20 Best Camping & Hiking Spots in Northern California

Explore top camping and hiking spots in Northern California! From Lake Tahoe to Yosemite, find your perfect outdoor adventure in our latest blog post.

Tobi Miles
July 5, 2024
Explore top camping and hiking spots in Northern California! From Lake Tahoe to Yosemite, find your perfect outdoor adventure in our latest blog post.

Best known for its breezy weather and scenic coastlines, Northern California is a highly desired travel destination. This is especially true for those who enjoy camping and other outdoor activities.

Paired with the naturally mild climate, there are several mountain and beach excursions to suit any preference. The Sunshine State’s diverse terrain has no shortage of beautiful campsites scattered about to choose from.

There are many interesting camping spots to visit throughout Northern California. The most popular locations range from Lake Tahoe and Newport Beach to The Redwood National Forest and Yosemite National Park. Whether you prefer exploring the wilderness or lounging in the sun for a beach day, you are sure to find the perfect camping destination in Northern California!

If you’re seeking an outdoor adventure, keep reading to find the 20 best camping spots Northern California has to offer.

1. Gold Bluffs Beach

The Gold Bluffs Beach campground is located within Northern California’s famous Redwood National and State Park. It is named after the gorgeous 10 miles of golden beach it sits on.

The campsite itself is nestled in a secluded area in the dunes about six miles off the highway. This spot is ideal for campers looking to enjoy the beautiful scenery with full privacy. The seclusion of this location is perfect for a peaceful retreat.

Available activities for campers at the Gold Bluffs Beach campground include exploring the nearby Fern Canyon and having a picnic by the water.

Guests can also take relaxing walks down the stretches of golden sand. The adjacent Redwood forests are always open for exploration, with scenic hiking trails throughout.

This campsite is typically available to book between late May and early September. Reservations can be made over the phone or in-person at the Redwood National and State Parks Headquarters.

2. Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is a desert wilderness home to a variety of interesting plants and animals to discover. The park is positioned between the Colorado and Mojave deserts, with distinct Joshua trees scattered throughout the landscape.

The Joshua Tree has many symbolic and spiritual meanings all over the world. For many, it represents resilience and strength.

The trees themselves are only found in this particular region of the world. For this reason, the land is protected and preserved in its natural state.

This makes the desert campground an optimal place to get away for a quiet and peaceful retreat. With over 500 campsites throughout the park, visitors can pitch a tent under the stars year-round.

Popular activities for visitors of Joshua Tree National Park include exploring the rock formations, stargazing, rock climbing, hiking, and off-roading. All campsites require reservations, which can be booked on the same day.

Related Read: Best Time to Visit Joshua Tree

3. Graham Hill Campground

Graham Hill is a lush green camping destination within the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. Surrounded by gigantic redwood trees, this particular site is located just a few miles north of Santa Cruz.

There is a private entrance to the grounds just for campers, separate from the popular tourist spots.

Inside the campgrounds, there are plenty of trails and picnic areas available to enjoy the outdoors with friends and family. Other attractions including a bookstore and nature center are also available on the property.

Graham Hill is open from April through October and closes seasonally in the winter due to weather conditions. Reservations are required and can be booked online.

4. Crystal Cove State Park

Crystal Cove State Park is an expansive 3.2 miles of untouched land on the Pacific Coast in Newport Beach. This Orange County, California gem is one of the last of its kind.

Things to do at Crystal Cove include staff-led and self-guided adventures. Campers can go swimming, snorkeling, and surfing on the beach, or diving at Reef Point.

Hiking Moro Canyon and walking the Coastal Trail are other popular choices. Visitors of the park can enjoy over 2,000 acres of wilderness behind the beach to explore as well.

This campsite has the best of both worlds, making it a popular choice for mountain bikers and scuba divers alike.

Reservations should be made by calling or visiting the official Crystal Cove website. Bookings can be made up to six months in advance.

Related Read: 15 Best Monterey, CA Hikes

5. D.L. Bliss State Park Campground

South of Lake Tahoe, the D.L. Bliss Park Campground is a must-see Northern California camping destination. It is home to Rubicon Point Light, a lighthouse known to have the highest elevation in the country.

This site offers both beach access and camping, with over 165 individual campsites available for use.

In addition to beautiful scenery and tourist attractions, D.L. Bliss offers a range of family-friendly activity programs. During the summer, children can participate in nature hikes and campfire programs.

The D.L. Bliss State Park Campground does not require reservations in advance. There is a small fee for travelers to access the campsites upon arrival. The booking flexibility makes this the perfect destination for day-trips and last minute vacations.

6. Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park Campground

Another campground nestled inside the massive Redwoods State Park, Jedediah Smith is a serene wilderness destination.

With 87 family campsites on the property, accommodations are available for both RV and tent campers.

There is a total of 20 miles of hiking trails to explore with numerous individual trails to choose from. This campsite also features the beautiful Smith River among the lush forest.

Nearby attractions include the Hiouchi Information Center, Stout Grove, and Redwood sightseeing tours.

There are several scenic drives and hikes to experience. Visitors can also find horseback riding trails and opportunities to explore nearby landmarks.

