The best camping in
California

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Camping California

Yosemite. The redwoods. Big Sur. World-famous outdoor destinations abound in California. There are so many that you couldn’t possibly explore all the richness the state offers in one lifetime. The trick when camping in California is managing so many possibilities. Once you've visited the famous sites, try some creative approaches to camping in California.

When you think Napa Valley, you think of wine, not camping. But you can plan a wine vacation from behind the flap of your tent. Set up in one of the valley’s campgrounds then visit the many casual tasting rooms that won't mind dirt under your fingernails. When you tire of drinking wine, hike Mt. St Helena, a dormant volcano. Or walk through the Petrified Forest, a forest that was turned to stone by the last eruption of the volcano. Or visit California’s Old Faithful, a nearby geyser.

Once you have found camping in California’s Half Dome in Yosemite Valley, center yourself in Tuolumne Meadows, a more remote section of the park with its own collection of charming granite domes. Here's a secret: Instead of joining the crowds of day hikers on the meadow's most popular trails, follow the backpackers north on the famed John Muir Trail. The trail meanders through meadows, along a river below alpine peaks. And best of all, the first 8 miles of this trail out of Tuolumne are flat. Hike until you find a spot to watch the marmots, then return to your campsite. For more, backpack another 23 miles to Reds Meadow where you can catch a shuttle back up to Tuolumne.

With a little effort, you can spend the rest of your life camping in California and have a new adventure every time.

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Recent Reviews in California
Beautiful!

We camped right on an ocean cliff in October of 2019 and it was the most beautiful campsite we’ve ever stayed at! Coin operated showers were adequate. Port-a-potties were also fine. Campsites are far enough a part with picnic tables and a fire ring.

Great LA Getaway

The Big Santa Anita Canyon Loop on Mount Wilson offers dog friendly free camping immersed in thick mountain woods with babbling creeks and numerous waterfalls. The trail is dotted with one of a kind cabins but the trail camps are as primitive as it gets. Start your hike at the Chantry Flats pack station, don't forget to pay for parking, and be prepared to filter your own water. This is a gorgeous place to put in a few miles, get a little dirty, and feel like you are miles away from it all without even leaving LA.

Pro tips: There are bears in the area so hang your food and keep your campsite clean. Bring your own toilet paper. Parking fills up within an hour on weekends so get there as soon as the parking lot opens at 6am. Finish your hike with burgers from the pack station they really hit the spot!

Feel like you're miles away without leaving LA

The Big Santa Anita Canyon Loop on Mount Wilson offers dog friendly free camping immersed in thick mountain woods with babbling creeks and numerous waterfalls. The trail is dotted with one of a kind cabins but the trail camps are as primitive as it gets. Start your hike at the Chantry Flats pack station, don't forget to pay for parking, and be prepared to filter your own water. This is a gorgeous place to put in a few miles, get a little dirty, and feel like you are miles away from it all without even leaving LA.

Pro tips: There are bears in the area so hang your food and keep your campsite clean. Bring your own toilet paper. Parking fills up within an hour on weekends so get there as soon as the parking lot opens at 6am. Finish your hike with burgers from the pack station they really hit the spot!

Surfers Dream

San Elijo is located on a bluff overlooking the beach. There are over 100 sites available that range from hookups to dry. The price is from $55 - $75 a night. The bathrooms and showers are clean. The only downside is the proximity to pacific coast highway and the train tracks. Although I didn't hear the train at all at night.

Cell Coverage: Excellent

Uncrowded Gem with great Ojai views

All in all we like this campsite and will return. Our experience was fantastic mostly because the campground was empty (only campers Friday night, 2 other sites filled Saturday).  Views from upper campsites are beautiful (we stayed in site #14), and on a full moon the sound of coyotes cackling throughout the valley is a nice way to fall asleep.

For our purposes:

  • Dog Friendly: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Toddler Friendly: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Overall: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Pros:

  • Beautiful views
  • Not crowded 
  • Dog Friendly
  • Play area for kids
  • Clean bathrooms (portable bathrooms in some parts of campground)
  • Friendly rangers

Cons:

  • Water spigots are available but inconvenient for most sites.
  • Terrain is uneven for tent pads in many sites
  • No good dog friendly hikes directly accessible from camp ground (lots within a short drive)
  • Our site was poorly maintained. Broken glass all over, broken fire pit, lots of scattered branches.
  • Little bit of road noise, not too bad though.
Fun Getaway

Spent the night here and it's not bad at all. The night I went there was a retreat or something that played music through 11pm.

The walk to the lake from this site isn't too bad; it's quiet nice. Around the lake you'll find some short hikes.

If you've ever want to just get away and go unplugged for a day, is highly recommend this place considering it's under $15/night.

Sundown by 6pm for us!

Great for Camping with Kids

If you're looking for primitive dispersed camping, this is probably not your spot.

If you're camping with kids, it doesn't get much better than this!  We stayed at campsite #58 which we felt was very large are private. Will definitely come back.

For our purposes:

  • Dog Friendly: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Kid Friendly: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Overall: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Pros:

  • Clean facilities, flushing toilets and hot showers, well maintained sites.
  • Very affordable
  • Friendly staff and atmosphere
  • Recently paved streets (perfect for scootering, skating, biking)
  • Great playground for children
  • Easy and fun "Story Trail" hike for children.   The hike features a new book every month, each page is mounted to a placard along the trail.
  • Nice creek for kids to explore
  • Close to town if you need a quick drink, lunch, or shopping.

Cons:

  • Traffic noise from nearby roads (not terrible, but reminds you that you're not fully engulfed in nature.
  • No alcohol (not an issue for us, but may be an issue for some).
  • No hammocks or anything hanging from trees.
  • Dogs 100% must be on leash at all times.  If you're a dog owner, they do patrol the park frequently and your dog must be leashed.
Secret Ranger Campground

This is a private canyon that is only used by the park rangers and morning horse rides. Hence its name. It is blocked off by a gate but it can be accessed if you help with the Christmas Audubon bird count over the holidays. 

There is a pit toilet and picnic areas with a flat ground area for tents. Not much flat parking space for RV’s and campervans though. There are also two fireplace areas and grills for cooking.

Backcountry Perfection

Jennie Lake is part of the Jennie Lakes Wilderness area between Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park. You will start at either Rowell Meadow or Big Meadow trailheads. Along the trail you can camp at Weaver Lake, Jennie Lake, Jo Pass, or Rowell Meadow. 

You will need to gain a backcountry permit to do this trail and make sure you know of updated water sources and filtration systems. 

It's about a 7-14 mile trek depending on which way you decide to go. Poop out pass is no joke.

Group Camping Only

This is a group campground. You will need 10-60 people to reserve it and may be reserved up to a year in advance. The sites are large and there are pit toilets and garbage. Easy access main roads and within 10 mins to Ryan Mountain, Geology Tour Road, and Lost Horse Mine Trails. 

No cell service, no water, and no firewood collecting on site. Because it is group camping and it’s reservation in advance, you have the luxury of knowing if there is another group coming and having plenty of space between sites. 

There are 6 sites total in the campground. It was really quiet when we were there in early Spring.