Hipcampers are spoiled for choice in California, where landscapes come supersized. Golden coasts. Redwood forests. Fiery desert canyons. Alpine lakes framed by snowy peaks. But the best memories are in the details—seeing a gray whale breach off the rugged north coast, feeling the sun on your face on a Southern California shore, or maybe enjoying s’mores beside the crystal waters of Lake Tahoe. Trails climb from campgrounds to immense granite domes in Yosemite while Joshua trees beckon for attention in the eastern deserts. The best part? There’s somewhere amazing to camp year-round.
Camping beneath redwoods—the tallest trees in the world—is a hard-to-beat highlight of the north coast. The majestic groves scattered across Redwood National & State Parks are an excellent choice for first-timers. Further south, from Eureka to Mendocino and eventually San Francisco, you’ll find a string of private and state park campgrounds tucked along rugged coastlines marked by bluffs, coves, dunes, and tidepools.
Stretching from Monterey south to Santa Barbara, the Central Coast scores points for scenery and variety. Plus, it’s a convenient escape from the urban hassles of San Francisco and Los Angeles. Redwoods, waterfalls, and windswept bluffs border Highway 1 in Big Sur, while waves crash beside state parks north of Santa Barbara. For a remote camping experience, campsites at Channel Islands National Park off the coast of Santa Barbara can oblige.
The golden beaches of Southern California are the stuff of lazy days and pop songs. And fantastic camping for those inclined. The best campsites line-up beside the coast between Newport Beach and Dana Point in Orange County, with a few more perched on coastal bluffs north of San Diego. Not surprisingly, these oceanfront sites fill fast, so book early.
Granite domes and lush Alpine meadows border campgrounds in Yosemite National Park, while enormous sequoias are the draw in Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks. Campgrounds beside alpine lakes and the sparkling blue waters of Lake Tahoe are always postcard-pretty.
For surreal sunsets, striking rock formations, restless sand dunes, and spring wildflowers, head east. Nine campgrounds and plenty more right outside await at Death Valley National Park, home to the lowest spot in the U.S. Joshua trees and picturesque boulders keep Hipcampers happy at Joshua Tree National Park while Anza-Borrego Desert State Park serves up fantastic desert hiking outside San Diego. High season is late fall through spring, when temperatures are pleasant.
To reserve a campsite at a California State Park, you can use the official reservation system called ReserveCalifornia. Follow these steps to book your campsite:
Boondocking, also known as dispersed camping, is legal in many areas of California, particularly on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and in National Forests. Here are some popular areas for boondocking in California: 1. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park: This park allows dispersed camping in designated areas. 2. Alabama Hills Recreation Area: Managed by the BLM, this area offers boondocking with stunning views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. 3. Joshua Tree National Park: Outside the park boundaries, you can find BLM land where boondocking is allowed. 4. Inyo National Forest: Dispersed camping is permitted in most areas, but be sure to check with the local ranger station for any restrictions. When boondocking, always practice Leave No Trace principles, and make sure to follow any posted rules and regulations. Additionally, consider checking out Hipcamp for unique boondocking and camping locations in California: California Stars and Valley Boondock Campsite.
Yes, camping at Trona Pinnacles is generally safe, but campers should be prepared for the remote and rugged conditions. The area is known for its unique geological formations and offers dispersed camping with no established campgrounds or facilities. Be sure to bring plenty of water, food, and supplies, as the nearest services are located in the town of Trona, 20 miles away. Keep an eye on the weather, as temperatures can be extreme, and flash floods can occur during heavy rains. As always, practice Leave No Trace principles and respect the fragile desert environment.
Free beach camping in California is quite rare, as most beach campgrounds are managed by state parks or other organizations that charge fees. However, you can find some dispersed camping areas along the coast in certain parts of the state, such as on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land or in National Forests. Keep in mind that these free camping spots usually have limited facilities and are often located in more remote areas. It's essential to follow the Leave No Trace principles and respect the environment when camping in these locations. Always check the specific regulations and restrictions for the area you plan to visit.
Several beaches in California allow camping. Some popular options include:
For more options, check out Hipcamp's beach campgrounds.
There are several reasons why it can be difficult to find campsites in California:
To increase your chances of finding a campsite in California, consider camping during the off-peak season, making reservations well in advance, or exploring lesser-known campgrounds. Websites like Hipcamp can help you discover alternative camping options, including private land and unique accommodations.
Boondocking, or dispersed camping, is not illegal in California as long as it is done on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or the United States Forest Service (USFS). However, it is essential to follow specific rules and regulations, including staying within designated areas, adhering to stay limits (usually 14 days), and practicing Leave No Trace principles. Keep in mind that boondocking is not allowed in all areas, and it's crucial to research the specific location before setting up camp.
In California, you can camp without a permit in areas designated for dispersed camping, usually found on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and National Forest lands. Here are some popular locations for dispersed camping without a permit:
Remember to practice Leave No Trace principles, respect the environment, and follow any posted rules or regulations. Also, be aware that some areas may have fire restrictions or seasonal closures. It's always a good idea to check with the local ranger station for current conditions and regulations before heading out.
Camping rules in California vary depending on the location and type of campground (national park, state park, national forest, private campgrounds, etc.). However, there are some general rules that apply to most camping situations in California:
It's crucial to research the specific rules and regulations of the area where you plan to camp, as they may differ depending on the land management agency or private property rules. Check the website or contact the managing agency for the most up-to-date information.
Camping costs in California can vary greatly depending on the location, amenities, and type of campsite. Prices can range from free for dispersed camping in some national forests or BLM land to over $100 per night for a glamping experience or a cabin rental. On average, you can expect to pay around $20 to $50 per night for a basic tent or RV camping site in a state park or campground. Keep in mind that prices may vary depending on the season, availability, and any additional fees such as reservation or vehicle entry fees.