Going off the grid into nature is one of my favorite ways to relax, enjoy fresh air, reset and take a break from our busy city life.
If you live in the Golden State, you’ll be glad to know that there are many amazing campgrounds in California to choose from! As California locals and outdoor enthusiasts, we have been all over the state in search of the best places to stay during our adventures.
Whether you’re planning a short weekend escape or a longer road trip, picking a great place to camp with the necessary amenities will make your trip that much more enjoyable and comfortable.
From the coast to the mountains, here are the 15 best campgrounds In California for a memorable camping experience!
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FAQs On Camping In California:
Before we dive into the details of our favorite campgrounds, here are some frequently asked questions about camping in California!
What Are The Most Popular Campgrounds In California?
National and State Park campgrounds fill up fairly quickly due to the high volume of visitors that these places receive every year. The coast is another popular place to head for outdoor trips year-round so you can expect the campsites to get booked up quickly.
Some campsites require reservations months in advance. We’ve sat at our computers trying to book certain campsites the moment they become available. Due to the high demand, I recommend planning your California camping trips ahead of time, especially for those highly coveted destinations like Yosemite or Big Sur.
Is California Good For Camping?
Yes, California offers excellent camping options throughout the entire state for all seasons! From mountains to the desert, the valley, and the coast – there is always something new and interesting to discover in California.
Here are a few tips on how to choose where and when you should go:
- Due to the dry, warm climate, the coast is a great place to go camping all year long.
- The desert is an excellent option for camping in the spring or fall, but not in the summer months when the temperatures spike past 100 degrees.
- The Sierra Nevada Mountains are our go-to place for camping in the summer when we’re looking for a place to escape the heat.
How Much Does It Cost To Camp In California?
Booking a campsite is a great budget option that is much cheaper than staying at a hotel or vacation rental. Typically campsites in California cost $25-$100 per night, depending on the location, season, and group size. Group sites will be a lot more expensive, but you can split the cost between friends and family.
Private campgrounds often have more availability, but they can be pricey. The most I’ve paid for a campsite in California is $100 at a private RV campground in Santa Cruz. If you’re looking for free camping options, dispersed camping is allowed on public lands for up to 14 days.
What To Pack For Camping In California
Before heading out on a road trip, it’s important to have all the camping necessities. Here are some of our favorite items that we bring on camping trips:
- Helinox Chair Zero. Foldable chairs are great for eating, working, or enjoying a campfire. We have a couple of foldable chairs that we can easily put together when we’re stopped at a campsite or store at the back of our car when we’re done.
- REI Camp Foldable Table. We have a small camping table that we can prop up for eating meals. This table has foldable legs that are easy to set up and is made of aluminum material that doesn’t rust.
- Camping Stove. To cook food on our outdoor trips we bring along a small camping stove with a propane canister. We have a stove set that comes with two pots to make various meals.
- AeroPress Travel Coffee Press. AeroPress is one of the easiest ways to make coffee on the go. Many travelers use this coffee press because it can fit into small storage spaces and it won’t break if you accidentally drop it.
- MSR Hubba Hubba Tent. This is our go-to tent for tent camping trips when we’re not sure what Mother Nature will throw our way. This tent is lightweight, ultra-reliable against any weather conditions, and super tough.
- Sleeping Bag. The Magma 15 sleeping bag is made for cold mountain temperatures as low as 17 degrees F, it’s mummy-shaped so it traps the warmth inside and is super soft.
- Sleeping Pad. Ever since I got a blowup sleeping pad, I won’t go on another camping trip without one. Instead of sleeping on the ground we now pack inflatable sleeping pads for a good night’s sleep!
- Packing Cubes. Staying organized when camping can be a challenge. These travel packing cubes not only keep everything nice & tidy but also help save a ton of space.
While this is a compact list with a few of the basic items, we do have longer-packing articles that dive into more details:
- Camping Gear Guide: Our Ultimate Packing List
- Road Trip Essentials: Our Ultimate Packing List
- 85 Van Life Essentials That You Should Be Packing
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Best Campgrounds In California:
1. Kirk Creek Campground In Big Sur
Kirk Creek Campground is one of the most scenic camping spots to experience along the rugged California coastline. This campground is perched on top of bluffs overlooking Big Sur with dreamy views of the ocean.
Kirk Creek Campground is located just off scenic Highway 1. It’s about a 5-hour drive from Los Angeles and a 1.5-hour drive from Monterey.
Kirk Creek Campground offers 33 campsites most of which can be reserved on Recreation.gov (while some are set aside as first-come-first-serve). Each campsite comes with a picnic table, a grill, and a fire pit for enjoying a campfire at night.
All of the campsites at Kirk Creek are grassy, open, and very spacious with plenty of distance from the rest of the campers. The front campsites are lined against the bluffs and the back campsites are slightly elevated so everyone can enjoy ocean views.
