There are a lot more options for free camping in California than you may think, from the chilly sequoia woods to the warm desert of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Beware, the majority of these locations have few or no amenities, which is why they are free. However, a lot of them are suitable for both tent and RV camping.
On this lengthy list, we’ve got something for everyone, whether you’re looking for a truly remote experience or a tranquil spot to hang your hammock close to town. There are plenty of free activities and attractions and camping in California, including anything from volcanic glass to film locations and a variety of hiking and fishing options in between.
North California’s best free camping spots
When visiting one of these free campsites in northern California, be cautious to carry layers of clothing because the weather can change rapidly. If you’re actively trekking, there may be frost on the ground in the morning and just enough sunlight in the afternoon to almost melt it.
Prepare yourself for some stunning winter scenery, crystal lakes, and perhaps even snow, depending on the season.
Klamath National Forest’s Orr Lake Campground
Orr Lake Campground is the first on our list of fantastic places to enjoy free camping in California.
There are campsites at Orr Lake Campground that are reachable by car, foot, and even boat! There are four free group campsites with a stunning view of Mount Shasta and six free lakefront campsites. For fishing, swimming, and kayaking, this is a lovely, peaceful location. A few pathways are also available for leisurely strolling, birdwatching, and mild trekking.
Dispersed Camping Area in the Modoc National Forest
Madoc National Forest offers stunning free camping in California if you’re seeking for some dispersed camping in the region of northern California. Do not be misled by the few reservation-only locations close to Medicine Lake. Aside from that, campsites can all be found in the woods for no cost and only require a little thought. As long as they leave little environmental impact, campers are free to set up their tents anywhere they like.
None of Man’s Trail
The beginning of the Clear Creek National Recreation Trail is at No Man’s Trailhead, which is situated in the Klamath National Forest. This open, first-come, first-served location offers no services. When the water level is low, the numerous creek crossings make for an intriguing and wildlife-filled hiking experience, but when the water level is high, the area could be dangerous and shouldn’t be walked alone. Also watch out for the local rattlesnakes that are common.
Campground Black Rock
Black Rock Campground is another dispersed camping area and is situated in the northeastern portion of the Ishi Wilderness. There are a total of six rather basic campsites that each have a table and a fire ring.
Excellent fishing chances can be found in the nearby Deer Creek. Both the nearby hiking trails and the fishing are excellent at Mill Creek. Plan on tent camping here because it’s on a gravel road that’s not advised for RVs.
Campground Scotts Flatt
The most of the year, this northern California camping area exclusively accepts paid reservations for its campsites. However, for certain free camping in California, all sites are first-come, first-served from October through December. Each campsite at Scotts Flat Campground has a fire ring and a picnic table. RVs are welcome, but there are no connections for them. There are restrooms on-site, but they’re probably locked up and unreachable when sites are free in the off-season.
Campground in Rocky Point West
Rocky Point West is a peaceful campground without any amenities that is situated near Eagle Lake just outside of Susanville, California. Boating is permitted in the lake during high water levels, however it is not advised because of the shallow bottom during low water levels.
The neighbouring Eagle Lake Marina has a small camp store, bathrooms, and a shower station.
Dispersed camping at Needles Point
Near Sequoia National Park, the Needles Point Dispersed Campground offers some of the best free camping in California. It’s a lovely location with many of ambiguous campsites you can pick from or invent on the fly. This is bear country, so be prepared to keep your food and trash carefully to avoid calamities brought on by bears.
This campground often only operates during the warmer months due to the local climate. Additionally, getting it is difficult, so prepare to park your 4X4 and hike the remaining distance. RVs and other large camping vehicles are not advised because they would find it nearly hard to maneuver in the region.
Campground at Whisky Falls
The Whisky Falls Campground is located in North Fork, California. This camping area is worth the perilous trip because it has a beautiful waterfall. The Whisky Falls Campground often only operates in June due to the hazard associated with specific weather conditions. Only nine first-come, first-served campsites are available, and there is only one shared restroom. Additionally, each spot has a table and a fire ring.
Dispersed camping area in Grizzly Flat
The Yuki Wilderness has a few campgrounds, including Grizzly Flat, which is surrounded by gorgeous pine and spruce trees. One vault toilet, three fire rings, and the absence of any tables are the only amenities offered by this remote location. As long as they don’t have a negative impact on the plants and wildlife, campers are welcome to use the area or set up camp somewhere else. Check out this place that discourages RVs from attempting the journey if you’re truly looking to rough it.
Campground at Lacks Creek
Lacks Creek Campground is yet another fantastic location for some free camping in California.
Lacks Creek Campground is about fifteen miles inland from the Pacific Ocean coast and is one of the few free places that allow horses. This area contains many paths for bicycling and horseback riding, as well as a number of free, remote campgrounds. Since there are just commercial producing forests and a few ranches in the area, you should be able to travel as far as you wish.
Lower Nye Campground
On our list of free campgrounds in California, Lower Nye Campground in the Mendicino National Forest is the most remote northern California location. This location is as as remote as it gets while yet being within easy driving distance of a town, lacking services, fire rings, and bathrooms.
