The 5 Best National Parks For Camping In The Golden State

The 5 Best National Parks For Camping In The Golden State

By Arin Sakayan August 01, 2020

As California mitigates health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic, some travel restrictions may remain in certain communities. Call the local and regional tourism offices to learn more about the restrictions in your intended destination. Thank you for reading, and stay safe. 

California’s numerous national parks offer stunning vistasmaking it difficult to narrow down the list of must-see spots. Tune in to your inner needs and become one with nature while adventure camping with your fam and friends. Bonfires, s’ mores, hikes, and the camping essentials—what more could you ask for? From glamping to adventure camping, choose how you want to spend your time away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Make sure to come prepared with the proper outdoor-gear, so you won’t miss a beat while enjoying the great outdoors.

The Best National Park Campgrounds

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Joshua Tree National Park

Pitch your tent among the exquisite world-renown Joshua trees. Prepare yourself for a transcendental experience when in Joshua Tree National Park.

Location: 74485 National Park Drive, Twentynine Palms

Amenities: Water, flush toilets, tables, fire grates, and dump stations are available. 

Activities: Picnicking, camping, hiking, and climbing.

Dogs Allowed: Yes

With stones and rocks, rough mountains, and sandy flatlands, Joshua Tree National Park is on the top of our camping site list. It’s the meeting point of two separate ecological deserts—the Mojave and Colorado Deserts. This eccentric combination of desert-like lands is home to an interesting array of desert flowers, long stretches of palm tree forests, and world-renown  Joshua tree groves. Stellar starry nights and sunny days make this a magical year-round haven. With exceptional views of the Milky Way, this is the ultimate photographer’s dream. Set up camp (in one of nine campgrounds, with a total of 500 campsites) and prepare for a transformative experience.

Where to Camp in Joshua Tree National Park

White Tank Campground

Open: October–May

Price: $10

Amenities: Pit toilets, tables, and fire grates are available. Potable water and electric hook-ups are not available.

White Tank Campground is found in the center of Joshua Tree National Park. With 15 campsites, this campground will accommodate tents, trailers, and RVs. Each site can hold up to six guests, making it a great camping choice for those seeking serenity. Since the campground is located next to the Arch Rock Nature Trail, it's easy to incorporate hiking (the best cardio) into your relaxing weekend.

Hidden Valley Campground

Open: Year-round

Price: $10

Amenities: Pit toilets, tables, and fire grates are available. Potable water and electric hook-ups are not available.

With 44 sites to choose from, the Hidden Valley Campground is one of the best places to set up camp in Joshua Tree Park. The ground is close to the Wonderland of Rocks and can accommodate tents, trailers, and RVs.

Ryan Campground

Open: October–May

Price: $10

Amenities: Pit toilets, tables, and fire grates are available. Potable water and electric hook-ups are not available.                 

At an elevation of 4,300 feet, Ryan Campground has 31 campsites. Surrounded by granite boulders and magnificent scenery, this campground is perfect for stargazing.

Indian Grove Campground

Open: Year-round (though most campsites close June–September)

Price: $15

Amenities: Pit toilets, tables, and fire grates are available. Potable water and electric hook-ups are not available.                      

With 101 campsites, Indian Grove is the optimal choice if you’d like to be in close proximity to the towns located just outside the park. At an elevation of 3,200 feet, the grounds provide visitors with eye-catching views. Boulders surround the campground, making it a perfect destination for bouldering and climbing enthusiasts.

Sheep Pass Campground

Open: Year-round

Price: $25–$40

Amenities: Pit toilets, tables, and fire grates are available. Potable water and electric hook-ups are not available.                  

A smaller option with only six group campsites, Sheep Pass Campground is a popular destination among group campers and scouts.

Jumbo Rocks Campground

Open: Year-round

Price: $10

Amenities: Pit toilets, tables, and fire grates are available. Potable water and electric hook-ups are not available.

Considered the most popular campground in the park, Jumbo Rocks Campground presents 124 campsites for tents, trailers, and RVs. With close proximity to climbable granite formations, this site offers its visitors several nature trails to keep busy.

Black Rock Campground

Open: Year-round (though some campsites close June–September)

Price: $15

Amenities: Water, flush toilets, tables, fire grates, and dump stations are available.

Found above Yucca Valley, Black Rock Campground offers 99 campsites for visitors to enjoy. Located near the Little San Bernardino Mountains, hiking trails are aplenty, and some lead you to the peaks.

Belle Campground

Open: October–May

Price: $10

Amenities: Pit toilets, tables, and fire grates are available. Potable water and electric hook-ups are not available.                

Belle Campground is nestled in between large boulders and only has 18 sites. So forego the crowds and enjoy rock climbing here for an experience you won't soon forget.

Cottonwood Campground

Open: Year-round (though some sites close June–September)

Price: $15

Amenities: Water, flush toilets, tables, fire grates, and dump stations are available.

