Joshua Tree National Park
Campsite fees: $15 Joshua Tree offers a surprising variety of desert terrain and is just over a two-hour drive from LA. The park has three campgrounds that are first-come, first-served, while others take reservations via recreation.gov . In hotter weather, one of the cooler, higher altitude, drive-up campgrounds might be more comfortable, in spite of the pit toilets. Note: When you arrive and find an open first-come, first-serve campground simply self-register and pay at the kiosk. The fee is $15 per night by cash or check only.
Camping In Socal: Palomar Observatory Campground Palomar Mountain
The Palomar Observatory Campground is located just 2 miles from the excellent Palomar Observatory in the heart of Palomar Mountain State Park, giving visitors the chance to combine a number of outdoor activities with some of the best stargazing in California. The individual campsites can accommodate RVs and trailers up to 32 feet long, and many sites have specially leveled areas where you can set up a telescope to observe the clean night skies. The campsites offer all the usual amenities, like picnic tables and fire rings with grills. Day-time activities include hiking, biking, picnicking, and scenic drives, and when the sun sets all eyes turn to the skies.
Palomar Observatory Campground, Palomar Mountain, CA 92060, Phone: 760-788-0250
Rural Camping Near Deep Creek Hot Springs
This is for a more adventurous hiker because the trail descends steeply for 2 1/2 miles to the springs. There is an alternative route if you hike the Pacific Crest Trail east from Arrowhead Lake Road. It is roughly a six-mile hike. If you looking for a wilderness hike challenge with an amazing payoff by a soak in a hot spring as your reward at the end, this is the place for you!
Deep Creek Hot Springs is one of my favorite hot springs in the entire world
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Leo Carrillo State Park Campground
Stay within walking distance of rolling hills, tidepools, and coastal caves.
Views from the tent in Leo Carrillo State Park Campground
Distance from San Diego: 2.5 hours | | Destination Website | Amenities: RV access and RV dump stations, toilets, showers , pet friendly, camp store
Why Camp Here: Leo Carrillo State Park, located just north of Los Angeles, has 1.5 miles of stunning beach ideal for water activities and exploring tidepools, coastal caves, and reefs. The campgrounds are just a short walk from the beach and giant sycamores provide shade and privacy for the 135 sites.
In addition to the beach, the park also boasts gorgeous backcountry with hiking trails, including Yellow Hill Trail which leads to an awesome ocean view.
Manzanita Campground Angeles National Forest
Looking for a mountain view as you enjoy the great outdoors? Manzanita Campground located in the Los Angeles National Forest provides ample space for each campsite while also giving you the calming view of the mountains.
Located at 5,300 ft elevation this campsite provides two loops of campgrounds, Little Pines and Manzanita.
Each loop offers 40+ campsites so if you are going on a busy weekend and are concerned about finding space this is your best chance.
Campsite reservations are on a first come first serve basis. The wildlife is very active in this part of Southern California, so please be sure to place food in proper receptacles.
Manzanita Campground is great for first-time campers. You will be surrounded by other campers in case of an emergency. Plus it only costs $12/night.
During my first-time tent camping in Southern California, we could not set up a tent. Someone from a nearby tent graciously offered to help us put the tent up.
It is a bit crowded. Once you have some more experience camping, it may be better to head to a more secluded campground. One with more privacy.
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Why Camp In A Dispersed Site
Referred to as primitive camping, most sites have no facilities or running water, but dont let that deter you, as the sense of seclusion and overall camping experience is unbeatable. Think backpacking with your car, and you have pretty good sense for what its like to camp this way. And seeing that finding a reservable campsite in a National Park without planning six months ahead of time has gotten to be about as easy as finding tickets to a Beyoncé concert , these campsites can be invaluable.
Yosemite, for example, has over 7 million annual visitors but only 1,500 campsites, so finding a last minute place to camp can be a nightmare. This trend is true all over the Western US, as park visitor-ship continues to soar. And while you can now book spots online, the ability to do so favors those with ample foresight and quick fingers, and believe it or not, has even been plagued by so called bots which automatically snatch up spots once available . All of this has made the option to camp within the public lands that surround many National Parks an almost necessary alternative.
Can You Sleep In Your Car In Big Sur
Hwy 1 through Big Sur is a remote area, so the highway patrol can only monitor the road so much its not like they can just pass by various sections on their way to somewhere else. So, yes, it is possible to sleep in your car and not get caught. If you are caught, at the very least you will be told to move along.
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Best Free Camping Incalifornia
By Sara Sheehy
With its 840 miles of coastline, beautiful mountains, and fun cities, California is at the top of many peoples adventure lists. From the Sierra Nevada Mountains to Joshua Tree National Park, California is filled with beautiful destinations, sunny days, and plenty of those Beach Boys vibes.
California has an ample amount of dispersed camping if you know where to look. Here is where youll find the best no-cost camping in the Golden State.
