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California Dreaming: Best Places To Go Camping In California


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Vera Dunn



Welcome to the land of sun, surf, and breathtaking natural beauty – California. Known for its diverse landscapes, from towering mountains to stunning coastlines, California offers a plethora of opportunities for adventure seekers. One of the best ways to experience the Golden State is through camping. With its abundance of national parks, state parks, and scenic campsites, California is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.


Whether you are pitching a tent under the starry sky or parking your RV in a picturesque campground, camping in California is an experience like no other. From the iconic Yosemite National Park to the rugged coastline of Big Sur, the state is filled with incredible destinations for camping.


In this article, we will take you on a journey through the best places to go camping in California. So pack your bags, leave behind the hustle and bustle of city life, and get ready to immerse yourself in the natural wonders that await you.


From towering granite cliffs to ancient redwood forests, California has something to offer every nature lover. Whether you prefer relaxing by a crystal-clear lake, hiking through lush wilderness, or simply immersing yourself in the beauty of the great outdoors, the diverse camping options in California will leave you spoiled for choice.


So, let’s dive into the list of top camping destinations in California and discover the breathtaking landscapes that await us.


Yosemite National Park:

Located in the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Yosemite National Park is a must-visit destination for camping enthusiasts. Known for its iconic granite cliffs, magnificent waterfalls, and ancient giant sequoias, Yosemite offers a truly awe-inspiring camping experience.


With over 750,000 acres of wilderness, Yosemite provides numerous camping options for all types of adventurers. Whether you prefer backcountry camping or the convenience of developed campgrounds, Yosemite has it all.


One of the most popular camping areas in Yosemite is the Yosemite Valley, where you can set up camp beneath the towering granite walls of El Capitan and Half Dome. The valley offers several campgrounds equipped with amenities such as flush toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings. Wake up to the sound of rushing water from nearby rivers and spend your days exploring the park’s countless hiking trails.


If you’re seeking a more rugged camping experience, head to the high country of Yosemite. Here, you’ll find backcountry camping options where you can immerse yourself in the pristine wilderness. Permits are required for overnight stays, but the breathtaking views and solitude make it well worth the effort.


No visit to Yosemite is complete without a hike to the famous Yosemite Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in North America. The Mist Trail offers a thrilling and rewarding trek that takes you up close to the roaring falls. For a more leisurely experience, take a stroll through the Mariposa Grove to stand in awe of the giant sequoias, some of the largest living organisms on Earth.


Yosemite National Park truly captures the essence of the California wilderness. Whether you’re a seasoned camper or new to outdoor adventures, exploring Yosemite’s majestic landscapes will leave you with unforgettable memories.


Big Sur:

Located along the stunning central coast of California, Big Sur is a paradise for nature lovers and campers alike. With its dramatic cliffs, rugged coastline, and pristine forests, Big Sur offers a mesmerizing camping experience that will leave you in awe.


There are several campgrounds nestled in the heart of Big Sur, providing the perfect base for exploring this breathtaking region. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is a popular choice, offering a range of campsites surrounded by towering redwoods and the peaceful Big Sur River. Wake up to the sound of birds chirping and spend your days hiking through lush trails or relaxing by the riverbank.


Another must-visit camping destination in Big Sur is Andrew Molera State Park. Here, you can camp near the beach while being surrounded by majestic coastal cliffs and rolling meadows. Explore the park’s scenic trails, go horseback riding, or simply unwind on the sandy shores of the Pacific Ocean.


For a more secluded camping experience, head to the Ventana Wilderness, located within Los Padres National Forest. This remote area offers backcountry camping options where you can truly escape the crowds and immerse yourself in the untouched beauty of the wilderness. Be sure to obtain the necessary permits and be prepared for primitive camping conditions.


In addition to its natural beauty, Big Sur is also home to iconic landmarks such as Bixby Creek Bridge and McWay Falls. Make sure to take a scenic drive along the Pacific Coast Highway, stopping at viewpoints to marvel at the jaw-dropping vistas, or hike the trails that lead to these magnificent sights.


