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[whitespace] Close-by Camping

Turn that gas-guzzling SUV into a summer home

GET AWAY from it all on less than a tank of gas. Sound pretty good? Turn that gas-guzzling, global-warming-inducing SUV into a spacious summer home. Why not? The North Bay is a great destination point, as thousands of tourists from outside the region discover each year. Now, with gasoline prices veering toward the $3-a-gallon mark, and that SUV starting to look like a dinosaur, think about postponing that Yosemite summer getaway to explore your own backyard, and just find out what all the fuss is about. After all, you spend hours stuck in gridlock traffic. You might want to relax for a change and enjoy those nearby things that lure so many to the North Bay in the first place.

Here are some of the best natural hideaways in which to pitch a tent, sleep under the stars, and listen to the crickets, for less than a tank of gas, plus all the information for getting a reservation. And, hey, a few nights under the stars and you can shed all that SUV guilt.

How sporting of you.

Sonoma County

Austin Creek State Recreation Area
This rugged and natural setting composed of 4,230 acres and scads of towering redwoods, has just 24 primitive hike-in campsites. Trailers and campers of more than 20 feet are prohibited. Armstrong Woods Road, Guerneville. 707/869-2015.

Salt Point State Park
There are 130 developed campsites (no showers), 20 hike-in tent sites, and 30 en-route sites on 6,000 acres--all close to one of the coast's most unusual and beautiful natural rock formations. Trailers and campers of more than 31 feet are prohibited. 25050 Hwy. 1, Jenner. 707/865-2391.

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park
This 2,500-acre state park has 50 developed campsites, an excellent astronomical observatory, 25 miles of nature trails, hiking, horseback-riding trails, and exhibits. 2650 Adobe Canyon Road, Kenwood. 707/833-5712.

Bodega Dunes Campground
A state beach campground with 98 developed campsites that accommodate trailers and campers up to 28 feet. This site also has a sanitation station. Picnicking, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, and exhibits. Most facilities are wheelchair-accessible. Six miles north of Bodega Bay on Hwy. 1, Bodega Bay. 707/875-3483.

Willowcreek Campground
It's just a small hike from the car to 11 undeveloped camping sites. Picnic tables and fire rings. No showers. Chemical toilets. Willowcreek Road, 1 1/2 miles north of Hwy. 1, Bodega Bay. 707/875-3483.

Pomo Environmental Campground
This facility contains 20 undeveloped camping sites, a short hike away from parking. Picnic tables and fire rings. No showers. Chemical toilets. First come, first served; no reservations. Willowcreek Road, three miles off Hwy. 1, Bodega Bay. 707/857-3483.

Marin County

Angel Island State Park
Located on Angel Island, surrounded by the waters of San Francisco Bay, this park is for campers willing to do a little work for great rewards. It requires a ferryboat ride from the city, followed by a two-mile hike into one of nine tent sites. But they offer privacy, and the views can be exquisite (if the fog doesn't become a wet blanket), not to mention the peace and quiet of having the island to yourself at night. Plus, who else can say they've gone island hopping without getting on a plane? Info about ferries from San Francisco, Vallejo, and Oakland/ Alameda, 415/705-5555; about Angel Island State Park: 415/435-1915; reservations, 800/444-PARK.

Samuel P. Taylor State Park
A beautiful setting tucked deep in the redwoods between San Rafael and the Point Reyes National Seashore, this campground has 25 sites exclusively for tents and 35 others for tents or RVs. There's a babbling creek, pint-sized wildlife, plenty of shade, and about 20 miles of hiking/biking trails. For a great day trip, the Point Reyes Seashore and surrounding towns are a short and scenic drive away. From Hwy. 101 in Marin County, take the Sir Francis Drake Boulevard exit and head west for 15 miles; the park is on the left. General info, 415/488-9897; reservations, 800/444-PARK.

Steep Ravine Environmental Campsites
Located in Mt. Tamalpais State Park, overlooking the wind-swept ocean from Rocky Point, this campground is a real gem. Small, with only six tent sites and 10 primitive cabins, it requires campers to do a little walking, but it's well worth it. Hikes, ocean views, no RVs, and a real feeling of isolation--and did we mention the wind? From U.S. 101, take the Stinson Beach/ Hwy. 1 exit, turn left at Hwy. 1, and drive north 11 miles to the campground gate on the left. Reservations required. General info, 415/388-2070; reservations, 800/444-PARK.

China Camp State Park
Some great hiking surrounds this beautifully wooded and wildlife-rich park adjacent to Pablo Bay. It has 30 walk-in sites for tents, with showers available. From San Francisco head north on Hwy. 101 toward San Rafael. Take the North San Pedro Road exit and head east for five miles to the park entrance at Back Ranch Meadows. The road leading to the campground veers off to the right. Campers will have to park and walk in to their sites, but only a short distance. General info, 415/456-0766; reservations, 800/444-PARK.

Napa County

Bothe-Napa Valley State Park
This 1,920-acre state park has 50 developed campsites. Campers up to 31 feet and trailers to 24 feet can be accommodated. No sanitation station. Horseback riding, hiking, swimming, and picnicking. Handicap-accessible in all areas. 3801 St. Helena Hwy. N., Calistoga. 707/942-4575.

Calistoga Ranch Campground
In this 167-acre wooded park with 150 campsites for tents, RVs (full hookups), and trailers, amenities include an Olympic-size swimming pool, a fishing lake, hiking trails, picnic areas, restrooms with showers, a laundry, and a snack bar. 580 Lommel Road, Calistoga (southeast of Calistoga off the Silverado Trail on Lommel Road). 707/942-6565.

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From the May 17-23, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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