National Park Camping Near Los Angeles
One way to pull off a last-minute camping trip is to head for a campground that either doesn’t take reservations at all or holds back a certain number of sites for walk-ups. Almost all national parks fall into this category. If you want to be sure of securing a campsite, plan on getting there early, though. And if you don’t mind going primitive as a last resort, there are almost always a few primitive sites available somewhere in a national park.
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Chula Vista Campground At Mount Pinos
Image from The Dyrt camper John B.
If youre willing to drive further away from Santa Barbara, Chula Vista Campground at Mount Pinos offers stunning views, epic hiking trails, and an outdoor experience unique from the rest of the region. Located at Mount Pinos, hikers who want a challenging trek will love the high altitude and cooler temperatures this campsite offers.
Mount Pinos is the tallest point in Ventura County, with its summit elevation measuring 8,848 feet. Chula Vista Campground is the perfect basecamp for exploring this area and scaling a mountain in California. Though its a 2-hour drive from Santa Barbaras city center, this is a free camping experience you cant get anywhere else in the region. Spots are first-come, first-serve, and while amenities are limited, there are bathrooms onsite.
Love it that its a walk in campground so no cars or RVs. Lots of hiking trails nearby. Its a lot cooler up here, so its a nice way to get away from the summer heat. Awesome area for stargazing.Antonio C.
South Carlsbad State Beach Campground
Epic views and access to a secluded beach make this campground a family favorite.
Wooden staircases allow quick access to the beach from South Carlsbad State Beach Campground.
Distance from San Diego: 35 minutes | | Destination Website | Reservations: Online, 6 months in advance | Amenities: RV hookups, showers, flush toilets, wheelchair accessible, camp store, potable water, dogs allowed
Why Camp Here: My family used to camp at South Carlsbad State Beach each year and I remember yearning for that summer week we would spend at the beachside campground. The sites sit perched atop the cliffs that tower over the secluded beach where my friends and I would swim, surf, and boogie board in the waves. Nothing beats waking up with those spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean.
South Carlsbad is a perfect spot to camp in groups or with family because its near enough to town to go grab dinner or necessities but also private enough to feel like youre away from the bustle.
Pro Tip: Carlsbad is also one of my picks for the best areas of San Diego to to stay in.
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Faria Beach Park Ventura County
Faria is another small beach campground run by the county of Ventura. Situated a few miles south of Hobson Beach, Faria Beach Park features 38 campsites. Number 7 34 are directly on the ocean with unobstructed views of the Pacific. All campsites are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis only.
No reservations accepted. It can be very challenging to get a spot here, especially during the summer and holiday weekends. There is a small cafe that serves breakfast and lunch. 4350 Old Rincon Hwy Ventura, CA 93001. Website.
Best Mountain Camping In Southern California
Idyllwild is an adorable mountain town nestled into the San Jacinto Mountains. The area offers lakes, ponderosa pine forests and so many nooks and crannies perfect for pitching a tent. Camp at Idyllwild Campground and hike the nature trail, tour the visitor center, and spend time in the Idyllwild Nature Center.
is also a great option in Idyllwild, offering 25 tent sites with 9 first come first serve.
Boulder Basin Campground provides delightful views set amongst magnificent ponderosa and sugar pines. This campground is great for those interested in hiking, mountain biking and anyone looking for quiet and solitude.
Lastly, Dark Canyon Campground is another beautiful campground near Idyllwild with a paved road leading up to the campground.
Not interested in camping? There are a ton of great glamping options in Idyllwild as well that offer proximity to nature without sleeping on the ground!
Get Your Family Camping Packing List Here
Often overlooked for better known Big Bear, Lake Arrowhead is also a great spot for camping. Dogwood or North Shore are the best campgrounds in the area and are best visited from May to October. Each campground offers dozens of campsites suitable for tents, while some have enough room for trailers and RVs.
Camping Sites Near Big Bear
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Features Wildlife And Vegetation
Southern Californiaâs Mediterranean-like weather conditions afford campers mild conditions year-round and warm ocean temperatures. Many enjoy San Elijo State Beachâs proximity to city amenities, as restaurants and attractions are within driving distance.
The regionâs avian wildlife is rich in seagulls, shorebirds, and migratory waterfowl. Birdwatching is excellent in the morning. On the beach, visitors might see invertebrates or jellyfish . You might also spot sea lions and dolphins a little further into the ocean.
The countyâs diverse soil and climatic conditions encompass many different vegetation types. Coastal prickly pear and California brittlebush are just a few of the wildflowers found in the region.
Monthly Rv Parks In Southern California
Some of the most beautiful camping spots are on a first-come-first-served basis because they tend to be more remote and with primitive campsites. Camping in California without reservations is possible if campers arrive early for designated campsites or are willing to hike or bike in to their environmental or dispersed campsite.
