An Expert Guide to Camping in Northern California

From primitive camping spots to glamping, Curated expert Hannah K. shares her favorite camping spots in Northern California and what to do while you are there.

Photo by Jess Barnett
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California (aka the Golden State) is known for its diverse terrain. From beaches, to mountains, to deserts, and more, California really has it all. While Southern California is famous for sunny beaches and hot deserts, Northern California is filled with lush forests and coastal camping spots. Below are some of my favorite camping spots—from primitive camping spots to glamping—in Northern California and what to do while you are there. You’ll have the best time ever at these campgrounds and not be far from the bustling city life of San Francisco.

Camp 4: Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park has a myriad of campgrounds. If you want to stay in the actual valley, then I suggest staying at Camp 4 Campground. Camp 4 carries a lot of history and was (and still is today) a place for some of the most talented climbers in the world to stay while climbing the walls of Yosemite Valley. Camp 4 is known for its relaxed vibe and fun group of people! This campsite is near bathroom facilities, has a fire pit and picnic table, and a shared food locker. Hike Half Dome, watch climbers climb, eat some good food, and enjoy the nice day-hike you have planned.

Check it out here.

Tuolumne Meadows Campground: Yosemite National Park

If you want to explore outside of the valley at Yosemite, head to Tuolumne Meadows Campground. It’s about an hour and a half east of the valley. Unlike Camp 4, you can make reservations online to ensure you have a spot. Some of the campsites here are wheelchair-accessible and have accessible bathroom facilities as well. Pets are permitted as long as they stay on a leash. Here you can explore some new hikes around the forest floor.

Make a reservation here.

Atwell Mill Campground: Sequoia National Park

Atwell Mill Campground is located at the highest elevation of the park, sitting at over 7,000 feet of elevation. This site is available on a first-come first-serve basis and will run you $12.00 a night. Some amenities include vault toilets, potable water (until mid-October), and a trailhead that has access to giant sequoias in the East Grove of the park. Less than 2 miles away is the Silver City Resort should you need anything else!

Learn more about the campground and what you can do here.

Canyon View Campground: Kings Canyon National Park

This campground has sites for medium and larger size parties (ranging 7-30 people). The fee per night will cost you $40-$60 a night, but split amongst a large group will make the fee seem like nothing. There are flush toilets and a rangers program in July and August. Less than half a mile away are a pay phone, restaurant, showers, and laundry facility in the Cedar Grove Valley. Want to go horseback riding? You can do that there for a fee too. Here you can enjoy all that Kings Canyon has to offer and the trailheads nearby.

Learn more here.

Warner Valley: Lassen Volcanic National Park

Numerous trailheads are located by this campground, including a section of the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s not recommended for trailers to drive on this gravel road. Potable water, food lockers, and trash/recycling are available seasonally. There are vault toilets available for use (although why not wilder-poop instead). This basic campground is near the Drakesbad Guest Ranch and the Devil’s Kitchen. Go explore and head back to a toasty warm sleeping bag at Warner Valley Campground.

Check out Warner Valley campground here!

Bar SZ Ranch: California

Bar SZ Ranch is ideally situated between Pinnacles National Park and Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area. Stay here and get to experience a genuine working farm and volunteer if you are interested. Hike the vista, pet the pig, play games, roast a marshmallow on a campfire, star gaze, and much more at this camp. Then head on over to Pinnacles National Park for the day.

Learn more about staying on the ranch here.

Mill Creek Campground: Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park

Fall asleep to the winding streams and gentle rush of wind running through the trees at Mill Creek Campground. This campsite is open May to September with over 145 campsites—many of which are reserved for tent camping only. Amenities at this campground include showers you can pay for (25 cents for 2 minutes), flush toilets and tap water, dump station, picnic table, fire grill, and food lockers to keep those bears from eating your peanut butter! While you’re here, check out the trees and nearby attractions, such as multiple state parks and miles of gorgeous coastline.

To make reservations for Mill Creek Campground, look here.

A sunrise view through a forest
Photo by Dex Ezekiel

Lakeshore Tent Camping: California

The Lakeshore Tent Camping area is near Yosemite and Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. You will not get bored at this campground! From a myriad of water sports to star gazing, bird watching, and hiking, there are endless activities to partake in. Amenities include an outdoor kitchen, bathroom facilities, potable water, WiFi, laundry, and trash bins to make your camping trip and outdoor experience one you won’t forget. Swim in the lake or take a dip in the nearby hot spring, watch the sunrise, drink some hot chocolate, and explore all that the campground and surrounding forests have to offer.

Learn more here.

Angel Island Campground: Angel Island State Park

Take a ferry ride to Angel Island and hike two miles to this campsite. Hike to the summit of Mt. Livermore (and get an early start), kayak, swim, bird watch, and get epic views of the city during sunset. Other popular activities include fishing, boating, hiking, and biking. This campground is perfect for those who can never decide between beaches or forests: here you get both!

Reservations can be tricky to snatch, so go during the week to avoid the crowds and have an island to yourself!

Learn more about this campground here.

Russian Gulch Campground: Russian Gulch State Park

Head to Russian Gulch Campground to explore the Mendocino Coast line. Just a short drive from Van Damme State Park, this campground is a great basecamp for exploring all that Northern California has to offer. There are almost 30 campsites along the Russian Gulch Creek with easy access to hiking trails galore. Hike to the waterfalls, scavenge for mushrooms, bike, fish, boat, and more. Showers and potable water are available and this campground is dog-friendly! Look out for those banana slugs too.

To make a reservation, look here.

If you particularly enjoy banana slugs (who doesn’t!) then check out the Baby Banana Slug Farm Campsite. Close to Russian Gulch and near Van Damme State park, this campground will not disappoint banana slug fans.

