Best For Romance: Point Reyes National Seashore
Located in ritzy Marin County , 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.
Mendocino National Forest Dispersed Camping
One of the greatest allures of the Mendocino National Forest is the fact that no major highways or paved roads cross through the forest. So if youre looking for tranquility and seclusion, Mendocino is the place to go. Like other national forests, Mendocino offers dispersed primitive camping anywhere throughout the forest. There are also three dispersed campgrounds in Mendocino National Forest: Grizzly Flat, Lakeview, and Lower Nye.
Once youve established your free campsite, take your pick of activities, like horseback riding, swimming at Stonyford Recreation area , and hiking in the Chico Seed Orchard and Red Bluff Recreation Area.
Jumbo Rocks Campground Joshua Tree National Park
Surrounded by massive boulders and rock formations, it’s easy to see why Joshua Tree is a special place when staying at the Jumbo Rocks Campground. Enabling easy exploration of the surreal desert landscape, all 124 sites at Jumbo Rocks are located near prominent features of the park, including Skull Rock. Staying the night at Jumbo Rocks enables visitors to experience the magical sunsets of this boulder-rich region, as well as the incredibly dark night skies.
Accommodating both tents and RVs, Jumbo Rocks is one of four campgrounds within the park that offer reservations during the peak season between October and May. Other reservable campgrounds include Black Rock, Cottonwood, and Indian Cove. With over 100 sites available, Indian Cove is another perspective-changing campground at Joshua Tree, with monolithic rock formations on all sides.
Numerous primitive camping opportunities also abound in Joshua Tree National Park, as well as several developed, first-come, first-served campgrounds. Ryan Mountain Campground is available between September and May on a walk-up basis and offers easy access to its namesake feature. Campgrounds at Joshua Tree offer only vault toilets and picnic tables. No water is available, so those camping should pack accordingly.
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Camping In California: South Carlsbad State Beach Campground
You cant get much closer to the ocean than South Carlsbad State Beach Campground, 3 miles south of Carlsbad in San Diego. Several of the campsites in this very popular campground are located right up on the edge of the ocean-front bluff, offering wonderful views and easy beach access via wooden stairs. There are several accessible sites and if you pick one close to the campground office, you will be able to access their Wi-Fi hotspot. You can bring RVs up to 35 feet long and enjoy the convenience of full hook-up. No RV? No problem there are several local outfitters who will deliver and set up a rental RV for you. The beach offers unlimited activities for the energetic as well as great relaxation for sunseekers.
South Carlsbad State Beach Campground, 7201 Carlsbad Blvd, Carlsbad, CA 92008, Phone: 800-444-7275
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Emerald Bay State Park
Strewn along a forested ridge overlooking the azure Emerald Bay, the seasonal Eagle Point Campground offers 100 sites with access to beaches and trails like the scenic Rubicon Trail. During the summer, a rental vendor offers kayaks to paddle out to Fannette Island, the only island in Lake Tahoe. For more adventure and solitude, load up your kayak with camp gear and head for the intimate, lakefront boat camp set on the bays northern banks. Note that kayak rental services are temporarily closed due to ongoing wildfires.
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Santa Cruz Scorpion Campground
Santa Cruz Island is a little more than 10% National Park and the rest is under the Nature Conservancy. The Santa Cruz campground is on the northeastern shore of the island, a flat and easy walk from the landing site. Come for kayaking, secluded camping, and gorgeous stars.
Campsite Specs: 40 island campsites. Restrooms, fire rings, and picnic tables.
Steep Ravine Campground And Cabins
- Location: Near Stinson Beach, Marin County
- Type: Drive-in tent camping or basic cabins
There are cabins at Steep Ravine, but this isnt a glamping experience. Just steps from the shore in Mount Tamalpais State Park, the 10 primitive structures have no running water, electricity, or en suite toilets. Youll need to bring your own sleeping bags, cooking supplies, and other essentials. There are, however, vault toilets, drinking water, and an old-fashioned stove in each cabin that you can use to warm them up with firewood.
Time your visit to coincide with a negative tide to soak in the hidden Steep Ravine Hot Springs right by your cabin. These geothermal vents on the beach at the base of the cliffs are only exposed during low tides. You can dig out your own little bathtub on the beach, or head to the hot springs grotto, maintained by locals. Word of warning: The grotto is clothing optional.
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Casini Ranch Family Campground:
This campground is about 2 miles away from the California Coach and its nearby beach that is in the beautiful Sonoma Coast State Park.
This is a very popular camping spot that has you staying in a beautiful forest, by a river and another plan B option that is literally right by the beach and near Sonoma Coast State Park is Wrights Beach Campground. But if this option is taken, your next best campground would be Casini Ranch.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park Campground
- Location: Big Sur, Monterey County
- Type: Hike-in
Feeling lucky? Try scoring a night at one of the four-person environmental campsites at . These two sites, the only ones in this park, are located about a half-mile hike from the parking lot and right above the famous McWay Falls. You wont be able to see the falls from your tent, but youll be the only people in the park once it closes for the night.
