Gold Bluffs Beach Campground

Gold Bluffs Beach Campground

Redwood National Park

When I heard about Gold Bluffs Beach Campground in Redwood National & State Parks, I immediately wanted to stay there. I pictured myself sitting on the warm sand, soaking up the sun. I had only been to Northern CA once before so…in my mind, it was a combination of camping and a beach vacation.

Reserving a campsite at any campground in Redwood can be a challenge. Back in 2017 when we reserved a site for Gold Bluffs, we were online the moment the sites became available. Since then, the process has changed slightly, but sites still need to be booked as soon as possible. A campsite will become available on the corresponding day six months in advance (for example, you can reserve a site for July 5 beginning on January 5). We had listed some preferred sites, and we were thrilled when we were able to reserve a site.

According to a sign in the park, the colorful cliffs along the beach preserve part of an ancient river, which eroded gold deposits that were carried to the ocean. Along the way, the gold mixed with sediment and formed the bluffs over time. In the 1850s, prospectors found a way to mine the gold, too. Hence, the area is known as Gold Bluffs.

Arriving at the Campground

After our first hike in Redwood National Park, Lyons Ranch, we drove to Gold Bluffs Beach Campground. The campground is located in Prairie Creek State Park. We turned onto the unpaved Davison Road and were immediately greeted by a dark, dusty scene. Redwood trees blocked much of the sunlight, and plants lining the road were covered with dirt. It was a bit like entering another world.

From the intersection of Redwood Highway and Davison Road, the drive is about 5.6 miles, according to Google Maps. At dusk, we could see an occasional ray of sun peeking through. This gave off an eerie vibe which we didn’t expect. It felt like a long trip, though it only took about 20 minutes.

Redwood: Davison Road to Gold Bluffs Beach Campground
Davison Road en route to Gold Bluffs Beach Campground
Redwood: Gold Bluffs Beach Campground Kiosk
Registration kiosk (taken on the sunny day we checked out)

We arrived at the campground after 5pm, so the registration kiosk had closed. Our campsite was reserved and labeled with our name. We set up our tent, then explored the campground. We planned to pick up our parking pass the next morning.

First, we went to the camp host to purchase a bundle of firewood (sold from 5-8 pm except on Wednesdays and Thursdays). The camp host site is near the restrooms, which lacked lights, but they had flush toilets and were fully enclosed! Also nearby are solar showers, which are free for campers. The hot water doesn’t last long (if at all), but it’s warmer than jumping in the ocean. It was finicky, but pushing the button in firmly finally got it going.

Redwood: Gold Bluffs Beach Campground #19
Campsite #19, our home for the next few days
Redwood: Gold Bluffs Beach Campground Restrooms
Bathrooms and solar showers
Redwood: Gold Bluffs Beach Campground Solar Shower
One of the solar showers. It doesn’t work super well – but it’s free.

Finally, we checked out the campground’s biggest attraction: the adjacent beach. But the weather was miserable – cold, grey, and dreary. Likewise, the ocean was rough and chilly. We hoped a hot dinner (hot dogs, of course) would improve our mood. The wind made it tricky to start a fire, but we used our backpacking stove to light our firestarter. Aren’t we creative?

We kept our food in the bear box while preparing dinner because there were large birds throughout the campground. All went smoothly, until a crow swooped down and tried to fly off with hotdog buns I had mistakenly placed on top of the bear box for a moment. He managed to impale the buns in the front of the package, but it was too heavy and he dropped it. Thankfully, we were able to salvage a few buns.

It was cold, and we were worried about the birds dive-bombing our dinner, so we ate in the car. This wasn’t quite the “beach camping” experience we had in mind. At least our tent was cozy. When we awoke the next morning, the campground was still blustery and cold (in the 50s or so). To avoid the wind, we opted for a quick breakfast (you guessed it…in our car).

Redwood: Dreary Gold Bluffs Beach
The chilly and foggy Gold Bluffs Beach is just feet from our campsite
Redwood: Cliffs at Gold Bluffs Beach
The titular golden bluffs, shrouded in fog
Redwood: Crows at Gold Bluffs Beach Campground
Don’t leave food unattended, even for a second.

Warming Up

That morning, we left Gold Bluffs to hike the James Irvine & Miner’s Ridge Trail. On the way, we stopped by Elk Meadow Picnic Area, located at the end of Davison Road near highway 101. We had read that it’s (not surprisingly) a good place to spot Roosevelt elk, and we saw four of them! Apparently, elk frequent Gold Bluffs Beach Campground, but we didn’t see any there.

Later that day, we walked through Gold Bluffs Beach Campground while hiking the James Irvine & Miner’s Ridge Trail. The sun had come out, and the campground and beach had warmed up significantly. The ocean looked blue rather than the colorless abyss we’d left behind that morning. The black and white sand had gotten quite hot in places. We enjoyed the beach, but we couldn’t linger since we planned to hike 12 miles that day.

Redwood: Elk in Elk Meadow
Four Roosevelt elk (Cervus canadensis roosevelti) in Elk Meadow. Roosevelt elk are the largest subspecies of elk in North America.
Redwood: Sand on Gold Bluff Beach
Closeup of the sand on Gold Bluff Beach

Our visit to Gold Bluffs Beach Campground was a reminder that we should stop and relax every once in awhile rather than trying to see everything. But the next morning, we awoke to an unfamiliar sight – the sun was coming out! We had to check out by noon, which gave us plenty of time to enjoy our last day at the campground.

As we packed up and ate breakfast, the sun slowly warmed up the world. The area was finally “gold” like its name suggests. It was warm and sunny with the beachy vibes we’d been hoping for. Our experience wasn’t exactly what we had in mind, but we learned a lot about flexibility and the climate of northern California.

Redwood: Orick Market
Orick Market is 25 minutes (8 miles) from Gold Bluffs Beach Campground. We stopped here to grab some groceries after a long day of hiking.
Redwood: Sunny Gold Bluff Beach
The sun finally came out – as we were packing up
Redwood: Sunny Gold Bluffs Cliffs
The “gold” bluffs, though they are probably more visible in direct sunlight
Redwood: Kristin by Gold Bluffs Beach
Warm enough to walk barefoot on the beach

Gold Bluffs Campground | 26 Campsites | 1 Hike-in Campsite

Date Visited: July 17 – 19, 2017
Location: Prairie Creek State Park (Google Maps Directions)
Amenities: Solar-powered Showers | Potable Water | Fire Pits & Barbecues | Picnic Table | Flush Toilets | Food Lockers
Dates Open: Year-round, though reservations are required May 15-Sept 28. First-come, first-served otherwise.
Prices: $35/night for campsite
Highlights: Beach, ocean, Fern Canyon, elk
Best Sites: We prefer those that are closer to the ocean on the outside of the loop (e.g. 7, 9, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 19)
Notes: Reservations are accepted up to six months and no less than 48 hours in advance; otherwise first-come, first served. Check-in is 2pm, check-out is 12:00 pm. Most popular dates are mid-May to late-September.

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