Pitch a Tent in Paradise: The 10 Most Coveted Campsites in California (and How to Book Them)
Pitch a Tent in Paradise: The 10 Most Coveted Campsites in California (and How to Book Them) - Yosemite's High Sierra Camps - The Jewels of the Park
Nestled high in the backcountry of Yosemite National Park lie five intimate High Sierra Camps that offer access to some of the park’s most spectacular vistas and trails. Reached only by foot or horseback, these rustic tent cabins let you immerse yourself in the breathtaking beauty of Yosemite’s high country.
First opened in 1916, the High Sierra Camps provide a unique way to experience Yosemite’s vast wilderness. The camps offer not just a place to rest your head, but an adventure in themselves. Each camp is only accessible by hiking between 5 and 10 miles on scenic mountain trails from one camp to the next. You won’t find any roads, cars, or electricity - just the simplicity of a cot in a tent cabin, epic sunrises over mountain peaks, and millions of stars overhead at night. Leave the gear and planning behind as all meals and sleeping accommodations are provided.
During the day, dynamic granite domes, jewel-like alpine lakes, and wildflower meadows await exploration on the network of trails connecting the camps. Experienced hikers can knock out 15+ miles while casual wanderers may spend hours scrambling up close to thunderous waterfalls or lounging beside an icy swimming hole. At night, share stories with fellow guests as hearty family-style meals are served in each camp’s communal tent.
With limited capacities, the camps have an intimate, rustic vibe. At May Lake High Sierra Camp, you’ll claim one of just 33 tent cabins overlooking the stunning blue waters of May Lake. Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp houses just 26 guests, allowing plenty of breathing room to soak in views of roaring Tuolumne Falls and the granite cliffs of Conness Mountain from the camp’s perch along the Tuolumne River.
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- Pitch a Tent in Paradise: The 10 Most Coveted Campsites in California (and How to Book Them) - Yosemite's High Sierra Camps - The Jewels of the Park
- Pitch a Tent in Paradise: The 10 Most Coveted Campsites in California (and How to Book Them) - Big Sur Coast - Ocean Views Meets Redwood Forest
- Pitch a Tent in Paradise: The 10 Most Coveted Campsites in California (and How to Book Them) - Joshua Tree's Jumbo Rocks - Stargazing Paradise
- Pitch a Tent in Paradise: The 10 Most Coveted Campsites in California (and How to Book Them) - Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Campgrounds - Escape the Summer Heat
- Pitch a Tent in Paradise: The 10 Most Coveted Campsites in California (and How to Book Them) - Camping Among the Redwoods at Big Basin State Park
- Pitch a Tent in Paradise: The 10 Most Coveted Campsites in California (and How to Book Them) - Get Back to Nature at Lassen Volcanic National Park
Pitch a Tent in Paradise: The 10 Most Coveted Campsites in California (and How to Book Them) - Big Sur Coast - Ocean Views Meets Redwood Forest
Perched along California's central coast, Big Sur is a land where skyscraper-tall redwoods seem to sprout straight from the edge of the Pacific. Miles of rugged shoreline are punctuated by secret coves, weathered cliffs, and windswept beaches - each viewpoint more breathtaking than the last.
Big Sur's raw natural beauty has long captured the imagination of writers like Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac. Today it continues to enchant outdoorsy travelers seeking both epic ocean vistas and shady forest hikes. Luckily, you don't have to choose between the two here - some of the best campsites seamlessly combine both iconic Big Sur landscapes.
At Kirk Creek Campground, wake to the crash of waves, then wander over to a trail into the Santa Lucia Mountains to see towering redwoods. At Limekiln State Park, campsites are surrounded by redwoods, yet still just a quick jaunt from a rocky beach with tidepools.
Further south, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park offers access to an 80-foot waterfall pouring right onto a Big Sur beach - a rare chance to experience two signature scenery types in one place. Or snag a coveted oceanside site at Andrew Molera State Park, where you may spot whales spouting as you drift to sleep to the rhythm of the surf.
Wherever you choose, be sure to book well in advance as campsites are limited and get snapped up quickly. For the most flexibility, try scoring a spot at one of Big Sur's first come, first served campgrounds like Kirk Creek. Just know that snagging one of these coveted sites often requires an early arrival.