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Hiking & Biking Trails: Laguna Mountains
There are amazing hiking trails all over the Laguna Mountains and one of the top rated Southern California mountain biking trails can be found here as well. Check out the details here:
Cheers to amazing views and FREE camping at the top of Kitchen Creek Road!
So, get your FREE dollars and enjoy amazing views, country charm and amazing stargazing on Pine Creek Road. Remember for additional FREE camping in the Laguna Mountains withj more of a forest feel, check out our detailed post on Kitchen Creek Road here.
Please comment below with any questions and when you go, share your experience, along with any new secrets you discovered!
Cheers Nature and to finding amazing FREE camping in secret San Diego!
Until the next adventure,
Palomar Mountain State Park San Diego County
Located at an altitude of 5,000 feet above sea level and surrounded by beautiful forests and meadows, Palomar Mountain State Park in San Diego County offers campers a delightful place to set up camp and get back to nature. The park offers 31 family campsites at Doane Valley Campground, each of which has a picnic table, fire ring, and running water as well as access to flush toilets and hot showers. Trailers and RVs up to 27 feet can be accommodated. You will find plenty of activities to keep you busy during the day hiking, fishing, swimming, and wildlife watching are all good, and when the sun sets you can gather around the campfire and count the stars.
Palomar Mountain State Park, 19952 State Park Drive, Palomar Mountain, CA 92060, Phone: 760-742-3462
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Bow Willow Campground Anza Borrego
Sleep beneath the darkest sky and best stars in San Diego County.
Both my dog and I love exploring Anza Borrego!
Distance from San Diego: 1 hour 45 minutes | | Reservation: First come first serve | Amenities: fire rings, no RV hookups, vault toilets, shaded area, picnic tables, for rings, pet friendly
Why Camp Here: Anza Borrego is a stunning desert state park in eastern San Diego that boasts unbeatable stargazing, hiking trails, slot canyons, and giant metal sculptures of creatures rising from the sand. Its one of my all-time favorite places to camp in San Diego because its such a drastic change in scenery from the coastal city. Plus theres so much to explore!
I love Bow Willow campground because, with only 16 sites, you still feel like youre still remote. Its important to note that the campground doesnt always have running water, so always come prepared with drinking and all necessary water.
Pro Tip: In 2018, Anza Borrego was recognized as an International Dark Sky Community, which means the pitch-black skies offer the best stargazing in San Diego!
Chorma Camp In Matilija Wilderness
Image from The Dyrt camper robherr
The reality is that free camping in Santa Barbara is limited, but if youre willing to venture an hour and a half away from the city, you can enjoy a broad range of dispersed camping options, including the Chorma Camp in Matilija Wilderness.
For the adventurous backpacker, these dispersed camping spots deep in the Los Padres National Forest are accessible by hiking trail and offer an opportunity to be fully surrounded by untouched nature. With no amenities onsite, youll have to be okay with roughing it to reap the benefits of free camping at this location.
There are no amenities at any of the campsites in this area, they are all primitive dispersed camp areas.robherr.
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Temecula / Vail Lake Koa
Campsite fees: $36 and upThis campground makes a great base for a visit to some of Temecula’s kid-friendly wineries whether or not you’re normally a fan of sleeping in a tent, it sure sounds better than driving back to LA after a day of wine tasting! The Temecula/Vail Lake KOA has a variety of bonus features, including mini golf, three swimming pools, basketball courts, and a cafe with a patio bar. The setting is pretty with plenty of trees, but only 15 minutes from Old Town Temecula.
How And Where To Find Free Camping In California
If youve never looked for free camping before, be patient and do your research ahead of time. The chances are high youll take a wrong turn or go a mile in the wrong directionwhen that happens, take a deep breath and enjoy the drive. Free camping exists in wild and wonderful places and the better equipped you are to enjoy the journey the more youll enjoy the destination.
Free camping in California can generally be found on BLM and USFS property, and some of the best sites are found by taking a random turn down a dirt road with a cattle guard and driving until you find a pull-out. If youre in a pinch you can use the offline maps and campgrounds of The Dyrt PRO to find the free public lands near you.
Benchmark maps make some of the best recreation-based atlases for exploring your state and region, with shaded regions denoting private and public property. They also cordon off national parks from national forests and differentiate between 4WD and paved roads. By cross-referencing your Benchmark map with Google Maps its easier than ever to identify areas with a high likelihood of free camping.
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Death Valley National Park
Campsite fees: Free-$36The great thing about driving five hours to the hottest spot in the western hemisphere is that, chances are, you will get a campsite. Note that some areas are closed during part of the year, so check the website before heading out. The only campgrounds open in the summer of 2021 are Mesquite Springs, Emigrant, Wildrose, Thorndike, and Mahogany Flat. The uber-desert park has plenty to fascinate kids , and campgrounds that are first come, first served most of the year .
Sâmores are the best thing about camping! Photo by US Depât of Agriculture via flickr
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