A guide to the best Big Sur camping spots, including tips for visiting one of the most beautiful areas in California.
Imagine waking up next to a cool, quiet stream. Redwoods tower above you and lush green ferns covered in dew surround you.
You meander down a rocky trail toward the coast and watch humpback whales breaching near the shore. As you explore the sandy beach you admire the jagged cliffs above you.
This is camping near Big Sur. And if you want any part of the magical camping experience I just described, you’ll want to read this guide to the best campgrounds in the area.
Big Sur is famous for its stunning coastline adjacent to redwood forests and rugged wilderness.
Hugging the Pacific Coast Highway, the town of Big Sur is quaint and includes delicious places to eat like the Big Sur Bakery and Nepenthe.
Staying in Big Sur doesn’t have to break the bank either. The area includes free and dispersed camping as well as state park camping that starts at around $35 per night.
If you’re interested in a more indulgent camping experience, I’ve got just the place for you too with some of my favorite glamping spots in Big Sur.
So, if you’re ready to start your Big Sur camping trip, read on!
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Table of Contents
Big Sur Camping Map
Best Time to Camp in Big Sur
The most popular time to camp in Big Sur is the summer and early fall and my personal favorite time is the summer because I love laying on the beach on a warm and sunny day.
Summer in Big Sur is the warmest part of the year to visit, which makes it a great time to hang out on the beach.
It’s also the busiest tourist season, so if you absolutely hate crowds, you’ll probably want to avoid this time of year.
Early fall is a great time to visit Big Sur. Most families have already taken their vacations but the weather is still nice enough to visit the beach.
However, one thing to watch out for during the fall is fire season. The mountains adjacent to Big Sur have had fairly regular fires in recent years.
In 2022, they even had a wildfire in January, so regardless of when you’re visiting, you’ll want to check conditions ahead of time.
Winter is the quietest time of year to visit Big Sur.
Some of the more remote camping options may be closed or limited (meaning they won’t have the water turned on), but this can be a good time of year to snag a popular campsite.
Keep in mind that due to erosion and the mountainous terrain around Big Sur, landslides can be an issue during this time of year after heavy rain.
Spring is another nice time of year to visit Big Sur. There are several notable waterfalls in the area, and they’ll be the most impressive in early spring after winter rains.
Best Tent Campgrounds in Big Sur
Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground
Why it’s worth camping at: Centrally located and the Campfire Center has evening programs – can you say “family memories” much?
Address: Pfeiffer Big Sur Rd, Big Sur, CA 93920
Phone number: (831) 667-1112
Cost: $35/night (standard site), $50/night (riverfront site), $45/night (En Route), $75/night (cabin).
Amenities: Firepit, picnic table, potable water, showers (coin-operated), bathrooms, and a dump station but no hookups.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park offers classic Big Sur tent camping as well as RV accommodations and one cabin for nightly rentals.
The Pfeiffer Campground is situated very close to the Big Sur River and includes a cute “campfire center,” where rangers hold evening programs.
I’ve stayed here in the past and the campground is nestled among towering redwood trees and has a very green, lush feeling.
The “En Route” sites are available for self-contained RVs and are only reservable for one night at a time. These sites are located in an overflow parking lot.
Reservations can be made at Reserve California, and it’s recommended to make reservations six months in advance for summer camping.
Sometimes someone will cancel their reservation, but you must be physically present at the campground kiosk to reserve a “same day” spot.
Kirk Creek Campground
Why it’s worth camping at: Best Big Sur camping with Pacific Ocean views, situated along a stunning cliffside and a short walk from the beach.
Address: Located off Highway 1, 80 miles north of San Luis Obispo or 35 miles south of Big Sur.
Phone number: (831) 242-0619
Cost: $35/night (standard), $5/night (bike or walk-in tent camping).
Amenities: Picnic table, campfire ring, grill, pit toilets, but no running water.
Kirk Creek Campground is a small campground located in Los Padres National Forest.
Kirk Creek has the best camping in Big Sur for ocean views. It’s right on the edge of a sea cliff with amazing views of the Pacific Ocean.
As a bonus, it’s also close to hiking trails in Los Padres National Forest, including the Vicente Flats Trailhead, which is across the highway.
The campground is a short walk from the rocky beach, and just five miles from Sand Dollar Beach, which is the largest sandy beach in Big Sur, California.
