California is known as the Golden State, but it may as well be called the Gorgeous State. And there’s no better way to experience all that splendor than by hitting the road, sleeping under the stars and polishing up your s’mores skills. Did you know that all of the nine majestic national and state parks in California also have camping facilities? Not to mention the many other beautiful campsites around the state catering to every type of traveler. But which one to hit first? We broke it down for you here, with our pick of the best camping in California from rustic to romantic. Just remember to please plan ahead. Many of the parks and campsites reach peak capacity in the summer months. You’ve been warned.
17 of the Best Camping Sites in California
The Best Camping in California at a Glance:
- Best for Hiking Amid Desert Flora: Joshua Tree National Park
- Best for Romance: Point Reyes National Seashore
- Best for Bird Watching: Pinnacles National Park
- Best for Island Escaping: Channel Islands National Park
- Best for Family Adventure: King’s Canyon & Sequoia National Park
- Best for Tree Huggers: Redwood National and State Parks
- Best for Glamping and Stargazing: Lassen Volcanic National Park
- Best for a Desert Oasis: Furnace Tree Campground
- Best for Dramatic Scenery: Yosemite National Park
- Best for Coastal Caves: Leo Carrillo State Beach
- Best for Beach Views: Crystal Cove
- Best for Surfing: San Elijo State Beach
- Best for Rock Formations: Sue-Meg State Park
- Best View of Santa Ynez Mountains: Refugio State Beach
- Best Central Lake Location: Lopez Lake Recreation Area
- Best for Roaming Amid Wildflowers: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
- Best for Celeb Sighting: Malibu Creek State Park
1. Joshua Tree National Park
Best for Hiking Amid Desert Flora
About 140 miles East of Los Angeles and neighbor to Palm Springs, Joshua Tree has an out-of-this-world (as in you could have just landed on Mars) charm and wild desert flora landscape. The Joshua Tree National Park is home to one of the most popular hiking trails, 49 Palms Canyon Trail, which is considered moderate and diverse with rock formations for climbing and cactus gardens for gazing. There are plenty of campgrounds to choose from including Indian Cove near 29 Palms where you can nestle up to a bolder for a night of stargazing.
2. Point Reyes National Seashore
Best for Romance
Located in ritzy Marin County (not far from Napa wineries), Point Reyes National Seashore is where you will spot elephant seals rolling on the beach. Something about the salty air, crashing breaking waves and shoreline pastel sunsets also makes this a perfect romantic park to visit with someone special. If you decide to make a night of it, cozy Coast Campground is a perfect place to pitch a tent nestled in a grassy hillside.
3. Pinnacles National Park
Best for Bird Watching
Be sure to pack your high-speed binoculars! Pinnacles National Park is an ideal spot to see endangered California condors along with Yellow-billed Magpie, Greater Roadrunner, Canyon Wren, California Thrasher, Prairie Falcon and more from the mountain vistas of this eco-system friendly park. The campground offers pet-friendly tent and group camping, along with RV sites with picnic tables and fire rings.
4. Channel Islands National Park
Best for Island Escaping
Located near the Ventura Harbor Village, the Channel Islands National Park Visitor Center is where you can book a boat out the five islands of Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, Santa Barbara and San Miguel, just 14 miles off-shore. Known as “The American Galapagos,” there is also a viewing tower where you can spot 445 species of birds or delve deeper into world-class diving, snorkeling, hiking, kayaking and sea cave exploration around the isles. Camping is also available in this preservation haven on all the islands, but you must book your boat transportation for an overnight visit first.
5. King’s Canyon & Sequoia National Park
Best for Family Adventure
For larger-than-life trees, (they don’t call this ‘the land of the giants’ for nothing) and a rugged adventure near the soaring redwoods of the Sierra Nevada foothills, Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Park, is a great spot for whitewater rafting, cave exploration, and waterfall hikes. You can also rock climb, horseback ride and cross-country ski in the winter. Campsites are available but when you’ve had enough ‘roughing it’ be sure to stop by the little town of Three Rivers for artisanal shops, cafes and craft brew.
6. Redwood National And State Parks
Best for Tree Huggers
If you didn’t catch enough of those tall timbers in Sequoia, Redwood National Park is home to the tallest trees on earth. You can bring your pets and make it a family affair with backcountry glamping, you just might need to apply for a few permits before you venture out. And, before you visit check for air-quality conditions as this can be affected by seasonal fall fires in the region.
7. Lassen Volcanic National Park
Best for Glamping and Stargazing
While there might be four types of volcanos at this site near the Shasta Cascade region, Lassen Volcanic National Park also holds pristine lakes, biking trails, beautiful wildflowers and crystal-clear stargazing. Manzanita Lake offers a large campground, plus cabins for glamping and a museum. Plus, you can hike around the lake on an easy one-and-a-half-mile loop where you will have a perfect view of Lassen Peak. You can also rent stand-up paddleboard or kayak equipment for from the Manzanita Lake Camper Store.
