California

Sleep Among Giants: Don’t Miss These Northern California Camping Spots

by Carissa Stanz

northern california camping

From the dramatic coastline of Big Sur to the giant sequoias of the Sierra Nevada mountains, camping in Northern California never fails to impress.

My fondest childhood memories rest in Northern California campgrounds.

Growing up in the Bay Area meant the best campgrounds were only a day drive away. Beach, forest, lake camping, you name it, Northern California has it with a stunning landscape to go along with it.

Home to a handful of national parks, the world’s tallest trees, ancient lava beds, and miles upon miles of scenic coastline, the reasons to camp the northern half of this state are endless. The toughest part is deciding where to go.

To get you started, we put together this Northern California camping guide. From north to south, this list covers a variety of areas throughout Northern California so there’s something for every type of camper.

Shasta-Trinity National Forest

shasta-trinity national forest

Why you should camp here: The largest national forest in California with ample camping, scenic views, and tons of recreation.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best season: Spring, summer, fall
  • Campsite types: Tent, RV, trailers, car camping, cabins
  • RV hookups: Yes

Encompassing over one million acres, Shasta-Trinity National Forest is the largest national forest in California and a haven for campers.

This national forest features 21 developed campgrounds and plenty of dispersed camping. Depending upon where you choose to camp, you’ll find a range of amenities and recreational opportunities.

The most popular activity here is Shasta Lake, and it tends to draw a large crowd on weekends and holidays. For those looking to ditch the crowds, consider pitching a tent at the McBride Springs Campground.

The campsites here offer more privacy than many of the other campgrounds and serve as a terrific basecamp for hiking Shasta’s slopes. Keep in mind, McBride Springs only offers a dozen sites that are first-come, first-serve, so arrive early.

For a full list of campgrounds at Shasta-Trinity National Park, check out the Forest Service guide the area’s campgrounds, cabins, and dispersed camping options.

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Redwood National and State Parks

Why you should camp here: Forested campgrounds nestled among rare redwoods in a remarkable ecosystem.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best season: Spring, summer, fall
  • Campsite types: Tent, RV, trailers, car camping
  • RV hookups: No

Every year visitors flock to Redwood National and State Parks to marvel in the sheer magnificence of the tallest trees in the world — the redwoods.

“Jedediah Smith is an amazing camping experience in the heart of the redwoods and right next to the river,” says Tracy Snapp on Google Reviews.

The coast redwood ecosystem is as old as it is unique. The towering trees provide plentiful shade and cooler temperatures for an array of species, including us.

Grab your tent and plan a visit. There are four campgrounds in these parks to choose from, including the popular Jedediah Smith Campground. This campground is nestled among old-growth redwoods along the Smith River with access to restrooms and hot showers.

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Summit Lake South Campground

summit lake campground
Photo: Virginia Hill

Why you should camp here: Secluded tent campsites for hikers who want to stay in close proximity to Lassen Volcanic National Park trailheads.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best season: Summer, fall
  • Campsite types: Tent, car camping, small tent trailer

Hikers and backpackers alike are drawn to the Summit Lake South Campground.

Located in Lassen Volcanic National Park, this campground is conveniently located near several trailheads. It’s within walking distance of Summit Lake, and the closest campground to Lassen Peak Trail.

This campground offers vault toilets and drinking water with food lockers to stash your yummy goods from hungry predators. Catering to the tent crowd, Summit Lake South Campground features a secluded tent-only loop so tent campers can find solace among their kind.

For those who aren’t familiar with Lassen, this national park boasts a whopping 300 active volcanoes, hydrothermal features, and a plethora of native species. Summit Lake South Campground serves as an excellent basecamp for the outdoor lover looking to explore all this park has to offer.

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D.L. Bliss Campground

dl bliss campground
Photo: Ray Bouknight

Why you should camp here: Enjoy access to the pristine waters of Lake Tahoe while slumbering among the pines.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best season: Spring, summer, fall
  • Campsite types: Tent, RV, trailers, car camping
  • RV hookups: No

D.L. Bliss Campground is a historic campground located on the west shore of Lake Tahoe. The campsites here are small and wooded, making them the perfect place to pitch a tent.

