This article about free camping Santa Barbara is brought to you by Banner & Oak. Their hats will keep you shaded at these sunny southern California campgrounds.


Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains, Santa Barbara offers the perfect combination of adventure activities for outdoor enthusiasts. Whether you’d rather hit the beach with your surfboard or trek through some stunning wilderness trails on foot, this region of California has it all.

The best part is you can enjoy all Santa Barbara and surrounding areas have to offer without breaking the bank. Check out these 7 beautiful sites for free camping in Santa Barbara.

1. Arroyo Hondo Vista Point

poodle looking at sushi on a table

Image from The Dyrt camper MementoMori C.

If you’re looking for a free camping spot on your way to or from Santa Barbara, Arroyo Hondo Vista Point is the perfect location for an overnight stop that won’t cut into your road trip’s budget.

You’re limited to a single night stay due to an 8-hour parking limit, but you’ll enjoy access to the water since this spot is right on the coast. This is a great option for van lifers looking for a brief camping break with beautiful views and cell reception. There are no amenities, so you’ll need to be self-contained to enjoy Arroyo Hondo Vista Point.

“Easy to find, right on the highway one, some other campers were there. It’s not a place to stay for too long, but for spending one night it’s perfect, we stayed for about 12 hours.”Hannah.

Campground Details:

  • Price: Free
  • Number of sites: Informal (no set number of sites)
  • RV sites: Yes
  • Fires allowed: No
  • Pets allowed: Yes

2. Lake Casitas Recreation Area

RV parked at campsite

Image from The Dyrt camper Raf A.

Just over a half-hour drive from Santa Barbara, Lake Casitas Recreation Area is a stunning location for free camping. They have various sites to accommodate tent campers or those traveling in RVs. The biggest draw for this dispersed camping site is the complete immersion in nature, just a stone’s throw away from a bustling city. Some sites are located right on the water, while others are tucked amongst the trees.

If you’re staying for several days, you can make use of a fenced, dry storage facility for kayaks and canoes. Amenities are minimal, and the sites are first-come, first-serve. Campers will have access to Wi-Fi, and water taps are located throughout the campsite. Keep in mind that not all campsites at Lake Casitas are dispersed, free camping sites.

“One of our first camping trips was to Lake Casitas recreation area. We were able to back up to the lake and literally fish off our rear bumper. I would recommend this place, and you should add it to your list.”Clete B.

Campground Details:

  • Price: Free
  • Number of sites: 400+
  • RV sites: Yes
  • Fires allowed: Yes
  • Pets allowed: Yes

3. Los Padres National Forest Figueroa Campground

van parked in trees at sunset

Image from The Dyrt camper MementoMori C.

Figueroa Campground is located in the Los Padres National Forest near Santa Barbara, making this the perfect wilderness getaway within an hour of the city. While this campground does have some paid sites, it also offers dispersed camping for those looking to experience the great outdoors on a budget. Amenities are extremely limited, with no water or electrical hookups for RVs, though a sanitary dump is available.

Pets are welcome, and fires are allowed, permitted you use local firewood to avoid bringing invasive species to the area.

“This campsite with its gorgeous Manzanita Trees and forestry landscapes left us feeling at peace with nature. It was quiet and felt like we were a million miles from home (we live 2 hrs away). I highly recommend this site, and the hosts are fabulous.”Allison A.

Campground Details:

  • Price: Free
  • Number of sites: 33
  • RV sites: Yes
  • Fires allowed: Yes
  • Pets allowed: Yes

4. Chorma Camp in Matilija Wilderness

tent dishelved by wind

Image from The Dyrt camper robherr

The reality is that free camping in Santa Barbara is limited, but if you’re willing to venture an hour and a half away from the city, you can enjoy a broad range of dispersed camping options, including the Chorma Camp in Matilija Wilderness.

For the adventurous backpacker, these dispersed camping spots deep in the Los Padres National Forest are accessible by hiking trail and offer an opportunity to be fully surrounded by untouched nature. With no amenities onsite, you’ll have to be okay with “roughing it” to reap the benefits of free camping at this location.

“There are no amenities at any of the campsites in this area, they are all primitive dispersed camp areas.”robherr.

Campground Details:

  • Price: Free
  • Number of sites: Unknown
  • RV sites: No
  • Fires allowed: No
  • Pets allowed: Yes

5. Murietta Campground

rocks and mountains at sunset

Image from The Dyrt camper Stephanie W.

Just over an hour from Santa Barbara, Murietta Campground is one of four undeveloped, primitive dispersed campgrounds along the Matilija Creek Upper North Fork. Sites are exclusively for tent camping with no access for RVs or other vehicles. This is a fantastic experience for the adventurous hiker who doesn’t mind a lack of amenities in exchange for stunning views and no fees.

“We happened upon this campsite late at night, but the views the next morning were stunning, wish we could have stayed longer. There were bathrooms but didn’t see showers.”Stephanie W.

Campground Details:

  • Price: Free
  • Number of sites: 3
  • RV sites: No
  • Fires allowed: No
  • Pets allowed: Yes

6. Chula Vista Campground at Mount Pinos

3 men on the peak of mount pinos

Image from The Dyrt camper John B.

If you’re willing to drive further away from Santa Barbara, Chula Vista Campground at Mount Pinos offers stunning views, epic hiking trails, and an outdoor experience unique from the rest of the region. Located at Mount Pinos, hikers who want a challenging trek will love the high altitude and cooler temperatures this campsite offers.

Mount Pinos is the tallest point in Ventura County, with its summit elevation measuring 8,848 feet. Chula Vista Campground is the perfect basecamp for exploring this area and scaling a mountain in California. Though it’s a 2-hour drive from Santa Barbara’s city center, this is a free camping experience you can’t get anywhere else in the region. Spots are first-come, first-serve, and while amenities are limited, there are bathrooms onsite.

“Love it that it’s a walk in campground so no cars or RVs. Lots of hiking trails nearby. It’s a lot cooler up here, so it’s a nice way to get away from the summer heat. Awesome area for stargazing.”Antonio C.

Campground Details:

  • Price: Free
  • Number of sites: 12
  • RV sites: No
  • Fires allowed: No
  • Pets allowed: Yes

7. KCL Campground

grass field at sunset

Image from The Dyrt camper Tommy B.

KCL Campground is located a two and half hour drive outside Santa Barbara’s downtown core and offers scenic views of distant mountains on BLM land. To take advantage of the best free camping in Santa Barbara, you may need to travel a little farther outside the city than you would for paid camping, but the savings and views are well worth it.

This campground offers 12 sites, 2 of which are ADA accessible. There are limited amenities with no electricity, water, or garbage disposal service, but campers can enjoy fire pits, picnic tables, and even horse corales.

Hikers and horseback riders alike will love the views, trails, and wide open spaces for walking or riding. From KCL Campground, you are just a 20-minute drive away from the Carrizo Plain National Monument, marking the largest single native grassland that still remains in California.

“Great spot to relax. There are some nice hiking options, as well.”Tommy B.

Campground Details:

  • Price: Free
  • Number of sites: 12
  • RV sites: Yes
  • Fires allowed: Yes
  • Pets allowed: Yes

It can be challenging to locate spots for free camping in Santa Barbara, but with this list of 7 incredible sites in the area, you can explore more of California’s wilderness without going broke. Free camping is just a taste of what Santa Barbara has to offer outdoor enthusiasts. For more ideas on where to camp in Santa Barbara, explore The Dyrt’s full list.


This article about free camping Santa Barbara was brought to you by Banner & Oak.

Banner & Oak - Best Trucker Hats

Check out their variety of hats and caps before going to any of these campgrounds.