Located in the Sonoran Desert, the 62 campsites of Cottonwood Campground look different from the other Joshua Tree campgrounds because there aren’t any Joshua trees around. The campground is located in a warmer area of the park, making it a great option for winter camping. 

Yosemite National Park

When in Yosemite National Park, jump in the plunging waterfalls, indulge in climbing the unusual granite formations, and camp to your heart's content.

Location: Tioga Road Highway 120 & Highway 140, Yosemite National Park

Amenities: Toilets, tabletops, grills, picnic tables, and parking. 

Activities: Climbing, hiking, picnicking, and camping.

Dogs Allowed: Yes

Best known for its plunging waterfalls and eye-catching granite formations, Yosemite National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the Golden State. Stretching more than 1,100 square miles, this park is close in proximity to the size of Rhode Island. Many park visitors go to Yosemite Valley to experience the natural wonders of Glacier Point, Merced River, and Mariposa Grove. Throughout your journey in the park, expect to spot black bears, mule deers, coyotes, chipmunks, and numerous bird species.

From open-air tram tours to nature walks with rangers, and even theatrical performances, this park has it all. Rent an inflatable raft at Curry Village Raft Rentals and make your way through the Merced River, leading you to El Capitan and Yosemite Falls. For a drier option, put on your hiking shoes and walk the easy Mirror Lake Loop or the well-known Mist Trail.

Where to Camp in Yosemite National Park

Pines Campgrounds

Open: Year-round

Price: $26

Amenities: Water, flush toilets, fire rings, picnic tables, and food lockers are available.

Upper Pines offers 238 sites with ample space for tents, trailers, and RVs.

Lowers Pines is open April through October and is equipped with 60 campsites with similar accommodations for tents, trailers, and RVs.

North Pines is open March through October and has 81 campsites accommodating tents, trailers, and RVs. Your view is of the Merced River on one side and Tenaya Creek on the other.

Camp 4

Open: Year-round (though the campground is closed for the summer 2020 season)

Price: $6

Amenities: Water, flush toilets, fire rings, picnic tables, and food lockers. Grills are not available.

With an array of 36 campsites, Camp 4 is located in Central California’s rugged Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. At an elevation of 4,000 feet, you’ll find yourself in the heart of Yosemite Valley surrounded by breathtaking wildlife.

Wawona Campground

Open: Year-round (though the campground is closed for the summer 2020 season)

Price: $26

Amenities: Water, flush toilets, fire rings, picnic tables, and food lockers are available.

The 93 campsites of Wawona Campground are found at the southern end of the park, settled within the majestic landscape. Home to the park’s headquarters back in 1904, you can still find the historic structures standing today. The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is just a short drive away. Make sure to call or go online to reserve your spot ahead of time.

Bridalveil Creek

Open: June–September (though the campground is closed for the summer 2020 season) 

Price: $18

Amenities: Water, flush toilets, fire rings, picnic tables, and food lockers are available.

The first-come, first-served Bridalveil Creek Campground is the optimal destination to meditate amongst clear waterfalls, sheer granite cliffs, and breathtaking meadows. The ground offers 110 campsites accommodating tents, trailers, and RVs. Experience nature’s magnificence during the calmer fall and winter months here—you may get lucky and see stunning snow-covered peaks around you.

Redwood National and state Parks 

Boasting both pristine sandy beach and mystical ancient redwoods, Redwood National and State Parks is a camping haven.

Location: 1111 Second Street, Crescent City

Amenities: Showers, toilets, and picnic tables.

Activities: Walking, hiking, wildlife viewing, dance demonstrations, kayak tours, scenic drives, and camping.

Dogs Allowed: Yes

Leave the man-made skyscrapers behind and soak up the ancient wisdom of the towering array of Redwood trees. This all-encompassing feeling of earthly magnificence will empower you.  

Aside from the breathtaking beauty of nature, the park also provides extra activities for visitors to indulge in. Start off your visit at one of five visitor centers and study numerous exhibits and educational videos about redwood ecology. Redwood National Park offers easy access to a sandy beach and, with a walking trail taking you to an elevation of 650 feet, stay on the lookout for migrating gray whales.

Stop by the picnic area at High Bluff Overlook and enjoy a serene oceanside lunch while viewing whales, sea lions, and pelicans. No park is complete without a trail or two, so strap on sturdy hiking boots and make your way to the Klamath River for a quick one hour hike, following the Yurok Loop trail.

Where to Camp in Redwood National and State Parks

Jedediah Smith Campgrounds

Open: Year-round

Price: $35

Amenities: Flush toilets, drinking water, showers, picnic tables, and a sanitary dump are available. Electric and water hook-ups are not available.

Located nine miles east of Crescent City, Jedediah Smith Campgrounds offers 86 campsites. 

Mill Creek

Open: May–September

Price: $35

Amenities: Dump station, water filling station, fire pits, picnic tables, and food lockers are available.

Mill Creek provides 31 campsites where you can drive in and set up a tent by your car. Tucked away among substantial sandstone cliffs, this area makes for a wonderful weekend escape in nature.

