Camping in California: 13 Top Spots in the Golden State

Vacationing in California does not always mean spending a fortune. Camping offers a way to visit California's notable tourist stops, pristine Pacific Coast beaches, and diverse national parks without having to pay expensive hotel fees. Many sites also allow you to bring your own food, which helps to avoid having to find a reasonable restaurant to dine.

Get outside and view the splendor of our country's natural resources. California's diverse landscape offers something for every adventurer no matter what time of year you plan on traveling.

Top Camping Spots in the Golden State

1. Hollywood RV Park

Get the star treatment at a fraction of the cost at this RV camping site located near Hollywood, Burbank, and Downtown! Customer service is a top priority at Hollywood RV Park, and they offer full hookups for your RV, electricity, wi-fi, and a gym.

Despite being so close to such major tourist destinations, Hollywood RV Park also offers its own entertainment. Take a scenic stroll through the art gallery that features unique murals and artwork. Afterward, catch a comedy show or discover the next big musical act at the Hollywood Playhouse also on the premises.

Prices start at $65 per night or $395 weekly plus tax, and all reservations can be made directly through the family-owned Hollywood RV Park.

2. Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Cancel the expensive Hollywood Studios tour and hike Fern Canyon. Its lush foliage and prehistoric views served as the backdrop to Jurassic Park. You can choose to stay at either Elk Prairie or Gold Bluffs Beach campgrounds, both of which are near 75 miles of hiking trails and a 19-mile bike loop.

At the visitor center, you will find information about protecting our country's historic redwoods. California is known for its redwoods, and Prairie Creek, along with three other nearby parks protect 45 percent of California's remaining old-growth redwoods.

Prairie Creek is open for camping all year, and you can rent a cabin for $8 per night for up to six people. These cabins include electricity and are ADA accessible, but do not have kitchens or bathrooms, and instead have an outdoor barbeque grill, fire pit, picnic table, and bear box. Make a reservation by visiting www.reservecalifornia.com. Peak season (May 15th through September 28th) requires advanced booking. After that, cabins are rented on a first-come, first-served basis.

3. Camp 4 Yosemite National Park

Plan a winter getaway and experience the stunning views of the Horsetail Falls. Once a lesser-known fall, the Horsetail Falls are now gaining in popularity because of the natural molten orange glow the falling water emits. 

Best viewing times are at dusk from mid to late February, so make sure to come prepared with a flashlight and appropriate clothing. The falls are a one-mile hike from the Yosemite Falls Parking Area near the Yosemite Valley Lodge.

If you are planning a summer stay, Camp 4 is known for its rock climbing. The Columbia Boulder is visible from the Camp 4 parking lot. Yosemite sits on polished granite boulders, so there are many bouldering excursions to plan for when visiting. 

Yosemite National Park offers lessons and guided tours for beginners.

Those planning to camp in Yosemite must enter a lottery during peak season (mid-September through mid-May) where there is a $10 non-refundable entry fee for up to 12 people. If selected, there is then a $6 fee per person per night to stay. There is no lottery or reservations needed to visit during off-peak months.

Regardless of how you are camping, Yosemite offers something for everyone. There are RV sites as well as group campsites and those offering amenities like showers. Depending on where you travel, there are campsites available all year. Each campsite also provides a fire pit, picnic table and shared food lockers.

4. White Tank Joshua Tree National Park

The Mojave and Colorado deserts join at Joshua Tree National Park to create a one-of-a-kind camping experience. Immerse yourself between giant granite boulders during the day and sleep under the open stars at night. 

Located off Pinto Basin Road in the northern end of the park, White Tank is near the darkest section of Joshua Tree National Park and offers some of the best stargazing. The wide-open spaces also allow for excellent bird watching, and unlike some other parks on this list, White Tank allows pets.

Suitable for hikers at any skill level, Arch Rock Trail shows a stunning view of the natural arch within the expanse of granite formations. The 0.3-mile hike provides a unique day trip for families and outdoor fitness enthusiasts alike. 

Staying at a campsite is first-come, first served. There is a $20 car fee and a $15-20 per night additional fee depending on whether or not the site you stay at has potable water. Because of the park’s dry climate, fires are only allowed in designated fire rings or barbeques. Visitors are asked to bring their own firewood and keep fires small.

