Best Spots: Where to Go Camping in California Guide

If you’re looking for outdoor adventure in California, camping in the Golden State is a must-do activity. With a variety of landscapes and camping destinations in California, you’ll find everything from mountain vistas to ocean waterside camping spots. Here’s a camping guide to the best California camping spots, including hidden gems and national parks in California that offer breathtaking natural beauty.

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • California offers diverse camping experiences for outdoor enthusiasts.
  • From national parks to coastal camping, California has something for everyone.
  • Take advantage of state parks and unique camping experiences in the Golden State.
  • Choose the right camping gear and plan your trip carefully for the best camping experience.
  • The best time to go camping in California depends on the season and campground.

Exploring California’s National Parks for Camping

California is home to some of the most breathtaking national parks in the country, offering camping opportunities that allow you to fully immerse yourself in the great outdoors. With a total of nine national parks, there’s no shortage of natural wonders to explore. Below, we’ve highlighted some of the best national parks for camping in California.

JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK

If you’re a fan of unique rock formations and stargazing, Joshua Tree National Park is the perfect camping destination for you. With nearly 800,000 acres of desert wilderness, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to hike and explore. The park offers nine campgrounds to choose from, so you can find the one that best fits your needs.

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK

Yosemite National Park is a must-visit destination for camping enthusiasts. With its towering granite cliffs, stunning waterfalls, and ancient sequoias, Yosemite offers a truly unforgettable camping experience. The park offers 13 campgrounds, including the popular Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows campgrounds.

KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARK

Kings Canyon National Park is home to some of the largest and oldest trees in the world, the giant sequoias. The park also offers incredible hiking trails, including the famous John Muir Trail. There are several campgrounds to choose from in Kings Canyon, including the popular Grant Grove Village campground.

DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK

Despite its ominous name, Death Valley National Park is an otherworldly landscape that is unlike any other camping destination in California. With its unique geologic formations and stunning sunsets, Death Valley offers a truly unforgettable camping experience. There are several campgrounds to choose from in the park, including the popular Furnace Creek campground.

CHANNEL ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK

For a truly unique camping experience, head to Channel Islands National Park. Located off the coast of Southern California, these five islands offer unparalleled opportunities for hiking, kayaking, and wildlife watching. Camping is allowed on four of the islands, and reservations are required.

LASSEN VOLCANIC NATIONAL PARK

If you’re looking to escape the crowds and immerse yourself in nature, Lassen Volcanic National Park is the perfect destination. With its stunning volcanic landscapes and incredible hiking trails, Lassen Volcanic is a true hidden gem. The park offers eight campgrounds to choose from, including the popular Manzanita Lake campground.

As you plan your camping trip in California, keep in mind that some national park campgrounds require reservations in advance, while others operate on a first-come, first-served basis. Check with individual parks for their specific camping rules and regulations.

Coastal Camping in California

California’s coastline provides some of the most picturesque camping spots in the world. From crystal-clear waters to rocky cliffs, there’s no shortage of beauty and adventure to experience. In this section, we’ll explore some spectacular camping spots along the California coast, including Big Sur, Santa Barbara, Laguna Beach, Crystal Cove State Park, Point Reyes National Seashore, and San Elijo State Beach.

Camping in Big Sur

With miles of rugged coastline, towering redwoods, and stunning ocean views, Big Sur is a paradise for camping enthusiasts. Campsites like Andrew Molera State Park and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park offer tent and RV camping options, while still allowing you to enjoy nature’s beauty. Hiking trails, beaches, and scenic drives make Big Sur one of the most sought-after camping destinations in California.

Camping in Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara County offers some of the most beautiful coastal camping experiences in California. Carpinteria State Beach, El Capitan State Beach, and Refugio State Beach provide beachside camping options with stunning ocean views, while still being close to the charming coastal town of Santa Barbara. With miles of white sand beaches, world-class surf, and beachside amenities like showers and restrooms, Santa Barbara is a coastal camping paradise.

Camping in Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach is a picturesque coastal town known for its beautiful beaches, art galleries, and outdoor activities, making it an ideal camping destination. Crystal Cove State Park provides scenic camping, with backcountry and beachside campsites that offer unparalleled ocean views. Water activities such as surfing, kayaking, and paddleboarding, make Laguna Beach a great spot for ocean lovers.

Camping in Crystal Cove State Park

Located in Orange County, Crystal Cove State Park offers beachside camping with the rugged wilderness of the California coast. Crystal Cove State Park offers a range of camping options, from traditional tent camping to unique options like vintage trailer camping. Campers can enjoy hiking trails, beach activities, and stunning sunsets, making it an unforgettable camping experience.