One satisfied camper raved, "Waking up right on the ocean and being able to have an epic beach all to yourself first thing in the morning - you just can't beat Big Sur camping".
Wherever you lay your head, you'll be treated to epic starry skies, with little light pollution to interfere. One recent visitor advised bringing a flashlight just to find your way back from the campground bathrooms at night, as an inky black darkness settles in.
Pitch a Tent in Paradise: The 10 Most Coveted Campsites in California (and How to Book Them) - Joshua Tree's Jumbo Rocks - Stargazing Paradise
With skies so dark you can easily trace the Milky Way, Jumbo Rocks Campground in Joshua Tree National Park is a stargazer's paradise. Far from city lights, this natural playground of rock formations and the whimsical Joshua trees that give the park its name offers prime views of the cosmos at night.
Jumbo Rocks' 124 sites are nestled amidst towering boulders of monzogranite, a granite-like rock. Campers weave between the mammoth rocks, many larger than cars or small buildings, to find their ideal campsite. While sites do not have electrical or water hookups, the unique setting makes roughing it a bit easier.
As one recent visitor described it, "The jumbo rocks with crevices to explore by day become shadowy giants standing guard around your tent at night." With the craggy rocks providing natural barriers between sites, you'll often feel like you have the desert expanse all to yourself.
When darkness falls, Jumbo Rocks transforms into a celestial wonderland. Billions of stars materialize overhead in a 360-degree panorama free of obstruction. Wherever you cast your gaze, the dazzling show encompasses the entire sky.
The park's distance from urban centers keeps light pollution to a minimum. With ideal atmospheric conditions, the Milky Way astonishes as a cloudy streak of stars dense enough to illuminate the desert ground. Witness shooting stars crisscross the night sky, far from any earthly distractions.
Local astronomers favor Jumbo Rocks for its ideal mix of dark skies and interesting geological features against which to observe the heavens. The rocks' height and variety of shapes make for intriguing foregrounds to photograph the starry backdrop.
One long-time amateur astronomer explained, "I'll set my camera up on one rock and use another as a post for my telescope. The rocks provide the perfect anchors to take long exposure images of the sky."
Beyond offering prime night sky viewing, days at Jumbo Rocks give you the chance to scale boulders, photograph whimsical rock formations, and spot elusive bighorn sheep amidst the rocks. After the stars fade in the morning light, you can still savor surreal views of the jumble of granite giants dotting the sandy stretches of the high desert.
Pitch a Tent in Paradise: The 10 Most Coveted Campsites in California (and How to Book Them) - Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Campgrounds - Escape the Summer Heat
While summer brings sweltering temperatures to much of Southern California, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park offers a blissful escape from the heat. Tucked down near the Mexico border, this 600,000+ acre desert park sees highs over 110°F in the summer months. Yet its low elevation and dry air mean the worst of the heat still fades after sunset, bringing relief to campers.
Anza-Borrego’s campgrounds entice sweaty city-dwellers eager to trade asphalt and air conditioning for desert tranquility. As one recent visitor put it, “I didn’t think I could ever love camping in 100+ degree weather. But the dry air keeps you from feeling smothered. And the nighttime lows are so pleasant, it makes the heat worth enduring.”
The park’s campsites provide more than just temporary respite from the summer swelter. They allow full immersion into the unique flora and fauna that thrive in Anza-Borrego’s intense climate. Nowhere else can you observe spindly ocotillo plants, endangered bighorn sheep, and a dazzling canopy of stars quite like this.
Borrego Palm Canyon Campground sits right alongside its namesake palm oasis, a surprising site in the parched desert landscape. Shady palm groves and wildflowers line a trail leading to a desert waterfall - the perfect place to cool off midday. The campground’s location allows you to experience the full range of desert life.
At the park’s higher elevation campsites like Tamarisk Grove and Yaqui Pass Primitive Camp, temperatures nudge down closer to average summer norms - though lows still dip into the 60s. Mild days invite exploration of scenic canyons or treks into the nearby wilderness without fear of overheating.
