The Best Campsites In California
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links through which you can buy things if you like. If you decide to make a purchase, I receive a small commission at zero extra cost to you. This helps me to keep this site running.
Guest post by Jay Steele
Outdoor camping is one of the best recreational activities you can try. Camping is an opportunity to disengage from technology and experience nature. It comes with a lot of health, mental, and educational benefits. Known as the golden state, California is one of the best states for camping in the United States, thanks to its numerous campsites. Besides, the state is beautiful with scenic views, chill vibes, and amazing sunlight. Anyone who visits California will love it there.
California has many beautiful campsites, which is an advantage and also a disadvantage. It’s a disadvantage for campers as they’ll find it difficult to pick the best campsites. Nevertheless, you can’t camp everywhere at a time. So, if you’re wondering where to camp in the golden state, here are my 10 best campsites in California:
Mt. Tam’s Pantoll Park
You’ll find Mt. Tam’s Pantoll Park in the heart of Marin County in Northern California. This park is a very large one covering 6,300 acres and is open from Monday to Sunday.
Mt. Tam’s Pantoll Park has numerous trails if you love to go hiking. There are about 63 top hiking trails in the area. However, what stands out on this campsite is Mount Tamalpais, which on its own takes up to 25,000 acres.
If you get to the top of this mountain, you’ll be presented with a very wonderful view. From there, you can view San Francisco, the Farallon Islands, North and East Bay, and some parts of Sierra Nevada. Not to mention the park sits just north of the Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco.
You’ll appreciate camping in Mt. Tam’s Pantoll Park has warm temperatures during summer and spring.
Yosemite National Park
Located in central California, the Yosemite National Park is one of the largest parks in the state, with a total area of 748,436 acres. It is also one of the oldest campsites in California as it was established way back in 1890, and one of the best national parks in the USA. It’s so large that it spreads across four counties, including Tuolumne, Mariposa, Madeira, and Mono. The park recorded a massive number of visitors of over 5 million in 2016. The average number of yearly visitors is about 4 million.
In Yosemite National Park, you’re greeted with wonderful sights of lakes, mountains, waterfalls, granite cliffs, meadows, etc. Everything you need to have an outstanding camping experience.
The most popular and most visited area on the campsite is the Yosemite Valley, seven square miles. If you’d like to camp when there isn’t too much crowd, May and September are ideal.
Although somewhat underdeveloped, the Algoma campground is one of California’s best campsites, especially for tent camping. With a 3800 feet elevation, It is situated at the Upper McCloud River and is operated by the Shasta Trinity National Forest.
The area is not big and ideal for private camping. Furthermore, it’s one of the few camping sites where you don’t have to pay a fee. Being not so far from the McCloud River’s lower falls makes this campsite an ideal one if you enjoy riverside camping.
At the Algoma Campground, you can camp in a tent, RV, and camp in groups. Despite the small capacity, there are plenty of spots on this campsite to keep you separated from every other person.
The place is very quiet, there are chipmunks around, and you can sleep at night while listening to the river running.
The majority of campers who have been to this campsite can attest to one thing – it’s a very clean and well looked after site. Ventana Campground is a campsite you can visit without worrying about what to eat, drink, or other things you may need.
The campsite is located close to cafes, restaurants, stores, gift shops, etc. Furthermore, you’ll find a fire ring with water faucets and a picnic table not so far from your campsite, and there are three modern baths available. Ventana Campground boasts of 40 acres of redwood trees – one of the world’s two tallest trees. However, note that this campsite is a tent only. You cannot camp using motor homes, RVs, or travel trailers.
If you’ve got a dog, you can bring them along as Ventana Campground is a pet-friendly campsite, and dogs are allowed.
Emerald Bay State Park
If you love to experience the wonderful Lake Tahoe Mark Twain lauded, then Emerald Bay State Park is a California campsite you should visit. The campsite is located just 12 miles north of this lake and has a maximum trailer of 15 feet in length.
If you want to visit Lake Tahoe, you can, but you’ll have to walk or hike; vehicles cannot drive down as there are no driving trails. Therefore, this campsite might not be the best for anyone with mobility difficulties or medical conditions.
The Emerald Bay State Park also has an Island within it – the Farnette Island, just at Lake Tahoe’s western shore. The Island is a great place to relax and watch the lake. It sits at 150 feet above the water.
Channel Islands National Park
Like the Yosemite National Park, the Channel Islands National Park is one of the oldest California campsites. It was established in 1980 and measures close to 250,000 acres.
Channel Islands National Park spreads across two counties – Ventura and Santa Barbara. The camp is renowned for its natural and cultural resources. If you want to experience nature like never before, try this campsite. It harbors unique plants and animals you won’t find anywhere else. Furthermore, this campsite has several large but beautiful sea caves.
