Northern California offers a wide variety of campgrounds that cater to all tastes, with stunning landscapes and ecosystems that include redwood forests, picture perfect coastlines, tranquil lakes, and mountains that appear to touch the clouds. Whether you are interested in tent camping or RVing, this region has something for everyone including family-friendly campgrounds, pet-friendly sites, and off-the-beaten path secret spots.
In this guide, we’ll explore:
- Why Northern California is a fantastic place to go camping.
- The different types of campgrounds you can find, from basic tent sites to luxurious glamping spots.
- Some of the top campgrounds in Northern California, each with its own unique charm.
- A comprehensive camping checklist to ensure you’re well-prepared for your adventure.
- Camping tips and best practices to make your trip safe, enjoyable, and environmentally friendly.
- Northern California boasts stunning natural scenery along with plenty of outdoor activities suitable for all ages.
- Yosemite National Park offers rock climbing trails, lake views and fishing opportunities while Lake Tahoe Basin provides hiking trails, biking paths and kayaking.
- Redwood National State Parks is ideal for redwood forest explorations or kayaking on the Smith River. Lassen Volcanic National Park has hot spring treks and cinder cone exploring.
- The best campgrounds in Northern California provide well maintained facilities and amenities such as fire rings, picnic tables, restrooms with showers and Wi-Fi hotspots.
Campground Comparison Table
|Campground||Location||Types of Camping||Notable Features/Amenities|
|Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park Campground||Near Crescent City, CA||Tent camping||Picnic tables, fire rings, restrooms, and showers|
|Durango RV Resort||Red Bluff, CA||RV camping||Full hookups, spacious sites, clubhouse, pool and spa, fitness center, dog park|
|Desolation Wilderness||Near Lake Tahoe, CA||Backcountry camping||Seclusion, minimal amenities, wilderness experience|
|Mendocino Grove||Mendocino, CA||Glamping||Safari tents, hot showers, modern restrooms, Wi-Fi in common areas|
|Yosemite National Park||Near Mariposa, CA||Tent and RV camping||Scenic beauty, outdoor activities, wildlife|
|Redwood National and State Parks||Near Eureka, CA||Tent and RV camping||Majestic redwoods, hiking trails, wildlife viewing|
|Lake Tahoe||Near South Lake Tahoe, CA||Tent and RV camping||Water activities, scenic beauty, hiking and biking|
|Lassen Volcanic National Park||Near Mineral, CA||Tent and RV camping||Volcanic landscapes, hiking, stargazing|
|Big Basin Redwoods State Park||Near Boulder Creek, CA||Tent camping||Ancient redwoods, hiking trails, wildlife|
The Best Campgrounds In Northern California
Boasting near-perfect weather for most of the year and some of the best camping in Northern California, Yosemite National Park is a prime destination for outdoor enthusiasts.
- The North Pines Campground is one of its top campsites because of its prime location near Merced River and Tenaya Creek.
- For accommodation you can pitch a tent, reserve a cabins, hookup your RV trailer, or park your car overnight in designated areas.
- Here is some information about the campgrounds in Yosemite National Park listed according to type:
- Tent & RV Campgrounds:
- Upper Pines: 238 campsites in the Yosemite Valley, tent and RV camping. The campground has flush toilets, drinking water, and a dump station. Reservations are required.
- Lower Pines: 60 campsites in the Yosemite Valley, tent and RV sites. The campground has flush toilets, drinking water, and a trash station. Reservations are required.
- North Pines: 81 camping areas located in Yosemite Valley, including tent and RV campsites. The camp has flushing toilets, water safe for drinking, and a refuse depot for trash. Reservations required in advance.
- Camp 4: walk-in campground in the Yosemite Valley with 35 campsites for tents only. The campground has pit toilets, but no drinkable water. Reservations are not accepted, and campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
- Wawona: 93 campsites stationed near the south entrance of the park, including tent and RV camping. The campground has flush toilets, drinking water, and a dump station. Advance reservations are required.
- Bridalveil Creek: 110 campsites near the Big Oak Flat, including tent camping and RV hookups. The campground has pit toilets and no running water. Reservations are not accepted, and campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
- Backcountry Campgrounds:
- Little Yosemite Valley: Located between Half Dome and Clouds Rest. It offers 40 campsites, including tent sites only. The campground has pit toilets and no running water. Reservations are required.
- Glen Aulin: Stationed along the Tuolumne River with 17 campsites for tent camping only. The campground has pit toilets, but potable running water. Reservations are required.