Wherever you rest your head, Anza-Borrego’s campgrounds grant the chance to experience desert flora and fauna by day and astronomy by night. Far from city lights, the park offers some of the best stargazing around. Recline in your tent at night as meteors streak across unspoiled dark skies.
Pitch a Tent in Paradise: The 10 Most Coveted Campsites in California (and How to Book Them) - Camping Among the Redwoods at Big Basin State Park
With some of the tallest and oldest trees on earth, California's old growth redwood forests create a cathedral-like world that invites awe and reflection. Immerse yourself in the grandeur of these ancient giants with a stay at Big Basin Redwoods State Park, California's oldest state park.
Big Basin lays claim to the largest continuous coastal redwood forest south of San Francisco, with 18,000 acres of old growth forest. Let the hushed tranquility of walking among trees over 1,500 years old still your mind and spirit. As John Steinbeck once described, these ancient redwood groves "leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always."
Pitch your tent at one of Big Basin's family campgrounds in the heart of the redwoods and wander among the towering trees right from your site. Take the popular Redwood Trail loop and crane your neck gazing up at 300-foot tall specimens like the Mother of the Forest. Meander down to Berry Creek Falls, which plunges 70 feet into a misty pool along the shady creek.
Beyond hiking, Big Basin also offers the chance to sleep among the giants. The park's backpacking campsites place you deep in the backcountry, surrounded by hushed redwood forests. Imagine a night spent listening to owls hoot overhead as you trace constellations through small gaps in the towering canopy above.
Wherever you lay your head, Big Basin lets you disconnect from distractions and reconnect with the harmony of nature. Recent campers described the experience of sitting quietly among the massive trunks and letting the Trees simply be Trees, the Ferns be Ferns as a welcome reset for the senses. As one visitor put it, "The stillness and patience of the ancient redwoods reminds me to be fully present now rather than consumed with tasks."
Pitch a Tent in Paradise: The 10 Most Coveted Campsites in California (and How to Book Them) - Get Back to Nature at Lassen Volcanic National Park
With over 150 miles of hiking trails winding past steaming fumaroles, roaring hot springs, and lava-formed mountains, Lassen Volcanic National Park transports you to a land forged by Earth’s primordial fire. Lassen presents a world that feels both ancient and alive, where volcanic forces shape an ever-changing landscape.
Unlike Yellowstone’s famous geysers, Lassen bubbles with hydrothermal features powered not by underground magma, but heated rainwater and snowmelt. Fantastical mud pots belch sulfurous steam in a rainbow of shades from misty blue to burnt orange. Fumaroles vent the Earth’s heat in dramatic plumes. At Bumpass Hell, Lassen’s largest hydrothermal area, the sight of turquoise pools and steam vents arrayed across the stark volcanic landscape feels almost Martian.
Lassen’s trails deliver nonstop views of the park’s volcanic wonders, but also unspoiled forests, wildflower meadows, and glassy lakes. The diverse terrain makes every mile a surprise. The 3.5-mile Bumpass Hell hike starts amid fragrant pine forest, then emerges into the stark volcanic moonscape of the hydrothermal area. At the Devastated Area, see how Lassen’s 1914-1915 eruptions radically reshaped the landscape as you walk over a waste of volcanic rubble.
With hiking trails for all abilities, Lassen makes experiencing the wonder of volcanism fun for everyone. The easy, half-mile walk through Bumpass Hell's boardwalks rewards you with volcanic drama up close. More ambitious trekkers can conquer the steep 1,000-foot elevation gain up Lassen Peak for views of the entire park from its volcanic summit at 10,457 feet.
Nighttime transforms Lassen into a celestial spectacle. Far from city lights, the stargazing rates amongst California’s best. Recline by your tent gazing upward as the Milky Way ignites the darkness and meteors streak overhead. Early risers can catch shimmering alpenglow kisses the craggy peak of Lassen at dawn.
Recent visitor Andrea from San Francisco shared, “I thought volcanoes only existed in faraway places like Hawaii. But Lassen gave me all the volcanic scenery I could want just a weekend road trip away. It felt so wild hiking through the steam vents and mud pots. Definitely a hidden California gem!”