The author McKenna Mobley snow camping in California's Blue Ridge Campground during winter

Camping in California (11 Best Sites & Tips)

Many people stay at luxurious 5-star hotels when they visit California, but camping in California is made easy with the hundreds of breathtaking campgrounds.

Camp at the beach to catch amazing sunsets over the ocean, under a redwood tree canopy, or among thousands of luminous desert stars in California. All options offer high-quality California camping experiences.

As an adventurer from California, I have experienced some of the best places to visit in California while camping. In this article, we’ll cover my favorite camping spots and most helpful tips for camping in California like a pro!

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11 Best Campsites in California

Hidden Valley Campground

A primitive camping spot disguised between the boulders and cacti of Joshua Tree 

Clear blue sky over the Hidden Valley Campground

🗺️ Distance from Los Angeles: 2 ½  hours | Google Maps | Website | Amenities: trash cans, pit toilets 

Joshua Tree National Park is a top destination in California, and there are plenty of places to stay. You will want to maximize your stay to see the best sites and attractions in Joshua Tree by camping at Hidden Valley Campground.

This campground is perfect for visitors who love to watch golden desert sunsets and fall asleep to the sound of howling coyotes. Joshua Tree is also a spectacular place to see millions of radiant stars and constellations.

The campground has 44 first-come, first-serve sites with pit toilets that are hidden between giant Joshua Tree boulders. After you pay the $35 Joshua Tree National Park entrance fee, the sites are $15 per night, $7.50 for seniors and annual pass holders.

This campground is in the perfect location for visiting top Joshua Tree hiking trails.

Fallen Leaf Campground, South Lake Tahoe

A campground nestled in the Sierra Nevada forest only 1 mile from the Lake Tahoe shore

View of the Lake Tahoe in Fallen Leaf Campground

🗺️ Distance from San Francisco: 3 ½  hours | Google Maps | Website | Amenities: tent, RV, and yurt sites, coin showers, flush toilets, fire pits, food lockers, picnic tables, BBQ

Remove yourself from city crowds to be immersed in the Sierra Nevada forests of Lake Tahoe. Surrounded by fresh pine scents, the remote Fallen Leaf Campground is ideal for nature enthusiasts.

With 206 campsites for tents, RVs, and yurts, this campground is the best camp spot in Lake Tahoe for big parties. It is less than 1 mile from Lake Tahoe’s shore and far less crowded than sites right on the water.

Yurts can hold families of 5 or 6 and have electricity and heat. Each campsite has food storage lockers to ensure your safety from the resident black bears in the area.

Due to heavy snowfall in the winter, the site is only open from mid-May to mid-October each year. 

Upper Pines Campground

The best campsite in the heart of Yosemite Valley close to all major attractions

The author posing for a photo while preparing her tent in Upper Pines Campground
Preparing my equipment for a multi-day camping excursion in Yosemite

🗺️ Distance from San Jose: 4 hours | Google Maps | Website | Amenities: flush toilets, drinking water, picnic tables, fire rings, food storage lockers, Yosemite shuttle stop at campground entrance

Experience California’s top national park by staying overnight at the popular Upper Pines Campground. Situated in Yosemite Valley, Upper Pines is a prime basecamp location to explore the surrounding Yosemite hiking trails.

Enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding Sierra Nevada peaks in the heart of Yosemite Valley. Waterfalls, sheer granite cliff viewpoints, giant sequoias, and grand meadows are all within walking distance of the Upper Pines Campground.

This is one of the busiest campgrounds in Yosemite National Park and reservations must be made ahead of time on Recreation.gov up to 5 months in advance.

Dry Lake

Hike to this remote lake in the San Bernardino National Forest away from trail crowds

The author tying her shoelaces while on her tent during her winter camping in Dry Lake
Winter camping at Dry Lake, getting ready for a morning climb to the summit

🗺️ Distance from Los Angeles: 3 hours, 10 minutes | Google Maps | Website | Amenities: no amenities but spectacular mountain views

Dry Lake is a hike-in camping spot in the San Bernardino National Forest. There are no amenities but there are incredible mountain views and wildlife habitats in the area.

