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It’s difficult to overstate the diverse natural beauty of California, from its wide, sandy beaches to its rocky shores, mountain ranges, forests, deserts, lakes, and rivers. California is home to both the tallest and the largest trees in the world, the highest and lowest points in the continental U.S., and the largest alpine lake in North America. It’s one of the few places in the world where it’s possible to surf in the morning and ski the slopes in the afternoon on the same day.
A person could spend a lifetime exploring the federally protected treasures in California, comprising nine national parks—more than any other state—as well as national monuments, forests, and seashore. California also has the largest state park system in the country, with close to 300 units including 87 campgrounds. Of course, many of these places are well known and loved by people not only in the U.S. but all over the world. Reserving space at the popular campgrounds can be highly competitive, with prices to match. It can be even more of a challenge with a longer rig; even though there are more than 10,000 campsites in the state park system, many of them do not accommodate RVs over 25 or 35 feet.
However, with advanced planning, it’s possible to plan a trip in the state park campground system that will have you California dreaming for a lifetime.
Reservations can be made online at reservecalifornia.com or by phone at 800-444-PARK (7275). Reservations can be made from 6 months to 1 day before arrival.
In 2017, California state parks moved to a new reservation system and to a rolling-window booking period. This allows for more flexibility and, in theory, more availability. The reservation system includes a “Notify Me” feature for automatic alerts when space opens up.
Campgrounds can be contacted directly regarding first-come, first-served availability.
Many campsites and winding, narrow roads in California are not big-rig-friendly. Of course, it is possible to travel and enjoy the state with a rig over 40 feet, but it does require more planning. Given the high popularity of many state park campgrounds, the smaller the RV, the easier it will be to find space and maneuver.
The reservation system has filters to search by RV type and size. Additionally, the California Department of Parks and Recreation provides a handy document that lists maximum RV length per campground at parks.ca.gov/RVlength.
ADA-accessible sites are searchable and bookable through the reservation system. A valid placard or license plate must be visible. ADA-accessible sites that remain unoccupied after 5 p.m. are available on a first-come, first-served basis to anyone for one night only.
California state park campgrounds are generally rustic. Only about 24 of the more than 80 campgrounds offer partial or full hookups. Some have dump stations, although there may be a fee for use, even for campers.
Hookup options per campsite are displayed in the reservation system search results. It’s also helpful to use the “Find a Park” tool on the park system website (parks.ca.gov) to browse parks by location or by features, such as RV sites with hookups.
California Parks and Rec has worked on establishing WiFi service since 2005, and almost all parks have a hot spot. If connectivity is a priority, contact the campground directly to ask about WiFi and cell service strength.
The camping limit in any one campground is 30 days in a calendar year. Each park has its own maximum days per stay.
Again, most of the campgrounds are basic, highlighting the natural surroundings that make them an appealing destination. Most campsites have picnic tables and fire rings, although in much of California, fires are prohibited due to the risk of wildfire.
Some parks are more developed, with visitor centers, stores, playgrounds, and programs. The Parks and Rec website (parks.ca.gov) provides details on facilities per campground.
For kids, California state parks offer one of the most comprehensive Junior Ranger programs outside of the national parks. Be sure to request a book from the visitor center or check-in booth.
California is known for its incredible scenery, but also for having some of the most expensive state park campgrounds in the country. Prices range from $25 to more than $100 per night and vary widely depending on the park, campsite, and dates. Prices are visible per site in the reservations system search results, or you can call the reservations line for details.
There is no day-use fee for campers.
Nonrefundable reservation fee: $7.99
Change fee: $7.99
Cancellation fee: $7.99
Cancellations after 6 p.m. on the day before arrival also forfeit the first night’s fee.
Pets are allowed as long as they’re kept on a leash no longer than 6 feet. Of course, campers should always pick up after their pet.
- Maximum occupancy per site: 8 people and 1 vehicle.
- Check-in time: 2 p.m. Check-out time: 12 p.m.
- Quiet hours: 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
- Alcoholic beverages: Check with the campground for any specific restrictions.
- Generator use: Allowed from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
- Campfires: Permitted only in facilities provided, following local restrictions.
- Drone use: Allowed, but check any specific posted orders with the local State Park District.
California has an abundance of state parks, and many are well known and competitive to book. We focused on destinations that are under the radar, even to locals.
