With cliff-lined beaches, high mountain ranges, and Redwood forests, California has no shortage of scenic spots to pitch a tent. Whether you set up camp like a pro or have never slept outside, there is something in the Golden State for every kind of camper, in every kind of season. California has some great winter camping spots, but with spring and summer just around the corner, there are even more places to camp. Here are our top picks for exploring the best camping in California.
1. Tuolumne Meadows Campground
Stay in the splendor of the high country of Yosemite National Park, a place that testifies to the immense power of glaciers and granite rock. The Tuolumne Meadows Campground is northeast of Yosemite Valley on Tioga Road, situated at 8,600 feet. The campground is half reservations-only, and half first-come, first-served, so campers who arrive early enough can secure a spot. The camping is away from the busy Yosemite Valley, but still offers access to the glacial-fed lakes, valleys and meadows of the high Sierra Nevada Mountains. The Unicorn Lake trail leads directly from the campground, and the bus system shuttles hikers to the Tioga Pass Trailhead, Cathedral Lakes Trailhead and other trails in the area. Camping is $26 a night, with tent sites and RV sites without hookups, and the campground is open July through September. Water is available as well as flush toilets. The campground is family-friendly and good for all levels of camping abilities.
2. White Tank Campground
Sleep underneath a star-strewn night sky in Joshua Tree National Park, right beside large granite boulders and the park’s distinctive Joshua trees. With only 15 spots, this campground offers more solitude and quiet than the park’s larger campgrounds and it is first-come, first-served. The campground is open year-round, but the summer is blazing hot, so visit in the spring when wildflowers light up the desert with sparks of color. The Arch Rock Nature Trail is accessible from camp, as are a few bouldering and climbing areas. This is a great camping spot for adventurers looking to explore, or for those seeking desert solitude. It is $15 a night, with pit toilets and no water access.
3. Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Hike in primeval old-growth forest so wild and lush that it was used as a backdrop for the movie Jurassic Park. Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park protects a large percentage of northern California’s old-growth Redwoods as well as a herd of Roosevelt Elk, who are often grazing or resting at the nearby Gold Bluffs Beach. The park is right on the coast, just an hour north of Eureka. Alex from Washington State recommends the Elk Prairie Campground, where you can sleep under the canopy of tall pine and fir trees. The park is open year-round and busiest during the summer. Make sure to pack your waterproof jacket because it is a wet coastal environment. Camping is $35 a night, and families, solo campers or adventurers will all enjoy this campground and the variety of trails available.
4. Sonoma Coast State Park
Rugged rocky bluffs, scenic coastal coves and tidepools with marine life all attract visitors to Sonoma Coast State Park. Located only a few hours north of the San Francisco Bay area, it offers the perfect escape from the heat of summer for families or beginning campers. Enjoy the sunset from camp, or explore the beach, but do not swim, as there are unpredictable ocean currents. The park offers three campgrounds, with Bodega Dunes Campground offering the most amenities, like showers and dump stations. Camp sites are $35 a night, and hiker and biker sites are $5 a night. Reservations are recommended, especially during the busy summer months.
5. Nevada Beach Campground
This campground is a few miles from South Lake Tahoe, with gorgeous views of the brilliantly blue Lake Tahoe against the backdrop of the mountains. The campground is open from May through October, and is a great spot for families, beginners or all types of adventurers, especially those who enjoy water sports. Reserve a spot online, especially in the summer, for $35 a night. Stay in a tent or an RV, and enjoy access to drinking water, restrooms, and nearby grocery stores and gas stations.
6. Crystal Cove State Park
Crystal Cove State Park is only an hour or two south of Los Angeles, making it the perfect southern California weekend getaway for those just venturing out of the city. The park is near amenities and features miles of sandy Pacific Ocean coastline and bluffs, perfect for swimming, surfing, and hiking. Moro Campground has family sites and RV sites for $55 a night, with water and flush toilets. Camping is possible year-round. Make a reservation online to secure a spot.
7. Minaret Falls Campground
The skiing may end when the snow on Mammoth Mountain melts, but the hiking season is just getting started. Stay in Minaret Falls Campground for prime access to the high alpine lakes, pine forests, and mountain views of the Reds Meadow Valley. The campground is on the shores of the San Joaquin River, right beside the pristine Minaret Falls waterfall. Hike to Rainbow Falls or explore the strange basalt columns of Devil’s Postpile National Monument. Minaret Falls Campground is open during the summer months, and camping is possible without reservations, since it is first-come, first-served. Water and pit toilets are provided and camping costs $23 a night. Families will enjoy this campground, as will adventurers in need of a basecamp while they explore the creeks and vistas of the area.
8. Butte Lake Campground
This campground is in the far northeast corner of Lassen Volcanic National Park, right along the edge of the Caribou Wilderness. Camp at 6,000 feet under the shade of pine trees along the shores of an alpine lake. Adventurers seeking solitude will love this spot, as it is away from the larger campgrounds but still close to several trails. Hike up Cinder Cone, swim in Bathtub Lake, summit Prospect Peak or explore the Painted Dunes. The campground is open June through October, weather permitting, and reservations can be made online. It costs $22 a night, and although RVs are allowed, there are no hookups. Water and flush toilets are not provided.
9. Cold Springs Campground
Pitch a tent in solitude at a remote campground in Sequoia National Park, surrounded by groves of aspen and evergreen trees. Cold Springs Campground is almost two hours away from the main park entrance, along a road so windy that RVs and trailers are not permitted in the campground. Hikers will appreciate access to plenty of day hikes. Camping costs $12 a night with pit toilets, and there is a seasonal water supply. The campground is open during the summer and into the fall. Campsites are first-come, first-served, with tent sites only.
10. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
Coastal Redwoods, a beautiful river gorge, and ample wildlife viewing opportunities abound at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. The river snakes its way through the park, offering plenty of chances to walk along the river banks under the shade of lush redwood forest. This is a great spot for families, as it is only 25 miles away from amenities at Carmel and has hiking trails for all levels. Camping is possible here year-round, although not all trails and nearby state parks remain open, and reservations are not possible during the winter. It costs $35 for a standard tent site, $50 a night for a riverfront site, or $5 for a hiker or biker site. There is access to water, toilets and showers.