8 of My Favorite Campsites in California

Looking for a place to pitch your tent and call your own? This article has you covered with some of the best camping spots in California.

By: Will Cebron
July 16, 2016

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One of my favorite things about living in California is the ability to hop in your car and visit so many incredible and wild places. Deserts with otherworldly landscapes? We’ve got it. Turquoise glacial lakes nestled between dramatic peaks? Check. Waterfalls plunging into the Pacific? Yep. With so many options, the question becomes where to begin. Having spent the majority of my life in California, I thought I would share some of my favorite camping spots here. These are places that continue to draw me back year after year. Here they are in no particular order:

1. Malibu Creek State Park


Photo: Will Cebron

If you’re looking for a camping spot in Los Angeles, it’s hard to beat Malibu Creek. It’s close and easy but feels worlds away from the hustle and bustle of LA. It’s also set in the Santa Monica Mountains, giving you access to miles of trails to explore. Early Spring and late Fall are my favorite times to camp here as the fire restrictions may be lifted and the weather is a bit milder. Take a dip in the Rock Pool or do some rock climbing while you're here. Learn more.

2. Ventana Campground in Big Sur

Photo: Will Cebron

In my opinion, Ventana is one of the nicest campgrounds in California. Set in the heart of a redwood forest in Big Sur, it's about three hours south of San Francisco or 5 hours north of Los Angeles. Ventana almost feels like glamping because the facilities are so well maintained (nicest camping bathrooms ever). There are other great campsites in Big Sur like Kirk Creek but for a weekend I prefer Ventana. You’re much closer to all the major landmarks like McWay Falls and Pfeiffer Beach. The only downside is the campsites are a bit smaller and crowded together, but Ventana tries to make up for this by only allowing tent camping. No RVs. Try to get a campsite in the back away from the entrance as they tend to be a little more private. Learn more.

3. Camping at Leo Carillo


Photo: Jamie Fleck

The campground at Leo Carrillo is an hour drive up the coast from the west side of LA. It’s the perfect place for a night outside the city. You have access to trails up into the mountains or you can walk 5 minutes onto a beautiful beach. The sunsets here are incredible and if you’re a decent surfer, definitely bring a board. Learn more.

4. Jumbo Rocks Campground in Joshua Tree


Photo: Juan Moreno

One of my favorite places for a weekend away, Joshua Tree is an easy trip from LA and San Diego. There are a couple good campgrounds here, but my favorite is Jumbo Rocks. Its massive boulders are great for exploring or watching the sunset. Like most of the best campgrounds in Joshua Tree, Jumbo Rocks is first-come, first-serve so if you’re planning to stay a weekend, get there early. If you do snag a spot, make sure to check out the Cholla Cactus Garden for sunrise, take a walk around Barker Dam and explore Arch Rock at night. Learn more.

5. Glamping at El Capitan Canyon  


Photo: Will Cebron

While technically not “camping”, this is the perfect place to introduce friends, family or loved ones to an outdoor experience. You have your choice of permanent tents, yurts or log cabins nestled in a canyon 20 minutes north of Santa Barbara. You can relax at El Capitan State beach which is a short walk or drive back into Santa Barbara for a multitude of hikes. Learn more.

6. Lodgepole Campground in Sequoia NP


Photo: William Knight

Ah Lodgepole. I love you despite the terrifying thunderstorm you made me endure. Lodgepole isn't as nice as some of the other campsites on this list (the sites are small), but it makes the cut thanks to its prime location in the heart of Sequoia National Park. You can walk from any of the campsites to Topokah Falls, and the Congress Trail and the General Sherman tree are only a few miles away. While there are 214 sites here, only a handful stay open outside of summer. Make sure to catch a sunset from Moro Rock and spend a day hiking up to Pear LakeLearn more.

7. Glacier Point in Yosemite


Photo: Sarah Vaughn

Yosemite is such a special place that I'm going to break with tradition and share a spot that is definitely not car camping. Glacier Point, with its iconic views, is one of the most popular locations in Yosemite. If you've been on a normal summer day, you might wonder how it's even possible to have it alone. In the winter, if weather permits, you can snag a wilderness permit and camp up here. It's about 8-9 miles roundtrip but well worth it. Learn more.

8. Big Pine Creek in the Sierras


Photo: Branda Lin

Big Pine Creek Campground holds a special place in my heart because it's the gateway to some of the most epic hiking in the eastern Sierras. The campground is usually only open from late April through September as it sits at 7,600 feet. If you're looking to do a day hike of the Big Pine Lakes or a backpacking trip, this is a good place to get your bearings. You could stay down in Bishop or Big Pine but staying here will help you acclimate and get an early start to beat the summer heat. Learn more.

This list is really just the tip of the iceberg as there’s so much more within your reach no matter where you are in California. I tried to keep my list to mostly car camping but if you have more time, the backcountry possibilities are endless. Hopefully this list helps steer you to somewhere beautiful next time you're headed outside in California. For me, I know I'm looking forward to heading back to these spots as well as some new adventures in the incredible places California has to offer (I see you Redwood Forest...). Happy exploring friends.

Cover photo: Will Cebron 

Stay energized outdoors with CLIF:

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.