California is an outdoor recreation paradise, with near perfect weather, diverse terrain and breathtaking scenery around every corner. Many folks gravitate to the west coast specifically to be outdoors more.
Soaking in the sunshine, every day, every week. Reconnecting with nature and choosing to live a more healthy lifestyle, eat well and learning to relax often. Camping can be a real vacation – without the high cost of travel.
Summer isn’t the only time to go camping in California
Avoid crowds Try getting out there before Memorial Day or after Labor Day!
Desert camping is popular during winter months, while mountain destinations are preferred in summer. Find a secluded small campground or even try roughing it w/ primitive car camping. Motorhome campers who like to boondock, will enjoy the extensive back roads section of Total Escape. If you own a 4WD vehicle, you can reach the most secluded 4×4 camps, lookout towers and some historic cabins.
hot in deserts & country foothills,
smoggy in cities; coastlines can be foggy
mountains & coast
great camping all around,
early winter storms in mountains
coast, deserts, country
snow in mountains & very cold,
windy on coast as seasonal storms move in
snow melt in mountains may be late,
storms can last into late springtime
deserts & country
annual timelines to consider
summer – busiest time for traffic and travel; many travelers, families, tourists; National Parks and coastal towns are crowded; hottest in desert areas, cities and in the mountain oak foothills
autumn – meteor showers, fall colors, fishing, hunting, hiking, mountain biking; fire restrictions higher, firewood collecting, less families out and about, cuz kids are back in school
winter – prime time for desert camping, off roading, ghost towns, museums and meteor showers; coldest months w/ winter storms; snow is possible down to 1000′ elevation
spring – wildflowers, birdwatching, rainy season, lakes, rivers, creeks flowing well; rafting & kayaking; snow storms tapering off w/ snowmobiling in mountains; snow camping
Camping areas along Kings River, Sierra Nevada California
Kings is the longest river in the Sierra Nevada and very rugged and remote in most of the length. The Upper Kings is situated in the highest of elevation, granite alpine back country, with abundant small lakes and numerous Wilderness areas.
The tallest peak, Mount Whitney, drains this way – down waterfalls and whitewater, westward to California into the San Joaquin Valley. Agriculture and orchards of citrus. The mid section of this mighty Kings River runs close to Hwy 180 inside the Kings Canyon National Park.
The Lower Kings is popular among campers, fishermen, kayakers and rafters, accessible most of the year. Upper Kings River is located inside the National Park boundaries.
NPS Campgrounds near Upper Kings River
Inside Kings Canyon National Park:
Cedar Grove Village @ end of Highway 180
may be closed during winter months.
Trimmer Springs Road #11S12: a paved access route, wraps around the northern shore of Pine Flat Reservoir. Very winding and long, with 25 mph curves; this main route continues east into the massive Kings River Canyon.
Google Maps may have this road crossing the river, toward the end. Proper signage is questionable in the area, since local rednecks love to shoot up signs. Trimmer route quickly peters out to narrow dirt roads, anywhere past the Mill Flat Campground area.
Lower Kings is NOT easily reached via the National Parks, nor Kings Canyon Highway 180. Dirt road travel is required on Road #12S01, which can be steep and rocky at best. The drive-able climb up to the highway may require 4 wheel drive in some sections, depending on weather and land slides.
Winter brings some snow and abundant rains (NOV – APRIL).
LANDSLIDES and ROCK SLIDES are common with ROAD CLOSURES usually posted on the Sierra National Forest, NFS web site.
Wildflowers are abundant in this region for springtime. (MARCH-MAY)
both above are free camp spots: boondocking, dispersed camps, primitive car camping, tent camping, RV camping, river fishing, kayaking, rafting
Sierra Road #12S01– primitive camping, few pit toilets; fishing access, some trailhead camps and RV spots along river. The northern most arm of this road is also referred to as Road# 12S001 Garnet Dike, on the NFS web site.
BlackRock ReservoirRoad #11S12, another side route (paved) climbs steeply in elevation, along a cliff edge. This spot offers a small NFS campground near a lake, and is located along the North Fork of the river.