From the South Fork Trailhead to San Gorgonio, backpack 5.75 miles to Dry Lake with views of San Gorgonio looming overhead. This is a popular camp spot nestled in the forest for hikers who want to summit San Gorgonio in 2 days.

Because this is a backpacking site, you must bring all camp and hiking necessities with you. This includes a tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, fresh water, a water pump, camp food, and extra clothing layers.

The San Gorgonio summit is 4 miles from Dry Lake, so wake up early if you plan on hiking to the tallest peak in Southern California.

Alabama Hills

Camp on free land on the road to Mt. Whitney

View of an RV in the Alabama Hills
I camped in the Alabama Hills with my motorhome

🗺️ Distance from San Bernardino: 3 ½  hours | Google Maps | Website | Amenities: no amenities but free, beautiful camping on BLM land

The Alabama Hills Recreation Area is perhaps the most beloved campsite in the Eastern Sierras. Because it sits on BLM land, there are no fees required to camp here. 

This area is just outside of Lone Pine and is on Whitney Portal Road. It is the most popular free place to stay for hikers climbing Mt. Whitney, one of the best hikes in California.

Tent and RV camping is allowed at the first-come, first-serve sites in the Alabama Hills. With thousands of acres to choose from, you can space out from other campers in the area. 

Experience the best desert sunsets, rock climb on one of the many rock formations, and look out for coyotes in this ideal camping location.

👉 Pro Tip: The maximum stay in the Alabama Hills is 7 days per 28-day period.

Blue Ridge Campground

Enjoy the best views of the San Gabriel Mountains from this remote Wrightwood campsite

The author camping in Blue Ridge Campground during winter
I hiked to the campground in the winter when the road was closed

🗺️ Distance from Los Angeles: 2 hours | Google Maps | Website | Amenities: 8 campsites with picnic tables and fire rings

True adventurers at heart love to stay at Blue Ridge Campground in Wrightwood. Although you don’t need 4WD to get to the site, it is recommended.

This intimate campground is hidden behind Mountain High Ski Resort and its’ 8 campsites are first-come, first-serve. Fire rings are provided so don’t forget to bring the firewood for a smokey night of storytelling.

Tent campers and RVs smaller than 21 feet can enjoy the views of the incredible surrounding San Gabriel Mountains

You will need an Adventure Pass or an America the Beautiful Pass to camp here. Check with the Big Pines Visitor Center to ensure winter snow hasn’t blocked the Blue Ridge Road entrance.

Angel Island State Park

Take a ferry to this state park with 360-degree views of the whole Bay Area

Two people having a picnic with a view at the Angel Island State Park
Campers enjoy a picnic in the state park

🗺️ Distance from Sacramento: 1 hour | Google Maps | Website | Amenities: restrooms, visitor center, picnic table, boat ramps, camp store, food service

Stay at Angel Island State Park on your next camping trip to enjoy a different San Francisco experience. Part of the California State Parks system, Angel Island offers the best 360-degree views of the urban Bay Area and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Take the ferry from the mainland for an educational getaway to the historic island. The state park has stunning ocean views and outdoor activities like hiking and biking.

Order a barbeque pork sandwich from Angel Island Cafe or enjoy live music at the Cove Cantina before you settle into your tent or lodge room for the night.

Wild Rose Campground

Make camp coffee over a propane stove to watch the soft colors of the sunrise light up the desert valley

A camping tent beside a tree in Wild Rose Campground

🗺️ Distance from Los Angeles: 3 hours 45 minutes, to 4 hours | Google Maps | Website | Amenities: trash, potable water, generators allowed, vault toilets

Enjoy the serenity of Wild Rose Campground in Death Valley National Park, one of the best day trips from Las Vegas. With only a few coveted campsites, you are sure to make friends during your stay in the park.

The 23 campsites are located next to some of the best hiking trails in the National Park like Telescope Peak, the highest point at 11,043 feet. This primitive campsite has vault toilets, picnic tables, fire pits, and is in the best location in Death Valley.

Fall asleep to the harmonious sounds of the wildlife that comes to life after the sunset during your stay in the park. 