“The upper campsites are roomier and nicer than the beach sites,” says John on TripAdvisor.

RVs and trailers are welcome here. However, due to the size of the campsites, anything larger than 18 feet is not permitted.

As part of D.L. Bliss State Park, campers have easy access to the pristine waters of Lake Tahoe along with photo-worthy vistas.

Lake Tahoe is known to draw in quite the crowd, especially during the peak season. While D.L. Bliss Campground offers 150 campsites, we recommend booking in advance.

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Peninsula Campground

folsom lake california

Why you should camp here: Spend the weekend camping with the family right next to a lake.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best season: Spring, summer
  • Campsite types: Tent, RV, trailer, car camping
  • RV hookups: No

Adjacent to Folsom Lake at the base of the Sierra foothills is the Peninsula Campground. Of all the three campgrounds located at Folsom Lake, Peninsula is by far the most secluded one.

This large campground has 34 tent-only campsites along with spots for RVs. All sites feature a campfire ring and picnic table. Meanwhile, flush toilets and potable water are offered by the campground.

For those who want to camp lakeside with the family, this is a great spot. There’s plenty of water recreation to be had here along with biking and hiking.

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Oh Ridge Campground

june lake sierra nevada

Why you should camp here: A large family-friendly campground with lake access that beckons swimmers, anglers, and paddlers.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best season: Spring, summer, fall
  • Campsite types: Tent, RV, trailers, car camping
  • RV hookups: No

Oh Ridge Campground is a family favorite situated next to June Lake in the Eastern Sierras. Resting right about the shoreline, the campsites here are all within walking distance to the lake.

“We’ve stayed at Oh Ridge Campground several times. It’s a great base camp for exploring the Eastern Sierras,” says Patton D. on TripAdvisor.

This is a rather large campground with several loops to choose from. The majority of campsites are exposed with a few offering the cooling comfort of pine and aspen trees.

Campsites are equipped with the standards of a picnic table, fire ring, and grill. Drinking water and flush toilets are available, but for showers you’ll need to visit the resort next door.

With not much privacy, this campground is best for families or friendly folks who like getting to know their neighbors.

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Minaret Falls Campground

minaret falls

Why you should camp here: A favorite haven for fishermen and hikers who want to explore Devil’s Postpile and Rainbow Falls.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best season: Summer
  • Campsite types: Tent, RV, trailer, car camping
  • RV hookups: No

The road down to Minaret Falls Campground may be long and narrow, but the drive is well worth it. Located in Red Meadows Valley, Minaret Falls Campground is a small, scenic campground and a favorite for hikers and fishers.

The first-come, first-serve campground includes vault toilets, water, picnic tables, campfire rings, and food lockers. This campground is notorious for bear activity so be sure to use the lockers provided!

Along with your stay, campers will enjoy the spectacular Sierra Nevada landscape and views of Minaret Falls.

Spend the day fishing the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River that flows by the campground or venture off on a nearby trail. Devil’s Postpile and Rainbow Falls are just a couple highlights you won’t want to miss.

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

hume lake
Photo: Michael Hilton

Why you should camp here: Giant sequoias, stunning scenery, and a range of campgrounds for every type of camper.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best season: Spring, summer, fall
  • Campsite types: Tent, RV, trailer, car camping, cabins
  • RV hookups: No

Sleep among giants at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Situated right next to one another in the Sierra Nevada, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are home to giant sequoias, massive canyons, high peaks, and plenty of camping to go along with it.

“It’s an incredibly tense drive up a very narrow switchback road to Cold Springs Campground, but well worth it. It’s the best campground I saw in Sequoia National Park,” says Paul C. on TripAdvisor.

Between the two national parks there are fourteen campgrounds to choose from. Many campgrounds are first-come, first-served with amenities varying from campground to campground.

If you don’t mind a bit of a drive and fewer amenities, head on out to Cold Springs Campground. This remote tent-only campground is the highest campground between the parks and comes with the bare necessities including potable water and vault toilets.

