Best Camp Sites in California (You Have To Explore)

Summer has officially begun, and you are looking for the best camp sites in California. 

There's only one problem, you cannot decide on which campsite to choose!

In January 2021, the Regional Stay at Home Order was lifted. This means the majority of campsites throughout the state of California have been reopened. 

However, there are a few sites that still remain closed to the public due to the pandemic or risk of wildfire and other issues.

Because of this, the demand for Californian campsites sometimes exceeds supply. As such, we do recommend you to plan ahead and make your camping reservations at least two days (48 hours) in advance. 

In this guide, we have done the research for you. Here you will see a list of the 9 best campsites that are open in California:

  • El Capitán
  • Colusa Sacramento River
  • Red Rock Canyon 
  • Auburn State Recreation Area
  • Mono Lake Tufa
  • Silverwood Lake
  • Pfeiffer Big Sur
  • Crystal Cove
  • Navarro River Redwoods

Are campsites open in California?

This depends on the campground itself, some are some aren’t. Camp sites throughout California are reopening in phases and on individual timelines.

As from June, 70 of the 300 state parks are now open for camping and other recreational activities.

Today somewhere around 1,667 campsites are open. However, that is a small fraction of the more or less 13,000 campsites, RV spots and cabins that the state of California operates during normal times.

During the Covid crises, you can expect things to be a little different onsite. For example, some parks will offer less sites for campers, and most of them will have limited access to facilities like bathrooms or showers.

It is very important that you check the state park’s COVID-19 website for the latest updates on openings and safety protocols.

Things have changed quite a bit since Covid-19 swept the world. Campsites in California that are open, are likely to be crowded during the summer season. Therefore you should book your spots as soon as possible.

*Update: As of late June, most of the Forest Service’s campgrounds are 90% reserved*

Will Campsites be busy in California?

There have been polls that show Americans are much more interested in camping and RVing this year than ever before!

Many people plan to hit the outdoors this summer and with this means the best campsites in California are going to be quite packed.

Authorities around California believe there will be a wave of visitors to the parks and outdoor areas. To combat this influx of demand, most parks have switched to reservation-only camping this year.

What should I bring on my camping trip? 

This completely depends on the type of camping trip you wish to go on. Are looking for a minimalistic experience, or are you a digital nomad looking to immerse yourself in nature whilst working? 

We will assume that you are doing a bit of both, you can take and pick from our gear list as you see fit. 

Here are 5 things you absolutely MUST bring on your camping trips in California. 

1. Hammock 

There is nothing more relaxing than lying down in a freshly hung hammock. The various campsites that are scattered throughout California have some amazing forests, perfect for pitching a hammock. 

2. Solar Generator

This is especially recommended if you are a digital nomad. Think about it, unlimited energy supply from an eco-friendly, no noise generator. A freelancers dream. We recommend looking into our EB70 for a digital nomad couple or the AC200P for a larger family looking to power multiple devices at once.

3. Slackline

The perfect mindfulness activity. Learning how to slackline is good for the mind, body and spirit. It takes some getting used to, but we promise, if you keep at it, you will be slacklining in no time! P.S kids love this. 

4. Bicycles

If it is possible, bring a long some bicycles. Most of the campsites in California, offer various trails that are perfect for hiking and biking!

5. Headtorch 

Most campsites (at least the really good ones) have no artificial lighting. This is absolutely perfect for star gazing at night. However, keep in mind it will also be extremely dark, if you do not want get lost on your way to the toilet at night, bring along your head torch. 

Best campsites in California 

El Capitán State Beach

Campsites in California

El Capitán campsite in California offers you a beautiful sandy beach, rockpools and stands of sycamore and oaks along El Capitán Creek.

If you enjoy swimming, fishing, surfing and picnicking, then this is the campsite for you.

  • Opening times: 8 am to Sunset
  • Phone number: (805) 968-1033
  • Park brochure: Download here
  • Dogs allowed: Yes - They are allowed in the campground and day-use area. However, they are not allowed on beach.

Colusa Sacramento River State Park

 Colusa Sacramento River State Park

This campsite is situated near riverbank cottonwoods and willows which shelter one of the finest fishing stretches in California, with king salmon, steelhead, rainbow trout and striped bass some of the catches. 

If you are into fishing, then this is the campsite for you. 

  • Opening times: Call the park
  • Phone number: (530) 329-9198
  • Park brochure: Download it here
  • Dogs allowed: Yes - allowed only in parking lot, paved roadway, campgrounds. Not allowed on trails or day-use areas.

Red Rock Canyon State Park

red rock canyon

Red Rock Canyon State Park features scenic desert cliffs, buttes and spectacular rock formations. The park is located where the southernmost tip of the Sierra Nevada converge with the El Paso Range. Each tributary canyon is unique, with dramatic shapes and vivid colours.

  • Opening times: 24 Hours a day
  • Phone number: (661) 946-6092
  • Park brochure: Download it here
  • Dogs allowed: Yes - Allowed only in picnic area, campground, and primitive roads. Dogs not allowed on trails.

