Ten Best Places to Camp in California

Posted by Nathan Patra on 6th Oct 2021

Ten Best Places to Camp in California

Camping on the weekend? We know you have a tent stashed away somewhere in your attic. Don’t you think it’s time you made use of it? California is all about the outdoors and it’s fortunate enough to be on the milder side of the climate meter. It goes with saying, that you can’t really complain about all the rich diversity in landscapes around the Golden State, you gotta get out! The great outdoors are calling out to you.

We won’t waste any more time with this intro, here are our top picks for killer spaces to camp in California.

10. Minaret Falls Campground

Mammoth Mountain is known for its skiing adventures (Just as your neighbor who brags about it) but the hiking season is as fun. Staying at Minaret Falls Campground will give you central access to the high alpine lakes, pine forests, and mountain views of the Reds Meadow Valley and if you haven't seen it already have a look at this!

Pretty, isn’t it? The campground is on the banks of the San Joaquin River, giving you a direct view of the pristine Minaret Falls waterfall that’s just beside it. You can hike to Rainbow Falls or if you’re feeling a little adventurous, explore the strange structure that is the Devil’s Postpile National Monument.

Minaret Falls Campground is open all through the summer months, and most notably camping doesn’t need a reservation, since it works primarily on a first-come, first-served basis.

The campground comes equipped with water and pit toilets and camping costs around $23 a night. This campground is perfect for families as well as adventurers in need of a base camp. Go ahead and explore the creeks and vistas rampant in this area.

9. Cold Springs Campground

Sequoia National Park should be known for its solitude (if we were running a campaign for this campground, we would be sure to add that in BOLD UPPERCASE) that’s surrounded by groves of aspen and evergreen trees.

We want to take you a little further in though…. to Cold Springs Campground which is about two hours away from the main park entrance. The windy road to the campground is breezy enough to put RVs and trailers in substantial danger. This is why the authorities have not permitted it in the campgrounds.

Hikers will appreciate access to plenty of day hikes. Camping here costs about $12 a night with pit toilets and a seasonal water supply. The campground is open throughout the summer and into the fall. These Campsites are on a first-come, first-served basis, with tent sites only.

8. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park has a whole lot of things for you to see, from Coastal Redwoods, a beautiful river gorge, and ample wildlife, this state park will not disappoint.

The river snakes its way through the park, giving you a picturesque walk along the river banks under the lush redwood forest, a great spot for families. The Campground is only 25 miles away from amenities at Carmel and has hiking trails for all levels, so don’t you worry.

You can camp here year-round and although not all trails and nearby state parks remain open, reservations are not possible during the winter. It costs around $35 for a standard tent site, $50 a night for a riverfront site, or $5 for a hiker or biker site. There is access to water, toilets, and showers, all your regulars.

7. Sequoia National Park

A couple of points before, we spoke about the Cold Spring Campgrounds within the Sequoia National Park, but the park encompasses at least 40 distinct groves of redwoods, giving it a whole bunch of other campgrounds for you to explore. The most popular sight being the Giant Forest which is home to the world’s largest tree – the 275-foot high, 36-foot wide General Sherman.

The base camp we'd like to recommend here is at the riverfront Lodgepole Campground whose proximity is just about 2 miles away from the giant forest and is close to the visitor center. Getting here hasn’t been easier with its seasonal, free shuttles that offer easy access to park attractions including the Giant Forest and the Wuksachi Lodge and Restaurant.

6. Crystal Cove State Park

Overlooking the Pacific, the Moro Campground lies on an ocean terrace of sorts. The 57 tent- and RV-friendly campsite isn’t as delightful as the view, but the site offers immediate access to a whole bunch of water recreation activities that you can dive into.

You’ll find plenty of opportunities to use your kayaks or surfboards at the park’s golden beach. Laguna’s clear waters provide a refreshing after-hike experience, something that you unwind to after long hours of hiking. The inland trail leads into Moro Canyon’s woodlands, a pristine contrast to the oceanfront.

5. Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is a whole lot of fun. A pristine 800,000-acre land, that encompasses a surprisingly diverse range of landscapes and campgrounds, for you to explore.

Jumbo Rocks is the largest campground of the lot with several sites blessed with massive naturally sedimented boulders… It is most definitely a rock climbers’ paradise and an ideal area for exploration.

The park’s alien desert landscape feels like something out of a sci-fi movie. The staggering rock formations such as nearby Skull Rock are a thing of beauty as well.

The 15-site White Tank is the park’s smallest campground that’s situated at the park’s northern end, yet holds some of the greatest solitude and darkened skies.

4. Sonoma Coast State Park

There’s a lot you can look forward to when you visit Sonoma Coast, State Park. The rugged rocky cliffs, scenic coasts, and tide pools blessed with marine life are just a few things that attract visitors.

Situated only a few short hours north of the San Francisco Bay area, the park offers the perfect escape from the summer heat for families or campers alike. The sunset from camp is just marvelous to start while you can also explore the pristine beach, but make sure you do not swim, as this coastline is notoriously known for its unpredictable ocean currents.

The park has three campgrounds, with the most popular being the Bodega Dunes Campground that offers the most amenities, like showers and toilets. Campsites are around $35 a night, and hiker and biker sites are $5 a night. Make sure you get reservations, especially during the busy summer months.

3. Channels Islands National Park

Across a 1.5-hour ferry ride are the five islands encompassing this offshore national park that offers a glimpse of what the California coast looked like before independence. Each isle comes with a small campground, as Santa Cruz’s Scorpion Canyon campground being the easiest to reach.

A half-mile heave of your stuff from the dock sounds hectic but you have a mighty reward awaiting you in the form of serenity and a night sky that’s rarely found on the mainland.

From Scorpion Canyon’s sites, you can kayak or snorkel through the turquoise waters or book it in advance at an onsite rental shop and trek to the island’s peak which offers sweeping views of the Pacific that will not disappoint.

2. Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

The Elk Prairie Campground gives you proper access to California's most striking redwood trails.

From the state park’s visitor center, which is a short stroll from the campground, you can follow the Prairie Creek Trail to the Cathedral Tree Trail which takes you through a primeval forest of the park’s most scenic redwood stands. Gorgeous if you ask me.

You can hike through the James Irvine trail as well, which leads 4.5 miles to Fern Canyon, a dazzling, overgrown stream-bed bounded by towering walls of lush ferns and dripping moss.

1. Yosemite National Park

Taking our top spot had to be the Yosemite National Park, because of how incredibly breathtaking this place is. If you do manage to score a Yosemite campsite, you’re probably lucky enough to win the state lottery, as well. Make sure you plan ahead, for you’ll certainly be rewarded with the best camping in the state.

For first-timers can indulge in the year-round Upper Pines Campground which is known for its solitude. There are several worthwhile attractions just a walk away, or if you’re feeling a little tired, there’s always a shuttle.

Outside of the valley, the Tuolumne Meadows campground sits at a whopping 8,619 feet elevation with and trails to Elizabeth Lake and the Cathedral Lakes. South of the park you get to see Wawona that features roomy sites spread along the Merced River and has easy access to the giant sequoias of Mariposa Grove.

For the curious backpacker, you can book any of the five High Sierra camps which are strewn roughly 5-10 miles apart, and provide hikers with tent cabins and family-style meals.

There you have it. There’s our list of the ten best places you can camp in California. Now, why don’t you go get packing!