A few points of interest near the Jedediah Smith campground are the Battery Point Lighthouse and Ocean World.

Campsites can only be reserved through the months of May to October. Outside of this time frame, they are first come first served.

7. Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the most unique camping destinations in Northern California. The park is home to both hydrothermal hotspots and peaceful forests all in one place.

The breathtaking landscape features almost anything you can imagine, from wildflower meadows to crystal clear lakes. You can expect to see nothing short of amazing scenery when visiting this park to go camping.

This particular destination is best known for the active volcanoes scattered around the park. Needless to say, campers are sure to have an interesting experience pitching their tents at Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Areas to explore include Mount Lassen and Manzanita Lake. Hiking trails are available to visitors, along with dozens of picnic spots.

The park is open for camping from June to October, however August and September are considered to be the safest months to visit. Reservations are recommended due to demand but not required.

Related Read: Best Time To Visit San Francisco

8. Shasta-Trinity National Forest

The Shasta-Trinity National Forest, located in Big Bat, California, is the largest natural forest in the entire state. The vast outdoor landscape offers a plethora of activities for visitors, from hiking through the trees to rock climbing.

With a sky-high elevation of over 7,000 feet, there are plenty of winding trails to explore throughout this gigantic forest. Visitors are permitted to camp almost anywhere along the shore, apart from bald eagle nesting sites.

Recreational activities within the park include horseback riding, backpacking, and mountain climbing. Campers can also enjoy scenic waterfall views or go fishing in the lake.

The park is open all year, and offers annual season passes for full access to the campgrounds from January to December. Applications can be completed through the mail or online.

9. Manzanita Lake Campground

The Manzanita Lake Campground is just one of the beautiful camping spots located  within the Lassen Volcanic National Park in Mineral, California.

Guests enter the campsite just one mile away from Manzanita Lake, and can choose to crash in a tent or a cabin rental. The campground is a hub for outdoor activities, centrally located between dozens of hiking trails.

At the nearby lake, campers can go swimming, kayaking, and fishing. There are plenty of interesting activities to participate in on the largest campground the park has to offer.

Manzanita Lake itself is one of the best areas to enjoy during a camping trip. Visitors can glide along the water in non-motorized boats and enjoy the beautiful sunsets and unparalleled views.

Reservations are recommended from July through September, but are not required, and can be made online.

Related Read: 15 Best Romantic Getaways in California

10. Point Reyes National Seashore

The Point Reyes National Seashore is most accurately described as a natural sanctuary. It is made up of long stretches of sandy beaches that go on for miles. The beautiful golden beaches are accompanied by various hills, grasslands, and forests.

This site has multiple trails available for hiking through the varying terrains. Campers can choose to participate in occasional special events held by the park staff, or have a simple beach day under the sun.

Point Reyes hosts many interesting attractions, from the Point Reyes Station and Shipwreck to the Elephant Seal Overlook. The Elk Preserve, sculptured rock, and leaning trees are just a few things you must see when you visit.

The seashore is open all year long. Those who are interested in seeing migrating gray whales should plan to visit between December and May.

11. Peninsula Campground

Less than 2 hours away from both Reno and Sacramento, the Peninsula Campground is an ideal quiet campground for families. It is located in a grassy valley on the beautiful Rollins Lake, and offers unparalleled privacy and serenity.

Visitors can enjoy warm weather and partake in limitless other outdoor activities. Some of the best things to do while visiting this campground include fishing, water skiing, and hiking the nature trails.

At 2,200 feet elevation, the wide open space is the largest campground on the entire lake.

Season passes are available for year-round access to this beautiful destination. Camping season starts in mid-April and ends in September.

12. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park in Monterey County, California is a must-see for outdoor enthusiasts. Located near and named after the Central Coast’s famous Big Sur, the park sits on over 1,000 acres of open land.

Visitors of this campsite share the area with many natural wonders, including the Big Sur Lake. Another point of interest is the Colonial Tree, a massive redwood landmark. The famous tree is estimated to be between 1,000 and 1,200 years old!

In addition to redwoods, Pfeiffer Big Sur is home to sycamore, willow, oak, and maple trees. While fishing is restricted in this area, campers can take advantage of challenging hikes and scenic picnics on the beach.

Those looking to camp here should be aware that the park is on a strict reservation system.

13. Rocky Point Campground

The Rocky Point Campground, found along the expansive Lake Alamanor, is one of the best family camping destinations in California. This location features a diverse landscape that is ideal for groups of any size.

Possible activities campers can participate in include boating, swimming, and fishing in the lake. Those who prefer to stay dry can enjoy hiking along the west shore instead. There are 109 total campsites for tents, RV’s, and trailers.

Visitors of Rocky Point can get the best of both worlds, with a close proximity to the Lassen Volcanic National Park. These destinations are close enough for day trips between the two.

Reservations are available but not required to camp at Rocky Point. The grounds are reported by guests to be clean and well-kept by staff all year.

14. Salt Point State Park

The Salt Point State Park is one of Sonoma County California’s greatest treasures. Occupying 6,000 acres of Northern California coastline, the views of the Pacific Ocean are unparalleled.

