From the Golden Gate Bridge to Crescent City, Shasta Lake, and Lake Tahoe, these are the best Northern California campgrounds.
If you enjoy camping, Northern California needs to be on your bucket list. This portion of the state is so different from the southern half and has a ton of unique features to see.
There are peaceful redwood forests along the coast, beautiful lakes on mountain peaks, and hidden retreats among major urban areas.
There are also campground amenities for every style and budget.
Are you looking for family campgrounds with playgrounds attached? We got ‘em. How about an RV park with hot tubs and WIFI? We have those too. What about private glamping couple’s retreats? Yep.
There are hundreds of Northern California campgrounds, so how do you choose the best one for you?
Below, I’ve narrowed down my picks for the top campgrounds in Northern California, including why they’re so special to camp at and all the practical info you should know before you go.
Note: this post contains affiliate links, which help run this site at no extra cost to you so I can keep providing free travel advice and tips.
Table of Contents
Northern California Camping Map
Best Time to Camp in Northern California
Guys, NorCal camping is cold in the winter! The best time to camp in Northern California is early summer, hands down.
Many campgrounds are closed in the winter, so summer will not only give you the most campgrounds to choose from, but it’ll be warm enough to enjoy the outdoors and go swimming.
But OK, if you’re determined to be a non-summer camper, here are some pros and cons for camping in Northern California in each season.
California spring comes early, so there’s a chance you could snag some nice early season weather.
Keep in mind the elevation of California’s northeast corner is quite a bit higher than the coastal region, so there may still be snow in the spring.
Summer is the best weather window, especially early summer.
However, know that bugs will be out (which is why it’s such a good idea to have a screen house), and in late summer, you’ll have to contend with fire season. Summer will also have the craziest crowds.
You can start to enjoy fewer crowds in the fall, which is appealing to many. The main downside to camping in the fall is that it’s peak fire season in California.
I have known plenty of people whose carefully planned vacations were dashed in an instant when a fire started in their region.
This means you’ll probably want to plan cautiously for this time of year and even have a backup reservation in a different region, just in case.
Winter will undoubtedly be the quietest time to camp in Northern California, and for some, that is the most important factor when planning a camping trip.
You’ll need winter gear to camp, and many campgrounds are closed during winter, but it’s not impossible.
Snagging camping sites in Northern California during any season can feel like you won the lottery.
No matter what season you choose to camp, always (and I mean always!) check the weather and fire conditions before you go.
It’s also a good idea book campsites at least 3-6 months in advance, no matter what season you decide to camp (but especially summer).
Best Northern California Campgrounds
Angel Island Campground (Angel Island State Park)
GPS coordinates: San Francisco Bay, 37.8609 N, 122.4326 W
Phone number: (415) 435-5390
Amenities: Pit toilets, potable water, picnic table.
Why it’s worth camping at: First-class views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco skyline.
You can access the island via one of two ferries (click here or here for ferry options) or a private boat. There are only 16 primitive campsites on the island, interlinked by plenty of hiking trails. And believe me when I say they go FAST.
The campsites here should be considered “hike-in,” and you may need to go up to two miles to reach your site. In terms of weather protection, the East Bay side of the island is more protected from winds.
Although this California island was converted to a green space in the 50s, it also has an interesting history as a Coastal Miwok hunting site, an immigration processing center for the US government, and a cattle ranch.
You can reserve your campsite on Angel Island here.
Kamp Klamath RV Park and Campground (Klamath, CA)
Address: 1661 Klamath Beach Rd, Klamath CA 95548
Phone number: (707) 482-0227
Cost: $35/night for tent sites, $48/night for RV sites
Amenities: Fire ring, picnic table, potable water, hot showers, free WIFI, RV hookups, RV dump station, general store, laundry facilities, playground, horseshoes, volleyball (plus other games), dog friendly.
Why it’s worth camping at: You can camp in comfort and still have access to lots of nature trails and excellent fishing.
Located 1.5 miles from the mouth of the Klamath River, Kamp Klamath has family summer camp vibes all over.
Kamp Klamath offers campers an opportunity to recreate with many creature comforts, including WIFI and laundry facilities, as well as lots of game options. There’s also a playground, a giant outdoor patio deck, and a fish cleaning station for the fishermen in the group.
Fishing on the Klamath River is world-class, and being so close to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park means there are lots of hiking trails and redwood groves nearby.
Castle Crags State Park Campground (Castle Crags State Park)
Address: 20022 Castle Creek Rd, Castella CA 96017
Phone number: (530) 235-2684
Amenities: Flush toilets, potable water, general store, picnic table, fire ring, bear-proof food locker.
Why it’s worth camping at: Enjoy striking granite peaks and proximity to beautiful Mt. Shasta.
Castle Crags State Park is most noted for its towering granite cliffs. The state park has 76 campsites at its main campground to accommodate both RVs and tents.