Camping in Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore offers coastal camping with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and diverse natural landscapes. With miles of hiking trails, seashore activities, and wildlife viewing opportunities, Point Reyes is a coastal camping paradise. Camping options include backcountry camping, horse camping, and boat-in camping, providing a range of unique camping experiences.

Camping in San Elijo State Beach

San Elijo State Beach is located in San Diego County, offering some of the best beach camping in Southern California. With a range of campsites, from RV camping to tent camping, campers can enjoy oceanfront views and beach activities like surfing and swimming. A great option for families and couples, San Elijo State Beach has everything you need for a memorable camping trip.

California’s coastal camping options provide a range of stunning landscapes and outdoor activities. Whether you prefer beachside camping or rugged wilderness, California has something for every camping enthusiast.

Exploring California’s Mountainous Regions

If you’re seeking adventure in the mountains, California has plenty of options for camping and outdoor exploration. From the stunning Sierra Nevada Mountains to the picturesque Santa Cruz Mountains and the rugged San Bernardino Mountains, there’s no shortage of natural beauty to discover.

Camping in the Sierra Nevada Mountains

The Sierra Nevada Mountains offer a variety of camping opportunities, with breathtaking views and plenty of outdoor activities. Yosemite National Park is a popular camping destination within the Sierra Nevada range, with several campgrounds ranging from primitive sites to more developed options with amenities.

Other notable camping spots in the Sierra Nevada Mountains include:

Camping SpotFeatures
June Lake LoopMultiple campgrounds, fishing, and hiking trails
Convict LakeScenic lakefront campsites, hiking trails, and fishing
Mono LakeUnique geological formations, birdwatching, and hiking trails

Camping in the Santa Cruz Mountains

The Santa Cruz Mountains offer a tranquil and scenic camping experience, with dense forests and stunning vistas. One of the most popular camping spots in the Santa Cruz Mountains is Big Basin Redwoods State Park, which offers hiking trails, waterfalls, and the chance to camp amidst towering redwoods.

Other notable camping spots in the Santa Cruz Mountains include:

  • Fall Creek State Park
  • Castle Rock State Park
  • Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

Camping in the Santa Rosa Mountains

The Santa Rosa Mountains offer a unique desert camping experience, with rugged terrain and stunning vistas. Joshua Tree National Park is a popular camping destination in the Santa Rosa Mountains, offering campsites in the park as well as surrounding areas.

Other notable camping spots in the Santa Rosa Mountains include:

  • Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
  • Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument

Camping in the Inyo National Forest

The Inyo National Forest is a vast wilderness area offering pristine camping spots, challenging trails, and stunning vistas. One popular camping spot in the Inyo National Forest is Mammoth Lakes, which offers developed campgrounds as well as more primitive options.

Other notable camping spots in the Inyo National Forest include:

  • Rock Creek Canyon
  • Alabama Hills
  • The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

Camping in the Tahoe National Forest

The Tahoe National Forest offers a variety of camping options, from serene lakeside campsites to rugged wilderness areas. One popular camping spot in the Tahoe National Forest is Tahoe State Recreation Area, which offers campsites with stunning views of the lake.

Other notable camping spots in the Tahoe National Forest include:

  • Jackson Meadows Reservoir
  • Bullards Bar Reservoir
  • Grouse Ridge Non-Motorized Area

Camping in the San Bernardino National Forest

The San Bernardino National Forest offers a range of camping experiences, from peaceful spots in the mountains to campsites near hot springs and hiking trails. One popular camping spot in the San Bernardino National Forest is Big Bear Lake, which offers developed campgrounds as well as more primitive options.

Other notable camping spots in the San Bernardino National Forest include:

  • Deep Creek Hot Springs
  • San Gorgonio Wilderness
  • Heart Bar Equestrian Campground

Camping in the Sequoia National Forest

The Sequoia National Forest is home to some of the most iconic trees in the world, as well as stunning vistas and challenging hiking trails. One popular camping spot in the Sequoia National Forest is Princess Campground, which offers campsites with easy access to hiking trails and fishing.

Other notable camping spots in the Sequoia National Forest include:

  • Shirley Meadows
  • Cedar Grove in Kings Canyon National Park
  • Lake Isabella

California’s mountainous regions offer unparalleled opportunities for outdoor adventures, with camping options that cater to every level of experience. Whether you’re exploring the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Santa Cruz Mountains, or the Santa Rosa Mountains, make sure to pack your hiking boots and sense of adventure.

