This summer we opted for a “no plan” week long road trip from Anacortes, Washington to the small town of Fort Bragg, California. On our trip, we planned to spend the majority of our time camping, and as you know, many campgrounds during the summer don’t have availability because they accept reservations. So, going the “no plan” route would be tricky. Thankfully, we found a campground that was first-come, first-serve.
Clam Beach County Park Campground
For our first night camping, we decided to check out the nine-site Clam Beach County Park Campground near the small town of McKinleyville, CA in Humbolt County. We chose it because it didn’t take reservations and we thought, more like hoped, we’d be able to find an available site.
There were some negative reviews about the campground, like it being a local hangout for transients. Still, we decided to check it out, and if it felt unsafe, we’d find an alternative campground.
Upon our arrival, there were a handful of spots open, each separated by long weathered logs. All sites were sand, and each had a picnic table, fire pit, and backed up to a brushy area. Beyond that, was the beach. We walked around the sites and decided it felt safe enough to set up camp.
This site turned out to be one of my favorite camping spots on our “no plan” California road trip. I liked its proximity to the beach, which was a very short walk away and included walking on a boardwalk through a marshy area. The beach itself was very flat and long and our puppy Hazel loved being able to run. There wasn’t much for shell hunting, but I did find a lot of broken sand dollars. While we there (the second week in July) there was barely anyone at the beach and you could easily walk for long stretches without passing another person, which also made it much easier to let Hazel off-leash. Also, we could hear the waves crashing at our campsite, which gave it a real beach vacation vibe.
The late check out of 1 p.m. allowed us to wake up on a later schedule and actually enjoy our coffee/tea and take a morning beach walk before tearing down camp. Our neighbors were very friendly and gave us great tips on where to camp next, and they also had a very sweet dog that got along with our puppy. And, the town of McKinleyville was a 5-minute drive away, with larger grocery stores like Safeway. A small store and bar were even closer to the campground, but we opted to go to the bigger grocery store.
I never felt unsafe at the campground, but there were some off-beat characters there for sure, and I think I saw a homeless guy living in the nearby brush, but I didn’t see him after that, so I’m not sure. There were lots signs on the pit toilet that if you felt unsafe to call the local police, so it felt like there would be someone there if you needed help. One thing that did bother me was the traffic at night in the parking lot. It seemed like locals and folks coming off the highway to either use the pit toilet or rest in the parking lot. As a camper trying to get some Zzzz’s, I found it annoying.
Clam Beach County Park Campground
- No reservation campsites (stay up to 3 days)
- Price $20 per vehicle, $18 for senior/veteran/disabled, $10 for hike-in/bike-in
- Pets allowed ($2 extra charge)
- Beach is a very short walk away
- Beach fires allowed
- Driftwood okay to collect
- Nearby host (They didn’t come around while we were there)
- McKinleyville, CA is a five-minute drive away, even closer is Clam Beach Market and Tavern
- Pit toilet (They cleaned it twice a day)
- Quite a bit of traffic in the parking lot at night
- Some off-beat characters, possibly homeless people
- Near Highway 101 (I didn’t notice traffic noises)
- The information on the website is not current
This sign shows the current price information (July 2016).
Clam Beach County Park Campground Info
Address: Take the Clam Beach exit off HWY 101 near McKenleyville, CA. (7.5 miles north of Arcata, CA.).
Tips: To drive to McKinleyville do not get back on the highway. Instead, take the road that goes under the highway (Clam Beach Dr.) right into town.
Tips: Ace Hardware in McKinleyville has bundles of wood. There is also a Safeway, which is way cheaper than Rays Food Palace.