Fouts campgrounds are located on the EAST SIDE of Mendo NF on paved road M10. Situated below 2000′ elevation and open year round!
TRAVELERS NOTE: Tent campers, RV and truck campers can easily access this area, all paved roads. Exit Williams or Willows on I-5 and head west. A decent backcountry map or Mendocino National Forest Map is advised; Numerous canyons, forested creeks and campgrounds. Always check with Mendocino National Forest for road closures and conditions.
OFF-ROADERS NOTE:Use caution on paved access road M10, especially when driving with trailers or large RVs. Narrow road, long and winding with blind curves and no guard rails!! Always check with Mendocino National Forest for road closures and conditions.
Mendocino Ranger Stations can be found on link below
Pismo Beach Camping – Oceano Dunes SVRA (Pismo Dunes)
This might be the only place on the entire California coast where you can take your vehicle on the sand.Drive on the beach!
Open dispersed camping is available along Oceano Beach. Watch the high tide line and set camp well beyond that mark. A typical weekend is busy year round. Sand rails, quads, the beefy family SUV, or the ‘garage queen’ trucks. With all these motorized toys, you’re thinking either – yeah, or no way. Option B is listed below.
Off-Road playground, Oceano Park is also referred to as Pismo Dunes.
Oceano State Vehicle Recreation Area has open camping on the beach, with a toilet within walking distance. No tables, no fire rings or paved anything! This is where all the big boys with the big toys like to hang out. Toy box trailers, bon fires, crowds & exhaust fumes. This crew can be seen each weekend driving Hwy 166, over to Bako.
a large 82 site coastal campground is better suited for RVers & tourists wanting to avoid dune buggies. Horseback riding, beach, bike trails, laundry, market, shops & restaurants all close by. State Park Campground within walking distance to downtown Pismo & the Pismo pier.
The overdeveloped Orange County coast is packed with condos, homes, parks and beaches, coastal villages, restaurants, shops and train tracks, so campgrounds in this region are few and far more popular than one might expect. Since Los Angeles has very limited beach camping options, most tourists wander further south for SoCal beach camping on the OC or San Diego coast line.
blue links lead to State Park pages with camp reservations.
Orange County Coast Campground reservations are highly recommended all year long, so make sure to plan ahead.
Low elevation Western Sierra: a big river at the beginning of Kings Canyon. Fishing, biking and hiking. The Kings Cyn National Park is directly east, upriver.
Oak woodlands, steep granite canyons, waterfall hikes, rock beaches, river fishing, mountain biking and wildflowers. Day time temperatures get triple-digit in summer months, so best time to visit is the rest of the year. Small RV accessible, paved road, river close – and best of all, open all year long!
Kirch Flat Campground
Due EAST of Fresno, California in a large river canyon, Western Sierra Nevada
Located 18 miles up Trimmer Springs Road (paved), 5 miles above Pine Flat Lake. Sierra National Forest; River rafting take-out spot for Middle Kings River.
• Elevation: 1100′
• Number of Sites: 17
• Camp Fee: No
• Vehicle Accessibility: RV 22′ max
• Campsites Reservation: No
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: Open Year Round
• Trailheads: Kings River
Located north of the small community of Riverkern and south of the Johnsondale Bridge, numerous flat camp spots adjacent to the rivers edge can be found.
Ant Canyon Dispersed Area Brush Creek Campground Calkins Flat Dispersed Area Chamise Flat Dispersed Area Chico Flat Campground Corral Creek Campground Springhill Dispersed Area
Kern River Road
Sierra Way in Kernville travels north along the Upper Kern River & becomes Mountain Hwy 99 – which eventually connects with the Western Divide Highway in Giant Sequoia National Monument.
Dispersed Camping Areas along the Kern River
Open Year Round! These FREE camp areas are called dispersed camping sites. No pavement, no picnic tables, no bathrooms, no piped water. Portable toilets & trash bins may be available in the busier summer months. Campfire permits are required for all campfires, BBQs, and camp stoves. Fire restrictions are common in extreme dry conditions. 14 day limit on camping.
