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Car Camping In Northern California

Plum Valley Campground Modoc National Forest

Earthquake, car camping & overlanding on the beach on NorCal’s Pacific Coast

Located in Modoc Forests Warner Mountain Ranger District, this scenic little dispersed campground is perfect for both hiking enthusiasts and obsidian rock collectors alike. Being close to the Sugar Hill Look-Out and a crystal-clear creek, get up close and personal with nature under the shady pines!

Nearest Town: Davis Creek, Modoc County

Amenities: Fire rings, picnic tables, and vault toilets. No potable water.

Pacific Coast Highway Cruising

From the San Francisco Bay area, you will make your way north past the enchanting little town of Bodega Bay, along Highway 1 through the Point Reyes National Seashore, which I consider to be one of the most beautiful drives in the United States. Vast bluffs and small surf towns hug the Marin and Sonoma coastlines as the winding roads lead you north through the Headlands of Mendocino County.

Highway 1 becomes Highway 101 in Leggett as you’re guided around the Lost Coast of California. Slower speeds through smaller forested towns allow you to recognize the charm that lures thousands of coastal lovin’ visitors every year. Continuing north from the Lost Coast of Mendocino you’ll enter Humboldt County, home of the Redwood National Forest and over 1,500 miles of waterways providing the ecosystem with vital nutrients. The rivers give anglers, sunbathers, kayakers, and rafters an undisturbed environment to thrive in. Along the Klamath River, Humboldt County blends into Del Norte County as the last portion of Northern California meets the Oregon Border.

Manchester Beach Koa Journey

Located on the beautiful Mendocino County coast, Manchester Beach KOA Journey is the perfect RV campground to take the family and get away from it all.

While this campground isnt right on the ocean, it is only about a 10-minute walk to Manchester beach. Dogs are allowed in the campground but not allowed on the beach.

The Manchester Beach KOA has everything that you need for a family camping trip. You will find an on-site store, showers, dog park, heated pool and hot tub, and so much more. They also have hay rides, activities for the kids, and a playground.

There are cabins available to rent, full hookup RV sites, and tent sites. There is also so much to explore around this campground. The Point Arena Lighthouse is only about 5-miles south, and the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse and Preserve is 33-miles north.

The closest city to the campground is Point Arena. Here you will find restaurants, bakeries, and shopping. You should also check out the B. Bryan Preserve located in Point Arena. They breed and preserve African Hoof Stock. You can take a tour and see Zebras, Antelope, and Giraffes.

Some important things to note about this campground is that the wifi is very spotty and almost non-existent and cell phone service is not that great. To make calls and access wifi you might have to drive into town.

Also, Google Maps Navigation takes you down Mountain View Road which is not good for trailers and RVs. You should take Highway-1 instead.

Things to Know:
  • Arcade / Game Room

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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.

Spectacular Northern California Camping Spots

The Best Camping Spots on the Northern California Coast

From the dramatic coastline of Big Sur to the giant sequoias of the Sierra Nevada mountains, camping in Northern California never fails to impress.

My fondest childhood memories rest in Northern California campgrounds.

Growing up in the Bay Area meant the best campgrounds were only a day drive away. Beach, forest, lake camping, you name it, Northern California has it with a stunning landscape to go along with it.

Home to a handful of national parks, the worlds tallest trees, ancient lava beds, and miles upon miles of scenic coastline, the reasons to camp the northern half of this state are endless. The toughest part is deciding where to go.

To get you started, we put together this Northern California camping guide. From north to south, this list covers a variety of areas throughout Northern California so theres something for every type of camper.

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Joshua Tree National Park

For the best winter camping Southern California has to offer, head to Joshua Tree National Park. The park is best known for its twisted Joshua trees, massive rock formations, excellent hiking trails, and awe-inspiring desert landscapes.

Youll find a few famous formations like the North Horror Rock, Old Woman Rock, Skull Rock, and Giant Marbles. Joshua Tree National Park encompasses 800,000 acres of magnificent land with three varied ecosystems: the lower Colorado Desert, higher Mojave Desert, and San Bernardino Mountains.

There are several campgrounds open all year with roughly 500 sites. Most of the campsites are available by reservation with a fee ranging from $20 to $25 per night. These campgrounds include Black Rock, Cottonwood, Indian Cove, Ryan, and Jumbo Rocks.

If youre seeking a more spontaneous adventure, there are a few campgrounds that do not require bookings with a $15 cost per night. The first-come, first-served campgrounds include the Hidden Valley, Belle, and White Tank.

Note:As the park is a popular spot with campgrounds filling up from October through May, we recommend making a reservation in advance to enjoy the epic views.

Mendocino National Forest Off

Everything you need to elevate your California off-road camping experience is found in Mendocino National Forest. Dirt roads, hiking trails, lakes, equestrian trails, creeks, forests, wildlifeyou name it, Mendocino has it.

