Camping is a fantastic way to escape from the hustle and bustle of city life, away into a more natural environment for some peace and quiet. California is a camper’s paradise – with its many stunning landscapes, high mountain ranges, rugged hills, and a large variety of flora and fauna. There are 110 state parks and 19 national forests in the Golden State, each with unique natural attractions. Whether you want to pitch your tent next to a sandy beach or spend the night on a campsite in an ancient redwood forest, there’s no shortage of options within the state’s parks and forests.
Here’s our carefully selected list of California’s ten best camping spots you should check out.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is inarguably one of the best camping spots in California –it offers a wide array of attractions to campers. You can enjoy short walks or longer hikes to waterfalls in the U-shaped Yosemite Valley, which attracts millions of visitors yearly to its scenic vistas. You may also choose to walk among the giant sequoias trees or drive along the scenic Tioga Road to the dome-studded Tuolumne Meadows for nature walks, hiking, or rock climbing.
Most campgrounds in Yosemite Park feature RV campsites, group campsites, backcountry camping, tents, and trailers. Visitors can secure a campsite at one of the 13 popular campgrounds in the park, including popular options like Upper Pines, Wawona, and Tuolumne Campgrounds. However, reservations are required for almost all campgrounds here.
Crystal Cove State Park
Encompassing 3.2 miles of the Pacific coastline, inland canyons, an underwater park, and several beach houses, people visit to explore beachfront sandy coves at Crystal Cove State Park. The park also hosts three miles of beach and tide pool and is, therefore, popular with swimmers and surfers.
Crystal Cove is especially popular for camping as there are 34 campsites spread across the three designated backcountry campsites, including the Upper Moro, Lower Moro, and Deer Canyon campsites. These campsites are only accessible by hike; none is accessible by car. Pets are also not allowed on the campgrounds.
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is a 795,156-acre National Park in southeastern California named after the Joshua Trees native to the Mojave Desert. The park is popular among rock climbers for its thousands of climbing routes, each involving different difficulty levels. Bird watching and stargazing are other popular activities at the park.
Backcountry camping is also permitted, though with a few regulations. There are several hiking trails within the park, many of which can be accessed from the designated campgrounds. However, you should know a fee for each camping spot in Joshua Tree National Park is charged per night.
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
The 14,000-acre Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is a coastal haven for old-growth coast redwood trees. Most of Prairie Creek is dedicated to protecting the coast redwoods and providing visitors with an opportunity to savor the beauty of these ancient trees and explore the bountiful life around them.
On a visit to the park, you can stay at Elk Prairie Campground or Gold Bluffs Beach Campground and explore the park via three scenic drives and 75 miles of hiking trails. Many visitors prefer to take the trail that leads to Fern Canyon, an overgrown streambed bordered by tall walls of ferns and dripping moss, which was used as a backdrop for the movie ‘Jurassic Park.’
Channel Islands National Park
Channel Islands National Park consists of five out of the eight Channel Islands off the Pacific coast of California. The park is renowned for its many complex, beautiful sea caves, which many visitors love to kayak through. Several trails and roads traverse the islands, providing visitors exciting hiking opportunities. Other recreational activities available at the park include backpacking, scuba diving, spearfishing, and camping. Camping facilities are available year-round on all five islands in Channel Islands National Park in campgrounds managed by the National Park Service.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park
California’s oldest state park, Big Basin Redwoods State Park, established in 1902, is home to large continuous stands of ancient coast redwoods. Some of these giant trees are more than 50 feet and as tall as the Statue of Liberty! The park also offers incredible views of the Pacific Ocean, dramatic waterfalls, over 81 miles of trails, and a rich cultural and natural history. Big Basin Redwoods State Park has many provisions for campers, including about 36 cabins, 146 individual campsites, five trail camps, and five backcountry camps, which require permits.
Pinnacles National Park
Situated east of the Salinas Valley in Central California, the rock formations here in Pinnacles National Park make this a popular park among advanced rock climbers for its exciting and challenging climbs. Pinnacle National Park is a perfect camping spot in California, with several camping facilities on the east side of the Pinnacles Campground.
Asides from the spectacular pinnacles, the park features unusual talus caves that are home to at least 13 species of bats. Also, several trails are available for day hikers, which provide stunning views of the surrounding hills and valleys.
Los Padres National Forest
Covering almost two million acres, the Los Padres National Forest is the third-largest national forest in California, occupying a major portion of the coastal mountain ranges. The northern division of the forest is a very popular area for hiking, with 323 miles of hiking trails. The park also features 11 campgrounds, ranging from rugged sites to campgrounds suitable for RVs.
The best thing about Los Padres is that many campsites overlook the Pacific Ocean, offering fantastic views of the ocean and the Big Sur coastline, where you can catch a glimpse of outstanding sunrises and sunsets. Campsites are open and spacious, but fire restrictions are implemented throughout the forest due to the high risk of wildfire outbreaks.
Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Park
The diverse landscape of Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Park is notable for housing giant sequoia trees, with the most popular attraction being the General Sherman Tree – the largest tree on Earth by volume, measuring approximately 275 ft high and 36 ft wide. Visitors to the park also take in scenic views of huge mountains, deep canyons, and rugged foothills. It is a perfect spot for camping as there are 14 campgrounds in the parks, including three usually open throughout the year. However, be aware that campsites fill up quickly, and almost all campgrounds require reservations.
El Capitan State Beach
Sitting about 20 miles west of Santa Barbara is El Capitán State Beach, offering visitors the most serene natural environment – sandy beach, rocky tide pools, and rows of sycamore and oak trees. This state beach functions as a day-use beach and a campground, featuring as many as 131 campsites (6 of which are RV camps only) and 5 group sites. Swimming, fishing, surfing, and picnicking are other activities to enjoy while camping.
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