For those who want a more accessible campground with extra amenities, check out the Hume Lake Campground. This popular campground features flush toilets, potable water, and double-family campsites. It’s a short walk to the lake, so you’ll have plenty of recreational activities close by.

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Big Basin Redwoods State Park

big basin redwoods

Why you should camp here: California’s oldest state park is filled with ancient coast redwoods.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best season: Spring, summer, fall
  • Campsite types: Tent, RV, trailer, car camping, tent cabins
  • RV hookups: No

Located in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Big Basin Redwoods State Park is the oldest state park in California. Encompassing more than 1,800 acres, Big Basin Redwoods is home to ancient coast redwoods, cascading waterfalls, riparian habitats, and an array of species.

Campers can stay at either the standard campsites, group camps, horse camp, or tent cabins. Some campsites are suited for RVs, but you won’t find any hookups in this state park.

As for the standard campsites, there are four to choose from: Upper and Lower Blooms Creek Campground, Sempervirens Campground, Huckleberry Campground, and Wastahi Campground. All are equally tent-worthy and include campfire rings, picnic tables, and food lockers.

Don’t forget to bring your hiking shoes. With over 80-miles worth of trail, there’s lots to explore around here.

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Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground

Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground
Photo: Ron Kroetz

Why you should camp here: A popular campground conveniently located off Highway-1 in scenic Big Sur.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best season: Spring, summer, fall
  • Campsite types: Tent, RV, trailers, car camping
  • RV hookups: Yes

Coastal redwoods and a scenic river are just a couple perks you’ll enjoy when camping at the Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground. Conveniently located off Highway 1, Pfeiffer is quite possibly the most popular campground in Big Sur and it’s not hard to see why.

“The sites right by the river are amazing, but you can’t go wrong with any of the sites,” says Arvind Menon on Google Reviews.

This campground caters to pretty much everyone as it offers RV, tent, and hike- and bike-in campsites. Campers have access to restrooms, showers, and drinking water and can even bring their dog (as long as they’re on a leash, of course).

If you’re willing to spend a few more bucks, you can snag a campsite along the Big Sur River. If not, the wooded and meadow campsites are just as nice.

While you won’t find beach access here, the ocean is only a few miles away.

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Beach Camping

Gerstle Cove Campground

gerstle cove
Photo: GSEC

Why you should camp here: A coastal gem for beach campers.

  • Reservations accepted:Yes
  • Best season: Spring, summer, fall
  • Campsite types: Tent, RVs, trailers, car camping
  • RV hookups: No

Gerstle Cove Campground is a gem nestled along the Northern California coast. Whether you’re traveling through the area or are planning a weekend at the beach, Gerstle Cove should be on your radar.

“You feel secluded even if the campground is full,” says Margret H. on Hipcamp.

This single-loop campground offers 30 campsites resting on the grassy bluffs above the rugged coastline. Take the short stroll down to the beach and explore the fascinating ecosystem of the State Marine Reserve.

During your stay, you’ll have access to drinking water and restrooms. Meanwhile, the campsites are outfitted with a picnic table, campfire ring, and a food locker.

While you can camp here in an RV, the lack of a dump station and hookups make this a better campsite for tenting.

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Russian Gulch State Park Campground

russian gulch state park
Photo: Allie Caulfield

Why you should camp here: Ample photo-ops, a plethora of recreational activities, and easy access to a swimming beach.

  • Reservations accepted:Yes
  • Best season: Spring, summer, fall
  • Campsite types: Tent, RV, trailer, car camping
  • RV hookups: No

You’ll find Russian Gulch State Park Campground to be more private and peaceful than many of the other coastal campgrounds. Located two miles north of Mendocino, Russian Gulch State Park Campground is situated next to a scenic rocky coastline under a shady forest canopy.

This campground features 26 standard campsites next to the tranquil Russian Gulch Creek. The campsites offer a picnic table and campfire ring while restrooms, showers, and drinking water are also available.

Grab your camera and start exploring. A cascading waterfall, tidepools, and the iconic Devil’s Punchbowl are only a handful of photo-ops waiting for you.

