Free Camping in California – Sites you can stay at for FREE
Here in the Northwest, camping is a hugely popular activity as we have so many people who love the outdoors and exploring and it can be a very affordable way to visit new places. We shared a list of FREE camping sites in Washington and Oregon and it has been a hit with all of you readers, so we wanted to provide more options if you are wanting to do more traveling around the West Coast.
One of the most popular places for folks to head to in the Northwest is California for some warm weather and sun and many folks do this as a road trip. We thought this would be a great option to look for free camping sites around California as it can be pricey to stay in hotels or higher-priced campgrounds the duration of your stay, when there are many options for free camping locations you can check out. With the warmer weather (on average) year-round in California as compared to the Northwest, it can really extend your camping season too, if you are wanting to go on breaks such as Fall or Spring Break to beat some of the crowds and the heat.
There are a number of public lands that do offer camping at no cost – however, they may not have many services like water or flush toilets, but if you can rough it a bit, you can find some great, out of the way spots. Most of these are available on a first come, first serve basis, but if you are a bit adventurous, it does not get more affordable than free.
Make sure to check out more free or low-cost campground guides to add to your list for your next camping adventures:
We’d love to hear all of your suggestions & tips on where you’ve found great free campsites in California & if you have any reviews or tips to share about any of these locations we’ve found.
Resources for Free Campsites:
We have just featured a highlight of free campsites that are found in California, but there are many more that are available. Here are some of the resources we found for finding free campsites in California for you to see if there are more options in an area you want to check out.
Campendium Website – this site features free campites across the country including listings for California, plus reviews from readers who have visited the campsites. This is a community-driven type of website, so I would still try to confirm these locations with another state website if possible.
Free Campsites.Net – This is another site that is community driven, with reader reports & reviews, but I’d encourage you to also try to confirm these with another website such as a BLM or state website.
Total Escape – This is an excellent resource to use to find camping sites in California. It’s all about California off the beaten path
We found it worked best to use a combination of these websites (starting with the Campendium & FreeCampsites) websites to get names of free camp locations & then we looked them up on the official sites.
You can also buy Forest Service maps of specific National Forests to get more specifics on areas where you can camp for free in those locations.
*Disclaimer – We have not checked out these sites personally but have found these sites thru a combination of the resources mentioned above. However, we do recommend you always do your own research to make sure these will work for your family & your needs and confirm they are still an option.
Discounts for Camping::
Free or Reduced Camping Fees in California State Parks:
California State Parks offers several discounts for reduced or waived camping fees for several groups of people::
- If you are a member of the California State Park Association you can save on both camping and parking at any state park or beach.
- If you are over the age of 62 you can save $1 on parking at any state park or beach.
- Permanently disabled individuals can park for only $3.50 with a disabled lifetime park pass.
- Low income families can apply for a Golden Bear Pass to reduce the cost of any California State Park entrance fees. Seniors are also encouraged to apply for a Golden Bear Pass for reduced fees.
- Distinguished veterans can get free entrance to any California State Park by applying for a Veteran’s Pass.
Free or Reduced Rates for Campground Hosts:
If you have more flexibility in your schedule if you are retired, homeschool, etc – being a campground host might be an option for you. Typically you can get free (or reduced in some cases) rates to camp in exchange for being available to help & answer questions for the campers. The minimum stay is typically one month, though, but this might be a fun option for the summertime if you plan ahead.
You can find available campgrounds that need hosts by searching this website for National Parks & Forests all around the country. I found a number of locations in California, so definitely check that site out to see if there’s an option that will work for you. I would think you’d need to schedule this out far in advance though.
Let us know if you have other ideas of ways to get discounts or free passes for camping in California!
Things to Keep in Mind when Camping in California::
- Many sites offer dispersed camping. Dispersed camping is where you find a place within the area to camp that does not use a specific developed campground. Many of these sites require a “no trace” policy be followed. You are responsible for all trash and waste and are to leave the area uninterrupted.
- Never litter.
- Don’t disturb rocks or plants.