- May Lake: Near the top of Tioga Pass. This. is a small area with only 10 campsites, including tent sites only. The campground has pit toilets, but no running water. Reservations are required in advance.
- Sunrise: Located near Sunrise High Sierra Camp. It offers 5 campsites, including tent sites only. The campground has pit toilets and no running water. Reservations are required.
- Merced Lake: Near Merced Lake High Sierra Camp. It offers 18 campsites, including tent sites only. The campground has pit toilets and no running water. Reservations are required.
- Vogelsang: Based near the Vogelsang High Sierra Camp, this small campground has 7 tent-only campsites. The campground has pit toilets and no running water. Reservations are required.
- It’s important to note that reservations are required for most campgrounds in Yosemite National Park, and they can fill up quickly during peak season. Additionally, some campgrounds may have seasonal closures or restrictions, so it’s important to check ahead of time. The park has facilities for individuals with disabilities, including accessible campsites, restrooms, and trails.
- Campgrounds offer beautiful scenery with rugged rock formations, grand sequoia trees, lush meadows full of wildflowers.
- Wildlife in this area include bears, eagles and ospreys.
- No matter your interest or skill level there are plenty activities to take part in such as backpacking , leisurely hikes rails, fishing , biking kayaking or rafting.
Located in northern California, Redwood National and State Parks encompass a range of stunning natural features including towering coast redwoods, pristine beaches, dramatic headlands, wild rivers and lush foliage. Considered one of the top four best campgrounds in Northern California , it provides visitors with an abundance of outdoor activities for all ages.
- Tent, Cabin, RV Campgrounds managed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation:
- Tent Only Camping
- RV Only Camping
- Beach Camping
- The parks have well-maintained facilities such as restrooms, showers and recreational rooms where campers can enjoy nature during their stay.
- While exploring the parks you can take long enchanting strolls through old growth forests (with trails up Half Dome), spot birds flying over lakes and meadows filled with wildflowers or relax next to soothing rivers.
3. Lake Tahoe
The Lake Tahoe Basin is one of the best camping destinations in Northern California, boasting stunning natural scenery and an abundance of outdoor activities. The area is home to four campgrounds – Fallen Leaf Campground, DL Bliss State Park, Kaspian Recreation Area, and Camp Richardson Resort – each offering a unique dining and lodging options.
- Tent, Cabin, RV Camping On the Water:
- Meeks Bay Resort and Marina: Situated on Lake Tahoe’s west shore, with tent camping, RV sites, and cabin rentals. This waterfront campground has a marina, sandy beach, and hiking trails. Reservations are required.
- Camp Richardson Historic Resort and Marina: Based along the serene south shore of Lake Tahoe, with tent camping, RV hookups, and cabin rentals. The campground has a marina, a beach, and even a restaurant. Advance reservations required.
- Tahoe State Recreation Area: Tent and RV campsites located on the west shore of Lake Tahoe. The camping area has beach access, hiking trails, and a launch for boats and other aquatic vehicles. Reservations are needed in advance.
- Emerald Bay State Park: Renown for its vistas of Emerald Bay on the southwest shore of Lake Tahoe, this area has both tent and RV hookups, in addition to a beach, hiking trails, and a boat docking area.
- Public Camping:
- DL Bliss State park: This camp area is based on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, with tent and RV sites, along with beach and hiking trails. Advance reservations are required.
- Kaspian Recreation Area: Situated on the south shore of Lake Tahoe, near Fallen Leaf Lake, this campground offers tent camping and RV hookups. Reservations required in advance.
- Lake Forest Campground: Nestled on the east shore of Lake Tahoe, with tent and RV campsites, beach access and hiking trails. Reservations needed in advance.
- Fallen Leaf Campground: Not directly on on Fallen Leaf Lake, but near it, this campground is on the southern shore of Lake Tahoe. The area has tent and RV sites, as well as hiking trails.
- Nevada Beach Campground: Based on the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe, with tent camping and RV hookups, in addition to hiking and beach access. Advance reservations required.
- Zephyr Cove Resort RV Park and Campground: Lakefront campsite on the southeast shore of Lake Tahoe, with RV hookups and cabin rentals (tent camping not available). The luxury campground has a marina, beach access, and dining options. Reservations required.
- William Kent Campground: Situated on the northern shore of Lake Tahoe near the town of Tahoe City, with hiking trails, tent camping and RV hookups. Reservations are required
- RV Parks:
- At these campgrounds, you can enjoy picturesque views of the lake as well as access to many biking trails, boat launches, kayak rentals and other recreational opportunities.