This is a smaller campground with only 40 sites, but two of the sites are first-come, first-serve, which is great if you’re a last-minute planner. Kirk Creek Campground can also accommodate RVs that are 30 feet or less.
Reservations can be made on recreation.gov.
Andrew Molera Trail Camp
Why it’s worth camping at: Get an off-the-beaten-path feel without actually having to lug yourself too far off the path.
Address/GPS coordinates: Located ¼ mile from the day-use parking lot in Andrew Molera State Park on Highway 1, Big Sur, CA 93920. GPS: 36.287226, -121.843716
Phone number: (831) 667-2315
Cost: $30/night (standard), $5/night (hike and bike).
Amenities: Fire ring, picnic table, food storage container, potable water, and flush toilets.
Andrew Molera Trail Camp also offers beach access to Molera Beach, which is a charming ocean cove with great surfing along the Big Sur coast.
The campground includes 22 standard tent sites and two “hike and bike” sites for those who traveled to the park on foot or by bicycle.
Andrew Molera Trail Camp is a tent-only campground as it only has walk-in campsites. But don’t worry, the campground is only about a quarter of a mile from the day-use parking area.
Note that this campground is very popular and fills up six months in advance even in fall and winter, so you’ll want to book as far in advance as possible.
You can reserve your spot on Reserve California.
Saddle Rock and South Gardens Environmental Campsites at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Why it’s worth camping at: These are considered the most beautiful campsites on the Big Sur coastline.
Address: 52801 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920
Phone number: (831) 649-2836
Amenities: Fire ring, picnic table, and food storage box. Running water and pit toilets are available across the highway.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park only has two campsites (known as environmental campsites) called Saddle Rock and South Gardens.
Both are walk-in campsites and cannot be accessed by vehicle. They’re located on the west side of the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) and are just south of McWay Cove.
The two sites are VERY popular and are routinely booked six months out, so you’ll want to make reservations on Reserve California as soon as you know you want to camp here.
The Saddle Rock site is closer to the ocean, while the South Gardens site sits among a meadow of flowers.
Either way, you’re still in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, which is a stunning state park that encompasses a long stretch of Big Sur coastline.
From these sites, you can watch for whales (bring some binoculars) or check out the famous 80-foot waterfall that falls into the ocean from the Overlook Trail, called McWay Falls.
The sites in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park are open year-round, but pets aren’t allowed.
Why it’s worth camping at: Learn about state history at the lime kilns and enjoy views of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
Address: 63025 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920
Phone number: (805) 434-1996
Cost: $35/night (standard)
Amenities: Fire ring, picnic table, and hot showers.
Limekiln Campground in Limekiln State Park is a walk-in campground that encompasses both redwood forests and coastline.
It’s famous for its views of the Pacific Ocean and, more specifically, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
The park is named after the historic lime kilns on the property, which are artifacts from a limestone mining operation that took place in the late 1800s.
In addition to the cultural history, Limekiln State Park features a towering 100-foot waterfall, which is accessible via the Limekiln Falls Trail.
Limekiln Campground has just 29 sites that are spread out over two loops. There’s a redwood trees loop and an ocean loop, each of which has very different feels to them.
There are a few sites that are almost under Highway 1, so be sure to look at the campground map before you reserve for a more optimal location.
Reservations can be made on Reserve California.
Why it’s worth camping at: Enjoy a quieter camp atmosphere in a peaceful forest.
Address: US Hwy Forest Route 22S01, Big Sur, CA 93920
Phone number: (831) 242-0619
Cost: $25/night (standard)
Amenities: Picnic tables, fire ring, potable water (March-Nov), and pit toilets.
Ponderosa Campground is located in Los Padres National Forest and includes 21 tent sites, two of which are first-come, first-serve, and the remaining ones are reservable ahead of time. The campground can also accommodate RVs under 35 feet long.
As the name suggests, the campground is situated in a ponderosa pine forest on the Nacimiento-Ferguson Road.
The Nacimiento-Ferguson Road begins on the coast at Kirk Creek on Highway 1 and runs up into the mountains.
The campground is next to the quiet Nacimiento River. When the water is high, it’s a great place to take a dip. Fishing is also allowed, provided you have a license, and there are several hiking trails nearby including the Slick Rock Trail.
Unlike many of the other campgrounds described above, Ponderosa Campground usage is “moderate” rather than “heavy.” This means that it’s one of the few Big Sur campgrounds where you’ll likely find a quieter camping experience.