- Make sure to supervise your fires at all times.
- Whatever you bring in to camp needs to be taken out.
- Take the proper tools for dispersed camping such as a shovel, bucket, and maps of the area.
- Maintain the proper campfire permit as many locations require it for camping.
Free Camping Sites in California:
Alabama Hills – Lone Pine, CA -Stay up to 14 nights here and there are up to 29 campsites available. It is known for its hiking and amazing granite boulders and is a true climbers paradise. You can bring horses her for trail riding and camp for up to 14 nights. No water or bathrooms available here.
No Man’s Trailhead– Kalamath National Forest, CA– Located in Kalamath National Forest there is no permit required to camp here. No water or garbage access so bring enough water for your stay and be prepared to take your trash. If you plan on using a camp stove or camp fire a permit will be required. There are also no bathrooms available at this location.
Lower Salt Creek Shoreline – Lakehead, CA -Camp here for free without the use of facilities with the exception of restrooms and trash use. The park is open year round for camping. It is near water also.
Ramhorn– Litchfield, CA – Camping with 6-15 campsites. The park has a public restroom, hiking trails, picnic tables, and use of trash disposal. This park is know for being very well maintained and you have the option to stay for up to 2 weeks using the facility.
Laufman Campground – Milford, CA – This is a small campground with only 6 sites available for use. Each campsite does have a fire ring and picnic table. There is no water or trash service available but there is a vault restroom.
Mariner’s Point– Redding, CA – This is one of the few accessible campgrounds by car near the lake. The campsites do have picnic tables and reservations are required for camping. Hiking, fishing, and boating are a few activities for this area. No restrooms available.
Modoc National Forest– Modoc, Lassen and Siskiyou counties, CA – Campgrounds are available in a developed setting as well as primitive sites. For dispersed camping a campfire permit is required to a camp stove or fire. You may primitively camp for up to 14 days and you must leave the area uninterrupted. No restrooms available.
Cherry Lake – Tuolumne County, CA – Dispersed camping is available at least 100 feet from water and above the high water mark only. Fishing, swimming, and hiking are common activities for the area. There are vault restrooms available.
Mud Lake Trailhead-Lassen National Forest, CA – 2 sites have fire rings and vault toilets but no water access is available. This location is dispersed camping only.
Doe Flat Trailhead– Six Rivers National Forest, CA– This is a small location for primitive camping with only 3 sites available with no charge. Although no water is available there is a vault toilet at the trailhead. This is a great location for anyone interested in hiking.
Steiner Flat Primitive Campgrounds– Redding, CA – There are 8 primitive campsites available here. You can camp here either in a tent or a small camper. There are vault toilets available but no potable water to use. This is a great spot for paddling, hiking, swimming, and nature watching.
Cow Mountain Recreation Area – Ukiah, CA – This is a great spot for recreational vehicle trail access. Many sighting so bear, wild turkey, and other upland animals have been seen. Camping here is primarily primitive.
Deny Campground – Burnt Ranch, CA – Located in the Trinity National Forest this campground has 5 sites for tent camping or RV camping. If you plan to camp in an RV your RV can be no longer than 22 feet. There is water access and vault restrooms available for use. Each campsite has a picnic table and fire ring. This is an ideal spot for fishing.
Big Sage Campground – Alturas, CA – Camping here is available seasonally from May to October. There are 11 campsites and you can stay a maximum of 14 days. If you are bringing an RV it can’t be any longer than 22 feet. Campsites have fire rings, picnic tables, water, and there are vault restrooms on site. There is a boat ramp for fishing as well.
Butte Creek Campground – Susanville, CA – This campsite is located in the Lassen National Forest. You may camp here on any one of the 10 sites in a tent or 22 foot RV camper. There are no amenities for this site.
Deanes Valley Campground– Quincy, CA – This campsite is another seasonal site in the Plumas National Forest. There are 7 sites without amenities other than fire rings and and picnic tables. There are vault restrooms available as well.
