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  • Writer's pictureMarina Neal

10 Captivating California Campsites

California is an incredible state that boasts all types of campgrounds, in all types of landscapes. You can easily camp in the desert one day, the ocean the next, and the mountains after that.

Yosemite NP and Waterfall
Yosemite National Park, photo courtesy of Marina Neal

When looking for a campsite there are lots of factors to consider including altitude and access. There is a plethora of paved campsites, private land camping, and dispersed camping areas.

Paved campsites can be found in private RV camps and state-managed campgrounds. They generally cost somewhere between $15-$45 a night and will come with amenities such as a communal bathroom and potable water. They have flat, marked campgrounds, and can get quite busy.

Dispersed Camping in Moab, UT
Dispersed Camping in Moab, UT

Private land camping is when people rent out their land through sites such as Hipcamp for campers to stay on. This will also cost money (there’s a huge range in cost) and is generally fairly isolated. The site will specify what amenities the campsites have, but this is a good way to camp in less populated areas.

Dispersed camping is camping done on public land. Dispersed camping can be trickier to find, and you may need a 4x4 or high clearance vehicle. There are no amenities and service can be spotty. However, it is entirely free and often in beautiful and remote spots. To learn more about camping on public lands, check out our blog post here.

Take a road trip from the tip to tip of California with these beautiful campgrounds.

Northern California

Northern California is filled with rugged coastline, rocky beaches, massive redwood trees, and a mountainous landscape. It’s the least populated part of California and will have the coldest average temperatures of the state. Here are some of our favorite areas to camp in California:

Shasta Trinity National Forest, photo courtesy of Marina Neal
Shasta Trinity National Forest, photo courtesy of Marina Neal

1. Shasta-Trinity National Forest. This National Forest has epic mountain views, backpacking routes, and alpine lakes. There are 21 developed campgrounds here, so you can take your pick of location. There are also some spectacular dispersed camping areas, such as McBride Springs Campground.

2. Redwood National and State Parks. These incredible trees are some of the tallest in the world! Although there is no dispersed camping in this mossy wonderland, there are free backcountry permits available and 4 developed campgrounds for a low cost. The Jedidiah Smith campground is one of the most popular campgrounds, and for good reason!

3. Lassen National Park. There are several campgrounds within this volcanic national park, but one of our favorites is South Summit Lake Campground. It’s a secluded campground, surrounded by trails and borders a beautiful lake. There are amenities and a minimal cost for the stay. Bonus! There’s also a tents-only area of the campground for tent campers looking to get away from the RVs.

Coastal trails in Salt Point State Park.

4. Salt Point State Park. This is a beautiful coastal campground with kelp caves, lush forests, and multiple developed campgrounds. There are over 20 miles of desolate hiking trails and all sorts of coastal activities.

Central California

Sequoia National Forest, photo courtesy of Marina Neal
Sequoia National Forest, CA

1. Sequoia National Forest. There are 8

developed campgrounds here, and with the proximity to King’s Canyon, you can have multiple adventures on one weekend trip! Lodgepole Campground is a great option within the park, located conventionally close to the Visitor’s center and a beautiful creek. There is also a plethora of dispersed camping spots outside of the park.

2. Mammoth Lakes. Located on the outskirts of Yosemite, Mammoth Lakes has easy access to one of our favorite national parks and tons of dispersed camping! There are scattered hot springs around the area, so be prepared to soak. With beautiful stars, open sky, and mountain views, Mammoth Lakes is one of the best dispersed camping spots in central California. One of our favorite hot spring areas over here is Wild Willy’s Hot Springs.

3. San Luis Obispo. This coastal city is rated as one of the happiest places in the U.S. We think part of this is because of their proximity to the ocean, countless trails, and dispersed camping. One of our favorite camping spots here is the “TV Tower Road Dispersed Camping.” With stunning views and the best sunset you’ll ever see, it’s hard to believe it’s free. The road is well maintained, and any car should be able to make it up.

Southern California

camping in truck bed
Photo courtesy of Marina Neal

1. Joshua Tree National Park. Wow. What a spectacular place. A great thing about this National Park is the expanse of BLM land surrounding it. There are countless dispersed campsites around here, and while there are no amenities, the spots you can find are beautiful. While there is no specific name for the campground, just look up ‘Joshua Tree Dispersed Camping’ and take your pick of desert roads to drive down. Always remember to pack out whatever you bring, and be respectful of the land.

2. Crystal Cove State Park. This is a fantastic coastal campground located near Laguna Beach. There are multiple developed campgrounds, we like Moro campground for its ocean views and access to the beach.

feet in water
Photo courtesy of Marina Neal

3. San Onofre Bluffs Campground. Easy access to world-class surfing, and hear the waves crash from your tent at night. This campground is about 60 minutes outside San Diego and has 100 campsites to choose from. A popular spot for anyone from dirtbags to families, it’s absolutely worth the nightly fee. Book early though, spots can fill up to six months in advance!

This is by no means an extensive list, and we encourage you to do your own research and find a beautiful spot in California to pitch your tent. If you need any camping gear, check out Requipper for new-to-you gear at an affordable price!

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