It’s no surprise that California offers some of the best camping in the entire US. With 110 state parks, 8 national parks, 6 state forests, 9 national forests and much more, camping in California is sure to be some of the most scenic views you can find.
We’ve rounded up what we believe to be the best tent camping, free camping, RV camping, lake camping and even beach camping destinations from all around the state. If you’re looking to camp near LA, San Francisco or San Diego, there are places for you too.
Know of an amazing camping destination in California that we missed? Make sure to let us know in the comments!
Best Tent camping in California
Nestled in the serene valley of Yosemite National Park, one of the best places to camp in California, in between the Sierra Nevada Mountain range at 4,000 feet. Experience waterfalls, high granite cliffs, and deep valleys filled with ancient forestry. The paved roads make car camping easy, and they provide you with your own camping slab equipped with picnic table, food locker, and fire pit.
If you love the outdoors, but also enjoy the comforts of a 5-star hotel, then this glamping option does not disappoint. Large preset 12’ by 14’ or 16’ by 20’ tents sit upon a private wooden deck while inside all your furniture, blankets, and lights are provided. Nearby, fully stocked bathrooms come with organic toiletries and hot showers.
Want to know more about Glamping? Check out our 35 Items To Turn Camping into Glamping!
Explore the backcountry of Orange County with this state park’s primitive tent camping sites. Several trails will lead you through 2,400 acres of wildlife backcountry to a preset site away from society. Continue your adventure by going scuba diving, snorkeling, or swimming through the underwater caverns and tide pools.
This tent-camping-only site offers seclusion with an hour and a half drive from the entrance of Sequoia National Park. As the northern most point of the Sequoia, you will not hear much else but the flow of the Kaweah River beside you. The area is covered with aspen and evergreen trees. Sites provide limited amenities like a picnic area and water pump.
For history buffs and tent-campers, this site offers both a history lesson and shoreline accommodations. Once used as a Chinese fishing/shrimping village in the 1880s, it now exhibits a history museum while preserving the natural marshes, grasslands, and forests. Explore the San Pablo Bay harbor with watersports or wonder through the animal-dense forest.
Located near northern San Diego County on top the Palomar Mountain at about 5,000 feet above sea level, you get some of the best camping in southern California. This area is a relief from the heat as it is the 1,862 acres is covered with coniferous trees. Several lookout points give a 360-degree view of the ocean to the west and the desert to the east.
This is one of the best campgrounds in California located in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks with 157 single ssites and two large group sites. There are many hiking trails through great evergreen forests that lead to over a thousand different lakes, rivers, and streams. Ella Falls, a 50-foot waterfall, is nearby as well as the Giant Forest hosting the world’s biggest tree: General Sherman.
Sitting at the base of the Snow Summit Ski Resort, this site offers fantastic views of the San Bernardino Mountains. Staying cool at 6,900 feet above sea level and covered with thick fir, oak, and pine forests, it is a perfect to escape the heat. In the off-season, the ski trails harbor amazing bike paths up and down the mountain. Big Bear Lake is just 5 minutes away and offers sailing and canoeing.
Free Camping Spots in California
Some of the best free camping in California includes this remote, small campsite, part of the Sierra National Forest. The 14-site campground displays a beautiful waterfall right by your tent that you can even walk behind from the granite cliff. Bass Lake is a 45-minute drive if you feel like venturing back to civilization.
Known for its rafting adventures, this camp offers undeveloped tent camping at one of its eight sites. It sits inside the Giant Sequoia National Monument at 1,000 feet above sea level and includes hikes along the Kings River as well as more difficult trails up the mountain. It also provides some great fishing opportunities.
This pin-covered, 66-site campground has a superior location and basic amenities. It is located inside the June Lake area nearby rivers, waterfalls, and hot springs. The dirt campsite provides a picnic area, fire pit, and convenient bathrooms. The town of Mammoth is about 15 minutes away to get dinner or purchase some supplies.
This DIY campsite graces you with open-spaces of high desert located in Bishop, CA, part of the Sierra Nevada. The camp distributes general hiking and off-roading guide maps, but without official trail markers, you are left to explore on your own. There is also a rich history of Native American presence found in the petroglyph (wall art) to discover.
Experience a rustic, scenic view of the dessert located outside Death Valley National Park. The red and black sand contrasts the bright yellow brush while ancient volcanic rock formations flow down the dried-out river bed. You truly experience the great outdoors with wide-open space and almost no other campers nearby.