Whether you’re camping near the coast or venturing into the wilderness, Big Sur promises a camping experience like no other. The combination of breathtaking landscapes, peaceful surroundings, and the soothing sounds of crashing waves make it a truly mesmerizing destination for camping in California.


Joshua Tree National Park:

Tucked away in the Mojave Desert of Southern California, Joshua Tree National Park is a captivating destination for camping enthusiasts. Named after the unique Joshua trees that dot the landscape, this national park offers a surreal blend of desert scenery, unique rock formations, and starry night skies.


Joshua Tree National Park provides several campgrounds for visitors to choose from. Hidden Valley Campground is a popular choice, known for its stunning rock formations and convenient access to hiking trails. Set up camp amid the giant boulders and spend your days exploring the park’s diverse ecosystems.


If you prefer a more primitive camping experience, head to one of the park’s backcountry camping areas. Black Rock Canyon and Belle Campground offer a wilderness experience where you can truly disconnect from the bustling world and immerse yourself in the serenity of the desert.


One of the highlights of Joshua Tree National Park is its extensive network of hiking trails. Lace up your boots and embark on a journey through the park’s iconic landscapes, from the Joshua Tree Forest to the fascinating rock formations of Skull Rock and Arch Rock. Don’t forget to pack plenty of water and sunscreen, as the desert sun can be intense.


Another unique aspect of Joshua Tree is its renowned stargazing opportunities. The park is designated as an International Dark Sky Park, offering pristine night skies perfect for stargazers. Set up a campfire at your campsite and marvel at the millions of stars twinkling above you.


Whether you’re a rock climber, a nature enthusiast, or simply seeking a tranquil escape, Joshua Tree National Park has it all. The otherworldly landscapes and peaceful solitude make it a must-visit camping destination in California.


Lake Tahoe:

Nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the border of California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe is a sparkling gem and a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Known for its crystal-clear blue waters, majestic alpine scenery, and vast array of recreational activities, Lake Tahoe offers a camping experience that is unmatched.


There are numerous campgrounds dotted around the shores of Lake Tahoe, providing stunning views and easy access to the water. From developed campgrounds with amenities to more rustic options, there is something for every type of camper.


One popular campground is D.L. Bliss State Park, located on the west shore of the lake. This scenic campground offers breathtaking views of the lake and access to picturesque beaches. Spend your days swimming, kayaking, or simply basking in the sun on the sandy shores.


For a more secluded experience, head to the lesser-known campgrounds on the eastern side of the lake, such as Nevada Beach Campground or Fallen Leaf Campground. These campgrounds offer a quieter atmosphere and a chance to immerse yourself in the tranquility of the surrounding forests and mountains.


Aside from camping, Lake Tahoe is a playground for outdoor adventures. Hike along the numerous trails that surround the lake, such as the Tahoe Rim Trail or the Rubicon Trail, and be rewarded with breathtaking vistas. During the winter months, Lake Tahoe transforms into a winter wonderland, offering world-class skiing and snowboarding at the various ski resorts in the area.


Exploring the lake itself is also a must-do. Rent a kayak or paddleboard and explore the pristine waters at your own pace, or take a scenic boat tour to admire the beauty of Lake Tahoe from a different perspective.


Whether you’re seeking relaxation on the shores, thrilling adventures on the trails, or simply the opportunity to immerse yourself in nature’s beauty, camping at Lake Tahoe will provide an unforgettable experience.


Death Valley National Park:

Prepare to experience one of the most extreme and captivating landscapes on Earth – Death Valley National Park. Located in the Mojave Desert of California, Death Valley is known for its record-breaking temperatures, vast salt flats, rugged mountains, and unique desert wildlife.