Camping Around California’s Major Cities

If you’re looking for a camping experience close to the city, California has plenty of options to choose from. From San Francisco to San Diego, you’ll find a variety of camping sites near major cities that offer a unique blend of outdoor adventure and urban amenities.

Camping Near San Francisco

The Bay Area is a great place to go camping, with plenty of options for hiking, biking, and exploring the great outdoors. Head to Mount Tamalpais State Park for stunning views of the San Francisco Bay or camp at Kirby Cove for a unique camping experience with views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Camping in the San Francisco area is a great way to escape the chaos of the city and enjoy some peace and quiet in nature.

Camping Near Los Angeles

Los Angeles is known for its beaches, but did you know it also has some great camping options nearby? Head to Malibu Creek State Park for hiking, rock climbing, and mountain biking, or check out Leo Carrillo State Park for beachside camping with stunning ocean views. Camping near Los Angeles allows you to enjoy the best of both worlds – the excitement of the city and the peacefulness of nature.

Camping Near San Diego

If you’re looking for a sunny camping experience, San Diego is the perfect destination. With beautiful beaches, desert landscapes, and an abundance of outdoor activities, San Diego offers plenty of camping options. Check out Anza-Borrego Desert State Park for stargazing and desert hikes, or camp at Silver Strand State Beach for a beachside experience. Camping near San Diego is a great way to soak up the sun and enjoy the beauty of Southern California.

Camping Near Orange County

Orange County is known for its theme parks and beaches, but it also has some great camping options nearby. Head to Crystal Cove State Park for hiking and beachside camping, or check out Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park for mountain biking and equestrian trails. Camping near Orange County allows you to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy the natural beauty of Southern California.

Hidden Gems and Unique Camping Experiences

When it comes to camping in California, the options are endless. While the national parks and state parks are popular destinations, there are also some hidden gems and unique experiences that are worth exploring.

Camping in the Mojave Desert

Experience the stark beauty of the Mojave Desert with a camping trip to Joshua Tree National Park. This unique landscape is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts, with opportunities for hiking, rock climbing, and stargazing. Be sure to pack plenty of water and sunscreen, as temperatures can soar during the day, and drop drastically at night.

Camping with Potable Water Sources

If you’re looking for a camping experience with easy access to potable water, California has plenty of options. Many state parks, including Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Mount San Jacinto State Park, have campgrounds with water spigots located throughout the sites.

Discovering Natural Wonders

California is home to some of the world’s most incredible natural wonders, and camping gives you the opportunity to experience them up close. Yosemite National Park is known for its stunning waterfalls and granite cliffs, while Redwood National and State Parks are home to some of the tallest trees on earth. These awe-inspiring destinations are sure to leave you breathless.

Relaxing in Hot Springs

If you’re looking for a more relaxing camping experience, consider a trip to one of California’s hot springs. Whether you choose to camp near the hot springs at Esalen Institute in Big Sur or take a dip in the natural pools at Sierra Hot Springs, you’ll find yourself feeling rejuvenated and refreshed.

Exploring Nearby Parks

California is home to countless parks and preserves beyond the national and state parks. The Bureau of Land Management manages public lands throughout the state, including the stunning Alabama Hills near Mount Whitney and the dramatic landscapes of the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

Camping in a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The unique landscape of the Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Camping on one of the five islands in the park offers a chance to disconnect from the world and experience the natural beauty of the islands.

Whether you’re seeking adventure or relaxation, California has something for everyone when it comes to camping. From the iconic national and state parks to the unique experiences offered by hidden gems, there’s no shortage of opportunities for outdoor fun.

Camping in California State Parks

California has a vast array of camping opportunities, including its many state parks. From towering redwoods to stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, California’s state parks have some of the most beautiful camping destinations in the country.

Yosemite Valley

Yosemite National Park is one of California’s most famous natural wonders. The Yosemite Valley campground is open year-round and offers incredible views of the park’s iconic granite cliffs. The campground has over 70 sites and is ideal for tent camping.

Crystal Cove State Park

If you’re looking for a coastal camping experience, Crystal Cove State Park is a must-visit. The park offers RV and tent camping, as well as hike-in camping for those who want a more secluded experience. With over three miles of beach and miles of hiking trails, there’s plenty to explore here.

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

For a truly unique camping experience, head to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Located in Northern California, the park is home to some of the tallest and oldest trees in the world. The campground has over 70 sites, both tent and RV, and offers easy access to hiking trails and scenic drives.