Brown’s Owens River Campground

Camp right on the river in the middle of Sierra Mountain meadows and surrounding peaks

View from the Brown’s Owens River Campground during sunset in California
A stunning sunset over the Owens River

🗺️ Distance from Los Angeles: 5 hours | Google Maps | Website | Amenities: RV & tent sites, RV storage, coin-op laundry, hot showers, camp store, cafe, firepits

Brown’s Owens River Campground is one of the most scenic campgrounds in California. Situated right on the snaked river, this is the best camping spot for fishers and individuals who love idle vacations.

Huge Sierra Nevada mountains surround the open landscape in the distance and the Mammoth Lakes town is a short, 20-minute drive away. There are 80+ RV and tent sites at the picturesque Brown’s Owens River Campground and a camp store to buy fishing tackle.

The campground is seasonal and is only open from late April until September 30. Depending on when you visit California, it may be closed due to weather conditions.

Doheny State Beach Campground

Camp on the beach for early access to morning waves

Surfers enjoying their day in Doheny State Beach
Surfers enjoying the good weather at the state beach

🗺️ Distance from Los Angeles: 1 hour | Google Maps | Website | Amenities: 5-acre lawn, picnic tables, volleyball courts, fire rings, hot showers, restrooms, visitor center

An easy trip from LA, you’ll find yourself practically on the beach when you camp at Doheny State Beach Campground. With the fresh pacific ocean scent and melodic sound of crashing waves, experience the best camping in California at Doheny State Beach.

A few miles down the coast from Crystal Cove State Park, this Orange County campground provides visitors with top-grade picnic facilities and easy access to some of southern Californians best beaches. Take your young ones to the beach tide pools or the visitor center aquariums. Doheny State Beach Campground is one of the best campgrounds on the California coast. 

Elk Prairie Campground

Rent a cabin or tent camp among the redwood trees and resident elk of the area

View of an elk resting in the Elk Prairie Campground
A local elk lounges in the state park

🗺️ Distance from Sacramento: 6 hours | Google Maps | Website | Amenities: rental cabins with electricity & heat, picnic tables, restrooms, ranger station, hiking & biking trails, showers

Sandy beaches meet open meadows and grazing elk in the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. The Elk Prairie Campground boasts coastal redwoods and incredible views of the world’s tallest trees, the sequoias.

The primeval beauty that surrounds the campground is unrivaled by any other campsite in California. Open year-round, Elk Prairie offers its campers self-guided nature trails, cabins with electricity and heat, and tent sites.

No RVs are allowed in the state park so make sure to bring your tent with you to this redwood campground.

5 Tips for Camping in California

Check Fire Regulations at Your Campsite Ahead of Time 

View of a tent under the colorful sky in California

California is prone to wildfires. Check with your campground ahead of time to see if fire rings are provided. Fires are not allowed in various campgrounds in California, especially in national forests due to wildfire risks.

Call your campground to confirm that campfires are allowed at your destination if you are set on having a fire.

Leave No Trace

Keep the California wilderness clean by picking up your trash while you camp. “Leave no trace” means to leave your campsite cleaner and better than you found it.

Know When Check-Out Time Is

Most campgrounds have check-out times. Avoid a late check-out fee by leaving your campsite on time. If you need a later check-out time, plan ahead to talk to the camp host and discuss flexibility.

Download Offline Maps 

Scenic view of a colorful sky during sunset in California

Remote California campsites usually have no service. Download an offline map like Maps.Me ahead of time to navigate your way through your destination.

Store Your Food in a Bear Box

California is home to the black bear. You will most likely encounter black bears when camping in forests if you leave your food out. Because bears have a keen sense of smell, you will want to store your food in a bear box or canister to ensure both your safety and the bear’s safety.

FAQs About Camping in California

How long can you stay at a campsite in California?

How long you can stay at a campsite depends on the location of the site in California. Most state parks limit campers to 30 camping days while most public BLM sites have a maximum stay of 7-14 days.

Is camping safe in California?

Camping in California is safe. Always take safety precautions by bringing pepper or bear spray in case of an emergency.

***

Whether you choose to camp at the beach, under the redwood trees, or in a luxurious RV park, you will have a blast either way. If you liked this camping guide, be sure to check out my best hikes in California article!

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