Last Updated April 16, 2022 4/16/2022

11 Best California State Parks for Camping

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California may be one of the best places to go camping in the wild. With 279 state park units, up to 15 000 campsites, and more than 3000 miles of trails, it’s a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Thanks to the state’s diversity you can choose between the desert escapes, meadow relaxation, ocean freshness, mountain retreats, and lakeside fun. Reserve your camping beforehand and enjoy Golden State’s fantastic nature on your own terms. Here is the list of the best California State Parks for camping that includes both the well-known tourist hits and remote hidden gems. Adventures are calling!

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Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Fancy a night under a clear starry sky? Or maybe feeling the expanse of the Mars-like barren landscape? Anza-Borrego Desert State Park offers both. One of California’s best state parks, it is a wonderful natural destination that will impress even the most experienced travelers. Camping is allowed everywhere around the park given that you observe the rules set by the administration. There are several developed campgrounds, eight primitive campgrounds, and almost unlimited camping possibilities throughout. Needless to say, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park provides you with hundreds of miles of hiking trails, the flora and fauna of the badlands, and some oases too. 

Sonoma Coast State Park
Sonoma Coast State Park

Sonoma Coast State Park

Those looking for some beach camping would be delighted to find Sonoma Coast State Park. Waking up to the sound of mighty Pacific waves crushing into the boulders of the rocky coast, isn’t it magical? A popular weekend getaway in Northern California, it’s also home to easy hiking trails that interconnect the beaches of the park for a quintessential coastal camping trip. For amenities like showers and bathrooms choose the Bodega Dunes Campground. Then, there is Wright’s Beach Campground next to the amazing long sandy beach albeit with fewer amenities. Finally, you find the primitive camping at Willow Creek and Pomo Canyon campgrounds. 

Angel Island State Park
Angel Island State Park

Angel Island State Park

You don’t expect much peace from a place right in the middle of the busy Bay area. But Angel Island is somewhat of an open secret of San Francisco. Camping here comes with fantastic vistas of both the downtown and Golden Bridge. With 16 campsites you can easily find tranquility and privacy that lead to exceptional camping that even feels surreal given such close proximity to a buzzing megapolis. Note that dogs are not allowed on the island. It is reachable by ferry from Pier 41. Also, be prepared for a hike to reach the campsites so it is wise to pack lightly. 

Butano State Park
Butano State Park

Butano State Park

It’s all about the majestic redwoods in Butano, one of the coolest under-the-radar state parks. Here you won’t find crowds of campers. Instead, you will be given a piece of pure California wood wilderness with high trees, picturesque creeks, hidden falls, and cozy paths. It’s this idyllic enchanted forest-kind-of-place where everything is possible if you apply your imagination. Thankfully, Butano can be easily enjoyed by camping, there are more than 20 drive-in campsites and 18 walk-in ones. 

Castle Crags State Park
Castle Crags State Park

Castle Crags State Park

California is also about the mountains and Castle Crags State Park is definitely among the most scenic places in the US for camping. The trademark view of the state park is the gargantuan tooth-like peaks that rise above the foresty landscape in their mighty glory. Coming here for camping allows you to take in lots of fresh air and embark on countless mountain trails to conquer the summits. It would be perfect for an easy break, Castle Crags would work awesome for beginner and intermediate hikers. There is a total of 76 campgrounds in the park, all of them with basic amenities like flush toilets, drinking water, and showers. The must trail-wise is trekking to the top of the Castle Dome for the spectacular panoramas. 

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

It’s easy to feel small at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. A kingdom of coast redwood trees, this park is an excellent spot for forest camping. Cinematically beautiful, extremely lush, featuring miles of hiking trails, Prairie Creek Redwoods is one of the most striking destinations in California. Talking about cinema, Fern Canyon, the park’s most famous attraction, was a filming location for Spielberg’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park. As for camping, you have several options here. Elk Prairie is a campground in the foresty part and the Gold Bluffs Beach campground allows you to enjoy the stunning Pacific coast up close. Both of these sites are so-called dry campgrounds without electricity, water, and sewage for RVs. 

Humboldt Lagoons State Park
Humboldt Lagoons State Park

Humboldt Lagoons State Park

There will be the ocean, there will be a lagoon, and there will be countless water activities. Humboldt Lagoons State Park in Northwestern California would be a fantastic choice if you enjoy camping next to the water. Sandy Pacific beaches are wonderful for long walks and beachcombing. Big Lagoon Campgrounds provide a stunning spot for connecting with nature and also offer kayaking, swimming, paddle boarding as well as fishing. Bird and whale watching are among the amazing advantages of the park and so is the opportunity to enjoy miles of sandy beach walks. 

Mount San Jacinto State Park
Mount San Jacinto State Park

Mount San Jacinto State Park

Mount San Jacinto State Park is made for adventurous souls. A place of a magnificent wilderness in close proximity to ultra-popular Palm Springs, this state park has many camping opportunities. Be aware that it is necessary to get a free Wilderness Permit before visiting as well as a $5.00 per person permit for wilderness camping. There are two drive-in campsites (Stone Creek Campground and Idyllwild Campground) as well as four hike-in primitive ones. Dogs are not allowed. Mount San Jacinto State Park is very versatile activities-wise and can be enjoyed both by beginner trekkers and experienced adventurists. The peaks here are at the second-highest altitudes in California, the wilderness and desert views are awe-inspiring and hikes are challenging. 

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

You’re getting a first-hand Big Sur experience coming camping at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. It’s also an extra exclusive thing to do, there are only 2 campsites so you would need to reserve the spots well in advance. But the wait is certainly rewarded. At this top Big Sur camping destination there will be magnificent ocean views, scenic cliffs, dolphin jumps from the distance, and the waterfall sounds. Up to 8 guests are allowed in the tent at once and there’s a fee to pay if you want to stay overnight. It’s a magical Big Sur escape, a bucket list thing to do for all the camping lovers in California. Be aware that the campsites are walk-in meaning that you will have to carry all the items with you from the parking lot that is situated across Highway 1. Overall it’s an easy and pleasant camping experience so go to the Reserve California website and book your time right now. 

Leo Carrillo State Park
Leo Carrillo State Park

Leo Carrillo State Park

Leo Carrillo State Park is a movie star in its own right. You may have seen its shores in such blockbusters as Inception, Karate Kid, Grease, Point Break, and even Sex and the City. LA crowd treats this place with veneration, it’s a part of the local lifestyle. The waves here are just ideal for surfing, you can find picturesque caves and comfortable tidal pools. And Leo Carrillo State Park is a perfect place for easygoing camping, the campsite next to the beach has 135 sites so everyone can have a piece. Proximity to Los Angeles makes this campsite a wonderful idea for a retreat to the ocean with all the amenities and plenty of waterside activities to embark on like surfing, windsurfing, swimming, and beachcombing. But it’s not only the beach, you have also great trails for back-country hiking under the towering benches of the sycamore trees. 

Clear Lake State Park
Clear Lake State Park

Clear Lake State Park

For some classical lakeside camping choose Clear Lake State Park, which allows you to make the most of staying next to the largest natural freshwater lake in California. As for the campsites, the options are great with four campgrounds and two group camping sites. Once you’re here you can start enjoying a variety of activities such as hiking along the lake’s shores, swimming or sunbathing on the beaches, boating, fishing or simply giving in to the natural environment. Talking about the beach, Lower Bayview is the closest to the water also featuring incredible views of the lake. Clear Lake State Park is an ideal spot to rewind and take a break from the non-stop life of California’s megapolises. Also, it’s an ultimate family destination that offers lots of activities that you can enjoy together. 

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