two people camping on a roadtrip

Camping on the Side of the Road in California? Is It Illegal

Camping can turn into a complete nightmare when trying to find a spot in the middle of nowhere. Even though you need permits to camp in California, finding a place while you are on the road is not easy. 

It’s illegal to camp near the highway. You can only stop your car in case of an emergency wherein you might cause trouble to others or if an office wants you to pull over. Also, if your vehicle is found unattended after 4 hours, it will be removed under California law.

Always keep in mind to avoid camping on the side of the road as it is dangerous and might also lead to robberies. Rest stops and Walmart parking lots are way safer than the side of the road camping spots.

Rules to follow while stopping your vehicle on the side of the road

  • Don’t park your vehicle if it says “no parking.”
  • Don’t camp on the road walks and sidewalks or even on the curb of the road.
  • Don’t camp far away from the vehicle. As per California law, authorities can remove your car after 4 hours if it’s unattended, even if it’s not an obstruction to traffic.
  • Set the parking brake before leaving your vehicle.
  • Turn your wheels to the side so that the car doesn’t roll if the brake fails.
  • When you stop your vehicle, make sure it’s visible at least 200 meters in both directions of the road.
camping on the side of the road

How to avoid camping on the side of the road

  • Planning ahead of time on where you would want to take a rest would be the better option.
  • Always have two or more alternative camping sites, or even rest stops in mind before you start your trip.
  • Wisely use the rest stops during the day to take small naps or during the night.
  • Book your spot on a campsite before you plan your trip.

Free Camping spots along the highway

Finding free camping spots when you are in a hurry to camp will be hard. we have listed down the various free camping spots you can take advantage of while traveling in the below routes.

Routes in californiaPlaces to Camp
Santa Barbara Wine RouteSanta Barbara Sunrise RV Park
Cachuma Lake Recreation Area
Los Prietos Campground,
Rancho Oso RV & Camping Resort
Fremont Campground.
Upper Oso Campground
Paradise Campground
Sage Hill Campground
Ocean Mesa RV Resort
Refugio State Beach Campground
El Capitán State Beach Campground
Live Oak Camp
Cachuma Lake Campground
Carpinteria State Beach
Sage Hill Group Campground
Mono Campground
Gaviota State Park Beach & Campground
Refugio State Beach
Feather River Scenic BywayRiver Reflections RV Resort & Campground
Feather River Boat Launch
Feather River Parkway
Oroville / Feather Falls Casino KOA Journey
River One RV Park
Riffles RV Park & Campground
Hallsted Campground
Verona Village Campground
Shanghai Park and Feather River beach
Feather Falls Campground
Golden Trout
Gansner Bar Campground
Feather River RV and Mobile Home Park
Golden Feather Mobile Home Park
Bidwell Canyon Campground
Bloomer North Fork Trail Campground
Anza Borrego Deset RouteTamarisk Grove Campground
Redwood Highway RouteAmerican Canyon Campground
North Beach Campground
Avila / Pismo Beach KOA
Pismo Coast Village
Coastal Dunes RV Park & Campground
Coastal Dunes RV Park
Santa Margarita KOA
Friis Campground
Hi Mountain Campground
Islay Creek Campground
Le Sage Riviera RV Park
Blackfoot Campsite
Oceano Campground
SLO Country Camp
Cerro Alto Campground
Pacific Dunes Ranch RV Resort
June Lake Loop RouteObsidian Flat Group Campground
Lake Front Cabins
Parker Lake Trailhead
Grant Lake Marina
Reversed Creek
Hartley Springs Campground
Aerie Crag Campground
Silver Lake
Golden Pine RV Park
Pine Cliff Resort
June Lake RV Park
Gull Lake Campground
Reversed Creek Campground
Lake Tahoe Circular RouteEmerald Bay Boat Camp
Camp Shelly
Nevada Beach Campground
Emerald Bay State Park
Camp Richardson Campground
Lake Forest Campground
Fallen Leaf Campground
Eagle Point Campground
City of Lake Tahoe Campground
Desolation Wilderness
Meeks Bay Campground
Upper Eagle Point Campground
Silverado TrailChina Camp Campsite
Stewartville Backpacking Campsite
Bicentennial Campground
Haypress Campground
Sky Campground
Back Ranch Meadows Campground
Hawk Campground
Butano Trail Camp
Black Mountain Backpack Camp
Soledad Canyon RV & Camping Resort
Death Valley Scenic BywayFurnace Creek Campground
Sunset Campground
Texas Springs Campground.
Stovepipe Wells Campground
Desert Campsite
Panamint Springs RV Park
Wildrose Campground
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Emigrant Campground
Mahogany Flat Campground
Saline Valley Warm Springs
Furnace Creek Resort Campground
Mesquite Spring Campground
Homestake Dry Camp
Thorndike Campground
Mosaic Canyon Trail
Eureka Dunes Dry Camp
Warm Springs Camp
Big Sur Coastal RouteJulia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground
San Diego to Palm SpringsMarion Mountain Campground
Santa Rosa Yellow Post Sites
Palm Springs / Joshua Tree
San Francisco to SonomaSan Francisco North / Petaluma KOA

