Camping in Southern California is one of the best outdoor, social distance activities available. Lakes, mountains, and beaches – a multitude of campgrounds in Southern California offer an incredible array of places to match the season and everyone’s interests. With vacations being cancelled and people worried about gathering in groups, camping is the in thing to do! Below is a collection of our favorite campgrounds in Southern California that we will continue to update as we come across more.
If you have some favorites that we have missed, please share them with us as we would love to check out more off the beaten path sites around the state.
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Ultimate Guide to Camping in Southern California
Camping in the desert is not for all, but for those that love the dramatic landscapes filled with craggy rocks and unique plant life will enjoy these amazing desert campgrounds in Southern California.
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree is one of favorite destinations for day trips and overnight excursions. While we often rent an Airbnb or stay in Palm Springs, there are some great camping options in Joshua Tree National Park that are worth getting out for. These sites fill up fast either through reservations or first come first serve.
We recommend heading out on the weekdays if possible to avoid the crowds and have the best chance of securing a great spot. The best time to camp in Joshua Tree is spring and Fall when it is not too hot and not too cold at night. Our recommended spots in Joshua Tree are Indian Cove and Jumbo Rocks. When reservations are an option, they can be made at Recreation.gov.
- Belle Campground: Sites are first-come, first-served.
- Black Rock Campground: Sites are first-come, first-served.
- Cottonwood Campground: Loop B is closed. Loop A is open. Group campsites are limited to 25 people. Family sites are first-come, first-served and group campsites are reservation only.
- Hidden Valley Campground: Sites are first-come, first-served.
- Indian Cove Campground: Group campsites are limited to 25 people. Family sites are first-come, first-served and group campsites are reservation only.
- Jumbo Rocks Campground: Sites are first-come, first-served. Popular with those who love rock climbing.
- Sheep Pass Campground: Group Campsites are limited to 25 people. Sites are available by reservation only.
- White Tank Campground: Sites are first-come, first-served.
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Anza-Borrego Desert is located in the eastern part of northern San Diego County. Known for wildflowers and birding, it also has plenty of options for tent camping. There are developed campgrounds like Borrego Palm Campground, Tamarisk Grove and Bow Willow. Our favorite is Borrego Palm Canyon which has interpretive trails, panoramic overlooks, and native fan palms.
There are also primitive campgrounds that are first-come, first-serve and are free. Spring is the best time to visit as the weather is nice and the flowers are blooming.
Near to Anza Borrego are even more campgrounds in nearby state parks, county parks, and the Cleveland National Forest. Those can be found here.
- Agua Caliente Regional Park – Another park in the Anza-Borrego area, Agua Caliente Regional Park is the place to go for geothermal hot springs, hiking and maybe some bighorn sheep sightings.
- Cuyamaca Rancho State Park – Adjacent to Anza-Borrego, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park rests at 5,000 feet. Here campers can hike to the summit of Stonewall Peak as well as boat and fish in nearby Lake Cuyamaca.
- William Heise County Park – Near to the town of Julian, this county park offers tent and RV camping with amenities like showers and electric hook-ups and often full activity programs offered by the San Diego County Parks and Recreation rangers.
Mojave National Preserve
If you are up for a drive, and looking for some off the beaten path camping, there is no better place to head than to Mojave National Preserve. The Mojave is a unique landscape offers established campsite and off the roadside camping as well as pack sites for travelers on horseback. The Preserve is known for its Kelso Dunes, nearly 700 feet high across 45 square miles.
We have an entire post dedicated to camping in the Mojave, but for quick reference, here are some of the established sites available. Due to the ongoing Covid crisis many sites are still closed, so please check this site before heading out for the latest information. The best developed sites here are Hole in the Wall, Mid Hills and Black Canyon Group.
Need some delicious easy camping meals that are crowd pleasers? We got you covered!
Best Mountain Camping in Southern California
Idyllwild is an adorable mountain town nestled into the San Jacinto Mountains. The area offers lakes, ponderosa pine forests and so many nooks and crannies perfect for pitching a tent. Camp at Idyllwild Campground and hike the nature trail, tour the visitor center, and spend time in the Idyllwild Nature Center.