Reservations can be made on recreation.gov.
Best Glamping in Big Sur
Fernwood Campground and Resort
Why it’s worth camping at: You can experience Big Sur camping in one of four ways: forest cabins, adventure tents, RV camping, or tent camping.
Address: 47200 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920
Phone number: (831) 667-2422
Cost: $50-$110/night (camping), $85-$105/night (RV), $175-$195/night (adventure tent), $290-355/night (camping cabins).
Amenities: Picnic tables, fire ring, showers, dishwashing station, laundry facilities, select sites have electricity hookups and a dump station (with fee), and there’s a cafe on-site for morning coffee and snacks.
Fernwood Campground and Resort is located next to the Big Sur River and provides ocean access as well as hiking and horseback riding.
One of the things I like the most about Fernwood Campground and Resort is that they offer several options in terms of lodging.
The campground offers two bathhouses with hot showers, laundry facilities, and a dishwashing station.
One of its more unique features is a rare albino redwood tree that you can see when you check in at the campground kiosk.
The RV sites (with a max length of 30 feet) come with water and electricity hookups. There’s also a dump station but you have to pay $20 to use it.
The adventure tents are luxury canvas tent cabins with a queen bed and are what we in the camping biz called “glamping tents.”
These glamping cabins include an electric tent heater as well as linens and towels, a picnic table, and a fire pit. The tent cabins can sleep up to two people.
The cabins are also equipped with a full kitchen, bathroom/shower, living room, and of course, beds.
The entire facility is located next to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park on the Big Sur River, which means you can easily hike into the state park.
Lastly, as if that’s not enough, there’s a camp store and espresso shop (yes please) on-site, as well as a bar and grill.
If you need more social proof, our editor-in-chief, Mimi, spent a romantic getaway at Fernwood Resort for an anniversary trip in 2021 and couldn’t stop raving about it.
Glen Oaks Big Sur
Why it’s worth camping at: Rated one of Sunset Magazine’s and Lonely Planet’s best places to stay in Big Sur.
Address: 47080 Highway 1, Big Sur, CA 93920
Phone number: (831) 667-2105
Cost: $330/night and up
Amenities: Fully furnished cabins with kitchens, bathrooms, and WIFI.
Forbes, Sunset, and Lonely Planet haven’t rated this as the cutest/best place ever for nothing. I’m paraphrasing, but you get the point.
Glen Oaks Big Sur offers a variety of luxury accommodations and some of the best glamping options in the area.
Their Oak Cottages are a one-bedroom house with a private patio overlooking the forest.
A king-sized bed with stylish furnishings plus WIFI and a full-sized kitchen make this an amazing place for a personal retreat. Plus, each of the cabins is a little different.
If you’re looking for a bigger space, perhaps for a family gathering, Glen Oaks has their Bridge House. This is a larger house accessible by a short suspension bridge across the Big Sur River.
Bridge House is surrounded by some of the biggest redwoods in the Big Sur Valley and has floor-to-ceiling windows so you can enjoy looking at them all the time.
The grounds of Glen Oaks are beautiful and manicured and even feature the second-biggest redwood in Big Sur, “Grandmother Pfeiffer.”
Glen Oaks Big Sur also offers a very well-rated restaurant called the Big Sur Roadhouse, which features California cuisine and local and fresh ingredients.
Why it’s worth camping at: Enjoy a truly eco-friendly space and still pamper yourself with massages and stunning ocean views.
Address: 71895 Highway 1, South Big Sur, CA 93920
Phone number: (877) 424-4787
Cost: $105/night (campsites, two-night minimum), $340/night (yurts).
Amenities: Picnic table, flush toilets, hot showers, pool, hot tub, massage, self-serve breakfast, and weekly yoga classes.
Treebones Resort Big Sur offers both campsites and yurts for a glamping experience that combines nature with creature comforts.
The campsites require a two-night stay and have access to all the resort facilities, including massage tables and yoga.
There’s also water nearby and each site is situated with a breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean.
In addition to campsites, Treebones offers yurts with either a full view or a partial view of the ocean.
The yurts come with a king or queen-sized bed outfitted with fresh linens and comforters, as well as a table, chairs, and a small sofa. The yurts also each have a redwood deck and a sink with hot and cold water.
One thing to note is that Treebones Resort generates its own electricity, so it isn’t equipped for guests to charge major electrical items.