This campground offers the perfect place to enjoy nature, reset and explore a few fun outdoor adventures. Some of the top things to do in Big Sur include visiting Sand Dollar Beach, hiking to Salmon Creek Falls, and stopping by the Big Creek Bridge.
Camping Tip: Before heading out to Big Sur be sure to stock up on camping supplies ahead of time! There are very few stores in this region so we recommend bringing everything you may need including food, water, and firewood.
2. Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is one of the most sought-after camping locations in all of California! If you’re able to secure one of the highly coveted Yosemite campsites when they become available, consider yourself lucky!
Yosemite National Park offers several camping options within Yosemite Valley to its visitors including:
- Upper Pines Campground
- North Pines Campground
- Lower Pines Campground
- Camp 4
- Backpacker’s Campground (only available as a first-come-first-serve to backpackers with valid backcountry permits).
We stayed at the Upper Pines campground last year while visiting Yosemite National Park in the winter. Even with the freezing temperatures and snow-covered slippery roads, it was such a magical experience!
In the peak travel months from June to August, it’s much harder to reserve Yosemite campsites as they get booked up so quickly. As an alternative, consider staying in the Curry Village Canvas Tents which offer an amazing glamping experience at this popular National Park.
At Curry Village, park visitors have the opportunity to unwind and relax in spacious tent cabins surrounded by the wilderness while also enjoying comfortable amenities like hot showers, a seasonal pool, and multiple dining choices. These canvas tents are situated at the center of Yosemite Valley offering easy access to all the top attractions and hiking trails.
3. Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is one of the most popular parks in California and shows no signs of changing. Nearly 3 million visitors flock to Joshua Tree every year for camping, hiking, and other outdoor recreational activities.
As a California local, I have been to Joshua Tree many times. This park is located just a 2-3 hour drive from Los Angeles making it a great place to go for weekend camping trips with family or friends.
The best times to visit Joshua Tree are spring or fall when the weather is at its best. In the summer the weather is too hot for camping and in the winter temperatures drop to freezing overnight.
If you’re planning to camp at Joshua Tree, there are many incredible campgrounds to choose from. Some can be booked online ahead of time while others work on a first come first serve basis.
Jumbo Rocks Campground is the biggest campground at the center of Joshua Tree National Park with 124 sites scattered amongst scenic rock formations. Jumbo Rocks campground is very popular so be sure to reserve it early on.
If you’re heading on a last-minute trip and don’t have campsites booked, Hidden Valley Campground offers sites on a first-come-first-serve basis. This campground fills up pretty quickly too so try to get a spot as soon as you arrive, especially on the weekends.
4. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground is one of the most stunning California campgrounds. Here visitors have the opportunity to unwind and relax at serene campsites scattered amongst ancient redwood trees – a dream come true for any outdoor enthusiast!
Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground is located next to serene redwood trails and just a short drive from nearby beaches. With limited campsite and hotel options along the Big Sur coastline, this location offers a convenient place to camp for those on a road trip between LA and San Francisco.
Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground is by far one of the nicest California State Parks that we’ve stayed at offering excellent amenities. This campground has 189 tent and RV sites along with restrooms, hot showers, a restaurant, a general store, and even laundry facilities.
The current fee is $35 for a standard campsite and $50 for a premium riverfront campsite. We booked the standard campsite which was very spacious and surrounded by giant redwood trees & oak woodlands.
5. Morro Strand State Beach
Morro Bay is a charming little town along the Central California coast. Morro Bay is known for its long stretches of beach, fresh seafood, and lots of fun outdoor activities like hiking, camping, and surfing. It is also home to Morro Rock, a towering volcanic plug that stands tall above the shoreline.
If you enjoy beach camping, you’ll love staying at the Morro Strand State Beach Campground! This campground is located off Pacific Coast Highway with easy access to the ocean and miles & miles of coastline. Morro Strand SB offers tent and RV campsites that come with picnic tables, fire pits, restrooms, and trash bins.
Morro Bay is a great place to camp if you enjoy coastal activities like fishing, surfing, windsurfing, and mountain biking. Nearby you can also head on short day hikes like The Black Hill Trail which leads to an incredible viewpoint of Morro Rock, the coast, and the surrounding landscapes.
If you’re traveling with pets, do note that dogs are only allowed in the paved areas of the campground and not on the State Beach itself. There is, however an easily accessible Morro Bay Dog Beach just up the road!
Read Next: 15 Wonderful Things To Do In Morro Bay
6. Alabama Hills
Situated at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Alabama Hills is one of the best-hidden gems in California. Alabama Hills is close to the mountains, it offers tons of excellent mountain biking trails, rock climbing, and easy access to geological wonders like Mobius Arch and Boot Arch.