Tahoe State Recreation Area

If you’re looking for a lakeside camping experience, Tahoe State Recreation Area is perfect. The campground offers over 50 sites, both tent and RV, with easy access to the crystal clear waters of Lake Tahoe. Hiking trails and water sports like kayaking and fishing are also available.

State Park Type of Camping Number of Sites Features
Yosemite Valley Tent camping 70+ Granite cliffs, year-round camping
Crystal Cove State Park Tent and RV camping 50+ Beach access, hiking trails
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park Tent and RV camping 70+ Redwood trees, scenic drives
Tahoe State Recreation Area Tent and RV camping 50+ Lakeside camping, water sports

No matter which state park you choose, camping in California is an experience like no other. From majestic redwoods to crystal clear lakeshores, it’s easy to connect with nature in the Golden State.

Essential Camping Tips and Gear

Camping in California is an adventure like no other. To make the most out of your trip, it’s important to have the right gear and know some essential camping tips. Whether you’re a seasoned camping pro or a first-time camper, our tips and gear guide will ensure you have a comfortable and enjoyable experience in the great outdoors.

Camping Gear

The right camping gear can make a world of difference in your camping experience. Here are some must-haves to consider:

Gear Description
Sleeping bag A quality sleeping bag is essential for a good night’s sleep. Choose a bag based on your camping destination and expected temperatures.
Tent Whether you’re car camping or backpacking, a durable and easy-to-set-up tent is a must. Look for one with enough space for you and your camping partners, plus any gear you’ll be storing inside.
Camp stove A reliable camp stove with fuel canisters is necessary for cooking meals and boiling water.
Cooler A durable, well-insulated cooler is a must for keeping food and drinks cold.
Camp chairs Comfortable camp chairs are essential for relaxing around the campfire.
Headlamp or flashlight It’s important to have a reliable light source for navigating the campsite after dark.

You can find these items at camping supply stores or online retailers.

Tent Camping vs. RV Camping

Choosing between tent camping and RV camping depends on your preferences and camping style. Tent camping offers a more immersive outdoor experience, while RV camping offers more amenities and comforts of home.

If you’re tent camping, make sure to bring a tent that suits the climate and weather conditions. Consider bringing a tarp to place underneath your tent to protect from the elements.

If you’re RV camping, make sure to book a campsite that accommodates RVs. Some campgrounds offer full hookups, including water and electric, while others offer partial hookups or no hookups at all.

Campground Amenities

Many campgrounds offer amenities that can make your trip more comfortable.

  • Camp stores: Some campgrounds have a store where you can purchase food, firewood, and camping supplies.
  • Visitor centers: Many national parks have visitor centers where you can learn about the park’s history and geography.
  • Fire rings: Most campsites have fire rings where you can have a campfire. Make sure to check for fire restrictions before lighting a fire.
  • Flush toilets: Some campsites have flush toilets for added comfort.

Camping Tips

Here are some essential camping tips to make your experience enjoyable:

  • Plan ahead: Make reservations early and research your camping destination.
  • Pack smart: Make a packing list and bring only essentials.
  • Stay organized: Keep your campsite tidy and store food in sealed containers to prevent attracting wildlife.
  • Leave no trace: Pack out all trash and leave the campsite better than you found it.
  • Stay safe: Follow campground rules and guidelines, and be aware of weather and wildlife hazards.

By following these tips and bringing the right gear, you’ll have a memorable camping experience in California. Happy camping!

Best Time to Go Camping in California

When planning your camping trip to California, it’s important to consider the best time to visit. Depending on your interests and preferences, some seasons and weekends may be better suited for your camping adventure.

Peak Season

The peak camping season in California is generally from June to August. During this time, campgrounds can get crowded and reservations can fill up quickly, so it’s important to plan ahead and book in advance. If you’re looking to camp during peak season, consider visiting less popular campgrounds or making reservations well in advance.

Summer Weekends

Weekends during the summer months are also popular times for camping in California. If you’re unable to visit during the week, try to arrive early to secure a campsite or consider camping at a nearby state park with less demand.

Open Year-Round

Many campgrounds in California are open year-round, offering a wider range of opportunities to plan your camping trip. If you’re looking to avoid peak season crowds or enjoy cooler weather and smaller crowds, consider camping outside of peak season or visiting campgrounds that are open year-round. Some popular options include Lassen Volcanic National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Joshua Tree National Park.