Spend the day hiking to Cone Peak, at 5,155 feet, the tallest coastal mountain in the lower 48. At night, head to Treebones for some outstanding omakase at the Sushi Bar or garden-to-table campfire fare at Wild Coast Restaurant, also onsite. If youre up for a late-night adventure, book hot springs time at Esalen the spring-fed tubs are only open to the public in the wee hours of the morning.
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Black Rock Campgroundlassen National Forest
There are plenty of primitive campsites in Lassen National Forest, but if youre looking to camp with a few of your friends, Black Rock Campground offers six first come, first served campsites equipped with grills and tables. Anglers can fish in both Deer Creek and Mill Creek, and hikers will find plenty of trails for low- or high-mileage days.
Vault toilets are available at Black Rock, so your camping experience doesnt have to be completely primitive. Within the national forest boundaries, theres opportunity for mineral prospecting, horse riding, and water activities on Lake Almanor.
Find free California campgrounds from your car without WiFi. The Dyrt PRO lets you download maps and campgrounds without cell service. My alternative to using pro would be to drive back out to cell service.
Indian Well Campground Lava Beds National Monument
In California’s northeast corner, in Siskiyou County, Lava Beds National Monument is a volcanically shaped landscape dotted with cinder cones and hundreds of lava tubes. The most frequented and family-friendly lava tubes to explore are located on Cave Loop Road within the national monument, and just minutes from the Indian Well Campground. Accommodating tents, trailers, and motorhomes up to 30 feet in length, the campground has potable water and pit toilets available.
Address: Lava Beds Campground Road, Tulelake, California
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Best Campgrounds In Southern California
Written by Brad LaneDec 2, 2019
Nothing caps off a California adventure like camping under the stars, and numerous campgrounds in Southern California deliver with big natural features and dark night skies. From beach camping in the summer to winter camping in the desert, there’s a Southern California campground to visit every month of the year.
Catering to both tent and RV camping, places like Point Mugu, Palomar Mountain, and Death Valley offer scenic campsites on the coast, in the mountains, and across the deserts of Southern California.
For the ultimate desert attraction and great spots to camp in winter, Southern California’s Joshua Tree National Park offers a stunning environment to wake up to in the morning. One of the best state parks in California, and the largest, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park also delivers with desert landscapes, including Tamarisk Grove Campground.
For coastal camping and a reprieve from summer temperatures, the Southern California coast is filled with postcard spots like Souths Carlsbad State Beach and Crystal Cove State Park.
Many quintessential hikes in Southern California stem from the region’s best campgrounds. Campers looking to bag the peak of Mt. Baldy will find the Manker Flats Campground accommodatingand easy access to Mount San Jacinto can be found at the Fern Valley Campground near Idyllwild.
For lakeside camping, look no further than the banks of Big Bear Lake and 100-plus RV and tent sites at the Serrano Campground.
Crystal Cove State Park
Set on a coastal terrace overlooking the Pacific, Moro Campgrounds 58 tent and RV-friendly sites arent as fetching as the view, but they offer immediate access to a world of water recreation. Whether your vehicle is topped with kayaks or surfboards, youll find plenty of opportunity to ride the waves at the parks golden sand beach. Lagunas famously clear waters also provide a refreshing cooldown after hiking the inland trails into Moro Canyons undisturbed woodlands.
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Joshua Tree National Park
Gary C. Tognoni / Shutterstock
Joshua Tree National Park is among the most loved tourist spots in the state, and its easily one of the most beautiful places in California.
According to legend, the trees that populate the area, called Joshua trees, were given a Biblical name by Mormons who traveled through the area.
If youre a rock climber, youll love tackling this very rough and tricky terrain to get to the more than 5000-foot-tall Keys View.
If not, you can enjoy the sight of the incredible trees with their thick, rugged trunks or head over to the Cholla Cactus Garden for more desert plants.
Plumas National Forest Dispersed Camping
Plumas National Forest is loaded with dispersed campsites for the frugal-minded. In each of the four ranger districts, campers can find hordes of California free camping in areas like Feather Falls, Little North Fork, Bucks Lake Recreation Area, and Red Bridge.
In terms of recreation, theres an activity for almost everyone at Plumas. From rock climbing in the Mt. Hough Ranger district to wildlife viewing of rare species like the Pitcher Plant in Butterfly Valley, you can practice your preferred outdoor hobby or even take up a new one.
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Fossil Falls Dry Lake Bed
Experience a rustic, scenic view of the dessert located outside Death Valley National Park. The red and black sand contrasts the bright yellow brush while ancient volcanic rock formations flow down the dried-out river bed. You truly experience the great outdoors with wide-open space and almost no other campers nearby.
