Top 10 Campsites in California For the Perfect Camping Trip
I know what you’re thinking. How can you narrow down the best camping sites in California to just 10? It’s impossible! One hundred wouldn’t be enough.
And you’re right.
California’s got the redwoods. And the sequoias. It’s also got Yosemite. Big Sur. Joshua Tree. Lake Tahoe.
So, yeah, 10 is nowhere near enough. But, if you’re going on a camping trip in California, you need to know the best places to pitch your tent when you’re taking in the natural highlights.
And for that, 10 works. So, here they are, the top 10 camping sites in California.
Quick Tips for Camping in California
But before you journey into the wilderness, let’s go over some basic tips for camping in Cali.
The first thing you must do is plan your trip carefully. Choose the right time of year to go. June to August, when the weather is best, is peak season. Campsites get busy, so you’ll need to book well ahead.
You should also pack wisely. Temperatures can plummet in the evenings, even during the summer. So bring layers. Also, don’t overload yourself, particularly if you’re planning to hike. Only bring the essentials.
Finally, remember that California can be a wild place. Let people know where you’re going and when you expect to be back. Plus, and I can’t stress this enough, follow all basic health and safety procedures. Things can, and have, got ugly in the past. But be sensible and you should be fine.
Top 10 Campsites in California
Angel Island Campground, Angel Island State Park
If you’re in San Francisco and need to escape the, um, San Francisco-ness, take the ferry to Angel Island. There you’ll find gorgeous hiking trails and beautiful vistas.
The island itself offers four camping areas. But I recommend staying in Ridge, which boasts the best lookouts over the city. As long as the famous fog stays away, you’ll wake up to enjoy stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Plaskett Creek Campground, Big Sur
It’s where rugged mountains and the wild Pacific collide. Yup, Big Sur is spec-tac. And at 90 miles long, it boasts plenty of places to stay.
A night at Plaskett Creek Campground is always a fantastic option. Pitch your tent on verdant grass among towering Monterey pine trees. Then head to the nearby Sand Dollar Beach, the largest of Big Sur’s beaches. The scenic spot is a good place to watch true Californian surfers do their thing.
Laguna Campground, Cleveland National Forest
Nestled within the mountains of Cleveland National Forest, Laguna Campground is a hiker’s dream. Its famous routes include the Pacific Crest Trail and around the Big and Little Laguna Lakes.
While you’re there, make sure to join a star party. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean dancing with Hollywood’s finest. But it does mean a spectacular evening of staring into the Milky Way. The events are run by San Diego State University Observatory making it a great opportunity to learn from the experts.
Cottonwood Campground, Joshua Tree National Park
If you’re spending a weekend in Joshua Tree National Park, you’re spoiled for choice. There are 500 different campsites available. But for the best views of the night skies, book Cottonwood Campground. It benefits from being slightly further away from those pesky light-emitting towns that can ruin star gazing.
The lower, flatter land found at Cottonwood is more arid than further north in the park. It’s still spectacular, but if you’d prefer to rock climb and see the Joshua Trees head to Jumbo Rocks Campground instead.
Emerald Bay Boat-In Camp, Lake Tahoe
Getting to Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay Boat-In Camp can be an adventure in itself. If you’ve got the energy, kayak to the site. That way, you’ll be able to use your boat throughout your stay to explore the waters. Alternatively, you can catch a lift at one of the Lake Tahoe marinas.
Once there, however, you’re blessed with an idyllic spot right by the waters. And, my god, isn’t Lake Tahoe beautiful? For the uninitiated, think crystal-clear waters set against a backdrop of verdant forests and rising peaks. Breath-taking.
Elk Prairie Campground, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Dive straight into a fairy tale with a stay at Elk Prairie Campground. The site itself is nestled within a gorgeous wooded area. Which is lovely. But the real pleasures are a short walk away.
The first is visiting the famous old-growth redwoods – the tallest living tree species in the world. The second is seeing the mystical herds of Roosevelt elk that roam the open meadows. A weekend doesn’t get more magical.
Lodgepole Campground, Sequoia National Park
General Sherman lives in Sequoia National Park. And if the name doesn’t ring a bell, this isn’t a Colonel Kurtz/Apocalypse Now situation. No, the General is the world’s largest tree and an icon of California.
To see the mighty General Sherman, enjoy a stay at Lodgepole Campground. The wooded site is about two miles from the sky-scraping tree. But, as a bonus, it also boasts easy access to the Kaweah River and has some stunning mountain views.
Wright’s Beach Campground, Sonoma Coast State Park
The beauty of Sonoma Coast State Park lies in its lovely beaches, rocky bluffs, and hidden coves. Make the most of its natural beauty and stay as close to the sea as possible.
Wright’s Beach Campground has 27 sites just steps away from a gorgeous beach. The water is too dangerous to swim. But an evening in which you take in lovely ocean views is more than enough to make up for it.
Camp 4 and The Pines Campgrounds, Yosemite National Park
Tumbling waterfalls. Giant monoliths. River rapids. Yosemite National Park is truly a modern-day Eden. A lifetime wouldn’t be enough to explore the park fully. So instead, choose your campsites wisely.
Opt for Camp 4 if you fancy hanging with some adrenaline junkies. The site is near to the famous El Capitan cliff face – a legendary climb within the sport’s community. At 2,307 meters tall, I’m guessing you’ll need some practice before you have a pop at the giant. Instead, enjoy bouldering on the in-camp rock.
Alternatively, for something a bit more sedate, head to one of The Pines campgrounds (divided into Lower, Upper, and North). There, Yosemite’s natural beauty is on full show. In the middle of Yosemite Valley, The Pines has the famous Merced River, waterfalls, and iconic monoliths within a comfortable walk.
And with that, I’m rounding up the top 10 campsites in California. Like I said, it’s an impossible task. But stay at these 10 sites and you’ll see the very best of the state’s natural wonders.