By Kelsey Krahn
Where do you even start with camping adventures in California? The national and state parks stretching across California’s 3531905 square miles jampacked with sand dunes, lakefront bliss, old-growth forests, granite walls, and a sweeping coastline make it tough to choose where to spend a few nights under the stars. Narrow down your choices from the thousands of campsites sprawled across California to five unique places to set up your tent, where you can happily fall asleep to the white noise of trees humming, waves lapping, or wildlife rustling.
Our list of unique campgrounds across California:
Let’s get things started with a front-country, chilled-out experience that borders the line between glamping and rustic. Ventana Campground is rustic in the way that it’s tent-only, but the amenities mirror a 5-star resort. Expect a canopy of redwood trees to soar above and flank your tent, while the Big Sur Smokehouse gives you a break from cooking hotdogs over a fire and grants a fulfilling meal.
To keep yourself entertained, you can travel along the hiking trails, such as the Coast Ridge Trail, which unveils views of the Pacific Ocean, as well as hikes in the nearby Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.
Keep in mind that this is a tent-only campground. RVs, camper vans, trucks with roof tents, and tent trailers will not be allowed in. On another note, the Ventana Campground has top-notch washroom facilities, each campsite boasts a picnic table and a fire ring, and you’ll find delis, general stores, and more restaurants nearby.
White Tank Campground
Looking for the ultimate place to stargaze? White Tank Campground in Joshua Tree National Park offers incredible starry night sky views, thanks to its unique campground location. This small campground, which allows for 15 groups, works on a first-come, first-serve basis, and if you’re planning on staying in Joshua Tree National Park, you’re going to want to get here early to grab your spot.
Unlike typical shaded campsites, White Tank Campground has you pitching your tent next to boulders jetting high out of desert sand. When the sun dips below the clouds, the wide-open sky plays like a natural big-screen movie with the number of stars glowing and entertaining.
Bring your pets, get ready for cackling campfires, and pack a lot of water as there is no water facility here. There are toilets, though.
If you arrive at a full campsite, consider looking into Cottonwood or Belle, or you can register for a backcountry permit, which is free. And naturally, since you’re already in a national park, you might as well go on some outdoor adventures. You’ll find several unreal hikes in Joshua Tree National Park, such as the short, must-do 1.5-km Hidden Valley Loop or the longer but mild 13.2-km Boy Scouts Trail. A location that was a must for our list of Unique Campgrounds Across California!
Tuolumne Meadows Campground
Booking a campsite in Yosemite National Park emulates the feeling you get when you spend hours hiking up a steep ascent to the top of a mountain, only to reach a sea of fog. It’s hard to do and disappointing at the same time! If you’re bent on exploring Yosemite National Park—which we all should be at one point in our lives—but are out of luck with booking a campsite, don’t worry! Tuolumne Meadows Campground provides a platform for adventurers eager to access Yosemite National Park.
Don’t expect luxurious amenities, but more so amenities that allow you to stick around Yosemite National Park and bask in its montage of natural wonders. Just a 15-minute drive from the campground, you’ll find the Clouds Rest Trail, a 14.5-mile, half-day hike that’s challenging and rewarding—and I don’t say that lightly.
Tuolumne Meadows Campground is big enough for 304 tents or RVs, seven groups, as well as four sites tailored for horses!
Del Norte Campground
Escape the noise twirling throughout bustling southern California and head to the secluded, undeveloped Channel Islands National Park, which has thrived in isolation for thousands of years, except for the few that travel to these remote wilderness wonders by boat or plane.
The contrast of greenery cloaking the islands making up Channel Islands National Park with the shimmering seascape creates an epic camping setting. And whenever you’re not admiring the views from your campsite, you can experience an explosion of adventures, ranging from hiking, snorkeling, swimming, surfing, kayaking, and the list goes on. For an incredible experience, I suggest checking out Del Norte Campground on Santa Cruz Island. To reach this area, you’ll have to walk 3.5 miles along the Del Norte Trail to pitch your tent at one of the four backcountry spots at this campsite. It’s pure, secluded bliss here! Yet another strong contender for inclusion in the most unique campgrounds across California.
I started this article by suggesting a campground that sprinkles glamping over rustic vibes, so it only fits that I end this list with the ultimate glamping opportunity: Treebones Resort. The views of Big Sur’s roaring coastline paired with a couple of nights in one of the dolled-up yurts make for a phenomenal experience. You could throw an unforgettable bachelorette party here—or at any of the campsites on this list, really!
If you aren’t in the mood to dish out loads of money for a yurt or the luxurious autonomous tent, you’ll be happy to know that there are bring-your-own-tent sites that grant unreal views of the water stretching into the horizon below. The pricing for this campsite includes access to resort facilities as well as the self-serve breakfast. Be sure to bring your own camp stove or prepare to eat in the on-site restaurant, as fires are prohibited here.
To really amp up the romance of sleeping under the stars, the Treehouse Resort offers a Human Nest! That’s right; you can spend the night with your loved one in a massive bird’s nest-like structure that comes with a charming balcony. What’s better than falling asleep to the lapping of waves and under the stars next to your partner in a human nest? Words just can’t describe it!
Other notable campgrounds include Homestake Dry Camp in Death Valley National Park, Gold Bluffs Beach in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and Butte Lake in Lassen Volcanic National Park.
The unique campgrounds across California mentioned in this article give just a glimpse of the collection of fantastic places to chill under the stars in the Golden State. And hopefully, this list of campgrounds helps kickstart your research journey of finding a spot that caters to what you want!