Buckridge Grove: California

Explore areas like Gualala, Calif., from the Buckridge Grove campground. Enjoy the private orchard and redwood forest, as well as the Pacific Ocean and nearby river. It’s surrounded by over 20 fruit trees and garden beds, and a mysterious wood carved “Green Man.” Head to the coastline, the beach, the farm, the forest, open fields, or the mountains—they’re all easily accessible from Buckridge Grove. The historic Point Arena Lighthouse is just a short distance away.

Learn more about Buckridge Grove here.

Wild Rose Tipi Campground: Wild Plumas, California

Need a glamping trip? Need some seclusion, privacy, and wide open space? Look no further. Spend your days exploring nearly 50 acres of land that includes a tree house, a river/swimming hole, a zip line, and an outdoor kitchen—all close to 500 acres of national forest land. Situated at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and nearby national forests, Lake Basin, and Lassen National Park, this campsite has so much to offer. The tipi includes a queen-sized bed, reading material, and plenty of space on the floor for additional sleeping bags. Outside is a picnic table and shaded tent sites. Enjoy an outside shower (with hot water on demand!), a BBQ, and amazing star-gazing when the sun sets. Nearby Drakesbad Hot Springs is a great way to unwind and relax from daily stress.

Learn more about the campground here.

Aerial view of ocean, road, and forest
Photo by Nora Gorlitz

The Meadows of Isleton: California

Camp on this working farm that includes chickens, honey bees, goats, cows, alpacas, and lush lavender fields. Swim in the nearby swimming hole, feed the goats or chickens, star gaze, and stroll through the vineyard. This unknown gem is tucked away in Northern California away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Come for a weekend and experience all that farm life has to offer!

To make a reservation, head here.

Golden Rocks Permaculture Farm: California

Interested in learning about permaculture while you explore the great outdoors? This is the place to be. Near Bothe-Napa Valley State Park and Clear Lake State Park, this campsite makes a great basecamp. The outdoor kitchen, clean and chemical-free water, fire ring, gardens and chickens are just some of the amenities this campground has to offer. Keep your eye out for deer, wild turkey, quail, hawks, big cats, fox, and more. Some campers have said they have been able to spot the Milky Way at night!

Check out the permaculture farm here.

Wright's Beach Campground: Sonoma Coast State Park

Along the Sonoma Coast there are multiple campgrounds, with Wright’s Beach being a personal favorite. Bring your furry friends (leashed of course) and be cautious of the water. Lifeguards are not always around and the Northern Californian water can be very dangerous. Very cold water, strong currents, and unpredictable waves have led to many deaths so please don’t swim, surf, or climb the rocks above the water. Instead, hike the coast line, star gaze, eat some great camp food, and fall asleep to the crashing waves. Sonoma Coast State Park has beautiful cliffs overlooking the water and has some of the most beautiful sunsets. A small outhouse is also available for use.

Go here and scroll down to find more information on Wright’s Beach Campground.

Juanita Lake Group Campsite: Macdoel, California

On the border of California and Oregon is Juanita Lake Group Campsite in Klamath National Forest. Wake up to lush forests, a clear lake, and an opportunity for so much fun. From water sports to hiking to much more, you will not be bored here. Keep an eye out for some eagles catching fish in the lake! Enjoy the partially shaded campsite with amenities such as vault toilets, drinking water, bear-proof food storage, and more. Go canoeing, kayaking, swimming, fishing, and hiking through the dense pine forest.

Learn more about this campsite here.

North Fork Campground: Tahoe National Forest

The Tahoe National Forest in Northern California makes a great basecamp to explore all the wondrous surprises Tahoe holds. Enjoy swimming holes, rivers and streams, and gorgeous hikes through the lush forest. Expect snow in the winter and beautiful sunshine in the summer. Early fall is a gorgeous time to visit to enjoy the popular hikes of the national forest. Vault toilets and potable water are provided, with each campsite having a picnic table and fire ring. This escape from city life will take you winding through cedar, fir, and pine trees. Keep an eye out for deer, fox, birds, and natural vegetation. Plan on fishing? Enjoy some rainbow trout for dinner.

To learn more about North Fork Campground, look here.

D.L. Bliss State Park Campground: South Lake Tahoe

My family used to go to Lake Tahoe every summer for a weekend and always stayed at this campground—it is a great spot in my personal opinion! You can choose between a site on the water or more inland, depending on what activities you want to focus on. Enjoy a nice day trip on the water or a day-hike around Lake Tahoe with some of the most beautiful terrain you will happen to cross. The elevation here is over 6,000 feet, so bring some warm layers at night. There are picnic tables, fire rings, food lockers, bathroom facilities with running water, a dump station, and coin operated showers. Whether you are hiking Eagle Falls, floating in the water, or renting paddle boards, fishing, or relaxing on the shore, you will have a great time!

Learn more about the campground here.

From coast lines and sandy beaches to mountains to lush forests and gorgeous waterfalls, Northern California is a mecca of awe-inspiring national parks and forests. Bring your tent and your peanut butter and head on out to any of these campsites. Whether you want to see Big Sur or hike part of the John Muir Trail, NorCal has something for everyone. It boasts miles of trails, the best views, and of course, chickens! I know you’ll make some great memories. Did I miss your favorite campground in NorCal? Hit me up through my profile and let’s chat all things outside!

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Written By
Although I've been hiking for most of my life, I didn't start backpacking and camping until college when I joined the University Outdoors Club at my school. My first backpacking trip was ambitious, the Batona Trail in the Pinelands in New Jersey done in two days. To do that, we had to walk a maratho...

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