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🚐 11 California Van Camping Destinations

Anonymous
“Camping: The art of getting closer to nature while getting farther away from the nearest cold beverage, hot shower, and flush toilet.”

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California has an abundance of perfect places to van camp. Another thing I like about the camping locations in California is that they are diverse. There are sites along the ocean, by lakes, in the desert, to even ones situated in the towering redwoods. If you are California dreaming’ hopefully one of these sites will be just perfect for you. Here are 11 of the best.

Cleveland National Forest

Cleveland National Forest is in the southern part of the state. It is about an hour and a half northeast of San Diego. The forest encompasses 460,000 acres. It is a popular destination for hiking, biking, camping, sightseeing and picnicking.

The campground has 42 sites nestled in pine and oak trees. Some of the sites you can reserve and a few are on a first-come basis. To make reservations click here.

Trailers or RVs up to 32 feet long can park here. There are fire rings, picnic tables and grills to make it easy to whip up a quick meal. Hot showers, flush and vault toilets and drinking water are available. A few of the sites even have cement pads to set up your telescope. Part of the campground is “astronomy-friendly.” That means after 9 pm you can’t have any bright lights.

This campground is the perfect location if you are an astronomy buff. You can enjoy the night skies from your campsite or visit the Palomar Observatory. The observatory owned and operated by Caltech is home to the 200-inch Hale Telescope.

Van Camping Cleveland National Forest

Van Damme State Park

One of the good things about this park is that you can enjoy camping year round. Van Damme State Park is a 3 to 3 1/2 hour drive northwest of San Francisco. It is about 3 miles south of Mendocino. There are more than 65 sites at the campground. The maximum RV or trailer length is 35 feet. To see a map of the campground go here.

There is a dump station, showers, restrooms, drinking water and outdoor showers available at the campground.

Campers can enjoy biking, kayaking, bird watching, diving, boating and many other recreational activities. The Little River runs through the campground and provides some excellent fishing. You might even get lucky enough to land a Coho salmon or steelhead trout for a fresh pan-fried meal.

The campground is popular so you will want to make a reservation ahead of time to ensure that you get a site for the days you want to be there. To make reservations for a camping site go here.

There is a beach that you can kick back and relax at or enjoy diving for abalone. This is a perfect place to camp if you want to be close to the beach.

San Bernardino National Forest

The San Bernardino National Forest is in San Bernardino and Riverside counties. The forest encompasses over 675,000 acres. It is southeast of Los Angeles and a little more than an hour and a half drive from there.

San Bernardino National Forest has developed campgrounds for your camping convenience. However, you can also find dispersed camping sites there. You will need a permit for any type of campfire including stoves. In addition, there will be certain times during the year that you are not allowed to have campfires.

This is a great location for anglers because there are miles of streams to fish on and even some lakes. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife stocks some of the streams and lakes with rainbow trout during the fishing season.

The OHV system is great here. They have trails and routes for ATV, UTV, motorcycle and 4-wheel driving use. Whether you are a novice or expert, you are sure to find something suitable for you. Reservations and more here

San Bernardino National Forest

Van Camping: Sugar Pine Point State Park

This is an absolutely beautiful park. The fragrance of the fir, pine and cedar trees combine to make the most wonderful woodsy smell. Sugar Pine Point State Park is a little over a two hour drive northeast of Sacramento.

The park is on the shore of beautiful Lake Tahoe and consists of 2,000 acres. There is about 2 miles of shoreline for fishing, swimming, scuba diving or boating.

Van Camping: Sugar Pine Point State Park

The campground has a dump station, hot showers, restrooms, drinking water and firewood for sale. Bears frequently come into the campground so be sure to store your food items in a bear-proof locker. I like to see bears, but not right on my doorstep!

While camping here you can also enjoy hiking the many trails, biking on the West Shore Bike Trail, cross country skiing, snowshoeing or even wildlife watching. There is no lack of things to do.

