National And State Parks
Most campgrounds within state and national parks are paid. However, there are a few exceptions. There are several campsites in Death Valley National Park where you can camp for free.
Another great option is to camp just outside Joshua Tree National Park. Generally, you can find an abundance of BLM land or free camping options right outside national parks. You can simply Google free camping near .
If Theres One Thing Better Than Camping Its Free Camping Especially In A Wooded Or Beachfront Area
In California, a state known for its areas of natural beauty, theres enough free camping to keep you bouncing around for months or even years.
While most national parks dont offer free camping, look for Bureau of Land Management or United States Forest Service land on the outskirts, wherein the perfect free camping California site awaits you.
Courtesy of The Dyrt
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 commonly 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.
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.
Here are 12 favorite sites.
Orr Lake CampgroundCourtesy of The Dyrt camper James E.
Lassen National Forest Northern California
There are plenty of free camping spots in the gorgeous Lassen National Forest. However, the Mud Lake Trailhead and the Black Rock Campground stand out the most.
A heavenly place to play and stay, the Mud Lake Trailhead campground offers picnic tables, hitching rails for horses, fire rings, and vault toilets. The whole site is wheelchair accessible.
With the ability to trek along numerous trails and take in scenic vistas, you wont run out of things to do in the Lassen National Forest. It is also a great place to hang a hammock tent hybrid and stargaze at night. Theres a reason why this place is a top spot for those hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.
The Black Rock Campground offers six campsites equipped with picnic tables and grills. There are great opportunities for horse riding and mineral prospecting near the camp.
You can also enjoy water activities on Lake Almanor. In the winter, you can go snowmobiling and cross-country skiing.
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Los Padres National Forest Primitive Camping
Location: Los Padres National Forest
Amenities: Picnic tables and firepits.
Activities: Bird watching, hiking, and hunting
Dogs allowed: Yes, but only on-leash.
Considered one of the best places to explore in California, Los Padres National Forestthe Golden States second-largest national forestis the perfect place for a wild weekend getaway. Covering over 1.7 million acres, this forest is home to plenty of primitive campsites and offers numerous activities, including rock climbing, day hiking, and hunting. The basic yet beautiful camping grounds range from sea level to nearly 9,000 feet in elevation and from riverside to forested, so youll have your pick of where to camp in the wilderness .
The Dyrt App And The Dyrt Pro Membership
Most free camping in California is on BLM and national forest service land. But how do you recognize or find that land?
Enter The Dyrt Pro Membership. This is a simple upgrade on The Dyrt Pro app that allows you to look at layers on a map. You can layer by both BLM and National Forest Service Land, making it way easier to see where youre camping and which roads to drive down to find boondocking sites.
I also like to use filters, like Dispersed, and Free. See screenshot below.
Another handy feature of The Dyrt Pro Membership is that you can download entire areas of offline maps to find campsites on the fly. If you need a break from boondocking, this app also gives you paid campsites, which you can filter by amenities like showers, water and price. All this is downloadable even trip planning!
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Trip Routing To The Best Free Camping Spots
Trip planning to free campsites is essential. The west is known for its terrifying mountain passes. The east is known for massive tolls and low hanging bridges.
With RV Trip Wizard you can get a much better understanding on what to expect for travel day. After spending a big amount of money on an RV, you dont want to run into a low hanging bridge!
We use RV Trip Wizard to route our cross country trips. With tools like budgeting, fuel planning, and avoiding bridges, we can easily travel safely through the USA.
You can also avoid steep passes, tolls and tunnels when you select the appropriate filters. Give RV Trip Wizard a try!
Public California Rv Camping Locations
Public California RV camping is great for RVers looking for varied outdoor experiences. Campgrounds managed by BLM and California State Parks offer RV camping, and the same is true for most County and Community parks. USFS campgrounds offer cooler locations to escape the Summer heat. Amenities range from dry RV camping with only trash and pit toilets to RV camping sites with full RV hookups.
These are only a few of the great California RV camping locations available at public campgrounds.
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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.
Baltimore Lake Dispersed Camping Site
Location: Tahoe National Forest
Amenities: Restrooms may be locked and trash services are limited, so be sure to clean up after yourself. Campfire permits are also required.
