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Cheap Beach Vacation: Tent Camping and Hiking Fort Ross in Northern California

Updated on June 13, 2012

Fort Ross, California North Coast

Even in this economy, you can go camping on the cheap in northern California. An economical hiking and camping trip to Fort Ross on the coast north of San Francisco, featuring a campground with private sites near the beach, the fort itself and a museum on the history of the Russian settlers. Tips on saving money -- cutting food costs during your road trip, and have a great, safe hiking and camping adventure on the coast.

Fort Ross Reef Campground (707) 847-3708 Notice: Fall 2011 Update: Reef Campground is closed due to budget cuts in the California State Park system. Fort Ross is open on weekends. Call ahead to check hours, as this could change.

In May I decided to start going camping. This was partly inspired by hearing of proposed State Park closures. I live in one of the most stunning places on earth, near the Northern California Coast. My personal fitness training ground includes an old growth redwood forest and miles of beaches and trails. Going farther and spending more time out in nature has provided stress-release, improved fitness, and supports my local State Parks. There's an added benefit, in being more in touch with nature and myself; I've gained an increased sense of self-reliance and peace in my life.

Economical Camping Gear

I hadn't been camping in years, but still had my tent. I pressed a yoga mat into service as a camping pad -- my 47 year-old body was not amused. I recommend the self-inflating camping pads -- lightweight for backpacking, and at least they provide some cushioning under the body's pressure points. I just assembled what I had. A dome tent with spring corded poles makes a good choice for solo camping -- it's easy to put up by yourself. Years ago I picked up a camp stove, which is great to have around for power outages if you have an electric kitchen. It's small, light, and self-ignites. I've been reducing caffeine, but I'm still disinclined to have to build a fire before getting my morning dose. I picked up a Coleman bag rated to 30 degrees with a soft lining for under $25.

Fort Ross State Historic Park, California

Fort Ross Church by Nina Stawski
Fort Ross Church by Nina Stawski | Source

Fort Ross Museum and Setting

Due to my passion for coastal driving, I picked Fort Ross. Fort Ross is a historic Russian Fort on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It's located right on Highway 1. Highway one offers a panoramic view right on the coast, with cliff views of the Pacific Ocean. It's best to be well-rested for this drive, due to its hairpin turns.

I visited the Fort Ross Museum and visitor center and learned about the Russian settlers. The Russian settlement was part of the fur trade. Artifacts in the museum include photographs, jewelry, tools and other objects of daily life. The fort has a high wooden wall enclosing the buildings and rustic architecture. The last time I visited, staff wore historic costumes and presented a program for elementary students.

From the fort's cliff-top location, you can see a large cross marking the Russian settlement's cemetery. Settlers from Russia lived -- and died -- far from their original home. The campground has a separate entrance from the fort itself, located 2 miles South of it.


The campsites are located a short drive south of the fort on Highway 1, right above the ocean. Those closest to the campground entrance are mostly in sight of one another, and the ones farthest in feature a good deal of privacy from trees and brush, some with private drives.

You can drive right to your campsite, and park there. All sites have BBQ rings, picnic tables and food lockers. There are a number of bathrooms and faucets throughout the campground, and the last campsites are a short walk to the beach. The beach has coarse sands and large rocks. The bluff above has a trail -- best walked in wind-resistant clothing.

Author Note: Camping on the Cheap: Tent Camping and Hiking Fort Ross, CA

Hiking and Economical California Road Trip Tips

  • Safety First -- It's a Rugged Coast
  • Be aware of your own fitness level and abilities. It's a rocky beach with some steep trails. I encountered a distressed older man who climbed down some rocks into a little cove and was too overweight and out of shape to get back up all those rocks and the steep trail. I carried his tackle box up for him so he'd have both hands free, and encouraged him to stop verbally beating himself up for his predicament and focus on carefully getting himself out of it. He made it, but the situation might not have had a happy ending. It was off-season, with no one around.
  • Refrain from putting yourself into situations you might not be able to get out of. Remember that anything you go down, you might have to climb back up. I usually wear a watch, so I can gauge my energy. Watch your footing. On rocks, test each with a bit of weight -- they can shift. Having a buddy is a great idea. At least let people know where you are. Seriously, staying out of trouble in the first place is the best plan.

Preparing for Outdoor Adventure

A great way to prepare for a hiking or camping adventure if you haven't done it in a while is to take walks and start challenging yourself with increasing distances and then add hills and various terrain as you improve. I've taken off over 40 pounds of fat since moving to the North Bay from my urban life in the San Francisco Bay Area. A more physical life has been the key. And in mid-life, use it or lose it becomes a valuable credo. Building strength and stamina has radically improved the quality of my life.

See a doctor first if you've been inactive for a long time or have medical concerns. Bear in mind the author is not intentionally or unintentionally dispensing medical advice, and I bear no responsibility for what you do or don't do after reading this post -- although if only one person reading this gets the urge to create a more active life, this will have been time well-spent.

By bringing my own groceries, ice chest, camp stove and basic cooking gear, my only expenses for the trip were the camping fees and gas. That's all you need for a successful road trip when you're camping on the cheap.

Happy Trails!

Check my hub on Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County. Mount Tam is just north of San Francisco, California over the Golden Gate Bridge.

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Fort Ross State Park Resources & 2011 Update

National Park Service: Early History of the California Coast: Fort Ross

California State Parks: Fort Ross State Historic Park

Effective September 6, 2011

This site states that these facilities are closed:

  • Reef Campground
  • Reef Day Use

The following facility will be open Saturday/Sunday and holidays:

  • Fort Ross State Historic Park

Call the park at 707-865-2391 to check the current hours. State budget cuts have affected many California State Parks, and the hours could change.

show route and directions
A markerFort Ross -
Fort Ross, CA 95421, USA
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B markerFort Ross -
Fort Ross, CA 95421, USA
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A markerfort ross -
Fort Ross, CA 95421, USA
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    • HikeGuy profile image

      Bryce 9 years ago from Northern California Coast


      Thanks for stopping by, and for the kind words!

    • profile image

      Nilla 9 years ago

      This is great info, thank you HikeGuy. Great job on the site.