Channel Islands National Park doesn’t get many visitors, which makes it ideal for private camping. However, not many people visit this park because it’s not easy to get to. It consists of Islands so you can’t get there by driving. You either sail or fly.
Inn town Campground
Are you thinking of camping in Nevada City? The 15-acre Inn town Campground is perfect for tent camping, RV camping, and glamping. Interestingly, you can walk to this campsite without packing anything – there are camping amenities ready to hire.
Inn town Campground boasts of over 30 campsites and is decorated with tall pine trees. There are also spots for beers, wines, ice creams, BBQ, and laundry at this campsite. Furthermore, you have access to WiFi if you need to make use of the internet.
If you’re coming from far states and you like to explore Nevada City during your stay, this campground is close to several attractions. This includes the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum, the Lazy Dog Chocolateria, and the Empire Mine State Historic Park. Furthermore, as a guest, you’re entitled to a free parking space.
Van Damme State Park
The campsite got its name from Charles Van Damme, one of the earliest settlers in the area.
Van Damme State Park is known popularly for its trails. It’s nicknamed “the day hiker’s paradise” and covers over 1,800 acres. You’ll find this campsite in Mendocino County.
There are 69 campsites in Van Damme State Park. There is a group campsite, five tent-only campsites, and 63 standard campsites. They are drive-in campsites, and there’s a free parking lot from which you can also access Little River Beach.
Not only can you camp and hike at this campsite, but you can also go kayaking, birding, watching salmon spawn, and biking. There’s the Van Damme Beach, where you’ll find kayakers every other day. It’s a great place for kayak tours, and the park features two Pygmy forested areas.
Alabama Hills is one of the best campsites in California where you do not have to pay fees. Thanks to the high desert and the endless rock features, it’s also a great place for day hiking and rock climbing.
This campsite measures 30,000 acres. It’s a relatively large one and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. It is located in the Sierra Nevada, and from this campsite, you can easily get to Mount Whitney for hikers.
However, Alabama Hills is a diapered area. You don’t pay for fees because there are no facilities or amenities. Whatever you’ll need – tents, water, pavements, etc. should be brought along if you decide to camp here. If you are using campfires or stoves, you’ll need a California Campfire Permit.
Nevertheless, as a very spacious campsite, Alabama Hills is recommended for group camping. You can also camp in an RV.
Gold Bluff Beach
I’m ending my list with a beach camping site for beach lovers. Gold Bluff Beach is situated in northwestern California. It’s a relatively quiet camp ideal if you want to spend time with nature, listening to waves as they crash at night.
Although the road to the campsite is narrow, you can still drive through. You can go to enjoy some nearby attractions from your campsite, including the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Newton B Drury Parkway, and Fern Canyon. Most people who come through this campsite have an objective of going to see the Fern Canyon.
You can bring your dog along on the beach and campground, but you can’t take them on the trails.
As mentioned earlier, California is renowned for its numerous campsites. However, out of the lot, I have listed out my ten best ones. Some of these camping sites allow tents and are great for tent camping. If you need help choosing the best tent, check out my post on the best family camping tents.
Once you pick your ideal campsite, prepare your bags, food, first aid box, etc., and have fun.
Which is your favorite campground in California? Let us know in the comment section.
Other Campsites in California
As big and wide as it gets, California has many more campsites to offer. Some of the more interesting to pay attention to.
There are two National Parks in California that attract millions of visitors every year. Joshua Tree National Park, near Palm Springs and Death Valley National Park, are both two of the best national parks in the USA and have beautiful desert campgrounds.
Other State parks with campgrounds are Big Sur state park, Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Russian Gulch State Park, and Crystal Cove State Park.
And a few other campgrounds are Minaret Falls Campground at Inyo National Forest, Kirk Creek Campground which is overlooking the Pacific ocean, and Nelder Grove Campground in Sierra National Forest.
About the Author
Jay Steele is a ‘dad of one’ and a passionate adventurist who enjoys sharing his adventures and other outdoor fun ideas through his writings. He writes for outdoorfads.com, a website dedicated to helping outdoor lovers have the best possible fun in the great outdoors. They publish content about camping, backpacking, and hiking.
If you want to get updates about new posts from The Top Ten Traveler, subscribe to my newsletter below, and also get the ultimate packing list for free.
If you like this post, don’t forget to Pin it
You might also like
Photo Credit: Ventana – basheertome is licensed under CC BY 2.0, Channel Island National Park – Ken Lund is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0, Van Damme State Park – jdlasica is licensed under CC BY 2.0, Gold Bluff Beach – CalUrbanist is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0