The Best Camping Spots on the Northern California Coast

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California's coastal camping options are nearly limitless. So go get cozy around a campfire and enjoy the outdoors every month of the year.


Coast Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) tower above campsites at Jedidiah Smith Campground. (Photo by Aron Bosworth)

Jedidiah Smith Campground

Located on the banks of the Smith River, Jedediah Smith Campground may be the most picturesque of the Redwood National and State Park campgrounds. The campground offers 106 sites nestled among old-growth coast redwoods, about a dozen of which lie adjacent to the Smith River.

PROS: Smith River access. Old-growth redwoods.

CONS: Summer crowds.

REGION: Redwoods + Del Norte Coast

CONGESTION: High

CAMPING FEE: $35

DAY-USE/PARKING PASS REQUIRED: Not Required

TENT/CAR SITES: 106

TENT/WALK-IN SITES: 5

GROUP SITES: 5

PICNIC TABLES: Yes

DOGS ALLOWED: Yes

Mouth of the Albion River flowing into Albion Cove. (photo by Aron Bosworth)

Albion River Campground

Albion River Campground sits along the mouth of the Albion River. It's next to the lofty wooden truss structure supporting the Albion River Bridge that crosses Highway 1. The campground caters to RV camping with partial to full RV hookups available, including WiFi, for all of the 117 campsites. Tent and car camping is also available, but the fee is the same regardless of whether you have an RV, car, or tent. The campground layout is split into 4 groups: A, B, C, D. The A group with full RV hookups is nestled against a Eucalyptus covered hillside and offers a bit more privacy. Showers are provided in the camp restrooms. Two boat launches are available for on-site use, as is a fish cleaning station. The Flats Café, a wonderful campground amenity, shares space with the campground office. Try the corned beef hash. It's fantastic.

PROS: Great river access for recreation and fishing.

CONS: Can get crowded with RVs in spring and summer.

REGION: Mendocino Coast + Clear Lake Area

CONGESTION: High

CAMPING FEE: $35

DAY-USE/PARKING PASS REQUIRED: Not Required

FULL HOOK-UP RV SITES: 17

RV SITES: 90

TENT/CAR SITES: 90

PICNIC TABLES: Yes

DOGS ALLOWED: Yes Anchor Bay has a great beach that is frequently sunny and, best of all, often sheltered from the wind! (Photo by Nate Boucher)

Anchor Bay Campground

A local favorite, this campground is ideal for those who want to spend time on the beach. The northwest wind protection is key for sunny days, and it helps to keep the beach much warmer than nearby options. The speardiving, kayaking, abalone diving, fishing and crabbing are some of the best in NorCal. The Stellar Sealion rookery just offshore on the island of Fish Rocks is a sight to see and hear by kayak. Hundreds of sealions gather here to haul themselves out of the water and loaf on the rocks. In the recent years a few elephant seals have also been spotted in and amongst the other pinnipeds.

PROS: One of the best beaches in the area. Perfect wind pertection. Surfing, fishing, crabbing, and abalone diving.

CONS: Lots of trailers. Located on Highway 1.

REGION: Mendocino Coast + Clear Lake Area

CONGESTION: Moderate

CAMPING FEE: $40

DAY-USE/PARKING PASS REQUIRED: General Day Use Fee ($3)

FULL HOOK-UP RV SITES: 52

RV SITES: 45

TENT/CAR SITES: 40

PICNIC TABLES: Yes

DOGS ALLOWED: Yes Bay Trees (Umbellularia californica) (Photo by Nate Boucher)

Gualala Point Campground

Gualala Point Regional Campground is a great example of the amazing redwood forests that used to dominate the coast of Northern California. It is a very peaceful campground with a relatively small number of campsites. Great hiking trails lead along the scenic Gualala River and link to Gualala Point Park on the west side of Highway 1. It is also possible to hike from the campsites to the Gualala Point Park and then connect south onto the Sea Ranch Coastal Trail System for a much longer beach and cliff hike, an excellent locale for whale watching. During the whale watching season, a hike to the beach might earn the breathtaking sight of the great migration in progress. Try waiting until sunset when whale spouts become a backlit exclamation mark in the sea, making for easy spotting. With amazing access to sunny river banks, swimming holes, beaches, hiking trails, and the nearby town of Gualala, this campground is a great spot for all those interested in relaxing in the redwoods and enjoying the awe of the northern California coast.

PROS: Quiet, beautiful, and serene. Huge redwoods in most campsites. Swimming holes and beach access.

CONS: Shady and cold in the mornings due to large trees.

REGION: Sonoma Coast + Napa Area

CONGESTION: Low

CAMPING FEE: $32

DAY-USE/PARKING PASS REQUIRED: General Day Use Fee ($7)

TENT/CAR SITES: 20

TENT/WALK-IN SITES: 6

PICNIC TABLES: Yes

DOGS ALLOWED: Yes Trail runs parallel to the shoreline near Gerstle Cove. (Photo by Aron Bosworth)

Gerstle Cove Campground

Gerstel Cove Campground in Salt Point State Park has 30 drive-in sites located on the ocean side of Highway 1. While other campgrounds are available in the park, Gerstle Cove Campground offers the nearest ocean access and remains open year-round. As the name suggests, the campground is adjacent to Gerstle Cove, a State Marine Reserve that hosts a healthy underwater kelp forest. The rich marine ecosystem makes Gerstle Cove a popular spot for divers staying at the campground.

