There’s no doubt that California is a great place to vacation—with its varied landscapes, top tourist destinations, and plenty of options for travelers to choose a vacation to remember.

However, when choosing a chill travel spot, vacationers sometimes forget that there’s one amazing way to see California at its best—by camping. Camping gives the happy wonderer a chance to explore nature, all while surrounded by the glorious scenery of the Golden State that is as diverse as it is plentiful. Towering redwoods, imposing mountains, gorgeous beaches, and more all await the traveler with a sense of adventure when they embark on a cool Cali camping trip.

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Note: Many of the sites below are state or national parks. Before booking a trip, visitors should check the National Park Service website for all updated information on COVID-19 protocols, potential park closures, and the availability of attractions, trails, and amenities.

7 Kirk Creek Campsite

Cliffside camping in Big Sur? Sounds like a plan! Arrive at this lovely campsite by traveling along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway to get a taste of the scenic views. The beauty of this site is its proximity to many trailheads and spots where visitors can bike along the bluff. This site is quite rustic (no running water), so be sure to pack accordingly.

  • Tip: About 20 minutes away is the hot springs at the Esalen Institute. Plan ahead for an incredible late night, relaxing hot springs soak that offers incredible views of the surrounding area.

6 Tuolumne Meadows Campground

Camping at Yosemite is the ultimate experience. However, for those who want to be close to the iconic park while also enjoying a bit of distance from the hustle and bustle of Yosemite Valley, this campground is ideal. It includes both tent and RV sites, with easy access to all the must-see attractions of the area, like crystal clear lakes, flower-filled meadows, and the views of the nearby Sierra Nevada Mountains. There’s also an adjoining trail to explore, and a bus service to other trails in the area.

  • Tip: though this campground is part reservations only and part first-come, first-serve, be aware that all campgrounds around Yosemite are extremely busy, especially in the summer. Reservations for campsites are available up to five months in advance so travelers can plan ahead.

5 Sonoma Coast State Park

For those who love a scenic coastal setting, Sonoma Coast State Park is the ideal spot for enjoying the coastal coves and rugged, rocky bluffs Northern California is known for. Those traveling in summer will also appreciate the cooler temps, as this park (about 3-4 hours north of the Bay area), offers a nice, refreshing ocean breeze that tempers the soaring summer temps nicely. Though the beach is nearby it’s not a swimming spot, though campers can explore the area to catch a glimpse of the tide pools teeming with marine wildlife.

  • Tip: There are three campgrounds in the park and many have amenities like dump stations, running water, and showers. Reservations are recommended.

4 Minaret Falls Campground

Though the area around this campground is known for winter sports like skiing (on the nearby Mammoth Mountain), the hiking is not to be missed—enjoy the clear alpine lakes, the towering pine forests, and the incredible mountain views—all while camping at this beautiful spot on the shores of the San Joaquin River. Sites are first-come, first-serve so no reservations are necessary.

  • Tip: Be sure to check out Devil’s Postpile National Monument, a rare and stunning geological marvel . It was formed around 100,000 years ago and its basalt column formations are striking; some reaching about 60-feet high.

3 Cold Springs Campground

Though located in Sequoia National Park, this campground distances itself from the main area of the park so travelers with a taste for peace and quiet to accompany their stunning scenic views will find a home here. Because it’s along a windy road about 2 hours from the main park entrance, RVs and trailers are not permitted—it is tent sites only. However, the silence is well worth it for those who want a bit of adventure, solitude, and silence with which to appreciate the towering aspens and evergreens.

2 Nevada Beach Campground

Fans of lovely lakes will appreciate this campground near South Lake Tahoe. The views of the beautiful blue lake against the stunning backdrop of the Sierra Nevada and Carson Mountains make this the perfect spot for those who like their adventure with a side of scenery. This site has options for both tents and RVs, and travelers can reserve a spot online ahead of time (reservations are recommended).

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  • Tip: Lake Tahoe is a great spot for those outdoor enthusiasts that love water sports, so be sure to take advantage of all the amazing opportunities for fun on the water while staying here.

1 Big Basins Redwoods State Park

Fab for forest lovers, this state park is filled with imposing and impressive trees that share space with lush green ferns and picturesque waterfalls. The park itself is over 10,000 acres, most of which is rare old-growth forest. Hike the trails to experience the true wonder of these amazing trees, then head back to your campsite to sleep under their leafy canopy.

  • Tip: With over 100 campsites to choose from, there’s plenty of options from standard campsites to tent cabins.

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