Dean Clough

May 19, 2024

Portico Darwin: Mt. Madonna County Park Micro Travel Guide


Julie and I love to camp.  But when one gets to a certain age - or just doesn't want to screw around with a tent - it is nice to find parks that offer some kind of rentable enclosure.  You know, like a primitive cabin. 

Or a yurt.

WTF is a yurt, some may ask?  This is a yurt.

More specifically, that is my wife on the deck of ginormous yurt 130 at Mt. Madonna Santa Clara County Park, located in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  And as this (and Samuel P. Taylor State Park in Marin County) is likely the closest real park to the San Francisco Bay Area with this type of accommodation, we had to check it out.

We arrived on a Sunday and stayed through Wednesday.  Not having visited (or even heard of) the place previously, we didn't know what to expect. 

How about a meticulously maintained park set in a towering redwood forest?  With world-class hiking (I uttered "This is the single best trail I've hiked" one day - no joke), flush toilets, free and pristine showers (at a county park!), all a stone's throw from SF?

Yes, Mt. Madonna Santa Clara County Park is Diamond Certified.  But boy, is there a caveat:  Pick your yurt or campsite carefully, because if not, it will probably get wet. 


Redwood trees are beyond majestic and also very rare.  They exist only along a 20-mile wide slice of land along the Pacific coast, from southern Oregon to central California.  Muir Woods National Monument is rightly famous for showcasing these incredible trees.

If you know much about the region, you know it basically does not rain from April through November.  So how do these trees survive without rain?

They live off of the fog, which dominates their habitat. 

"This is a Travel Guide, Portico, so what's up with the horticultural lesson?"

Fair question.  But on this trip, we experienced something we had not previously.  It rained on our yurt, but not on the one next to us.  Or more precisely, the position of our yurt directly under redwood trees, while gorgeous, meant such severe condensation that we experienced a microclimate to the extreme.  It was bone dry 5 feet away, but the ground outside our yurt was muddy and wet for a lot of the trip.  But it never rained.

Yet still Diamond Certified?  See my pro tip in Lodging, below.


Access to the park is beyond easy, and while owned and run by Santa Clara County, it is huge, 4,600 acres of huge, to be precise.  There are little nooks and crannies for picnicking and general fun everywhere, and the two campgrounds are expansive.  All within a 15-minute drive of a Gilroy Safeway, should the need arise (it did). 



I can't identify the campsites that stay dry, because, as above, I'm not pitching many tents nowadays.  Unless it's Kirby Cove, but that's another blog post.

But I can tell you ours, the massive 24' diameter yurt 130 ($96/night) was soaked - not inside, of course, but wow, was it wet, despite cobalt blue skies once the fog burned off.

Better was our companion's yurt.  Arthur and Mrs. Crup were ensconced in yurt 125 ($66/night), less crazy-big at 16' in diameter, but also super-nice.  But it was still not completely dry at its location.

While we did not stay in them, I can confirm yurts 128 and 132 were bone dry (OK, still a bit damp from the fog, but nothing unusual, unlike the actual drizzle falling at 130).  And I deem 128 as the pick of the litter - dry, and with the most privacy.  

But no matter where you stay, the place is just damned impressive in terms of quality and upkeep.  Those who camp know that flush toilets and nice showers are a luxury, and coupled with a yurt, this is budget glamping at its finest.

And the yurts themselves?  Expertly furnished with bunk beds with plasticized mattresses on which you put your sleeping bag, and big and sturdy wooden tables.  Heck, there are couches that are also futon beds.  There is no electricity or heating, so you'll want to be ready for that.  Outside, there's a firepit and at least one picnic table (ours had two), and the requisite bear locker.  

For the record, it was dry everywhere the first night and morning, including at our yurt, so YMMV.  But you've been warned:  The next two days were wet at our site and others.  Like really fucking damp.  But not over there.  Got it?


Kinda the whole idea, right?  I am not even going to bother with maps, because there's so much hiking available (with no mountain bikes allowed anywhere!), you're weird if you can't find what you like here. 

But I will say this:  The hike on the Sprig Trail from Valley View 1 campground (where our yurts were) to The Giant Twins (guess) went from completely unknown directly to my hiking trail Mt. Rushmore.  This approximately two-mile out-and-back was like the campsites:  One second you're in a dark, dense redwood forest and glad you're wearing your fleece jacket, the next it's sunny, warm and you're in a different world.  And then it's right back into a vast grove where you hardly can see the top of the trees.


We do it right when camping, and this was no exception:  Fine food and drink throughout.  We ate all of our meals - of course - at a picnic table outside of our yurts.  Or inside on one particularly damp morning - our yurt featured a full-blown dining room table at its center. 

But it should be noted those less motivated could . . . get just about anything in Gilroy.  But eating a Subway sandwich whilst sleeping in a yurt?  Why bother leaving town?

Never let it be said we're soft in California - that's Arthur, on crutches who still made the trip despite being in the midst of recovering from fairly major knee surgery.  

Attaboy, but would you please get me a Port before putting the crutches down?

But for the record, and speaking of being soft, our site was so wet on the morning of our departure that we replaced Julie's assigned breakfast sandos with a sit-down meal on the drive home at the Gilroy Black Bear Diner (which was Killer, as they all seem to be for me, despite being a chain.)


No, of course not, but there is the Henry Miller ruin (cattle baron, who owned one million head of cattle and one million acres of grazing land, including much of what is now the park), and there's also the white deer pen.

OK, there was only one, but still.
Sure, these aren't particularly exciting, and the deer pen is a bit sad (there is actually a herd of them, but they were apparently elsewhere), yet the hiking to it all is glorious.  And there are real deer, uncaged.


The big warning here is that there is no signage, nor rhyme or reason to when the campground sells firewood.  On a late Sunday afternoon, we were able to score whatever we wanted.  But that was it - for the duration, the firewood stand never reopened.  We could have driven to Gilroy, but instead, we burned up a case of Duraflame "logs" and drank more Scotch.


Diamond Certified and an unhidden gem in this region of the country.  If you're dry.

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