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The best Campgrounds in California

California: 36 best campgrounds

1. Big Basin Redwoods State Park, North of Boulder Creek

Big Basin
Your pick of four waterfalls is the payoff for tackling the roller-coaster trails that fan out under gargantuan old-growth trees in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Insider tip: Consider the easy-to-get-to hike-in sites if you want more space and privacy. Best for: Beating the heat Info: $25; 831/338-8860 Book it:

 2. Camp Edison, Shaver Lake, Northeast of Fresno

Shaver is one of the Sierra lakes created as part of a Southern California Edison hydroelectric project, and Camp Edison’s 252 campsites have electricity and cable TV. Half even have Internet. But power down: This camp has great lake access and mountain views. Insider tip: Campsites 119 and 121 have the best views but cost the most ($60). Best for: People who absolutely can’t miss an episode of 24 Info: From $25; 559/841-3134 Book it: Reservations by fax and mail only (details at

3. Cold Springs Campground, Sequoia National Park, East of Three Rivers

A glacial-cut valley, Mineral King is surrounded by 12,000-foot granite and shale peaks. Pick a site alongside the Kaweah River or in the shade of aspens. Insider tip: For homemade pie and a shower ($5; bring your own towel), head to nearby Silver City Mountain Resort. Best for: Intimate, RV-free escapes Info: $12 (plus $20 park entrance fee per vehicle); no reservations; 559/565-3341

4. D.L. Bliss State Park, Lake Tahoe

It isn’t easy (or cheap) to claim a spot along Tahoe’s glorious west shore. But here you can swim and sunbathe at Lester Beach, marvel at Balancing Rock, or simply ogle Tahoe’s famously blue waters. Insider tip: Reserve ahead to nab beachside ($35; sites 141–165). Best for: Families Info: From $25; or 530/525-7232 Book it:

5. Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Northeast of Crescent City

Set beside emerald Smith River, this camp is lush with ferns and old-growth redwoods. Insider tip: Walk to the 340-foot-tall Stout Tree and its mammoth brethren. Best for: Beating the heat Info: $20; or 707/458-3018 Book it:

6. Kirk Creek Campground, Los Padres National Forest, Big Sur

Scattered across a bluff, the sites are open to the stars and the sea. Insider tip: Pack dress-up clothes and blow the money you saved on lodging with a prix fixe dinner at Post Ranch Inn’s Sierra Mar (dinner from $100; 831/667-2800). Best for: Sunsets Info: $22; or 805/434-1996 Book it:

7. Leo Carrillo State Park, Malibu

Campsites sit under the sycamores on the east side of State 1 and on a gorgeous beach on the west side, with access to tidepools. Insider tip: Hike the Nicholas Flat Trail for coastal views. Best for: First-timers Info: $25; or 310/457-8143 Book it:

8. Mesquite Spring Campground, Death Valley National Park, North of Furnace Creek

Set in the Grapevine Canyon wash, this is a great base for exploring northern Death Valley. Tour the Spanish-Moorish mansion, Scotty’s Castle ($11; 760/786-2392), and walk the rim of Ubehebe Crater. Insider tip: With a high-clearance car, you can take a day trip to Eureka Dunes, California’s tallest sand dunes. Best for: A desert adventure Info: $12 (plus $20 park entrance fee per vehicle); no reservations; 760/786-3200

9. Minaret Falls Campground, Inyo National Forest, North of Devils Postpile National Monument

Riverfront sites overlook the Upper Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River; some have views of Minaret Falls. Insider tip: The short hike to the Devils Postpile lava formation is a must. Best for: Hiking Info: $20 (plus $7 transit fee); no reservations; 760/924-5500

10. Refugio State Beach, Northwest of Santa Barbara
Campsites sit along a crescent-shaped cove fringed by palm trees, where you can fish, swim, and snorkel. Insider tip: On Fridays during the summer, the park staff offers free sea-kayaking lessons at 9 or 11. Best for: Groups Info: From $25 (from $125 for group sites); or 805/968-1033 Book it:

11. Russian Gulch State Park, North of Mendocino

On the rugged Northern California coast, this campground offers an up-close look at Mendocino’s natural beauty, like at Devil’s Punch Bowl, where the ocean surges through a huge hole in the headlands. Insider tip: Hike to Russian Gulch Falls. Best for: Beating the heat Info: $25; or 707/937-5804 Book it:

12. Ryan Campground, Joshua Tree National Park, South of Twentynine Palms

Sites are tucked among jumbled piles of the quartz monzogranite boulders of Joshua Tree. Insider tip: A couple of miles from camp, a trail leads 1.5 miles up to the 5,461-foot summit of Ryan Mountain. Best for: A desert adventure Info: $10 (plus $15 park entrance fee per vehicle); no reservations; closed early Jun–Sep 7; 760/367-5500

