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The 25 Best Campsites in California

Your guide to the best camping in the Golden State.

By: The Outbound Collective + Save to a List

When it comes to natural beauty, accessibility, and ecological diversity, California may take the cake as the ultimate adventure destination. You'll find some of the most rugged mountains on the continent, pristine beaches, old-growth redwood forests, endless sand dunes, impossibly tall granite walls, and much more. 

You can only experience so much on a day trip to one of California's many incredible destinations. To really take it all in, spend a night spent next to the campfire. We've picked 25 of the best spots across the state to consider for your next camping trip. Whether you want to wake up with a view of giant redwoods, the Pacific Ocean, or the Golden Gate Bridge, we've got you covered.   

1. Algoma Campground - Shasta Trinity National Forest


Photo: Jake Young

Stay overnight for free by the Upper McCloud River and enjoy ample exploration of Shasta-Trinity National Forest. If you’re looking for some peace and solitude, this is a great spot as it attracts less traffic.

2. Wawona - Yosemite NP


Photo: Emily Schrick

Just 45 minutes south of Yosemite Valley, Wawona is the perfect place for a more quiet camping outing. This spot offers amenities including fire pits, food lockers, and picnic tables. Spend some solitude by the Merced River, easily accessible from most campsites. There’s also splendid hiking opportunities in the area and in the surrounding Yosemite Valley!

3. Mt. Tam’s Pantoll Campground - Mill Valley


Photo: Sarah Eichstedt

Check out this campground located approximately 45 minutes from San Francisco. Escape city life and reboot in nature at this first-come first-serve spot. Enjoy easy access to Steep Ravine Trail and Matt Davis Trail.

4. Ventana Basin - Big Sur


Photo: Masa Kato

This tent-only campsite is nestled into a canopy of redwood trees! The giants provide shade that keeps campers cool even in summertime. Enjoy parking spots, campfire rings, picnic tables, and clean restroom facilities with private showers. The site is pet-friendly and close to nearby hikes if you want to venture out.

5. Clifftop Camping & Hot Springs - Big Sur


Photo: George Miller

For a camping experience by the water, check out this picturesque cliffside campsite. There’s nothing quite like taking in the beauty of Big Sur with access to trailheads and a path directly down to the water. The site offers wooden tables and fire pits, perfect for gatherings with family and friends. Take a quick drive to the Esalen Institute for an unforgettable experience at their hot springs.

6. Gaviota State Park - Gaviota


Photo: Josh Currie

In the small town of Gaviota, just 30 miles north of Santa Barbara, is this scenic beachside camping spot. For a reasonable fee ($35-$45), you’ll get running water, bathrooms, picnic tables, a fire pit, access to great hiking trails, an overhead railroad, and stunning cliffside views. Note that it does get rather windy at night, so be prepared for the elements and bring the appropriate gear to keep your tent securely in place.

7. Alabama Hills - Inyo County


Photo: Mike O’Hara

Delight in incredible scenery for free for up to 14 days in this mountain and desert lover’s paradise. You’ll be surrounded by views of Mt. Whitney and some of the tallest peaks in the Sierra Nevada Range. This is also an excellent spot for night photography, so be sure to bring your camera!

8. Black Sands Beach - Lost Coast


Photo: Josiah Roe

If you’re looking for a remote coastline camping experience that’s sure to guarantee peace and solitude, this is the spot for you. Black Sands Beach is situated along the southern part of the famous Lost Coast Trail and its rugged natural beauty does not disappoint. Be sure to check the weather and tide charts if planning to stay overnight as some portions of the trail are impassable at high tide.

9. Andrew Molera State Park - Big Sur


Photo: Josh Currie

This is a first-come first-serve state park campground right by the beach. Aside from easy access to the water, there are plenty of hiking trails around the park to choose from. Stay overnight in a wide open grassy field with a beautiful mountainous backdrop.

10. The Pots - Pioneer


Photo: Jake Young

Just off of Highway 88, this unique camping spot features stunning granite pools and slides of varying sizes and depths. Watch as the water glides down the granite rocks, creating small waterfalls. This is a great spot for a group of friends to explore the natural pools.

11. Hot Creek Geological Site - Mono County


Photo: Gregg Boydston

When camping on this great expanse of BLM land, be sure to follow rules regarding setting up camp an appropriate distance from the water. This spot is located in the Mammoth Lakes area and also features a Hot Creek geological site. Bring a bathing suit to wade in the warm waters (read signs to avoid scalding hot water temps)! Those interested in fishing should definitely bring a rod as the area is known for trout.