8. Furnace Tree Campground
Best for a Desert Oasis
Don’t let the name fool you. Death Valley might not sound too appealing, but there is an otherworldly charm amid the hottest and one of the largest parks. One of the places to find a mirage is at The Oasis at Death Valley—a miraculous desert contrast with date palm trees, gardens, pools and golfing where legends such as Clark Gable, Ronald Regan and George Lucas have stayed and played. When you’re ready to turn-in, head to the nearby Furnace Tree Campground with plenty of shady spots, or if you’re feeling lucky it’s only a two-hour drive to Las Vegas.
9. Yosemite National Park
Best for Dramatic Scenery
If you’re an Ansel Adams photography fan, then seeing Yosemite National Park in person should be number one on your park bucket list, plus there are so many unforgettable vistas. Yes, it’s a World Heritage site with dramatic waterfalls, river-rafting past El Capitan granite monoliths for rock-climbers and world-class hiking at Summit, but don’t get too comfortable—there is a 14-day limit on camping in the area but there is also public transit that lets you roam car-free.
10. Leo Carrillo State Beach
Best for Coastal Caves
For 1.5 miles of beach for roaming coastal caves, tidepool and reef exploring, not to mention surf fishing and windsurfing, head to Leo Carrillo State Beach in Malibu with back-country hiking and sycamore-shaded campgrounds. The popular park is close to the L.A. and Ventura county-line, plus the famous seafood eatery Neptune’s Net where they filmed scenes from the film Point Break with Keanu Reeves. When you tire of the beach views (never!), the upscale shops and restaurants of Malibu are just down the coast.
11. Crystal Cove
Best for Beach Views
Dotted with cozy coves off of Pacific Coast Highway in Orange County, Crystal Cove is a state beach park that lies between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach. As one of the best open spaces on the seashore, this is the spot for beachcombing, scuba and skin diving, along with swimming and surfing. Go inland if you want to try the mountain bike trails with the same stunning ocean views. Camping options are primitive along the hillside canyon, but you will also be close the historic Crystal Cove district with cute white cottages and some rentals available.
12. San Elijo State Beach
Best for Surfing
We are in California after all, so grab your long-board and head south to San Elijo State Beach close to the San Diego seaside towns of Encinitas, Solana Beach and Cardiff by the Sea. This is one of the most popular surf spots in the Golden State and the campground allows for easy access during dawn patrol. There are also volleyball courts, picnic facilities, showers and a nearby camp store where you can buy firewood, boogie boards and other necessities. You may never return to civilization again.
13. Sue-meg State Park
Best Rock Formations
This quaint location along California’s coastal redwood country in Humboldt County used to be known as Patrick’s Point State Park, an indigenous village re-created by members of the Yurok tribe. The network of trails and tidepools lead to a dramatic shoreline, dotted with massive rock formations. From October through April, the 120 campsites are first-come, first-serve but you’ll need to make a reservation to secure a site from May through September.
14. Refugio State Beach
Best Views of Santa Ynez Mountains
Located in Goleta, about twenty miles outside of downtown Santa Barbara, follow the crescent-shaped sandy curve to Refugio State Beach. From here you can soak in the mind-blowing views of the Pacific Ocean with Channel Islands in the distance and the Santa Ynez Mountains offering a hypnotic refuge from the traffic on State Street. Just steps from the sand, the 66 campsites include picnic tables and fire pits, plus a small camp store nearby in case you run out of any essentials while you are fishing, scuba diving, surfing and kayaking.
15. Lopez Lake Recreation Area
Best Central Coast Lake Location
This recreational area nestled in the trees overlooking Lopez Lake in the Arroyo, Grande region is one of the top camping destinations thanks to perfect temperatures around 70°F. Add in 22 miles of shoreline and proximity to the Edna Valley and Paso Robles wine countries and you can see why those 350 campsites fill up quickly, not just in the summer, but all year long. The campgrounds also feature creature comforts, including electrical and full hook-ups, along with hot shower facilities at several campgrounds.
16. Anza-borrego Desert State Park
Best for Roaming Amid Wildflowers
As one of the best state parks, Anza-Borrego’s claim to fame lies in its massive footprint of over 600,000 acres. The springtime wildflower gardens are a top draw as are the multi-colored sunsets at Font's Point. You might want to map out your trip starting in the northwest of the Borrego Springs area at the Anza Borrego visitor center, which was cleverly built underground for cooling efficiency in the hot summer months. Here you can get up to speed on the best roads, trails and tips on where to venture out.
17. Malibu Creek State Park
Best for Celeb Sighting (Maybe)
OK, we all know that the Kardashian clan lives in Calabasas, but the chances of them camping—even with their kids in tow—are pretty slim. Still, you can find this beachy park haven through a six-mile drive on Malibu Canyon Road from the Pacific Coast Highway nestled within the Santa Monica Mountains. The Calabasas campground holds 55 campsites spread out along a large loop where you can pitch a tent or load up the RV. Beware that no electrical hookups are available but you will find restrooms, hot showers, and your own picnic table with a fire ring. While you might not stop a celebrity, you can hike around the areas where Planet of the Apes and M*A*S*H were filmed.