A successful West Coast summer experience isn't complete without camping along the Northern California coast. Extending over 300 breathtaking miles from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to the Oregon border, Northern California is home to some of the most picturesque beaches and old-growth forests in the world. An abundance of beautifully preserved land combined with small-town communities that adore their coastline has led to the creation of many incredible camping spots waiting for you to enjoy.
The Best Car Camping in Northern California
Pacific Coast Highway Cruising
From the San Francisco Bay area, you will make your way north past the enchanting little town of Bodega Bay, along Highway 1 through the Point Reyes National Seashore, which I consider to be one of the most beautiful drives in the United States. Vast bluffs and small surf towns hug the Marin and Sonoma coastlines as the winding roads lead you north through the Headlands of Mendocino County.
Highway 1 becomes Highway 101 in Leggett as you're guided around the Lost Coast of California. Slower speeds through smaller forested towns allow you to recognize the charm that lures thousands of coastal lovin' visitors every year. Continuing north from the Lost Coast of Mendocino you'll enter Humboldt County, home of the Redwood National Forest and over 1,500 miles of waterways providing the ecosystem with vital nutrients. The rivers give anglers, sunbathers, kayakers, and rafters an undisturbed environment to thrive in. Along the Klamath River, Humboldt County blends into Del Norte County as the last portion of Northern California meets the Oregon Border.
Car Camping in Northern California
As a photographer, I make far too many unexpected stops to accurately determine a destination or arrival time. Through my experiences and consistent lack of campsite planning, I have learned that there will always be a place to safely camp in Northern California no matter where you are or what type of environment you are looking for.
Luckily for you, not only have we listed some of the more popular areas due to the sheer beauty, but we've also included a few hidden gems located off of the beaten path to give you more of a traditional camping experience. If you love the mountains, pristine beaches, vibrant rivers, lush forests, and camping, then continue reading as I introduce you to California's north coast.
Steep Ravine Cabins and Campgrounds
Located on Mount Tamalpais, in-between San Francisco and Stinson Beach, you'll find Steep Ravine. This secluded environmental campground sits along the coastline and offers seven tent sites and nine cabins. For those who feel called to ditch their cell phone and experience an "off-grid experience," this is a prime location for you! There is no electricity or cell service here which adds to the magic of your experience. The cabins are minimal offering only beds, a table, and a wood-burning stove. An extensive trail system will guide you through the gorgeous Redwood and Oak groves of Mt. Tam, or you can choose to walk the seemingly private beach at low tide. Reservations are required.
Tomales Beach Campground
If you are looking for an unforgettable beach camping experience, this is the adventure for you! Tomales Beach is a boat-in campground, only accessible by kayaking or boating for one hour along the scenic sandy beaches of Point Reyes. When the season is right, you can swim among the bioluminescence with an undisturbed sky full of stars above - it's quite magical. There are multiple campsites along the bay but amenities are limited to fire pits, restrooms, and garbage disposal sites. There is no potable water available so make sure to pack a few extra gallons if you have a longer stay planned. Kayak and boat rentals are available in nearby Marshall at Blue Water Kayak.
A popular spot for diving and ocean kayaking, Stillwater Campground offers 23 year-round campsites with hiking trails accessing towering Redwood groves filled with ferns and rugged views of the Pacific Ocean. The campground is located 15 miles north of the beautiful town of Jenner and offers many nearby attractions like Goat Rock and the Russian River. What used to be a fairly primitive destination has now been slightly upgraded with potable water, a dump station, restrooms with electrical outlets, coin-operated showers, and flush toilets. If this campground is full, navigate to Wrights Beach for an alternative beach campground with RV sites and RV hookups.
Gualala River Redwood Park
Stay among massive old-growth Redwood trees and along the banks of a peaceful river at Gualala River Redwood Park for a memorable camping experience suitable for all ages. 120 spacious campsites complete with electricity, water, picnic tables, and fire rings make it easy to camp long-term, while the basketball court, ping pong tables, volleyball, and horseshoes keep the kids occupied. An on-site camp store is available in case you forget any camp necessities. Reservations required.
Van Damme State Park Campground
Van Damme is an absolute paradise for hikers of all skill levels and offers dramatic viewpoints every step of the way. You'll discover unique pigmy forests and stunning fern-filled canyons along one of the five trails ranging from a quarter-mile to ten miles long. While there are several incredible diving locations at Van Damme and nearby Jug Handle State Beach, campers must be cautious as the Mendocino Coast is extremely unpredictable. Kayak tours are offered nearby to explore the sea caves.
Albion River Campground
The million-dollar ocean views from Albion River paired with easy access and incredible crabbing and fishing opportunities have people saying this is one of the best beach campgrounds in Mendocino County. Tucked in-between the ocean and the Albion River, crystal-clear water makes this area a very popular spot for kayak fishing and crabbing. Side note, If you are looking for a shaded location this may not be the best campground for you, it is basically treeless. Stay here at night and enjoy the beautiful shaded Redwood trails that surround the area. Full hook-ups are available.
Raised in Butte, Montana, Josh Monthei is a nomadic photographer, skateboarder, and an over-caffeinated writer who has been traveling North America for over seven years. His travels have spanned over 100,000 miles and include a 3000-mile skateboard trip from Los Angeles to New York City. Instagram: @josh.monthei
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