Ca Camping Laws: 9 Boondocking Northern California Locations
- ByJames V.
California has been the go-to vacation spot for many years. Its diverse nature lets you get close to nature in the north and the east while letting you access all the theme parks located in the southern portion of the state No matter what you like to do, there is a spot in California for you.
California can be both lenient and strict when it comes to camping. It does let cities regulate their territories while the state has rules for State land. The BLM is federal and the least restrictive of all jurisdictions. This means that there are plenty of spots in federal land where you can boondock.
To learn more about boondocking in California, just continue to read our article. It has the information you want to know about. Just be careful about reading different private websites as they do tend to encourage you to break the law.
Always Respect Californias Dispersed Camping Rules
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.
Stoddard Wells Ohv Area
The Southern California off road trails in this area offer a diverse landscape. It features rolling hills, open valley, steep climbs, and rocky mountains. Its a great place to escape the city and enjoy the outdoors. Camping is also available.
Most of the visitors use 4-wheel drive vehicles, ATVs, UTVs, and motorcycles. There is plenty of areas to explore and even a cafe to enjoy. The terrain is very rocky in certain areas, especially near Hodge road.
It is a great place to experience the desert without sand dunes. Be cautious of large vehicles and riders coming in the opposite direction.
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Using Apps To Find Free Camping In California
While its a good idea to read lists like this to get an idea of where to find free camping in California, its also fun to forge your own way and search out your own sites.
Thats one of the joys of boondocking, right?
As an avid California boondocker, my favorite way to find free campsites is to rely on apps downloaded on my phone or iPad.
A couple of these apps can be used offline, which proves vital when Im driving somewhere without phone signal and need to find a site for the night.
We often wing it when it comes to free camping in California, but we also know many people like to plan.
Here are some awesome apps to try when boondocking California.
Can You Park An Rv Anywhere In California
While California is a free-loving state, it does have many rules and regulations to govern different activities. One rule is that you cannot park your RV just anywhere. While some campgrounds, parks, and forests allow for boondocking, almost all cities in the state do not allow it within their jurisdictions.
Also, you would have to check with each city to see what their individual rules are as each city makes its own. There is no universal standard or application. Then the state itself doesn’t have any boondocking laws that we are aware of. They do allow each jurisdiction to make that determination.
That will be the reason why you may be able to camp free at one state park but not another. Anza Borrego Desert State Park does allow boondocking while other state parks do not. Sometimes you have to go by the signs only. When an area says no camping then you cannot park there even for one night.
The national Parks generally do not allow boondocking but the BLM lands and other federal lands do allow it along with disperse camping. You would have to check the websites of BLM and other federal agencies to see what their rules are. California doesn’t have jurisdiction over federal lands.
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California Off Road Vehicle State Park Areas
OCOTILLO WELLS SVRAOcotillo Wells is on the western boundary and part of the northern boundary connecting to the half-million acre Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, which is closed to off-road recreation. Enjoy 40,000 acres of desert off-road exploration and recreation. Outside the boundaries, to the south and east, large tracts of BLM land are also open to off-highway vehicles. Highlights to this park include:BLOW SAND HILL – is illuminated by a circle of headlights on many weekend nights.DEVIL’S SLIDE is a 200 foot-high granite and sand island. Several old hidden mine shafts are said to be haunted. BARREL SPRINGS – mesquite sand dunes where the springs seep from the ground, especially after a heavy rain. SHELL REEF -rock or sand, fragments of fossilized oyster shells in a reef is estimated to be 4 million years old! GAS DOMES- mysterious, volcano-like mud pots of bubbling liquid PUMPKIN PATCH – is the result of wind and water continuously eroding the surface soil and revealing globular sandstone concretions
Central California – BEACH
HOLLISTER HILLS SVRAHollister Hills offers recreation for motorcyclists, 4x4s, picnickers, and campers in the Gabilan Mountains just an hour’s drive from San Jose. Park elevations range from 660 feet to 2,425 feet.
Second Fork In The Road
The second of two significant forks in the road has no signage and is anticipated about 80% of the way towards Funnel Lake. Nonetheless, both options of this fork will result in the camping site destination at Funnel Lake.