Guests of this campsite also have immediate access to the Pacific Ocean and accompanying beach. Popular activities among guests of Salt Point include whale watching and yoga.

The park has a gorgeous rocky coast for exploration, along with various hiking trails. It is best known for its underwater preserves, which are the first in the state of California.

The warm, breezy weather is ideal for fishing, scuba diving, and other water activities at almost any time of year.

The park typically accepts reservations from March to September. For the rest of the year, the campsites are first come first served.

15. Camp Richardson Historic Resort & Marina

Camp Richardson is highly regarded as the best marina in all of Lake Tahoe. Open year-round, the resort houses guests in a historic hotel. Other options include cabins, duplex units, houses, and inn rentals.

The warm season is great for exploring hiking trails, renting boats, and relaxing on the beach under the sun.

This campsite also sees snow during the colder months. Snowboarding, skiing, and sledding are among the many activities available to winter guests. Lodging inquiries can be made through the resort’s website or by phone call.

16. Gerle Creek Campground

Located 5,300 feet high within the Eldorado National Forest, this campsite is situated on the Gerle Creek Fork’s banks.

Between water and lush forests, guests can take advantage of opportunities to go hiking, fishing, swimming, and biking on the same trip.

Canoeing and kayaking on the creek allows guests to see the fish up close. Brown and rainbow trout are commonly seen by visitors of Gerle Creek. Each campsite also includes a campfire ring and picnic tables for convenient gathering outdoors.

Gerle Creek accepts online reservations up to six months in advance. Last minute travelers should keep in mind that all bookings must be made at least four days prior to arrival.

17. McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park

McArthur-Burney Falls is made up of breathtaking forest and a 5 mile stretch of shoreline along Lake Britton. Guest attractions include Burney Falls, a massive waterfall in the center of the park standing at 129 feet tall.

There are plenty of water activities to enjoy within the campsite’s streams, springs, and basins. Inside the park, guests can find hunting, golfing, and skiing activities. There is also a museum on the grounds and several hiking trails.

McArthur-Burney Falls contains 104 total campsites. Indoor cabins are also available to rent in addition to tent spaces to accommodate all visitors.

The park charges per vehicle at the time of entry, with a separate fee assessed for overnight stays. This makes McArthur-Burney an optimal destination for both day trips and extended camping adventures.

18. Casini Ranch Family Campground

Credit: Ray Anderson / Flickr

This beautiful campground is located in Duncans Mills, California in Sonoma County. Both cabin and cottage rentals are offered, as well as RV and tent camping spots. Guests can enjoy access to private beaches and the Russian River.

From water activities to hiking and fishing, there is something for everyone to enjoy at the Casini Ranch Family Campground. Some favorites are pedal carts to boat rentals that the whole family can enjoy.

Friendly staff and all the activities make this campsite a necessary experience while visiting Northern California. Year-round reservations can be made with a few clicks on the official website, or by making a quick phone call.

19. Upper Pines Campground

Situated within Yosemite National Park, the Upper Pines Campground is in high demand among visitors. Bookings are taken months in advance, but spots sell out almost immediately when available on the official website.

If you are lucky enough to secure a reservation, you might enjoy hiking and biking through the unique landscape. The Sierra Nevada Mountain range wilderness features valleys, cliffs, waterfalls, and meadows to explore.

Upper Pines is home to rich historical landmarks and attractions, including the Pioneer History Center and Wawona Visitor Center. Guests can also view the Grizzly Giant Tree and swinging bridge during their journey.

Ambitious campers looking to secure a spot at Upper Pines should be ready at their computers on the 15th of each month at 7 am PST.

20. Pinecrest Campground

Inside the Stanislaus National Forest, the Pinecrest Campground has a wealth of outdoor activities to offer. This site is nestled in the Pinecrest Basin near the Pinecrest Lake Day Use Area, which features a beach and a marina.

Pontoons, kayaks, and fishing boat rentals are available to enjoy the water during the day. Thea campground also features an outdoor movie theater, with first-time showings of new movies.

Other amenities on the grounds include a visitor center and an expansive outdoor amphitheater. The beaches are perfect for swimming and water sports.

Alternatively, there are tons of hiking trails to explore within the forest at over 5,000 feet of elevation. Campers who venture off from the campsite will find a restaurant and a coffee shop on the property.

Pinecrest is open every year from April to October, with the busiest season being Memorial Day to Labor Day. Camping is limited to designated sites on the property, and reservations are required.

Those interested in camping at Pinecrest should call in advance to complete their reservation for a seamless trip.

Tobi Miles
Article updated:
July 5, 2024 11:07 AM

Tobi Miles is a University of Florida graduate turned globe-trotting culinary explorer and digital nomad expert. As the founder of "Bytes & Bites," he combines his passion for international cuisine with practical advice on remote work, inspiring others to experience the world through food and cultural immersion. With 32 countries under his belt and a knack for uncovering hidden culinary gems, Tobi is redefining the intersection of work, travel, and gastronomy for a new generation of adventurers.

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