Alabama Hills is located in a dry, desert area where temperatures spike past 100 degrees in the summer. It’s best to plan a camping trip to Alabama Hills in spring or fall when the weather is much more pleasant.
The best part about visiting Alabama Hills is that you’re allowed to disperse camp here for free! Dispersed camping is allowed in areas marked with a tent symbol for up to 7 days in a 28-day period.
As someone who has lived in California most of my life, I’m used to booking campsites and planning my trips months ahead of time. It’s so incredible having access to a place like Alabama Hills that we can just visit on a whim (and without breaking the bank).
Due to the fragile environment, the rules for camping at Alabama Hills have changed in the last few years. Before heading out there, I recommend staying up to date with the latest Bureau of Land Management requirements here.
7. Portola Redwoods State Park
California is home to some of the tallest trees in the world – the coastal redwoods. With a dense forest and 50 inches of rainfall per year, Portola Redwoods State Park is a wonderful place to camp amongst ancient redwoods and escape the summer heat.
Portola Redwoods State Park is tucked away in a remote mountain forest near the Central California coast. There is only one windy, narrow road that goes in and out of the park making this redwood State Park a hidden gem that most people don’t even know exists!
Many locals come to Portola Redwoods State Park for weekend camping trips from San Francisco and nearby cities. This park offers beautiful campsites scattered in between towering redwood trees with plenty of shade and privacy.
There are several different sites available including standard camping sites, family walk-in sites, and group camping areas. The regular campsites start at $35/night and the group sites go for around $335/night.
The campsites come with a picnic table, a fire pit, and bear lockers for food storage. Paid showers are available at the main campground.
8. Catalina Island
With rolling green hills, sparkling blue water, hidden beach coves & excellent snorkeling opportunities, Catalina Island is one of the most scenic places to go camping in Southern California. Catalina Island is also home to the 38-mile-long Trans-Catalina Trail which is one of the best backpacking routes in this state.
Catalina Island offers several incredible campgrounds to choose from:
- Hermit Gulch. This campground is tucked away in the Avalon Canyon, about two miles from Avalon town. Be prepared to carry all of your camping supplies to and from the campsite.
- Black Jack. This is the highest campground on the island and can be reached while hiking the Trans-Catalina Trail.
- Little Harbor. Little Harbor is the most scenic campground on Catalina Island (and arguably in California!). It is situated next to a remote cove with stunning views of the ocean.
- Two Harbors. Two Harbors is by far the most popular campground in Catalina for weekend visitors. This campground is located just steps from the ocean and can easily be reached from Two Harbors town where you can find local shops, restaurants, and other amenities.
- Parson’s Landing. Parson’s Landing offers a unique experience to camp right on the sandy beach at the tip of Catalina Island. These campsites can be reached by hiking or kayaking there.
There are additional campsites situated along the shoreline that can only be reached by boat or kayak. You can check out a map of the Catalina Island campsites and reserve them through Bookyoursite.com.
Due to the limited availability, be sure to book the campsites well in advance. They get snatched up quickly, especially on the weekends.
9. Mammoth Lakes
Filled with stunning alpine lakes, dramatic mountains, lush forests, and incredible hiking trails, Mammoth is a true California treasure!
We travel to Mammoth several times per year, for both summer and winter adventures. Mammoth Lakes is one of the best places in California to go for outdoor recreation activities like hiking, camping, biking, and snowboarding.
If you plan to camp at Mammoth Lakes, there are several excellent campgrounds to choose from. Some of the most popular ones are:
Mammoth is a great place to go camping with the entire family! The campgrounds are located near the town of Mammoth Lakes where you can grab supplies or head for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
While the campgrounds themselves are pretty standard, they offer easy access to some of the best hiking trails in Mammoth Lakes!
10. Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park is a place that we return to year after year. It is one of the most magical destinations in California where you have the opportunity to hike among some of the largest trees in the world!
Sequoia National Park offers several campgrounds within the park boundaries:
- Lodgepole Campground
- Buckeye Flat Campground
- Potwisha Campground
- Dorst Creek Campground
Lodgepole Campground is a favorite for many park visitors due to its central location. From this campground, you can also hop on a shuttle that will take you to the top attractions within Sequoia National Park or head on a hike to Tokopah Falls.
If all of the campgrounds at Sequoia National Park are booked up, you can also opt to stay in Three Rivers town by the south entrance gate.
Three Rivers is where we usually stay on rafting trips or last-minute Sequoia National Park getaways. Three Rivers Hideaway offers basic tent and RV spots along with hot showers and easy access to the river.
11. Pismo Beach
Pismo Beach is a small coastal town in Central California that’s known for stunning beaches, endless sand dunes, and fresh drool-worthy seafood. This lively community is a popular destination for Central Valley locals, especially in the summer as temperatures start to pick up.