12. Gold Bluff Beach - Orick


Photo: Juan Moreno

This beach camping experience boasts beautiful bluffs, mesmerizing sunsets, fantastic night photography, and some nearby hiking trails. The site is located at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and has a fee of $35.00 per night. Note that it’s first-come first-serve.

13. Last Chance Creek - Plumas County


Photo: Jake Young

This campsite is located on the northernmost inlet of Lake Almanor and is considered more remote than the other surrounding campsites. Enjoy easy access to great fishing opportunities and serene scenery. Note that this spot is first-come first-serve.

14. Wild Willy’s Hot Spring - Mammoth Lakes


Photo: Greg Balkin

Just a short drive from Mammoth Lakes, this camping area features hot springs and incredible views of the Eastern Sierras. Soaking in the springs and taking in the surrounding terrain is an unforgettable experience. If planning to stay overnight, please make sure you are on BLM land and practice responsible Leave No Trace ethics.

15. Mono Lake - Lee Vining


Photo: Gregg Boydston

Enjoy this lesser known lakeside camping spot with a beautiful mountain backdrop. Bring a kayak or stand up paddleboard to explore the lake. Bring a waterproof camera case to take stunning sunset and sunrise photos from your watercraft!

16. Voyager Rock Campground - Shaver Lake


Photo: Jennifer Franklin

Check out this picturesque lakefront campsite featuring a private beach and nearby hiking and boulder climbing opportunities. The lake also contains an abundance of rainbow trout – perfect for avid anglers or those who want to give fishing a try!

17. Hidden Valley - Twentynine Palms


Photo: Nathan Chan

For a true Joshua Tree camping experience, spend the night under a magnificently dark starry sky. Aside from camping, Joshua Tree National Park is known for renowned rock climbing, impressive boulders, and its overall breathtaking landscape.

18. Wildrose Campground - Inyo County


Photo: Cameron Gardner

Located in the Mojave Desert, Death Valley offers a unique opportunity to camp in the desert among rolling hills. This campground offers access to beautiful wide open spaces and is only about an hour drive from Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, a fun place to sand surf or just jump around. Come prepared with appropriate footwear as the sand can get quite hot during the day.

19. Nelder Grove Campground - Oakhurst


Photo: Matt Purciel

Get back to nature and retreat to this beautiful forest campground to spend a night or two surrounded by impressive sequoias, pines, and dogwoods. Let the fresh air rejuvenate you and allow yourself to be lulled by the calming sounds of the nearby creek.

20. Montana de Oro State Park - San Luis Obispo County


Photo: Nathaniel Polta

Just across the road from the famous Spooner’s Cove lies a stunning place to camp out by the beach. The views are gorgeous and the low light pollution makes for fantastic night photography. There are a number of nearby scenic trails to check out for some pretty breathtaking hiking experiences.

21. Catalina’s Two Harbors - Avalon


Photo: Kathleen Buenviaje

For an island getaway, take a 50 minute boat ride off the coast of Southern California to arrive at this picturesque camping spot. Here you’ll see stunning ocean views and access to plenty of hiking trails. Water activities include snorkeling, diving, kayaking, and stand up paddle boarding. Note that there is a general store and restaurant if you want to treat yourself instead of roughing it for an evening or two.

22. Sycamore Canyon Campground - Malibu


Photo: Jamie Fleck

Just a quick walk from Point Mugu Beach, this campsite features rocky cliffs, beautiful ocean views, and great fishing opportunities. This spot is located far enough away from Malibu to feel like you have found your own more private slice of paradise.

23. Limekiln State Park - Big Sur


Photo: George Miller

This is a stunning beachside camping spot in Big Sur with easy ocean access and impressive cliffside views. The park gets its name from the lime kilns, tall furnaces once used to extract lime from limestone to create mortar and concrete. 

24. Angel Island - Tiburon


Photo: Brian Heifferon

This camping adventure is close to the city, but will feel like a special retreat. Take a hike down to the beach and absorb breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge. To get to Angel Island, you’ll need to ride a ferry, which can also be a great way to take in the sights.

25. Francis Beach Campground - Half Moon Bay


Photo: Austin Brizgys

Surf fanatics should pitch a tent and stay the night at this location! This camping spot is situated right on one of Half Moon Bay’s most consistent surf spots. There are also great hikes in the area to stretch out and get off the water for a bit. Amenities include picnic tables, grills, fire rings, and hot showers. Nothing beats waking up to the sounds of the ocean and being able to get right in the water with your board in hand.

Cover photo: Josiah Roe

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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