This primitive campground is off the beaten path, but well worth the journey. It is surrounded by tall pines and oaks at 5,700 feet above sea level. You won’t see many other hikers, yet there are some great trails connected to the site. Explore the area to find historic Native American settlements.
If you prefer a scenic, twisted drive up the mountain, then you will love getting to this campsite. It is the only campsite on Breckenridge Mountain offering simple amenities like a picnic area and a restroom. Being at 6,600 feet and covered in pine, it relieves you the hot Sequoia Valley weather while gazing at the best views of the mountain.
This abandoned mining site sits in the perfect location for historical and nature hiking. As it is located right outside of Lake Isabella, you get some more privacy without losing out on popular recreational activities. White water rafting is available on the lower Kern River that runs through Keysville. Other trails lead to an antique fort, old mining buildings, and the well-known Walker settlement cabin.
Lake Camping in California
Camp lakeside at the base of the snowcapped Mammoth Mountain while watching the waterfall descent into background of the eastern Sierra Nevada. Most popular for skiing, during the off-season you can take a hike up the mountain or shorter paths long the lake. Two campsites allow you to station yourself by the shore or up on the hill for fantastic views.
This site offers premium lakefront tent and RV camping on Lake Almanor with a central location to nearby parks and recreation. The gated campground includes upgraded bathrooms with hot showers, a Wi-Fi hotspot, laundry facilities, and a general store. Rent kayaks and swim on the lake or play a game of horseshoes and golf. Take a hike to see excellent views of Lassen, Plumas, and Shasta National Parks.
Known for the trout and large ice cream cones, this lake is the perfect stop for a quick getaway if you are looking for camping near Sacramento. Drive only an hour from Sacramento to reach the foothills of this 12-mile shoreline. Bring your own boat or rent one at the marina. It offers a swimming area, picnic site, a playground, laundry, and hot showers.
Another favorite for camping near Sacramento, you can drive 25-miles east to reach the 19,500 acres of grassy foothills. It houses two reservoirs: Folsom and Natoma that host an abundance of unmotorized watersports. Folsom is known for its historic powerhouse landmark that closed in 1952 and was replaced in 1955 by the Folsom Dam.
Choose your camp from this 11-acre park from lakeside to tree-covered shade. Some come with a firepit and picnic area and others are bare for DIY camping. Lake Elsinore is the perfect spot to spend the weekend on a boating trip or for a longer stay as a dry camper for a monthly fee.
Located in the Sierra Nevada foothills, cabins, tent and RV sites are available on this pine-forested hill overlooking the lake. Canoes, kayaks, and paddle boats are available to rent. The camp is great for family fun as it offers pool and beach swimming, an amphitheater, and basketball, volleyball, and baseball areas.
This campsite surrounds the entire lake offering a communal vibe with 360-degree views and a range of activity. Hookup your RV or rent one of the provided classic tipis. The grounds offer a bait shop, an array of outdoor games including a camp-wide scavenger hunt, a motor or paddle boat rental, and a 5.5-mile lake hike.
With seven man-made lakes, you can’t get enough fishing opportunities. Plus, this park prides itself on eco-friendly self-sustainability. It has 4 acres of solar panels to charge 50% of the park’s amenities including free Wi-Fi and cable for you! Paddle boats, canoes and kayaks rentals keep the lakes clean using recycled water.
RV Camping in California
California offers some of the best RV camping in the country. With choice of mountains, ocean front and more, you’ll find the perfect RV destination.
Get fantastic beach-front views of the Pacific Ocean and the San Diego Bay at this RV-camping-only site located just south of the city of Coronado. The park holds up to 1,000 self-contained vehicles and includes restrooms and showers. The bayside provides calm, easy swimming and sailing while the oceanside is great for watersports and fishing.
Bring your swimsuit and innertube along with your RV for a riverside retreat in the redwood coastal region of Big Sur. Its central location allows you to hike to the beach, down into the valley surrounded by ancient trees, or up to the cliff to get a 360-degree view of the valley.
Located in Death Valley, this campsite is 196 feet below sea level on the Mojave Desert. The climate is dry and hot, so winter and spring are the most visited times of the year. There are diverse ecosystems to explore from the Badwater Basin salt flats to the badlands Golden Canyon; both offer an array of wildlife and unique geological wonders.
Open since 1963, this is one of the older Sierra Mountain campgrounds. Located among thick pines and the nearby Shaver Lake, it offers outdoor recreation but with modern comforts. RVs are available to rent and come with cable TV, electricity, water, and sewer disposal. There are 35 miles of trails to explore and a beach to enjoy.