During the summer season, you can reserve campsites here. The campground has limited sites available during the winter season. During the winter season, the sites are on a first-come basis. Also during the winter the dump station and showers are closed. To see a map of the campground go here.

This park is exquisite no matter what time of year that you visit. You can see wildflowers dotting the landscape in the spring and summer months. View the magnificent golden color of the quaking aspens along General Creek in the fall. Trek through the pristine beauty of freshly fallen snow in the park during winter. Plan to make Sugar Pine Point one of your van camping stops on your next trip.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park

About 75 miles south of San Francisco in the Santa Cruz Mountains, you will find Big Basin Redwoods State Park. The park contains over 18,000 acres. This park is the oldest state park in California.

If you want to see big trees this is the place to go. Coast redwoods, which are some of the oldest and tallest trees on earth, will tower above as you travel through the park. Some of the trees in the park are 50 feet around and over 300 feet tall – now that is some big trees.

80 miles of trails traverse through the park providing hours of hiking enjoyment. The trails cover a diverse range of habitats and you will be able to see a variety of wildlife along the way.

The park has multiple campgrounds catering to a variety of camping choices. Huckleberry Campground is open for use all year round. To make a site reservation go here.

Restrooms, showers, drinking water and a dump station are available. There is a store and gift shop across from the park headquarters. To see a map of the campground go here.

The park has free interpretive programs and a nature museum with exhibits. You can also enjoy swimming, surfing, horseback riding, biking and more at this park.

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is east of Palm Springs. It has nine campgrounds varying in size and for different forms of camping. Amenities also vary between the campgrounds but I am sure that you will find one that meets your needs.

Some of the campgrounds are on a first-come basis and reservations for the other campgrounds can be made here. Besides, if the park campgrounds are filled you can find dispersed camping to both the north and south of the park on BLM lands.

The park covers 792,510 acres. The summit of Quail Mountain is the highest point in the park topping out at 5,814 feet. The lowest point in the park is 536 feet.

Popular recreational activities cover a broad range including highlining, slacklining, backpacking, biking, hiking, horseback riding and various other activities sure to make it worth your while to visit.

Klamath National Forest

Klamath National Forest

There are over 30 campgrounds located in Klamath National Forest. Campgrounds vary in size, type of camping allowed and amenities. Some of the campgrounds are on a first-come basis and some you can reserve sites. For camping reservations, go here.

There are places available for boondocking too. If you would like to learn more about boondocking read our post here.

The Forest is in the northern part of the state and even crosses into Oregon. It encompasses 1,700,000 acres of beautiful country.

While van camping here you can also enjoy swimming, boating, tubing, hunting, horseback riding, panning for gold or biking. On the other hand, how about hang gliding or paragliding off The Whaleback? Want to stay closer to earth? Then how about exploring Pluto’s Cave, which is a lava tube that you can hike into for about 1,200 feet.

If you would like to do a scenic drive, there are three that run through the forest. The Volcanic Legacy National Scenic Byway, The Bigfoot Scenic Byway and The State of Jefferson Scenic Byway will all provide impressive views to enjoy on a leisurely afternoon drive.

Lassen National Forest

Lassen National Forest is a little over an hour drive east of Redding. The forest covers 1.2 million acres. There is something to do all four seasons, so no matter when you are van camping there will be recreational activities for you to enjoy.

Van Camping Lassen National Forest

There are many campgrounds located in the forest. Each provides its own unique diversity of features from large to small, some with more amenities and recreational activities than others have. You can reserve a campsite by clicking this link. Camping is not limited to campgrounds you can also find dry camping sites too.

This forest has some of the most diverse areas in the state. The Sierra Nevada Mountains on the south side of the forest includes granite rock features. You will find part of volcanic table of the Modoc Plateau with its unique geography also. The Cascade Mountains showcase unique volcanic formations, caves and glacial formations. Lastly, the Great Basin adds desert features on the east. Therefore, the area ends up being kind of a mishmash of natural features.

