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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My friend and I decided to go on a camping/road trip with no plans or reservations. Little did we know that due to COVID, Yosemite was only allowing people in the park with a printed reservation. There was no getting passed these ladies. We asked if there was dispersed camping nearby and they directed us to a street less than a mile south of the southern entrance to Yosemite. There were plenty of spots to pull off and camp out and lots of space between other campers. It was quiet and a sweet deer came by as we were setting up. She wasn’t afraid of us at all, just minding her business eating away.
***Only downfall: We were in an area near trees that produced a lot of sap. It was all over our car the next morning and it stuck to the bottom of our shoes pretty bad. We took sticks and really had to dig out all the gunk. Be aware of the trees you park your car under or set your tent up near.
Stopped at Bass Lake on the way up - Great spot for day picnics (pics)
People were super friendly at the campsites. Camp host was a cool guy, full of information about the surrounding hikes, waterfalls, fishing, and lakes. Bathrooms were cleaned daily and easily accessible. San Joaquin River offers therapeutic views and sounds from the campsites. Two deer with velvet antlers approached our campsite in the morning while we sipped our insta coffee in the quiet cool air making it feel like we submerged in a real life fairy tail. I will be coming back again and again.
The Agua Tibia Wilderness is gorgeous, but this front country campground is so-so. The sites are pretty close together (like some are only 10-15 feet apart), and you can pretty much see everybody who's there. It's also very close to a couple different trailheads, and some noisy dudes showed up at like 6 AM to get going and woke everybody up. That said, very clean bathrooms.
I've had some amazing times out here getting away from it all, and there's something about the atmosphere out here that makes the BEST sunsets. You can get right up in the joshua trees, and a lot of the time you have the place all to yourself. Awesome place to bring your dog and friends and just goof off. Easy to get to, but still secluded. It's about a 15-minute drive to the nearest neighbor, but you're still less than a mile from the highway.
I've been here in the winter and the summer. I actually like the winter better! When there's snow on the Tehachapi mountains and the San Gabriel mountains, the view is incredible. And it's Southern California, so it doesn't really get cold.
The only rules are don't hurt the joshua trees, and don't start any wildfires. That's easy enough to comply with.
This is a first come, first served campground owned by the national forest. Other options nearby in case it’s filled up upon arrival. Has two loops, one is tent only. Close driving distance to Columns of the Giants (search this for details). Camp host on-site. We enjoyed it and would return. Only con: the Dardanelles Resort across the street runs a large electric generator to power their camp facility, store, bar, etc. until midnight. Although at a distance, the valley murmur was a little annoying.
This will always be my FOREVER campground ! We have been coming for about two years now and still so absolutely in love with it! I recommend to friends and family all the time. You can bring your furry kids, there are clean showers and restrooms. Watering holes on campgrounds and around the area like Cherry Lake, Rainbow Pools and Gods Bath! California is full of beautiful wonders and this little gem in Stanislaus Forest is one of them! There is a little coffee-smoothie shack made by the hosts! Enjoy a mocha and have great conversations with them! Frank is our go to guy, he’ll set you up with a great spot to suit your needs!!
This is a California Highway rest area right off the 101 just north of Goleta/Santa Barbara. As the sign says, one is allowed to park their 8 hours. You’ll see many long haul big rig drivers there as well as campers looking for a quick respite.
We decided on a whim to check it out coming from Studio City. We made sure to get there early enough to get a spot looking over the Pacific Ocean. Coincidentally the people next to us had their first time camping at ‘free site’ as well.
We were concerned that since it was a rest area, we weren’t able to put out our folding picnic set but we were able to cook a quick meal right in front of our van before turning in for the night. In the morning, we made a quick breakfast and took a short 15 minute walk over the Amtrak bridge that passes through a special trout canal.