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One of the best ways to experience California is to get outside and go camping! You can’t beat sleeping under the stars and waking up to beautiful sunrise views. From the beaches to the desert to the mountains, California is home to some diverse landscapes, making it the perfect state to have an epic nature adventure. Keep reading for some of the best campsites in California and start planning your trip!
California Camping Packing List
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First things first – before planning your camping trip, make sure you have the right gear! See below for some of my favorite items:
- 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!)
Best Campsites in California
(In no particular order)
Want to know the best FREE campsites in California (and anywhere else in the US)? Get the Dyrt Pro app and use the new “map layers” feature to see BLM land + more for all the free campsites available in your area.
Alabama Hills, located at the base of the Eastern Sierras, should be on every California camper’s bucket list. This unique desert landscape with snowcapped mountains in the background is famous among photographers, movie buffs (several movies have been filmed here), and outdoor enthusiasts. Camping at Alabama Hills is awesome. Not only is the landscape out-of-this-world, but it’s one of the rare campsites in California where you don’t need a reservation! Since it’s BLM land, it’s dispersed camping, which means there are no set campsites. You can set up camp anywhere (just be sure to not damage any plants or anything). This also means there are no bathrooms or facilities – just you and the land – so come prepared! The town of Lone Pine is nearby in case you need to get any last-minute items.
Don’t miss the short hike to Mobius Arch while you are in the area. This natural rock arch perfectly frames Mt. Whitney in the background!
Big Pine Lakes
Located in the Eastern Sierras, Big Pine Lakes is one of the most beautiful places to camp in California. Instead of an actual campground, this spot is for backcountry camping (although you are able to do this hike as a day-hike, too). You’ll need to reserve a Wilderness Permit for Inyo National Forest from Recreation.gov to be able to camp here.
Want a more detailed guide on my favorite gear for backpacking? Check out my Backpacking for Beginners Packing List!
There are 7 glacier lakes you can stop at. We set up camp at the second lake, and it was breathtaking! The hike is about 14 miles rt with 3,000 ft elevation gain.
READ MORE: Backpacking Big Pine Lakes
Yosemite National Park – Illiouette Basin
Yosemite is one of my favorite national parks. Even though this park is super popular, you can easily escape the crowds and immerse yourself into nature by backcountry camping. Note that you’ll need to get a wilderness permit to do this.
I recommend applying for a wilderness permit for Happy Isles to Illiouette Basin. This area has very little traffic, so you will feel off-the-grid and be able to enjoy a serene camping experience with an epic view! This spot is definitely one of the best campsites in California.
Pro tip: After your night camping in the wilderness at Illiouette Basin, make your way to Little Yosemite Valley campground for night 2 and then complete the hike to Half Dome from there. This hike should be on every adventurer’s bucket list!
Channel Islands National Park – Scorpion Ridge
One of the best places to camp in California is Channel Islands National Park. It’s not far off the California coast, but it feels like you’re worlds away! Located off the coast of Ventura, getting to Channel Islands National Park requires a 1 hour (or longer, depending what island you choose) ferry ride. For your visit, I recommend camping at Santa Cruz Island as it is one of the biggest and closest islands. Secure a campsite at Scorpion Ridge Campground a few months before your trip to ensure you get a spot. Once you get off the ferry, you have to walk about a half mile to your campsite, so pack light!
READ MORE: 2 Days in Channel Islands National Park
Anza Borrego State Park
Anza Borrego State Park, located about 1.5 hours east of San Diego, has some of the best camping in Southern California. The dramatic desert landscape has slot canyons, lookout points with epic panoramic views, and hikes filled with waterfalls and palm trees. It’s also home to these eclectic statues scattered throughout Borrego Springs.
While there is a campground you can reserve, I recommend dispersed camping so you can get away from the crowds. Anza Borrego is another one of the rare spots in California where you can camp anywhere without a reservation. Because it’s dispersed camping, there are no amenities or bathrooms, so make sure you’re prepared!
READ MORE: Camping at Anza Borrego State Park
Lake Tahoe – Emerald Bay State Park
Lake Tahoe is absolutely beautiful. Instead of staying at a hotel or Airbnb, opt outside! You can snag a campsite with a view at Eagle Point Campground in Emerald Bay State Park. This campground has over 100 sites with access to the beach and hiking trails.
