From the cool sequoia forests to the sunny desert of the Sierra Nevada mountains, there are a lot more opportunities for free camping in California than you might expect. Be warned, most of these spots have few to no amenities–which is why they’re available for free. But many of them are conducive not only to tent camping but also to RV camping.
Whether you’re looking for a truly rugged experience or a relaxing place to hang your hammock not too far from town, we’ve got something for you on this extensive list. With everything from volcanic glass to film sites and all kinds of hiking and fishing opportunities in between, there’s no shortage of things to do and see for free in Cali.
Best Free Camping in Northern California
Make sure to pack your layered clothing for a trip to one of these free campsites in northern California, because temperatures may fluctuate a lot. There could be frost on the ground in the morning and enough sunshine in the afternoon to just about melt, especially if you’re actively hiking.
Get ready for some beautiful wintry mountains, glassy lakes, and possible snow depending on the season.
Orr Lake Campground-Klamath National Forest
First on our list of amazing spots for free camping in California is Orr Lake Campground.
Orr Lake Campground has campsites accessible by car, on foot, and even by boat! There are six free lakeside campsites and four free group campsites with a gorgeous view of Mount Shasta. This is a nice, quiet spot for fishing, swimming, and kayaking. There are also a few trails for gentle hiking, birdwatching, and relaxed mosying.
Modoc National Forest Dispersed Camping Area
If you’re looking for some dispersed camping in northern Cali, consider Madoc National Forest for some beautiful free camping in California. Don’t be confused by the few reservable sites near Medicine Lake. Aside from those, campsites require a little imagination to see in the woods and are all free of charge. Campers are welcome to pitch their tents wherever they like as long as they leave minimal impact on the area.
No Man’s Trailhead
No Man’s Trailhead is located within Klamath National Forest and is the head of the Clear Creek National Recreation Trail. There are no services at this free, first-come-first-served location. The many crossing creeks make for an interesting and wildlife-filled hiking experience in a time of low water, but in times of high water, this area could be dangerous and should not be traversed alone. Beware of the rattlesnakes that are common in the area as well!
Black Rock Campground
Located in the northeast corner of the Ishi Wilderness, Black Rock Campground is another dispersed camping location. A total of six somewhat primitive campsites are available and include one fire ring and one table each.
The nearby Deer Creek offers excellent fishing opportunities. Mill Creek has great fishing and wonderful adjacent hiking trails. This location is located on a dirt road not recommended for RVs, so plan on tent camping at this spot.
Scotts Flatt Campground
For most of the year, the campsites at this northern California camping location are by paid reservation only. But from October through December, all sites are first-come-first-served for some free camping in California. Scotts Flat Campground sites each have a picnic table and fire ring. There are no RV hookups, but RVs are allowed. There are toilets on-site, but they will likely be closed and inaccessible during the off-season where sites are available for free.
Rocky Point West Campground
Located at Eagle Lake just outside of Susanville, California, Rocky Point West is a quiet campground with no amenities. Boating is allowed in the lake during high water periods, but it is not recommended during low water periods as the bottom is shallow.
There is a small camp store, restrooms, and shower station at the Eagle Lake Marina nearby.
Needles Point Dispersed Camping
Needles Point Dispersed camping is situated just outside of Sequoia National Park and offers some amazing free camping in California. It’s a beautiful place with plenty of undefined campsites for you to choose from or make up as you go. This is bear country, so make sure you are able to store your food and garbage safely to prevent bear-related disasters.
Because of the climate in this area, this camping ground is usually only open in the warmer months. It’s also challenging to reach, so plan on parking your 4X4 and hiking the rest of the way. RVs and any larger camping vehicles are not recommended as the area would be virtually impossible for them to maneuver.
Whisky Falls Campground
North Fork, California is the home of the Whisky Falls Campground. Boasting a gorgeous waterfall, this camping spot is worth the treacherous hike to get there. Because of the danger in certain weather conditions, the Whisky Falls Campground is usually only open in June. There are only nine first-come-first-served campsites and a single toilet to share. Each site also has a table and a fire ring.
Grizzly Flat Dispersed Camping Area
Full of beautiful pine and spruce trees, the Yuki Wilderness is home to a few campgrounds, one of which is Grizzly Flat. This rugged spot boasts one vault toilet, a total of three fire rings, and not a single table. campers are welcome to use that area or camp in another location as long as they leave as little impact as possible on the plants and wildlife. If you’re really looking to rough it, check out this location that discouraged RVs from trying to make the trip.
Lacks Creek Campground
Another great spot for some free camping in California is Lacks Creek Campground.
One of the few free areas that welcome equestrians, Lacks Creek Campground is located just fifteen miles inland from the Pacific Ocean coast. With an assortment of biking and riding trails as well as several secluded free campsites, this spot has plenty of ground to cover. You should be able to venture as far and wide as you like since there are only commercial production forests and a few ranches in the surrounding areas.
Lower Nye Campground
Located within the Mendicino National Forest, Lower Nye Campground is the most rugged northern California site on our list of free campgrounds in the state. With no services, no fire rings, and no toilets, this spot is about as primitive as it gets while still being within easy driving distance of a town.
