Mount Madonna Campground Review


We went on a camping trip to Mount Madonna County Park in Watsonville, CA. Mount Madonna is a Santa Clara County Regional Park. We stayed at site 104.

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The Campsite

Parking our 20 foot travel trailer in campsite 104 was no problem. It was an easy site to park a trailer in. It was also one of the more private campsites in the campground and we had lots of beautiful trees and shade.

We were there in the early spring, so all of the shade did make for a lot of mud in our campsite. There was lots of mud around the campground but our site seemed to have more mud than other sites. We had a beautiful hill in the back of our site, but the water ran down that hill and straight into our parking pad. We know camping that time of year typically involves mud, so it wasn’t a big deal, but worth mentioning.

The other difference between our site and the others is site 104 did not have a campfire pit. Instead, there was a stone area for a fire but it was designed more to cook with. It looked cool, but it wasn’t practical for a group to gather around it.

The site right next to us (106) had access to the trail system. It was really nice to be able to get to the beautiful trail system almost from our campsite. Although the trail is beautiful and it’s so nice to be able to access it close to your site, I’m not sure I’d want to stay at site 106 because the trail literally went through their camp. During our stay, site 106 was empty so it wasn’t a big deal but I can imagine if we had that site our dog would be going crazy constantly with strangers walking through.

Overall we really liked this site. We love being around large redwood and pine trees. We had beautiful views out of every window and we really enjoyed it.

There were 30 sites designed for RVs with water and electrical hook-ups. And the campground has a dump station. We had no cell signal through Verizon.

The Best Campsites

  • Sites 101 & 114
    • These two sites would work well together because they would give you your own little corner.
  • Sites 108 & 109
    • These sites would work well for a group of two. The campsites go back pretty far (109 much more than 108) and would give a group a nice area to gather together.
  • Site 109
    • This looked like a great campsite. The back opens up to a very large area. It would give a lot of pretty private space.

The Activities

This campground is nice because there are quite a few things you can do right at camp. This campground is filled with hiking trails. We will get into this in more detail in the next section.

There are also the ruins of the old Henry Miller summer home. At the top of the mountain there are lots of stone steps and the ruins of what used to be a vacation home. My kids really enjoyed getting to check this out. And we did not see any paranormal activity during our visit at the Miller house, but there is a ghost story about Henry Miller’s daughter.

There is also an archery range. We didn’t use it but it looked pretty cool. There were multiple targets separated by small hikes to get from one to another.

And we did not go into the town of Santa Cruz but the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is only 40 minutes away from the campground.

The Dog-Friendly Hiking

One of the best parts about camping at Mount Madonna is the hiking trails are all dog-friendly. And there were a ton of trails with options for every difficulty level.

At the top of the mountain near the Miller estate ruins (we drove up there but you can hike to it from camp) were four different discovery trails. The easiest was the Banana Slug trail, followed by the California Newt trail, then the Gray Fox trail, and the Mountain Lion trail. These trails were all color coded and there were four color coded arrows on the trail marker posts that indicated which way that trail went.

We decided to follow the yellow arrows which were for the California Newt trail. The yellow seems like it would be for Banana Slug but the Banana Slug trail arrows are green because it’s the easiest trail. The fun thing about the California Newt trail is there was a free mobile app game that accompanied the trail. It was called Agents of Discovery and we did have to download it ahead of time because there is no service at camp. Even though the trail didn’t have cell service, the app-based game worked well for us.

The kids really enjoyed going through the hiking trail and completing each of the challenges in the app. The challenges helped us learn more about the trail. Some of the information was about Henry Miller but most of it was about the plants and natural elements found on the trail.

We were very surprised to learn that once we completed the challenges there was actually a reward we could receive. We asked at the ranger station but the reward was a pin which they were out of. We actually were given the option to email them and they would mail us a pin to our house but the ranger gave the kids a frisbee instead and we called it good.

The trail was great, even without the app it would have been fun. The trails were well marked and well maintained. It was rainy weather so we did have some mud and some water to step over but nothing more than you would expect from going on a hike in the early spring.

We also went on the Giant Twins trail. This trail we were able to easily access from the campground. This was another beautiful trail and the kids had fun with it but it was very muddy. The mud made several areas pretty slippery but we still had a good time. Once we got to the twin trees at the end we decided to walk back on the asphalt campground roads instead of take the same trail back because it was pretty slippery especially for the kids.

We enjoyed both of the trails we got to explore and there were many more that looked like they would be good hikes as well. All of the trails were dog-friendly which was great and we really appreciated that. The one downside to that, is there was more dog poop on these trails than we have seen in maybe any other campground we’ve been to. It was sad to see how many people didn’t clean up after their dogs. As a dog owner, it was very concerning because we were worried there will come a time in the near future when these paths are not as dog-friendly as they are now.

The Beer

We decided to stay as local as possible to get some beer so we took a trip into the town of Watsonville. We went to Corralitos Brewery in Watsonville and tried a few beers. They sold beers in cans so it was to grab some to take back to camp. We got a variety pack, some hazy IPAs, and a coffee porter called 3CPO. We really enjoyed this beer, it was well balanced and I would be happy to drink it again.

With that being said, I really don’t think it’s worth going into the town of Watsonville. We had hoped to do more in this town and nothing worked out, there really wasn’t much to do. We wanted to find a park to let the kids play on and there was a nice one in town, but there was absolutely nowhere to park. The traffic in the town was insane and the whole trip took much longer than we had expected. I’m glad the beer was good but I have no plans to make the trip there again. If we return to this campground we’ll go a little further and check out some local brew in Santa Cruz instead.

The Recap

Mount Madonna feels like a hidden gem. In the middle of what feels like nothing but cities you find an area with redwood trees and miles of dog-friendly hiking trails. This campground was a fun place to explore.

Campground Details:

Mt. Madonna County Park
7850 Pole Line Rd, Watsonville, CA 95076

Can reserve online at Reservations open 6 months ahead.

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