Top Camping Spots in Northern California You Need to See

Northern California is a great place for camping and backpacking because it has a lot of unique and beautiful camping spots. There are towering mountains, dense forests, calm lakes, winding rivers, and gorgeous coastlines, giving outdoor lovers plenty of choices for exploring.

Northern California generally has good weather all year, making it perfect for outdoor adventures and many campgrounds are open year-round.

Best Campgrounds in Northern California

Discover the best camping in Northern California with this list of the prettiest campgrounds in the region!

From the camping spots along the coastline to the pristine forest sites and the enchanting lakeside spots, we’ve curated a guide to ensure you have the ultimate outdoor experience.

Best Coastal Camping Spots in Northern California

Bodega Dunes Campground

Bodega Dunes Campground is undeniably one of the best campgrounds on the Northern California coast. You’ll love Bodega Dunes because it puts you right on the beach, surrounded by huge sand dunes. Take a short hike on the Bodega Head Trail for amazing views and birdwatching.

You’ll love Bodega Dunes because it puts you right on the beach, surrounded by huge sand dunes. Take a short hike on the Bodega Head Trail for amazing views and birdwatching.

Location: 2485 Highway 1, Bodega Bay

Amenities: Potable water, flush toilets, picnic tables, and fire pits

Reservations: Call ReserveCalifornia for a reservation 48 hours to 6 months in advance. 1-800-444-PARK

Dogs allowed: Yes

Doran Regional Park

Doran Park is the spot for you if you enjoy camping by the ocean with amenities like bathrooms and cooking facilities right there.

You can stroll along sandy beaches, try your luck with fishing, and take in the views on the Bird Walk Coastal Access Trail.

Location: 201 Doran Beach Rd, Bodega Bay

Amenities: Potable water, flush toilets, showers, picnic tables, and fire pits

Reservations: Reservations are required.

Dogs allowed: Yes

Read more: 20 Best Places to Visit in California During Winter

Gualala Point Regional Park

Set among the Gualala River redwoods, the campground at Gualala Point Regional Park is unique because it offers both the coastal experience and the forest experience with the nearby Gualala River adding to the beauty.

As for amenities, basic facilities like picnic tables, fire pits, and restrooms are available. Sites are available for tents, trailers and RVs, though no hook-ups are available.The Bluff Top Trail is a must – it’s an easy hike with stunning ocean views.

Location: 42407 CA-1, Gualala

Amenities: Flush toilets, showers, dump station, picnic tables, and fire pits

Reservations: Reservations are required.

Dogs allowed: Yes

Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes is the dream for nature lovers. Explore the Earthquake Trail or hike to the Point Reyes Lighthouse for those breathtaking coastal scenes.

Point Reyes National Seashore only offers backcountry hike-in and boat-in camping, but it is worth the effort it takes to get here.

There are different camping options – Wildcat Camp by the ocean or Sky Camp in the hills. The amenities vary, but each site offers something unique for the perfect camping experience.

Location: Marin County, California

Russian Gulch State Park

Russian Gulch has rugged beauty that I know you’ll love. Coastal cliffs, tide pools, and the iconic Russian Gulch Bridge make this a great area to explore. Try the Fern Canyon Trail for a lush canyon and a waterfall.

This campground features 26 campsites a short distance from the beach. All of the campsites are well shaded and the basics are covered with picnic tables and fire rings, making it a perfect spot for nature lovers.

Location: Highway 1, two miles north of Mendocino

Amenities: Picnic tables, fire pits, food lucker, flush toilets, showers

Reservations: Reservations are strongly recommended.

Dogs allowed: Yes

Gerstle Cove Campground

Gerstle Cove in Salt Point State Park will have you camping near ocean cliffs and tide pools, exploring the Stump Beach Trail and checking out the underwater wonders at Salt Point Underwater Park.

The amenities are just the basics, picnic tables and fire pits, so this is a great spot for a rugged camping experience along the Northern California coast.

Location: 25050 Highway 1, Jenner

Amenities: Potable water, flush toilets, picnic tables, fire pits

Reservations: Reservations are required.

Dogs allowed: Yes

Best Forest Camping Spots in Northern California

Upper Pines Campground Yosemite National Park

Upper Pines in Yosemite is a nature lover’s paradise. Camp beneath the shadow of iconic Half Dome and wake up to breathtaking views. Hike the Mist Trail to Vernal Fall for a unique experience, and explore the Yosemite Valley.

Location: Yosemite Valley, near Half Dome Village

Amenities: Fire ring, picnic tables, food lockers, (flush toilets, potable water and showers are nearby)

Reservations: Reservations are required.

