Tent Camping In Southern California Best Campgrounds
Although Southern California is known for its beaches, there are some great campgrounds just hours away from some of the largest cities in the U.S. Some of the best campgrounds I have ever been to have been tent camping in Southern California.
As you move further away from the coast, there are all different kinds of campgrounds. Within 1 to 2 hours of Los Angeles or San Diego, you can find beach camping, mountain camping, forest camping, and desert camping campsites.
There is a common joke among people who grew up in SoCal. You can have breakfast on the beach, lunch in the mountains and dinner in the desert.
Here are the best places to go tent camping in Southern California
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.
Joshua Tree National Park
This is a busy time of year in Joshua Tree, so if you are planning on going, make sure to get a reservation or have some backup plans just in case. Campgrounds usually fill from October through May. This is an iconic camping area to see epic views of the stars and experience the desert terrain. Enjoy the vastness of the space above and below you.
Temperatures can get cold in the high-desert so be sure to bring warm clothing and a good sleeping bag.
Cant find a campsite inside the park? Learn more about Camping Outside of the Park.
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Oak Knoll Campground New Hogan Lake
The Oak Knoll campground is picturesquely located on a hillside overlooking New Hogan Lake in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The facility offers 49 spacious primitive campsites, most of which can accommodate your RV or camping trailer. You can do as much or as little as you like at Oak Knoll, such as relaxing with a book or enjoy boating, fishing, and skiing on the lake campers may make use of the free on-site boat launching area. After a busy day of hiking, biking, or horse riding you can look forward to cleaning up at the coin-operated showers. The east campsite has a picnic table, a fire ring with grill, and a lantern post.
Oak Knoll Campground, 2321 S Petersburg Rd, Valley Springs, CA 95252, Phone: 209-772-1343
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Pio Pico Rv Resort & Campground
Location: 14615 Otay Lakes Road, Jamul
Amenities: Satellite TV, restaurant, banquet hall, library, bike trails, store, dog park, picnic area, playgrounds, shower facilities, restrooms
Activities: Basketball, volleyball, mini-golf, pickleball, billiards, game room, shuffleboard, whirlpool, spa, hot tub
Fees: $64 and up per night
Number of sites: 532
Dogs allowed: Yes
Reservation required: Yes
Set south of San Diego, just 20 minutes away from the U.S.-Mexico border, Pio Pico RV Resort & Campground is a wonderful escape from the big citys busyness. When you need a quintessential Southern California RV camping adventure, head to this retreat for a memorable experience.
Guests come here for the peace and quiet of nature but also enjoy the activities provided by the RV resort. Whether youre here with your friends or family, the various activities are appropriate for people of all ages. Challenge your friends to a game of volleyball or teach your children how to mini-golf. Spend the rest of your afternoon relaxing in the hot tub and lounging by the outdoor pool.
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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.
Point Mugu State Park Campground
The proximity of Point Mugu State Park Campgrounds to the South Ventura County beaches makes it a popular destination among visitors that like to swim, surf, and sunbathe.
Up to 8 people can stay on each of the 112 sites, with one vehicle and one towable vehicle permitted. Additional vehicles can be added for a fee, and the maximum vehicle length is 31 feet.
Choose from either the Sycamore Canyon site for $45 per night or the Thornhill Broome site at $35. There are also hike and bike sites available at $10. Amenities include a picnic table, a fire ring, showers, and restrooms.
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Montana De Oro State Park
As one of Californias largest state parks, there are 8,000 acres including 7 miles of shoreline to explore. This park was a former dairy ranch.
Montana de Oro State Park offers equestrian camping starting at $50 a night up to $150 a night, depending on the number of stalls. Primitive camping without hook-ups for RVs is $25 a night. The RV limit is 27 feet.
Located 6 miles southwest of Morro Bay at 3550 Pecho Valley Rd. in Los Osos.
San Jacinto Mountains Campgrounds
Soaring peaks and secluded valleys make the San Jacinto Mountains a wonderful camping destination.
