The Lumberjack student newspaper
Photo by Valen Lambert

Humboldt County boasts beginner-friendly bike camping

Live off your bike for a weekend

by Valen Lambert 

Do you like riding your bike? Do you like camping? Why not both! Humboldt county is a great place for beginner bike tourists to hit the road for the weekend to camp in its plethora of campgrounds and extensive open land. 

This summer I rode my bike up the coast from Arcata to Crescent City, a total of 80 miles. Any time I go on a bike trip, I often hear people express their desire to do the same but feel like it’s beyond their reach physically or financially. I felt this way until a few years ago, when a group of women at my local bike shop hosted a beginner bikepacking workshop and group ride. 

I’ve always been a bike commuter, but the longer mileage was new to me at the time. They lent me the bike bags to store my camping supplies and gave me the assurance I needed to do the ride. I’ve been hooked ever since. To be totally reliant on my own body, with everything I need on my bike, is the most liberating feeling I’ve ever experienced in my short existence. 

Photo by Valen Lambert.

The first day of my Crescent City trip, I biked 40 miles up to Elk Prairie Campground in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Many campgrounds have hike and bike sites for the less vehicular travelers and are as cheap as $5 a night. 40 miles may sound like a lot to some, but if you’re able-bodied, you’ll find that you’re more capable than you think you are.

 Think of it this way: on average, a 40 mile day is typically (depending on elevation gain) a four hour ride, mainly spent in awe of the surrounding beauty. Depending on the time of year, that gives you plenty of daylight to take the time you need. The bike does a lot of the work for you, given you have several gears. Pedaling for a while is trance-inducing enough to make you forget you might be hurting. If you require frequent or long breaks, or feel you need to walk your bike at any point, you have every right to. Take some time and get yourself an ice cream, a beer, whatever. You’ve earned it.

The second day was the remainder of the 40 miles to Crescent City, where I stayed with a friend. Biking Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway through Prairie Creek State Park was an unforgettable experience. Redwoods hundreds of feet tall swaying above, a lush and verdant old growth forest stretching in either direction. Going over Last Chance Grade was a bit of a mortality trip to say the least – heavily trafficked, steep, logging truck after logging truck and little to no shoulder. But when you go up a hill, you come down a hill, and that hill is long and electrifying. I had to clean off all the bugs flying into my big fat smile. 

Crescent City is a place I never thought I’d be excited to talk about but alas, it’s in close proximity to some of the most beautiful spots I’ve seen on the California coast. The Smith River is the largest undammed river in California; clear, blue, and serene as can be. The Tolowa Dunes provided some enchanting and remote gravel-biking trails. The Pacific is not nearly as threatening of an ocean as it is at many of Humboldt’s beaches – in fact it was rather inviting. Will I live, love, and die in Crescent City? No. Would I write an article about it? Absolutely. 

Photo by Valen Lambert.

I don’t think I’d recommend biking to Crescent City for a total beginner, only because of The Grade, but don’t fret because there’s plenty more opportunities for bike-bumming. Sue-Meg State Park is only an easy-breezy 23 mile northerly ride from Arcata, with plenty of hiking and bike sites. Roughly 25 miles north of Arcata is Big Lagoon State Park, equipped with hike and bike sites along, well, a big lagoon. Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park sits on the beautiful Van Duzen River on Highway 36 and is a relatively flat 45 miles away.   

First things first, you need a bike. Ideally with a rack on the back where you can hang your bags and strap whatever else on. Bike bags (AKA panniers) are pretty important, and can be found at Revolution Bicycles and Adventures Edge. You’ll also need some relatively lightweight camping gear. I personally just bring a down sleeping bag and an inflatable sleeping mat that I bungee on the top of my back rack, but some like to also pack a single-person backpacking tent. 

Not sure if you want to drop some money on them yet? Check in with any camp or bike savvy friends of yours to see if you can borrow gear. Getting your hands on some bike bags and camping gear is your first step to freedom. The second step is to just start pedaling.   

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