Biscar Reservoir – Litchfield, CA – If you are a fisherman this site is perfect. There is fishing access and water access but camping is dispersed only.
Cedar Pass – Alturas, CA-Open from May to October camping here is available at any of the 17 sites. There are fire rings, picnic tables, and access to water. Vault restrooms are on site as well. This is another great spot for fishing.
Clover Meadow Campground– North Fork, CA– Open between June and October with several sites to choose from. They are a first come, first served basis with access to a water spigot, picnic table, and fire ring. There is also bathroom access with vault toilets. No handicap accessibility.
Eldorado National Forest – Placerville, CA – Most of the open land within the Eldorado National Forest is open for camping and is a walk in camp option only. You can not drive your vehicle off the road to camp. Your campsite has to be at least 100 feet from any natural water source and above the high water mark. You may have a campfire with a permit only. No amenities are available so “no trace” standards to apply.
Lake Tahoe Basin– South Lake Tahoe, CA– Camping for this area is restricted to the following areas: Mt. Rose Wilderness, Desolation Wilderness, Echo Chalet, Meiss Country Roadless Area, Mokelumne Wilderness and Granite Chief Wilderness.This is primitive camping only with no amenities and a leave no trace policy. You may have a fire with a permit.
Willow Creek Trail – Big Sur, CA – Stay up to 14 days here with campsites scattered all along the area. There is no water or bathroom access but the views are really amazing.
Alabama Hills Recreation Area – Lone Pine, CA – There are no restrooms or water access for public use but you may camp here in a tent or an RV. This is a great spot for views and is a location most well know for the views both night and day.
Picnic Grounds Road – Lee Vining, CA – This site is accessible by a dirt road. No water, restrooms, or electricity and only a few campsites for tent camping. Overall, this location is close to the highway and has stunning views.
Laguna Mountain Campground – Paicines, CA – This site is a gravel road entrance with a maximum stay of 14 days. There are vault restrooms on site with a fire ring and picnic table for each campsite. This site has really amazing views too.
KCL Camground – Santa Margarita, CA – This campsite has a dirt road entrance and is a great option for tent camping. This site has vault restrooms to use but no water use available. There is a recreation trail in this campground and each site is equipped with picnic table and fire ring.
Jerseydale Campground – Mariposa, CA – There are 10 sites available for either tent camping or RV camping. If you plan to camp in an RV it can be no longer than 24 feet. This campsite is open seasonally with water, vault restrooms, and trash disposal on site. Campsites also have a fire ring and picnic table.
Fossil Falls Dry Lake Bed– Little Lake, CA – Camping here is accessible by dirt road. This location is for primitive or dispersed camping only. There are no water amenities or restrooms. You may bring your pets but be prepared to take all trash out when you leave.
Green Cabin Flat Campground – Squaw Valley, CA – This small campground has a total of 8 camping spots. You can stay up to 14 days here and tent camp. There is water access for camping and pets are welcome. This is a great spot for fishing.
Holiday Campground – Mammoth Lakes, CA – This one is located in the Inyo National Forest. There are 35 campsites available for camping. There are vault toilets on site and water for public use. The campsites have fire rings and picnic tables. Pets are welcome and if you plan to camp in an RV it can be no longer than 16 feet.
Cherry Gap Camping Area – Hume, CA – This is a tent camp site with dispersed camping options. The sites do have a fire ring and picnic table to use but no bathrooms or water access. Maximum stay here is 14 days.
Redinger Campground – North Fork, CA – This camping location has dispersed campsites. You may camp in an RV as well. There is access to water for fishing.
Dove Springs OHV Area – Kern, CA – There are miles and miles of trail riding at this campground. This is an ideal place for off road vehicles and especially interesting if you are interested in desert camping. The only amenities available are vault toilets.
Herring Reservoir Campground – Pinecrest, CA – There are 9 campsite available with water access for fishing and some awesome trails to check out. Campsites do have fire rings. Bring your pets to camp too. Vault restrooms are on site.