While camping in Death Valley may seem daunting due to its extreme conditions, it offers a unique and rewarding experience for adventurous souls. The park has several campgrounds available, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the stark beauty of the desert.


Furnace Creek Campground is the most popular choice, offering a range of amenities including water, flush toilets, and picnic tables. Situated near the park’s visitor center, this campground provides easy access to hiking trails and scenic viewpoints.


If you prefer a more remote camping experience, consider staying at one of the backcountry camping areas, such as Saline Valley or Eureka Dunes. These primitive camping areas immerse you in the solitude and tranquility of the desert landscape, allowing you to truly disconnect from the outside world.


Death Valley is not just a barren desert; it is also home to unique natural wonders. Marvel at the beauty of the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, where wind-sculpted sand creates otherworldly patterns. Hike through the colorful badlands in Golden Canyon, or visit the iconic Zabriskie Point to witness the surreal erosion formations.


One of the highlights of Death Valley is its incredible stargazing opportunities. The park is recognized as an International Dark Sky Park, offering unobstructed views of the night sky. Camp under the stars and be mesmerized by the brilliant display of constellations.


Remember to come prepared when camping in Death Valley, especially during the summer months when temperatures can soar. Pack plenty of water, sunscreen, and sturdy hiking gear. Take caution and follow safety guidelines to ensure a safe and enjoyable camping experience.


Camping in Death Valley National Park is not for the faint of heart, but for those willing to embrace the wild and extreme beauty of this unique landscape, it is an adventure unlike any other.


Santa Barbara:

Nestled on the stunning central coast of California, Santa Barbara is a picturesque city that offers a perfect blend of outdoor beauty and urban charm. Known for its pristine beaches, scenic mountains, and charming downtown area, Santa Barbara is a delightful destination for camping enthusiasts.


There are several campgrounds near Santa Barbara that cater to different preferences. For beach lovers, Carpinteria State Beach is a popular choice. Set up camp just steps away from the sandy shores and enjoy activities such as swimming, surfing, and beachcombing. Wake up to the sound of crashing waves and savor the breathtaking ocean views.


If you prefer a more mountainous setting, head to Los Padres National Forest, located just a short drive from downtown Santa Barbara. This vast forest offers numerous campgrounds where you can pitch your tent or park your RV amidst towering trees and peaceful surroundings. Spend your days hiking along scenic trails, fishing in tranquil lakes, or simply reveling in the serenity of nature.


Aside from camping, Santa Barbara offers a wealth of activities and attractions. Explore the scenic coastline by kayaking or paddleboarding, or take a stroll along Stearns Wharf, the city’s iconic wooden pier. Visit the Santa Barbara Zoo, where you can encounter a variety of fascinating animals up close. For art and culture enthusiasts, the vibrant downtown area is home to numerous art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants.


Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Santa Ynez Valley, which is known for its vineyards and wineries. Take a wine tasting tour and indulge in the region’s renowned wines while enjoying the rolling hills and picturesque landscapes.


Whether you choose to camp near the beach or in the mountains, Santa Barbara offers a unique camping experience with a diverse range of activities and stunning natural beauty. Immerse yourself in the charming atmosphere of this coastal gem and create memories that will last a lifetime.


Point Reyes National Seashore:

Located just a short drive from San Francisco, Point Reyes National Seashore is a hidden gem that offers a tranquil coastal camping experience. With its rugged cliffs, pristine beaches, and diverse wildlife, Point Reyes showcases the stunning natural beauty of the California coast.


There are several campgrounds within Point Reyes National Seashore, each offering a unique camping experience. Coast Camp, located near the beach, allows you to fall asleep to the soothing sound of waves crashing and wake up to breathtaking ocean views. The campground offers basic amenities such as picnic tables and fire rings, providing a comfortable setting for your camping adventure.


For a more secluded camping experience, opt for one of the hike-in or boat-in campgrounds, such as Sky Camp or Tomales Bay Boat-in Campgrounds. These campgrounds offer a sense of solitude and breathtaking surroundings, perfect for those seeking a remote getaway.


