Camping at Mount Madonna & Fruit Picking in Watsonville - 510 Families
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Camping at Mount Madonna & Fruit Picking in Watsonville

Peggy, who lives in El Cerrito, loves fun family adventures and exploring the Bay Area and beyond with her husband and son. We thank her for sharing her favorite family camping spot!

In 2023 and 2024, many camp sites at Mount Madonna are closed for forest maintenance.

Mount Madonna County Park’s serene and beautiful location in a redwood forest, close proximity to local towns, and lots of kid-friendly activities make it one of our favorite spots for car camping in the Bay Area. It’s about an hour and a half drive from the East Bay just west of the town of Gilroy.

Watsonville camping and fruit picking

Mount Madonna County Park Campgrounds, Watsonville

Mount Madonna County Park campsites are open for reservations 6 months in advance with limited walk-in sites available (yurts, too, for more plush accommodations). The park has two main campgrounds: Tan Oak and Valley View 1, 2, and 3.  Most of the sites have both sun and shade and are fairly close to the bathrooms, which were kept clean and stocked.  Showers and RV hookups are only available at Valley View 1 Campground, but no coins are required.

Mt Madonna County Park campsite among the redwoods
Mt Madonna County Park camping area is fabulous among the redwoods | Photo: Kim H via Yelp

Mount Madonna Family Activities

The park has 14 miles of trails to explore for hiking, and kids can ride bikes or scooters around the camp loop.  An outdoor amphitheater has live music on Saturday nights in the summer. On-site stables have horseback trail rides for ages 7 and up.  You might even catch a glimpse of white fallow deer held in a pen on what was formerly Henry Miller’s estate (although friendly, we were advised not to feed the deer).

Nearby Activities: Fruit Picking or Amusement Park?

Gizdich Ranch for Fruit Picking and Delicious Treats

You can easily drive 15 minutes west of the park to Gizdich Ranch for berry-picking in the summer and apple-picking in the fall. Year-round, you can try their varieties of berry and apple pies — we love the Dutch apple pie a la mode! — at their deli and pie shop or take home some berry jam or apple juice from their gift shop.  The gift shop makes a perfect spot for a picnic with the sand pit, old tractor, and hay bale to keep young ones occupied while you enjoy a meal under the shade of the apple trees. Find out more about what’s happening at Gizdich Ranch online before you go.

Gizdich Ranch Pie Shop
Gizdich Ranch Pie Shop | Photo: Peggy

Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park is so fun

Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park is about 9 miles away and features a ton of rides and attractions, including water play areas.  Check Gilroy Gardens’ hours and directions.

More water play at Manresa State Beach or Rio Del Mar State Beach in Aptos, both about a 30-minute drive away.

Family Food Options around Gilroy

We headed to the town of Gilroy (only a 20-minute drive east) for family-friendly restaurants including Saigon 2 Siam Bistro, a Thai/Vietnamese restaurant that has tasty spring rolls, pho, and salads, and Los Pericos Taqueria for enchiladas, burritos, and tacos.

The Bottom Line on Our Family Trip to Gilroy & Watsonville

We love visiting this wonderful part of the Bay area and the pros well outweigh the cons.


  • Beautiful and serene redwood forest
  • Drinking water, flush toilets, free showers
  • Spacious camp sites with food locker, BBQ pit, picnic table
  • No pestering bugs
  • Close to home
  • Dog/pet friendly (must be leashed)
  • Reasonable car camping for $30/night
  • Kid-friendly activities in the park and at Gizdich Ranch and Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park
  • Nearby shops and restaurants in Gilroy and Watsonville


  • Really can’t think of any!

Thanks to Peggy for this inspiring mini vacation.

[Photos provided by Peggy, all rights reserved by 510families.

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3 thoughts on “Camping at Mount Madonna & Fruit Picking in Watsonville”

  1. Pingback: Apple-picking with children near the Bay Area — 510 Families

  2. Great write up Peg! I should add that we just loved the little music concert that happened at Sat night at 7:30 at the amphitheater a 5 min drive up the road from the ranger station. Super nice, super, super kid friendly. M loved it. And the musicians were nice, engaging, got audience participation (asked kids to sing a song together near the stage), and had been doing this for years, a labor of love. About 45 min. Not too long. Free.

    And the showers! what a treat!

  3. We just did this camping trip with our 4 year old & 5 month old. Great fun! We used a pop up & camped in the Valley View 1 RV site – all the sites were really nice. Showers & bathrooms were in great shape. Definitely will bring a bike or scooter for the little ones as suggested next time. We really loved the “how to survive out of a backpack” presentation done by the ranger Saturday. Fun for all ages! Thanks!

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