The Golden State is a massive stretch of land which touches on nearly every climate available in the United States. Whether your particular concept of camping involves a tent beneath the world's most impressive trees, snow-covered mountain adventures, desert sunshine, the smell of salt and sun on your van's back doors, or an immaculate RV resort near Lake Tahoe, you can find it in California.
California State Parks
With nearly 150 state parks that allow for either RV camping, tent camping, or both, there is almost nowhere in California where you won't find yourself within easy access to a state park.
Striking a happy middle ground between more rugged camping like you'll find in national forests, but usually, with a better view and a tad more elbow room than at a private RV park, state parks in California often provide little touches – like hot showers and flushing toilets – that make a camping trip just that much more easy and enjoyable.
While most state parks provide plenty of outdoor recreation or campsite peace and quiet all on their own, some are also great basecamps for exploring a larger area. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, for example, places you firmly in the heart of this rugged, fabled coastal area, where the drive alone can be an adventure. It also allows you to explore even more state parks, like Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, which has much more limited options when it comes to camping.
Redwoods National and State Parks – a joint effort between the National Park Service and the State of California – offer the best camping options should you find yourself dreaming of sleeping under the night skies and old-growth forests of (far!) Northern California.
Southern California's coast, where you'll find sunshine and pristine beaches weaved between busy tourist towns and some of the world's most famous cities alike, is home to over a dozen state park sites alone. Take Crystal Cove State Park, south of Los Angeles, where you can find beach view sites set atop the coastal cliffs.
There is so much to explore, year-round, in California's state parks alone. Just be sure to make a reservation, as these campgrounds tend to fill up quickly
Learn more about California State Parks.
National Parks in California
A volcanic forest mirrored in alpine lakes, the tallest, largest and some of the strangest trees in the world, the hottest, dryest and lowest place in North America – all of these places and more can be found in the national parks across California. The campgrounds offered by the National Park Service are often more beautiful, more affordable and more desirable than anywhere you'll find in the state, so making reservations ahead of time is often necessary.
Paradises like the ever so popular Yosemite National Park offer places to pitch your proverbial tent with amenities such as flushing toilets, picnic tables and fire rings. While Yosemite is the motherland when it comes to dramatic scenery, you'll quickly realize you weren't the only one with the idea to visit the park. Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park, when the desert sun isn't frying lizard eggs on the visitors center sidewalks, can be just as busy. Timing your trip and taking the time to plan ahead can make all the difference
Looking for something a little less rush hour? Check out Kings Canyon National Park, also in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where you can still get your binoculars aimed into massive Sequoia trees without all the hustle and bustle.
More National Parks in California
- Carrizo Plain National Monument
- Golden Gate National Recreation Area
- Lassen Volcanic National Park
- Lava Beds National Monument
- Mojave National Preserve
- Pinnacles National Park
- San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park
- Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
- Sequoia National Park
- Whiskeytown National Recreation Area
Dispersed Camping California
Looking for free dispersed camping? California's 15 million acres of Bureau of Land Management property provides free access to everything from Joshua Trees to Redwoods. While these sites are often boondocking-only, they occasionally contain services like vault toilets as well.
Some of the best free camping will be found on Bureau of Land Management property, from the Mojave Desert and all the way up the Eastern Sierras. For the adventurous type, this is one of the best ways to find yourself a campsite with the most spectacular views available, plenty of space to toss the old frisbee around, and all without paying a dime to do it. Though it is increasingly imperative to note that you must follow Leave No Trace principles and treat these places like they belong to all of us. Please pick up after yourself and even others who've come before you, camp only in existing spots, and understand that while there is no monetary cost to camp at these locations, diligence at keeping these places open by doing our part is simply the price of choosing to stay here.
Learn more about dispersed camping in California.
California National Forests
While the national parks may be the most stunning, and BLM lands the most abundant, the U.S. Forest Service's offerings in California permit campers the opportunity to truly get into the wild. Mendocino National Forest, nestled along the Coastal Mountain Range, has exactly zero paved roads, making it perfect for the most intrepid of adventurers. Similarly, Inyo National Forest is a prime example of the road less traveled and home to 4000+ year old Bristlecone pine trees.
Modoc National Forest, near Lake Tahoe, boasts free camping near one of the country's most popular vacation destinations. Out of the way spots like Mud Lake Trailhead allows for free camping along the Pacific Crest Trail. Creekside and lakefront campgrounds alike can be had near Mammoth Lakes, a world-class ski resort, and the sheer volume of public lands available in California keep campers busy for a lifetime without seeing everything the state has to offer.
More National Forests in California
- Angeles National Forest
- Cleveland National Forest
- Eldorado National Forest
- Klamath National Forest
- Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit
- Lassen National Forest
- Los Padres National Forest
- Plumas National Forest
- San Bernardino National Forest
- Sequoia National Forest
- Shasta National Forest
- Sierra National Forest
- Six Rivers National Forest
- Stanislaus National Forest
- Tahoe National Forest
- Toiyabe National Forest
- Trinity National Forest
RV Parks in California
Last but not least, if you'd prefer to pull into a campsite, plug in the RV and relax the weekend away, the Golden State is home to literally hundreds of RV parks. From kid-friendly KOAs to expensive resorts near swanky golf courses, RV parks with a shuttle to Disneyland, to oceanfront retreats in the many eclectic cities along the coast, you are never very far from full hookups and a community clubhouse no matter where you find yourself in the state.
Learn more bout RV Parks in Califonia.