Note that there is a smaller walk-in campground adjacent to the main campground called the Riverside Campground. This campground only has 12 sites, and half are first-come, first-served only.
Castle Crags offers unique outdoor beauty and the opportunity to fish or simply enjoy the nearby Sacramento River.
Another perk of this campground is its proximity to Mount Shasta. This is a great basecamp option for exploring the mountain or Shasta Trinity National Forest.
You can make reservations at Castle Crags Campground here.
Indian Well Campground (Lava Beds National Monument)
Address/GPS coordinates: Lava Beds Campground Road, Tulelake, CA 96134; 41 degrees 43’ 2.8956’’ N 121 degrees 30’ 14.9220’’ W
Phone number: (530) 667-8113
Amenities: Picnic table, fire pits, cooking grill.
Why it’s worth camping at: Located in Lava Beds National Monument, and somewhat close to Lassen Volcanic National Park as well.
The Indian Well Campground is one of the best Northern California campgrounds for last-minute planners because it’s solely available on a first-come, first-served basis.
It’s one of the few Northern California campgrounds associated with a national park without a reservation system.
Lava Beds National Monument is famous for its lava tubes (which are caves so make sure to bring a headlamp). The campground has 43 sites and is located ½ mile from the Visitor Center and Cave Loop Road.
The campground can fit both tents and small RVs.
Lassen Volcanic National Park is about two hours from Lava Beds National Monument.
And since all of Lassen’s campgrounds closed last year after the Dixie Fire, this may be one of the best bets for seeing both locations.
Burlington Campground (Humboldt Redwoods State Park)
Address: 1.5 miles south of Weott, CA on the Avenue of the Giants
Phone number: (707) 946-1811
Amenities: Picnic table, fire pits, potable water, flush toilets, hot showers (pay). NO RV hookups or dump stations.
Why it’s worth camping at: One of the few Northern California campgrounds situated amongst the most stunning redwood trees on the planet.
The Burlington Campground in Humboldt Redwoods State Park is located right on the Avenue of the Giants, which is a thoroughfare famous for tall trees in a spectacular redwood forest.
Burlington Campground has 57 sites with basic campground amenities.
If you haven’t experienced the natural beauty of the Avenue of the Giants and California redwoods, I highly recommend it.
Burlington Campground is situated right in the middle of old-growth and second-growth redwoods.
Mendocino Grove (Mendocino, CA)
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Address: 9601 California 1, Mendocino, CA 95460
Phone number: (707) 880-7710
Cost: From $189/night
Amenities: Safari-style canvas tents, queen-sized beds, heated mattress pads, fire pits, picnic tables, limited electrical output for each tent.
Why it’s worth camping at: It’s glamping among redwood trees with beds comfier than my one at home.
Camping the Northern California coast at Mendocino Grove is a truly luxurious experience; that’s why they call their experience “glamping.”
The large tents are arranged in quaint “neighborhoods,” and most of the tents sleep two, with options for bigger tents as well.
The beds are outfitted with down comforters and wool blankets with mattress pad heaters (yes, please), and some of their tents are dog-friendly.
All the tents are nestled in a redwood forest, have a small front porch area with leather chairs and a table, and can accommodate a few low-power electrical devices.
To check out more Northern California campgrounds with glamping style accommodations, check out our article on Glamping California.
Otherwise, if you’re looking for a more traditional camp set up in the Mendocino area, I’d also highly recommend Russian Gulch State Park.
Read our complete guide to the best things to do in Mendocino.
Fallen Leaf Campground (South Lake Tahoe)
Address: 2165 Fallen Leaf Rd, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150
Phone number: (877) 444-6777
Cost: $38/night or $40/night on holidays
Amenities: Tent sites, RV sites (no hookups), and a limited number of yurts, coin-operated showers, and flush toilets.
Why it’s worth camping at: Lakeside camping, two ways! Lake Tahoe is minutes away, and if that’s too crowded, you have Fallen Leaf Lake for backup beach fun.
Fallen Leaf Campground is one of the best camping spots in Northern California near Lake Tahoe.
Lakeside camping is literally seconds away at Fallen Leaf Campground.
Not only is Lake Tahoe just a few minutes away, but the campground is also situated right on Fallen Leaf Lake, so you get two options for sandy beaches.
Fallen Leaf Campground has RV and tent sites, plus six yurts to rent.
Across the street from the campground is the Taylor Creek Visitor Center. The visitor center gives ranger talks, which is why it’s one of the top family campgrounds in the Lake Tahoe area.
You can learn more about Lake Tahoe camping in our recent post. And if you’re looking for more, don’t miss our guides to the best things to do in Lake Tahoe, the best Lake Tahoe beaches, North vs South Lake Tahoe, and where to stay in Lake Tahoe.