Auburn State Recreation Area

campsites in california

In the heart of the gold country, the Auburn State Recreation Area spans 40-miles of the North and Middle Forks of the American river. Back in the day, this area as crowded with thousands of gold miners, the area is now a natural area offering a wide variety of recreation opportunities to over 900,000 visitors a year.

  • Opening times: Sunrise to sunset
  • Phone number: (530) 885-4527
  • Park brochure: Download it here
  • Dogs allowed: Yes - Dogs allowed, with the exception of Lake Clementine, where none are allowed.

Mono Lake Tufa

campgrounds in california

The reserve was established to preserve the spectacular "tufa towers," calcium-carbonate spires and knobs formed by the interaction of freshwater springs and the alkaline lake water. It also protects the lake surface itself as well as the wetlands and other sensitive habitat which includes 1 – 2 million birds who come to the lake to feed and rest each year.

  • Opening times: Call the park
  • Phone number: (760) 647-6331
  • Park brochure: Download it here
  • Dogs allowed: Yes - allowed in most areas, except for the State Reserve Boardwalk and the County Park.

Silverwood Lake

Silverwood lake california

Silverwood Lake is a big reservoir in San Bernardino County, California. It is located on the West Fork Mojave River, a tributary of the Mojave River in the San Bernardino Mountains.

  • Opening times: 6am - 9pm
  • Phone number: (760) 389-2281
  • Park brochure: Download it here
  • Dogs allowed: Yes - Allowed in campgrounds, picnic areas, and parking lots and on boats. They are not allowed on the beach or in the water. 

 Pfeiffer Big Sur

Pfeiffer Big Sur

On the western slope of the Santa Lucia Mountains, you will find the glorious peaks of the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park tower high above the Big Sur River Gorge. At this campsite you will be able to walk along the banks of the river and among the redwoods, conifers, oaks, sycamores, cottonwoods, maples, alders and willows. There is a very large campground which accommodates hikers, bikers, car campers and RVers. As if this wasn't amazing enough, many campsites are even located along the Big Sur River!

  • Opening times: 8am - Sunset
  • Phone number: (831) 667-1112
  • Park brochure: Download it here
  • Dogs allowed: Yes - Allowed on the Warden's Path and River Path, and in day-use lots and campground. Dogs are not allowed on all other trails.

Crystal Cove

campsites in california

This campsite has a Mediterranean climate which is characterized by moist, foggy summer mornings, with the fog burning off by midmorning to deliver hot, sunny days and cool evenings. Crystal Cove State Park has about 3.2 miles of beach, (2,400 acres of backcountry wilderness). This area is incredibly popular for outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy the beach. Additionally, it is also used by mountain bikers and scuba divers.

  • Opening times: 6am - Sunset
  • Phone number: (949) 494-3539
  • Park brochure: Download it here
  • Dogs allowed: Yes - Allowed on paved areas only. Except for service animals, dogs not allowed on the beach or in the backcountry

Navarro River Redwoods

 

The redwood forest along the Navarro River is a truly beautiful sight. Visitors to the Navarro River Redwoods State Park can enjoy many activities, such as picnicking, swimming, and camping. The park is quite popular with anglers, canoeists, and kayakers, pretty much all water sports enthusiasts. You will see second growth redwood groves stretch all along the length of the park. They are the home for raccoons, black-tail deer, and river birds such as the belted kingfisher.

  • Opening times: N/A
  • Phone number: (707) 937-5804
  • Park brochure: Download it here
  • Dogs allowed: Yes

Final thoughts

There are thousands of campgrounds located throughout California, many of which are still closed. All the campsites listed in this article are open, however it is important you do your due diligence before rocking up at a campsite without any prior research. 

We recommend that you use the contact numbers provided to reach out to the parks before making your booking. Besides, almost all the campsites on this list require online bookings before you can arrive. 

COVID-19 Guidelines - (As of June 21, 2021)

Recreate Responsibly - Protect yourself, family, friends and your community by following these important prevention measures:

  • Know Before You Go – Prior to leaving home, check the status of the park unit you want to visit to find out what restrictions and guidelines are in place. Have a back-up plan in case your destination is crowded. Stay home if you are sick
  • Plan Ahead – Some restrooms will be temporarily closed to keep up with cleaning schedules. Bring soap/hand sanitizer.
  • Play it Safe – Find out what precautions you should take when exploring the outdoors, especially if this is your first time visiting the State Park System. Learn more at parks.ca.gov/SafetyTips.
  • Be COVID-19 Safe – State Parks continues to follow guidance provided by the California Department of Public Health:
    • Fully Vaccinated Persons: Face coverings are not required in public outdoor settings. For indoor public settings, such as museums and visitor centers, all vaccinated individuals are to self-attest that they are in compliance prior to entry.
    • Unvaccinated Persons: Face coverings are required in indoor public settings such as museums and visitor centers.
  • Leave No Trace – Leave areas better than how you found them by staying on designated trails and packing out all trash. Do not disturb wildlife or plants.

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