Just in time for the July Fourth weekend, state park officials are once again welcoming overnight visitors to Pomo Canyon Campground, a secluded redwood retreat on the Sonoma Coast that has been closed to camping for the past four years.
The 21-site campground officially opened Wednesday, though the county road leading to it remains badly rutted, potholed and overgrown in some areas. Visitors beware. Take a sturdy, high-clearance vehicle, and take it easy going in.
The well-loved but little known campground, part of the Sonoma Coast State Park, was closed indefinitely in 2012, a victim of the recession. Fans have waited eagerly for its reopening, so there could be a mad dash this weekend.
One of two state-run walk-in campgrounds in the Willow Creek watershed, Pomo Canyon is located across the Russian River from the town of Jenner, down Willow Creek Road from Highway 1 at Bridgehaven. About a mile in, Willow Creek Campground sits on the south bank of the river, down a turn-off from Willow Creek Road.
Another couple of miles along, a trail off a dirt parking lot ushers visitors into the sublime shelter of Pomo Canyon, where campsites nestled among ferns and redwood trees, along a small stream and up the side of a hill, offer refuge from the chaos of regular life.
The campground also serves as a launching point for a popular trail over the ridge to Shell Beach, a roughly 3-mile trek through redwoods, oak woodlands and open grasslands with breathtaking views of the rugged Sonoma Coast and Russian River below. The round trip, over and back along the Dr. David Joseph Memorial Pomo Canyon Trail, is about 6 1/2 miles.
Like Willow Creek, the Pomo Canyon Campground is entirely first-come, first-served, so reservations are not an option.
But for the intrepid camper — especially one able to arrive early on a Friday or even mid-week — the risk of being turned away is worth the reward of bedding down amid the redwoods and the quiet echoes of an ancient place embraced by generations of humankind, dating back to indigenous Kashia and Coast Miwok people.
Also like neighboring Willow Creek, Pomo Canyon is an “environmental” or “primitive” campground, without certain amenities common at many other camping spots. All water for drinking, cooking and washing must be carried in.
There are pit toilets, but no trash service, so all garbage must be taken out and disposed of at home.
All campsites, including one that is accessible to the disabled, are within a quarter of a mile of the parking area. Each has a picnic table and fire ring.
Self-registration at the campsite is required. The overnight fee is $25, plus $8 for any additional vehicle. No more than eight people are permitted at a single site. Dogs are prohibited at the campground in order to protect wildlife.
You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.