Pismo Beach has several amazing campgrounds where you can camp just steps from the beach! When visiting Pismo Beach, we typically stay at the North Beach Campground or the Oceano Campground – Pismo State Beach.
Both campgrounds offer grassy, spacious sites along with trails and easy access to the beach. At these campgrounds, you can also enjoy amazing amenities including hot showers, picnic tables, and fire pits.
The North Beach Campground is situated next to the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove which is one of the largest butterfly groves in California. Each year between October to February over 10,000 Monarch Butterflies gather at the Pismo Beach Grove to seek shelter on the temperate California coast from the cold winter temperatures.
12. Death Valley National Park
Death Valley is one of the most underrated National Parks in California. Most people either love it or feel ‘meh’ about it (spoiler alert! I absolutely loved it and was so impressed by the unique landscapes found here!).
Death Valley National Park consists of 3 million acres of wilderness within the Mojave Desert in California. As one of the hottest and driest places on Earth, Death Valley offers winter camping that lasts from late fall to early spring.
Due to limited hotel options, most people that visit Death Valley end up staying at one of these campgrounds:
- Furnace Creek Campground. This is the main campground which is located next to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. Furnace Creek is the most popular campground at the center of the park and usually fills up first.
- Sunset Campground. If Furnace Creek is full, you can also look for open sites across the street at Sunset Campground. Sunset Campground works on a first come – first serve basis so it’s best to get a spot as soon as you arrive at the park. This is where we ended up staying on our visit.
- Stovepipe Wells Campground. If those campgrounds are full, you can also try your luck at Stovepipe Wells Campground in the northern part of Death Valley National Park.
See more here for the list of developed Death Valley campgrounds!
Camping Tip: Before heading out to Death Valley, be sure to stock up on everything you may need for your visit including food, water, and gas. There are limited amenities available within the park so it’s best to go prepared.
13. Kings Canyon National Park
At Kings Canyon National Park you’ll find trails leading through landscapes filled with towering granite walls, giant Sequoia trees, lush meadows, and soaring waterfalls.
Kings Canyon borders Sequoia National Park on the north. The $35 vehicle entrance pass includes access to both parks so many people combine a visit to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks on the same trip.
There is one main highway that leads through this park with scenic campgrounds and day hikes along it. Here are some of the best campground options at Kings Canyon National Park!
Grant Grove Village (near the visitor center and giant Sequoia trees):
- Sunset Campground
- Azalea Campground
- Crystal Springs Campground
Cedar Grove (at the far east part of the park near meadows and waterfalls):
- Sheep Creek Campground
- Sentinel Campground
- Canyon View Campground
- Moraine Campground
All of the campsites come with a picnic table, a fire ring, and a bear-proof food storage box.
14. Lake Isabella
Tucked away in between mountains and small western-style towns, Lake Isabella is a popular getaway spot, especially for those who love outdoor activities like camping, fishing, and water sports. Located just a short drive east of Bakersfield, many Central California locals flock to Lake Isabella to cool off during the scorching summer months.
During our time living in Bakersfield, we made frequent trips to Lake Isabella on summer weekends for camping and hiking adventures.
There are several different campgrounds scattered all along the lake shore. Our favorite campsite at Lake Isabella is Boulder Gulch which is surrounded by giant, scenic boulders and is just steps from the lakeshore.
The campsites go for around $32/night and include fish cleaning stations and flush toilets. From this campground, you can also head on a hike to Isabella Peak which offers 360 views of Lake Isabella and the surrounding landscapes.
If you need camping supplies, within a short drive you can reach Lake Isabella town or Wofford Heights which have shops, restaurants, and even a fun brewery!
15. Limekiln State Park
Limekiln State Park is another incredible campground along the rugged Big Sur coastline. Here you can camp just steps away from the shore and enjoy stunning ocean views first thing in the morning!
Limekiln State Park is situated next to a scenic bridge with easy access to the beach. This State Park also offers several short hiking trails that lead to redwoods, old limekiln ruins in the forest, and a waterfall.
The campsites start at $35/night and you can choose between ocean sites or redwood sites tucked away in a forest. With either option, you’re bound to have a relaxing and enjoyable time!
With breathtaking views, rivers, waterfalls, and serene redwoods, this is truly one of the best places to go for a camping trip in California!
Looking for more travel inspiration? Here are some of our other popular travel posts that you may like:
- 20 Best Hikes In California For All Skill Levels
- 15 Best Places To Stay Near Sequoia National Park
- 15 Stunning Destinations To Visit In California In Winter
- 20 Amazing Places To Stay Near Yosemite National Park
- 15 Tips To Know When Planning a Trip To National Parks
- Best Places To Stay In Big Sur For An Incredible Experience
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