Van Damme State Park offers a scenic beach, a lush fern-filled forest, and year-round camping. The highway runs through the park, separating the campground and the Fern Canyon trail head to the east from the beach and parking lot to the west. Visitors can launch a kayak in a protected cove. They can explore a pygmy forest. They can hike, jog, or bicycle the splendid Fern Canyon Scenic Trail beside Little River.
Having camped in quite a few places throughout California, there's very few campgrounds that equal that of Van Damme State Park. Let me count the high marks that this location features - oceanside access, spartan clean facilities, well-organized grounds, close proximity to charming Mendocino, nearby hikes and natural attractions all with the simple, yet quasi-private seclusion that this campground offers.
Just a few miles due south of one of the quaintest, most visually stunning little seaside hamlets in all of California, Van Damme is strategically located near lovely Mendocino, which offers up very nice delis, restaurants, bars, sidewalk cafes and even art galleries (yes, you can rough it by going camping and still pick up a bit of culture along the way!). Just outside of town, towards the ocean (just take 1 of the 4 streets that lead in that general direction), you'll find some superb oceanview hiking overlooking an exquisite bay, complete with tide pools and crabs for the kids. Best time to get there is either at dusk for the fantastic sunsets or at dawn with the early morning jogging and bicycling crews.
Unlike many campgrounds, where you have actively made the decision to actually remove yourself from as much of human society as possible, you can still achieve this here at Van Damme, but if you get tired of the camping life or eating hot dogs and beans AGAIN, in less than 3 miles, you can escape to Mendocino or drive further north to Fort Bragg for even more restaurant options and a world class ice cream parlour (Cowlick's Ice Cream). But whatever you do, stay away from The Q, which is a poorly run BBQ Shack for less than mediocre southern fare.
Back to Van Damme specifically, the campground is an easy find, just off HWY 1. We chose to drive through scenic Navarro River Redwoods State Park and regret not spending more time there - so if you are heading in this direction, do make sure you stop at this fantastic sampling of Redwoods in all their splendour. At the campground, there's basically 2 options, tent up near the ocean (er, the highway, so bring ear plugs if being next to the ocean means that much to you!) or the Highland Meadow, which is where we landed on site #44. This meadow is wide open and serves as a great place to let the kids run loose, host yard games like jarts or throw a football around. You will discover on the map that there are sites on both the interior and exterior of the simple loop here - I would recommend any of the sites that are on the exterior side of the loop as you'll be backed up against the trees there, versus on the interior which has no trees or shade. Specifically sites #50, #51, #52, #54, #55, #56, #58 and #60 were great, with a few of these backing up into the forest for some really great privacy and nature immersion. As for the facilities (which for my 3 little ladies are an incredibly important factor!) these are by far the cleanest, most pristine PRIVATE bathrooms and showers that I have ever experienced in the state and national park system anywhere in the country! This is important if you are camping for the first time and/or traveling with company who get a bit squeamish about using public restrooms. Don't forget to bring quarters for the showers! The campground staff is quite hospitable and friendly and you can purchase kindling there on-site like you can at most state parks.
There's lots to see and do near Van Damme State Park, and one place I recommend that you don't miss is Big River Beach at Mendocino Headlands SP. It's just a mile south of Mendocino, and I HIGHLY recommend stopping off at Catch a Canoe & Bicycles Too to rent a kayak, canoe or outrigger - the staff is super-friendly and make renting a breeze. Literally just drop in a boat and go from their deck into the Big River. I took my girls out for an hour and a year later, they're still talking about it! Further north is Russian Gulch SP, Glass Beach or Point Cabrillo, all of which also makes for some great hiking and oceanside fun with an historic old bridge as a backdrop.
There's very little NOT to LOVE about Van Damme State Park, so if you've never gone camping before, this is the perfect starter campground - and for those of us that have been around the camping circuit for quite a while, this is still a gem!
Unfortunately, we were only passing through here on our way north. The bonus to that however is that the park allows overnight parking for RVs across the highway in the beach parking lot, I want to say it was a $5 fee. This is an area with a history of abalone fishing, and you can still catch them here for non commercial use. Being a rocky beach rather than sandy, the shells wash up and are easily found during low tide.
