If you’re looking for a great camping experience, California is the place to be. This beautiful state has something for everyone, from the rugged coastline of the north to the dramatic desert landscapes of the south. In this roundup, we’ll discuss five great places to camp in California. Get ready to pack your tent for some outdoor fun!
Yosemite is a National Park and is one of the most popular camping destinations in California with over 13 campgrounds and 1,400 campsites. Many of the best sites get booked up quickly, so you’ll want to make a reservation well in advance if you plan on staying overnight! One of the most popular spots at Yosemite is Upper Pines Campground, which is located near Yosemite Valley.
You’ll have quite the primitive luxury at Upper Pines Campground. There’s everything from flush toilets, potable water, cellphone reception, and food storage lockers. You can also set up your own wood fire (just make sure to bring plenty of firewood with you). There aren’t any showers, but overall the campground is a great place to explore all that Yosemite has to offer without bringing along too much technology. With many food and grocery stores nearby, you’ll be able to stock up on everything you want or need for your camping trip.
Upper Pines has an elevation of 4,000 feet, and you can find countless different trails that are great for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. Trails can be paved or unpaved, so adventurers absolutely have their choice. Many hikes are pet-friendly also, which means you can bring your furry companions along with you. With plenty of open space, you’ll find that you can peacefully enjoy your visit even with an abundance of people around you.
The rivers are beautiful, and, with access to Vernon Falls and Mirror Lake, you won’t be able to resist spending quality time in the water. Feel free to spend the whole day swimming, fishing, or kayaking. There’s also a playground, amphitheater, and ranger-led programs available for all ages. We recommend bringing a map as there are many different routes you can take. It’s very easy to get lost! Park rangers are always standing around so that you can get any information about the area you might need.
Redwood National and State Parks are located in Northern California, but they’re home to the world’s tallest trees! Camping here is an unforgettable experience, and you’ll have plenty of options to choose from the four developed campgrounds: Jedediah Smith, Mill Creek, Elk Prairie, and Gold Bluffs Beach. If you’ve never been to Redwoods, we recommend staying at one of the 26 campsites at Gold Bluffs Beach Campground that are open all year long.
The best part about Gold Bluffs is that it’s right on the beach. Fern Canyon is also just next door! With stunning views of the ocean, this is a perfect place to relax and enjoy nature. The campsite is nestled among the trees, giving you plenty of privacy. You’ll find wildlife all around you, from deer to raccoons. There are also many birds in the area, so keep your eyes peeled for some feathered friends.
At the campgrounds, there are flush toilets, water stations, and free showers (they can be a little cold as there is no gas or electricity in the area). You can also head to one of the nearby towns to stock up on supplies.
As far as activities, there’s plenty to do! There are several hiking and biking trails that you can explore during the day, the beach is amazing at night, and there’s opportunities to fish. There’s definitely no shortage of things to do for kids and adults alike. However, note that the rangers are very strict on cleaning up after yourself, so make sure to pack out everything you bring in.
We recommend visiting during the summer, as the weather is perfect for spending time outdoors. Winters are cold and can get fairly windy, so dress and pack accordingly.
Tahoe National Forest is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. With over 850,000 acres of land, you’ll undoubtedly find the perfect spot to call your own. There are many campgrounds around the forest and Lake Tahoe, so you’ll have plenty of options to choose from. If you’re looking to camp closer to the water, then pick somewhere near the lake. Of course, there are smaller bodies of water near the National Forest, such as Meadow Lake Campground. However, the campground we’re recommending is North Fork, which is a crowd favorite and absolutely scenic.
North Fork is heavily shaded by cedar, pine, and fir trees. The campsites are also more spread out than other campgrounds, so you’re given more privacy compared to others. There’s a creek that runs through the middle of the campground, which is perfect for cooling off on a hot day or fishing (or both!). When water levels are safe, you can go tubing, waterskiing, and boating down the river. Alternatively, you can jump into its infamous swimming hole.
The campsites also have fire pits, showers, vault toilets, and picnic tables. During the fall, there’s an abundance of berries you can pick and eat, so keep your eyes peeled for some tasty treats, especially when you’re hiking any of the many trails in the area. Pets are allowed, too, as long as they’re on a leash and attended to.
Tahoe also is home to some of the best backpacking and hike-in camping in California, with abundant options available. If carrying a small tent and a camping stove is more your style, consider any number of great overnight hikes that include camping out. Desolation Wilderness, a massive granite platform on the edge of the forest, is a popular backcountry camping site for people who want to go this route.
Whether you’re spending time at the Little Grass Valley Recreation Area, taking a drive through Indian Valley, or hiking in the Bucks Lake Wilderness, you’ll adore your time here. But the best time to camp at North Fork is during the summer!
Big Sur is a renowned camping destination for good reason. The scenery is incredible, with redwoods towering over you and the ocean right at your fingertips. There are many campgrounds around, but if you’ve never been here, try staying at Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground, a more glamping style of camping with a lodge, restaurant, cafe, and bar nearby.
The campground is located in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and is the most popular option in the area. The campsites are well-maintained and there are plenty of amenities to keep you comfortable including running water, flush toilets, picnic tables, and fire pits. Some sites may not have faucets, so it’s a good idea to pack extra water just in case. You can also rent out cabins if you’re looking for something a little more comfortable.
Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground is located right next to the Big Sur River, which is perfect if you want to go fishing or swimming. The Big Sur River Gorge and surrounding coastline is also legendary for all types of paddling, but be sure to check the conditions – it can vary based on the time of year. There are also many hiking trails in the area, so you can explore the surrounding scenery. You’re likely to see some wildlife around, so keep your eyes open and your camera ready.
The best time to camp here is during the spring or fall, as the weather is mild and there are fewer crowds. Camping at night can get very cold, so pack some extra blankets just in case. But for camping in comfort, Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground is the best place to be.
Southern Cal Camping
So Cal is the best place to camp if you’re looking for some sun and waves. The area is known for its many beaches as you’re right next to the North Pacific Ocean. Many of the beaches have camping spots right on the sand, so you can fall asleep to the sound of waves crashing. South Carlsbad State Beach Campground is a great option if you’re looking for easy beach access.
The campground has sites for both tents and RVs, features showers and bathrooms, and there are several general, shops, and restaurants nearby. The sites can get very crowded during the summer so we recommend getting there early and grabbing your spot.
The campground alongside many others is ideal for swimming, surfing, bodyboarding, scuba diving, fishing, and other beach and water activities. You can also explore the tide pools or take a hike on one of the nearby trails if you wish to stay dry. The sand is on the softer side, which won’t leave your feet too sore after a long day of walking. If you want to relax on the beach, just be sure to have some sunscreen and a beach umbrella — Southern California provides consistent sun, and given its southerly location has one of the highest average UV indexes in the country.
The Carlsbad and broader Southern California coast is unique in its tidal pools, and the sea life you might find in them. Go for some walks and search for them, If you’re lucky, you might find some interesting rocks and shells to take home with you as souvenirs. Live music is often played on the beach, so you can enjoy some tunes while relaxing.
Experiencing one of So Cal’s campgrounds will offer you the best experiences you’ll get when it comes to camping by the beach. One of the main downsides is you might hear road noise from the nearby highway. You might be better off reserving a campsite near the oceanfront, which will also give you better views of the sunset.
These are just five recommendations we make when it comes to camping in California! Do you have another favorite campground that you swear by? Let us know in the comments!