Looking for the best places to camp in California? Find the best camping spots, our packing essentials, and must-know tips for planning your trip!
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Best Camping Spots in California
As someone who was born and raised in California, I’ve spent a good chunk of my life exploring The Golden State and some of my favorite memories include camping in some of the world’s prettiest campgrounds.
Joshua Tree National Park
We’ve camped in Joshua Tree at least ten times in the last five years and it definitely deserves a spot on this list.
The best time to visit Joshua Tree is during the spring when the nights are still a little chilly, but daytime temperatures are not sweltering. The Joshua Tree campsites mentioned below all have easy access for car camping, provide fire rings and picnic tables, are open year-round, and reservations are required.
Potable water is available at only a few locations near the edges of the park (including the visitor center) so please come prepared with plenty of drinking water!
The Best Camping Spots in Joshua Tree Include:
- Jumbo Rocks Campground: ($20 per night. Pit toilets. No water.)
- Indian Cove Campground: ( $25 per night. Pit toilets. No water.)
- Ryan Campground: ($20 per night. Pit toilets. No water.)
- Black Rock Campground: ($25 per night. 4,000 feet in elevation. Water, flush toilets, tables, fire grates, and a dump station.
We prefer Indian Cove Campground over Black Rock Campground, but if you can get there midweek (or get lucky on the weekend) try Hidden Valley or White Tank Campgrounds (which are first-come; first-served).
These campgrounds have some of the best campsites in the park. They have less campsites than the other campgrounds so it’s a great place to get away from people and enjoy the beautiful silence of the desert.
From many years of camping in Joshua Tree, we have found that you can’t always predict the weather when booking ahead of time. Be prepared for 100-degree temperatures and even potential thunderstorms.
If you must visit in the summer, bring a shade canopy! We just got back from a trip and by 6am, it was already 90 degrees. The one bonus of visiting this time of year is that the evenings are deliciously warm and you probably won’t even need a sweatshirt.
For detailed camping information, read our Joshua Tree Camping Guide.
You can’t really go wrong at any of the campgrounds in Big Sur. It’s one of our favorite places to go tent camping! You’ll either be surrounded by Redwoods at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, watching the sunset over the Pacific Ocean from your tent at Kirk Creek, or mingling with the local wildlife at Andrew Molera State Park.
The Best Camping Spots in Big Sur Include:
- Kirk Creek Campground
- Fernwood Resort Campground
- Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground
- Limekiln State Park Campground
I highly recommend booking in advance; these campgrounds are very popular!
If you stay at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, you won’t be too far away from McWay Falls, which means you can beat the crowds by visiting at sunrise. Read the following post for more information about camping in Big Sur.
Humboldt Redwoods State Park
You may not see too many stars from your tent, but you’ll be camping among some of the world’s tallest trees instead. This park is situated along the breathtaking Avenue of the Giants in Northern California and has over 17,000 acres of old-growth coast redwoods.
Being surrounded by these towering trees is an indescribable feeling and something that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime.
The Best Camping Spots in Humboldt Redwoods State Park include:
The sites at all three campgrounds — Albee Creek, Burlington, and Hidden Springs — can be booked in advance. Campsites that are not reserved are available on a first-come, first-served basis for only one night at a time, so the best way to get a site is to make a reservation online.
Visit the National Park’s website for more information.
If you don’t live in Southern California, then you may not know about this hidden gem.
With miles of trails, Palomar Mountain State Park includes over 1,800 acres of forest that’s ideal for hiking and camping. It’s less than two hours from San Diego and about three hours from the city of Los Angeles, but it feels like a world of its own.
Palomar Mountain is one of the few places in Southern California that reminds me of the northern part of the state — forested pine and oak trees and a night sky perfect for stargazing.
We have found some of the best campsites at the Palomar Observatory Campground, hidden away from the main road. Come early to get the best spots!
Catalina Island is a short ferry ride from either San Pedro, Long Beach, Newport Beach, or Dana Point. It’s a little tougher to pack for this type of camping trip unless you already have backpacking gear.
However, there are camping equipment rentals available, gear hauls for a fee, and cabins for rent at Two Harbors Campground if you don’t want to lug all of your equipment.
If you are up for the hike, Little Harbor Campground — which has been called one of the best campgrounds of the west — is located about seven miles east of Two Harbors. There is also a Safari Bus that shuttles campers to Little Harbor if you want to take the easy route. It’s definitely on our list for our next trip to Catalina!
Yosemite National Park
Camping at Yosemite National Park is a truly special experience. With its towering granite cliffs, majestic waterfalls, and valleys, Yosemite offers a breathtaking backdrop for your camping adventure.
The Best Camping Spots in Yosemite National Park Include:
- North Pines Campground
- Wawona Campground
- Upper Pines Campground
- Lower Pines Campground
- Summerdale Campground
- Indian Flat RV Park (If you’re looking for rv sites)
The park’s iconic landmarks, such as Half Dome and Yosemite Falls, are definitely worth adding to your to-visit list. And beyond its stunning landscapes, Yosemite also has many great recreational activities, including hiking, rock climbing, fishing, and scenic drives.
