Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- 2. South Carlsbad State Beach Campground
- 3. Moro Campground, Laguna Beach
- 4. Big Bear Lake
- 5. Carpinteria State Park Campground
- 6. Channel Islands National Park, Ventura
- 7. El Capitan Canyon (near Santa Barbara)
- 8. Yosemite National Park
- 9. Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
- 10. Mammoth Lakes, Sierra Nevada Mountains
- 11. Emerald Bay State Park, Lake Tahoe
- 12. Ventana Campground, Big Sur
- 13. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
- 14. Marina Dunes RV Park
- 15. Lassen Volcanic National Park
Growing up in Los Angeles, my family didn’t go camping – although we did stay in lake and mountain cabins a couple of times. So when I had kids, I thought it would be fun to introduce them (and myself) to the best camping in California. We’ve had several camping trips, mostly in national forests where we hiked to waterfalls and fell asleep to the sound of rushing rivers.
But as much as I love nature, I’m kind of fussy when it comes to camping trips. We’ve only stayed in campsites with hot showers, flush toilets and clean restrooms. Fortunately, those are easy to find throughout California best campgrounds. Not only that, the Golden State’s diverse terrain has scenic beach camping as well as campsites in national parks and state parks. Plus, many beach campgrounds in southern California are open year-round.
So whether you prefer tent, RV or glamping campsites, this list covers the best camping in California from southern California to northern California and everywhere in between.
1. Joshua Tree National Park
Named for the twisted desert trees, the 800,000-acre Joshua Tree National Park features a unique desert landscape and rock formations. Numerous hiking trails weave throughout the park. While there is no lodging within the park, there are nine campgrounds. With 124 campsites, Jumbo Rocks Campground is the largest campground.
For an upscale camping experience, consider staying at AutoCamp Joshua Tree, a 25-acre property featuring a range of modern and fully-equipped Airstreams with luxury amenities. AutoCamp also has locations in Yosemite and by the Russian River.
2. South Carlsbad State Beach Campground
Open year-round, this scenic bluff-top beach campground has 215 sites for tents, RVS and trailers. Premium sites overlook the ocean while standard sites are slightly inland. Full hook-up sites are available. Amenities include hot showers and laundry facilities. Easy beach access is via ramps and stairs. You’ll definitely want to take advantage of those to enjoy the long sandy beach.
3. Moro Campground, Laguna Beach
Located in Crystal Cove State Park, the Moro Campground has 57 family campsites, with 27 designated for RVs and trailers. Restrooms and token-run showers are onsite. The campground’s bluff-top location offers beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean. There’s also easy access to hiking trails and tidepools.
4. Big Bear Lake
Situated high in the San Bernardino National Forest, Big Bear offers a few different camping experiences. The lakefront Holloway’s Marina & RV Park has 115 RV sites with full hook-ups. It’s a prime location for enjoying lake activities with the available boat, kayak and paddleboard rentals.
Serrano (near the lake) and Pineknot (in the forest) Campgrounds each offer tent and RV campsites. While Pineknot can accommodate RVs, it is best situated for tent camping. It’s also in a prime location for mountain biking. The Holcomb Valley Campground’s tent sites have a fire ring, picnic table and bear box. Pit toilets are available but no showers or plumbing so bring your own water.
Read More: Plan Your Epic Big Bear Lake Summer Vacay
5. Carpinteria State Park Campground
For the ultimate in beach camping, pitch a tent or park your RV or trailer at Carpinteria State Beach, just south of Santa Barbara. The campground has four campground loops: Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel named after the Channel Islands. Each campsite has a fire ring (except San Miguel beach row) and a picnic table. Campsites are open year-round.
6. Channel Islands National Park, Ventura
Channel Islands National Park is somewhat of a hidden gem in southern California. It’s an adventurous getaway with activities like kayaking in sea caves, snorkeling, hiking and primitive camping. Several undeveloped islands comprise Channel Islands, which are only accessible via a boat ride with Island Packers. Santa Cruz is the nearest island. If you like sleeping under the stars in a primitive campground, then Santa Cruz Campground is for you. It’s about a half-mile walk from the pier to the campground.