The forest offers plenty of outdoor recreation activities. A favorite way to spend the day is at Lake Almanor fishing, boating, sunbathing on the beach, sailing, waterskiing or kayaking to your heart’s content.

 

Another spot to visit while you are there is Subway Cave. And no this is not where you go to order a hoagie and sit down in the dark to eat it! Subway Cave allows you to explore about a 1/3 mile long section of a lava tube. Make sure to bring along a jacket because it only will be around 46 degrees in the cave. The trip is self-guided and you will need a flashlight.

Salt Point State Park

About a 2 ½-hour drive north of San Francisco on scenic Highway 1 is Salt Point State Park. The park has over six miles of coastline offering spectacular views of the ocean. There is also a protected underwater area called Gerstle Cove Marine Reserve. At the reserve, you can dive and take a closer look at the marine life that lives there.

The park has two campgrounds. Woodside Campground is on the east side of Highway 1. Gerstle Cove Campground is on the west side of the highway. For a map of the Salt Point State Park campgrounds, click this link. There is no dump station at either campground. However, there are restrooms, drinking water and each campsite has a picnic table, fire ring and a food locker. To reserve a campsite click this link.

There is also overflow camping at the day-use parking lot near Gerstle Cove Campground. There are no restrooms or drinking water at this location. When camping here you must be using a self-contained camping vehicle.

There are 20 miles of hiking trails for you to explore. Besides you can fish, scuba dive, go horseback riding, surf and enjoy many other activities at the park. Salt Point is a popular destination for abalone divers.

This is a gorgeous state park where you can listen to the waves pounding onto shore, explore the pygmy forests or even do some whale watching so here is one more location that you won’t want to miss.

Salt Point State Park
Van Camping Sonoma Coast State Park

Sonoma Coast State Park

California has some really beautiful parks and this is certainly one of them. Sonoma Coast State Park has 16 miles of stunning coastline. Fertile tidal pools, beautiful sandy beaches, arches, rugged headlands and isolated coves make this park one spectacular place to visit. A camera is a definite must-have for this park.

Bodega Dunes Campground is the biggest campground with around 100 sites. It offers a dump station, potable water fill station, hot showers and restrooms. The campground is at 2485 Highway 1 north of Bodega Bay. To make camping reservations at either of the campgrounds go here.

Wright’s Beach Campground has 20+ sites located near the beach. It is at 7095 Highway 1 north of Bodega Bay. The campground has flush toilets, but you will have to go to Bodega Dunes for showers, water filling and to use the dump station. Self-contained vehicles may use the overflow area beside the kiosk when the campground is full. It is on a first-come basis. For maps of both campgrounds click here.

When you are staying at Sonoma Coast State Park don’t forget that you are in some of the best wine country in the US. Sonoma County has more than 425 wineries. Spend the day touring a vineyard, tasting wine, sampling craft brews or even pair your favorite beverage with a fabulous meal to finish the day.

Clear Lake State Park

The park is at 5300 Soda Bay Road about a 10-minute drive northeast of Kelseyville. The park is popular for those who enjoy water activities. Clear Lake covers 68 miles of surface area and is the state’s largest natural freshwater lake.

There are four campgrounds – Lower Bayview, Upper Bayview, Cole Creek and Kelsey Creek. Kelsey Creek is open all year round. For a map of the campgrounds, click this link. There is hot showers and flush toilets. There are no water or electric hookups. Maximum length for trailers and RVs is 35 feet. To reserve a campsite go here.

Clear Lake has been designated the number 1 bass fishing lake in the US by numerous professional bass fishing organizations. So maybe you ought to bring a pole and try it. There is also a boat launch to make it convenient to get started.

You will also want to check out the aquarium in the visitor center that showcases some of the fish species that live in the lake. Other activities you can enjoy at the park include swimming, hiking, biking, wild life viewing or just relaxing on the beach.

The park staff holds interpretive and educational programs at the Educational Pavilion. There are campfire programs in the evening and morning nature walks.

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