5. Crystal Cove State Park

Stay in Orange County on a budget. Hike the picturesque shorelines of Laguna Beach at Moro Campground which allows for RVs and campers. There is also more primitive camping at Crystal Cove Primitive tent sites in the Lower Moro, Upper Moro, and Deer Canyon campsites.

All campsites provide access to swimming, fishing, scuba diving, mountain biking, horseback riding, and more.

The Historic District is also a popular tourist destination. Federally preserved rustic cottages that were built in the 1930s and '40s beautifully showcase early 20th century Southern California coastal development. 

If you’re looking for a bite to eat, the Beachcomber Cafe offers breakfast, lunch, dinner, and bar options all year long. The restored, beachfront cottage also serves as a rental stand offering beach chair and umbrella rentals on a first-come, first-served basis.

Fees vary depending on which campsite you stay at RV campsites are $55 per night, and tent campsites are $35 per night. Prices include one vehicle, but there is a $15 fee added for each additional vehicle. 

Reservations need to be made six months to two days in advance and can be made at www.reservecalifornia.com. Find more information about Coastal Cove State Park on their website.

6. No Mans Trailhead Klamath National Forest

Live off the grid for a while when you camp in this remote, forested area in California's northernmost county of Siskiyou. No Mans is the trailhead for the 22-mile Clear Creek National Recreation Trail. It provides excellent wilderness views throughout to the open meadow of Young's Valley. Rattlesnakes are common in this region, so be mindful while hiking.

It is free to stay at No Mans, and there are no park access fees. Because it is so densely forested, there are regulations on building fires, and a current California Campfire Permit is required to use a camp stove, barbecue, or have a campfire. There is no water available, and all trash is carry-in, carry-out.

7. Mariners Point Shoreline Campground

A retreat for boaters and anglers, Mariners Lake, is popular for power and non-motorized boating. Boat rentals are available at nearby resorts, and the public boat ramp is a short distance away in Jones Valley. 

Once you are in a boat, Mariners Lake is known for its fishing. Lake resident fish include trout, catfish, Chinook salmon, crappie, bluegill, white sturgeon, brown bullhead, and bass. Other popular lake activities include paddling and water skiing.

Shasta-Trinity is the largest national forest in California, and even if you're not interested in water sports, there are a lot of hiking trips to take. Check out the interactive visitor map to find popular hiking, biking, picnic, and ATV sites.

Mariners Point is only open during its peak season of mid-May through mid-September and costs $100 per night. Barbeque grills, fire rings, and picnic tables are available to use.

8. Lacks Creek Management Area

Secluded campsites open to a wide range of recreational activities. Lacks Creek offers many non-motorized bike trails for mountain bike enthusiasts. Pine Ridge Trail, Stormy Saddle, Tomfoolery, Punchbowl, and Lacks Mountain Trail are all popular, connecting one-lane bike paths. You can ride for 16 miles if you take the whole loop.

Gamers enjoy hunting and fishing in this region. Late summer into early fall is open hunting season for California Blacktail deer. Anglers can fish for salmon and steelhead in the free-flowing Wild and Scenic Lacks Creek and nearby Redwood Creek.

The United States Bureau of Land Management maintains this area located in the Lacks Creek watershed. Also in the Management Area is Blue Lake, which offers free dispersed camping that allows tents. Dispersed camping is camping on public land and provides for someone to stay at a site for 14 days at a time during any consecutive 28-day period. Check ahead with the Bureau of Land Management to see if there are any restrictions on fires before planning a trip.

9. Cherry Valley Campground Yosemite National Park

Smell fresh, open-air surrounded in dense pine and cedar forest. Also located in Yosemite National Forest, Cherry Lake is on the western side of the vast Sierra Nevada Mountains. Along with the natural views, there are plenty of activities to do, including fishing for salmon, swimming, boating, and hiking. 

While the best times to visit Cherry Lake are June through October, it is open all year and is a popular destination for those interested in snowmobiling, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and other winter sports.

During Peak Season, a non-electric campsite is $24 per night, and a campground offering electric hookups is $48 per night. Picnic tables and campfire programs are offered at all campsites.

