Hey campers and welcome to my post where we will check out my 10 best camping spots in Northern California for some quality outdoors time this year. Northern California is home to some of the best camping spots in the country.
If you’re looking for a camping experience that offers a diverse range of landscapes and outdoor activities, Northern California is the perfect destination. From towering redwoods to rugged beaches, sparkling lakes to snow-capped volcanoes, Northern California has it all.
Why Choose Northern California for Camping?
One of the biggest draws of camping in Northern California is the stunning natural beauty. The region is home to some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes in the country, including Redwood National and State Parks, which preserves some of the last remaining old-growth coastal forests in the world. W
ith campsites by the ocean and miles of wild coastline to explore, you’ll be able to experience the beauty of Northern California up close and personal.
Another reason to choose Northern California for camping is the wide range of outdoor activities available. Whether you’re looking to hike, fish, swim or simply relax in nature, there’s something for everyone. Some of the most popular activities include kayaking on Lake Tahoe, hiking in Yosemite National Park and fishing in the Trinity River.
Best Time to Camp in Northern California
Northern California is a great place to camp, but the ideal camping season can vary depending on the specific location. Generally, the best time for camping in Northern California falls during the late spring, summer and early fall months when the weather is more predictable and conducive to outdoor activities.
The table below shows the average temperatures and precipitation for some popular camping destinations in Northern California:
|Location||Average Temperature (°F)||Average Precipitation (inches)|
|Redwood National and State Parks||50-60||80-100|
|Yosemite National Park||50-80||30-60|
|Lassen Volcanic National Park||50-80||30-50|
As you can see, the weather can vary greatly depending on the location. If you’re planning to camp in Redwood National and State Parks, be prepared for lots of rain. Meanwhile, if you’re camping in Lake Tahoe, you might experience chilly nights even in the summer.
Another factor to consider when planning your camping trip is the crowds. Popular camping destinations like Yosemite National Park can get very crowded during the summer months. If you prefer a quieter camping experience, consider camping in the shoulder seasons like late spring or early fall.
Best Camping Spots in Northern California
With all of the reasons to visit this part of the world above, here are some of the top camping spots in Northern California that you should consider:
1. Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park, situated in the heart of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. Covering over 1,200 square miles, this iconic park showcases a diverse landscape of deep valleys, cascading waterfalls, expansive meadows and towering granite cliffs. The renowned Yosemite Valley captivates visitors with its awe-inspiring landmarks, including the sheer face of El Capitan, the imposing dome of Half Dome and the ethereal mist of Bridalveil Fall. Each year, millions are drawn to its scenic vistas, with many choosing to explore its vast wilderness and diverse habitats that range from dense forests to alpine meadows.
For those wishing to immerse themselves in Yosemite’s natural beauty, the park offers a variety of camping options. In the heart of Yosemite Valley, campgrounds like Upper Pines, Lower Pines, and North Pines provide convenient access to the valley’s main attractions. Outside the valley, Wawona Campground is a popular choice for those looking to explore the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, while Tuolumne Meadows Campground offers a high-elevation camping experience amidst pristine meadows and granite peaks.
For the more adventurous, Yosemite’s wilderness permits allow for backcountry camping as well granting a serene and intimate experience with nature. Book through their Official site.
2. Lassen Volcanic National Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park, located in northeastern California, is a mesmerizing showcase of geothermal wonders and diverse landscapes shaped by volcanic activity. The park is crowned by Lassen Peak, the southernmost active volcano in the Cascade Range, which last erupted in the early 20th century.
Visitors are treated to a unique blend of bubbling mud pots, steaming fumaroles and crystal-clear mountain lakes. The park’s varied elevation, which ranges from lush forests to alpine tundras, supports a rich tapestry of plant and animal life as well.
For those eager to extend their stay and immerse themselves in the park’s natural beauty, Lassen Volcanic National Park offers a range of camping options:
- Manzanita Lake Campground, with its picturesque setting and proximity to the lake, is ideal for families and offers sites for tents, RVs and even has camper cabins.
- Summit Lake Campground, split into a north and south section, is nestled near the water and provides a base for exploring nearby trails.
- Butte Lake Campground is a more remote option, perfect for those seeking tranquility and proximity to the Cinder Cone trail.
For backcountry enthusiasts, the park grants wilderness camping permitsas well, allowing for a deeper connection with its untouched landscapes. Book through their Official site.
3. Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park
Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park, twin jewels of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, are celebrated for their breathtaking landscapes and towering giants. Sequoia, renowned for its colossal sequoia trees, is home to the General Sherman Tree, the largest tree on earth by volume.
