California is one of the most diverse places on the planet: it’s home to evergreen rainforests and parched deserts, spectacular mountains and palm-fringed beaches. Golden State offers true lovers of camping the widest ever choice of beautiful landscapes. Whether you pitch camp like a pro or are going to set off on your very first outdoor adventure, there is something in California for campers of any experience level, all year round. The state can boast a couple of glorious winter camping spots, but with the warm season just around the corner, you get more thrilling places to camp. Stay with us to read about the best camping places in California.
Best California Campgrounds: Choose Your Park
If you love camping in the forest, here’s the list of the greatest parks in California. We hope you’ll choose the best park for your perfect holiday.
Camp in the Primeval Forest: Big Basin Redwoods State Park
This is California’s oldest state park, located within one-hour’s drive away from San Jose. Just picture yourself camping among huge trees in a forest full of lush ferns and sparkling waterfalls. Big Basin Redwoods State Park covers 10,000 acres and offers 150 campsites to experience its beauty. Treat yourself to a long California weekend under a canopy of tree branches soaring hundreds of feet above.
Cliffs, Lakes and Magnificent Sequoias: Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. The park is famed for its giant, ancient sequoia trees. Although the park is best known for its waterfalls, within its 1,200 square miles, you can also explore deep valleys and grand meadows, and discover the incredible beauty of glacial-fed lakes and granite cliffs.
The Jurassic Park Backdrop: Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is located in Humboldt County, close to the town of Orick and 50 miles north of Eureka. This 14,000 acre park is a sanctuary for old-growth Coast Redwood trees. Feel the power of the ancient forest so dense and spectacular that it was used as a backdrop for the Jurassic Park movie. This park is great for family camping.
A Waterfall Retreat: Minaret Falls Campground
This is a popular camping destination that is located along the San Joaquin River, right beside the pristine Minaret Falls waterfall. This 27-site camp is especially loved by fishermen, hikers and backpackers. Just come here for a couple of days and you’ll fall in love with high alpine lakes, lush pine forests, and stunning mountain views of the Reds Meadow Valley.
Camping in Blissful Solitude: Cold Springs Campground
Enjoy a quiet getaway at a remote camping spot in Sequoia National Park, California. Surrounded by mighty evergreen trees, Cold Springs Campground is around two hours away from the main park entrance. Keep in mind that the campsite offers tent sites only.
Get a Swim in an Alpine Lake: Butte Lake Campground
Located at 6,000 feet in the far northeast corner of Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California, this camping destination is away from busier campgrounds but still close to attractive trails. The scenery of the park is amazing: an alpine lake is surrounded by tall pine trees. Although this remote campground offers a few amenities, you can enjoy numerous recreation opportunities. Delight in a hike up Cinder Cone, a dip in Bathtub Lake, or a paddle along Butte Lake's lava rock shores.
A Desert Escape: White Tank Campground
One of the most unique camping places in California, White Tank Campground, is located in the northern end of Joshua Tree National Park. The park’s landscape is dominated by large granite boulders and the unusual Joshua trees. The park offers only 15 camping spots, so if you seek solitude and quiet, it’s the perfect place. The campground is open all year round, however, it’s very hot in summer. Perhaps the best time to explore Joshua Tree National Park is in spring, when vibrant wildflowers make the scenery even more fascinating.
Tahoe Camping: Nevada Beach Campground
This campground is situated on the California-Nevada state line at an elevation of 6,100 feet. Nevada Beach offers a lovely sandy beach with panoramic views of the pine-fringed Lake Tahoe and the surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountains. Swimming, picnicking and just enjoying the view are the most popular activities in this park. The campground is a perfect spot for a family holiday.
Beach Camping in California
It’s hard to imagine California camping without sandy beaches and breathtaking ocean views. Even if you’re a fan of a shady forest park, you should definitely give a try to beach camping. We’ve made a list of the most beautiful beach campgrounds to help you choose. Let’s jump right in!
Best for Camping Beginners: Coast Camp
Coast Camp is situated within an hour’s drive north of San Francisco in Point Reyes National Seashore national park. The 14 sites are only a few hundred yards from the beach, where driftwood bonfires are usually permitted. It’s great for first-timers who want to move beyond car camping and try hauling gear down the trail, enjoying the beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean.
The Perfect Beach Getaway: El Capitan Beach State Park
A truly amazing park in California, El Capitan Beach State Park is located just outside of Santa Barbara. Enjoy spectacular views of the Channel Islands and the beautiful blue of the Pacific Ocean. Not to mention, the park is known to be a clean, well maintained camping area that is never too crowded.
Unforgettable California Views: Half Moon Bay State Beach
Half Moon Bay State Beach is located just south of San Francisco. One of the most beautiful beaches of California, this place offers miles of breathtaking oceanside views. You might even see a whale swim by.
A Secret Place: Shipman Creek Campsite
This magnificent place is situated on the Lost Coast Trail in northern California. Just imagine rare black sand beaches and majestic mountains dropping straight into the ocean. However, the only way to access the beaches is by foot, which makes it a perfect destination for true adventure lovers.
Go Glamping: Mendocino Grove
If you’re not into roughing it along the North Coast, and feel like totally relaxing, you’ll definitely love Mendocino Grove. This is a luxury glamping destination in California that offers 60 spacious tents with comfy beds. It isn’t located directly on the shore, however, it’s within a quick drive to Mendocino’s multiple beaches.
