While most people only go camping in the warmer months, there are plenty of reasons why you would want to plan a camping trip in the winter. Whether you’re looking for snowy scenery or warmer climates with no crowds, there are plenty of awesome spots to go camping in the West Coast in winter. Keep reading for the full list and start planning your next adventure!
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To be the most comfortable on your winter camping trip, I highly recommend taking a campervan instead of tent camping so that you can escape the elements and get a better sleep. My absolute favorite campervan company to rent from is Cabana. Cabana is basically like a hotel room that comes with you! It’s great for winter camping because the van is equipped with a heater. Even on the chilliest nights, you can set the thermostat to your ideal temperature. It also has a shower + bathroom inside, a queen-size memory foam mattress, WiFi, TV, and a pull-out kitchen in the back. I’ve stayed in a few different campervans in the past, and this one is the most luxury by far. You can pick up your van from either their Los Angeles or Seattle location.
If you are on a budget & want to tent camp, that’s fine too! See below for a packing list for some essential items you’ll need for your trip. If you are going to one of the colder destinations on my list, make sure you have an appropriate degree-rated sleeping bag and sleeping pad to keep warm.
- REI Joule Sleeping Bag (this is the one that I have and I love it)
- Inflatable Sleeping Pad (this is the one that I use)
- Portable Rocking Chair (This thing is AWESOME!)
- REI Flexlite Chair – low profile camping chair that’s a big space-saver
- The COLDEST Water Bottle (seriously – stays colder than Hydroflask or Yeti!)
- Decathlon 2-Second Tent (I love this one – it’s super easy to setup and you can sleep longer because of the blackout material)
- Hiking Boots (These are my favorite!)
- Camping String Lights (these are the ones I have and I love them!)
- Travel Towel
- Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket (I bring this on EVERY camping trip. It packs up small and keeps you warm!)
- Sunski Polarized Glasses
- Camping Cooler
- Portable phone charger
- Cliff Bar Energy Chews (love these things for a boost of energy!)
- Kuhl Softshell Pants – These are my favorite pants to wear hiking or camping when the weather gets chilly!
- Periscoping Roasting Sticks – these come in handy when you want to roast smores or hot dogs over the fire!
- Camping Grill – this is the one I have, and I love it!
10 Best Spots for Winter Camping in the West Coast
(in alphabetical order)
- Anza Borrego State Park
- Benton Hot Springs
- Big Sur
- Death Valley National Park
- Jalama Beach
- Joshua Tree
- Kanab, Utah
- Oregon Coast
- Pinnacles National Park
- Valley of Fire State Park
Anza Borrego State Park
If you’re looking for a spot to go camping in the West Coast during winter but want to avoid the cold, Anza Borrego is the answer. In fact, camping at Anza Borrego State Park in the winter is ideal, compared to the summer months when temperatures can get over 100 degrees F. Located inland from San Diego, this spot is just a 3-hour drive from Los Angeles.
You don’t need to reserve a campsite, as Anza Borrego State Park offers free dispersed camping. This means you can camp anywhere as long your car is not parked more than one car length off the road, and as long as your camp is set up at least 100 yards from any water source. Dispersed camping is awesome – it means you can spread out and enjoy solitude. No noisy neighbors, no other sounds, just you and nature. However, it also means that you must be self-sufficient. There are no bathrooms, sources of drinking water, or trash cans, so pack accordingly. Everything you pack in, you must pack out!
Highlights of Anza Borrego State Park: Slot Canyon Trail, the view of the badlands from Font’s Point, and watching the stars at night (it’s a certified “Dark Sky Park”).
Benton Hot Springs
Picture this: the weather is cold, there’s some light snow in the forecast, but you’re soaking in a private natural hot spring surrounded by epic views of the snow-capped Eastern Sierra mountains. Sounds amazing, right?
Benton Hot Springs is the perfect spot to go winter camping in the West Coast. Although it can get cold here in winter, it’s easy to stay warm when each campsite has a private natural hot spring to soak in! It’s about a 5-hour drive from Los Angeles, located just a short detour off scenic Highway 395 in the Eastern Sierras. Benton Hot Springs is also only 45 minutes from Mammoth Mountain, which makes it a great home base for skiing/snowboarding.
You can book your campsite on the Benton Hot Springs website. There is also an inn on the property, but if you stay at the inn, you don’t get your own private hot spring (there is a shared one for the guests of the inn). I really only recommend going here if you plan to camp!
I highly recommend renting a Cabana van for winter camping here unless you are experienced in cold-weather camping. When we were here in early December, it got down to 15 degrees at night, so it was especially nice to have the heated Cabana van!
All of the campsites are awesome, however the one with the best view from the hot spring tub is site #9, which is the one that I stayed at. The campsites are spread out pretty well – you definitely are able to have privacy and enjoy the scenery in solitude.
Big Sur is one of the most beautiful areas of California. Cruising along the cliff’s edge overlooking the Pacific Ocean is incredible. Big Sur is located in Central California, about 5 hours north of Los Angeles. Winter is one of the best times to visit Big Sur to escape the crowds, and temperatures are mild. The area can experience rain/storms in the winter which may cause road closures, so just be sure to check the weather/road reports ahead of time.