This is site offers some of the best RV camping in northern California due to its large pull-throughs and 30/50 amps hookups. With amazing views of the Modoc National Forest, it sits at the bottom of Timber Mountain for ample hikes and nearby attractions. The Lava Beds National monument and Tule and Medicine Lakes are close by.
This is the largest park in California with 600,000 acres of dessert to explore. RV traveling is most convenient to see the vast terrain and diverse ecosystems. The dessert is a 20-hour drive from San Diego County and includes 50 miles of dirt road. Visitors can see an array of wildflowers, fields of palm and cacti plants and unique animals like roadrunners.
Rent out a vintage RV or bring your own to this highly accommodated campground. This campground has it all including a small waterpark, game room, dog park, pool and cabana, restaurant, fitness center, and free Wi-Fi. It is nearby attractions like a Spanish winery, Avila Beach, Lake Cachuma and Los Padres National Forest.
This park offers accommodations for large RVs and supplies 30/50-amp hookups with cable included on most sites. You can also rent an RV from the resort. Explore nature at one of the local lakes or take a trip to one of LA’s attractions like Magic Mountain theme park or Universal Studios. You can also use the mini-golf course and pool at the resort.
Beach camping in California
Situated on the coastline of Big Sur’s route 1, this campground offers the best camping in California with a private view of the ocean and gorgeous sunsets and sunrises. The grassy, shady sites include a picnic table and fire pit with grill. Take a short walk to the rocky beach below or drive 5 miles to the Sand Dollar Beach, Big Sur’s largest sanded beach. See migrating whales from November to February.
Explore 17 miles of beaches for camping in California. The Bodega Harbor rests at the northern point perfect for whale watching and crabbing. Farther south lies Goat Rock, a sandy shore, where seals love to gather. Learn about marine life at Shell Beach where seashells and tide pools keep you occupied. Try surf fishing at Portuguese Beach & Schoolhouse Beach or tackle the waves at Salmon Creek Beach, a surfers’ haven.
Offering pristine white beaches and crisp blue ocean views, this site lies between the Santa Cruz Mountains and the wooded foothills of the Monterey Peninsula. The 60 walk-in tent sites are laid in the grassland away from the road and parking lot. Watch dolphins, whales, and birds or try surf fishing for halibut, flounder, perch, and bass.
Observe grazing Roosevelt Elk nearby the isolated beach in Humboldt county among the Redwood forest. The 14,000 acres provides 70 miles of trails that showcase the 300-foot tall trees. Campsites are situated in the dunes of a 10-mile beach that is close to Fern Canyon for even more exploring.
Camping in California should always include the Pacific coastline located at the bottom of the Santa Ynez Mountains. This beach is popular due to its location and ease of access from Highway 1 and the Ventura Freeway. Cars and RVs can pull up to the campsite. It also offers restrooms with showers and a concession stand.
Known for its excellent coral reefs for snorkeling and scuba diving, this beach also offers great waves for surfers. There is a shop by the entrance for beach gear, camping supplies, and some delicious tacos. The San Diego coastline also displays gorgeous cliffs and views of the pristine blue beaches.
The palm tree-lined shore among the backdrop of green rolling hills makes this northern beach distinct from any other camping site. The staff offer kayak tours of this unique flat coast, and on clearer days, view the 4 islands of Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Anacapa. Surfing and snorkeling is also popular activity for visitors.
This historic park provides 113 camping sites on the Pacific rugged coastline while preserving its natural beauty. The Santa Rosa Creek Natural Preserve, the San Simeon Natural Preserve and the Pa-nu Cultural Preserve are all part of the park’s efforts to educate and maintain the cliffs. Campers can enjoy a 3.3-mile hike to overlooks of the beach and get a chance to view elephant seals at Elephant Seal Boardwalk.
- About the Author
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Hey there, I’m Ryan, the face behind Beyond The Tent.
With decades of camping experiences, my journey into the wilderness began on the rustic trails of a farm in southern Minnesota, where my childhood was filled with explorations and camping by a picturesque river.
My family’s adventures across the United States, from the majestic Colorado mountains to the serene national parks and the pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area of Northern Minnesota have given me a broad perspective. With each journey, whether in state parks or private encampments, and through the homely comfort of our camping trailers, we’ve amassed a trove of stories, experiences, and invaluable camping wisdom.