Camping Trip Planning

When planning your camping trip, be sure to check weather conditions, campground amenities, and park regulations to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Consider the type of camping you’re interested in, whether it’s tent camping or RV camping, and be sure to pack appropriate gear such as a reliable sleeping bag and tent. Many campgrounds offer amenities such as camp stores, visitor centers, fire rings, and flush toilets, so be sure to research and plan accordingly.

Conclusion

Camping in California is truly a one-of-a-kind experience that should be on every outdoor enthusiast’s bucket list. With its diverse landscapes, breathtaking views, and endless opportunities for adventure, it’s no wonder that California is one of the most popular camping destinations in North America.

But California isn’t just a great place to go camping – it’s also a great place to explore the outdoors and immerse yourself in nature. With so many national parks, state parks, and other natural wonders to explore, you’ll never run out of new experiences to enjoy.

So whether you’re a seasoned camper or a first-timer, there’s no better time than now to plan your camping trip in California. With so many incredible camping experiences waiting for you, you’re sure to create memories that will last a lifetime.

And if you’re looking for other great camping destinations in the United States, there’s no shortage of options to choose from. From the majestic mountains of Colorado to the stunning coastlines of Maine and Oregon, the United States has some of the best camping destinations in the world.

But for those seeking the ultimate California camping experience, you won’t be disappointed. From the rugged beauty of the mountains to the tranquil shores of the Pacific, California camping experiences truly offer something for everyone.

FAQ

Where can I find the best camping spots in California?

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the best camping spots in California. Whether you’re seeking breathtaking natural beauty, secluded wilderness, or coastal adventures, California has something for every camping enthusiast.

Which national parks in California offer camping opportunities?

California is home to numerous national parks offering incredible camping opportunities. From the unique rock formations of Joshua Tree National Park to the towering sequoias in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, and the rugged landscapes of Death Valley, there’s no shortage of natural wonders to explore.

Where can I go camping along the California coast?

California’s coastline offers stunning camping options with breathtaking ocean views. Whether you prefer the rugged beauty of Big Sur, the charming coastal towns of Santa Barbara and Laguna Beach, or the picturesque cliffs of Point Reyes or Crystal Cove, coastal camping in California is a dream come true.

What are some great camping options in California’s mountainous regions?

California’s mountainous regions offer unparalleled opportunities for outdoor adventures. Whether you enjoy hiking, mountain biking, or rock climbing, the Sierra Nevada, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Bernardino Mountains, as well as the national forests, provide ample trails and beautiful camping spots.

Where can I go camping near major cities in California?

If you prefer a camping experience close to the city, California has you covered. From camping near the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, to beachside camping in Los Angeles and San Diego, or exploring nature in Orange County, there are great camping options for city dwellers.

Are there any hidden gems or unique camping experiences in California?

California is full of hidden gems and unique camping experiences. Whether you’re looking for a desert adventure in the Mojave Desert, a tranquil campsite with easy access to potable water, or the chance to explore natural wonders like hot springs, nearby parks, or even a UNESCO World Heritage Site, California has it all.

What are some recommended California State Parks for camping?

California State Parks offer a range of camping experiences, from the iconic Yosemite Valley to the coastal beauty of Crystal Cove State Park and the majestic redwoods of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Whether you prefer lakeside camping at the Tahoe State Recreation Area or exploring other state parks, California’s state parks are a great choice.

What are some essential camping tips and gear to consider?

Before embarking on your camping trip, it’s important to be prepared. This section will provide essential camping tips, from choosing the right gear, such as a reliable sleeping bag and tent, to deciding between tent camping or RV camping. We’ll also cover the importance of amenities like camp stores, visitor centers, fire rings, and flush toilets.

When is the best time to go camping in California?

Planning your camping trip to California requires considering the best time to visit. We’ll explore the peak seasons, popular summer weekends, and campgrounds that are open year-round. This section will provide helpful tips for planning your camping adventure in the Golden State.

Why should I choose to go camping in California?

California is a camper’s paradise, offering diverse landscapes and unforgettable experiences. Whether you’re exploring national parks, enjoying coastal views, or venturing into the mountains, camping in California will leave you in awe of the natural beauty and outdoor adventures. Plan your next camping trip in the Golden State and create memories that last a lifetime.

Author

  • William Grello

    I'm William an outdoor enthusiast who grew up hiking and camping in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. At greatopenoutdoors.com, I aim to inspire and help you by providing valuable insights and tips on making the most out of your outdoor adventures.

    wtgrello@gmail.com Grello William

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