- To take the left-side trail would be to take the path of intermediate difficulty. Continuing this trail entails a similar 4×4 driving experience as the previous sections of the Coyote Flat trail. This is demonstrated by the yellow line on the aerial map image below.
- On the other hand, to take the right-side trail would be to take the rockier path that requires technical 4×4 driving. This alternative comprises a plethora of angular boulders, steep drops, and lesser sunlight when in the woods. This path is shown by the green line on the aerial map image below. Additionally, the short videos below are clips that demonstrate some of the 4×4 driving experiences through this route.
Coyote Creek Coyote Flats Trail 2nd Fork in the Road
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Two Harbors And Parsons Landing Campgrounds
- Location: Catalina Island
- Type: Hike-in tent camping
Tucked away just off the beach at the resort town of Two Harbors in Catalina Island sits the Two Harbors Campground. With views of the harbor and Pacific Ocean, its an idyllic beachside campground but also close enough to town and the ferry from San Pedro for easy accessibility, even on an island that prohibits visitors from driving cars. Campers can choose between renting a basic campsite and setting up their own equipment or reserving one of Two Harbors 12 tent cabins, which come equipped with cots, a two-burner stove, and fully charged lanterns.
For a more adventurous experience, campers can head to Parsons Landing Campground, a secluded, on-the-beach campground on the northeast side of Catalina that you can only access by hiking or kayaking. Shade and water are not provided, but you can preorder a locker with firewood and water for $20 and spare your back the extra weight.
What Do I Need To Bring
Comfortable car camping gear thats capable of withstanding strong winds and cold temperatures. Id pack for below-freezing and rain, no matter what time of year you visit.
If you want to have a campfire, bring firewood , and the tools to process it. Youll also need a shovel, a container of water to extinguish it, and a California campfire permit. Observe seasonal restrictions.
Dress in layers. Hiking during the day may call for shorts and a t-shirt, but youll want base layers, down and shells at night. This high, the sun is also exceptionally strong, so youll need sunglasses, a brimmed hat, and sun block, no matter the time of year.
You can fly or bait fish up here, we saw equal success with each method. Make sure you have a license.
Its a good idea to bring your own water, if for nothing other than convenience. If you pull it from local sources, use a filter or purification methods.
Coyote Flat is a great place to bring a dog.
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Camino Cove Campground Eldorado National Forest
Nestled on the Northwest shore of the Union Valley Reservoir, the Camino Cove Campground has been deemed one of the prettiest campgrounds in the Eldorado National Forest. Open late May through October, stay at the campground while exploring all the area has to offer including fishing, boating, and hiking the Bassi Falls Hiking Trail!
Nearest Town: Pollock Pines, El Dorado County
Amenities: Fire ring and vault toilets. No potable water, no showers.
Modoc National Forest Dispersed Camping
In the northeast corner of California, where Oregon, California, and Nevada meet, Modoc National Forest sits quietly, away from the hustle and bustle of Californias more popular parks and forests. Here youll find pull-offs and spurs for dispersed camping in all four ranger districts: Big Valley, Devils Garden, Doublehead, and Warner Mountain.
The landscape is diverse enough to keep you occupied for weeks. From high-alpine terrain in the Warner Mountain Range to the central lava flows, you wont want for ecological diversity. If anything, itll make you wish you had more time to explore.
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Coyote Flat 44 Trailhead
The start of this 4×4 off-roading adventure is at the three-way intersection of Coyote Valley Road, Reata Road, and Underwood Lane, in the City of Bishop, California . When driving on the westbound portion of Underwood Lane , youll see a dirt road on your lefthand side, trending south. Thats Coyote Creek Valley Road, which has some safe areas off to the side for temporarily parking to deflate tires and strap-up gear.