Upper Sweetwater Campground – Paicines, CA – This location has really nice scenery. There are 6 campsites with fire rings and picnic tables. Access with an RV is appropriate as well. Vault restrooms for public use are available but you will need to bring in water.
Grant Lake – June Lake, CA – There are only 2 sites available for camping on Grant Lake. The road is extremely narrow so small RV’s are only appropriate. There are no trash services, water, or restrooms available, but an amazing spot for fishing.
Mojave National Preserve– Kelso, CA– Free dispersed camping available on a first come first served basis. A great spot for viewing wildlife. Some of the roads are narrow and not ideal for large vehicles or campers. It is first come first served for camping all over this area.
Mahogany Flats Campground – Death Valley National Park, CA – This campground is open from November to March with up to 15 campsites available. Total stay time here is no more than 14 days. Each site has a fire ring, picnic table, and there are restrooms available for use on site. This is a good location for biking, hiking, and wildlife viewing.
Rose Valley Campground – Ojai, CA – You may camp for free here but a permit is required. There are vault toilets available. The campsites do have fire rings and picnic tables too but no water access. This is a spot ideal for hikers and enjoying the scenic wildlife.
Alder Creek (Alta Sierra) – Borrego Spring, CA – This location is used primarily for dispersed camping only. You may camp here in an RV that is not longer than 20 feet. Public restrooms are available. No reservations are required but you must take your trash with you when you leave.
Ocotillo Wells SVRA– Borrego Springs, CA– This park is open from 10/1- 5/31 and you can stay for up to 14 days.There are showers available and a public restroom. This area is a great area if you have a four wheeler, dune buggy, or off road recreational vehicle. Bring your own water for your campsite.
Amboy Crater – Amboy, CA– Here you can camp both in a tent and there are a few spots for RV’s as well. There are two vault toilets on site for use as well as picnic tables with shade and a parking lot. Plenty of places to hike in and around the crater for sight seeing.
Means Dry Lake – Landers, CA – This area is primitive camping with no water or restroom access available. It is a great spot for ATV’s and other off road vehicles.
Box Canyon West – Mecca, CA– There is a paved road to access this campsite with RV camping and tent camping available. You have the option to stay up to 14 days here. No water or restrooms for public use.
Jawbone Canyon– Cantil- CA– This camping location is really ideal if you are the off- roading type. There are restrooms available for public use. This spot is open all year with some great wildlife viewing.
Trona Pinnacles – Ridgecrest, CA – Tent and RV camping is available here. There are vault restrooms on site. Traveling in to camp is a little rough so a larger vehicle is preferred. Take in water and pets are welcome.
Miranda Pine Campground – Santa Barbara, CA– Camping here requires you to bring in your own water and take your trash with you. There are vault restrooms on site to be used. The terrain is somewhat rocky for traveling in to camp. Pets are welcome.
Sunrise Rock – Cima, CA – Camping here does not have water access and is a dry campsite. Bring in your own water and be prepared to take out your trash and anything else you bring in. The trails for traveling are dirt and there are some good spots for exploring trails. There are picnic tables and fire rings at each campsite.
Painted Gorge Road – Ocotillo, CA – This site is great for off-roading or ATV’s. There are dispersed camping here with no water or restrooms but campsites do have a fire ring.
Tool Box Springs Campground – Mountain Center, CA – There are 6 sites for tent camping here. There are tons of big trees that provide great shade and there are vault restrooms on site. Access to this site is rough so a truck is ideal.
Big Black Mountain – Ramona, CA – The scenery at this campsite is enough. If you love the outdoors this one is perfect. It is a dispersed camping location with no water or restrooms but the views are worth it. There is a recreational trail for checking things out.
We would love to hear your reports of where you have found the best free camping sites & if you have any reviews of any of these locations we have listed!
More Camping Resources:
- Free Camping Sites in Washington and Oregon
- Low Cost Campgrounds $20 or less in Washington & Oregon
- Top 5 Tips for Saving Money on your Next Camping Trip
- Camping Page
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