Dogs allowed: Yes

Yosemite National Park Camping

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Yosemite National Park

Redwood National Park

Redwood National Park is a forest lover’s dream. Towering redwoods everywhere! You’ll be in awe along the Tall Trees Grove Trail, surrounded by the world’s tallest trees. Don’t miss the Fern Canyon, where walls are draped in lush ferns.

Camping amenities vary, but you’ll find basics like picnic tables.

Location: 1111 Second St, Crescent City

Amenities: 4 developed campgrounds with potable water, food storage lockers, and flush toilets

Reservations: Reservations are recommended

Dogs allowed: Yes

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Visiting California’s National Parks

Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Big Basin is where you go to fall in love with ancient redwoods. Berry Creek Falls Trail is a must for cascading waterfalls and lush greenery. Camp in the heart of the forest, and you’ll appreciate the comfort amenities like hot showers.

Just a hop from San Jose, it’s the closest you can get to a redwood experience without venturing too far from the city.

Location: Highway 1, Davenport

Amenities: Picnic tables and fire rings

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Prairie Creek is all about the coastal redwoods, and you’ll love the Rhododendron Trail. Elk Prairie is another highlight – it doesn’t get better than camping where elk are lumbering through!

Prairie Creek Redwoods is near Eureka, so you can explore the coast and the forest all in one trip.

Location: 27011 Newton B. Drury Scenic Pkwy, Orick

Amenities: Potable water, restrooms, and coin-operated showers

Reservations: Yes

Dogs allowed: Yes

Read more: The Best Places to Camp in California

Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

Jedediah Smith near Crescent City is a redwood haven. You’ll feel tiny among the giant trees on Howland Hill Road, and Fern Falls is a hidden treasure waiting to be explored.

Camping by the Smith River adds a peaceful touch to your camping trip.

Location: 1461 US-199, Crescent City

Amenities: Picnic table, fire ring, flush toilets, and showers

Reservations: Yes

Stanislaus National Forest

Stanislaus National Forest in the Sierra Nevada is perfect for mountain lovers. Camp by the Stanislaus River and hike the Columns of the Giants Trail for unique rock formations.

If you’re into fishing, the area has plenty of spots to cast a line.

Location: Sonora, CA

Read more: The Most Beautiful Road Trips in California + Where to Stay

Smith River National Recreation Area

Camp by the crystal-clear Smith River and go for a hike on the Myrtle Creek Trail for a peaceful hiking experience. While amenities are basic, the picturesque river setting makes it worthwhile.

Close to Crescent City and Grants Pass, it’s an ideal stop if you’re looking for a nature retreat near the coast.

Location: French Hill Rd, Crescent City

Kings Canyon National Park

I love camping at Kings Canyon! Roaring River Falls is a must see. Camp in the heart of the park, and you’ll be near iconic spots like the picturesque Zumwalt Meadow.

It’s close to Fresno, making it an easy escape into the Sierra Nevada wilderness.

Amenities: Picnic table, flush toilets, fire ring, and metal food storage box

Reservations: Yes

Dogs allowed: Yes

Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park, home to colossal trees, is awe-inspiring. Standing in the presence of General Sherman, the world’s largest tree, is a unique experience you won’t want to miss and the Congress Trail is a perfect place to explore a redwood forest.

Located near Visalia, the campgrounds offer amenities like flush toilets, so you’re not roughing it too much.

Amenities: Picnic table, fire ring, flush toilets, and metal food storage box

Reservations: Yes

Dogs allowed: Yes

Read more: The Perfect CA Hwy 395 Road Trip Itinerary

Best Lakeside Camping Spots in Northern California

Liberty Glen Campground at Lake Sonoma

You’ll love waking up to views of the lake surrounded by rolling hills. The campground has amenities like hot showers and flush toilets, adding comfort to your stay. With easy access to the lake, you can enjoy boating, fishing, and even paddleboarding.

Close to Healdsburg, it’s not just about the lake – you can explore nearby wineries for a perfect blend of outdoor adventure and wine country charm.

Location: 13005 Rockpile Rd, Lake Sonoma, 11 miles north of Healdsburg

Amenities: Flush Toilets, potable water, and showers

Reservations: Yes

Dogs allowed: Yes

Read more: Camping Tips for Beginners: Equipment, Booking, Budget Tips & More

Manzanita Lake in Lassen Volcanic National Park

Manzanita Lake is a hidden gem within Lassen Volcanic National Park. The views of Lassen Peak are incredible, and you’ll love the easy access to the scenic Reflection Lake Trail.

The campground provides basic amenities, and you can enjoy ranger-led programs. It’s close to the park’s geothermal features, like Bumpass Hell. It can be a bit more crowded than Summit Lake South (below), so think about your priorities when you’re choosing a campground in Lassen Volcanic NP.

