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The Top 5 Campgrounds in Northern California

California Camping

Some of the best campgrounds in Northern California include giant redwoods and lots of privacy. Photo by Hipcamp

Camping website Hipcamp — which not only reviews and photographs each Northern California campground, but also covers beginning backpacking, favorite camping meals, and the ultimate guide to having sex in the outdoors — is the perfect authority on the best place to pitch a tent in NorCal.

According to Hipcamp founder and CEO Alyssa Ravasion, "Julia Pfeiffer Burns Campground in Big Sur is the best. It has only two sites and sits right on top of the gorgeous McWay Falls in Big Sur, looking out over the Pacific Ocean." The problem? It’s almost impossible to book. 

But in case you can't grab a conveted spot on McWay Falls, Ravasio and co-founder Eric Bach (winner on ABC's "Expedition Impossible") have come up with the top five NorCal campground alternatives. 

1. Angel Island Campground, Angel Island State Park

"This amazing campground just a short ferry away from San Francisco with 360 degree views of the bay!"

2. Steep Ravine Cabins & Campgrounds, Mount Tamalpais State Park

"Killer cabins and campsites on a bluff over the Pacific Ocean just 45 minutes north of San Francisco. Gorgeous views of the ocean and a perfect spot for sunset."

3. Tomales Bay, Point Reyes National Seashore

"These boat-in sites are surprisingly accessible and best visited with a bag of fresh oysters!"

4. Bothe-Napa Valley Campground, Bothe-Napa Valley State Park

"Popular yurts and campsites in the heart of Wine Country. A great summer swimming pool and easy bike access to wineries make this campground a winner."

5. Bullfrog Pond Campground, Austin Creek State Recreation Area

"This beautiful campground is located far off the main roads but still easily accessible by car. It features sweeping views of rolling hillsides, steep ravines, primeval Redwoods, and great access to tubing on the Russian River."

Camping Tips:

• Getting off the beaten path and into a walkup or boat-in site is a powerful way to disconnect from civilization and immerse yourself in the wilderness. It takes a bit more planning and gear, but it’s always worth it. 

• For last minute campers, first-come/first-serve sites can be a godsend! Hipcamp lists lots of campgrounds that don’t take bookings. If you call the ranger, they will let you know based on your time of arrival how likely it is that you can score a spot.

• Backcountry camping can be a daunting yet awesome adventure. Make sure you start small (a single overnight trip) and work your way up. Once you get out in the middle of nowhere, you realize why it’s so rewarding.

•  California state parks open up their reservations six months in advance on the first of every month. It may seem crazy to plan that far in advance, but it’s really the best way to secure your spot. That said, people cancel all the time so keep an eye out.