Campgrounds in California: Top Sites for Nature Enthusiasts

California boasts some of the most diverse and breathtaking campgrounds in the United States. From the towering redwoods to the sun-kissed beaches, the state offers unparalleled outdoor experiences.

Lush green trees surround a central fire pit with logs for seating. Tents are scattered across the open field, and a winding river flows nearby

Are you looking to explore the great outdoors and find the perfect camping spot in California? Whether you prefer an RV park or a secluded tent site, the Golden State has it all. This guide will help you navigate the many options available, ensuring your next camping trip is remarkable and unforgettable.

1) Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park offers some of the best camping experiences in California. It has a variety of campgrounds that cater to different needs and preferences.

You can find North Pines, Upper Pines, and Lower Pines campgrounds nestled in Yosemite Valley. These sites provide easy access to iconic landmarks like Half Dome and Yosemite Falls.

For a higher elevation experience, head to Tioga Road. Here, you’ll discover places like White Wolf Campground and Tuolumne Meadows Campground. These spots are perfect for those wanting to explore less crowded parts of the park.

Backcountry campgrounds in Little Yosemite Valley and near the High Sierra camps offer an adventurous option. These campgrounds require a permit and a bit of planning but provide a unique wilderness experience.

You can make reservations for Yosemite campgrounds through Recreation.gov. Just remember that they only allow two reservations per website visit or phone call.

2) Big Sur Campground & Cabins

Tall redwoods tower over rustic cabins and tents at Big Sur Campground, nestled in the California wilderness

Big Sur Campground & Cabins is nestled among the majestic Coastal Redwood trees along the pristine Big Sur River. This spot offers both RV and tent camping, making it a great choice for nature lovers.

You can enjoy a variety of activities here. Watch your kids inner tube down the river or take a peaceful hike among the redwoods. If you prefer something cozier, their cabins provide a comfortable way to experience the outdoors without needing to pack too much gear.

This campground places a strong emphasis on family togetherness. Its location is ideal for those looking to connect with nature and each other.

3) Sequoia National Park

Lush green forest with towering sequoia trees, a flowing river, and campgrounds nestled among the natural beauty of Sequoia National Park in California

Sequoia National Park offers a variety of camping options. One of the most popular spots is the Lodgepole Campground. This campground is near the Kaweah River and has over 200 campsites. It’s a great place to stay if you want to be close to hiking trails and other amenities.

Another option is the Stoney Creek Campground. Located between Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, it provides a peaceful setting. You’ll find it’s perfect for exploring both parks. Keep in mind that some campgrounds are only open seasonally or first-come, first-served.

If privacy is important to you, you might consider Buckeye Flat Campground. Located at a lower elevation along the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River, it has fewer sites but offers a more secluded experience.

To get to the park, you can drive via Highway 180 if your vehicle is over 22 feet long. This route is safer for larger vehicles. Inside the park, Highway 198 becomes Generals Highway, linking Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

4) Joshua Tree National Park

The sun sets over the rocky desert landscape, casting long shadows on the Joshua trees and campgrounds in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park in California offers stunning landscapes and unique camping experiences. The park has around 500 campsites that can be reserved up to six months in advance. It’s smart to book ahead since cell service is limited in the park.

For a variety of camping options, consider staying at one of the 18 campgrounds within the park. Each campground has its own unique terrain and amenities. Many sites offer discounts with an Interagency Senior or Access pass.

Popular campgrounds include Black Rock Campground and Indian Cove Campground. Black Rock is known for its abundant Joshua trees and bird-watching opportunities. Meanwhile, Indian Cove offers 101 campsites, making it ideal for both individual and group camping.

Make sure to visit Cottonwood Campground, located in the southeastern part of the park. You can reserve a site throughout the year, which is perfect for stargazing and exploring nearby hiking trails.

5) Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit

Sunlight filters through tall pine trees onto empty campsite with picnic table and fire ring, overlooking serene Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (LTBMU) covers over 154,000 acres of National Forest lands around Lake Tahoe. Located in California, it offers many recreational opportunities. You can enjoy activities like hiking, biking, and fishing.

There are several campgrounds within LTBMU. Some popular ones include Meeks Bay Resort, William Kent Campground, and Tahoe Valley. These spots offer beautiful views and great amenities.

Meeks Bay Resort is on the west shore of Lake Tahoe. It has a beach, marina, and picnic areas. William Kent Campground, near Tahoe City, is a favorite for its large camping area and day-use spots.

For year-round camping, check out Sugar Pine Point, Tahoe Valley, and Zephyr Cove. These sites remain open even when others close for the season.

If you plan to build a fire, remember there are fire restrictions during certain times. You can use propane appliances with a valid California Campfire Permit.

Be sure to buy your firewood locally to protect the forests from pests. You can find more information about this on firewood.ca.gov.

6) Redwood National and State Parks

Redwood National and State Parks in California offer an unforgettable camping experience. The parks are home to the tallest trees on Earth and provide a variety of landscapes, including prairies, woodlands, rivers, and a rugged coastline.

