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

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Recent California Free Campsite Reviews

Nov 27, 2021

"Amazing boondocking site. Check out the BLM site for new restrictions"

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Do not venture into the Alabama Hills after dark to find a campsite. The side roads off Movie Flats Road can be dangerous. We were surprised at how many people came past our site in the dark after dark. There are new restrictions on where you can camp. Many of the prime sites with easy access that you see on YouTube are now restricted to Day...
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WILLIAM IVERS
7 reviews
Nov 26, 2021

"It’s still doable!"

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When we found out about the new dispersed camping rules, we almost cancelled our Thanksgiving plans to visit Alabama Hills. We decided to wing it & hope for the best, and if we couldn’t find a spot then we’d stay at Tuttle Creek Campground. We arrived on Monday afternoon and easily found an awesome site for our 26’ TT. It was EXACTLY what I...
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Jenna O
10 reviews
Borrego Springs, CA

Peg Leg

Nov 26, 2021

"Two Areas - Two Experiences"

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Peg Leg has two areas to boondock. Both are accessible by pretty much any rig and both are free. On the north side of the highway is the Peg Leg Smith Memorial. This area is within Anza-Borrego State Park and is largely a gravel lot. There is a sign that states camping is limited to 14 days. On the south side of the highway is an area of...
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Tracy Waldon
111 reviews
Fortuna, CA

Bear River Casino

Nov 26, 2021

"Nice quite, safe parking lot "

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My first casino overnight (June 2021). I was a little miffed that I had to give my ID inside the casino to get the permit but it was free. I think you were allowed to stay up to 3 nights although I only stayed the 1. The parking for RVs is in the back of the parking lot, and not too hard to find an almost-level spot. I parked next to the...
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Lisa RV Experience
105 reviews
Nov 22, 2021

"great dispersed camping"

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pros: lots of space & spread out sites so you don't have to be near anyone if you don't want to be, great service, sunset & sunrise views, right outside the southern entrance to joshua tree, super quiet, cons: no bathrooms & since it's the desert not many good places to use the bathroom without driving into the park

Paige Watson
34 reviews