There are plenty of amazing spots to camp at Big Sur. You can choose from one of their reservable campgrounds, like Kirk Creek Campground or Fernwood. Or, if you are camping in a van instead of tent camping, you can park along the PCH and sleep there for the night (as long as there are no “no overnight parking” signs posted). A good way to find these overnight parking spots on the PCH is to download the app called “iOverlander” and search on the map.
Death Valley National Park
Death Valley, known for its vast, rugged, desert-like terrain, is the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere (282 feet below sea level). Winter is the best time to visit Death Valley, as the temperatures are much more mild compared to the extremely hot weather in the summer. It can get to be over 110 degrees F!
Death Valley is located about 5 hours from Los Angeles. Highlights include climbing up the Mesquite Sand Dunes, exploring Badwater Basin, and enjoying the sunrise view from Zabriskie Point.
Beach camping in California is such an amazing experience. Jalama Beach is one of the best campgrounds for beach camping in the West Coast. Located about 1 hour north of Santa Barbara, the road to get to Jalama Beach goes inland a bit, through rolling hills, before turning west and heading 14 miles towards the coast. It feels rugged and remote. There is no town nearby. The views are spectacular and the vibes are chill.
Coming here in the winter means good surf, but also provides an easier opportunity to secure a campsite, as it can be super competitive in the summer months. You can reserve a spot on the SB Parks website up to 6 months in advance.
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree is such a magical place. This national park features huge boulders, desert scenery, and the iconic and quirky-looking Joshua Trees. The town of Joshua Tree is super eclectic and is fun to explore as well. Joshua Tree National Park is one of the most popular spots to camp in the West Coast. Visiting in the winter means less crowds and mild temperatures.
Try your luck in getting one of the first-come-first-serve spots at either Hidden Valley Campground or White Tank Campground. Both spots are nestled between boulders which makes for a unique camping experience. If you would rather have a spot reserved, try to get one at Jumbo Rocks Campground, which accepts reservations September-May.
If you don’t want to camp, Joshua Tree is also known for having quite the eccentric selection of awesome Airbnbs/VRBOs, like this cool Bubble Desert Dome home.
Kanab, Utah is the gateway to so many epic nature spots. Situated right near the border of Arizona and Utah, It’s a bit further from the West Coast (about a 7.5 hour drive from Los Angeles). However, I felt the need to include it in the “best spots for camping on the West Coast in winter” list because there are so many epic things to do in this area, and winter is a great time to visit!
For instance, Kanab is right near The Wave. This iconic spot was initially made famous from a Windows desktop background, and more recently, from Instagram. The bright red rock formation has lines that run through it that make it look like a wave. To be able to visit The Wave, you must be one of the lucky 64 people per day to win the permit lottery. You can either enter the lottery months ahead of time online, or try your luck at the walk-in lottery, which takes place in Kanab. Visiting in the winter when there are less crowds means you have a significantly higher chance of winning the walk-in permit lottery to be able to visit this amazing spot!
Read More: The Ultimate Guide to Hiking The Wave, AZ
Even if you don’t get lucky and win a permit for The Wave, there are many other exciting spots to check out. Kanab is conveniently-located near under an hour from spots like Zion National Park, Bryce National Park, White Pocket, Horseshoe Bend and more.
This would be a great trip to have a campervan for. There is a plethora of dispersed camping spots along BLM land in this area! Or, you could stay in an established campground such as Dark Sky Campground or Ponderosa Grove.
Cruising up the Oregon Coast in a campervan is an amazing West Coast camping trip you can take this winter. The temperatures are mild year-round. Traveling here in the winter means less people – there’s a good chance you might even experience having the whole beach to yourself!
My favorite spot on the Oregon Coast is Cape Perpetua. It’s beautiful! It reminds me a bit of Big Sur. Canon Beach, Otter Rock, Devils Punchbowl and Thor’s Well are also highlights that you should not miss when traveling up the Oregon Coast.
I highly recommend utilizing a campervan for this trip – cruising up the coast and being able to stop and park for the night + sleep with a view is the best feeling. We used the app iOverlander during our trip to find the best spots to park overnight with a van. For instance, we found a spot for one night right near Oswald West State Park, which was stunning!
Pinnacles National Park
Pinnacles National Park is California’s newest national park, and one of the least-visited. It’s a little under 5 hours north of Los Angeles, just east of Big Sur. Pinnacles National Park can get unbearably hot in the summer, with little shade at the campgrounds. Winter, however, is the perfect time to go camping here!
The park gets its name from unique rock spires formed from volcanic activity. While the National Park itself is small in size, there are quite a few hikes to choose from with amazing views. There is only 1 campground in the park, near the East entrance. There is also a winery right outside the park entrance as well!
Valley of Fire State Park
Valley of Fire State Park, located just 45 minutes outside of Las Vegas, NV, is one of the best spots to go camping near the West Coast in the winter. The temps are mild enough to be enjoyable, but can still get chilly (in the low 30s at night).
There are two campgrounds in Valley of Fire State Park, and both are first-come-first-serve. I recommend getting there early & on a weekday to ensure you get a spot! Both campgrounds have epic views, nestled among red rocks.
A few of the highlights of Valley of Fire State Park are: the view from Mouse’s Tank Road, Fire Wave, and Pink Canyon. It looks like you’ve stepped onto another planet, but in reality you are just 5 hours away from Los Angeles!