Activities: Fishing, hiking, boating, and wildlife watching
Dogs allowed: Yes, but they must be on-leash.
Known for its rugged terrain, majestic mountains, and recreational activities, the Tahoe National Forest is one of the top places to visit when in NorCal. Whether you spend a day or two , you wont tire of Tahoes spectacular, natural beauty. Set aside time for fishing, boating, and exploring the trails before returning to your dispersed campsite. After a long day of exhilarating adventures, youll be ready to sit back, relax, and admire your surroundings.
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Orr Lake Campground Klamath National Forest
This beautiful lakeside campground is located along the shore of Orr Lake, within the preserved wilderness of the Klamath National Forest. It offers four free group campsites on the end of the lake as well as six free lakefront campsites.
The secluded lakeside sites are great for RV camping, even though there are no hookups. To reduce the amount of gray water you produce while you are boondocking, vault toilets are available.
When it comes to other amenities and facilities, there are fire rings, picnic tables, and a boat ramp. The grounds are also wheelchair-accessible.
From wildlife watching and whitewater rafting, over climbing and horseback riding, to boating and fishing, the Orr Lake Campground in Northern California is perfect for those who are seeking rejuvenation through recreation.
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.
See the California free camping map.
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Snag Lake Campground Tahoe National Forest
Camp among clear mountain lakes, granite ridges, and pristine forest as you hike, fish, or swim to your hearts content! Located just five miles north of Bassets on the Gold Lake Road, the Snag Lake Campground is home to 12 undesignated campsites for tents or small trailers.
Nearest Town: Bassets, Sierra County
Amenities: Vault toilets. No potable water or dumpsters.
Shasta Cascade Region Campgrounds
Shasta Cascade Region Located in Northern California, Shasta Cascade is another ideal place for campers to pitch their tent.
The area is filled with few people, but its one of the best places to visit. Its perfect for camping, fishing, sightseeing and more.
Other natural features that you will find interesting here are amazing waterfalls, outstanding caves, Sundial Bridge, and Lassen Volcanic National Park.
If you are planning to visit California and youve never been to this area, its the best place to camp.
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Cebolla Mesa Campground: Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument New Mexico
Heres another gem! The beauty of this site is that its really off the beaten path. That means its going to be hard to access in a big rig.
The reward, however, is free camping on a cliff that overlooks the massive Rio Grande canyon.
Cebolla Mesa Campground offers very few amenities. They have toilet located at the center of the grounds, each site has a fire pit and some also have picnic tables. There are no trash receptacles on site it is a pack in, pack out area
Our favorite activity at camp is the hiking trail that leads down to the Rio Grande. Its a strenuous 1.25 mile hike that drops over 1000 feet in elevation. The camp also is a great base to explore the entire Enchanted Circle.
Dont Just Take Our Word: Robert on Campendium says, After rave reviews by Drivin& Vibin on You Tube, their website and Campendium, Cebolla Mesa was on my hit list. I was not disappointed. I was able to get the best campsite at the far left of the trailhead, right at the edge of the cliff. Not only does that site have the best views, its also the largest.
Public Lands Near Mammoth Lakes
Mammoth Lakes is famous for world-class skiing, but theres so much more you can do in this part of the Golden State. You will find incredible ghost towns, fishing spots, biking trails, as well as excellent campgrounds near the less-visited backside of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
The entrance to Yosemite is just 30 miles outside of Mammoth Lakes. And, just 10 miles outside of town, you will find a lovely, free camping site called Owens River Road.
The campground offers many opportunities for shade, thanks to the many pine trees scattered throughout the area.
Even though the site is very popular among locals, there’s room for everyone at the campground. The road out is well-groomed, so it is an excellent spot for car camping as well as tent camping.
However, the area is known for its mountain passes and switchbacks, so trip planning is important if you are traveling with an RV. The cell service in the area is surprisingly good.
Near Mono Lake, youll find the Sagehen Meadows Campground. Unlike the Owens River camping site, the Sagehen Meadows Campground offers very little tree coverage. This makes it a great camping site for stargazing at night.
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Things To Keep In Mind While Camping In California
While these campgrounds may be free, if you want to have a fire or use a burner, youll likely need a permit.