While camping at Point Reyes, be sure to explore the park’s numerous hiking trails, which lead you through diverse landscapes. The Tomales Point Trail is a must-visit, offering panoramic views of the coastline and a chance to spot tule elk grazing in the grasslands. Don’t forget to visit the iconic Point Reyes Lighthouse, perched atop dramatic cliffs and providing sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean.


Point Reyes is not only a haven for nature enthusiasts but also a paradise for birdwatchers. With over 400 species of birds recorded in the area, it is a prime spot for birding. Grab your binoculars and head to the various birding hotspots within the park, such as the Abbotts Lagoon and the Estero Trail, to catch a glimpse of stunning avian species.


With its breathtaking views, iconic landmarks, and diverse ecosystems, Point Reyes National Seashore offers a camping experience that combines coastal beauty with tranquility. Immerse yourself in the peaceful surroundings, witness stunning sunsets over the ocean, and reconnect with nature in this coastal paradise.


Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks:

Journey to the majestic land of giants – Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Located in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains, these neighboring national parks are home to the world’s largest trees and offer a truly awe-inspiring camping experience.


Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are renowned for their giant sequoia trees, some of which are over 2,000 years old and reach heights of over 250 feet. These ancient giants dominate the landscape and create a truly magical atmosphere. Campgrounds within the parks allow you to immerse yourself in this enchanting environment.


Lodgepole Campground is a popular choice, offering easy access to the famous General Sherman Tree, the largest tree on Earth by volume. Enjoy campfires beneath the towering sequoias and embark on scenic hikes through groves of these magnificent trees.


For a more secluded experience, consider camping in the backcountry of Kings Canyon National Park. Obtain a wilderness permit and venture deep into the wilderness, where you can camp near alpine lakes, cascading waterfalls, and hidden valleys. The solitude and untouched beauty of the backcountry will transport you to a world untouched by time.


Aside from the giant sequoias, both parks boast a variety of outdoor activities. Hike along the stunning trails that weave through the parks, leading you to breathtaking vistas and hidden gems. Explore the underground wonders of Crystal Cave in Sequoia National Park, or embark on a scenic drive along the famous Generals Highway, which connects the two parks.


Wildlife enthusiasts will be delighted by the opportunity to spot diverse species, including black bears, mule deer, and golden eagles. Keep your camera ready for these fascinating encounters.


Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are not only home to stunning natural landscapes but also offer a rich cultural history. Learn about the native tribes who have lived in the area for thousands of years and explore the historical sites that tell the story of early settlers and loggers.


Camping in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks is an unforgettable experience that allows you to witness the grandeur of nature and immerse yourself in the rich biodiversity of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Get ready to be humbled by the awe-inspiring presence of ancient giants and create lasting memories in these treasured national parks.


Mendocino Coast:

Escape to the rugged beauty of the Mendocino Coast, a pristine stretch of shoreline in Northern California that offers a picturesque camping experience. With its dramatic cliffs, secluded beaches, and charming coastal towns, the Mendocino Coast is a hidden gem for outdoor enthusiasts.


There are several campgrounds along the Mendocino Coast that provide an opportunity to immerse yourself in the breathtaking natural surroundings. Van Damme State Park offers scenic campsites nestled among towering redwoods and fern-filled forests. Explore the park’s trails, which lead you through lush landscapes, or spend your days exploring the tide pools and sandy beaches.


MacKerricher State Park is another popular camping destination, known for its stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and diverse wildlife. Set up camp near the dunes and listen to the crashing waves as you fall asleep. Keep an eye out for seals, sea lions, and migrating whales that frequent the coast.


Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands is a must-visit for nature lovers, offering an abundance of coastal beauty. Camp near the cliffs and enjoy panoramic views of the rugged coastline and sparkling blue waters. Take a hike to the iconic Point Arena Lighthouse, the tallest lighthouse on the West Coast, and soak in the captivating vistas.


