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Grab a pack, head to the back country


The phone. The text messages. The traffic. TVs blaring everywhere you go. Life is full of distractions and hassles. It seems like you’re never alone. If only you had the time to get away from it all.

The good news is it doesn’t necessarily take all that much time to find peace, quiet and seclusion, and you don’t need to go very far. Just pack all you need on your back and spend a day or two outdoors.

For example, it’s a short drive down Highway 12 from Santa Rosa to the Los Alamos Road entrance of the Hood Mountain Regional Park, then a two-mile hike to the newly reopened Azalea Creek camping sites, where the busy world seems far away.

“It’s way easier than people might think to have a completely different experience from camping around other people,” said Caryl Hart, director of Sonoma County Regional Parks. “It opens up your mind. A couple of days of backpacking can be transformative.”

The convenience and relative ease of backpacking and camping at a place like Hood Mountain makes it possible for a veteran backpacker like Paul Castaneda to introduce his 9-year-old son, Ari, to the fun of venturing beyond the conventional campgrounds.

“It’s close to home, but not your normal car-camping sort of thing,” said Castaneda, a nurse at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Santa Rosa, who hiked with his son into Hood Mountain Regional Park earlier this week from its Pythian Road entrance to another of the park’s backpack camping sites.

Once introduced to the joys of getting away from the road, adventurous souls will find the county, state and national park systems offer plenty of choices.

The Austin Creek State Recreation Area near Guerneville, operated for the past two years by the Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, has three back-country camping sites reachable by hikes of four to five miles from the parking lot, said the park’s executive director, Michele Luna.

“There are year-round fresh streams. It’s beautiful. It’s pretty idyllic. There’s nothing around you but nature, and there some great views. You can see low-lying clouds that look like islands in the sky,” Luna said.

Those who feel ready for a longer drive, followed by a slightly more ambitious hike, might opt for the Point Reyes National Seashore, which offers four backpacking campgrounds, with a dozen campsites at each one. Hikes range from two to seven miles, and some trails have beach access.

“This is one of crown jewels of the national park system,” said John Dell’Osso, head of education for Point Reyes National Seashore.

Amenities are limited at backpacking campsites in most parks, and usually include a pit toilet, picnic table, food lockers to keep raccoons and other animals out, and a charcoal or fire pit, although fires may be banned at some sites during the current drought and high fire-risk season. At some sites, you may need to pack in your own water, and you’ll always need to pack your trash out.

One thing you won’t find at these sites is an RV parked next to you, with the TV on and the lights shining.

“There will be no generators humming,” Dell’Osso said.

For more information on backpacking campsites at these parks, including camping permit fees and details on reservations, where accepted:

Hood Mountain Regional Park, 565-2267, sonomacountyparks.org

Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, 869-9177, stewardscr.org.

Point Reyes National Seashore, 415-663-8054, recreation.gov, ptreyes.org

You can reach staff writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. Read his Arts blog at arts.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.