Several campgrounds are available within the parks. Mill Creek Campground, located near Crescent City, is ideal for those who want access to hiking trails and summer programs. Remember, you might hear restoration work at some times of the year.

Gold Bluffs Beach Campground offers a unique setting right by the beach. You can enjoy the beauty of sand dunes and beach vegetation here. To reach it, you must drive a 6-mile gravel road.

Don’t miss Panther Flat Campground, nestled along the Smith River. It’s located northeast of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park and offers a peaceful camping option, though the campsites are not directly on the riverfront.

7) Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park in California offers a unique camping experience. You will find many campgrounds here, such as Manzanita Lake and Butte Lake.

Each provides scenic views and opportunities for outdoor activities.

Manzanita Lake Campground is the largest and sits at an elevation of 5,900 feet. It’s close to Manzanita Lake, perfect for fishing and family fun. Views of Lassen Peak add to the charm of this location.

Butte Lake Campground is more secluded and minimally developed. Located in the northeast corner of the park, it’s a quiet spot surrounded by natural beauty.

It offers a peaceful escape and is great for those seeking solitude.

Most campgrounds in the park require reservations. You can book your stay through Recreation.gov or by calling 1-877-444-6777. This ensures you have a spot during the busy season.

Campgrounds typically open from May or June through September or October. The exact dates can depend on snow depth and other conditions. Always check the latest updates before planning your visit.

Lassen Volcanic National Park’s campgrounds offer a perfect blend of natural beauty and outdoor adventure.

Whether you’re fishing at Manzanita Lake or finding peace at Butte Lake, you’ll enjoy a memorable camping experience.

8) Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park offers a unique camping experience with stunning desert landscapes. It’s located 73 miles east of San Diego, making it a convenient escape for city dwellers.

You can choose from multiple campgrounds. Borrego Palm Canyon Campground is popular with scenic mountain views and easy access to hiking trails. Reservations are accepted here, ensuring you can secure a spot.

If you prefer a more primitive experience, consider Fish Creek Primitive Campground.

This campground is great for exploring nearby attractions like Split Mountain Gorge and the Anza Borrego Wind Caves.

The park also has essential amenities like restrooms, picnic areas, and a visitor center.

You’ll find the visitor center open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends and holidays, while parking lots open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The popular Borrego Palm Canyon Trail and Hellhole Canyon Trail are open from sunrise to sunset as shown at the park’s official site.

Whether you’re looking for an established campground or a primitive spot, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park has options to suit your camping style.

It’s a great place to immerse yourself in nature and explore the quiet beauty of the desert.

9) Mendocino National Forest

Mendocino National Forest is an excellent camping spot in Northern California. It’s one of the few California forests not crossed by roads or highways, making it a peaceful escape.

You can choose from various developed campgrounds that feature fire rings and tables. Some sites are wheelchair accessible and even cater to horsemen.

The campgrounds open in mid to late May and close in October when the water systems are shut down.

Most campgrounds in Mendocino National Forest are first come, first served. However, there are group camps that require reservations.

If you’re looking for something different, try dispersed camping.

These areas are just off the main roads and offer a more rugged experience. There are no garbage, water, or restroom services in these spots.

A popular choice is the Sycamore Grove Campground, located along the Sacramento River in the Red Bluff Recreation Area. This site is surrounded by shady oak and sycamore trees and offers beautiful views.

Many campers enjoy the blend of tranquil settings and good amenities found throughout Mendocino National Forest.

Whether you prefer developed campgrounds or dispersed camping, you’ll find plenty of options here.

10) Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is an iconic camping spot in California. Located on the banks of the Big Sur River, it offers 189 campsites suitable for tents, trailers, and RVs. The picturesque setting is perfect for nature lovers and those looking to escape city life.

You can enjoy walks through redwood forests and along the river. The park also has interpretive walks and education programs, mostly held on weekends.

If you visit during peak season, the Campfire Center provides evening programs.

The park is immensely popular, with reservations filling up six months in advance.

If you plan to visit, it’s best to book early at ReserveCalifornia.

Highway 1 provides access to the park from the north, coming from Carmel/Monterey.

Be prepared for potential travel delays due to the traffic signal at Rocky Creek Slip Out. The journey is worth it for the stunning coastal views along the way.

In addition to camping, the park is close to other Big Sur attractions.

You can easily explore nearby beaches, hiking trails, and scenic viewpoints.

Whether you’re camping in a tent or an RV, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park offers a memorable experience.

Camping Seasons and Climate

Camping in California offers diverse experiences depending on when and where you go. From the warm, sunny beaches to the cool, intricate forests, the state has something for every type of camper.

Best Times to Camp

The best times to camp in California typically range from late spring to early fall.

Summer is ideal for higher elevations like Yosemite and Lake Tahoe, where temperatures are cooler, allowing for comfortable daytime activities and chilly nights perfect for campfires.