- Mount San Jacinto State Park – Camp at Idyllwild Campground and enjoy great amenities. Hike the nature trail, tour the visitor center, and spend time in the Idyllwild Nature Center.
- San Bernardino National Forest – Adventurous campers find some great campsites which can serve as bases for launching hikes into the wilderness. Discover the Panorama Point Trail or spend the day at Lake Fulmore.
- Riverside County Parks – Several county parks in the area offer comfortable camping and access to all the recreation in the area. Try camping at Idyllwild, Hurkey Creek, and McCall Equestrian county parks.
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Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Traverse spiraling trails under ancient, old-growth redwoods, and take your pick of four waterfalls when staying in the Santa Cruz mountains at Big Basin Redwoods. Out of 142 unique campsites, some are open year-round while others are seasonal. There are also spots that can accommodate large groups of 40 to 50 as well as tent cabins, and a horse camp to bunk with your horses . Looking for creature comforts? Little Basin also has a kitchen, pavilion, and recreation hall that are all available to rent.
El Capitan State Beach
Among a string of campgrounds along the Santa Barbara coast, El Capitan offers spacious campsites set on a coastal bluff. During the day, explore the driftwood-strewn beach with exceptional tidepools found toward the northern end. Pack a swimsuit and surfboard the rolling tide provides the perfect setting to frolic or catch a few waves. Theres also a camp store with beach essentials and hot showers to clean up before a BBQ dinner around the fire pit. Visit soon as the site will be closed for roughly nine months starting August 1st, 2022.
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Southern California Beach Campgrounds
From Malibu to San Diego, Southern California beach campgrounds are among the most popular in the state.
- Leo Carrillo State Park – Great amenities at the campground with a short stroll to scenic beaches. Close to popular Zuma Beach.
- Crystal Cove – Enjoy full hook-ups for your RV, tour historic beach cottages, tide pools, and the Outdoor Nature Center. Swim, surf, and relax on the sand.
- San Clemente – Camp near Calafia Beach and stroll miles of warm sand. Fish from the pier or try a little surfing at popular spots.
- San Onofre – Great year-round camping at San Mateo Campground, popular surfing spots, nature trail.
- South Carlsbad – Wide, sandy beach near well-known surfing destinations. Full hook-ups now available. Rent bicycles and cruise the Carlsbad Seawall Promenade.
Camping In California: Dripping Springs Campground Cleveland National Forest
Dripping Springs Campground is a rustic camping area for hikers, backpackers, and equestrians wanting to explore the scenic Cleveland National Forest. Dripping Springs is located adjacent to the Agua Tibia wilderness, which is home to a wide variety of wildlife and includes a 20-mile hiking loop. Equestrians can bring their horses there is a horse corral and horse staging area as well as designated horse-riding trails. Your campsite includes access to toilets, drinking water, and fire rings, but there are no showers or electrical hook-ups. For a break from hiking and wildlife watching, you can visit the nearby Temecula Wine Country for a wine tasting. RVs up to 20 feet can be accommodated.
Dripping Springs Campground, 39755 Highway 79, Aguanga, CA 92536, Phone: 760-788-0250
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Dogwood Campground San Bernardino National Forest
Dogwood Campground is located just 20 miles from San Bernardino, offering 87 campsites suitable for tents, camping trailers, and RVs. Visitors will have access to extensive hiking trails and boating, fishing, and a water slide can be found 15 minutes away at Lake Gregory. All the campsites are accessible and include a picnic table and fire ring some have electrical hook-up. If you visit on the weekend, you can enjoy interpretive programs on Friday and Saturday nights. The campground offers restrooms and hot showers, and Lake Arrowhead Village has interesting shops to explore as well as fine dining restaurants. You need to book your site in advance no first-come first-served allowed.
Dogwood Campground, 26898 Rim of the World Highway, Rimforest, CA 92378, Phone: 909-382-2790
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Camping In Socal: Serrano Campground San Bernardino National Forest
Scenically located on the north shore of Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains, Serrano Campground is a spacious facility that can comfortably accommodate both tents and RVs on 109 campsites. Serrano is a very popular campground and you would be advised to book your place well in advance. You can expect all the usual campground amenities, such as accessible sites, picnic tables, and fire pits as well as the extra convenience of RV hook-up and hot coin-operated showers. Your days will be filled with activities, including boating and fishing on the lake as well as interpretive sites, walking, hiking, mountain biking, and wildlife watching on land.
