Manzanita Ridge – Short Backpack Outings for Scouts

What backpacking outings make a young Scout really want to get back on the trail? I’m posting some of my favorites from my area, the southern part of the San Francisco Bay area. These work as anyone’s first backpacking trip, but emphasize group camping areas and short, fun trips.

Manzanita Ridge at Henry Coe State Park. Also check out the pages for The Pine Ridge Association, the volunteers who support Henry Coe SP.

  • 2.5-3 miles each way (depending on which campsite you choose)
  • gentle elevation changes

Manzanita Point has ten group camps stretched out along the end of the road. They all have their advantages, but don’t underestimate the sites at the end of the road (8, 9, and 10).

Fees are $75/night for up to 50 people, which includes parking for five vehicles. It is $8 per night for each additional vehicle.

When camping at Manzanita Point, you are allowed to drive in two equipment vehicles. You are not allowed to shuttle campers back and forth to the campsite; campers must walk or bicycle to the campsite.

The road to the campsites is a ranch road, dirt, with ruts, and steep in places. I’ve driven it a couple of times in regular vehicles (a station wagon and a minivan), but it can get tricky when wet. Watch the rain forecast or bring a 4WD vehicle with an experienced backcountry driver.

The sites do not have water or trash service, so you will need to bring your water in and your trash out, either with vehicles or backpacking. One year, we were planning to drive the trash out, but it rained. I packed out the wet trash, trailing behind the troop. I weighed it when I got home — 52 pounds.

There are some springs at Coe, but you’ll need to check at HQ to see whether they are running. I would not rely on them.

There are three trail options for the middle part of this trip. The Springs Trail and the Forest Trail have less elevation change and go through meadows and forest, respectively. The fire road follows the top of the ridge, so it has more up and down, but some lovely views. A good option is to go to the campsite on the ridge, then choose either the Springs Trail or the Forest Trip for the trip back to headquarters.

This photo is from the ridge road. I’m pretty sure I took this standing in front of the Sada Coe pine.


This hike has a number of opportunities for plant and wildlife identification. It is common to see wild turkeys, areas where wild pigs have been rooting, an acorn woodpecker granary tree, pocket gophers, owl pellets, and so on. The three-way trail junctions (Springs, Forest, and Ridge Trails) are good opportunities for map and compass navigation.

Henry Coe is hot and dry in the summer, and the ranch road to the campsite is slippery in the rain, so this is best in late spring or fall. Winter is nice, too, as long as the road is dry (for driving to the campsite). The wildflowers usually bloom a little earlier here, so it can be lovely in late winter or early spring.


There are some nice trail maps online and you can buy an excellent map of the whole park at the headquarters. You can also order the Henry Coe map from The Pine Ridge Association.

They often have patches, too. That’s great, because we know it is Scouting when there is a patch.

There is also a car camping site at HQ with 19 sites. We used that for a Scout Skills weekend, with a five (and a bit) mile hike to Manzanita Point and back.

If you want challenging hikes, Henry Coe has those too. You get deep into the park by crossing a series of very steep north-south ridges. There are not many people in the interior of Henry Coe State Park and it is a big park. You could do a 50 miler into the Orestimba Wilderness.

Castle Rock State Park – Short Backpack Outings for Scouts

What backpacking outings make a young Scout want to keep doing this? I’m posting some of my favorites from my area, the southern part of the San Francisco Bay area. These work as anyone’s first backpacking trip, but emphasize group camping areas and short, fun trips.

Castle Rock State Park

  • 2.8 miles between the trailhead and camp
  • -1200 feet to campsite, +1200 feet back

Castle Rock trail camp has 20 sites in two separated areas. This is an ideal place for patrols to camp separately, with the adults in another campsite. The campsites have water. Firewood is available for $7 per bundle at the campsite (bring exact change). Check the fire hazard warnings before going, because campfires are only allowed in the rainy season.

Pay fees at the (unstaffed) parking lot. Bring exact change to put in the envelope. The flap goes on your windshield and the money goes in the “iron ranger” (a pipe with a slot). Fees are $15/site (up to six people), which includes parking for one vehicle. Extra vehicles are $10 each. Campsites are first-come, first served. I’ve never seen all the sites full, even on busy spring weekends. Campsites are numbered 1-5 (Frog Flat area) and 11-25 (main camp).

A ranger will come by in the evening to check on you, so don’t have a campfire during fire season.

Most campsite information is in the Castle Rock SP campground map. Additional info, including fees, is on the Santa Cruz Mountains Backcountry Trail Camps page.

There are two trails to the trail camp, the Saratoga Gap Trail and the Ridge Trail. The Saratoga Gap Trail is dramatic, with most of it overlooking the San Lorenzo valley. On a very clear day, you can see to Half Moon Bay and Monterey Bay. On a regular day there is a deep plunge at your feet and a view across ridges towards the sea. The Ridge Trail goes through a variety of forest areas, a large meadow, and has a short side trail to a lookout from the edge of the ridge.

You can hike a loop, going out on the Saratoga Gap Trail and coming back on the Ridge Trail. Go over this with your SPL beforehand. Our Scouts always seem to want to go back on exactly the same train they came in on.

Saratoga Gap Trail

Castle Rock SP has impressive stands of poison oak, on the trail and around some campsites. This is an excellent place for identifying poisonous plants. The two trails go through very different biological areas, giving a wide variety of plants, including wildflowers in the spring.

Castle Rock is also a great rock climbing area, so you may want to hire a climbing instructor and equipment for your trip. The climbing area is closer to the trailhead than to the camp, so you may want to break camp and meet your climbing crew at the rocks.

I have a soft spot for Castle Rock, because that was my son’s first backpacking trip with the Boy Scouts. Our troop goes there almost every year.

For more details, I recommend One Night Wilderness: San Francisco Bay Area by Matt Heid.