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A Guide to Boondocking in California

A Guide to Boondocking in California

By California.com
March 25, 2021

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.

Boasting the most scenic places imaginable, the Golden State perfects the art of setting up camp in the serene wilderness. Whether your RV detour was impromptu or planned carefully with remote camping essentials, disperse getaways provide you with just the right touch of off-the-grid living.

As blankets of trees cover the pristine coast, you’ll experience the magic of letting yourself go. So, read up on camping recipes and prepare for rustic bliss with this guide to Californian boondocking.

Everything You Need to Know about Boondock Camping in California

With towering peaks and endless desert sands, the Golden State hides adventures around every turn. Let your natural curiosity overtake you as you wander off into the Californian wilderness.

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If you’re worried about the legality—don’t be. Most federal lands are managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Bureau of Reclamation. Before visiting the dispersed campsite of your choice, make sure to check if the area comes with any restrictions. Some California state parks also offer unforgettable boondocking adventures.

Boondocking in Northern California 

Camp off-the-grid at No Man's Trailhead and experience what it means to be one with nature.

No Man’s Trailhead 

Location: Forest Route 5E01, Happy Camp

While dispersed camping is found all over Klamath National Forest, No Man’s Trailhead has long been a NorCal boondocking hit. Located 16 miles outside of Happy Camp, this trailhead showcases the majestic peaks of the Siskiyou Wilderness.

Originally established in 1928, No Man’s Trailhead served as a fire access trail. Explore the 22-mile trail through Clear Creek all the way to Young Valley and bask in nature’s wonders stretching far and wide. The trailhead offers multiple creek crossings for aqua enthusiasts. Tread cautiously during high water season—the crossings become quite slippery. 

In true off-the-grid fashion, the trailhead has no amenities—so clean up after yourself and stock up on water and snacks.

Surround yourself with alpine beauty and majesty while boondocking at Mammoth Lakes.

Mammoth Lakes 

Location: 2667 Main Street, Mammoth Lakes

Various campsites, free RV parking, and majestic views of the eastern Sierra Nevada—boondocking in Mammoth Lakes has never been better. At this publicly-owned area, you won’t have to worry about obtaining permits before exploring the rustic wonderland.

With close proximity to the US Highway 395, this gem of a campsite is easily found and accessible. There’s no need to worry about the noise—once you’re at the campsite, you’re completely obscured from the bustling highway. Encircled by ponderosa and lodgepole pines, this campsite has numerous grounds perfect for RV exploration.

Inyo National Forest is the closest land to Mammoth Lakes (home to one of the best lake camping destinations) and comes equipped with views so spectacular you can’t help but roam wild. Though you can visit the campsite year-round, snow and ice can hinder your journey during the spring months. So before visiting, make sure to check the weather with a backup plan in mind.

Boondocking along the California Coast

Big Sur, the most beautiful stretch of coast in the world, boasts the best boondocking opportunities.

Willow Creek Road in Big Sur 

Location: 30920 Los Burros Road, Big Sur

With shoreline grandeur and redwood wilderness, Big Sur truly is a camper’s oasis. Willow Creek Road—a Big Sur boondocking showstopper—is located on the east side of Highway 191, stretching for miles among juniper trees and raspberry bushes.

The scenic landscape boasts a surface covered in Navajo Sandstone, which is hard enough to support multiple RVs at a time. Once you park, the unfolding views of San Martin Rock will put you in a daze—melodic waves of the Pacific crash in the distance.

In quintessential Big Sur fashion, the area is completely sun-soaked. While this is generally great, tent campers should aim to occupy hideouts under large trees. The area stretches far and wide, perfectly lending itself to pull-out detours.

As with most boondocking sites, the area has no water—so be sure to stock up. Remember to pack out your waste and keep Willow Creek in its usual pristine condition.

Experience boondocking among the land of giants with limitless dramatic landscapes.

Sequoia National Forest

Location: Kernville 

Located in the southern region of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Sequoia National Forest is a sanctuary for those seeking solitude. Winding dirt roads lead you to this remote oasis, accessible only from the west side of the mountain range.

When you reach the T-intersection, take a detour to Grant Grove where you’ll find the main drag of dispersed campsites. The winding streams make for ideal picnic watchpoints, though it might require a little exploring to find uncrowded spots.

There are no facilities around the area except for a rock campfire ring. This rustic seclusion is accompanied by majestic wilderness. You can meander for hours on end; the soaring sequoias shield you from the blistering sun.

If you’re a fan of dirt road maneuvers, you’re in luck. The Sequoia and neighboring Kings Canyon are mostly between 4,000–7,00 feet in elevation. Need a guide to these majestic parks? Check it out now.

Boondocking in Southern California 

Wild camping is at its best in the Blair Valley Campground. The desert is calling, it's time to explore!

Blair Valley Campground

Location: Julian, San Diego County

Nestled on the western side of Anza Borrego Desert State Park, Blair Valley is an exceptional hideout. Ringed by mountainous peaks stretching as far as the eye can see, the valley is segmented by a scenic ridgeline.

The Kumeyaay—an ancient Indigenous tribe—are believed to have inhabited the area. Evidence of their life can still be seen by way of pictographs engraved into the rocks.

This secluded campground becomes a boondocking haven all along the ridge. Dispersed camping is a popular activity year-round. Though Blair Valley tends to get a little crowded on the weekends, pull-outs along the ridgeline and dirt roads serve as your refuge.

Come nightfall, Blair Valley boasts top-notch star-gazing opportunities shimmering in every remote corner.

Have a quintessential boondocking experience at Volcanic Tablelands. Admire the mountains as you meander the Tablelands.

Volcanic Tablelands

Location: Chalk Bluff Road, Bishop

Rock ledges, adventurous roads, and psychedelic clouds await you at the Volcanic TablelandsSouthern California’s prime boondocking destination.

As State Highway 6 reaches Five Bridges Road, take a left until you find yourself on a bumpy dirt road. While driving along, you’ll notice that the journey’s almost as fun as the destination. Admire the stunning sights from your window or park the car to take in the views.

Camping at the Volcanic Tablelands means cloud-watching till sunset, unwinding in the 80-degree weather, and marveling at the snow-clad peaks surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountain.

Pine Creek Road 

Location: Pine Creek Road, Mount Laguna

If you’re boondocking near San Diego, this scenic trailhead ought to be on your itinerary. With canyon views, stunning back-country areas, and an enormous parking lot, Pine Creek Road satisfies all overnight enthusiasts.

During the day, get situated in the parking lot and head down to explore the wilderness. Pine Creek Road boasts marvelous scrub oak down at the streams—elevations range from 2,000 to 4,000 feet. If you wish to get up-close and personal, a wilderness map is available for purchase at the rangers’ station in Alpine.

The wonders of the night sky unfold as day turns to dusk—and you’ve got the best seat around.

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