the cabins. We stayed in campsite #4 and I think it is the best one, by far. It is the most private, and has 2 distinct tent pads. Site #5 is further back and slightly higher from the cliff, and not as private as #4. #6 and #7 are pretty far from direct ocean views and can be seen from the parking lot. #1 can also be seen from the cabins and the main trail to the rest of the campsites, so not as private, but has a great view of Stinson Beach. Sites 2 and 3 are basically on top of each other, though they have good views of the ocean. It would be awesome to book both of these sites together and go with a large group of people (8 max per site). These sites are also the only ones where you could hang a hammock, as the other sites are lacking trees.
If you’re not used to coastal Northern California weather, you may be in for a shock if you are expecting a warm beach camping experience. San Francisco and Marin county is known for being very cloudy and foggy, especially by the ocean. You should be prepared for the possibility of the campground to be cloudy/ foggy, even in the summertime. In fact, we went over the first weekend in June and the coast was cloudy the whole time, but it was super sunny for sunset at the top of Mt. Tam! Also be aware that the campground is prime tick territory during tick season. My mom and I flicked 5 off of us and our gear after walking through the grasses near the campsites.
This was a pretty short trip for us, and a much shorter drive than when we head out to the mountains! But we decided we wanted to get a hike in before checking into our campsite, so we left the Peninsula in the morning, and made our way to the start of the Dipsea Trail in Stinson Beach. I’ve been wanting to hike the Dipsea and Steep Ravine trails for years, so we finally made it happen! It was a chilly, foggy day, but we worked up a sweat hiking up the Dipsea trail. We opted to branch off to the Steep Ravine trail when the trails diverged, which I think is the better way to go. The forest was so lush and beautiful, and there were so many tiny cascades to admire in the creek. We stopped a few times just to admire the scenery, amazed that there weren’t many people out on a Sunday. Before we knew it, we reached the Pantoll campground on the side of Mt. Tam, and took the Old Mine connector trail back to the Dipsea trail, and headed back down to Stinson Beach. The Dipsea was pretty mild until we got to those crazy steps. Some of them are pretty tall, and I really needed to slow down so I didn’t make a misstep and twist my ankle. Overall, this was a great little 5.5 mile hike, and I would 100% do it again! The only bummer on this hike was the amount of garbage I saw. Anything from micro trash like bubble gum wrappers to more disgusting offenses like used toilet paper just sitting right next to the trail. There is really no excuse for this kind of littering. Everyone should make a garbage bag part of their hiking kit and pack out all of their trash, and other peoples, even the items that “biodegrade” (hint: they don’t biodegrade) like toilet paper and orange peels/ fruit cores. We need to take care of our public lands and not trash them.
My mom and I aren’t the best cooks, and didn’t prepare a lot for this trip, so we opted for a tried & true favorite for lunch: The Siren Cafe on Stinson Beach. Their food is so awesome, and the little beach shack is so adorable. Its a great place to sit back and enjoy the ocean while inhaling tacos, milkshakes, and burgers. And you’ve got to get their sweet potato fries :).
After lunch and sitting on the beach for a while, we drove over to the campground and unloaded all of our stuff, which really wasn’t too much. We are backpackers at heart, and not very good at car camping, so we don’t bring a ton of stuff, which is fine for a short trip like this. After getting our tent and picnic table set up, we walked around the campground, changed into our evening clothes, and made a charcuterie board for dinner. Bread and cheese are our favorites.
I was hoping the sun would break through down by the ocean and we could enjoy sunset from camp, but it wasn’t looking like that would happen. Just as I resigned to that fact, I looked behind us towards Mt. Tam, and saw the clouds parting a bit way up above. I had a feeling the mountain was basking in the sun above the coastal clouds, so we hopped in the car and drove up to one of the viewpoint on the mountain. My haunch was right, and we were treated to an amazingly glowing sunset with fog and clouds below us. It was a real treat to see.
After our beautiful sunset show, we drove back down to the campground and got a fire started to roast some marshmallows for s’mores! One of my favorite parts of car camping is definitely having a fire and making s’mores. After drowning our campfire, we nestled into our cozy quilt and bag and attempted to fall asleep to the sound of the ocean. I woke up pretty soon after falling asleep though, to lots of rustling that sounded super close to our tent. I shined my headlamp out of the tent and the rustling seemed to stop and I was able to go back to sleep. When we woke up in the morning though, our camp box had fallen to the ground and there were sooo many raccoon paw prints all over the lid and side. They were definitely trying to get into our things. It was a good reminder that you always need to store your food correctly when outside!
After sorting our things, we made breakfast: coffee and chocolate bark pancakes! We didn’t bring the big camp stove, instead opting for our jetfoil with the pot adapter. We bought a super light MSR backpacking pan recently and wanted to test it out! It worked really well and we had perfectly fluffy pancakes with very minimal clean-up since the pan was non-stick. I love when gear works as advertised! I’ve always been a little hesitant to buy backpacking cooking gear. I don’t think I’ll suddenly become a chef on my upcoming backpacking trips, but it is a nice addition to our gear arsenal.
We cleaned up our breakfast, and then the rest of our gear, said goodbye to our campsite, walked back to the car, and were home about an hour later! Steep Ravine was such a nice getaway from the city and suburbs. Its amazing how much beauty is close to home! I know I am trying to appreciate these little things a lot more.