The southern end of the Grindstone Ranger District has some of the most challenging OHV routes in the state. Fouts Springs offers amazing camping facilities for off-roaders. Do we hear an off-road camping getaway in the making?

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Russian Gulch State Park Campground Mendocino Coast

Just two miles north of the village of Mendocinoone of the best small towns in Californiathe Russian River makes quite a splash at Russian Gulch State Park. Alongside unique trail-lined bluffs and tidal features like the Devil’s Punchbowl, this coastal state park also has 26 standard sites near the Russian River before it hits the ocean.

The Fern Canyon Trail extends from the campground at Russian Gulch, enabling a six-mile round trip to a 36-foot waterfall and back.

The entire Mendocino Coast is lined with natural attractions and other places to camp. Surrounding the village itself, Mendocino Headlands State Park features plenty of bluff-side ocean views but is day-use only. Less than two miles south of the village, Van Damme State Park offers more camping on the Northern California coast with over 70 sites available.

Address: CA-1, Mendocino, California

Northern California’s Most Popular Camping Regions

[Car Camping] Solo Hiking at Kearsarge Pass trail in California
  • The varied regions of northern California offer a wide range of camping opportunities from rugged beaches to towering redwoods, from sparkling lakes to snow-capped volcanoes.
  • Choose a region to narrow your choices and we’ll guide you to the best camping spots in California. Discover the adventures that await you.

Note: To enhance continuity between maps, we have included some overlap with our central California map.

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Why Northern California Is Such A Great Place To Rv

California Americas most popular state houses some of the best attractions in the country. Throughout the year, flocks of people rush into the state for the Golden Gate Bridge, the Hollywood sign, or Yosemite National Park. But Northern California also offers terrific RV parks to unleash your adventurous side. So switch things up this time and go explore nature.

Final Thoughts On The Best Winter Camping In California

Whether youre heading on a well-deserved getaway or winter backpacking, California offers plenty of winter camping spots for every kind of adventurer. The states magnificent mountains and vast desert landscapes provide scenic settings, ideal for a tranquil trip.

From stargazing to wildlife viewing, the natural settings offer awe-inspiring views with a calming silence thats perfect for winter camping in California. Ready for your next exhilarating camping trip this winter? Book your tickets and pack those thermals your winter escape awaits.

Have you done winter camping in California?Let me know where in the comments below

Feature image by Joseph Starbuck on Unsplash

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Angel Island State Park Walk

Region: San Francisco Bay

Scenic rating: 10/10

Camping at Angel Island is one of the unique adventures in the Bay Area the only catch is that getting to the campsites requires a ferry boat ride and then a walk of 1-2 miles, or a kayak or boat trip from the mainland directly to the camp. The payoff comes at the end of the day, when all of the parks day visitors depart for the mainland, leaving the entire island to you.

This is one campsite that it pays to be prepared book far ahead because the sites can book up months in advance. The group camp is popular with kayakers because of beach access. From start to finish, its a great trip, featuring a private campsite, often with spectacular views of San Francisco Bay, the San Francisco waterfront and skyline, Marin Headlands, and Mount Tamalpais. The tromp up to 798-foot Mount Livermore includes a short, steep stretch, but in return furnishes one of the most spectacular urban lookouts in America. Be ready for cold, foggy weather at night in midsummer. The park features more than 13 miles of trails, including Perimeter Road, a must-do for all avid cyclists. Bikes are also permitted on the parks fire road system. Angel Island has a stunning history, including being used from 1910 to 1940 to process thousands of immigrants as they entered America historic tram tours are available.

California’s Best Lake Camping

Little Car camping in Santa Cruz, on our to Northern California ...

From the granite peaks of the Sierra Nevada to the remote mountain scenery of the Marble Mountains in the Trinity Alps, theres nothing quite like a lakeside campsite in the Golden State. California campers are spoiled when it comes to beautiful campsites, and this list of alpine lakes where you can lay your head for the night proves it.

An overall lackluster winter in California still produced a decent snowpack in the High Sierra thanks to a miracle March, so you might want to stick to lower elevations through early summer. Everything lower than 7,000 feet should be good to go by June, however.

Whether you prefer to pull up to your lakeside camping spot in your car, go for a quick overnight in the backcountry, or spend days at a time in the wilderness, these lakes sites are just the ticket for a refreshing experience outdoors.

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Abbott Creek Camping Areasequoia National Forest

Abbott Creek Camping Area draws OHV users to rev their engines and explore the nearby area with gas-powered fun. Each of the campsites is within a convenient three-mile drive to the OHV staging area.

While usage is light at this campground, its primarily for OHV users, so if youre more interested in an idyllic getaway there are better areas near Sequoia National Forest to camp.

