Best Free Camping in California

Dispersed Camping California

By Sara Sheehy

With its 840 miles of coastline, beautiful mountains, and fun cities, California is at the top of many people’s adventure lists. From the Sierra Nevada Mountains to Joshua Tree National Park, California is filled with beautiful destinations, sunny days, and plenty of those Beach Boys vibes.

California has an ample amount of dispersed camping if you know where to look. Here is where you’ll find the best no-cost camping in the Golden State.

See the California free camping map.

Where to Find Free Camping in California

As a general rule of thumb, finding free camping on the coast—or any coast, really—is difficult. There are exceptions to this rule, but if you’re watching your budget, the coast is a tricky place to do it.

Luckily, the interior of California is full of public lands, including the Bureau of Land Management, National Forest, and National Park Service lands, where you can settle in for a week of adventure and relaxation in a beautiful place.

California Coast

Free camping on the coast most often takes the form of a night spent in a casino parking lot. This option is usually only open to self-contained campers like RVs or campervans. Campendium community favorites, listed from north to south along the coast, include Lucky 7 Casino in Smith River, Bear River Casino in Fortuna, and Garcia River Casino in Point Arena.

Other coastal spots include Nacimiento Road in Big Sur and TV Tower Road just outside of San Luis Obispo.

Northern California

In the northern reaches of California, you’ll find clear lakes, pine-filled forests, and plenty of spots to pull out your mountain bike during the day and chill around the fire ring at night. One boondocking hot spot is the national forest lands around Lassen Volcanic National Park. Rocky Point East in Susanville is a favorite, featuring a sizable lake with a boat ramp for kayaks or paddleboards.

A bit further north, in Modoc National Forest, you might find total solitude at Curren #2, near Lava Beds National Monument.

Yosemite and Kings Canyon

US 395 through the Inyo National Forest, which stretches along the eastern border of Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks, is the crown jewel of California free camping.

Alabama Hills Recreation Area is the hands-down favorite of the Campendium community (those views of the Sierras are hard to beat!). Those seeking a quieter experience will find it at lesser-known gems like Owens Gorge Road and Sagehen Meadows.

Southern California

Free camping in southern California centers around three locations—Anza Borrego, Joshua Tree National Park, and the Mojave Desert.

In Anza Borrego, which is less than two hours from San Diego, Blair Valley takes the cake with panoramic views, quiet sites, and spots to hike. At Joshua Tree, which is a popular getaway from Los Angeles, you’ll find reliable cell service and plenty of sun for your solar panels at Joshua Tree North and Joshua Tree South, both a stone’s throw from park entrances.

Last but not least is the beautiful solitude of the Mojave Desert, which is best enjoyed in the winter or early spring. The Kelbaker Boulders is an excellent spot for a single camper or head to Kelso Dunes Mine for more spacious camping spots and dune access.

portable computer displaying map of camping locations
mobile device showing map of camping locations
Roadpass Pro
Signup for Roadpass Pro to get premium access to all of these great road travel apps.
Unlock pro campendium features
Ad Free Experience
Cell Service Overlays & Reports
Public Land Map Overlays
Trail Maps
Filter by Elevation
Pro icon Join Roadpass Pro

Recent California Free Campsite Reviews

El Centro, CA

Walmart

Feb 16, 2024

"Among The Worst Walmarts In The Country"

active starinactive starinactive starinactive starinactive star
Loud, loud, and did I mention loud? Every dude without the funds to fix his muffler or with too much money to make his muffler sound anything other than overcompensatingly gross drives into and by this Walmart 10 times a night. Also, is there a sewage plant nearby? Because it absolutely smells like there's a sewage plant nearby. There's...
Read More

JM
41 reviews
Kelso, CA

Granite Pass

Feb 16, 2024

"Awesome Off Grid Getaway!"

active staractive staractive staractive staractive star
If you are visiting Mojave National Preserve and want a great off grid experience this is it. The campground has 7-8 campsites with fire rings backed up to a granite mountainside. It’s best for a rooftop camper or tents, but I pulled my 17ft trailer to site #3 with no problem. The recent rains have made sites 5-8 hard to get to without 4-wheel...
Read More

Surf2Trails
14 reviews
Feb 16, 2024

"Good One Night Stop "

active staractive staractive staractive staractive star
Large gravel lot directly across from the World’s Largest Thermometer. Good for a night. Flat and lots of space. Some trees to park next to for a little privacy. Highway noise but still able to sleep fine. Two other campers and a few semis here when we woke up. Good cell service and food/gas on same road

white.van_no.plan
32 reviews
Feb 15, 2024

"Sleeping Right Next To Golden Gate "

active staractive staractive staractive staractive star
Perfect spot , great views . Can be noisy at night

camper-898807
2 reviews
Feb 15, 2024

"There is no water available here. Spigots are all turned off. "

active starinactive starinactive starinactive starinactive star
Clean, but NO WATER.. oh, but you can charge your EV...

camper-785182
1 review