Utica And Union Reservoirs
Region: Tahoe and Northern Sierra
Scenic rating: 10/10
These twin reservoirs are set in Sierra granite at 6,850 feet. Union is a beautiful and quiet lake that is kept that way with rules that mandate a 5-mph speed limit. Utica does not allow motors of any kind. Most of the campsites provide lakeside views. Fishing is often goodtrolling for kokanee salmonbut you need a boat. The setting is great, especially for canoes or other small boats. This area was once a secret, but alas the secret is out and there are now three new, small campgrounds around the waters edge. Remember to bring pack water in with you, as there is no potable water onsite. Leashed pets are allowed.
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Lava Beds National Monument
Galyna Andrushko / Shutterstock
The Lava Beds National Monument consists of over 700 caves, 25 of which have tubes made entirely out of lava.
You can crawl through them and gaze in awe at this otherworldly location, which is definitely among the must-see places in California.
Visitors can find out how these lava tubes formed at an information center.
While youre there, you can go looking for different bats or check out Mushpot Cave, which is the only one in the entire site that is illuminated for an even more whimsical experience.
Address: 1 Indian Well Hqts, Tulelake, CA 96134, USA
Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve
saraporn / Shutterstock
The official flower of California is the poppy, so it would be a crime not to join visitors in flocking to the impeccably beautiful Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve in the Mojave Desert.
In wildflower season, poppies grow in full force, typically in bright orange tones that you can see from a distance away!
The optimal time to head to this treasure in California is between March and May, which is when all the flowers bloom.
Its such a huge location that even during its most popular times, you wont feel like its too crowded to move.
Address: 15101 Lancaster Rd, Lancaster, CA 93536, USA
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Mount Tamalpais State Park
Mount Tamalpais State Park is a 6,300-acre state park in Northern California. It features the notable 2,571 foot Mount Tamalpais and fun activities like wildlife watching, picnicking, and hiking.
If youre seeking scenic hikes and nature outings for wildlife viewing, we recommend heading to the Mount Tamalpais Middle Peak Loop. It is a moderate, 5.3-mile hiking trail that is accessible year-round.
You can enjoy awe-inspiring views of the Farallon Islands, Marin County hills, Mount Diablo, the East Bay, San Francisco Bay and the city. Fog is common in winter, so it is always best to be extra careful during outdoor activities for a safe camping experience.
The park is open year-round with several campsites and lodging options. The reserved areas include Alice Eastwood Group Camp and Steep Ravine Environmental Campground .
You can book these rustic cabins and seaside campsites up to six months in advance. If youre heading on a last-minute trip, the Pantoll and Bootjack campground do not require reservations. There is a $25 nightly fee for both camps.
Note:At Mount Tamalpais State Park, you are not allowed to fly drones. But, dont forget to bring your camera to capture the breathtaking vistas and memorable moments.
South Carlsbad State Beach Campground
For some of the best beach camping in Southern California, the 50-mile stretch of the San Diego coast is lined with stunning state beaches. Among the most popular for camping, thanks to the 220 bluff-top sites available, is the South Carlsbad State Beach Campground. With ocean views and easy access to the sprawling beach, all overnight guests at South Carlsbad are also within proximity to flushing toilets and coin-operated showers.
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Primitive Campgrounds In Southern California
If getting away from people is high on your priority list, and you could take or leave all the fancy amenities listed above, look no further than this round-up of our favorite backcountry and primitive campgrounds in Southern California.
As these sites are relatively unsupervised and do not have a camp host, we highly recommend you grab a fire permit, double check fire warnings, and read through camp restrictions before heading out to a remote area. Make sure you pack in plenty of water and pack out all trash when you leave. Lastly, it is crucial to follow the seven Leave No Trace principles whenever you venture outdoors.
Some sites listed below are first-come, first-served car campgrounds in far-flung locales, some are dispersed camping areas, and some are worthy hike-in campgrounds along our favorite trails. Whichever one you pick, its sure to be a winner.
The Ranch At Bandy Canyon
If you need your camping with a swimming pool, lodge, petting zoo, horseback-riding lessons, and individually decorated cabins, check out this 144-acre ranch in San Pasqual Valley. Each cabin has a rustic feel and a different arrangement, like Eagle Cabins loft, Bluebird Cabins wraparound porch, or Firehouse Cabins brick and lantern decorations.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 32 miles
Fees: Starting at $350 a night
Best cabins: Dove Cabin is the biggest on site, sleeping eight if neededplus, it has a hot tub. If youre seeking some solitude, Bluebird Cabin is the most isolated on the property.
How early to book: Summer weekends are mostly booked for weddings, but weekdays are typically available. Reserve through bandycanyon.com.
The Ranch at Bandy Canyon has been disinfecting and sealing cabins in order to ensure that guests are the first to enter after a cabin has been cleaned. They are also posting a guard at the gate, putting in hand sanitizing stations on the grounds, and conducting daily health checks on staff.
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