Red Rock Canyon State Park
37749 Abbott Drive, Cantil, CA 93519
Located off Highway 14 and frequented by travelers between Southern California, the Mojave Desert, and the Eastern Sierras, Red Rock Canyon is an unexpected highlight for an overnight stop. The spectacular red rock formations are unique in California but not very well known. The park includes wildlife sightings, stunning spring wildflower blooms, and miles of hiking trails hugged by cliffs and buttes. There are 50 first-come, first-served campsites, all without hookups. The maximum RV length is 30 feet. Note that there is little shade and summer temperatures can be extreme.
Calaveras Big Trees State Park
1170 CA-4, Arnold, CA 95223
Established in 1931 to protect two groves of giant sequoias, Calaveras Big Trees State Park is a lesser-visited destination where you can camp and commune with the largest trees on Earth. Located north of Yosemite National Park, this state park highlights the beauty of the High Sierras with rivers, ancient volcanic formations, and open meadows in addition to the sequoia trees. The park has a visitor center and ranger program, nature walks, and hiking trails for all levels. More than 100 campsites are available between two clean and well-maintained campgrounds. There are no hookups, but a dump station is available. Sites tend to be close together, but the location under the trees makes up for the lack of space. Note that the maximum RV length is 30 feet.
MacKerricher State Park
24100 Mackerricher Park Road, Fort Bragg, CA 95437
Experience camping on the wild Northern California coast in this stunning and sprawling state park. Located north of the more well-known Mendocino area, MacKerricher encompasses forest, wetlands, and bluffs in addition to miles of pristine Pacific Ocean beach. Nature lovers will fall in love with the tide pools, nature walks, and abundance of wildlife viewing opportunities including whales, sea lions, and more than 90 bird species. The campsites are nestled in the forest with easy access to the beach; they’re dry camping only, with a dump station and restrooms available. The maximum RV length is 30 feet. Don’t miss a day trip to the historic nautical town of Fort Bragg and the unique Glass Beach.
California state park campgrounds that accommodate RV camping
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Benbow State Recreation Area
Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Bolsa Chica State Beach
Bothe-Napa Valley State Park
Brannan Island State Recreation Area
Butano State Park
Calaveras Big Trees State Park
Carpinteria State Beach
Castle Crags State Park
Caswell Memorial State Park
Chino Hills State Park
Colusa-Sacramento River State Recreation Area
Crystal Cove State Park
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
L. Bliss State Park
Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park
Doheny State Beach
Donner Memorial State Park
Ed Z’berg Sugar Pine Point State Park
El Capitán State Beach
Emerald Bay State Park
Emma Wood State Beach
Folsom Lake State Recreation Area
Fremont Peak State Park
George J. Hatfield State Recreation Area
Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park
Grover Hot Springs State Park
Half Moon Bay State Beach
Hearst San Simeon State Park
Hendy Woods State Park
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
Henry W. Coe State Park
Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area
Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Indian Grinding Rock State Historical Park
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
Lake Perris State Recreation Area
Leo Carrillo State Park
Limekiln State Park
MacKerricher State Park
Malakoff Diggins State Historical Park
Malibu Creek State Park
Manchester State Park
McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park
McConnell State Recreation Area
McGrath State Beach
Millerton Lake State Recreation Area
Montaña de Oro State Park
Morro Bay State Park
Morro Strand State Beach
Mount Diablo State Park
Mount San Jacinto State Park
Navarro River Redwoods State Park
New Brighton State Beach
Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area
Palomar Mountain State Park
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
Picacho State Recreation Area
Pismo State Beach
Plumas-Eureka State Park
Point Mugu State Park
Portola Redwoods State Park
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Red Rock Canyon State Park
Refugio State Beach
Richardson Grove State Park
Russian Gulch State Park
Saddleback Butte State Park
Salt Point State Park
Salton Sea State Recreation Area
Samuel P. Taylor State Park
San Clemente State Beach
San Elijo State Beach
San Luis Reservoir State Recreation Area
San Onofre State Beach
Seacliff State Beach
Silver Strand State Beach
Silverwood Lake State Recreation Area
Sonoma Coast State Park
South Carlsbad State Beach
Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area
Sugarloaf Ridge State Park
Sunset State Beach
Tahoe State Recreation Area
Van Damme State Park
Woodson Bridge State Recreation Area
For more information on California state park campgrounds, visit parks.ca.gov/parkindex.