How would you like a campground that is set in a secluded redwood coastal area in the Santa Cruz mountain range with a multitude of activities a short drive away? How would you like to actually be able to find a campsite without reserving six months in advance, yet have all the great amenities that some of the State Park sites offer. Well, at the expense of some of the local area people getting upset with my revelation, I am going to reveal the wonderful gem of a campground called Mt. Madonna County Park. This is our new favorite campground.
This park is located on California State Route 152 at the top of Hecker Pass about 10 miles west of Gilroy (from US 101) or 8 miles east from Watsonville (from SR 1). There is a 45-foot restriction on vehicles on this section of 152. The park is open all year and reservations can be booked online. There are 4 campgrounds located through out the park with a total of 118 sites (17 with partial hook-up) two group sites, and 5 youth group areas (tax exempt status needed). Each site includes picnic tables and fire pits. Food lockers are available at sites without partial hook-ups. Piped drinking water is available at several locations around the campgrounds. Free ranger-led programs are available every Saturday evening in the summer months. Camp hosts and firewood sales are also available on site.
There are many facilities with multi-stalled flush toilets. Cold running water and air hand dryers are available. I noticed that there was electrical power for hair dryers in the Valley View #1 location. A new shower building (9/08) is located just south of the Valley View #1 campground. At this time, the showers were free, and they close each day at dusk.
Dogs are permitted, two per site, and must be kept on a 6-foot leash during the day and need to be in confined areas overnight.
Those looking for hook-ups will be staying in the Valley View #1 section of the park. Due to the amount of trees, the majority of the campsites are very nice. I didn't see any sites where I wouldn’t want to camp. If you’re looking for more privacy choose the outer loop at each campground. Need a few sights for a group, then the interior of the loops will be your best bet. Best sites for those looking for partial hook-ups are 116B, 113, and 107. If you have a tent trailer or small travel trailer (less than 20 feet) spot 139 is a good bet.
Dining choices are limited to restaurants in either Gilroy or Watsonville; each has a selections of the various chain type restaurants and grocery stores. The Mt. Madonna Inn restaurant is close to the park, but I can’t verify if it open at this time.
Sorry, folks, but fishing is not available in the park. There are many beaches 10 to 15 miles east of the park, north and south of Watsonville. Nearby Pinto Lake, also in Watsonville, offers the closest freshwater fishing.
Mt Madonna Park is a hiker’s paradise, and one of the few places where leashed dogs are allowed on the trail. There are several trails in the park, from oak woodland and dense chaparral to redwood forest with green ferns. An easy hike is to the ruins of the cattle baron Henry Miller’s summer home. Pick up a trail map when you arrive at the park or download it here.
During Thanksgiving 2008 I accidently left some dog food out and I had a couple of particularly aggressive raccoons come into the camp. It was a little difficult chasing them away. They must have a love affair with kibbles and bits. My fault, as proper food storage will eliminate most issues.
Things to do:
Inside the park there are 14 miles of hiking and equestrian trails, archery, white deer pen and a visitor center where the natural history, geology, and cultural history of the park.
One of the great features about Mt. Madonna County Park is its southern bay area location. Within one hour’s drive is Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Jose with numerous activities.
A favorite for those with younger children will be the nearby seasonal Gilroy Gardens. At nine miles away, this family friendly park is the only California park with a horticultural theme. Crowds and lines are usually short, even on the weekends.
Rio Del Mar Beach is a great beach near the town of Aptos. Even on holiday weekends you should be able to find a spot nearby to park. This is a dog-friendly beach with a beachfront restaurant offering a doggie menu.