Aside from camping, explore the charming coastal towns along the Mendocino Coast. Visit the picturesque village of Mendocino, known for its quaint Victorian architecture and art galleries. Explore the Mendocino Headlands State Park, which offers breathtaking coastal views and a chance to spot migrating whales. Don’t forget to indulge in the local cuisine, including fresh seafood and locally sourced wine.


For outdoor adventurers, the Mendocino Coast offers a variety of activities to enjoy. Kayak along the coastline, paddleboard in peaceful coves, or go hiking in the lush forests. The coastal trails offer breathtaking scenery and a chance to reconnect with nature.


Camping along the Mendocino Coast not only provides a serene and scenic experience, but it also allows you to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Immerse yourself in the beauty of this coastal paradise and create lasting memories amidst the rugged cliffs and picturesque beaches.


Redwood National and State Parks:

Prepare to be enchanted by the majestic giants of the forest in Redwood National and State Parks. Located along the northern coast of California, this collection of parks is home to some of the tallest and oldest trees on Earth. Camping in this natural wonderland provides an extraordinary opportunity to immerse yourself in the awe-inspiring beauty of the redwood forests.


Redwood National and State Parks offer a range of camping options, from developed campgrounds to more primitive backcountry camping. Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is a popular choice, located near the scenic Smith River. Camp beneath the towering redwoods and wake up to the serene sounds of nature. Take a stroll through Stout Grove, where you can stand in awe of the ancient giants that surround you.


Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is another gem within the parks, known for its old-growth redwood forests and abundance of wildlife. Set up camp along the scenic coastline and explore the park’s network of trails, which wind through ancient forests and meadows.


For a more secluded experience, consider backcountry camping in the parks. Obtain a permit and venture into the wilderness, where you can discover hidden groves and immerse yourself in the untouched beauty of the redwood forests.


While camping in Redwood National and State Parks, make sure to explore the various hiking trails that showcase the awe-inspiring grandeur of these magnificent trees. Take a hike through Fern Canyon, a magical spot with walls covered in lush ferns, or explore the Tall Trees Grove, where you can marvel at some of the tallest trees in the world.


In addition to the magnificent redwoods, the parks are also home to diverse ecosystems and abundant wildlife. Keep an eye out for Roosevelt elk, black bears, and a variety of bird species as you explore the parks’ trails.


Immerse yourself in the tranquility and wonder of the redwood forests by camping in Redwood National and State Parks. Experience the serenity of these ancient forests, breathe in the fresh forest air, and create lifelong memories surrounded by the awe-inspiring giants of nature.



California provides a wealth of camping opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts, with its diverse landscapes and stunning natural beauty. From the towering granite cliffs of Yosemite National Park to the ancient towering redwoods of Redwood National and State Parks, the Golden State offers a plethora of exciting destinations for camping.


Whether you prefer beachside relaxation, mountain adventures, or immersing yourself in ancient forests, California has something to offer for every camping enthusiast. The breathtaking landscapes, diverse ecosystems, and abundance of outdoor activities make camping in California a truly magical experience.


From the remote wilderness of Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks to the scenic coastal havens of Big Sur and Mendocino, camping in California allows you to disconnect from the noise of everyday life and reconnect with nature. Wake up to stunning sunrises, explore remote trails, and fall asleep under star-filled skies.


Make sure to plan accordingly and come prepared with the necessary camping gear and supplies. Follow leave-no-trace principles to ensure that these beautiful natural areas are preserved for future generations of adventurers.


Whether you’re a seasoned camping veteran or new to the world of outdoor adventures, California offers a plethora of destinations that will leave you in awe. So pack your camping gear, embrace the spirit of adventure, and embark on a camping journey through the picturesque landscapes of this enchanting state. Unforgettable experiences and lifelong memories await you amidst the beauty of California’s great outdoors.