PROS: Easy access to Gerstle Cove. Exploring Salt Point State Park

CONS: Can be booked weekends March through October.

REGION: Sonoma Coast + Napa Area

CONGESTION: High

CAMPING FEE: $35

DAY-USE/PARKING PASS REQUIRED: Not Required

TENT/CAR SITES: 30

PICNIC TABLES: Yes

DOGS ALLOWED: Yes Ocean views and coves adjacent to Reef Campground. (Photo by Aron Bosworth)

Reef Campground

Reef Campground is a cozy little coastal campground located within Fort Ross State Historic Park, that is open between April 1 and November 30 each year. The 21 campsites lie adjacent to the ocean coves near Fort Ross, extending up a narrow, redwood-lined gulch. Sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis and can accommodate vehicles up to 18 feet; there are no hookups.

PROS: Small and cozy campground. Ocean access. Fort Ross.

CONS: Closed in winter. Some sights unshaded.

REGION: Sonoma Coast + Napa Area

CONGESTION: Moderate

PREFERABLE SEASON(S): Summer, Fall

CAMPING FEE: $35

DAY-USE/PARKING PASS REQUIRED: Not Required

TENT/CAR SITES: 21

PICNIC TABLES: Yes

DOGS ALLOWED: Yes

A section of South Salmon Creek Beach near the Bodega Dunes campsite. (Photo by Aron Bosworth)

Bodega Dunes Campground

Tucked away in the dunes behind the sand and crashing surf, Bodega Dunes Campground offers a beach access and a tranquil camping option for visitors to Bodega Bay and the surrounding area. The campground is a couple of dunes away from South Salmon Creek Beach, a picturesque setting for beach combing, kite flying, and picnics. There's also a few surfing spots nearby, such as North Salmon Creek Beach a mile to the north.

PROS: Beach access. Shaded campsites.

CONS: Sounding of a foghorn througout the night.

REGION: Sonoma Coast + Napa Area

CONGESTION: Low

CAMPING FEE: $35

DAY-USE/PARKING PASS REQUIRED: Not Required

TENT/CAR SITES: 98

TENT/WALK-IN SITES: 1

GROUP SITES: 1

PICNIC TABLES: Yes

DOGS ALLOWED: Yes Beachside picnic area. (Photo by Aron Bosworth)

Doran Beach Campground

Surrounded by the waters of Bodega Bay and Bodega Harbor, Doran Beach Campground offers visitors a beautiful beachside setting and both car/tent sites and RV sites (although with no hookups). It's a great camping spot for beachcombers and kayakers, with Doran Beach just a stone's throw away.

PROS: Direct access to Mount Tamalpais' best hiking trails.

CONS: Limited number of sites.

REGION: Marin

CONGESTION: Moderate

CAMPING FEE: $25

DAY-USE/PARKING PASS REQUIRED: State Park Fee ($10)

TENT/WALK-IN SITES: 16

PICNIC TABLES: Yes

DOGS ALLOWED: Yes Bootjack Campground boasts some beautiful views. (Aron Bosworth)

Bootjack Campground

After over 40 years of closure, a renovated Bootjack Campground reopened in the fall of 2013, offering an additional 15 historic campsites within Mount Tamalpais State Park. The campground provides walk-in sites adjacent to the parking and day use area and two sites that meet ADA standards. In an effort to preserve the historic character of the campground, campsites feature grills suspended over rock fire rings that are reminiscent of the Civilian Conservation Corps era.

PROS: Quiet campground. Access to hiking trails.

CONS: Limited number of sites.

REGION: Marin

CONGESTION: Low

PREFERABLE SEASON(S): Spring, Summer, Fall

CAMPING FEE: $25

DAY-USE/PARKING PASS REQUIRED: State Park Fee ($10)

TENT/WALK-IN SITES: 15

PICNIC TABLES: Yes

DOGS ALLOWED: Yes Awesome redwoods throughout the campground. (Photo by John Cody)

Sempervirens Campground

The Sempervirens Club was started by the original founders of Big Basin Redwoods State Park. This campground was a gathering place for the club to host events and meetings. These grounds hold a lot of important history, for if it was not for the actions of this group, these old-growth redwoods may not exist today. Grateful are the many who come to see California's first state park!

PROS: Camping in old-growth forest.

CONS: Close to Highway 236.