Lassen Volcanic National Park is located in Northern California and features spectacular landscapes, varied terrain, and a range of campgrounds. With four established campgrounds, all offering something different to visitors, Lassen can provide the perfect camping experience for anyone looking to explore the area.
Manzanita Lake Campground has plenty of amenities such as picnic tables and fire pits; furthermore it’s close proximity to the lake makes it a great spot for fishing or other water activities.
- Cabin & Tent Campgrounds:
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For those looking for a glamping experience, Mendocino Grove is a great choice. This campground offers fully-outfitted safari tents
Big Basin is California’s oldest state park and it’s perfect for campers who want to be surrounded by ancient redwoods.
- Tent & RV Camping:
- Blooms Creek Campground: 54 campsites near the park headquarters.
The name says it all. Desolation Wilderness offers backcountry camping with over 130 miles of trails and dozens of lakes.
What Makes These Campgrounds Stand Out
From stunning natural scenery to a plethora of outdoor activities for all ages, these top campgrounds in Northern California offer something special that you won’t want to miss.
Stunning Natural Scenery
Northern California is home to a wealth of majestic and awe-inspiring natural landscapes. From the snow-capped peaks located in Yosemite National Park, to the desert beauty of Joshua Tree and Red Rock Canyon State Park, Californians can explore untouched wilderness on any budget and for any season.
Popular camping locations such as Lake Tahoe Basin offer stunning views that extend beyond human comprehension – serene crystalline waters that sparkle like diamonds surrounded by salt sand panoramas set beneath a azure sky with majestic mountains providing an epic backdrop.
The same breathtaking landscape also awaits visitors at Redwood National & State Parks, whose cedar giants soar up into heights unimaginable from below; amongst these ancient trees are quiet among vibrant understories where light shines down in gentle swaying beams or dances off luscious ferns during refreshing showers.
Abundance Of Outdoor Activities For All Ages
Northern California is home to some of the most picturesque and varied campgrounds in the United States. From Yosemite National Park to Lake Tahoe Basin, adventurers have plenty of activities with which to indulge.
Popular outdoor pursuits include hiking, swimming, nature watching, cycling and exploring waterfalls and wildflowers. All four campgrounds — Yosemite National Park, Lake Tahoe Basin, Redwood National and State Parks and Lassen Volcanic National Park — offer a variety of experiences that cater to individuals of all ages appropriating a wide range of skill levels from beginners up to seasoned experts – no matter your age or experience you’ll be able to find something both exciting and fulfilling at one these top camping sites.
Well-maintained Facilities And Amenities
The best campgrounds in Northern California are distinguished not only by their breathtaking views and outdoor activities, but also by the well-maintained facilities they offer.
Facilities can range from full-hookup graded sites to spacious clubhouses with complimentary Wi-Fi hotspots or even group campsites that can accommodate up to 60 people.
But the common thread between them all is that they’re newly refurbished, clean and comfortable. Amenities like fishing spots, fire rings, picnic tables as well as restroom areas with showers provide extra convenience for visitors who want a more luxe camping experience.
These features help make camping trips much more enjoyable than the traditional tent in the woods adventure of yesteryear.
Types of Campgrounds
When it comes to camping, different campers have different needs and preferences. Some people need access to modern conveniences, while others want to leave every aspect of modern civilization behind. That’s why there are various types of campgrounds in Northern California. Let’s explore some of them:
Tent camping is the classic way to experience the outdoors. It’s simple and places you directly in nature. Here’s what you can expect at tent campgrounds:
- Basic Amenities
- Close to Nature
If you have an RV (Recreational Vehicle), you’ll need a campground designed to accommodate larger vehicles, including hookup stations and more amenities:
- Full RV Hookups
- Spacious Sites
- Extra Amenities
For the more adventurous campers, there are backcountry campgrounds. These are usually located in more remote areas and require a bit of hiking to reach:
- Minimal Amenities
- Wilderness Experience
If you love the idea of camping but aren’t keen on roughing it, glamping (glamorous camping) might be for you. Glamping sites offer a more luxurious camping experience:
- Comfortable Accommodations
- Luxury Amenities
|Hiking||Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park Campground, Manzanita Lake Campground, Russian Gulch State Park Campground, Castle Crags State Park, McArthur-Burney Falls, Sonoma Coast State Park Camping, Lake Siskiyou, Point Reyes National Seashore|
|Beach Activities||Sonoma Coast State Park Camping, McArthur-Burney Falls, Point Reyes National Seashore|
|Fishing||Lake Siskiyou, McArthur-Burney Falls, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Lake Tahoe|
|Water Sports||Lake Siskiyou, Lake Tahoe, Mendocino coastline|
|Wildlife Viewing||Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park Campground, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Mendocino coastline|
|Rock Climbing||Castle Crags State Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park|
|Biking||Lake Tahoe, Mendocino coastline|
|Stargazing||Lassen Volcanic National Park, McArthur-Burney Falls|
What to Bring When Camping
Camping requires some planning and preparation if you want everything to go comfortably and smoothly. One of the most important aspects is knowing what suppplies to bring.