The main campground has a sanitary dump station and potable water, the beach parking lot has vault toilets.
This campground is in a lush forest right next to the beach. What more could you want?
The beach is a stellar fishing spot or perfect for collecting shells or building driftwood shacks. This place is cold year round so dress in layers.Restrooms were clean. Firewood available at the entrance kiosk, which is a hell of a hike up a hill so drive there. Go for the highest number sites. The Pygmy forest trail is worthwhile and very accessible for all abilities.
In my opinion, the upper loop is a more legit campout setting. We loved the space and the trees. The reason why i wont give it 5 stars is the fact that, although the kiosk claimed the whole upper loop was booked after our first day, it was not true for the days we were staying. We were leaving the day this ginormous group was arriving so we were pretty disappointed that we couldnt have a site when clearly it was not occupied.
Another reason I wont give it 5 stars is because the website claimed they dont do reservations but the whole upper loop was reserved…? We were staying Mon-Thu and just wanted to lock it in. It was frustrating.
Other than that, the workers were friendly. They delivered firewood on a daily basis. We had a great time. It was super that the ocean was right across the street. I loved hearing the waves at night and seals in the morning!
i recommend it but its tricky/I need a better understanding of how to reserve ahead of time.
Lush and moist campground with large banana slugs. Helpful park rangers. Bike and hike area includes table and fire pit. Near cute little towns and the ocean. Lots of vehicle traffic on weekends.
This campground is across the street from the coastal beach and just south of Fort Bragg, CA.
Reservations can be made and are a good idea as this is a very popular campground. There are bathrooms with flush toilets and paid showers. Plenty of hiking or biking can be down through the pygmy forest. Coastal fishing can also be done nearby. It is cold year-round, so come prepared for wet, coastal weather.
Sites include a food storage cabinet, table, and fire pit. The campground is a short walk from the beach and there are plenty of nearby cities for food or other forgotten essentials.
Inner sites on a meadow have lots of space! Outer sites are in a more wooded landscape. Campground can be foggy in summer months, but is very close to the beach where ocean kayaking is common. Only a few minutes away from Mendocino. Bathrooms have flush toilets and showers are available!
My family and I stayed here once on a road trip to California. We like to play each day by ear which can sometimes become challenging when it’s time to find a place to stay for the night, relying on last minute availability. The night we stayed here was the most difficult we ever had finding a campsite, but we got lucky with a well-timed, last minute cancellation just as we were checking to see if they had any openings. The car just before us had checked for openings and had just been turned away. When we pulled up the ranger took a call canceling one of their best tent sites for the night. So lucky!
The campground is incredibly beautiful, wooded, cool and fresh. The campground sits in a deep narrow valley of trees with a stream running through just across highway 1 from a beach. The bathrooms are good and clean. There’s an amphitheater where we were able to see a ranger/scientist presentation on sea birds of California. Lucky, lucky, lucky.
We had dinner in nearby Mendocino - which is a cute, small town on the coast which attracts many tourists. The town has a rich history and some mystique with the local freemasonry statue “Time and the Maiden” statue which looks down over the town.
The next morning the Ranger suggested we check out a nearby Pygmy Tree Forest as a point of interest it was pretty cool and definitely worth checking out.
I would stay here again in a heartbeat. It’s like an oasis of cool and fresh in the hot August of California. The coast is breathtaking and the local sights are not to be missed.
This campsite was lovely. We were in site 4 across from the visitor center, grassy with half shade half sun, lovely new food storage box, super friendly camp host and rangers, super easy beach access with dogs allowed on the beach.
Showers were $1 for 5 minutes, private and very clean. Could have used a hook or two but otherwise very nice.
Mendocino was super cute right up the road, if expensive. Be prepared, not a lot of choices to stop for supplies after fort bragg.
We were not able to camp at Mackerricher as planned, so we pulled into Van Damme. Beautiful little beach and woodsy, shady campsites. The downside for us was that dogs were restricted on trails, so we had limited hiking opportunities available to us.