car camping california

Car camping is a great way to get outdoors. It’s also an ideal way for first-time campers to gain their footing before jumping into the world of backpacking. The best places to go car camping in California are located all over the state. So whether you’re looking for a secluded wilderness or a busy beach, there’s an area that is perfect for your interests. 

Whether you enjoy spending time with wildlife or want to be close enough to civilization for when you need it, these places will provide what you seek out in your next camping trip! 

These 15 areas are some of the most popular and accessible throughout California, so if this is where you’d like to head on your next road trip, then keep reading! From mountain ranges and lakeside beaches, these locations can’t be missed when planning out your road-trip itinerary.

1.Big Basin Redwoods State Park

At the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains is Big Basin Redwoods State Park. This California state park provides plenty of options for both day hikes and car camping trips. You’ll find redwood forests and mountains within this state park with stunning views throughout its more than 50 miles of trails.

If you’re looking for a forested area to explore and the opportunity to spot wildlife, including deer, raccoons, opossums, bobcats, squirrels, skunks, foxes, and coyotes, then head on over to Big Basin Redwoods State Park. The best part? You don’t have to go far from your car to get to some pretty serene areas! 

Located just an hour and a half outside of San Francisco, Big Basin Redwoods State Park is perfect for those looking to explore the outdoors without too much effort. The park boasts multiple camping areas, including spots near Berry Creek Falls.

2. Malibu Creek State Park Camping

While many would think that Big Sur might have the best state parks in California, it is Malibu Creek State Park, one of the most popular camping destinations within the state! 

  Located on the western edge of Los Angeles County, Malibu Creek State Park provides some fantastic opportunities to see wildlife up close as you hike along its nearly 40 miles of trails.

The park has even been nicknamed “the deer capital of Southern California” due to the high concentration of deer in the area. Additionally, this state park campground is home to many species, including bobcats, coyotes, gray foxes, California quail, and California thrashers, to name a few!

If you’re looking for a place to go hiking within Los Angeles county, then Malibu Creek State Park might be just what you are looking for! 

3. Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area contains more than 150,000 acres of land consisting of mountain peaks and canyons. With 36 different trailheads offering over 200 miles of hiking trails throughout the Santa Monica Mountains NRA, there’s no shortage of things to do when it comes to exploring these outdoor areas all while camping!

Within Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, you will find Piuma and Temescal Canyon campgrounds.

Piuma Campground offers two different locations to choose from in the Santa Monica Mountains, including an inland location near the eastern side of Malibu Creek or at the beachside on Kanan Dume Road, where you can enjoy the sound of the ocean.

Temescal Canyon Campground is conveniently located within Topanga State Park in Southern California. This state park offers tent camping areas for tent campers with scenic views overlooking Topanga Creek’s waterfalls. You’ll also be able to catch a glimpse of some wildlife while staying here, as this area is known for spotting bobcats, squirrels, skunks, raccoons, hawks, and several other animals.

4. Joshua Tree National Park

Often, when you think about California, the beautiful sandy white beaches or towering redwood trees don’t come to mind. However, Joshua Tree National Park is an exception! This wild and remote national park lets visitors camp out in its wide-open desert landscape with views of nearby mountain ranges, including Mt. San Jacinto and Tahquitz Peak. There are over 800 different plant species, dozens of reptiles, and even more than 100 kinds of mammals within the park that make their home here! 

  If you’re looking for a place to go camping where you can enjoy miles upon miles of hiking trails or rock climbing, then this might be an excellent option for your next trip! The one downside? It’s not that easy to get to, plus it gets boiling in the summer, so you’ll want to plan accordingly if you are visiting between May through September.

5. Anza-Borrego State Park

Located about an hour east of San Diego, Anza Borrego is easily one of California’s most remote state parks. This park boasts ten distinct regions: the Colorado Desert, Pacific Crest Trail, and even the Laguna Mountains! Not only does this state park offer visitors fantastic views, but it is also home to 198 different species of birds, so you’ll be able to spot several animals while hiking along its trails, including Red Tail Hawks, Black-Throated Sparrows, and many others.

