A (car) camping story about the great outdoors for a little change of pace into summer!

These United States have some pretty darn good coastlines. And some pretty darn good camping. And it’s summer. And it’s shaping up to be another hot one. (But that’s a story for another day.) For now, let’s focus on the positive. If you’re in the market for some awe-inspiring nature to remind you how worth-saving Mother Nature truly is, then I’ve got a two-state coastal camping solution for you that will keep your carbon footprint to an absolute minimum without sacrificing any part of an amazing vacation.

If you’re lucky enough to live near the northern coast of California, I can’t even imagine your life. If you don’t actually live there, like me, you can still enjoy one of the most imagination-inspiring, secluded stretch of pristine NorCal beach this summer. But you should probably get up early.

Gold Bluffs Beach Campground is located deep in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.  The only 20 or so campsites are the only sign of civilization for miles in every direction. Each site nestles in the grassy dunes, right on the beach, at the base of a bank of golden cliffs.  And they are first come, first served. If you get there on a weekday super early, or give yourself some time to hang around in the afternoon and wait for someone to leave, then you’re in.

You can walk on the beach for miles north or south and see no one and nothing, except seals playing in the surf, coastal birds, crazy architectural piles of driftwood and marshy creeks covered with wildflowers in the lowlands between the dunes.  The only “tourist attraction” is Fern Canyon located at a walkable half-mile distance from the campground by beach or gravel path. The impressive walls of carpeted green are worth picking through a few “crowds” (i.e. other campers and an intrepid handful or two of tourists who make the 20 minute off-road trek from the highway) to get to.  And always be watching for the local herd of Roosevelt elk meditatively padding through the dunes on a forage run.  Seriously. Have your cameras ready.

Gold Bluffs montageSunset on Gold Bluffs Beach and your intrepid explorer

This place is remote, but the solar showers are actually pretty nice and only for use by campers.  At Gold Bluffs Beach, you might have to earn your stay (in addition to the overnight fee of $35 per site) by staking out a spot early and making the slow, winding downhill drive along the dirt road leading from Highway 101 through a mass of primeval redwood forest, but the beach, the ferns, the elk, the sunset and the solitude make it all unbelievably worth it.

A little less remote and a tad farther north is the well-known Olympic National Park taking up most of the Olympic peninsula in Washington state.  There are some really well-known hot spots in the park and then there’s Kalaloch coastal campground.  Also right off the 101 (yes, it’s the best road on the west coast), the campground is located within the national park, so there are lots of resources and the entrance is welcoming. Though the crowds and the grounds are much bigger than Gold Bluffs, the camping experience is unparalleled.  Each site is either nestled in its own cedar grove or perched at the edge of the bluffs directly overlooking the beach.  At sunset, campers gather between the driftwood towers on the beach and watch the sun sink together. It’s a community of ocean-lovers and kindred spirits even if just for one night.

At Kalaloch (pronounced Kah-LAY-lock), you get all the conveniences of modern car camping, but the beach is vast and varied and there’s more than enough space to share. You can make reservations and pick your perfect spot, and since cell reception is non-existent, there’s nothing to think about other than when to add the next log on the fire and which local craft brew to open now. (Local microbrew selections are sold at the supply store within the campgrounds, along with matches, cords of firewood, cereal, bacon and other essentials.)

Kalaloch: a spectacular, cozy and rustic all-American campground

It’s officially the season. The shores of the country are beckoning. There’s a reason water is revered around the globe as naturally spiritual and meditative, and I can’t recommend it strongly enough: head to your local seashore, lakeshore, pond’s edge, riverside or creekside. It’ll be unforgettable. It’ll change your mind. It’ll really feel like summer.