Adjacent to Sequoia, Kings Canyon boasts one of the deepest canyons in North America with the mighty Kings River carving its way through the rugged valley. The park’s alpine peaks, verdant meadows and cascading waterfalls create a diverse tapestry of ecosystems, offering visitors a glimpse into the raw beauty of nature.
For adventurers wishing to immerse themselves in these national parks, a variety of camping options are available. In Sequoia, Lodgepole Campground is centrally located, providing easy access to many of the park’s main attractions, while Dorst Creek Campground offers a serene setting amidst a mix of forest and meadow.
Over in Kings Canyon, Cedar Grove Campground sits in the heart of the canyon, surrounded by towering cliffs and the gentle murmur of the Kings River. Grant Grove Campground, near the park’s entrance, is a popular choice for its proximity to the renowned General Grant Tree.
For those seeking a more remote experience, both parks offer backcountry camping opportunities, allowing visitors to venture deep into the wilderness and experience the parks’ untouched beauty as well. Book via their Official site.
4. Redwood National and State Parks
Redwood National and State Parks, located along the misty coast of northern California, stand as a testament to nature’s grandeur with their towering ancient redwoods. These parks, a complex of several state parks and a national park, protect nearly half of the remaining old-growth redwood forests in the world. T
The parks aren’t just about the redwoods though, and also encompass a diverse range of habitats from prairies and oak woodlands to rugged coastlines and riverways. Trails like the Tall Trees Grove and Fern Canyon provide visitors with immersive experiences, allowing them to walk amongst giants and explore the verdant undergrowth of the redwood forest.
For those wishing to extend their stay amidst this primeval landscape, Redwood National and State Parks offer a variety of camping options.
- Jedediah Smith Campground, nestled beside the Smith River, provides a classic forested setting
- Mill Creek Campground is set amidst maples and alders, offering a different shade of green.
- Gold Bluffs Beach Campground offers a unique coastal experience, where campers can listen to the Pacific’s waves crashing just steps away from their tents.
For the more adventurous, backcountry camping permits are available as well allowing for multi-day hikes and a deeper connection with the parks’ untouched wilderness. Book via their Official site.
5. Emerald Bay State Park
Emerald Bay State Park, nestled on the southwestern shore of Lake Tahoe in California, is a gem that epitomizes the lake’s natural beauty and rich history. The park is centered around the stunning Emerald Bay which is renowned for its vibrant blue-green waters that contrast strikingly with the surrounding forested mountains.
The bay’s crown jewel is Fannette Island, the only island in Lake Tahoe, which hosts the remnants of a historic tea house. On the mainland, the park preserves the Vikingsholm Castle, a 38-room mansion that is considered one of the finest examples of Scandinavian architecture in North America. The castle, surrounded by lush forests and with a backdrop of the bay, offers guided tours that delve into its intriguing history and the legacy of its builder, Lora Josephine Knight.
For visitors looking to immerse themselves in the park’s scenic beauty overnight, Emerald Bay State Park provides a few unique camping options.
- Eagle Point Campground, situated on the southern edge of the bay, offers sites with a mix of shade and sun, and some provide glimpses of the lake.
- Emerald Bay Boat-In Campground, for those seeking a more adventurous experience as it is accessible only by boat. However campers can set up right on the lake’s shore, offering an unparalleled lakeside camping experience.
- Vikingsholm Trail, a popular route that descends to the mansion and the bay’s shore, where campers often set up to enjoy the beach and the clear waters.
Booking via their Official site.
6. Eldorado National Forest
Eldorado National Forest, sprawled across the central Sierra Nevada mountain range in California, coversover 600,000 acres and boasts a rich tapestry of terrains from dense coniferous forests and alpine meadows to rugged mountain peaks and serene lakes. The forest is interlaced with rivers and streams, including the South Fork of the American River, known for its gold rush history and thrilling whitewater rapids.
Eldorado is also haven for outdoor enthusiasts, offering a large array of recreational activities such as hiking, fishing and off-road vehicle use. The forest’s higher elevations provide stunning vistas with landmarks like Desolation Wilderness offering a pristine, untouched backdrop for adventurers.
For those wishing to immerse themselves in the beauty of Eldorado, the national forest provides a myriad of camping options. Developed campgrounds like Ice House Campground and Loon Lake Campground offer well-maintained sites with amenities, set amidst picturesque settings near lakes or streams.