  Although this state park doesn’t have any designated campgrounds within its boundaries, there are plenty of options for camping nearby, both in the desert or up in the mountains, including Saddleback Butte State Park and Palomar Mountain State Park.

If you’re looking for a place to go camping that is both beautiful and remote, then Anza-Borrego state park should be near the top of your list!

6. Sequoia National Forest

Sitting in the shadows of Mt. Whitney, Sequoia National Forest offers a wide range of hiking trails through its vast wilderness area. This national forest also boasts 265 miles of different streams, so it’s no surprise that it is home to hundreds of plant species, including coast live oak trees which have been estimated to be 1,400 years old! Additionally, while exploring these forests, you’ll often spot many animals such as coyotes, rabbits, foxes, and even mountain lions!

  While this national forest does offer a few campgrounds, there are also plenty of opportunities to take advantage of dispersed camping rather than staying in an established campground. As long as you’re not camping within 1/4 mile from any road or trail, then you’ll be able to find your spot for backcountry camping while visiting here!

7. Lassen Volcanic National Park

If you’re looking for a place to go car camping that is home to roaring geysers and beautiful hot springs, then Lassen Volcanic park should be near the top of your list! Located in Northern California, this park sits just north of Mt. Shasta and boasts excellent views throughout its area. Within its boundaries, you’ll be able to find the southernmost mountain in the Cascade Range, which is home to Lassen Peak. This park also offers excellent opportunities for backcountry hiking with many trails that reach up to 10+ miles offering views of Crater Lake or Bumpass Hell, among others!

 Unlike some other national parks, this park does require visitors to pay an entrance fee if they are entering on foot or by bicycle. Otherwise, if you’re planning to visit in a vehicle, you will not need to pay an extra fee.

This national park only has one designated campground. Still, several options for dispersed camping throughout its area include Little Hot Springs Valley Campground, Caribou Wilderness High Point, and Horse Creek Campground.

8. Mammoth Lakes

If you’re looking for a place to go car camping that is near some incredible lakes, then this is the place for you! Located in Northern California, this lake sits at just over 6,000 feet above sea level, so it’s part of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. There are close to 40 different bodies of water within its area, including Twin Lakes, Convict Lake, and even Devils Postpile National Monument!

  This park offers several campgrounds, including Parsons Memorial Campground, which is open year-round but can be reserved throughout the rest of the summer months.

If you prefer backcountry camping, there are plenty of great spots nearby like Soda Springs Creek, or if you want to stay closer to town, you can explore Lake Mary Campground. Additionally, you’ll be able to find dispersed camping opportunities near Convict Lake, which is located just outside of Mammoth Lakes.

9. Lava Beds National Monument

If you’re looking for a place to go car camping that is home to some incredible volcanic caves, then this national monument should be near the top of your list. Located in Northeastern California, this park sits on the northern edge of the Cascade Volcanic Arc. It is known for its lava tubes formed when lava flowing beneath the Earth’s surface cools off too quickly for it to drift away.

  Additionally, within these Lava Tubes, you can find many plant species that have been sheltered from outside forces such as sunlight or rain, so they’ve become unique! For example, these plants include reindeer lichen, which only grows here and nowhere else!

  While there are no campgrounds at this park, you’ll be able to find dispersed camping opportunities throughout the area.

10. Bodie State Historic Park

While this park is already on our list of California ghost towns, it also happens to make an excellent spot for exploring during the day as well! Located in Mono County, this old mining town sat just east of Yosemite National Park and was established back in 1859 when gold was discovered here! Over the years, close to 10 million ounces of gold were pulled out of these mines, making them incredibly profitable for their time. However, by 1940 the mine started getting shut down due to floods that made mining extremely difficult, which led to one final closure in 1942.