Coyote Flat 4×4 Trailhead Location By Geo Forward
- START at the Intersection of Coyote Valley Road,Reata Road& Underwood Lane in the City of Bishop, California 93514
- Elevation: 4,345 Feet Above Mean Sea Level
- Ideal Place to Air-Down Tires & Strap-Up Cargo
Canyonlands National Park Ut
For avid off-roaders and overlanders, there is no greater accomplishment than conquering the 4×4 trails at Canyonlands National Park in Utah. Canyonlands offers hundreds of miles of unpaved roads, three of which are known for their highly technical difficulty.
White Rim Road, The Needles, and The Maze are some of the most notable and most challenging 4×4 trails alongside several campsites. The reward for making it to these campsites is total solitude, crystal clear skies, and pristine, magnificent views of the surrounding canyons.
Make sure you review the parks strict rules and regulations before embarking on an off-road camping adventure. Permits are required for day use, and fires and pets are prohibited.
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Geology Of Inyo National Forest
The Coyote Flat and Funnel Lake areas are within the Inyo National Forest. And the geology of Inyo National Forest comprises two, roughly parallel stretches of mountainous land in eastern-central California. The mountains generally trend north-to-south and extend towards the California-Nevada border. In fact, the prominent geological features contained within this forest area includes part of the Sierra Nevada , and the Inyo Mountains and the White Mountains . The two areas are separable by a valley through which runs the Owens River, from Mono Lake south to Owens Lake.
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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Northern California’s Most Popular Camping Regions
- 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.
Henry Miller Memorial Library
This beat-era literary hot spot is named after the late author, Henry Miller, who penned such titles as Tropic of Cancer. The library is a cultural hub for the Big Sur community, offering outdoor film screenings on the weekends, live musical acts, and a worldly bookstore filled with plenty of perfect reads while on the road. When planning your visit keep an eye on their events calendar for readings, concerts, and films.
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Cleghorn Ridge Ohv Road 2n47
Cleghorn Ridge is a great area for beginners and advanced riders. There are plenty of challenging offshoots and areas to explore. Some enjoy it during the rain, where they can splash through the mud and puddles.
Weekends can be quite busy. Also, make sure to be with someone or have a spotter, since the advanced trails can be quite dangerous to take alone.
What To Pack For Your Beach Camping Trip
As for any camping trip, youll want to pack your essentialstent, sleeping bag, warm clothes, and a comfy camping chairbut here are a few beach-specific items you should remember to bring with you when you camp:
- Beach blanket: Be sure to pack a beach blanket for days lounging on the beach. If youre hiking in, something small and lightweight like Matador Pocket Blanket Mini will be the easiest to pack.
- Swimsuit: Especially in Northern California, the water can be too cold for swimming, but it never hurts to bring a bathing suit just in case.
- Quick-dry towel: Skip the bulky beach towel and bring a lightweight camp towel to dry off with. Packtowel is a good option.
- Sunscreen: Pack an eco-friendly sunscreen, like Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Lotion SFP 50, to keep your skin safe while you swim and hike.
- Dry bag: If youre kayaking or spending time on a boat, use waterproof dry bags like those by Sea to Summit to keep your gear from getting soaked by rogue waves.
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Best Off Road Trails California
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California is known for its millions of acres of farmland and beautiful weather. From mountains to deserts, youre never far from a great trail. Check out some of these off road trails California has to offer.
If you are looking for a moderate trail, head to Pilot Rock OHV Trail in Cedarpines Park. Its easy for 2WD vehicles but has some challenging areas off the main route. For something more difficult, try Signal Peak OHV Trail, where youll encounter several obstacles and rocky areas.
Our top 35 off road trails in California are as follows:
Places To Visit In California
As mentioned, California’s diverse terrain makes it a playground for outdoor enthusiasts and those looking for a break from the busier and popular CA cities. For example, our secluded mountain retreat destinations are a fantastic option for total tranquility away from any unnecessary distractions and a fantastic opportunity to discover national park camping in California. Head for the tallest trees on Earth and visit Sequoia National Park as well as Redwood national and state parks. From forests to deserts, if you’re going glamping near LA, it’s an amazing opportunity to visit the Mojave Desert as well as some of the best beaches near San Diego like Windansea Beach, South Mission Beach, and La Jolla Cove.
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