Hayward Flat Campground (Shasta Trinity National Forest)
Directions: From Weaverville, take Hwy 3 north for 17.5 miles. Turn right on Hayward Flat Road and travel two miles.
Phone number: (530) 623-2121
Amenities: Picnic tables, RV park (with hookups), potable water, and flush toilets.
Why it’s worth camping at: Easy access to the best water skiing spots on Trinity Lake.
Hayward Flat Campground is one of the most popular Northern California campgrounds on Trinity Lake.
It offers the ability to tent camp as well as an RV park and is located in Shasta Trinity National Forest.
The campground offers easy access to the lake and lots of shade and is very popular for those who enjoy water sports.
Hayward Flat Campground is also an hour and a half from Shasta Lake, another very popular water sports destination in Northern California.
49er Village RV Resort (Plymouth, CA)
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Address: 18265 State Highway 49, Plymouth CA 95669
Phone number: (844) 726-5472
Cost: From $56/night
Amenities: Pool, hot tub, laundry facility, free WIFI, playground, general store, evening entertainment, cafe, and fishing pond.
Why it’s worth camping at: Full-service RV camping and cabin rentals within a short drive of the Bay Area.
This location made my “best of” list because it’s one of the few full-service RV campgrounds in Northern California that’s not far from the Bay Area.
If RV camping isn’t your thing, they also rent camping cabins with air conditioning and flatscreen TVs.
49er Village is located about halfway between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe, so if you’re the mosy-ing type, you can make this a stopover on your way to and from Lake Tahoe.
North Grove Campground (Calaveras Big Trees State Park)
Address: 1170 E. Hwy 4, Arnold CA 95223
Phone number: (209) 795-2334
Amenities: Picnic tables, potable water, flush toilets, fire rings, and showers.
Why it’s worth camping at: Enjoy a family campground or quaint camping cabins among the largest and oldest living organisms on earth.
Whether you’re looking for Northern California camping cabins or tent camping, look no further than North Grove Campground.
North Grove Campground is in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, north of Yosemite National Park in Stanislaus National Forest.
Calaveras Big Trees State Park is home to some very tall trees indeed; giant sequoias, to be exact.
While many people confuse giant sequoias with redwoods, they are, in fact, different. Giant sequoias are the largest living beings on earth and some of the oldest too!
North Grove Campground has 70 sites and includes basic campground amenities. Once there, the state park offers miles of hiking trails, mountain biking, and wildlife viewing.
Coast Campground (Point Reyes National Seashore)
GPS coordinates: 38.0172 N, 122.8542 W
Phone number: (415) 464-5137
Amenities: Picnic tables, food locker, and grill.
Why it’s worth camping at: Enjoy a secluded beach camping experience minutes away from San Francisco.
Coast Campground at Point Reyes National Seashore is very popular due to its small size (just 14 sites), protected location, and proximity to San Francisco.
The Coast Campground is nestled in a little protected valley about 200 yards from the Pacific Ocean, which helps buffet the worst of the sea winds.
Despite its closeness to the city, in the backcountry of Point Reyes National Seashore, you can feel like you’re in true wilderness.
Sites are reservable through Recreation.gov, and they’ve tiered the system so that some sites are available three months out, some 14 days out, and one site can be reserved day-of.
This system makes camping on the beach in Northern California an option for those of us who can’t schedule our lives more than 24 hours in advance.
To access the Coast Campground, you must use the hiking trails in Point Reyes National Seashore. It’s a 1.8-mile uphill hike from the Laguna Trailhead.
Read our complete guide to the best things to do in Point Reyes.
Best Free & Dispersed Camping in Northern California
Did you know there are free places to camp in Northern California? It’s called dispersed camping or backcountry camping, and you can do it in US Forest Service wilderness areas.
Some national forests have developed campgrounds, but other times you can simply set up camp anywhere in the woods, usually as long as it’s a certain distance from the trail.
There are 18 national forests in California, and within them, there are 149 wilderness areas.
Wilderness areas also vary on the rules you must follow.
For example, the Desolation Wilderness (in Eldorado National Forest) near Lake Tahoe is very popular for dispersed camping. Because of this, all campers need permits (which are free), and there are limits on where people can camp.
By contrast, the Mt. Rose Wilderness (in Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest), which is on the northern end of Lake Tahoe, doesn’t require permits.
No matter where you camp in California, please follow Leave No Trace principles.
The best wilderness areas for dispersed camping in Northern California:
- Mount Shasta Wilderness (Shasta-Trinity National Forest)
- Desolation Wilderness (Eldorado National Forest)
- Siskiyou Wilderness (Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest)
Tips for Camping in Northern California
- Check the weather – Always check the forecast for your intended camping spot and be as specific as possible. For example, if you’re camping at Lake Tahoe, try to put in the town closest to you. South Lake Tahoe may have very different weather than east Lake Tahoe.