13. Sabrina Campground, Inyo National Forest, West of Bishop
Bishop Creek flows past, and 2 miles away is trout-filled Lake Sabrina. Trails lead into the John Muir Wilderness with access to mountain lakes and the Sierra crest. Insider tip: Dine alfresco on hamburgers and homemade pie on the patio of the Lake Sabrina Boat Landing Cafe ($; 760/873-7425). Best for: Stargazing Info: $21; no reservations; 760/873-2500

14. Saddlebag Lake Campground, Inyo National Forest, East of Yosemite National Park

At 10,000 feet, this is the highest drive-to campground in the state and has a dramatic, above-the-treeline feel. Insider tip: Just ¼ mile from the campground, you can hop a water taxi ($10 round-trip) across Saddlebag Lake for an easy hike into the stunning 20 Lakes Basin. Best for: Hiking Info: $19; no reservations; 760/924-5500

15. Summerdale Campground, Sierra National Forest, South of Yosemite National Park’s Southern Entrance
This campground is spread out under the shade of cottonwoods and pines less than 20 minutes from Yosemite ($20 park entrance fee per vehicle) and its Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias. Insider tip: Have breakfast at the park’s historic Wawona Hotel ($; 209/375-1425). Best for: Hiking Info: $20; 559/877-2218 Book it:

16. Summit Lake South Campground, Lassen Volcanic National Park

Smack in the middle of the park, this campground lies at the southern edge of the tiny but picturesque Summit Lake. Insider tip: Reserve early to snag site D9 or D10; both have great views and lake access. Best for: Hiking Info: $16 (plus $10 park entrance fee per vehicle); 530/595-4480 Book it:

17. Big Lagoon County Park, North of Trinidad
Camp on a huge lagoon bordering the Pacific Ocean. The brackish water is relatively warm, and rich with river otters, shorebirds, and steelhead trout. Launch your canoe right from your campsite. Insider tip: Rent a kayak from Kayak Zak’s (from $15/hour) and paddle up to the sand spit to search for agate. Best for: Fishing and boating Info: $18; no reservations; or 707/445-7651

 18. Butano State Park, South of Pescadero

The Bay Area’s best quickie escape is a forest-fairy redwood grove that also happens to be 15 minutes from the beach. Insider tip: Soul-warming artichoke soup and olallieberry pie are a short drive away at Pescadero’s famous Duarte’s Tavern ($$; 650/879-0464). Best for: Beating the heat Info: $25; or 650/879-2040 Book it:

19. Gerstle Cove Campground, Salt Point State Park, North of Jenner
Camp with an ocean view at Salt Point State Park. Hike along the headlands, explore tidepools, and visit a pygmy forest of stunted pine trees. Insider tip: If the wind is howling, camp across the highway at tree-sheltered Woodside Campground. Best for: Beating the heat Info: $25; 707/847-3221 Book it:

20. Henry W. Coe State Park, Morgan Hill

A hiker’s dream, with 87,000 acres of grassy hillsides and ridges dotted with gnarly oak trees. Visit in spring for the best wildflowers and cooler weather. Insider tip: This is an open, sunny campground, so bring some shade with you. Best for: Hiking Info: $12; 408/779-2728 Book it:

21. Highland Lakes Campground, Stanislaus National Forest, West of Ebbetts Pass
A drive-to campground with backpack-worthy scenery. You’ll be drinking your morning coffee with one lake in front of you and another lake behind. Insider tip: Hit it in late June or early July to catch swaths of wildflowers framing high, craggy peaks. Best for: Hiking Info: Opens in late Jun; $8; no reservations; 209/795-1381

22. Mattole Campground, King Range National Conservation Area, North of Shelter Cove
A million miles from everywhere, this small campground lies where a country road dead-ends at the Pacific. Summer weekends are crowded, but midweek you’ll have the windswept beach and surrounding headlands to yourself. Insider tip: Fill up your gas tank before leaving U.S. 101. There ain’t nothing out here. Best for: Beachcombing Info: $8; no reservations; 707/986-5400

 23. Pinnacles National Monument, South of Hollister
California’s answer to the Grand Canyon, with enormous rock formations, craggy cliffs, and caves for Indiana Jones–style exploring. Insider tip: Stop in the teensy town of Tres Pinos for wine at the Inn at Tres Pinos ($$$; closed Mon; 831/628-3320). Best for: First-timers Info: $23 (plus $5 fee per vehicle); 831/389-4485 Book it:

 24. Samuel P. Taylor State Park, Southeast of Olema

You’ve probably blown past this campground on the way to Tomales Bay. It’s irresistibly close to the Bay Area ― and popular. Pitch a tent in the cool, shaded grove and spend the day splashing in the creek, pedaling along a smooth section of the Cross Marin Trail, or exploring hiking trails that swoop up for views of grassy hills. Insider tip: The 13 creekside sites are picturesque ― but get road noise. The Orchard Hill loop is quieter. Best for: Groups Info: $25 (from $75 for group sites); 415/488-9897 Book it:

25. Woods Lake Campground, Eldorado National Forest, East of Kirkwood
Easy-peasy access to idyllic alpine scenery. Nab a site in the small, quiet, pine-and-granite campground, then stroll over to a gorgeous, fish-filled lake to watch for dive-bombing osprey. Insider tip: Arrive by lunchtime Friday to get a good site. Best for: Fishing Info: Opens Jul 1; $22; no reservations; 209/295-4251

26. Wrights Lake Campground, Eldorado National Forest, Southwest of Lake Tahoe

This is a day-hiker’s fantasyland, with relatively easy access to the southern Desolation Wilderness (permit required), which means you’re on the trail to pristine spots while others are still on the road. Insider tip: Bring a canoe ― the glassy lake is release-your-inner-Hiawatha awesome. Best for: Hiking Info: Opens Jul 1; $20; 530/644-2349 Book it:

27. Boulder Basin Camp, San Bernardino National Forest, North of Idyllwild
At 7,300 feet in elevation, this forested camp is peppered with giant boulders. Sites at the top of the campsite loop feature expansive vistas of the national forest. Insider tip: Walk 0.5 miles to the Black Mountain Fire Lookout for 360° views of the Santa Rosa Mountains and San Gorgonio Pass. Best for: Intimate, RV-free escapes Info: $10; 909/382-2921 Book it:

28. Doane Valley Campground, Palomar Mountain State Park, Northeast of San Diego
The camp is like a slice of the Sierra Nevada ― dense conifer forests and grassy meadows at 4,700 feet ― in San Diego County. Insider tip: Kids can fish in Doane Pond, and the 200-inch Hale telescope at Palomar Observatory (free; 760/742-2119) is a scenic drive up the road. Best for: Families Info: $20; 760/742-3462 Book it:

29. Doheny State Beach, Dana Point

Swimming and surfing are prime at this mile-long protected beach. Try to snag a beachfront site on the sand ($35). Insider tip: Don’t miss the spectacle of the small, silver fish called grunion laying their eggs in wet sand on the beach during full moons in June through August. Best for: Families Info: From $25; 949/496-6172 Book it:

30. Jalama Beach County Park, West of Lompoc
Windswept and wicked-waved, Jalama Beach lies on an isolated stretch of coast. Beachcomb, fly kites, and fish, but steer clear of the surf. Insider tip: Sites 1–7 and 48–60 are closest to the water. Jalama Burgers at the beach store ($) are legendary. Best for: Beating the heat Info: $20; no reservations; 805/736-6316

31. Lower Billy Creek Campground, Sierra National Forest, North of Shaver Lake
On the forested shore of Huntington Lake, this spot is ideal for campers who want to sail, water-ski, fish, or swim. Most sites have lake views. Insider tip: History buffs, visit the Billy Creek Guard Station Museum (free; open Wed and Sat–Sun Jul 5–Sep 7), adjacent to camp. Serious hikers should bag 10,310-foot Kaiser Peak (a difficult 14-mile round-trip). Best for: Fishing and boating Info: From $20; 559/855-5355 Book it:

32. McGrath State Beach, Ventura
You’ll be bounded by sand dunes at this 2-mile-long beach at the mouth of the Santa Clara River. Insider tip: Birders, bring your binoculars and identification books. Lush riverbanks and a freshwater lake attract more than 200 species. Best for: Beachcombing Info: $25; 805/585-1850 Book it:

33. North Beach Campground, Pismo State Beach
Sites sit among pine-covered dunes bordering the beach, with privacy and wind protection. Beach walking and birding are prime activities. Insider tip: Winter campers can observe thousands of monarch butterflies clustered in the neighboring eucalyptus grove. Best for: Beating the heat Info: From $20; 805/489-1869 Book it:

34. Ricardo Campground, Red Rock Canyon State Park, Northeast of Mojave
At Red Rock Canyon, colorful sandstone walls rise from the desert floor, and campsites are tucked against the White House Cliffs. Insider tip: The stargazing is so exceptional here that rangers post constellation charts detailing each evening’s display. Best for: A desert adventure Info: $12; no reservations; 661/942-0662

35. Serrano Campground, San Bernardino National Forest
A camp at Big Bear Lake that’s within walking distance of the water, this pine-shaded spot is a favorite of families who want to swim or fish. Insider tip: Hike the moderate 2-mile Cougar Crest Trail to Bertha Peak, or pedal the 3.5-mile paved path along the north shore. Pick up trail info at the nearby Big Bear Discovery Center. Best for: First-timers Info: From $28; 909/866-3437 Book it:

36. Trapper Springs Campground, Sierra National Forest, East of Shaver Lake

Surrounded by a banquet of granite domes, Courtright Reservoir is a rock climber’s paradise situated at 8,300 feet. A trail from the campground runs along the lakeshore to prime fishing spots. Insider tip: Nearby trails access the John Muir and Dinkey Lakes Wilderness. Best for: Hiking Info: $18; no reservations; or 559/855-5355

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