Additionally, dogs aren’t permitted and children must be 13 years of age and older.
Read more about Big Sur glamping, Treebones Resort, and glamping in California.
Ventana Big Sur
Why it’s worth camping at Ventana Big Sur: Luxurious and private glamping tents in the heart of Big Sur, California.
Address: 48123 Highway 1, Big Sur, CA 93920
Phone number: (800) 628-6500
Cost: $80/night (standard), $240/night (glamping).
Amenities: Bathhouse, fire pit, propane fire pit on the patio, hot and cold water sink, electric lamps and power outlets, picnic table, and electric lighting.
The Ventana Big Sur glamping property sits on a 20-acre redwood canyon, offering privacy but still not too far from the main attractions in Big Sur.
These luxury, safari-style glamping tents sleep up to two and are perched on a covered wooden deck.
In addition to a fire ring (you can buy firewood on the property), each site has a propane fire pit on the deck.
Ventana Big Sur also offers traditional camping sites that come with a picnic table and fire ring, plus access to two bathhouses.
As a bonus, Ventana campground guests can access the Big Sur Smokehouse for lunch and dinner, and dogs are allowed for an additional fee.
In addition to glamping tents, Ventana Big Sur offers a high-end resort experience that includes a fitness facility, two heated pools, a spa, daily snacks, and excursion gear.
Gear includes Yeti coolers, beach blankets, tripods, hiking poles, and Patagonia day packs.
Best RV Campgrounds in Big Sur
Big Sur Campground and Cabins
Why it’s worth camping at: Enjoy a family-friendly camping environment on the Big Sur River.
Address: 47000 Highway 1, Big Sur, CA 93920
Phone number: (831) 667-2322
Cost: $110+/night (RV), $400/night (cabin), $215/night (camping cabin), $150+/night (tent).
Amenities: Picnic table, fire ring, bathhouse, showers, water, electric hookups, dump station, inner tube rentals, playground, and camp store.
Big Sur Cabins and Campgrounds is a great place for Big Sur RV camping because it can accommodate the longest trailers (40 ft) of any of the other campgrounds on this list.
They also have water and electric hookups, as well as a dump station and showers.
In addition to RV campsites, Big Sur Cabins and Campgrounds offers traditional tent sites (premium riverfront sites are a little extra), camping cabins, and traditional cabins.
The camping cabins are made from a mix of wood and corrugated metal and include beds with linens, a covered porch, and a picnic table.
Overall, this is a great campground for families. There’s a playground and inner tube rentals to use on the Big Sur River, as well as a campground store to pick up those last-minute forgotten items.
Riverside Campground and Cabins
Why it’s worth camping at: Quaint and quiet atmosphere in a peaceful forest setting with amazing staff and clean facilities.
Address: 47020 Highway 1, Big Sur, CA 93920
Phone number: (831) 667-2414
Cost: $85-$90/night (RV), $210+/night (studio cabin), $270+/night (cabin).
Amenities: Table, fire pits, hot showers, laundry facilities, flush toilets, water, electrical hookups for RV sites, camp store, but no dump station.
Riverside Campground and Cabins is located on 16 acres of redwood forest along the Big Sur River and features 34 RV campsites (which can also accommodate tents) and 12 cabins.
The RV sites can accommodate up to a 34-foot RV. Some sites can also fit an extra vehicle, but if you have one, be sure to mention this when you book so you can be placed in a site that’s big enough.
Riverside Campground and Cabins is another one of the Big Sur RV parks located along the Big Sur River, so it’s a great place for inner tubing or taking a swim in the summer heat.
In addition to RVs, Riverside also offers 12 quaint forest cabins, each a little unique from the next.
Cabins include queen or king-sized beds, in addition to a hide-a-bed and a bathroom.
Some of the cabins share a wall with another cabin unit, and you can reserve either a shared or a private porch.
One of the things that stands out about this location is the friendly staff and the magical atmosphere of the property.
Best Free & Dispersed Camping in Big Sur
Note: Some of the better-known backcountry camping areas may currently be closed due to the January 2022 Colorado Fire. Because of the ever-changing conditions in Big Sur, always check right before you leave to find out if a dispersed site is currently open.
Free camping in Big Sur is available, but often only in undeveloped areas.
Dispersed camping is an amazing way to steep yourself in nature and find a special camping spot off the beaten path (and save money while you’re at it).