Meanwhile, coastal regions such as Big Sur and Pismo Beach enjoy mild weather year-round, making anytime a good time to visit.

If you’re aiming for a quieter experience, try camping during the shoulder seasons of late spring (May to June) and early fall (September to October).

The weather is still pleasant, and you’ll avoid the summer crowds.

Weather Considerations

Weather can greatly impact your camping trip, so it’s important to be prepared.

Northern California sees more rain, particularly from November to March, making it less ideal for camping during this period.

In contrast, Southern California generally experiences dry, sunny weather, but summer months can get extremely hot, especially inland.

For instance, if you plan to camp in the deserts like Joshua Tree National Park, the spring and fall offer milder temperatures compared to the extreme heat of summer.

Coastal regions benefit from a marine layer that keeps temperatures stable but can also bring fog, particularly in the mornings.

Always check the weather forecast before heading out, and pack appropriately for the conditions, including layers for varying temperatures and rain gear if necessary.

Wildlife and Safety

Camping in California offers an incredible chance to see various animals and enjoy beautiful nature. Knowing what wildlife you might encounter and how to stay safe is crucial.

Common Wildlife

In California’s campgrounds, you might see plenty of wildlife.

Common animals include black bears, especially in places like Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks.

Along with bears, you may spot deer, chipmunks, squirrels, and even bobcats in some areas.

Birdwatching is popular too. Look for species like the California condor or bald eagle.

Smaller animals such as raccoons and foxes are also frequent visitors to campsites.

Knowing about these animals helps you stay prepared and respect their space.

Safety Tips

Staying safe around wildlife is essential.

First, always keep your food in animal-proof containers.

Bears and raccoons can smell food from a long distance and might come into your campsite if it isn’t secured.

Second, never approach or feed wild animals. They can be unpredictable and dangerous.

If you see a bear or another large animal, stay calm, back away slowly, and make noise to scare it off.

When hiking, stay on marked trails and hike in groups.

Also, it’s helpful to carry bear spray in areas where bear sightings are common.

Finally, always follow posted guidelines and talk to park rangers about current conditions and advice.

Environmental Impact

Camping can have a significant influence on the local environment. Understanding and implementing practices that reduce this impact are crucial for preserving natural habitats and wildlife.

Leave No Trace Principles

The Leave No Trace principles are essential guidelines for minimizing your impact when camping. These principles include:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare: Proper planning ensures you know what to expect and reduces the chance of unintended harm.
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces: Use designated trails and campsites to avoid damaging fragile soils and plants.
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly: Pack out all trash and leftover food to prevent wildlife attraction and pollution.
  4. Leave What You Find: Preserving natural and cultural artifacts maintains the environment for others.
  5. Minimize Campfire Impact: Use a camp stove and established fire rings to reduce fire risks.
  6. Respect Wildlife: Observe animals from a distance and do not feed them to keep ecosystems balanced.
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors: Preserve the experience for others by being mindful and courteous.

Protecting Local Ecosystems

Protecting local ecosystems involves specific actions to prevent environmental damage.

Staying in environmental campsites can ensure you’re causing minimal disruption.

Environmental campsites, like those in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, are set up with facilities that limit human impact.

Using these facilities properly is crucial — for example, sticking to designated paths preserves undergrowth and prevents soil erosion.

Clean-up efforts, such as picking up litter and following waste disposal rules, help keep waterways and habitats clean.

Additionally, avoiding activities that disturb local wildlife is vital.

This includes maintaining a safe distance from animals and not disrupting their natural behaviors.

Frequently Asked Questions

Finding the perfect campground in California involves knowing the best spots, how to make reservations, and understanding fees and permits. There are also options for beachfront and RV-friendly camping.

What are the best campgrounds in California for families?

Some of the top campgrounds for families include Yosemite National Park, Big Sur Campground & Cabins, Sequoia National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, and Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. These sites offer a variety of activities and amenities suitable for all ages.

How do I make a reservation for camping in California state parks?

You can make a reservation online at ReserveCalifornia or by calling (800) 444-PARK (7275). The customer contact center is available seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (except New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day).

What are the average fees associated with camping in California’s state parks?

Camping fees vary by location and amenities, but expect to pay around $25 to $45 per night for standard campsites. There is also a cancellation fee of $7.99 per reservation if plans change.

What is the process for obtaining a camping permit in California?

Permits are typically included in your reservation for California state parks. When you book online or via phone, you will be issued a permit that covers your stay. Be sure to keep the permit visible at your campsite.

Are there campgrounds in California that offer beachfront camping?

Yes, California has several beachfront campgrounds. Some popular ones include Dockweiler State Beach, Malibu Beach RV Park, and Jalama Beach County Park. These sites offer unique experiences with direct access to the ocean.

How can I find campsites in California that are RV-friendly?

To find RV-friendly campsites, you can visit websites like GoCampingAmerica and search for locations that offer RV hookups and amenities.

Many state parks, such as those in Palm Springs, also provide RV facilities.

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