Marion Mountain Campground is also a great option in Idyllwild, offering 25 tent sites with 9 first come first serve.
Boulder Basin Campground (closed for 2020) provides delightful views set amongst magnificent ponderosa and sugar pines. This campground is great for those interested in hiking, mountain biking and anyone looking for quiet and solitude.
Lastly, Dark Canyon Campground (closed summer of 2020) is another beautiful campground near Idyllwild with a paved road leading up to the campground.
Not interested in camping? There are a ton of great glamping options in Idyllwild as well that offer proximity to nature without sleeping on the ground!
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Often overlooked for better known Big Bear, Lake Arrowhead is also a great spot for camping. Dogwood or North Shore are the best campgrounds in the area and are best visited from May to October. Each campground offers dozens of campsites suitable for tents, while some have enough room for trailers and RVs.
Just outside of Lake Arrowhead is Green Valley Lake Campgrounds which is great for families. Located just a bit away from the private lake which the public may use. The campground is within walking distance of the lake where there is fishing, boat rentals and a swimming beach available.
Camping Sites Near Big Bear
Big Bear is one of the best places for camping outside of the winter months (unless of course you like snow and cold nights!). There are a few great spots in and near Big Bear. Our favorites are below.
- Hanna Flats – Located in San Bernardino National Forest, great for families and those who like hiking. Best times to visit is between April and September.
- Serrano Campground – One of the best sites at this popular campground can be found on the Evening Star Loop or Lake View Loop which offers a more remote feel.
- MCCS Big Bear Recreational Facility – Currently closed, but will reopen in 2021. Home to cabins, tents and group campsites.
- Barton Flats – Located about 30 minutes outside Big Bear, near Jenks Lake Trail, this is one of the more developed sites in the area with 52 campsites. Family friendly and popular with groups.
- Heart Bar Campground – A large campground with 26 first come first serve sites. Each site can accomodate for tents, trailers and RVs. Drinking water and vault toilets are available here – no flush toilets.
Big Bear is the perfect summer destination for families, with so many things to do and places to explore.
Camping in the Angeles National Forest
Literally in the backyard of Los Angeles is the Angeles National Forest with more than 40 campgrounds spread across more than 1,000 square miles of mountainous terrain. In winter this is where Angelenos flock for snow play with summer and fall some of the best times for camping. Possible campground options to check out include Chilao and Buckhorn. We love Meadow for group camping (our favorite), Little Pines for single sites set on the other side of the creek from the group site. Manzanita is another great single site campground located in the Chilao area.
Buckhorn and Horse Flats are two other popular high altitude campgrounds.
Near to Wrightwood and Mountain High is another favorite campground for our family – Table Mountain. For more information on other campgrounds in the Angeles National Forest, check out their website for a full list of available campgrounds within the Angeles Forest.
Sequoia National Forest Camping
A little bit of a drive for Southern California, the Sequoia National Forest is well worth the effort. Camping in the Sequoia area offers a variety of camping spots from the shores of Lake Isabella, to the banks of the Kern River, on the high plateau, and even to more remote groves of Giant Sequoias.
- Lake Isabella – Lake Isabella is a popular recreation area with those who enjoy fishing, boating, and waterskiing. Check out Hungry Gulch, Paradise Cove and Tille Creek.
- Kern River – This area is popular for camping, fishing, rafting and kayaking. Our favorite campgrounds for families are Rivernook Camp Kernville, Limestone Campground and Frandy Park. Both of these are close to the town and stores while also providing the nature escape you crave.
- Some other popular campgrounds include: Headquarters Campground, Fairview Campground, Camp Three Campground, Kern River Campground and Calkins Flat.
- High Plateau – The remote high plateau county attracts a variety of campers from OHV enthusiasts who find a seemingly endless supply of routes to horseback riders and anglers.
- Mountain Home Demonstration State Forest is home to some of the largest Giant Sequoias in the world as well as a collection of quiet, little campgrounds overlooked by many. Some favorites include: Moses Gulch (closed for 2020), Hidden Falls (closed for 2020) and Frasier Mill Campgrounds.
