On a steep oak-dotted hillside high above the Sunol Valley, Sunol's backpack campground has some great scenic views, and although it’s just a few minutes’ drive from the suburban Bay Area, feels remarkably remote. The bottom of the camp is an an easy 3-mile hike on gravel Camp Ohlone Road from the main parking area; from there it’ a really steep half-mile climb to the sites. The camp can also be reached using the longer and much hillier McCorkle Trail.
The campground has seven widely-separated sites; from any site you can't see any other sites, although you can still hear people talking. The drawback is that from almost every site it’s a long, steep walk to the outhouse.
By far the best time to visit is during the spring, when the grass is green. During the summer Sunol gets really hot; the west-facing hillside where the camps are catches the sunlight and turns into a furnace during the afternoon.
Fires are not allowed. There’s a water faucet but the water is untreated.
Reservations for an entire calendar year become available around the beginning of the year, or a few months earlier if you write in or make a written request. The permits have to be mailed, so reservations must be made at least 5 days ahead of time; you can’t make a same-day reservation at the park.
Sky Camp is on a high ridge with a little shade from some oaks and a spectacular view of the Alameda Creek valley; you can see people hiking on the trails far below. The site doesn’t have a picnic table. It’s the smallest of the sites, with a maximum of 3 campers, but it has enough space for two tents. It’s also the least protected from wind. The walk to the outhouse is a quarter-mile each way.
Star’s Rest is also pretty nice. The picnic table and bench are under some large trees and don’t have a view, but the tent site is an open hilltop a few yards away and has a great view. Despite the trees the site doesn’t get any afternoon shade. The tent site is the largest in the campground and supposedly accommodates up to 30 people. It’s a 0.2-mile walk to the outhouse.
Eagle’s Aerie is by far the most popular site; in fact it’s the most popular trail campsite in the East Bay. It’s on a high ridge with a rock formation and a big oak tree. You don’t really get a view from the site itself, but you can sit on the rock formation to enjoy the view. Up to 10 people.
Hawk’s Nest is a large site right in the middle of the campground, convenient to but not right next to the outhouse. It’s a nice shady site and has a decent but somewhat limited view. Up to 5 people.
Cathedral is at the edge of a grove of trees that lines a little brook. There’s no view. There’s an outhouse right in the campsite, which is a little weird since anyone staying at Oak View would have to come into your campsite to use the outhouse. The site supposedly accommodates up to 5 people, but it only looks big enough for one tent. The site is well sheltered from wind.
Oak View is on the same ridge as Sky Camp, just lower down. The view is pretty nice but not as dramatic as the higher sites. There’s no picnic table and no level ground. You have to use the outhouse in the Cathedral campsite or take a very long walk to the main outhouse, which might be why it’s the least popular of the sites. Up to 5 people.
Sycamore is on a hillside under some sycamore trees. The camp used to have a great view and lots of shade, but the huge tree that provided the shade fell and now blocks the view. There isn’t any level ground. Up to 5 people.
© 2019 David Baselt