While you’re in Tahoe, make sure to check out Sand Harbor. This is one of the best places to jump out on the rocks and soak in the views of the bright blue water.
Crystal Cove State Park – Moro Campground
Crystal Cove State Park has some of the best campsites in California for beach views. Located in Laguna Beach, Moro Campground on the coast has 28 RV sites and 30 tent camping sites.
If you’re looking for more solitude, try one of the backcountry campsites. Reserve a spot at Lower Moro campground, and hike in about 3 miles to the scenic campsite on a hill overlooking the coast of Laguna Beach. This is definitely one of the best campsites in Southern California, and one of the least crowded!
Sequoia National Park – Lodgepole Campground
Ready for a weekend immersed in the forest surrounded by giant trees? Sequoia National Park is an iconic spot in California, and is even better experienced by camping there! Lodgepole Campground is the most conveniently-located campground to most of the trails and sights in the park. The Kaweah River flows right through the campground so you can take a dip once you get back to your campsite after a day of exploring the park.
Book your reservation on Recreation.gov a few months in advance to make sure you get a spot!
Joshua Tree National Park – White Tank Campground
Some of the best campsites in California can be found sleeping under the stars at Joshua Tree National Park. There are a few campgrounds in the park, but White Tank campground is one of the best. This first-come-first-serve campground is surrounded by huge boulders and only has 15 sites, so it’s not as crowded as some of the others. It’s right near iconic Arch Rock trail.
If you don’t get a spot at White Tank Campground, try Jumbo Rocks campground, or check out Hipcamp to get a spot nearby the park!
READ MORE: 12 Best Things to Do in Joshua Tree
Jalama Beach, located about an hour north of Santa Barbara, is one of the best places to camp on the beach in California. The campsites on the lower loop (sites 53-64) have the BEST views as close as you can get to the ocean. These sites go fast, so make sure you reserve a few months before!
June Lake – Oh Ridge Campground
June Lake, located right near Mammoth Mountain in the Eastern Sierras area, is an amazing weekend getaway in California. There are a few campgrounds around June Lake Loop, but Oh Ridge campground has some of the best campsites in California. This campground is located right near the beach on the north eastern side of June Lake, so you can walk there directly from your campsite and have a beach day!
The sites are also nearby some awesome hiking trails, and only about a 10 minute drive into the cute. mountain town of June Lake.
As it is with most camping in California, make sure you reserve your campsite a few months in advance!
Big Sur is one of my favorite places in California. It’s breathtakingly beautiful at every turn, and has some of the best camping in California. There are a few awesome camping options here that I recommend:
- Prewitt Ridge
- Prewitt Ridge is a dispersed camping option in Big Sur. Drive up to this ridgeline campground for some epic sunset views overlooking the coastline below. This is definitely one of the best California campsites!
- Ventana Campground
- Ventana Big Sur is nestled into the hillside overlooking the Pacific Coastline. This adults-only resort has some amazing glamping sites located in the woods of Big Sur!
- Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground
- This iconic Big Sur campground has 189 RV and tent sites located near the Big Sur River
- PCH Car Camping
- One of my favorite ways to experience Big Sur is car camping. If you’re traveling in a car, RV or campervan, you can literally just park at one of the many turnouts off the PCH (as long as there are no “no overnight parking signs” there) and sleep with an AWESOME view for free! Check out my post on how to get the best RV deals so you can car-camp in style.
READ MORE: The Best Big Sur Itinerary
Parsons Landing – Catalina Island
Parsons Landing is hands down one of the best beach campgrounds in California. This primitive campground only has 8 sites, so you really feel like you’re on a deserted beach. To get here, you have to take a ferry to Two Harbors and then hike the ~7.5 miles to the campground. Each campsite has a fire pit, picnic table, fox box, and comes with a locker with water and firewood. The hike to get here is beautiful, and the campground itself is amazing. There’s also great snorkeling right off shore!
Looking for more California adventures? Check out 12 Epic California Weekend Getaways