Best Free Camping in California

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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.

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Recent California Free Campsite Reviews

Winterhaven, CA

Indian Pass Road

Apr 17, 2021

"We returned!"

We like this place. Returned again and enjoyed it just as much as our last visit. See previous review. Much better Internet connection this time though. I was able to get 142Mbps download and 15Mbps upload using AT&T with my Insty Connect. T-Mobile was also good but not close to the speed I got with AT&T. I see towers on the hill a few...
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Jason avatar
Jason Sele
48 reviews

"Best camping views ever"

Incredible camping location right at the base of Mt Whitney! Well-known so it’s worth it to get there early to find a good spot

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Sam W
17 reviews
Bishop, CA

Volcanic Tablelands

Apr 17, 2021

"Great location for bouldering"

Great free place to stay if wanting to climb in the Happy and Sad Boulders and the ‘pit’ is packed. Awesome views but can get pretty windy up there

Sam placeholder avatar
Sam W
16 reviews
Apr 17, 2021

"Awesome location. Very popular"

Perfect free sites right outside the south entrance to the park. Fair warning a lot of big groups like to meet here and party. Fell asleep listening to 2 guys in a screaming match about a beer pong rule

Sam placeholder avatar
Sam W
15 reviews
Apr 17, 2021

"Good access to the park. Bad everything else"

Huge open dry lake bed with lots of permanent homeless encampments scattered about. Can get EXTREMELY windy as well. Been camping for a couple months and this is the only place I’ve gone that I wouldn’t stay again

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Sam W
14 reviews

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