Elk Prairie

Open: Year-round

Price: $35

Amenities: Drinkable water, flush toilets, showers, tables, food lockers, fire rings, and grills are available.

Elk Prairie offers 75 campsites, with wheelchair accessible features. With a few exceptions, the sites are divided into tents only and trailers or RV camping.

Gold Bluffs Beach

Open: Year-round

Price: $35

Amenities: Drinkable water, toilets, dump stations, picnic tables, showers, and a sanitary dump are available.

Gold Bluffs Beach provides 26 car camping sites with sandy waterfronts. It’s desirable for the swimmers, walkers, beachcombers, and birdwatchers and is a gorgeous destination to spend the weekend. 

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Wander through the majestic giant sequoias when in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Unwind and recharge with an evening spent under stars.

Location: 47050 Generals Highway, Three Rivers

Amenities: Flush toilets, water, and restaurants.

Activities: Tree tunnels, giant sequoias, Crescent Meadow, Moro Rock, Crystal Cave, Mount Whitney, waterfalls, hiking, rock climbing, and picnicking. 

Dogs Allowed: No

Known for the enormous sequoias, towering mountains, wide canyons, and rumbling rivers, the less-frequented Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are home to the magnificent Mount Whitney and the Kings River Canyon. When in the parks, head to the Giant Forest to wander through these majestic trees, then visit the Giant Forest Museum to retrieve maps and guidebooks for your journey.

If you’re looking for a workout, climb the 390 stairs to the top of Moro Rock for a view of the Great Western Divide. Plan ahead to visit the secret underground world of Crystal Cave, which showcases shiny mineralogical features. During autumn, go to Tharp’s Log for leaf peeping, or take a trip to the parks during the winter months to revel in the beauty of snow-capped trees and blanketed grounds.

Where to Camp in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Crystal Springs Campground

Open: Late April–September

Price: $18 for individual campsites and $40 for group sites

Amenities: Flush toilets, potable water, picnic tables, and fire rings are available.

Crystal Springs Campground provides an abundant 36 individual campsites and 14 group sites that can accommodate between 7 and 15 people. Camping is available for tents, trailers, and RVs.

Dorst Campground

Open: Year-round

Price: $22 (individual) and $40–$60 (group)

Amenities: Flush toilets, potable water, picnic tables, and fire rings are available. Several sites come equipped with accessible parking, level tent pads, grills, and picnic tables.

Dorst Campground offers 218 individual campsites and four group campsites fit for large groups of 15–30 people.

Lodgepole Campground

Open: Year-round

Price: $22

Amenities: Flush toilets, potable water, picnic tables, and fire rings are available.

Accommodating both summer and winter seasons, Lodgepole Campground offers 214 campsites for the summer, along with 14 walk-in campsites for winter times. During peak times, reservations are required.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Escape from the hustle and bustle of the city and head to Lassen Volcanic National Park for an adventurous trip and views of the dormant Lassen Peak.

Location: 38050 Highway 36 Easy, Mineral

Amenities: Accessible parking, vault toilets, and picnic tables.

Activities: Picnicking, camping, swimming, boating, and bird watching.

Dogs Allowed: Yes

Located near Redding, Lassen Volcanic National Park is home to volcanic peaks, mudpots, and hot springs. There are many trails and overlooks showcasing this wonderland.

Avid adventurers are delighted by the park's kayaking, climbing, hiking, and swimming opportunities. Hike your way to Lassen Peak’s summit and admire the intense view of the volcanic hole. With plenty of lakes sprawled across the landscape, you can swim and kayak your way around. For an adventure-filled trip, stop at the historic Drakesbad Guest Ranch to horseback ride and soak up the majestic mineral hot spring waters. Even though Lassen is renowned for its volcanic formation, the park boasts wildflower-filled meadows and wondrous waterfalls.

Where to Camp in Lassen Volcanic National Park

Manzanita Lake Group Campground

Open: May–June and September–October

Price: $26–$72

Amenities: Drinkable water, flush toilets, showers, picnic tables, campfire rings, and food storage lockers are available.

With as many as 179 campsites—including five group sites—Manzanita Lake Group Campground is a famous destination for family outings. It accommodates trailers and RVs and accommodates activities such as swimming, kayaking, and fishing.

Butte Lake Campground

Open: June–September and September–October

Price: $22–$62

Amenities: Water, vault and flush toilets, and metal food lockers are available.

At an elevation of 6,100 feet, Butte Lake Campground offers 101 campsites including six dedicated to group camping. Consider taking a hike up Cinder Cone or paddling along Butte Lake’s lava shores before you leave.

Warner Valley Campground

Open: June–October

Price: $16

Amenities: Potable water, picnic tables, fire grits, bear proof boxes, vault toilets, metal food lockers, and parking areas are available.

The first-come-first-serve Warner Valley Campground offers visitors 17 campsites and is incredibly close to numerous hiking trails. 

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