California is one of the best states in the country for camping and outdoor living. The temperate climate and wide range of environments make California a state where you can camp in the large forests of the north one weekend and the hot, arid parts of the south the next. Whether you want to camp nearby society or you really want to get out in the wilderness away from everyone
So, to help you out, we put together this list of the best places to camp in California. We chose these places so you can get a good feel for the geographic diversity the state has on offer. These places are also the height of California camping during the summer and fall.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is one of the most popular camping sites in the country and is nestled in the northern stretches of the state. Prime camping locations in the region include the Upper Pines Campground, which offers year-round camping and is located close by a shuttle to other main attractions. Campers can also check out the Wawona campgrounds in the southern end of the region, which features large spreads for camping and outdoor activities. Outside of the Yosemite valley sits the Tuolumne Meadows campground, which sits at a high 8,619-foot elevation. There are also several backpacking trails around the region that have rest stops along the way where you can book a stay.
Joshua Tree National Park
Located just 3 hours from LA, Joshua Tree National Park is known for its sandstone boulders and large, spacious scenery. The famous Joshua trees themselves are a sight to behold, with their long, spindly branches that reach up to the sky. The Park itself is slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island and contains sections of two deserts; the Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert. There currently are 9 campgrounds in the park, some of which are first-come, first-serve while others are reservation only. Joshua Tree gets crowded on the weekends, so make sure that you get there early to get a top spot.
Mojave National Preserve
Mojave National Preserve is a lot like Joshua Tree in its appearance and environment but without all the handholding and weekend getaway-ers. The Mojave is a pretty tough wilderness to conquer and should appeal to campers who are craving a challenge. Most roads require off-roading capabilities and there are few in the way of services and amenities. Visiting is worth it though for the caves, sand dunes, and eclectic wildlife.
The best part of Mojave is that you can camp practically wherever you want as long as it is at least ½ a mile from the main road. The only real established campground in the area is Mid Hills, which is a tent-only site that sits at 5,000 ft. elevation.
Shipman Creek Campsite
In northern California sits Shipman Creek Campsite, located along the famous Lost Coast Trail. Shipman has tons of trials, including a 25 mile one full of rough terrain that will give you a genuine challenge. The trail is located along the foot of the King Range Mountains and extends all the way down to the beach. Like Mojave National Preserve, you can camp anywhere you want along the trail, though we recommend sticking to the established camping spots. You also do not need reservations to camp but you do need to get a recreation permit for the trail that you want to go on. Make sure that you get your permits early because they sell out quickly during the summer and fall months.
Pinnacles National Park
Pinnacles National Park is located in the Salinas Valley in Central California and takes up about 42 square miles. It is smaller than a lot of the other parks and locations we have covered so far but it has a lot going for it in its small space. Pinnacles only have one campsite on the ground but you can reserve a spot up to half a year in advance. Multiple trailheads surround the campsites, most of which criss-cross and meet with the park’s main attractions. The campground is also nearby several attractions, including a nearby ranch where you can rent horses, shoot skeet, take hayrides, and perform archery.
A word of caution though: Pinnacles National Park is located deep in southern California and can get very very hot during the height of the summer. You may want to wait for things to cool down a bit before you start making reservations there.
Sequoia National Forest
Sequoia National Forest is located in the southern part of the state near the Sierra Nevada mountains. It is the single largest sequoia tree forest in the world and covers over 1 million acres, complete with 850 miles of trails, 14 campgrounds, and some of the most impressive views Mother Nature has on offer. Sequoia National Forest is also home to the massive sequoia trees that are truly a sight to behold. Biking, fishing, swimming, horseback riding, and boating are just a few of the amenities that are offered in the region.
Like Pinnacles, Sequoia National Park is located in the heart of southern California. So you will want to make sure that you go later in the year once the hottest part of the summer is over. Also, several sites and trails may require permits so make sure to check with state authorities for all required documents.
The Bottom Line
California is one of the most popular states in the country and for good reason. The temperate weather, diverse geography, and abundance of parks and wilderness make it a great destination for wilderness enthusiasts. No matter where you go in the state, there will be some camping options nearby.
So if you are looking for great camping opportunities this summer, don’t sleep on California. You could spend an entire summer exploring the wilderness on offer and still have only scratched the surface of what the state has to offer.