Kirby Cove Campground is tucked away in a wooded canyon among the steep hills of the Marin Headlands, next to a beach with scenic views of the strait, the bridge, and San Francisco and completely isolated from tourist-clogged Conzelman Road. The camp can be remarkably peaceful, but the big drawback is that if there’s even the slightest wisp of fog, the nearby foghorns will beep constantly all day and all night, and they’re pretty loud.
The campground has five sites and day use picnic area. Area 1 is by far the best campsite. It’s set well apart from the others and has picnic tables, a tent pad, and a bear box in a shallow wooded ravine. But the best part is around the corner, where there’s a semi-private area on a blufftop with a tent pad, picnic table, and a million-dollar view of the beach and the Golden Gate.
The other four sites are further away from the water, in a clearing in the woods. The views from these sites are much more limited and are partially blocked by the trees. Areas 2 and 5 are the closest to the water but are ADA sites, meaning you’re not supposed to reserve them unless all the other sites are reserved or you have a disability placard. All of the sites are unusually large, with three or four picnic tables, two or three tent pads, a fire pit, and a bear box. The sites are well separated. Each site can accommodate up to 10 people. There are pit toilets scattered around the camp, but there’s no water. Wheelbarrows are provided to lug your stuff from the parking lot to the sites.
The campground is extremely popular and it’s difficult to get reservations, especially for weekends.
The dirt road to the campground has a locked gate, and only campers and people who have reserved the day use site are supposed to drive down. However, it seems like the lot is full even when no one is camping.
The cove was originally a military base; one of the many artillery emplacements of the Marin Headlands is right next to the campground, a large cement building dating to the early 1900s. Signs explain that the cypress and eucalytus trees were planted by the military.
It seems like most daytime visitors to Kirby Cove are there to get pictures of themselves on a rope swing that used to hang on the beach. Homemade rope swings seem to be a thing around San Francisco, and appear in various Instagrammable locations throughout the city. The one in Kirby Cove used to be in a dead tree overhanging the cove at the east end of the beach; you could swing out over the water with the bridge and San Francisco behind you. The tree was cut down in 2017, and although people still set up swings in various locations around the cove, they aren’t as scenic as the original. The park is constantly removing the swings to keep people from being injured.
© 2019 David Baselt