10. Pismo State Beach

Visit the self-proclaimed Clam Capital of the World"! You must have a valid fishing license, but clamming is a popular and different activity to partake in a while at Pismo Beach. There are certain protections in place for the Pismo Clam, but you can also go clamming for the Pacific Razor Clam anytime throughout the year on the beach.

The pleasant year-round climate at Pismo Beach makes it a great escape during the otherwise burdensome, winter months. Observe nature from November to February when the Western Monarch butterflies migrate through Pismo Beach or stroll along the beach’s boardwalks through the dunes.

Pismo Beach is $5 per day to visit. Camping is open on the North Beach near Pismo State Beach. The Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove is also accessible from the campground. To learn more about how to protect America's pollinators, visit the Visitor Center.

11. Chino Hills State Park

Observe wildlife in its natural habitat. Chino Hills has diverse local climates that allow for different species of wildlife to call this area home. Observe over 200 species of birds and mammals as well as reptiles and amphibians that live in the park. Take precaution when visiting as this site is also home to the Southern Pacific and Red Diamond rattlesnakes.

Hike or bike over 90 miles of interconnected, multi-use recreational trails. Hike along the native plant trail to see plants that thrive in this region and are, in turn, a benefit to the local environment. Some of the beautiful, flowering native plants that can be seen in Chino Hills include California Fuchsia, Showy Penstemon, California Aster, and the Bristly Matilija Poppy.

The Rolling M. Ranch Campground at Chino Hill’s State Park is open seven days per week at $30 per night. There are a two-vehicle per site maximum and an extra charge of $5 for additional vehicles. Barbeque grills are provided at each site, but ground campfires are not allowed.

12. Green Cabin Flat Sequoia National Forest

Raft the Wild and Scenic Kings River. Designated by Congress and Federally protected for its scenic and recreational value, Kings River guarantees exciting white-water rafting experiences. Rafting packages offered include one or two-day trips, and student discounts are available.

Green Cabin Flat is in the Giant Sequoia National Monument which is home to popular hiking spots in Indian Basin Grove and Converse Basin Grove. Located in Converse Basin Cove is the Boole Tree, which is noted to be the sixth largest giant sequoia tree in the world and the largest in the United States.

This undeveloped campground is for the adventurous camper and does not require a fee or a reservation to stay. Be sure to check the fire and food restrictions before planning a trip. There are special food disposals posted since this remote campsite is in black bear country!

13. Kirk Creek Campground

Encounter breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean in the scenic Big Sur, California. Each site at the Kirk Creek Campground is backdropped by the ocean with easy access to its beaches. Surf the waves or take a romantic horseback ride along the coastline.

A short drive away, hike the mountains and forested areas through Los Padres National Park. Weather can vary in the forest since the altitude ranges from sea level to up to 9,000 feet on the Mount Pinos Ranger District.

Fees vary from $5 up to $35 per night. Families up to six can stay for $35 per night. Each family campsite allows for RVs or tents and comes equipped with campfire rings, picnic tables, and barbeque grills. Backpackers can share a site with other outdoor enthusiasts for $5 per night. There are no motorized vehicles allowed at these hiker/biker sites.

14. Bonus! Plan a Glamping Getaway

When you can splurge, visit Glamping California to book a luxury stay in some more widely recognized places in California. This website shows listings for safari tents in San Diego, treehouses in Santa Cruz, and a cabin chalet in Lake Tahoe.

Many of these glamping sites are also near the top attractions in California. Families can stay near Disneyland in Anaheim or the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and nature lovers can still experience the views at Joshua Tree National Park or Yosemite National Park.

Amenities can include anything from wi-fi access, to Jacuzzis, to private barbeques, to anything that helps you enjoy your vacation while not having to give up the comforts of home.

From its influence in TV and film to its stunning, diverse backdrops, California has long been a popular getaway destination. Once you determine a budget and choose the activities that interest you, finding the right location should be easy!

Conclusion

Regardless of whether you own an RV, prefer to backpack with a tent, or need some of the comforts a cabin can offer, you can still have an enjoyable and memorable trip.

Of course, sometimes the best way to travel is to make it up as you go along. Apps like the one offered from iOverlander allow you to download them to your phone and give you the ability to search campsites from wherever you end up. Some apps will tell you if the sites are free or if there is a charge to park for the night.

Featured Image from Pixabay

Janice Friedman
 

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