For campers seeking a more rustic experience, dispersed camping is allowed throughout much of the forest, granting the freedom to set up camp in more secluded spots. Additionally, the forest has several group campgrounds, such as Fashoda Campground on the shores of Union Valley Reservoir, ideal for larger gatherings. Whether it’s setting up a tent under a canopy of stars in a remote clearing or parking an RV in a bustling campground, Eldorado National Forest caters to all camping preferences, ensuring a memorable experience amidst nature’s splendor.
Bookings online via their Official site.
7. Big Basin Redwoods State Park
As California’s oldest state park, Big Basin Redwoods State Park safeguards a vast expanse of ancient coast redwood trees, some of which have witnessed over 2,000 years of history. These towering giants, reaching heights of more than 300 feet, create a verdant canopy that envelops visitors in a serene, almost mystical ambiance.
The park’s diverse landscape also features cascading waterfalls, such as the popular Berry Creek Falls, and a myriad of ecosystems from dense forests to chaparral-covered slopes. Trails like the Sequoia Trail offer immersive experiences, allowing hikers to wander amidst the redwoods, cross babbling streams and catch panoramic views of the surrounding region.
For those eager to extend their stay within this ancient forest, Big Basin offers a variety of camping options. Traditional campgrounds like Huckleberry Campground and Sempervirens Campground nestle campers amidst the redwoods, providing a classic forest camping experience. For larger groups, Sky Meadow Group Camp offers a more open setting in a meadow environment.
Those seeking adventure can venture to the park’s backcountry trail camps, which provide a more remote and intimate experience with nature. Additionally, for visitors without camping gear, the park offers tent cabins blending the comforts of a cabin with the rustic feel of tent camping.
Book via their Official site.
8. Big Sur
Big Sur forms part of a rugged stretch of California’s central coast that is a testament to the raw beauty and power of nature. Spanning approximately 90 miles along the iconic Highway 1 from Carmel to San Simeon, Big Sur is characterized by its dramatic cliffs and the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean.
Landmarks like the Bixby Creek Bridge, one of the most photographed bridges in the U.S., and McWay Falls, an 80-foot cascade that flows directly into the ocean, form part of Big Sur’s captivating beauty. The region’s diverse landscape is also a haven for wildlife, from sea otters frolicking in the kelp forests to condors soaring above the cliffs and wales out in the ocean.
For visitors wishing to immerse themselves in the splendor of Big Sur, a variety of camping options are available:
- Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park Campground offers sites nestled amidst redwood trees, providing a classic forest camping experience.
- Kirk Creek Campground is perched on a bluff overlooking the Pacific, offering unparalleled sunset vistas.
- Limekiln State Park provides a unique blend fo both worlds with campsites set both in redwood groves and along the coastline.
For a more rustic experience, backcountry camping is available in areas like the Ventana Wilderness, allowing adventurers to delve deeper into Big Sur’s wild heart as well.
For bookings, check out their Official site
Check out these: 10 Best Beaches in Northern California for Families
9. Salt Point State Park
Salt Point State Park, located off Highway 1 approximately 90 miles north of San Francisco, is a coastal gem that offers visitors a diverse range of natural wonders and recreational activities. The park is renowned for its rocky promontories, panoramic ocean views and unique geological features, including tafoni formations – intricate honeycomb-like patterns carved into the sandstone.
The park’s history is also deeply intertwined with the construction of San Francisco, as sandstone from Salt Point was quarried and used to pave the city’s streets in the mid-1800s. Beyond its geological significance, Salt Point provides habitats for a variety of marine life, making it a popular spot for tide pool exploration, free diving in kelp forests and fishing.
For those looking to immerse themselves in the beauty of the park overnight, Salt Point State Park offers several camping options. The park boasts two main campgrounds:
- Gerstle Cove Campground, located atop the coastal bluffs with ocean views, has 30 family campsites
- Woodside Campground, situated on the east side of Highway One, offers 79 sites nestled under a mix of conifers.
For larger groups, there’s a group camping area accommodating up to 40 people and ten cars. Additionally, there are hiker/biker sites located near the Woodside Campground for campers on foot or bicycles with an overflow camping area also available for self-contained vehicles. It’s worth noting that while the park provides a rich camping experience, certain amenities like showers might not be available and campers are advised to check current conditions and facilities before their visit.
Book here via their Official site.