Location: 42700 Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway, Mineral, CA

Amenities: Vault toilets (Manzanita Lake Camper Service Store offers flush toilets, showers, and coin operated laundry)

Reservations: Yes

Dogs allowed: Yes

D.L. Bliss State Park

D.L. Bliss State Park, on the shores of Lake Tahoe, is a fantastic campsite for the crystal-clear waters and the beautiful Lester Beach. You’ll love exploring the nearby Rubicon Trail and hiking to Emerald Bay.

The campground offers amenities like showers and a camp store and you’re close to South Lake Tahoe if you want to head into town.

Location: 9881 CA-89, South Lake Tahoe

Amenities: Picnic tables, food lockesr, fire rings, flush toilets, and potable water

Reservations: Yes

Dogs allowed: Yes, in campground. Dogs are not allowed on the trails.

Trinity Lake KOA Holiday

Trinity Lake KOA near Mount Shasta is a lakeside retreat with modern conveniences. Camp right by Trinity Lake and enjoy fishing or boating and explore the nearby hiking trails.

Amenities like a pool, Wi-Fi, and a convenience store make your camping experience a bit more luxurious.

Location: 60260 CA-3, Trinity Center

Reservations: Reservations are recommended. 

Dogs allowed: Yes

Summit Lake South Campground in Lassen Volcanic NP

For a more tranquil stay at Lassen Volcanic NP, stay at Summit Lake South! The campground is surrounded by the unique volcanic landscape of the park and it tends to be less crowded than the other campgrounds in the park.

Location: 42700 Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway, Mineral, CA

Reservations: Yes

Read more: 10 Best Free Campgrounds in Northern California

Tips for Planning Your Northern California Camping Trip

Seasonal Considerations

Best Times to Visit: Northern California offers diverse camping experiences, each with its optimal season.

  • Coastal Camping: Ideal during late spring to early fall for milder temperatures and clearer skies. Avoid winter due to rain and colder conditions.
  • Forest Camping: Summer is perfect, but spring and fall offer fewer crowds and pleasant weather. Winter camping can be magical, but check for weather conditions and road closures.
  • Lakeside Camping: Late spring to early fall is prime time. Summers can be crowded, while shoulder seasons offer a quieter experience.

Weather Variations:

  • Coastal: Coastal areas can be cool and foggy, especially in the morning and evening. Layered clothing is essential.
  • Forest: Temperatures can vary. Pack both lightweight clothing for warm days and warm layers for cooler nights.
  • Lakeside: Days can be warm, but nights may get chilly. Pack accordingly for fluctuating temperatures.

Seasonal Activities:

  • Coastal: Whale watching in spring, tidepool exploration in summer, and bird migrations in fall.
  • Forest: Wildflower blooms in spring, fall foliage in autumn, and snow activities in winter.
  • Lakeside: Water activities like boating and fishing are best during warmer months.
Best Campgrounds in Northern California

Packing Essentials

Coastal Camping:

Forest Camping:

Lakeside Camping:

Always bring more water than you think you will need when camping and check if a campground offers potable water before you depart.

Read more: The Ultimate Packing List for Campers

Reservations and Permits

Campground Reservations:

  • Coastal & Forest: Popular sites fill up quickly, especially during peak seasons. Reserve well in advance to secure your spot.
  • Lakeside: Campgrounds around popular lakes can be busy, so early reservations are advisable.


  • Check if permits are required for specific activities like fishing, hiking, or backcountry camping.
  • Research permit details for national and state parks.

Leave No Trace Principles

Preserving the Environment:

  • Follow “Leave No Trace” principles to minimize your impact on nature.
  • Properly dispose of waste, respect wildlife, and stick to designated trails.

Reduce Campfire Impact:

  • Be aware of fire regulations.
  • If permitted, use established fire rings and practice safe fire management.

Read more: Best Camping & Backpacking Tents

Local Attractions and Side Trips

Hidden Gems:

  • Explore quaint towns like Mendocino or Nevada City, both a scenic drive away from San Francisco.
  • Discover lesser-known trails for a more secluded hiking experience.

Cultural Experiences:

  • Attend local events or festivals happening during your visit.
  • Engage with the communities around the camping areas.

Off-the-Beaten-Path Adventures:

  • Seek out unique landmarks or viewpoints off the main tourist routes. With miles of trails to choose from, you can customize your experience based on your preferences, whether it’s a leisurely walk or a challenging hike.
  • Consider side trips to historical sites or natural wonders in the region.

Read more: A Guide to Traveling California in a Campervan

Plan Your Trip

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