Check with the USDA at the link above to remain updated on when this site is open for dispersed camping because the campsite is shut down whenever the stream is too swollen for safe fording.
Central California’s Best Free Campgrounds
In the heart of California, be ready for some spectacular mountain views. There’s never a shortage of sights to see in this dynamic region, whether it’s the obsidian beauty of an extinct volcano or a breathtaking perspective of Death Valley from a great height. When free camping in California, you can’t go wrong with a clear sky and close-by mountains.
Campground at Glass Creek
At Glass Creek, there is plenty of space to sprawl out with 66 campsites large enough for 45′ RVs. RVs cannot be hooked up, but they can still be moved about the sites as needed. Bear sightings are frequent around here, so take precautions to keep your food and trash appropriately to avoid any unpleasant interactions.
The volcanic glass at the neighboring Obsidian Dome, which is entirely composed of volcanic glass, gave this watercourse its name. Such a strange sight would be an interesting location to see and investigate while you were camping.
Campground in Hermit Valley
Another campground where RVs can fit but without connections is Hermit Valley Campground. There are no city or state staff to manage a more public area because the campsites are free. Therefore, it is your job to cause as minimal disruption to the land as possible while you are there.
Also acceptable are tents and hammocks. A few rock fire rings left by previous campers might be present. You should bring a lot of water with you because there isn’t any drinkable water around.
Dispersed camping at Alder Creek
Oak and sequoia trees abound near Alder Creek in the Los Padres National Forest. There are plenty of reasonably priced campsites close by, as well as totally free dispersed camping with no restrooms, fire rings, or picnic tables. If you wish to visit Alder Creek, tent camping is the best option because RVs could have trouble navigating this area.
Mahogany Flat Campground
If you want to travel to Death Valley without really going there, this is a perfect location. The stunning Pinyon Pine and Juniper Forests of Mahogany Flat Campground provide a great perspective of the desert without needing to be right in it—if that’s not your style. They are situated close to where central California stops and southern California begins. The free campsites in this 8200′ elevation region are often accessible only by 4X4 or other off-road vehicles. RVs are not advised.
This small first-come, first-served establishment does not accept bookings. Here, there are no bathrooms, tables, or fire rings, so be prepared for some extremely basic camping.
Southern California’s top free campgrounds
Forget about camping in the woods here. We’re preparing to travel to a warmer region. Finally, we have reached the southern part of California where deserts wrap around mountains and cacti are everywhere on our list of free camping in California. We may have the ideal location on our list for you if you’re looking to experience something new and different from traditional forest camping.
Campground at Furnace Creek
Furnace Creek Campground is another location close to Death Valley, although this time it’s down beside the valley rather than high in the mountains. Numerous species of fauna, including lizards, mountain goats, and many others, call this stunning location home.
Only a few of the several camping areas in Furnace Creek are free. On weekends and holidays, the free ones frequently fill up quickly and are first-come, first-served. We wish you luck in finding a space in this lovely area of desert!
National Scenic Area of Alabama Hills
Since the 1920s, Hollywood has used the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area, which is situated at the foot of the Siera Nevada ranges, to film more than 400 motion pictures. Surprisingly, camping is still free in this location, which is beloved for its breathtaking desert beauty. Visit soon or check back with the website mentioned above before planning your trip to see if there have been any changes; a new land management policy is ongoing to limit camping to specific sites in order to best conserve the natural attractiveness of the area.
State Park in the Anza Borrego Desert
There are a lot of expensive campsites at Anza Borrego Desert State Park, but if you want to be a little more frugal and adventurous, dispersed camping is also permitted for free. In the dispersed camping sections, connections are not available, but tents and RVs are also permitted. Keep your dogs secure and in your sight at all times because coyotes are widespread in this area.
To maintain the area’s natural beauty, the park requests that you park your car no farther than 10 feet from the road.
Dispersed camping along American Girl Mine Road
Almost the following few years, the American Girl Mine, which was first discovered in 1892, produced over 20,000 tonnes of gold. It was reworked in the 1930s, and over the years, due to several legal disputes, it has changed hands. Unfortunately, tours are not offered because the mine is still in operation. However, the Arizona-California border’s surrounding hills and canyons are beautiful to view.
If you can even call it that, the American Girl Mine Dispersed Campsite is very open and roomy, giving you lots of space from any surrounding campsites that may be occupied by other campers.
Primitive Campground at Yaqui Wash
Yaqui Wash Primitive Campground is our choice for the best free camping in California.
You can choose from practically countless campsites at Yaqui Wash Primitive Campground. Again, you’ll need to use your imagination because there are no clearly marked campsites or other amenities. The stunning wildflowers that bloom here in the spring draw visitors from all over the world, and there are as many possibilities for hiking and wildlife viewing as there are places to camp. For your camping excursions, this campground is open all year round. Although the roads here are sandy, keep in mind that RVs can have a difficult time making the journey. However, if you wish to provide it, you may try.
California Free Camping: Final Thoughts
Do you know of a secret location in California for some free camping that we missed? Comment below and let us know about it!
California is home to such a diverse range of amazing places that you are sure to find someplace suitable for your next camping trip. But make sure you’re prepared and bring everything needed before you set out. You may end up having the time of your life!