As night falls, the park’s remote location away from city lights creates the perfect setting for stargazing.
Camping at Yosemite offers a tranquil and serene escape from everyday life, allowing you to find solace in the peaceful embrace of nature. It’s a unique and unforgettable experience that connects you with the remarkable beauty of one of America’s most cherished national parks.
Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Yosemite National Park
Death Valley National Park
If you’re looking for something out of the box, this might be for you. One of the hottest and driest places on the planet, Death Valley is a unique desert camping experience.
This park is a captivating desert wonderland, boasting dramatic sand dunes, vast salt flats, rugged mountains, and otherworldly rock formations. It’s stark beauty and otherworldly landscapes make for a surreal and unforgettable camping experience. And also a great location for stargazing.
Read more: Death Valley National Park Travel Guide
Nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains, Lake Tahoe is famous for its crystal-clear waters that shimmer under the sun, offering an enchanting escape for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.
When it comes to camping, Lake Tahoe boasts a selection of extraordinary campgrounds that allow you to immerse yourself in this natural gem.
One of the best places to camp in Tahoe is Emerald Bay State Park. The campground is located about 12 miles away from the lake and there are many incredible hikes and scene viewpoints to explore.
Read more: South Lake Tahoe Travel Guide
Point Reyes National Seashore
Just an hour and 30 minutes from San Francisco, Point Reyes National Seashore holds a special place on California’s coast with its rugged beauty and diverse ecosystems. Its pristine beaches, dramatic cliffs, and rolling hills offer breathtaking vistas and a sense of untamed wilderness.
What sets Point Reyes apart is its unique blend of coastal and terrestrial environments, providing a haven for diverse wildlife, including the iconic tule elk and migrating gray whales.
You can explore coastal trails, discover hidden coves, and watch the stunning sunset from the coast. The seashore’s rich cultural history, including historic lighthouses and dairy ranches, adds even more depth to the experience. Point Reyes National Seashore Campground is a great spot for camping in the area.
Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park
These parks are known for their giant sequoia trees, deep canyons, and dramatic mountain scenery. I remember visiting the Sequoia Nation Park for the first time as a little girl and being completely blown away by the height of the trees. It’s truly hard to comprehend, even while standing in the park!
Crystal Cove State Park
For some of the best coastal bluff camping, you won’t want to miss Moro Campground in Crystal Cove State Park. With stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and an easy drive from San Diego or Los Angeles, it’s tempting to keep this camping spot a secret.
There are 59 single-family campsites and 28 premium campsites with water and electric hookups (for trailers and RVs – 30 and 50 amp). It’s located in Laguna Beach on a stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway that is not on most traveler’s road trip routes.
I camped here with my 13′ travel trailer and loved it!
Packing Essentials for Camping in California
We are big fans of packing light when camping and have put together a great kit for those of you who are taking a flight and have limited space. For more packing tips, read our Ultimate Packing Checklist for Campers
Camping Stove: We have done extensive research on the best and lightest backpacking gear. This backpacking stove is tiny and weighs next to nothing.
Cookware: We love this tiny cookware set because it’s extremely compact.
Sleeping Bags: This sleeping bag is extremely warm and it gets excellent reviews.
Tent: We love this lightweight Marmot 2-person tent.
Sleeping Pads: These ones are amazing!
Backpacks: If you are looking for a durable, light, and inexpensive backpack, we recommend the Teton Scout.
Portable Charger: We carry this portable charger to charge our phones.
For a more in-depth look at what we pack for our camping/backpacking trips, check out this post: Camping Tips for California’s Channel Islands.
FAQs: Best Places to Go Camping in California
Some popular camping destinations in California for summer include Yosemite National Park, Lake Tahoe, Big Sur, Joshua Tree National Park, and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
Additionally, coastal areas such as Santa Barbara, Mendocino, and Pismo Beach offer many scenic campgrounds. It’s important to note that there may be limited availability and you may need to make reservations in advance. So if you’re planning a summer vacation, it’s not a bad idea to start your research a few months in advance.
Most campgrounds in California, whether they are managed by state or federal agencies, private companies, or local authorities, require a small fee for camping. The fees vary depending on the location, amenities provided, and the time of year.
On average, campground fees in California range from around $20 to $40 per night for a basic site. Campgrounds with additional amenities like electrical hookups, showers, and RV dump stations may charge higher fees, typically ranging from $30 to $60 per night.
While there are numerous fantastic state parks for camping in California, one that consistently ranks among the best is Yosemite National Park. With its iconic granite cliffs, towering waterfalls, and lush valleys, Yosemite offers a remarkable camping experience. The park provides several campgrounds, including Upper Pines, Lower Pines, and North Pines, which offer convenient access to the park’s highlights.