REGION: San Francisco Peninsula + Santa Cruz

CONGESTION: High

CAMPING FEE: $35

DAY-USE/PARKING PASS REQUIRED: Reservation Fee ($8)

RV SITES: 7

TENT/CAR SITES: 27

PICNIC TABLES: Yes

DOGS ALLOWED: Yes

The trail to the campground follows the path of Big Sur River. (Photo by Aron Bosworth)

Trail Camp Walk-in Campground

Trail Camp is Andrew Molera State Park's one and only campground. As a walk-in environmental camp with 24 sites located about a third of a mile from the trailhead, this is more of a gear haul than a backpacking trip. The campground has limited shade and privacy, although a handful of sites are tucked up against sycamore and oak trees that offer some respite from the sun. Sites are limited to four people and have a maximum duration of seven nights.

PROS: Waking up within the park. Easy beach access.

CONS: Hauling gear.

REGION: Big Sur Coastline

CONGESTION: Moderate

CAMPING FEE: $15

DAY-USE/PARKING PASS REQUIRED: State Park Fee ($10)

TENT/WALK-IN SITES: 24

PICNIC TABLES: Yes

DOGS ALLOWED: No Valley View Trail. (Photo by Aron Bosworth)

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Located in the heart of northern Big Sur on the forested floor of the Big Sur River Valley, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is one of California's best kept state parks and an ideal base from which to explore the Big Sur coastline. The park is home to Big Sur's largest public campground, diverse hiking trails, the rustic yet comfortable Big Sur Lodge, and over 3 miles of Big Sur River access, including the swimming holes of the Big Sur River Gorge.

PROS: Centrally located for exploring Big Sur. River access. Redwoods.

CONS: Campground can get crowded.

REGION: Big Sur Coastline

CONGESTION: Moderate

DAY-USE/PARKING PASS REQUIRED: State Park Fee ($10)

PICNIC TABLES: Yes

DOGS ALLOWED: Yes Expect bathtub temperatures. (Photo by Brandon Katcher)

Sykes Hot Springs What better way to relax after a strenuous 10-mile hike than to take a dip in a soothing hot spring? Sykes Hot Springs in Big Sur is one of the most famous and popular backcountry hot springs in California, and it is easy to understand why. Sykes in nestled deep in the Ventana Wilderness, a 234,000-acre protected area that was first established in 1969. Sykes became popular during the counter-culture movement of the 1960s, and it has since has become a favorite destination for backpackers and locals alike.

PROS: Beautiful canyons and forests. Relaxing hot springs. Good introductory backpacking.

CONS: Can be extremely crowded. Trash is an issue. No group restrictions.

REGION: Big Sur Coastline

CONGESTION: High

DAY-USE/PARKING PASS REQUIRED: General Day Use Fee ($5)

DOGS ALLOWED: Yes The clear, cascading pools of Hare Creek are a short walk from the campground. (Photo by Aron Bosworth)

Limekiln State Park Campground

Reopened in 2010 following two years of closure after the Chalk Fire, Limekiln State Park's campground offers a cozy camping experience along a quieter section of the Big Sur coast. A good overnight midway point for those passing through Big Sur country, the park itself is a worthy destination, home to historic limekiln furnaces hidden in a redwood forest, Limekiln Beach, and beautiful trails that explore the creeks and canyons above the campground. The beach offers good fishing access and, when ocean conditions are calm, a put-in spot for kayaks.

PROS: Ocean access. Nearby trails.

CONS: Limited parking.

REGION: Big Sur Coastline

CONGESTION: Moderate

CAMPING FEE: $35

DAY-USE/PARKING PASS REQUIRED: Not Required

TENT/CAR SITES: 28

PICNIC TABLES: Yes

DOGS ALLOWED: Yes Looking south from Kirk Creek Campground. (Photo by Aron Bosworth)

Kirk Creek Campground

Perched on a bluff along Big Sur's south coast, Kirk Creek Campground is arguably one of the most beautiful coastal campgrounds in California. The campground sits 100 feet above the ocean, and this perspective offers stunning views of the Santa Lucia mountains as they run toward the Pacific.

PROS: One of coastal California's most scenic campgrounds. Ocean access.

CONS: Difficult to get a reservation. Noise from adjacent Highway 1. No water.

REGION: Big Sur Coastline

CONGESTION: High

CAMPING FEE: $25

DAY-USE/PARKING PASS REQUIRED: Not Required

TENT/CAR SITES: 34

TENT/WALK-IN SITES: 5

PICNIC TABLES: Yes

DOGS ALLOWED: Yes

Sand Dollar Beach. (Photo by Aron Bosworth)

Plaskett Creek Campground

Set within a grassy, park-like meadow shaded by Monterey pine and cypress tress, Plaskett Creek is a well-kept and comfortable campground along Big Sur's south coast. Located across Highway 1 from scenic Sand Dollar Beach, the main attraction of the area, the campground is popular with beachgoers and surfers.

PROS: Nearby Sand Dollar Beach. Grassy, park-like camping setting.

CONS: Reservations are needed most weekends.

REGION: Big Sur Coastline

CAMPING FEE: $25

DAY-USE/PARKING PASS REQUIRED: Not Required

TENT/CAR SITES: 37

TENT/WALK-IN SITES: 3

GROUP SITES: 3

PICNIC TABLES: Yes

DOGS ALLOWED: Yes

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