Dispersed camping is typically only allowed on national forest land. In the case of Big Sur, Los Padres National Forest is the closest national forest.
You can read more about dispersed camping in Los Padres National Forest here.
Common Dispersed Camping Locations in Big Sur, California:
- Sykes Hot Springs
- Cook Spring Camp
- Vicente Flat Campground
- Timber Top
- Los Burros Road, Plaskett Ridge Road, and Nacimiento-Ferguson Road
Tips for Camping in Big Sur
Pay Attention to the Road
Highway 1 is the road that cuts through Big Sur. It’s gorgeous, for sure, but don’t let the beauty of the scenery take your attention away from the road.
The road is notoriously winding with lots of blind corners. It’s also a one-lane highway, so there’s less room for error, and some spots have no shoulder.
Book Campsites in Advance
Big Sur camping reservations sell out quickly. Try to plan at the very least four months in advance, or preferably six months if you can.
Prepare to Go Without Your Cell
The cell reception around Big Sur isn’t great, so make sure you don’t plan on making this a working vacation. It’s also a good idea to download offline Google maps ahead of time for getting around.
FAQs About Camping in Big Sur
Can you camp for free in Big Sur? Can you camp anywhere in Big Sur?
You can find free camping near Big Sur, but the January 2022 fires in the area have closed many Forest Service roads and backcountry campsites.
Before the fire, dispersed camping in Big Sur was generally located in primitive campsites, or along Forest Service roads.
Camping in your car in Big Sur, where people park in non-campgrounds (e.g. parking lots) and sleep in their vehicle, is usually prohibited.
Where can I camp in Big Sur without a reservation?
First-come, first-serve camping in Big Sur is tricky to find, but not impossible.
Most Big Sur camping sites in developed campgrounds require a reservation, however, Ponderosa Campground, is one option that offers first-come, first-serve campsites.
Does Big Sur have reception?
Cell reception in Big Sur is limited and varies a little by the carrier. Many campgrounds and some businesses have payphones to help mitigate the connectivity issue.
How many days should I spend in Big Sur?
The town of Big Sur is quite small but the beach and surrounding mountains can provide days of entertainment if you’re into outdoorsy activities and hiking.
I personally think about two days in the area is a good introduction to the area, but you could just as easily spend up to a week staying busy with everything there is to see and do.
How much does it cost to camp in Big Sur?
The cost to camp in Big Sur varies based on the type of spot you reserve.
Big Sur camping cabins can go from $75-$250/night, whereas camping sites are cheaper, usually around $35/night.
Are there bears in Big Sur?
Yes, and 2021 saw an increase in the number of black bear sightings in Monterey County and Big Sur.
The best way to avoid a negative bear encounter is to make sure absolutely everything with a scent is packed away either in your locked car or in a bear-proof box (provided by the campground).
This also reduces the incidents of ravens and mice getting into your campsite too.
Can you go backpacking in Big Sur?
If you plan to backpack you must obtain a permit to use any kind of stove, including Jetboils. You can obtain the free permit here.
What to Pack for Big Sur Camping
- Sun hat and/or beanie
- Beach towel
- Water shoes/flip flops
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Toiletries and personal medications
- Tent – Read our guides to the best 4-person tents, 6-person tents, 8-person tents, 10-person tents, 12-person tents, large camping tents, 3-room tents, instant tents, pop-up tents, inflatable tents, tunnel tents, canvas tents, waterproof tents, insulated tents, winter tents, and cabin tents.
- Sleeping pad
- Sleeping bag
- Inflatable camping pillow
- Earplugs and eye mask (if you’re a light sleeper)
- Bug spray
- Camp food + camping mess kit
- Water bottle and hydration pack (if you plan to go hiking)
- Warm layers and breathable hiking clothes
- Camping Cot
- Camp chairs
- Outdoor watch (like a Garmin watch), handheld GPS, or hiking apps downloaded to your phone ahead of time
- A durable phone case
- Biodegradable soap
- Quick-drying microfiber towel
- First-aid kit
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Meredith is a biologist and writer based in California’s Sierra Nevada. She has lived in 6 states as a biologist, so her intel on hiking and camping is *chef’s kiss* next level. One of her earliest camping memories was being too scared to find a bathroom at night on a family camping trip. Thankfully, she’s come a long way since then and she can help you get there too!
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