This popular campground is on Gold Bluffs Beach Road, a five-mile drive from Highway 101 on a dirt road. Depending on how recently the road has been graded, it may be almost indistinguishable from asphalt or it may be rough with potholes. The road runs right next to the base of some cliffs so especially during rainy periods it may be closed by landslides, sometimes for months.
The campground is set on an open grassy plain. Some sites are practically on the beach and have ocean views (somewhat limited by a slight rise on the beach). The redwood-topped bluffs make an appealing backdrop. The huge, deserted beach is the main attraction, but a few yards in the other direction is the old-growth Miners’ Ridge Trail, and the popular Fern Canyon is a mile up the road. Elk occasionally graze on the grass around the campground.
The campground is completely exposed with no shade or trees at all, but given the ever-present marine layer and the chilly North Coast location, cold and wind are more of an issue than heat.
There are 26 campsites. From the week of Memorial Day to the week of Labor Day, sites 1 and 2 are first-come, first-served, while sites 3 – 26 can be reserved. At other times, all the campsites are first-come, first-served; since the campground still fills up on nice fall weekends, the usual technique is to show up in the morning and wait for someone to leave.
The campground is really designed for tent camping. You can’t pull into the campsites; you have to park parallel to the loop road in small pullouts. There’s also a small overflow lot outside the campground. RVs up to 24 feet are allowed, but trailers are not allowed.
There’s a little building with bathrooms and showers. The showers are free but since there’s no gas or electricity in the area, they’re solar heated, meaning they’re often cold in this usually-cloudy area.
It’s not allowed to leave coolers, cookware, or any food or drinks out. This is true of all state park campgrounds but for some reason it seems to be more of a problem at Gold Bluffs Beach, either because more people leave food out or the rangers are stricter.
The Beach campground tends to attract younger, louder campers than the Elk Prairie campground, so late-night noise is more of an issue here.
There’s a large hike/bike area next to the campfire center at the southern end of the campground, a few yards away from the car campsites. The area has 5 picnic benches and 2 bear boxes and is supposed to accommodate several groups, up to a total of 8 people. Hike/bike camping is $5 per person, payable at the interpretive sign near the shower building; you also need a free backcountry permit, which is only available from the Kuchel or Hiouchi visitor center (not the Prairie Creek visitor center). There are no reservations; it’s first-come, first-served.
Hike/bike campers aren’t supposed to park at the campground, but in a special area way back around the Elk Prairie visitor center, then they have to actually hike or bike to the campground.
The hike/bike area was created in 2013 to replace Prairie Creek’s three backcountry campgrounds. The old campgrounds were a lot nicer but also more expensive to maintain.
© 2018 David Baselt