- Redwood Meadow Campground, Kennedy Meadows on the PCT
Heading to Sequoia National Park? Check out our 1 day itinerary for the top things to do.
Best Beach Camping in Southern California
One of the best camping experiences to be had in Southern California is on the beach. As you can guess these sites are very popular and sell out 6 months in advance. Don’t give up though, as there are often cancellations, so keep checking in if you have missed the 6 month opening date (1st of the month for 6 months later – for example, Dec 1 for camping in June). Below are some of our favorites to check out.
Point Mugu State Park
Port Mugu State Park – Malibu experienced in the best way with beachside hiking trails, ocean views and great waves for swimming / surfing. The best campsites here are Sycamore Canyon & Thornhill Broome. Thornhill Broome is located between Malibu and Point Mugu. The beach is rocky, but sites are ON the beach.
Refugio Bay Camping
Refugio Bay Camping – Beautiful beach camping with palm trees planted near Refugio Creek give a distinctive look to the beach and camping area.
Jalama Beach County Park
Jalama Beach County Park – Just south of Santa Maria is Lompoc’s pristine beach with spots for tents and RVs.
Morro Bay State Campground
Morro Bay State Campground – Morro Bay State Park campground consists of 135 sites shaded by a mixed forest. This is a popular site without much privacy or shade.
Pismo State Beach & Pismo Dunes
Pismo State Beach – North Beach and Oceano Campgrounds are popular campgrounds here. Both campgrounds within Pismo State Beach provide conventional amenities such restrooms, pay operated hot-showers, picnic tables and a campfire ring. If you are looking to do primitive beach camping, visit the Oceano Dunes SVRA Website.
Carpinteria State Beach
Located twelve miles south of Santa Barbara, Carpinteria State Beach offers a mile of beach for swimming, surf fishing, tidepool exploring and camping. Trailers may be rented from 101 RV Rental Concessions.
Leo Carrillo State Park
Leo Carrillo State Park – This popular Southern California campground offers quick and easy access to the beautiful wide Malibu stretch of beach. Great amenities at the campground with a short stroll to scenic beaches. There is a group campsite as well that sells out quickly throughout the year.
More Beach Sites to Visit
Below are beach camping in Southern California that we have been recommended, but haven’t check out ourselves. Once we have visited we will update here with more information.
- San Elijo – Ocean view with a walk down a cliff
- South Carlsbad – Ocean view with a walk down a cliff
- San Onofre State Beach – This is a popular site, but also gets a lot of complaints because of the highway noise. Great if you need a quick beach getaway, but does not feel like a nature escape!
- Big Sur – Not quite Southern California but some of the state’s best camping we hear!
Other Camping in Southern California
The more I research on where to go camping in southern California, the more amazing sites I find. Below are a few sites that don’t quite fit into the above categories but are still worth checking out.
Mesa Campground at Silverwood Lake is another great spot for camping as it’s on the shores of one of the area’s most popular lakes. This is a great spot for tent and RV campers with hookups and other facilities.
Wheeler Gorge in Ojai
Wheeler Gorge Campground in Ojai is a great place for families to explore the Los Padres National Forest all year long. The campground provides scenic views of a nearby stream, as well as vast mountain vistas. Wheeler Gorge is open year-round and offers dozens of single-family sites for tent or RV camping. Some sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Visitors must bring their own water, and pack out all trash.
La Jolla Indian Reservation
The La Jolla Indian Reservation is a private campground that offers an entire experiences for families and outdoor enthusiasts looking for fun. With over 180 tent camping sites, this isn’t a campground for those looking for seclusion, however the river tubing makes up for it. Normally first come, first serve, they are currently taking online reservations to help keep the numbers of visitors down. Note: If you hate rules, this may not be the place for you – no pets, you cannot bring your own firewood and noise has to be at a minimum after 10 p.m.
Hurkey Creek (Near Lake Hemet)
Hurkey Creek Campground located in Riverside county is a tranquil park with mountain views, offering a 10-mile biking trail, rustic campsites & day-use BBQs. This is a great family friendly campground offering plenty of resources for families looking for easy camping.
Now that you have your site booked, check out our top car camping essentials to get you packed and ready for your outdoor adventure!
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