From mountain vistas to ocean views, California’s campgrounds offer an endless supply of scenic camping spots for all levels of experience.
With cliff-lined beaches, high mountain ranges, and Redwood forests, California has no shortage of scenic spots to pitch a tent. Whether you set up camp like a pro or have never slept outside, there is something in the Golden State for every kind of camper, in every kind of season. California has some great winter camping spots, but with spring and summer just around the corner, there are even more places to camp. Here are our top picks for exploring the best camping in California.
1. TUOLUMNE MEADOWS CAMPGROUND
Stay in the splendor of the high country of Yosemite National Park, a place that testifies to the immense power of glaciers and granite rock. The Tuolumne Meadows Campground is northeast of Yosemite Valley on Tioga Road, situated at 8,600 feet. The campground is half reservations-only, and half first-come, first-served, so campers who arrive early enough can secure a spot. The camping is away from the busy Yosemite Valley, but still offers access to the glacial-fed lakes, valleys and meadows of the high Sierra Nevada Mountains.
The Unicorn Lake trail leads directly from the campground, and the bus system shuttles hikers to the Tioga Pass Trailhead, Cathedral Lakes Trailhead and other trails in the area. Camping is $26 a night, with tent sites and RV sites without hookups, and the campground is open July through September. Water is available as well as flush toilets. The campground is family-friendly and good for all levels of camping abilities.
2. WHITE TANK CAMPGROUND
Sleep underneath a star-strewn night sky in Joshua Tree National Park, right beside large granite boulders and the park’s distinctive Joshua trees. With only 15 spots, this campground offers more solitude and quiet than the park’s larger campgrounds and it is first-come, first-served. The campground is open year-round, but the summer is blazing hot, so visit in the spring when wildflowers light up the desert with sparks of color.
The Arch Rock Nature Trail is accessible from camp, as are a few bouldering and climbing areas. This is a great camping spot for adventurers looking to explore, or for those seeking desert solitude. It is $15 a night, with pit toilets and no water access.
3. PRAIRIE CREEK REDWOODS STATE PARK
Hike in primeval old-growth forest so wild and lush that it was used as a backdrop for the movie Jurassic Park. Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park protects a large percentage of northern California’s old-growth Redwoods as well as a herd of Roosevelt Elk, who are often grazing or resting at the nearby Gold Bluffs Beach.
The park is right on the coast, just an hour north of Eureka. Alex from Washington State recommends the Elk Prairie Campground, where you can sleep under the canopy of tall pine and fir trees. The park is open year-round and busiest during the summer. Make sure to pack your waterproof jacket because it is a wet coastal environment. Camping is $35 a night, and families, solo campers or adventurers will all enjoy this campground and the variety of trails available.
4. SONOMA COAST STATE PARK
Rugged rocky bluffs, scenic coastal coves and tidepools with marine life all attract visitors to Sonoma Coast State Park. Located only a few hours north of the San Francisco Bay area, it offers the perfect escape from the heat of summer for families or beginning campers. Enjoy the sunset from camp, or explore the beach, but do not swim, as there are unpredictable ocean currents.
The park offers three campgrounds, with Bodega Dunes Campground offering the most amenities, like showers and dump stations. Camp sites are $35 a night, and hiker and biker sites are $5 a night. Reservations are recommended, especially during the busy summer months.