Waterside camping in Northern California

From the Pacific to the Sierra, these are the best campsites in Northern California.

90% (1678 reviews)
90% (1678 reviews)

Popular camping styles for Northern California

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Waterside camping in Northern California guide

Overview

Northern California can spoil you with outdoor adventure. Here, campers have access to rugged coastlines, redwood forests, active volcanoes, granite domes, and glaciated peaks, all bathed daily in NorCal’s signature golden sunsets. The region’s major outdoor hubs include the Pacific Coast to the west (Big Sur, Wine Country), the Sierra Nevada mountain range to the east (Yosemite, Tahoe), and the Cascade mountain range to the north (Mount Shasta, Lassen Peak), each offering unique geology, climates, and fauna. Throughout each is world-class hiking, rock climbing, biking, beaches, surfing, snowsports, and—of course—camping.

Where to go

Sierra Nevada

The Sierra Nevada mountain range is where you’ll find granite peaks, ancient sequoia trees, and the world-famous Yosemite National Park. From its towering valley and sprawling backcountry to its curious black bear population, Yosemite constantly engages and excites. Rock climbers take on bouldering and multi-pitch routes, hikers enter the lottery for a chance to scale the cables of Half Dome, and most visitors delight in Yosemite Falls and Mariposa Grove. Further north are Lake Tahoe’s crystal-clear blue and teal waters. Boating, swimming, and paddling are popular Tahoe pastimes, and thanks to numerous hiking trails and a big mountain biking scene, visits can be as action-packed or as relaxing as you want. Classic Tahoe campgrounds like the lakeshore D.L. Bliss State Park are perfect for summer visits, while cozy cabins and glamping sites are ideal for winter getaways and ski trips.

The Cascades

The Cascade Range starts in Northern California and stretches all the way north to British Columbia. Characterized by snowy, pyramid-shaped peaks, volcanic activity, dense pine forests, and the numerous waterfalls that gave the range its name, the Cascades are home to two major NorCal destinations: Lassen Peak in Lassen National Park and Mount Shasta, a glaciated fourteener in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. Another highlight of this region is Lava Beds National Monument, where spelunkers explore underground lava tubes before settling into a campsite near the California-Oregon border.

Big Sur

Big Sur is best known for its iconic cliff-hugging Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1), but the real fun comes when you get out of the car to enjoy the area’s hidden beaches and bluffside wildflower blooms. Beach camping in Big Sur is as wild and rugged as it gets on the California Coast, making it extremely popular year-round. We recommend Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park as a starting point, but if you’re unable to secure a campsite months in advance as is required, look for private Hipcamps in the area.

Bay Area

North of San Francisco is California wine country, where the rolling hills of Napa host a variety of camping and glamping getaways for campers to escape the city. You’ll also find beach parks, redwood groves, and vineyards to visit in Marin, Sonoma, and Mendocino, also ripe with tent and RV camping. South of San Francisco are the Santa Cruz Mountains, famous for old growth redwoods and deep forest campsites.

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