California is at the top of many people’s trip lists, thanks to its 840 miles of coastline, magnificent mountains, and lively towns. From the Sierra Nevada Mountains to Joshua Tree National Park, California is filled with beautiful destinations, sunny days, and plenty of those Beach Boys vibes.
California has an ample amount of dispersed camping if you know where to look. Here’s where to locate the greatest free camping in California.
See the California free camping map.
Where to Find Free Camping in California
As a general rule, finding free camping on the shore—or any coast, for that matter—is tough. There are exceptions to this rule, but if you’re watching your budget, the coast is a tricky place to do it.
Fortunately, the interior of California is densely packed with public areas, including Bureau of Land Management, National Forest, and National Park Service holdings, where you may spend a week of adventure and leisure in a stunning setting.
On the seaside, free camping usually takes the shape of a night spent in a casino parking lot. This option is often only available to self-contained campers such as RVs or campervans. Campendium community favorites include Lucky 7 Casino in Smith River, Bear River Casino in Fortuna, and Garcia River Casino in Point Arena, listed from north to south along the coast.
Nacimiento Road in Big Sur and TV Tower Road just west of San Luis Obispo are two more seaside destinations.
In the northern reaches of California, you’ll find clear lakes, pine-filled forests, and plenty of spots to pull out your mountain bike during the day and chill around the fire ring at night. The national forest areas around Lassen Volcanic National Park are a popular boondocking destination. Rocky Point East near Susanville is a popular spot, having a large lake and a boat ramp for kayaks or paddleboards.
Curren #2, near Lava Beds National Monument, in Modoc National Forest, may provide complete isolation.
Yosemite and Kings Canyon
US 395, which runs through the Inyo National Forest and runs along the eastern boundary of Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks, is the crown gem of free camping in California.
Alabama Hills Recreation Area is the Campendium community’s clear preference (those Sierra vistas are hard to top!). Those seeking a quieter experience will find it at lesser-known gems like Owens Gorge Road and Sagehen Meadows.
The southern California free camping scene revolves on three areas: Anza Borrego Desert Reserve, Joshua Tree National Park, and the Mojave Desert.
Blair Valley in Anza Borrego, less than two hours from San Diego, takes the cake for panoramic vistas, calm areas, and hiking trails. At Joshua Tree, which is a popular getaway from Los Angeles, you’ll find reliable cell service and plenty of sun for your solar panels at Joshua Tree North and Joshua Tree South, both a stone’s throw from park entrances.
Last but not least, the Mojave Desert’s exquisite seclusion is best experienced in the winter or early spring. The Kelbaker Boulders is an excellent spot for a single camper or head to Kelso Dunes Mine for more spacious camping spots and dune access.