Resources For Finding The Perfect Free California Camping Spot

  • The Dyrt makes it easy to find free camping in California . Heres how: Enter the state, then click enter. Click type under the search bar, then click dispersed. Each listing includes a rating, reviews, detailed description, list of features, images, weather report, and geographical data.
  • Visit the U.S. Forest Service map of California. Check out individual national forests and other federally-protected areas in California by clicking on the map or on the links below.
  • Go to the Bureau of Land Management websites visit page and sort by location and activity . Browse through the results to find your perfect free camping in California.
  • Check out this list of places to camp for free in California by The Wayward Home.
  • If you already know your destination, its a good idea to stop by the visitor center or ranger station and talk to a ranger. Theyre the best source of information about free, dispersed camping in the area.
  • Service roads are usually lined with free campsites. On maps, U.S. Forest Service roads are indicated as NF-##, while roads running through BLM lands also tend to have free camping options alongside them.

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Where To Find Camping In Northern California During The Crowded Season

Image from The Dyrt camper Asher K.

There are a few strategies to landing a campsite in the peak season if you werent thinking about it six months ago.

The first step is to figure out which places have walk-in campsites. The Dyrt offers a search filter for walk-in campgrounds, meaning campgrounds that are available only on a first-come, first-served basis. For a lot of these campgrounds, youll have to be hyper-prepared in the peak seasoncamping in northern California can be pretty competitive, to say the least. Youll want to show up as early as possible in the morning and stake a claim to sites where previous occupants are leaving.

Another strategy is to find less well-known northern California camping options, which might mean avoiding the national parks, or making a couple-hours drive. Many counties or cities have campgrounds where you can get a last-minute reservation, like at Sonoma Countys Stillwater Cove Regional Park. Others you can just walk up, like at like Santa Clara Countys Joseph D. Grant County Park. There are also dozens of campgrounds in the national forest system where you can be guaranteed to find a spot, even during the busy summer weekends. The campgrounds in Sierra National Forest, Eldorado National Forest, and Inyo National Forest tend to have less amenities, but are also farther away from highways or urban areas.

Beach Camping North Of San Francisco

California Camping with a View – Living in my Jeep

North of San Francisco along Highway One, you’ll find some of California’s most jaw-dropping scenery. Use this guide Highway One north of San Francisco to see what it’s like, and you’ll be running out to pack up the car right away.

As you drive, you’ll find cliffs plunging straight into the sea and dramatic “sea stack” rock formations offshore, but few beaches and even fewer places where you can camp at one. These are the spots where you can go beach camping in Northern California, in order from south to north.

Sonoma Coast State Beach and Gold Bluffs are both state parks, and if you have never used the state park camping reservation system, you’ll find it frustrating and with so many rules that it would make a Supreme Court Justice’s head swim. But don’t worry, you can find out how to use it in this guide to California State Park Reservations.

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Van Damme State Park Campground

Van Damme is an absolute paradise for hikers of all skill levels and offers dramatic viewpoints every step of the way. You’ll discover unique pigmy forests and stunning fern-filled canyons along one of the five trails ranging from a quarter-mile to ten miles long. While there are several incredible diving locations at Van Damme and nearby Jug Handle State Beach, campers must be cautious as the Mendocino Coast is extremely unpredictable. Kayak tours are offered nearby to explore the sea caves.

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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Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Why you should camp here: Giant sequoias, stunning scenery, and a range of campgrounds for every type of camper.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best season: Spring, summer, fall
  • Campsite types: Tent, RV, trailer, car camping, cabins
  • RV hookups: No

Sleep among giants at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Situated right next to one another in the Sierra Nevada, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are home to giant sequoias, massive canyons, high peaks, and plenty of camping to go along with it.

Its an incredibly tense drive up a very narrow switchback road to Cold Springs Campground, but well worth it. Its the best campground I saw in Sequoia National Park, says Paul C. on TripAdvisor.

Between the two national parks there are fourteen campgrounds to choose from. Many campgrounds are first-come, first-served with amenities varying from campground to campground.

If you dont mind a bit of a drive and fewer amenities, head on out to Cold Springs Campground. This remote tent-only campground is the highest campground between the parks and comes with the bare necessities including potable water and vault toilets.

For those who want a more accessible campground with extra amenities, check out the Hume Lake Campground. This popular campground features flush toilets, potable water, and double-family campsites. Its a short walk to the lake, so youll have plenty of recreational activities close by.

Always Respect Californias Dispersed Camping Rules

Had a magical weekend on the Lost Coast (Northern CA). A thoughtful ...

Please dont go dispersed camping unless youre going to respect our public lands.

Most importantly, you absolutely must follow the 7 Leave No Trace principles to minimize your impact when enjoying the great outdoors

To quickly highlight a few key points, please pack out all of your trash , properly dispose of human waste , and always try your best to set up camp in previously disturbed campsites.

In addition, follow all campfire restrictions , stay out of any closed areas, respect local wildlife , and respect all stay limits .

Another point regarding campfires know that a free campfire permit is required for all campfires in California. In fact, a permit is even required to use a camp stove while dispersed camping.

Its vital we keep our public lands clean and minimize our human impact both for our own enjoyment and the enjoyment of the next visitors not to mention for the health of the local wildlife and of the land itself.

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