As someone who was born and raised in California, I’ve spent a good chunk of my life exploring this gorgeous state and some of my favorite memories include camping in some of the world’s prettiest campgrounds.
These are the best places to camp in California, our packing essentials, and must-know tips for planning your trip!
The Best Places to Camp in California
Joshua Tree National Park
We’ve camped here at least five times in the past three 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.
You can’t always predict the weather when booking ahead of time, so we’ve experienced a few camping trips with 100-degree temperatures.
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.
Most of the campgrounds are first-come, first-served, with the exception of Black Rock and Indian Cove during the months of October through May. We prefer Indian Cove over Black Rock, but if you can get there midweek (or get lucky on the weekend) try Jumbo Rocks or Hidden Valley Campgrounds.
You can’t really go wrong at any of the campgrounds in Big Sur. You’ll either be surrounded by Redwoods at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, watching the sunset over the ocean from your tent at Kirk Creek, or mingling with the local wildlife at Andrew Molera State Park.
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 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 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.
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 the perfect campsite 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!
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.