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Old 08-24-12, 11:04 AM   #1
burbankbiker
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The Proof Of Concept Tour: Labor Day Crowds

I'm gearing up for my Pacific Coast tour - which will be my first significant tour ever - in September. I'll be going from Portland to San Francisco over 2 weeks and I can't wait. In getting ready for it and making sure I have all I need to pull off fully self-supported touring, I was planning on taking the upcoming 3 day weekend and heading off for a mini-tour.

I live in San Francisco so I was thinking about something like Santa Cruz or Monterrey... or even Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

Either way, my question is this: That weekend will be Labor Day Weekend, which is traditionally a heavy road-trip and even camping weekend for Americans. Will I be able to find hiker/biker sites with availability? I worry that my first test of my gear and first taste of touring life will be met with full campsites and some kinda weird stealth-camping behind the 7-11 experience.

Does anyone here know how widely available hiker/biker sites are around those areas and is there anything I need to do other than roll up and hope for the best?
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Old 08-24-12, 11:48 AM   #2
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When I lived in Manitoba, a group of us would plan to camp on all the long weekends of the year, and it usually fell to me to book those weekends.

The moment the campground booking opportunity opened in late April, I was on the phone doing the redial thing over and over and over till I could get through. Then I would book the May, July, August, and September long weekends. By the end of the day, booking was closed for those weekends. The parks were full.

Other weekends you could just about roll up and get a site, but not on the long weekends.

I don't know what it would be like in your area, but where I've lived, you're about 4 months too late to get into a campground for the Labour Day long weekend.

If I were you, I'd start sending out some emails or making some phone calls to see if you can possibly book something.
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Old 08-24-12, 01:21 PM   #3
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I was under the impression, at least from the "Bicycling the Pacific Coast" book I'm reading, that the hiker/biker specific sites on the California/Oregon coast are not even bookable in advance. They're specifically for people to roll up and set up camp on the day on a first-come first-served basis. But more than that, I've seen some suggestions that their capacity is such that getting a spot is generally not a problem. I do wonder, though, if that confidence in their capacity applies to long weekends.

Does anyone know about the CA hiker/biker sites on a 3 day weekend?
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Old 08-24-12, 01:27 PM   #4
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ride GGNRA, get permit for "Hawk Camp." Peekaboo views of the GG bridge and North Beach while being out in the hills.

Don't think it's reservable, just show up at the ranger station early AM and take a site up there for two nights.

then, depending on your gumption, you can ride to Mt. Tam the next day, then back, or get more ambitious and point the bike towards Samuel P Taylor or Pt. Reyes.

I don't think you'd have any problems finding room, to be honest. and there's plenty of space to go low key just slightly out N of SF there without feeling like you're anywhere close to a 7-11 IMO.

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Old 08-24-12, 04:01 PM   #5
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One labor day weekend my wife and i took the train/bus to monterey and rode down to big sur, staying at pfieffer big sur. No problem securing a camps sites in morterey or big sur. There was some heavy traffic, though it didn't bother me much.
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Old 08-24-12, 04:23 PM   #6
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ride GGNRA, get permit for "Hawk Camp." Peekaboo views of the GG bridge and North Beach while being out in the hills.

Don't think it's reservable, just show up at the ranger station early AM and take a site up there for two nights.

then, depending on your gumption, you can ride to Mt. Tam the next day, then back, or get more ambitious and point the bike towards Samuel P Taylor or Pt. Reyes.

I don't think you'd have any problems finding room, to be honest. and there's plenty of space to go low key just slightly out N of SF there without feeling like you're anywhere close to a 7-11 IMO.
Don't ask me how I know this, but Steep Ravine almost always has last minute cancellations. If show up later in the day, and just find an empty campsite, you'll be fine.
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Old 08-24-12, 10:41 PM   #7
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More importantly -- you live in SF, you know what holiday traffic is like. Do you really want to be on the road on that weekend? I would do it a different weekend, if at all possible, and if not, go somewhere less popular. North maybe.
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Old 08-25-12, 12:20 AM   #8
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Either way, my question is this: That weekend will be Labor Day Weekend, which is traditionally a heavy road-trip and even camping weekend for Americans. Will I be able to find hiker/biker sites with availability? I worry that my first test of my gear and first taste of touring life will be met with full campsites and some kinda weird stealth-camping behind the 7-11 experience.

Does anyone here know how widely available hiker/biker sites are around those areas and is there anything I need to do other than roll up and hope for the best?
Any spot that requires a reservation will likely be booked. Hiker/biker sites will be hit-or-miss. If you ride fast and hard and arrive early, you'll likely get a spot. If you stop every half-mile to take pictures and arrive late all of the spots might be claimed. I can't remember the last time I heard of someone being turned away, though. If you're friendly, you can often find someone willing to share a space. If you can't find someone willing to share, likely the campground host/park ranger will find a space for you. Might be next to the toilets or some other place that isn't terribly desirable, though.

