3 Great California Camping Locations

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  • Post last modified:December 24, 2022
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California is home to a wide variety of terrain from the lowest valley in the nation to the highest mountain peak and its coast boasts rugged beauty and sandy beaches. For the outdoor enthusiast, it provides unlimited opportunities. Here are three great California locations for the camping lover.

Death Valley

Death Valley is a great winter destination with an incredible variety of terrain and wildlife. At 282 feet below sea level, it is the lowest point in the nation and you may wonder why anyone would want to visit a place with the word “death” in its name.

Death Valley is far from dead, and the best time to witness the life of the desert is in early spring when the wildflowers are in bloom. In fact, most of the campgrounds and facilities will close for the summer in May due to the fact that the temperature can rise to 120 degrees.

Death Valley National Park has 9 campgrounds providing various amenities at each. If you own an RV and don’t mind being around people and within the mix of other tourists, then you’ll like Furnace Creek Campground which is open all year.

In fact, it’s the only campground on the valley floor that stays open all year and is conveniently located in Furnace Creek which is Death Valley’s oasis for travelers. There you will find a well-stocked gift shop that sells groceries and other necessities.

You will also find a couple of restaurants and a gas station. Other campgrounds on the valley floor are Sunset, Texas Spring, and Stovepipe Wells, which serves as another oasis for travelers. However, these campgrounds are only open from October to April.

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At all of the campgrounds on the valley floor, you will find flush toilets and dump stations for your RV, water, and some fire pits.

If you would rather stay in a more secluded area, away from tourists and out of the valley’s heat, there are several campgrounds at higher elevations. Emigrant and Wildrose campgrounds are open all year and are more primitive with pit toilets and no showers.

Emigrant is a tent-only campsite and Wildrose does not have a lot of room for RV’s, and most campers stay in tents. These campgrounds are first-come-first-serve, but rarely fill up even in peak season and the best thing is, they are free.

Other more remote campgrounds at even higher elevations are Thorndike and Mahogany Flat. Access to these sites is limited and it is recommended that you have a high-clearance 4-wheel drive. They are only open during the summer from March to November due to snowfall in winter.

Critters to Watch Out For

In Death Valley, there are small animals like chipmunks, rabbits, and squirrels and larger animals like the coyote but none of these animals pose any real threat to humans. At campsites always store your food in containers that are secure from clever animals.

California’s Northern Coast

Where can you go to see trees that are 2,000 years old and 300 feet tall? Where do you camp with the sounds of pounding waves lulling you to sleep? In California’s Northern Coast, that’s where.

The coastal region of Northern California is a special area kept cool and moist by the ocean and is the only place in the world where you will find the California Redwood tree.

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Camping amongst these giants is an incredible experience and people have used words like “amazing” “a must-see” and “add this to your bucket list.” There are numerous small towns up and down Highway 1 and each one has its own distinct style. In between towns you will find plenty of coastal camping opportunities.

The weather in this area can be cold even in the summer. Nights can dip down into the 50’s and in the daytime, after the morning fog burns off, the temperature usually lingers around the 70’s, perfect weather for hiking.

The main activity in these areas is hiking with many maintained trails in the forest and on the grasslands near the beaches and rocky cliffs. Tide pools are abundant and it’s a lot of fun to jump around the rocks at low tide looking for starfish and other sea creatures.

Critters to Watch Out For

The only animals you could potentially have problems with are the pesky raccoons who love to scavenge the campsites at night. Keep your food properly stored in food boxes at your campsite. When hiking be aware that you are in mountain lion territory.

It is very rare to see one, but you are in their neighborhood. Also, while out on a hike keep your eye out for the banana slug. These slugs are completely harmless but their generous size and bright yellow color make them an interesting find.

Tahoe National Forest

If the wet, chilly coast is not your thing, then head east to Lake Tahoe and the surrounding forests. You can camp amongst the pines, alongside lakes, or along one of the many forks of the American River.

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There are close to 200 campgrounds to choose from in this area as it is one of the most popular areas for outdoor recreation in Northern California. Hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and off-road vehicle parks offer entertainment and activities for everyone. Fishing is fantastic in this area.

There are great fishing spots in lakes and ponds, rivers, and streams. There is nothing quite like enjoying freshly caught river trout cooked at the campfire.

The forest is so vast; you have your selection of a variety of camping styles. There are campgrounds, such as the one at French Meadows Reservoir, that are 30 or 40 miles from the nearest town and are somewhat primitive with no potable water and only pit toilets. On the other hand, there are larger campgrounds with all the amenities for RV’s and organized ranger programs for the kids.

Critters to Watch Out For

This is bear country and don’t be surprised if you hear of a recent sighting nearby. Consider yourself lucky if you’re able to see one, they are amazing creatures. However, as more humans encroach on their habitat the bears become bolder and less afraid of humans and they can pose a serious danger to campers.

It is important to follow local rules in regard to bears. Most campgrounds will have bear boxes for food storage. Always lock your food in the bear box, never in your car, and never eat in your tent unless you want a surprise visitor at night!

These are only a few of the many beautiful places to visit in California for the outdoor lover.

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