Be sure to research ahead of time if your campground allows campfires, and if so, if it requires a permit . Remember to always use a burner on even ground and to never leave a fire unattended!
Dispersed camping requires that a Leave No Trace policy be followed.
Some principles of the LNT ethos are: travel and camp on durable surfaces, dispose of waste properly, leave what you find, minimize campfire impacts, respect wildlife, and be considerate of other visitors!
Many of these campgrounds are only open seasonally. Remember to research in advance what months your preferred campsite is open for use!
Northern California is bear country! Always make sure you research the presence of bears in your area, and travel equipped with a bear box!
Investing in quality camping gear is important as you dont want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere and realize you dont have sufficient equipment. We use this this durable tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad on all of our California camping trips.
If you plan on a more active camping adventure, youre also going to want to bring a good pair of hiking shoes. We recommend these ones!
Other Places You Can Camp For Free In California
Oftentimes, youll just be trying to get from Point A to Point B when roadtripping through California. So, you may not want to spend hours driving down dirt roads on federal lands.
Here are some other places you can find free overnight parking in California. If youre camping on private property, its recommended you make a call first to be safe.
- Rest Stops
- Vacant Parking Lots
- Church Parking Lots
I do recommend you read reviews on any of the aforementioned camping apps or make phone calls before trying out some of these suggestions.
We have camped for free overnight in rest stops and at truck stops all over California with no problems at all.
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Needless Point Dispersed Camping Near Sequoia National Park
Just outside Sequoia National Park, youll find one of the most scenic camping locations in California. The Needless Point dispersed camping ground offers gorgeous vistas of the area, and it is just a quarter of a mile from the Needles Lookout Trail.
Keep in mind that this camping spot is located in bear country. Store food in bear-proof containers and secure trash so that bears cannot access it.
Sequoia National Park Campgrounds
If you like giant trees, this is the place to be. With over one million acres of giant Sequoia trees, this park is a must-visit for trees lovers. Also, Sherman trees are found here.
Sherman tree is said to be the biggest tree that you will ever see on planet earth. There are plenty of camping sites within this park where you can pitch your tent and enjoy the sights, smells and sounds of magnificent outdoors.
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Inyo National Forest Dispersed Camping
Image from The Dyrt camper Daniel S.
According to the USFS, most of the land in Inyo County is publicly owned, so anywhere you can find to park and camp for the night is fair game. While the Forest Service recommends purchasing a map to distinguish public land from private, you can find somewhere to camp with enough space to hang up a hammock and enjoy the surrounding flora and fauna.
At Inyo, campers can remain for 28 days per every six months in each of the four ranger districts and campsites can be found along the road in compacted pull-outs, many of which have established primitive fire rings. If you do decide to have a fire, always check with the ranger station to understand the fire danger levels.
Elk City Lake: Elk City Oklahoma
Elk City Lake free camping is located inside a city park. The have a boat launch, disc golf course, bathrooms, grills, picnic tables and..wait for it.free water & electricity!
We have camped at Elk City Lake multiple times on our treks across the USA. The town is located on historic Route 66 and is home to an official Route 66 museum. Due to the parks proximity to the interstate, we received great AT& T and T-Mobile signal. We could easily stream music & movies and upload videos.
The park is dog friendly and offers lots of space for walking. However, beware of small thorns in the grass. River got a few stuck to her paws. There also seems to be a lot of wildlife in the area look out for snakes, lizards, etc.
Dont Just Take Our Word: MrsDillon on Campendium says, This park is adorable. Appeared really well maintained, with a couple playgrounds, trash bins everywhere, and all along a lovely lake. I cant comment on the quality of the bathrooms since we didnt use them but I assume the outside reflects the inside. We were surprised to see how busy it was on a rainy Monday evening.
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Free Campgrounds In California And How To Find More
If theres one thing better than camping, its free camping, especially in a wooded or beachfront area. In California, a state known for its areas of natural beauty, theres enough free camping to keep you bouncing around for months or even years.
While most national parks dont offer free camping, look for Bureau of Land Management or United States Forest Service land on the outskirts, where the perfect free camping in California site awaits you. For last-minute camping, you can use The Dyrt PROs Offline Maps and Map Layers to find free camping near you. These features will show you public lands where you can camp for free whether or not you have service or wifi!