If you can wait until the Tuesday after Labor Day, you'll have the entire coast to yourself...
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Old 08-25-12, 04:42 AM   #9
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I am pretty confident you'll have little problem with finding room to camp if you head north. Valygrl has a valid point about traffic, just don't ride on the Oakland Bay Bridge sunday afternoon and you'll be fine!

For more mileage out of SF than my earlier suggestions, point towards Cazadero. there's stellar riding on Kings' Ridge Road (Levi's Fondo uses Kings Ridge) and Austin Creek SRA outside Guenerville which just reopened its campground two weeks ago- you may be able to take advantage of this to reserve a spot -

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Old 08-25-12, 09:49 AM   #10
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Hiker/biker sites on the Oregon, and northern California coast should not be a problem. Some of the more popular campgrounds may be a little crowded, but bikers are a congenial bunch and will squeeze in a lot of tents. South of SF where some state parks have a different policy, which did limit space availablity. The number of occupants at the H/B sites are governed by the number of actual spots (delineated by a table). I think this was their cure for the transient occupancy problems. Some campgrounds have even eliminated H/B sites altogether.

Before retiring, my wife and I started several coastal trips Labor day weekend to maximize our vacation time. While traffic is heavier, it is not much worse than any summer weekend on the coast.

Enjoy your ride, September is a great time to be on the Pacific Coast!
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Old 08-25-12, 11:32 AM   #11
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I've ridden sections of the Pacific Coast three times (Oregon, Northern Cal) and have never heard of a touring cyclist being turned away from a hiker/biker site at a State Park. Never. Last week I rode the Northern Cal coast. Many of the campgrounds I stayed at were full, but hiker/bikers were always let in anyway. At Bodega Dunes about 15 cyclists showed up when I was there, and they opened up another campsite for us (although we all could have squeezed into the hiker/biker area). Even if there aren't any other sites available, they don't turn you away. In 2008 I rode the Oregon and N. Cal coasts down to SF, which included Labor Day weekend. No problem whatsoever.

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Old 08-27-12, 09:31 AM   #12
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The only H/B site I've ever been turned away from in 35 years in California was south of L.A. You should have no problem getting a campsite over Labor Day in a H/B site......there are times it's good to ride a bicycle.....
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Old 08-27-12, 10:03 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by burbankbiker View Post
I live in San Francisco so I was thinking about something like Santa Cruz or Monterrey... or even Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

Either way, my question is this: That weekend will be Labor Day Weekend, which is traditionally a heavy road-trip and even camping weekend for Americans. Will I be able to find hiker/biker sites with availability?
I wouldn't expect you to have any problem at the parks with Hike&Bike sites. In Monterey there's a H&B site at Veteran's Park - go up Jefferson to the Veterans Building and then go around the back and continue on the road up the hill (be prepared for a petty steep climb). Just south of Santa Cruz is New Brighton State Beach in Capitola which has a beautiful H&B site on a bluff overlooking the ocean. Although the official California policy is that people can be turned away if H&B sites fill up, my experience is that this is not invoked in practice, at least for solo or small groups of cyclists. Both of the above H&B sites are just large open areas with some picnic tables so they can accommodate quite a few small cyclist tents.
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Old 08-27-12, 11:35 AM   #14
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I wouldn't expect you to have any problem at the parks with Hike&Bike sites. In Monterey there's a H&B site at Veteran's Park - go up Jefferson to the Veterans Building and then go around the back and continue on the road up the hill (be prepared for a petty steep climb). Just south of Santa Cruz is New Brighton State Beach in Capitola which has a beautiful H&B site on a bluff overlooking the ocean. Although the official California policy is that people can be turned away if H&B sites fill up, my experience is that this is not invoked in practice, at least for solo or small groups of cyclists. Both of the above H&B sites are just large open areas with some picnic tables so they can accommodate quite a few small cyclist tents.
Cool. Well I've booked an advanced spot at Butano State Park for my first day's ride but everything was booked up after that. So I'll either head to Santa Cruz or I was also thinking of heading north again back to the Marin Headlands campgrounds. Since I live in San Francisco, that plan would give me a guaranteed night to test out and make sure I have all my camping gear in order for my upcoming trip, a guaranteed 110 miles over two days of riding to get the bike and saddle in order, and if I arrive at the headlands and all the H/B sites are full and they turn me away then I can easily bike the 10 miles back home and have a spot guaranteed.

But Santa Cruz sounds like a definite option so I'll look into that. Thanks!
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Old 08-27-12, 12:16 PM   #15
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SF, fisherman's wharf ferry to Vallejo and riding to an overnight at Boothe State park
in the northern end of the Napa valley is another s24 option.
return via the north bay and back across the GG bridge, perhaps?
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Old 08-27-12, 12:27 PM   #16
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What about camping outside of parks. That is normally a comfort thing, so practice before you go. You should be able to find stuff without leaving the city. What is to practice about riding a bike, or setting up a camp, that you don't already know, or couldn't learn in a back yard. But camping free is a comfort zone thing for some people, so give it a try.
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