Serrano Campground, 40800 N Shore Dr, Fawnskin, CA 92333, Phone: 909-866-8021
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Big Bear Lake Campgrounds
Big Bear Lake is one of the most popular mountain destinations in Southern California, with great camping and recreation.
- Serrano Campground – The only campground right on the shore of Big Bear Lake is Serrano. Campers there are close to the Discovery Center and to marinas and other attractions.
- Group Campgrounds – Groups headed for Big Bear have plenty of sites from which to choose, some close to the lake, others tucked back in the forest.
- Green Spot Equestrian Group Camp – Although it has no potable water, the campground is close to many fine riding trails and can accommodate groups up to 25.
Camping In Socal: Emma Wood State Beach Sacramento
Located right alongside the ocean, the Emma Wood State Beach campground is a great place to park your RV or camping trailer and enjoy a relaxing beach break. The campground is only suitable for fully self-contained motor homes and trailers as there are no toilets, showers, electricity, or dumpsite on the premises. You can spend your days relaxing on the beach or go cycling, swimming, surfing, fishing, and windsurfing. You can book your campsite in advance during the summer , but during the off-season the campground operates a first-come first-served policy. The Ventura River Group Camp offers four developed group campsites for tents.
Emma Wood State Beach, 1416 9th Street, Sacramento, CA 95814, Phone: 916-653-6995
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Guadalupe Canyon Oasis Hot Springs And Nature Reserve
How does your own private hot spring sound? At this campground nestled in the mountains of Baja, every campsite has its own attached hot springs pool with temperatures up to 125 degrees. Each site also has a palapa, grill, and place to set up tents and the campground has flush toilets, showers, and a camp store. Some sites accommodate groups as big as 14 with four cars, making them perfect for a getaway with friends. While staying at the campground, you can hike to see caves with ancient petroglyphs, use the giant mud bath, or do some rock climbing. There are also cool pools for swimming and rock jumping. The road to the campground is long and bumpy, but thats the price you pay for a hot spring at the finish line.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 140 miles
Fees: Starting at $40 a night, larger sites are $125 on weekends
Best campsites: For a big group, go for El Indio or La Playita, which can house up to 14. For a romantic trip, El Mirador is more secluded and has beautiful views.
How early to book: You can reserve a week in advance at guadalupecanyonoasis.com, but the campground recommends doing so much earlier.
Choosing A Campground In Southern California
When choosing a campground, consider the type of camping experience you are looking to achieve. Consider the kinds of people you are going with.
For example, if you are going with your kids, you may want to choose a more active campsite like Lake Hemit rather than a very secluded one.
If you are going with your partner or close friends for some quiet meditation, it might be better to go to a campground like Live Oak.
Think about what the perfect camping experience would look like, then reverse engineer the campground that would provide that experience. It will be a trial and error process until you find your go-to campground.
I have been tent camping at 30 different campsites in Southern California before I found the perfect one for each type of camping trip.
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Camping In California: San Elijo State Beach Encinitas
Campers looking for a great oceanside campground should book their spot at San Elijo State Beach Campground near Cardiff-by-the-Sea. The large campground can accommodate RVs up to 35 feet long as well as tents, and the most sought-after sites are right on the edge of the beach front bluff, offering wonderful sunset views. You can buy just about everything you need at the convenience store and each of the campsites has the usual picnic table and fire ring with grill. There are clean flush toilets and coin-operated showers. Besides enjoying all the beach activities you can also explore on two wheels along the cycling trials. Some visitors may find the inevitable highway and train sounds annoying, particularly if your site is close to the railway tracks.
San Elijo State Beach, 2050 S Coast Hwy 101, Cardiff, CA 92007, Phone: 760-753-5091
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