Rules to follow while traveling on the road during summer

  • Flat tires are the NO 1 reason for stopping your car while traveling on a highway
  • Before you start your trip, always check your tire pressure. You can get a tire pressure gauge from amazon for under $10.
  • Don’t be distracted while driving on a highway. Most people think that driving is their downtime, but in reality, driving is when your 100 percent attention should be on the road, no matter how good you are.
  • If you are nearby Los AngelesSan Francisco, or San Diego, get an all-inclusive pass to stop your vehicle anywhere in the city.
  • Always have some extra cash in hand, even if you are a credit card fanatic.
  • Always carry a spare set of car keys; you might not know when you will need them.
  • Have a roadside emergency kit in your car during road trips
  • Carry physical maps with you, as you cannot count on cell phone coverage everywhere.
  • Don’t start your road trip if you don’t have a Dashcam installed. Then, if something happens, you will have some evidence that it’s not your fault.
  • Carry a trash bag in your car so that you don’t have to stop while on the highway.

Rules to follow while traveling on the road during winter

  • Be smooth with your acceleration and reduce your speed in half while you are cornering. 
  • Don’t try to act as a fast and furious driver in ice and snow; it won’t work in your favor. 

 list of Things to take with you on your road trip

  • Stack your car with as many snacks as you can. You will never know when you will get hungry.
  • Have some fresh fruits with you if it’s going to be a long road trip.
  • Take more than one Reusable water bottle in your car.
  • Download all the movies you need on your phone before your trip.
  • Sick of listening to radio stations, use audible to listen to audiobooks to keep you entertained the whole journey.
  • Duffle bags are the most durable traveling bags that you can use outdoors.
  • Don’t forget to take a GoPro with you; recording the experiences you have on your trip is a must.
  • If your road trip is going to involve hikes, please take binoculars on your journey.

How to prep your car for a road trip

  • Find a fule price app before you start your trip like GasBuddy, which will save you a lot of money.
  • Check your tire thread; this will ensure your grip throughout the journey.
  • Take your car to a mechanic and check your disc brand pad thickness; you don’t want to have worn brakes on the road.
  • Check your oil and make sure it’s adequate, or you will be wearing the life of your engine.
  • Check your belts, and they are crucial for everything in your car; you can get stranded because of a belt failure more than not having enough oil.
  • Make sure all your lights are working in your vehicle.
  • Inspect your terminals in car battery; if there is corrosion, clean it up.
  • Don’t forget to get a battery jump starter, and this will prevent you from getting stranded.


Camping on the side of the road and is dangerous. Theft and accidents often happen along the highway. Camping in a secure campground will provide you with more security. If you don’t like to book a spot on a camping ground, there are still places where you camp for free. 

Take the options that are safe and be intentional in everything that you do. Try to stay away from tech as much as you can on a road trip, and this will make sure that you have a good time. Capture the experiences and have fun.

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