- Prepare for bears: I’ve lived in bear country a long time, and I often see visitors who are either petrified of bears or want to get a selfie with one. In reality, a healthy attitude is somewhere in the middle. Very carefully keep your food put away, understand what to do if you see a bear, and you’ll be fine.
- Make a plan and share it with others: This is a good idea no matter where you go. Since cell service can be spotty in Northern California, share your plans with someone staying behind. Tell them where you’re camping and when you plan to be out. That way, if you don’t come home on time, they can start calling the right people.
FAQs About Camping in Northern California
Where can I camp in Northern California without a reservation?
You can camp without a reservation in campgrounds that are designated as “first-come, first-served.” However, popular areas, like Lake Tahoe, will mostly rely on reservations.
You can also do dispersed camping for free in most national forests unless the forest otherwise notes it.
How much does it cost to camp in Northern California?
Camping spots in Northern California vary from $20 to over $200/night, depending on the type of facility you camp in.
If you choose a glamping destination or a cozy cabin rental for a group, these can be more expensive.
Alternatively, dispersed camping is free but doesn’t come with any amenities (such as running water, toilets, picnic tables).
Can you sleep in your car in California?
You can sleep in your car if you’re doing dispersed camping, or have a campsite in a campground but prefer to sleep in your car.
Sleeping in your car is considered camping, and many populated areas in California will kick “car-sleepers” out of the area.
There are some exceptions, so you can always look up the specific rules in each county, but, in general, city folk don’t like people sleeping in their car.
Are there bears in Northern California? What other wildlife can I expect to come across?
Yes, Northern California is home to a healthy population of American black bears.
There are no grizzly bears anywhere in California (despite them being on the California state flag). Many black bears are brown, so don’t be confused!
Black bears are shy, and there has never been a person killed by a black bear in California ever!
In reality, black bears are much more likely to be killed by people. You can help keep yourself safe and bears safe by strictly following bear safety rules laid out by your region.
Northern California is home to a wide array of exciting wildlife, but you likely won’t see most of them due to their fear of humans.
These include mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, foxes (there are no wolves in California), badgers, fishers, and eagles. And those are just the land animals!
Where are the best places to go backpacking in Northern California?
One of the most popular and famous backpacking routes in Northern California is the Pacific Crest Trail.
The Pacific Crest Trail runs from Southern California to Northern Washington and usually takes at least four months to complete.
However, you can do portions of the trail, called section hiking, and pop in and out for a few days at a time.
Besides the Pacific Crest Trail, most national parks and state parks in Northern California have overnight backpacking destinations in gorgeous locations.
You can check out our article on the Best Hiking Apps to find a backpacking route that fits your style.
What is the most popular campground in Northern California?
Straight up, there isn’t a hard and fast answer to “the most popular campground” in Northern California.
The most popular natural area in Northern California is Lake Tahoe, but those campgrounds don’t keep accurate statistics to show which one is the “most popular.”
And you know what, it really doesn’t matter what the most popular campground is, because the best camping in Northern California isn’t always at the most popular spot.
Sometimes the most popular spot is overrun with trampled vegetation, long lines, and dirty bathrooms.
There are so, so many excellent places to camp in Northern California. Just like everything else you choose in life, read some reviews, bring a smile, and go for it.
What to Pack for Northern California Camping
Once you’ve snagged your camping spots, it’s time to pack.
Tent camping in Northern California is just as unpredictable as anywhere else. Be sure you’re prepared with this minimal list of items to bring.
- Tent – read our guides for the best 4-person tent, 6-person tent, 8-person tent, 10-person tent, 12-person tent, instant tent, pop up tent, winter tent, large family tent, 3-room tent, inflatable tent, tunnel tent, canvas tent, waterproof tents, insulated tents, winter tents, tents with a stove jack, and cabin tents.
- Hiking backpack
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Inflatable camping pillow
- Bear-proof cooler AND locks (no cooler is bear-proof unless it has two locks on it)
- Bug spray
- Layers of clothing for the night – read our guide to the best hiking clothes for women (that can work for camping too)
- Bathing suit
- Rain jacket or poncho
- Sun hat
- Camp food
- Water bottle, hydration pack, and extra water if there’s none available at your campground
- Solar charger or portable battery-powered charger
- Personal toiletries and medications
- Hammock with a mosquito net
- Camping mess kit
- Hiking shoes (if you plan to hike)
- Microfiber towel
- Outdoor watch (like a Garmin watch)
- Camping cot and/or air mattress
- Comfortable camping chairs
- Camp games – like UNO!
- Tent stove if you’re camping in winter and you have the right tent
- A durable phone case
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Meredith is a biologist and writer based in California’s Sierra Nevada. She has lived in six 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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