The Best Campgrounds in California to Pitch a Tent
From the mountains to the desert and sea, California is home to some of the most majestic and stunning landscapes in the country. It’s a gold mine of 110 state parks, 19 national forests and glittering beaches, where you can spend the night in the redwood forest, alongside crashing waves, next to panoramic vistas and massive boulders.
Whether it’s a traditional tent and s’mores experience, or glamping with the option of fine dining, here are the best places to camp in California to celebrate National Camping Month.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite gets crowded, but there’s a reason for that. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the U.S. and nothing will make you feel more in awe than standing under a 1,000-year-old sequoia tree.
Yosemite has more than a dozen campgrounds, and all sites have a picnic table, fire pit, potable water, clean restrooms and hot showers. But the best part is the location: many sites have views of Half Dome, and the free Yosemite Valley shuttle stops at all the Yosemite Valley’s best sites and trailheads.
Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park encompasses at least 40 distinct groves of redwoods with the most popular being the Giant Forest, home to the world’s largest tree: a 275ft-high, 36ft-wide, giant sequoia tree known as General Sherman.
Just three miles away, the seasonal riverfront Lodgepole Campground is close to the visitor center with free shuttles and offers easy access to park attractions like the Giant Forest and the Wuksachi Lodge and restaurant.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Love national parks but hate the crowds? Then head north to Lassen National Park, one of the country’s least-visited national parks. That makes it one of the best campgrounds in California if you want to snag a lakefront campground at the last minute.
Beyond its volcanic terrain, the park features stunning alpine lakes and meadows dotted with gushing waterfalls. Set up camp at one of seven seasonal campgrounds, like the popular Manzanita Lake, which includes tent sites and spiffy camping cabins, or Butte Lake, which offers the most seclusion.
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 beach with exceptional tidepools found toward the northern end. Pack a swimsuit and surfboard; the rolling tide provides the perfect setting to catch a few waves or just frolic in the surf. There’s also a camp store with beach essentials and hot showers to clean up before a BBQ dinner around the fire pit.
Joshua Tree National Park
For a desert experience, camp in Joshua Tree National Park for a long weekend. Jumbo Rocks is the park’s largest campground with sites dotted with massive boulders, and is an ideal locale for exploring the park’s otherworldly desert landscape of staggering rock formations.
Situated at the park’s northern end, the 15-site White Tank is the park’s smallest campground, yet offers the greatest solitude and darkest skies.
Channel Islands National Park
Reached via a 1.5-hour ferry ride, the five islands encompassing this offshore national park offer a glimpse of what the California coast looked like hundreds of years ago. Each isle features a small campground, with Santa Cruz’s Scorpion Canyon campground being the easiest to reach. You’ll need to lug your gear a half-mile from the dock, but your reward is a serenity and night sky rarely found on the mainland.
From Scorpion Canyon’s sites, you can kayak or snorkel the turquoise waters of the protected marine area, and trek to the island’s peak, which offers sweeping views of the Pacific.