  For those interested in staying overnight at Bodie, you’re going to want to stay in the California State Parks campground that’s been set up just outside of Bodie. This is a tent-only campground, but if you’re willing to get creative, then you should be able to make it work!

11. Yosemite National Park

If you’re looking for a place to go camping that is home to ice-cold creeks, towering granite walls, and an incredible variety of plants, then Yosemite should be near the top of your list! Located in Northern California, this park sits within the Sierra Nevada Mountains, home to a fantastic collection of wildlife, including marmots, pikas, bears, foxes, and many more. Additionally, with such ample space, there’s plenty of room to explore at whatever level works for you, whether that’s hiking on trails or backcountry exploring!

  If you’re staying within the national park, it’s essential to realize that this area requires you to pay an entrance fee, even if you’re not planning to visit the Yosemite Valley. However, there are over a dozen different options for camping here, including group sites and those that provide access to flush toilets and showers.

12. Devils Postpile National Monument

This national monument is home to one of the best examples of columnar basalt globally, which means it’s composed entirely of vertical lava flows! Located just outside Mammoth Lakes, this area sits on top of an old volcano called Mount Morrison, which erupted over 760,000 years ago! The lessons learned from these lessons can be seen throughout this park-like smooth gravel meadows or unique plants that only grow around these parts like pygmy pines!

  While there’s no car camping allowed at Devils Postpile itself, you’ll find plenty of opportunities just outside of this area. However, it’s important to remember that the season is short for this place, with snow usually starting to fall by November, which means if you’re planning on camping here, then be sure to start early, or else you’ll miss out!

13. Red Rock Canyon State Park

While many parks in California are home to beautiful red rock formations, few can beat the beauty of those found at Red Rock Canyon State Park located near the Mojave Desert. Whether you’re looking for a place to go camping or want some recreation, then this is an excellent option, with plenty of trails wandering throughout these vermillion-colored cliffs!

  While there are no campgrounds at this park itself, you will find quite a bit in the nearby community of Las Vegas. Since this is one of Nevada’s top tourist attractions, there are plenty of hotels in the area that offer free shuttles to and from Red Rock Canyon, so you’ll be able to get back and forth with ease!

14. Point Reyes National Seashore

If you’re looking for a place to go car camping in Northern California, then Point Reyes National Seashore should be at the top of your list! Located just north of San Francisco Bay, this park sits right on the Pacific Ocean, which means it’s an excellent spot for watching wildlife like sea birds or even whales! While many people come here to camp within its designated campgrounds, there are also some areas where dispersed camping is allowed, which provide a unique opportunity to get away from everything and enjoy nature.

  While it’s possible to camp outside of the designated areas, some regulations must be followed, which mainly means you’ll need to carry your camping gear at least one mile away from any paved roads. Also, while this area does provide access to flush toilets, none of the campsites have showers, so you will want to plan accordingly!

15. Redwood National Park

Located in Northern California along the Pacific Coast, this park encompasses an incredible old-growth redwood forest home to many rare plants and animals, including brown pelicans, bald eagles, deer, elk, raccoons, and even black bears! As one of the largest parks in California at over 110,000 acres, this place is filled with thousands of miles of trails that can provide hiking fans with hours upon hours of adventure!

  Car Camping within the Redwood National Park itself only provides backpackers and those traveling by motorcycle with a single campsite called Gold Bluffs Beach, which is located along an eight-mile stretch of sandy beach. While there are no amenities at this site, it’s one of the best places to go camping in Northern California as long as you’re okay hanging your food from a tree to avoid raccoon visits during the night!

Conclusion

There are certainly plenty of options available when it comes to finding a place to go car camping in California! From the deserts near Palm Springs and Death Valley to the mountains near Yosemite and beyond, this state has no shortage of unique opportunities. Whether you’re interested in seeing beautiful sunsets over the Pacific Ocean or want some time away from the hustle-and-bustle of modern life, taking a road trip out west is something that never gets old.

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