Island Adventure: Scorpion Ranch
Why not set off on an island adventure? Scorpion Ranch Campground on Santa Cruz Island has 25 individual sites that are located within a flat, half-mile walk from the pier and beach. As a bonus, you get a free, unofficial dolphin- and whale-watching tour during the boat ride to your destination. Don’t miss out a sunset hike up to Cavern Point to delight in mesmerising views of mainland California and the island’s harbor.
Best Camping in California: a Couple of Useful Tips
Plan Your Camping Trip Thoughtfully
As soon as you decide on one of the amazing places to go camping in California, it’s time to start planning your trip.
Plan your meals
Think of the ingredients you’ll need for preparing your meals and make a list in order not to miss anything out. There are a lot of cooking websites that will help you plan healthy and simple, one-dish meals as well as “foil dinners'' that you can prepare in advance of the trip. To save space, put your food items like spices and pre-sliced vegetables and meats in containers, and leave the packaging at home.
Make a list
To avoid stress, make a list of items you will need on your camping trip a couple of weeks ahead of your holiday. However, remember to keep it simple, narrowing it down to basics. Here are some basics to start with:
- sleeping bag
- headlamps or flashlight plus extra batteries
- comfortable clothing (depending on the season and duration of your trip)
- spare socks and underwear
- personal hygiene items
- first aid kit
- insect repellent
- antiseptic wipes
- matches or lighter
- plates, cups, eating and cooking utensils
- trash bags.
Decide on activities in advance
Find out what kind of activities your campground offers. Swimming, hiking, rafting, biking, fishing or kayaking will make your trip even more exciting. Plan in advance what activities you’ll add onto your itinerary and don’t forget to put the stuff you’ll need for them on your list.
Book a Campsite Ahead
To be honest, trying to reserve a campsite at a popular California State Park or National Park can often be challenging. During the high season, most popular campgrounds are sold out within minutes after they become available to reserve. So the number one advice here is to make a reservation a few months in advance. The best way to book your campsite at a California State Park or National Park is online: choose the dates, the campsite you want, and reserve your spot. It’s crucial to carefully read the descriptions in order to avoid misunderstandings. For instance, you’ll need to bring water to some campgrounds.
Choose a Proper Tent To Stay Safe and Comfortable
The most important thing you need for safe and comfortable camping is a reliable tent. There is a plethora of options to choose from: tents come in different sizes and designs, and another essential feature to take into account is the tent’s seasonality. This is what you should take into consideration while choosing your perfect shelter for unforgettable California camping, be it a shady forest park or a sunny beach..
It might seem easy to choose the right size of the tent as sellers categorize them according to the number of persons that a tent can sleep. However, keep in mind that in most cases, the person rating of the tent suggests the number of people that can sleep inside it in sleeping bags. So if you feel that you’ll need a bit more space, go for a tent of a bigger size. A 2 person tent is the perfect choice for a solo camper or a couple. For a family or a group of 3-5 people, a 6 person tent looks like the best idea.
According to the season of use, tents fall into the following categories:
- A 1-season tent is designed to be used in tropical conditions, it’s breathable and lightweight but not durable enough to withstand wind and rain.
- A 2-season tent is suitable for spring and fall use and can survive light rain and wind.
- A 3-season tent is designed for spring to fall use. It can withstand moderate wind and rain or light snow.
- A 4 season tent can be used all year round. However, as it’s designed to survive harsh weather conditions like heavy snow and high winds, it can get stuffy in extremely hot weather. A 4-season tent is usually a tent with stove, so it’s a perfect choice for winter camping.
To Wrap It Up
Without any doubt, the great outdoors is the best way to recharge your batteries. California offers the most exciting choice of campgrounds for your unforgettable adventure. No matter whether you choose a misty forest park or an ocean view, a successful camping experience is all about proper planning and preparation. Get the tent that best meets your needs, pack your essentials and set off on your amazing trip.
🏕 How to choose a campsite?
How to choose a campsite?
- First and foremost, try to find a perfectly level spot. If this is impossible, think about how you’d prefer to sleep while sloping: with elevated head, or feet. Also, make sure that the surrounding area doesn’t slope towards your campsite to avoid flooding your shelter in case of rain, or dig a ditch away from your tent. If you go camping in the desert, look for a place that provides shade from the blazing sun.
📦 What is most important when looking for a place to camp?
What is most important when looking for a place to camp?
- The most important thing is an even surface. It will allow you to set up your tent without any problems and enjoy a quality sleep at night.
💡 Where do you put a tent in a campsite?
Where do you put a tent in a campsite?
- A perfect spot for your tent is on level ground (but not a low place) and a safe distance from fire. Also, it’s essential to consider which way the wind is blowing and look for any hedges, bushes, or trees that can provide a good shelter.
❓ What are the five W's of a safe campsite?
What are the five W's of a safe campsite?
- Water. Safe camping is all about having enough water for drinking and keeping away from water that can cause flooding.
- Weather. Check the weather forecast before you set off, and know what to do if weather-related emergencies arise.
- Wood. Choose a spot with lots of wood for your campfire.
- Widowmakers. Do not pitch your tent close to old trees and boulders.
- Wildlife. Know the wildlife around you.