Meanwhile, outdoor recreation is anything but lacking. Hiking, biking, swimming, SCUBA diving, fishing, and paddling are all activities you’ll enjoy here.

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Wright’s Beach Campground

wrights beach sonoma coast
Photo: Bill Williams

Why you should camp here: Pet-friendly beach campground where you can pitch a tent right on the sand.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best season: Spring, summer, fall
  • Campsite types: Tent, RV, trailer, car camping
  • RV hookups: No

If you’re looking for a campground situated right on the beach, look no further than Wright’s Beach Campground. This campground is part of Sonoma Coast State Park and is located adjacent to the beach.

Campers here can pitch a tent right on the sand while still being within the boundaries of their own campsite. For an ocean view, book a stay at campsites 1-10.

No matter which campsite you choose, you’ll have a paved parking spur, picnic table, and campfire ring. There is no potable water at this campground, but you can fill up at Bodega Dunes nearby.

Be on the lookout for the endangered Western Snowy Plover and be sure not to miss a chance to visit Goat Rock Beach.

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Point Reyes National Seashore

wildcat beach point reyes
Photo: David Abercrombie

Why you should camp here: Quiet hike- and bike-in backcountry camps nestled in a marine sanctuary.

  • Reservations accepted:Yes
  • Best season: Spring, summer, fall
  • Campsite types: Tent

If you’re looking to find a coastal getaway far from large RVs and noisy car camping neighbors, read on. Point Reyes National Seashore offers five campgrounds, all of which are part of the backcountry.

“I highly recommend Coast Camp to pretty much any type of camper. It’s a quick 2-3 mile hike that’s relatively easy,” says Nicole Fucile on Google Reviews.

For those who want beach access, pitch a tent at one of the 12 campsites at Coast Camp. If you prefer an ocean vista, you’ll find Sky Camp or Wildcat Camp more to your liking.

If you’re really looking for a secluded spot to reconnect with nature, make the trek out to the wooded Glen Camp.

While amenities here are scarce, each camp does feature a vault toilet and water. However, the water may or may not be potable so it’s advised to plan ahead.

As for the fifth camp, Tomales Bay is reserved for the boat-in crowd only.

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Kirby Cove Campground

kirby cove campground

Why you should camp here: A small campground with beach access and breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best season: Spring, summer, fall
  • Campsite types: Tent

The panoramic view at Kirby Cove Campground makes this spot truly one of a kind. Nestled along Kirby Cove in the Marin Headlands, Kirby Cove Campground is part of the Golden Gate National Park Recreation Area.

“Get site one for the best Golden Gate view,” says Bhavesh Vakil on Google Reviews.

Reserve a spot here and dawn will greet you with a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge standing tall among the foggy bay. Come night, and you’ll be dazzled by San Francisco’s city lights.

Book early, because Kirby Cove Campground is as popular as it is small. This campground only offers five campsites, which luckily accommodate groups of 10 or fewer.

Resting underneath a grove of eucalyptus and pine, these campsites feature a picnic table, food locker, campfire ring, and tent pads.

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Francis Beach Campground

rancis beach campground half moon bay

Why you should camp here: Ocean views atop a grassy bluff with easy access to a sandy beach.

  • Reservations accepted:Yes
  • Best season: Spring, summer, fall
  • Campsite types: Tent, RV, trailer, car camping
  • RV hookups: Yes

Camp with a view at Francis Beach Campground in Half Moon Bay. Situated on top of a grassy bluff, Francis Beach Campground features 52 campsites, many of which offer ocean views.

For those searching for amenities, you’ll certainly find them here. This year-round campground features drinking water, flush toilets, showers, and RV hookups.

Only a short walk from the beach, you can access the sand from the campground via the beach access trail. Head on down to enjoy a beach-filled day of surfing, boogie boarding, and sandcastle building.

Keep in mind, the campground bluff is rather exposed as trees are scarce. So this campground can get windy and chilly at times.

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Explore California

For more recommendations on exploring California, take a look at ourGuide to Anza-Borrego Desert Camping, the 10 Best Hikes in Mammoth Lakes, and the 12 Best Hikes in San Diego.

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