Camping checklist table
|Shelter and Bedding||Tent|
|Sleeping pad or air mattress|
|Clothing and Footwear||Clothing (including warm clothing and rain gear)|
|Sturdy shoes or boots|
|Food and Cooking Supplies||Food|
|Stove and fuel|
|Cookware and utensils|
|Personal Items||Toiletries (including biodegradable products)|
|First aid kit|
|Sunscreen and bug spray|
|Miscellaneous Gear||Camping chairs|
|Lantern, headlamp or flashlight|
|Maps and compass|
|Fun and Games||Camera|
|Books or music|
Here’s a detailed breakdown of camping essentials that you should consider packing for your trip:
1. Shelter and Bedding
- Non-Toxic Camping Tent made without flame retardants.
- Sleeping Bag
- Sleeping Pad or Air Mattress
- Camping Pillow
2. Clothing and Footwear
- Clothing, underwear, socks
- Hiking boots, water shoes
3. Food and Cooking Supplies
- Ice Cooler
- Camping Stove and Fuel
- Cookware and Utensils.
- Water for Cooking and Drinking
4. Personal Items
Don’t forget these personal items when packing for your camping trip:
- Biodegradable, eco-friendly toiletries, travel-sized shampoo, soap, toothpaste, and toothbrush.
- First Aid Kit
- Sunscreen and Bug Spray
5. Miscellaneous Gear
- Camping Chairs
- Lantern, Headlamp or Flashlight
- Portable Power Station
- Maps and Compass
- Trash Bags
6. Fun and Games
- Outdoor Games
- Books or Music
Remember, this is a general list and you might need to adjust it based on your specific needs, the location, the weather, and the activities you plan to do. Camping is a great way to connect with nature and make lasting memories, and being well-prepared can make your camping trip even more enjoyable.
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Camping Tips and Best Practices
Camping is a great way to connect with nature and make unforgettable memories. But to ensure that your camping trip is safe, enjoyable, and respectful to the environment, it’s important to follow some best practices. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your camping adventure:
1. Plan Ahead
Good planning is the key to a successful camping trip. Here’s what you should do:
- Research Your Campground: Find out what facilities are available, what the rules are, and how to get there. Check if you need to make a reservation.
- Check the Weather: The weather can greatly affect your camping experience. Check the forecast and pack accordingly.
- Plan Your Meals: Think about what you’ll eat each day. Remember, you’ll need to store and cook your food.
2. Set Up Your Campsite
Setting up your campsite properly can make your stay more comfortable:
- Choose the Right Spot: If you can choose your campsite, look for a flat spot that’s not too close to water or the restroom. Check for overhead hazards like dead tree branches.
- Set Up Your Tent: Make sure your tent is secure. It’s a good idea to practice setting up your tent at home before your trip.
- Organize Your Campsite: Keep your cooking area, sleeping area, and storage area separate.
3. Respect Nature
When camping, it’s important to respect nature and leave no trace. Here’s how:
- Don’t Feed Wildlife: Feeding wildlife can harm their health and change their behavior. Keep your food secure and dispose of your trash properly.
- Stay on Trails: When hiking, stay on designated trails to protect the vegetation and prevent erosion.
- Leave What You Find: Don’t pick flowers, move rocks, or disturb historical artifacts. Let others enjoy them too.
4. Be Safe
Safety should be your top priority when camping
- California State Parks: This is the official website of the California Department of Parks and Recreation. It provides information about all the state parks in California, including those in Northern California.
- Leave No Trace: This website provides information about the Leave No Trace principles, which are important for campers to follow in order to minimize their impact on the environment.
- Visit California: This is the official tourism website for the state of California. It provides information about various tourist destinations, including campgrounds in Northern California.
Camping is more than just a fun time. It’s a chance to connect with nature, learn new skills, and make lasting memories. Whether you’re roasting marshmallows over a campfire, hiking through a redwood forest, or sleeping under the stars, camping offers experiences that you’ll remember for a lifetime.