Sand Camp isn’t an official campground, but you can camp here because it’s part of the Six Rivers National Forest. In National Forests you can camp pretty much anywhere you want, for free, as long as it’s more than a quarter-mile from any kind of developed area (such as official campgrounds or highways) or private property, more than 50 feet from any roads, and more than 200 feet from any trails, meadows, or bodies of water.
However, unless you’re familiar with the area, it's actually kind of hard to find places that meet all those requirements and are easy to drive to. Dead-end dirt roads sometimes work, but you have to know which roads are drivable and have suitable campsites.
Sand Camp is one of the places that meets the requirements and is easy to get to. It’s popular enough that a large parking lot with a vault toilet and a big “Sand Camp” sign was added a few years ago. Officially, though, Sand Camp is a river access point. So there aren’t any defined campsites, water, or other facilities, just two or three flat spots in the woods with fire rings that campers have made out of rocks (and that are, in fact, about 200 feet from the river). Despite the crudeness of the camp, it’s right next to the river, it’s in a quiet area well away from busy roads, and it’s completely free.
Camping isn’t allowed in the parking lot, so you can’t overnight in an RV.
The camp is in the rugged Smith River gorge seven miles south of Highway 199 and Jedediah Smith Redwoods. The steep, starkly rocky gorge doesn’t look anything like the lush woodlands of Jed Smith; it has a much dryer look and doesn’t have any redwoods. The site is also pretty isolated. There’s a store in the tiny town of Hiouchi, but you’d have to drive all the way to Crescent City for most shopping needs.
You do need a free permit (available online) to light a campfire or use a gas stove, and you’re not supposed to stay more than 14 days.
There aren’t any reservations, but the area does fill up on summer weekends. If it’s full, there’s a real National Forest campground, Big Flat Campground, another 15 minutes’ drive up the road.
There’s a little whitewater just across from the camp, and when the water is high enough people often raft by. In the winter, fishing in the river is popular; a fishing license is required.
© 2019 David Baselt