Camp sites listed on this page are dispersed camping areas around the Kern River Area. Not all camp spots are listed, cuz many are unnamed. Bring your GPS to mark your favorite camp sites and you can arrive in the dark, late at night, anytime, (avoiding city traffic after work).
Several spots known as “dirt flats” are easy accessible right off the pavement of Sierra Way. Primitive river camping, fishing spots and raft launch areas north of town. Vault toilets might be available during busy summer months, but you’re on your own the remainder of the year. Bring a shovel and take a hike, away from the water flow. And if that sounds like too much work for a potty break, maybe you are not cut out for the primitive kinda camping style. No garbage service either: pack it in, pack it out.
Wildflowers are abundant in the Kern Canyon nearly every Spring season (April & May), which is a popular time to enjoy this region. Autumn brings minimal fall colors to this dry, desert mountainous landscape, but the fishing is decent at that time of year.
CAMPING OUTSIDE OF CAMPGROUND means you must obtain a free fire permit from the local rangers. Sometimes these dispersed spots are fire-safe areas, and you are allowed to have camp fires. Other times campfire restrictions are in place w/ wildfire dangers too extreme and no fires are allowed, anywhere. (Not even inside a developed campground!)
WILDERNESS NOTE: The USDA National Forests web site states that “Camping and campfires within 25 feet of the water’s edge is prohibited due to the Wild and Scenic Designation”, but that doesn’t seem to stop some from setting up right on the fragile rivers edge. Doubtful that this rule is being enforced by the rangers, but consider yourself warned unless they start to get serious about this restriction. Many believe that the free camping along the Kern river is destroying it, so don’t be surprised if these areas get closed or barriers placed at the flats.
Caulkins FLAT has some new boulder barriers put in place which prevent cars from reaching certain ideal camp spots (right at the waters edge). Tough luck. Now we have to hike more.
Upper Kern River North of Kernville, CA
all camps below listed from south to north
ALL CAPS = developed campgrounds managed by US Forest Service, w/ links to Kern River Campgrounds.
Just north of Goldledge Campground, along the Upper Kern River.
South of Salmon Creek; Hike to Salmon Creek Falls.
12 miles north of Kernville, CA
This camping bluff could be the most forested of all the ‘kern flat’ camping areas, but river is a short hike down a very steep cliff. Fishing is excellent in this stretch.
15 miles north of Kernville, along the Upper Kern River. Just south of Fairview (McNalley’s). Sign at the location reads a different spelling of “Caulkins Flat”. Kayak and rafting put-in spot. One of the best sites for large groups. Area is also known as simply “Lower Campground” on GoogleMap.
Just south of Sherman’s Pass Road turnoff. This place also serves as a Day Use Area, where Brush Creek meets the Kern. Kayaking put in spot. Popular fishing area. Large open dirt parking lot with a vault toilet.
Lower Kern River Southwest of Kernville, CA
Lake Isabella has some shoreline camping with wide open access to the lake. Paradise Cove perhaps?
Historic Keyesville – “off-roaders camping paradise” along the river, but no swimming is allowed due to the extremely dangerous section of river. OHV trails lead (west) down river for many miles. Dirt bikes love the rugged boulder-scapes and steep hills. FREE camping; BLM Kern.
SANDY FLAT CAMPGROUND (NFS) – Open all year long! Terraced & paved hillside with numerous camp sites and plenty of room to spread out. RV campers like this location, due to the proximity to Hwy 178. elev 2300
Remington Hot Springs can be a zoo at times w/ the amount of people who love to stop here. A busy dirt parking lot, right across from the Remington trailhead sign. Many vehicles park here daily for day hikes, hot springs, fishing – and people also like to camp out, although camp sites are on slopes (not ideal), only a few and they fill up fast (before sunset).
Total Escape TIP: The very best camps at Remington are actually the ones you hafta hike down to. Less than a half mile down to the rivers edge to find a private mini beach. Pack light and arrive prepared to walk several miles (back & forth, several times).
Old Kern Canyon Road parallels Sierra Highway 178 and sits well above the river, so any flat spots you find will have great views w/ minimal river access.