7. El Capitan Canyon (near Santa Barbara)
Nestled on 350 acres between the beach and the Santa Ynez Mountains, El Capitan Canyon is an upscale campground with well-appointed cedar cabins and yurts. The onsite Canyon Market has everything you’ll need to make your own meals or you can order a BBQ package. Santa Barbara wines, candles and other items to make your camping experience more comfortable. Make it as much or as little of a camping experience as you want.
8. Yosemite National Park
With advance reservations, you might get lucky and score a campsite in the Upper Pines campground inside the park. It’s located on the Yosemite Valley floor within walking or shuttle distance to waterfalls, hiking trails and other must-see Yosemite treasures. If you can’t snag a campsite, you still have options. Consider AutoCamp Yosemite or Bass Lake – both are located just outside the national park. Plus, at Yosemite Pines RV Resort (22 miles from the west gate) you can stay in a Conestoga wagon or rent a RV trailer with a kitchen and bath.
9. Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
Some of the best campgrounds in California are in Sequoia National Park and adjacent Kings Canyon. Both parks are home to the world famous giant sequoias. From the centrally-located Lodgepole Campground, you’ll have easy access to Kings Canyon and other must-see areas. Another good reason to camp here is the campground’s location on the banks of the Kaweah River. Tent camping spots and RV sites have picnic tables and fire rings. However, there are no hookups in the park.
The onsite Lodgepole Village has a visitor center, well-stocked market, hot showers and laundry facilities. The village is also the starting point for the Tokopah Falls trail – a favorite trail with hikers of all levels.
In summer, a free Sequoia Shuttle visits the major attractions, so you can avoid driving for much of your camping trip.
10. Mammoth Lakes, Sierra Nevada Mountains
While Mammoth is best known for wintertime skiing, it’s a year-round resort with miles of trails accessible from the area’s best campsites. Situated in the Lakes Basin region of Mammoth Lakes, Coldwater Campground has creekside campsites and is near Emerald Lake and hiking trails. There’s space for two vehicles, a picnic table, a bear box and a fire ring. The campground has flush toilets but no showers (find them down the road in Twin Lakes Campground).
11. Emerald Bay State Park, Lake Tahoe
Overlooking Emerald Bay, Eagle Point Campground has 100 campsites with easy access to beaches and hiking trails. The campground has paid showers and flush toilets but no hookups. In summer, kayak rentals are available to paddle out to Fannette Island, one of the best things to do in Lake Tahoe.
12. Ventana Campground, Big Sur
Enjoy peace and quiet in this tent-only campground surrounded by a redwood forest. But you won’t be roughing it too much. Amenities include modern restrooms, showers, firewood for sale and an Airstream bar serving cocktails. Plus, each campsite has a picnic table and a fire ring. The campground is located near general stores, restaurants, cafes, gift shops, delis and a post office.
13. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
This popular campground has 189 RV and tent sites located on the banks of the Big Sur River. Each campsite is equipped with a fire pit, a picnic table and parking for at least one car. However, there are no hookups. Fresh water, hot showers and toilets are located throughout the campground. In addition, there’s a Campfire Center that offers seasonal evening programs. The campground is open year-round, but note that reservations fill up six months in advance, even in the winter.
14. Marina Dunes RV Park
Located off Highway 1, Marina Dunes RV Park is a year-round campground that also allows folding tent campers. It’s a comfortable campground with restrooms, showers, a playground, wifi, a clubhouse, laundry facilities and more. Plus, the campground is by the Pacific Ocean and is near the coastal city of Monterey.
15. Lassen Volcanic National Park
Volcanic terrain, alpine lakes, meadows and wildflowers make Lassen one of Northern California’s most unique national parks. Lassen’s seven campgrounds offer a good home-base for exploring the varied terrain. The popular Manzanita Lake, Butte Lake and Summit Lake campgrounds can accommodate RVs and trailers, although there are no hookups. Check the reservations site for the status of the seven campgrounds. Some areas remain closed for the 2023 season due to the Dixie Fire.
Native Angeleno and seasoned travel journalist Mimi Slawoff writes for numerous print and digital publications. She is also the author of Oldest Los Angeles (Reedy Press, 2022). A lifelong world traveler, Mimi is an award-winning journalist who writes about outdoor adventures, cruises, Europe and cultural activities. Mimi has three grown kids and lives with her husband and their dog, Maya, in Los Angeles.