Camping in California: 10 Places you Must Consider
California running down the west side of the US, with some of the most beautiful views you’ve probably ever seen, has 280 state parks and 9 national parks to date.
Ranging from forests of giant Redwoods (mostly) in the north, to desert wilderness on the east side of the state, to sunny palm beaches in the south. California is full of glorious wonder that is just waiting to be explored.
We’ve put together a list of some of the best campsites in California, starting from the top.
But before we get to the good stuff, here are some important notes on camping in Cali:
Is camping illegal in California? According to the CA Department of Parks and Recreation and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) it is important to make sure that you follow the rules of each campsite, which should be read before even making a reservation. If you look at both websites you’ll be able to see where you can find free campsites and where you’ll need to make a booking. Not all campsites offer the same amenities so you’ll have to be prepared for that too.
Can you camp on beaches in California? There are a number of beaches in California that still allow you to camp on the beach, but most have designated beach campgrounds that may not be directly on the beach, but near it. Here’s a list of some spots where you can camp out.
Remember to check for road and camp closures during the different seasons.
Do campgrounds in California have drinkable water? Most Campgrounds have drinkable water. But you should always be prepared to treat the water if you find it without access to water onsite. Browse our portable water filters for camping here.
“None of Nature's landscapes are ugly so long as they are wild.” - John Muir
1. Prairie Creek State Park
Located in Humboldt County, just north of Eureka, is Prairie Creek State Park. The park holds a number of Redwood trees that meet the ocean.
Within the park you’ll find two campgrounds, Gold Bluffs Beach and Elk Prairie. Each offers a different experience within the park.
Gold Bluffs Beach is found at the base of a Redwood bluff. Spread across a large open plain, you have the freedom to spread out a bit either on the beach or further inland on the grass.
While Elk Prairie is further up the bluff and a walk aways from the beach, you’ll be surrounded by trees and you’ll probably even meet a few Roosevelt elk.
There are plenty of hiking trails through the park, so you’ll have little time to be bored.
2. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground is located in Monterey County and is situated along the Big Sur coast. Hikers, bikers, RV drivers and campers are all welcome, but due to its righteous popularity you’ll need to plan to book about 6 months in advance.
At the Pfeiffer campgrounds you’ll get to walk along the banks of the Big Sur river as it winds its way through the park, hike along self-guided trails and experience the ultimate perk of being outdoors-the wildlife, such as bobcats, deer, birds, squirrels and many others.
3. D.L. Bliss State Park
Lake Tahoe should be one of the seven wonders of the world, with its glassy transparent water along the banks, leading into deep blue tones in the center. It’s undoubtedly cold all year round, but it makes for a perfect Summer vacation spot with plenty of activities on and around the lake.
In the south of Lake Tahoe you’ll find D.L. Bliss Campground, named after a railroad owner back in 1929. The park is only open to vehicles during Summer seasons, but is accessible, by foot, during the off-seasons. Needless to say, it is an incredibly popular spot in the Summer!
Known for its balancing rock, which you can find in the Northwest section of the park, you also have the option to hike along the Rubicon trail from the campgrounds to Emerald Bay and to the lighthouse.
4. Yosemite National Park
A world heritage site with flowing waterfalls, sunsets that you’ve only ever dreamed of, and world-class hiking. Yosemite National Park is an American icon. The park holds 13 campgrounds, that all vary- some require reservations, some are first-come first-served. They also offer tent cabin lodging. And the best news of all is that they are open all year round, but remember to make reservations to camp and travel through the park ahead of time.
John Muir has been a great inspiration for many traveling through Yosemite, encouraging his readers to seek solitude in the grand Sierra mountains. Muir’s advocacy to preserve the wilderness is a large part of why we still get to enjoy and breathe in the beauty that is Yosemite National Park.
5. Kings Canyon National Park
Just south of Yosemite is Kings Canyon National Park, California's southern Sierra Nevada mountains, home to the largest grove of Sequoia’s. If you’ve set up camp at the Lodgepole Campground you’ll be just a short distance from the General Sherman Tree- the largest tree, by volume, in the world. Kaweah River allows for multiple recreational activities such as boating, swimming, and fishing.
Prepare to feel tiny!
6. Castle Crags State Park
This state park is open year round, with 76 campsites throughout. Drive north from Redding and you’ll end up in this magical forest of pine, fir and cedar. Hike to the base of the Castle Crags spires, along well-maintained trails, and you’ll end up with an incredible panoramic view of Mount Shasta- a potentially active volcano.
This is a great park to visit if you’re looking for something not too busy. There is access to the Sacramento River which flows through the park, where you can fish, and have a picnic.
7. Joshua Tree National Park
A different landscape to previously mentioned parks, Joshua Tree is a protected desert ecosystem in southern California. Joshua Tree has a whopping 500 campsites to choose from and most require a reservation. But if you can’t make a reservation there is plenty of BLM land outside of the park.
There is SO MUCH to do and see in the park. Expect to encounter desert wildlife such as lizards, snakes, bobcats, scorpions and many more creatures.
Enjoy trails by horseback, bird watching, biking, rock climbing and backpacking.
The stars have never looked so bright as they do in the desert, so remember to look up, and you may just see the Milky Way.
8. Van Damme State Park
Van Damme State Park is actually a beach park spanning about 1,831 acres of land along the Mendocino coast. With 68 campsites you have a lot to choose from.
The park caters for many exciting and family-friendly activities such as: hiking, bird-watching, biking and even botanizing. There are a number of hiking trails that you can choose from, all the information is on the website so that you know what to expect.
Take a 5-10 minute stroll down to the beach and you’ve got a completely different range of activities to do. Kayak or canoe to the sea cave just off the shore, or go diving for a glimpse of life underwater.
9. Channel Islands National Park
Channel Islands National Park is made of a string of islands off the coast of southern California. A trip to one of the islands will require extensive planning and preparation due to the fact that there are no stores or rental shops on the islands. The islands are only accessible by boat from Santa Barbara and Ventura. There is one established campground on each island, but the rest is up to you.
While visiting the islands you will have the chance to mingle with seagulls, sea lions and harbor seals, and the largest breeding colony of endangered California brown pelicans.
Go snorkeling or kayaking around the islands or hang out in the tidepools.
10. Modoc National Forest
A hidden gem? Quite possibly. This forest is in the far North East of California where you can partake in almost any activity you’d like. Be prepared for an ecologically diverse environment where you’ll find wetlands, lava beds(named “the Devil’s Garden Plateau”), and desert-like conditions. Diverse to say the least. Modoc National Forest is the second largest forest in California.
Most of the campgrounds run on a first-come, first-served basis. This forest is so vast, so take your time and plan to be out there for a while, in order to really soak it all up.
Written by Caryn Mackenzie on behalf of Survivor Filter