10. Point Reyes National Seashore
Point Reyes National Seashore, located just north of San Francisco, is a pristine coastal sanctuary that offers a unique blend of natural beauty and rich history. The seashore stretches over miles of rugged coastline featuring thunderous ocean breakers crashing against rocky headlands, expansive sand beaches and a diverse range of habitats. From its dense forests and open grasslands to brushy hillsides and serene estuaries, Point Reyes is also home to over 1,500 species of plants and animals.
The area has been inhabited by several cultures over thousands of years and the seashore preserves a tapestry of stories and interactions of these people. Notable landmarks include the Point Reyes Lighthouse and the cascading Alamere Falls, which flows directly into the ocean. The seashore is also a popular spot for whale watching, especially during the gray whale migration season.
For those looking to experience the tranquility of the seashore overnight, Point Reyes offers a unique camping experience with its hike-in and boat-in backcountry camping. Unlike traditional campgrounds, these sites provide a more secluded and intimate connection with nature. Campgrounds such as Sky Camp, Coast Camp, and Wildcat Camp are accessible by hiking trails and offer stunning views, whether it’s overlooking the ocean or nestled amidst the forest.
Tomales Bay, on the other hand, offers boat-in only sites along the shores of the bay, perfect for kayakers. It’s essential to make reservations in advance, as these campgrounds are popular and can fill up quickly. Whether it’s listening to the symphony of crashing waves or gazing at a starlit sky free from city lights, camping at Point Reyes National Seashore provides an unforgettable escape into nature’s embrace.
Book via their Official site.
Camping Essentials for Northern California
When planning a camping trip in Northern California, there are some essential items that you should pack to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable experience. Here are some camping essentials that you should consider bringing:
Clothing and Footwear
Northern California can have unpredictable weather, so it’s important to pack clothing and footwear that can handle a variety of conditions. Here are some items to consider bringing:
- Warm layers: Even in the summer, temperatures can drop significantly at night, so bring warm layers like a fleece or down jacket.
- Rain gear: Northern California is known for its rain, so bring a waterproof jacket and pants to stay dry.
- Hiking boots: If you plan on doing any hiking, bring sturdy hiking boots with good traction.
- Sandals or water shoes: If you plan on swimming or visiting the beach, bring sandals or water shoes.
Of course, you’ll need some camping gear for your trip. Here are some items to consider bringing:
- Tent: A good quality tent is essential for a comfortable camping experience.
- Sleeping bag: Choose a sleeping bag appropriate for the expected temperatures.
- Sleeping pad: A sleeping pad can make a big difference in your comfort level.
- Camp stove and fuel: Bring a camp stove and fuel to cook your meals.
- Cooler: Keep your food and drinks cold with a good quality cooler.
- Headlamp or flashlight: Bring a headlamp or flashlight for nighttime activities.
Here are some other items that you might find useful:
- Insect repellent: Mosquitoes and other bugs can be a nuisance, so bring insect repellent.
- Sunscreen: The sun can be intense, even on cloudy days, so bring sunscreen.
- First aid kit: Be prepared for minor injuries with a basic first aid kit.
- Maps and guidebooks: Bring maps and guidebooks to help plan your activities.
- Cash: Some campgrounds and parks may not accept credit cards, so bring cash just in case.
Safety Tips for Camping in Northern California
Camping in Northern California can be an amazing experience, but it is important to stay safe while enjoying the great outdoors. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind:
- Know the Weather – Northern California weather can be unpredictable, and it’s important to be prepared for any conditions. Check the weather forecast before you go camping, and pack accordingly. Bring warm clothing, rain gear, and extra blankets in case temperatures drop at night.
- Watch Out for Wildlife – Northern California is home to a variety of wildlife including bears, mountain lions and rattlesnakes. Be aware of your surroundings and keep a safe distance from any animals you encounter. Store your food in bear-proof containers and never leave food or trash out in the open.
- Stay Hydrated – Northern California can get hot and dry, especially during the summer months. Make sure to bring plenty of water and drink regularly throughout the day. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can dehydrate you even more.
- Bring a First Aid Kit – Accidents can happen, even when you’re camping. Be prepared by bringing a well-stocked first aid kit. Include items like bandages, antiseptic, pain relievers, and any necessary prescription medications.
- Leave No Trace – When camping in Northern California, it’s important to respect the environment and leave no trace behind. Pack out all trash, and avoid damaging plants or wildlife. Stick to established trails and campsites, and don’t create new ones.
There you have it; 10 best campsites in Northern California. As usual, let me know of your experiences here or if there is anything you think I need to add.
Also, please do not hesitate to comment below if you have any questions, concerns, or corrections or would like me to check anything else out for you.
Until next time.