The campground is closed whenever the creek is too flooded for safe fording, so check with the USDA at the link above to stay informed on when this site is open for dispersed camping.
Best Free Campgrounds in Central California
Get ready for some breathtaking mountain views in central Cali. Whether it’s the obsidian beauty of a long-ago volcano or an incredible view of Death Valley from far above, there’s never a shortage of sites to see in this vibrant region. You can’t go wrong with a blue sky and mountains nearby when doing some free camping in California.
Glass Creek Campground
With sixty-six campsites big enough for 45′ RVs, there’s plenty of room to spread out at Glass Creek. There aren’t any hookups for RVs, but they can be easily maneuvered around the sites as needed. Bears are a common occurrence here, so please be sure to store your food and garbage properly to prevent any unfortunate encounters.
This creek got its name from the volcanic glass at nearby Obsidian Dome, an area made up entirely of volcanic glass. Such an unusual sight would be a fascinating landmark to visit and explore on your camping trip.
Hermit Valley Campground
Hermit Valley Campground is another place where RVs can fit, but where there are no hookups. Since the campsites are free, there are no employees of the city or state to maintain a more public area. So the responsibility is on you to disturb the land as little as possible while you visit.
Tents and hammocks are welcome as well. There may be a few rock fire rings from past campers. Be aware that there is no potable water here, so you’ll need to bring a good supply with you.
Alder Creek Dispersed Camping
In Los Padres National Forest, oak and sequoia trees flourish along Alder Creek. There is an abundance of inexpensive campsites nearby, as well as completely free dispersed camping with no toilets, no fire rings, and no picnic tables. RVs may not be able to maneuver well through this area, so tent camping is the way to go if you want to visit Alder Creek.
Mahogany Flat Campground
Here’s a great spot if you’d like to visit Death Valley without visiting Death Valley. Located right around where central California ends and southern Cali begins, the beautiful Pinyon Pine and Juniper Forests of Mahogany Flat Campground offer a fantastic view of the desert without having to be right in it–if that’s not your style. You’ll usually need a 4X4 or similar off-road vehicle to reach the free campsites in this 8200′ elevation area. RVs are not recommended.
No reservations are available for this first-come-first-served local. Get ready for some really primitive camping here with no toilets, tables, or fire rings.
Best Free Campgrounds in Southern California
Forget about forest campsites here. We’re about to visit some warmer locals. Our list of free camping in California has finally descended toward the southern region where deserts sprawl around mountains and cacti loom on every corner. If you’re looking to try something new and different from forest camping, we might just have the perfect spot for you on this list.
Furnace Creek Campground
Another spot near Death Valley, Furnace Creek Campground is located on the valley floor rather than up within the mountains. This gorgeous spot is home to a vast array of wildlife including everything from lizards to mountain goats, and many more.
Of Furnace Creek’s many camping sites, only a few are free. Those that are free are first-come-first-served and tend to fill up quickly on weekends and holidays. We wish you the best of luck grabbing a spot in this picturesque bit of desert!
Alabama Hills National Scenic Area
Located at the base of the Siera Nevada peaks, the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area has been used by Hollywood to film over 400 movies since the 1920s. Favored for the incredible desert beauty of its landscape, this area is surprisingly still free to campers. A new land management policy is underway to limit camping to certain locations in order to best preserve the natural charm of the area, so visit soon or check back with the site linked above before planning your trip to see if there have been any changes.
Anza Borrego Desert State Park
Anza Borrego Desert State Park has lots of paid campsites but also allows dispersed camping for free if you want to be a little more adventurous and economical. There are no hookups in the dispersed camping areas, but RVs and other camper vans are allowed as well as tents. Coyotes are common in this area, so keep your pets safe and within sight at all times.
The park asks that you not drive more than 10 feet from the road to park your vehicle to preserve the natural beauty of the area.
American Girl Mine Road Dispersed Camping
The American Girl Mine was discovered in 1892 and produced over 20,000 tons of gold over the next few years. It was worked again in the 1930s and it’s changed hands over the years throughout many legal battles. It’s still a working mine now, so tours unfortunately are not available. But the surrounding hills and canyons on the California-Arizona border are a site to see.
The American Girl Mine Dispersed Campsite–if you can even call it that–is incredibly open and spacious, allowing for plenty of room between your site and any other people who may be camping nearby.
Yaqui Wash Primitive Campground
Last but not least of our picks for the best free camping in California is Yaqui Wash Primitive Campground.
Yaqui Wash Primitive Campground has virtually unlimited campsites available for you to choose from. You’ll have to use your imagination again as there are no actual defined campsites and no amenities to speak of. People come from all around to see the gorgeous wildflowers that grow here in spring, and the hiking and wildlife viewing opportunities are as unlimited as the number of campsite locations. This campground is open year-round for your camping adventures. Keep in mind though that the roads in this area are sandy, so RVs may have a harder time making the trek. They are permitted though if you want to give it a try.
Wrapping Up Free Camping in California
Do you know of a hidden-gem for some free camping in California that we missed? Let us know about it in the comments!
Check out our other California Camping Posts: