We’re not claiming to be personally familiar with every campground in Northern California, but our experiences at these half-dozen dog-friendly sites have been pawsitive enough to keep us coming back. Whether you overnight in an RV or a tent, put these on your list.
The San Francisco North/Petaluma KOA is a beautiful family resort in Sonoma County within easy reach of San Francisco, the dog-friendly Russian River, wine country and coastal beaches. With 312 spacious sites on 70 acres, campers will find lots of trees and grassy areas along with amenities for their four-legged friends. Petaluma KOA features a 4,000 square-foot, off-leash, fenced dog park as well as a complete agility course with jumps, tunnels, weave poles, dog walks and A-frames. The campground offers a full schedule of activities, including hay rides, pool parties, rock-wall climbing, wine tasting and dog-themed events from May to October.
Santa Cruz/Monterey KOA, Watsonville, Monterey County. Sometimes, camping just means a change of scenery, not getting up close and personal with dirt. At this award-winning, dog-welcoming KOA just a mile inland from the coast, guests can choose an RV site, a tent site, an Airstream trailer rental or a rustic “Kamping Kabin” or lodge that provides shelter while you provide the sleeping bags. For kids and their adult supervisors, there’s an excursion train, a bounce house, climbing trees, an outdoor movie theater, a campfire circle, a heated swimming pool and hot tub, a convenience store and a recreation hall. For dogs, there’s a pet playground and even a pet bath. No need to worry about bears—and you can even get pizza delivered to your site.
Gerle Creek Campground, Crystal Basin Recreation Area in Eldorado County. The 50 sites (31 of them for tents only) at this recently renovated campground are big enough to build a house on—reason enough to choose it over one where people are packed in elbow-to-elbow. Sweet little Gerle Creek Reservoir (no motorboats allowed) is the main attraction and an idyllic place to paddle a kayak or canoe. There’s even an island where the kids—and Rover—can play pirate while parents watch from the shore. Drive up to gorgeous Loon Lake for access to day hikes in Desolation Wilderness , or try the hike to Bassi Falls.
Woods Lake Campground, Eldorado National Forest, Highway 88 near Carson Pass in Alpine County. This lovely, 25-site, tent-only campground at the end of a winding, 2-mile road operates on a first-come basis, so don’t show up on a Friday afternoon thinking you’ll get lucky enough to pitch your tent at one of only 25 sites. The piney setting and serene little lake are pretty is as pretty does, but the real attraction is the trailhead for a 3-or 6-mile loop hike to Little Round Top and/or Winnemucca lakes. The scenery is spectacular, and the summer wildflower show is considered one of the best in the Sierra. Bring a coat: at 8,200 feet elevation, it’s always chilly at night.
MacKerricher State Park Campground, Mendocino County. This gorgeous, 83-site coastal park has a little bit of everything – forest, beach, tide pools, lake, bike and hiking trails, bluffs and dunes. Unlike at many state parks, beaches and some trails are dog-friendly, albeit with leash restrictions. MacKerricher is open year-round, but its chilly climate is especially appealing to summer campers seeking to beat the Central Valley heat. Both RV and tent sites are available.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park Campground, Big Sur, Monterey County. This long, spread-out campground with 172 sites in the redwoods feels like a magical, ferny world where you wouldn’t be surprised to see elves or trolls popping up in the morning fog. Dogs aren’t allowed on dirt trails, but there’s plenty of room for road walks. Miles of dog-friendly trails in the Ventana Wilderness as well as gorgeous, leash-optional Pfeiffer Beach are nearby. Reservations for this cherished campground open six months in advance of dates booked and are often snatched up within hours. Act fast to snag a spot; it’s worth it! All but 45 sites can accommodate RVs.
Rancho Seco Recreation Area, Sacramento County. If the thought of spending the night in the shadow of twin nuclear-generator towers sounds like a scary idea, think again. Rancho Seco Recreational Area surrounds a 160-acre, warm-water lake that is as pleasant a place to play as anywhere in Sacramento County. The lake was developed to support a nuclear generating facility built in the 1970s and decommissioned in 1989. Today a private concessionaire oversees facilities that include campgrounds, picnic areas, a swimming beach, boat launches, boat rentals and a waterfront dog park. For the RV crowd, the park offers 18 sites with electric hook-ups. A dozen tent sites, plus several group sites, also are available, and more will be added next year. Fishing for bass is reputed to be very good, and the lake is stocked with trout in the spring.