As the third largest state by land mass in America, California has a lot of terrain to discover and thousands of places to camp. There’s something for everybody in “The Golden State”, from oceanside camping along the sandy white beaches of Southern California to campgrounds surrounded by stunning landmarks in Yosemite National Park.
The sprawling city of Los Angeles is known as a concrete jungle and metropolis. However, drive outside of the city limits, and you’ll find plenty of options for spectacular camping near the City of Angels. The country’s second-largest city is one of the most popular destinations for visitors during any time of year, given its …
Top California Campgrounds by City
California’s most popular and biggest cities, San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, and San Diego, all have campgrounds close by. There are sites suitable for both tents and travel trailers within easy drives of your favorite destinations. Twenty national forests exist in Cali, each waiting to be explored, all with various campgrounds full of amenities, plus options for free, dispersed camping for those looking to boondock it.
Where To Go Camping in California
The Golden State is one of the best places for outdoor recreation in the world, with nine national parks alongside hundreds of state and municipal parks. California offers a wealth of camping options, from the desert to the High Sierras.
Best Times to Go Camping in California
You can camp year-round in California quite easily, thanks to its diverse ecosystems and pure size. Being the third-largest state in the US, campers have nearly every option for an outdoor adventure within its borders.
If you want to enjoy summer camping, head to the mountains in the central and northern sections of the state. Much of the best summer weather is within driving distance of the Bay Area, making it accessible for those who live nearby as well as those flying in.
Prefer beachside? California has a lot of summer camping options along its 840 miles of coastline, so pick your favorite spot.
For spring and fall, you have plenty of options throughout the state. Deserts, like Joshua Tree, for example, which are scorching in the summer become much milder in the spring and fall. If you don’t want to head to the desert, coastal campsites are still comfortable in spring and fall as well.
For winter camping most head to Southern California’s warmer climates. There are several hotspots, with Death Valley being one of the most popular. However, contrary to popular belief, California can get quite cold during the winter. California’s deserts can get below freezing at night, and the Sierra Nevadas get plenty of snow.
If you don’t mind the snow, California’s parks are a great option year-round. If you do, you’re better off sticking with deserts like Death Valley or heading into NorCal and seeing parks like Redwood National Park.
National Park Service Sites in California
California has the most national parks of any state, with nine. In total, the state has 28 NPS sites, with 17 of them offering camping of some sort. While the Pacific Crest Trail is one of the original National Scenic Trails, it’s not run by the NPS but instead by the US Forest Service.
When camping at any of the nine national parks in the state, always double-check accommodation and availability, as the most popular campgrounds can be booked months in advance. If traveling in the off-season, note that some parks experience seasonal closures for snow while others have an inverse peak season due to extreme summer temperatures.
- Yosemite National Park
- Sequoia National Park
- Kings Canyon National Park
- Pinnacles National Park
- Lassen Volcanic National Park
- Channel Islands National Park
- Redwood National Park
- Joshua Tree National Park
- Death Valley National Park
- Castle Mountains National Monument
- Golden Gate National Recreation Area
- Lava Beds National Monument
- Mojave National Preserve
- Whiskeytown National Recreation Area
- Point Reyes National Seashore (backcountry and boat-in camping only)
- Presidio of San Francisco (group camping only)
- Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (group camping only)
National Forests in California
California doesn’t just lead the country in national parks. It also has the most national forests of any state at 20. Of those 20, 18 are solely in California, though it shares the Humboldt-Toiyabe with Nevada and the Rogue River-Siskiyou with Oregon.
While you’ll find plenty of established national forest campgrounds in the Golden State, you also have ample choices for dispersed camping.
- Angeles National Forest
- Mendocino National Forest
- Tahoe National Forest
- Cleveland National Forest
- Lassen National Forest
- Cleveland National Forest
- Sequoia National Forest
- Sierra National Forest
- Shasta-Trinity National Forest
- Eldorado National Forest
- Inyo National Forest
- Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest
- Klamath National Forest
- Los Padres National Forest
- Modoc National Forest
- Six Rivers National Forest
- Plumas National Forest
- Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest
- San Bernardino National Forest
- Stanislaus National Forest
Best Free Camping in California
About 15% of the state of California is run by the Bureau of Land Management. Roughly 33% of the state is run by the US Forest Service. Just between those two, nearly half the state is open for free camping, meaning it’s more plentiful here than in most states.
While there are so many options to choose from, some of the popular sites include Joshua Tree South, the Alabama Hills, Orr Lake Campground in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, and Blair Valley in Anza-Borrego State Park.
California State and Public Parks
It should come as no surprise at this point that California has more state parks than any of the other 49 as well. There are 279 state parks, and 245 of them offer camping. While you could spend years visiting each of them, here are 10 of the most popular:
- Humboldt Redwoods State Park
- Crystal Cove State Park
- Sonoma Coast State Park
- Emerald Bay State Park
- Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
- Russian Gulch State Park
- Big Basin Redwoods State Park
- South Yuba River State Park
- Anza-Borrego State Park
- Mount Diablo State Park
RV Resorts and Unique stays
California’s RV resorts and unique campgrounds are as diverse as the state itself. No matter what you’re looking for, you can find it here. If you want some inspiration to get you started, check out these popular spots:
- Sun Outdoors Paso Robles
- Santa Cruz Redwoods RV Resort
- SunOutdoor Santa Barbara
- Lake Siskiyou Camp Resort
- Ventana Campground
- Wildhaven Sonoma Glamping
California offers a camping experience for everyone, from snowy mountain peaks to salt flats below sea level. If you can’t find what you love here, it probably doesn’t exist.