California is home to nine beautiful national parks where you can have a once-in-a-lifetime camping experience in the desert, on the beach, or in dense forests. No matter your style, you can find a camping experience that suits your vibe in sunny California.
Whether you’re RVing, tent camping, or planning a fabulous glamping trip, you’ll want to be prepared and know the ins and outs of camping around California’s national parks. This guide will help you get ready for an RV adventure, a more traditional camping trip, and a glamping experience you’ll enjoy. You’ll learn how to prepare, what to expect, and all the fabulous things you can do in California’s national parks:
- Channel Islands National Park
- Death Valley National Park
- Joshua Tree National Park
- Kings Canyon National Park
- Lassen Volcanic National Park
- Pinnacles National Park
- Redwood National Park
- Sequoia National Park
- Yosemite National Park
1. Full Hookup RV Camping Near California National Parks
RVing around California national parks allows you to see the sites and settle in for the night at an RV-friendly campground. Keep in mind, however, that not all RVs are created equal. There are many types of RVs, so you just need to find the one that’s right for you.
Luckily, California is hugely RV friendly, and there are tons of free RV campsites near and around its national parks.
Channel Islands National Park
Although you can’t park your RV in the Channel Islands, it is still a great destination for a day trip. The Channel Islands are only accessible by boat, but it’s still an asset to have an RV or a car. You can park near the boat pickup to be first in line or at least not wait too long and waste your day. You’ll also have access to the incredible beach views in your parking spot, and you can have the assurance of transportation once you arrive back at your RV.
Death Valley National Park
Overall, having an RV can be a huge advantage depending on what you plan to do. With extreme terrain and weather conditions, your trip could be more suitable with an RV. As the name implies, Death Valley is one of the hottest places, not only in California, but in the entire world. To be frank, it isn’t suitable on foot during the summer. It could be dangerous, especially if you are an inexperienced camper or hiker. With an RV, you have the luxury of air conditioning, and you won’t have to lug around camping equipment over the dunes near the park.
Yosemite National Park
Due to its size, having an RV would be incredibly helpful in Yosemite, one of the most popular parks in California. With 10 sites where you can park an RV, you could move from location to location without being on foot, saving you a lot of time to see waterfalls and other natural wonders. You would also have more opportunities to experience hiking trails and visit famous sites such as Half Falls and Glacier Point.
RV Camping compiled a list of California towns near national parks that you can drive through on your trip. Check out a few below!
- Twentynine Palms, California near Joshua Tree National Park
- Ridgecrest, California near Death Valley National Park
- Mariposa, California near Yosemite National Park
- Orick, California near Red Wood National Park
- Porterville, California near Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park
What to Bring
Since you’ll either be on the road or in parklands, you need to be prepared for emergencies when RVing around California’s national parks. Be sure to bring everything you need if something goes wrong, whether the problem is with your vehicle or you find yourself injured or ill.
It is also essential to remember that not all national parks have RV hookups. Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Redwood, Lassen Volcanic, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon are some that do not. Still, of course, you can find electrical, sewage, and water hookups near and around these national parks.
Since many RVs have a kitchen, you’ll want to keep it fully stocked with food and the supplies you’ll need to prepare it, store it, and then get rid of scraps and packaging. Don’t forget about the bathroom! RV toilets are not like home toilets, so be sure you have the essentials to keep everything fresh and working.
Here’s a list to get you started:
- Tire pressure gauge
- Spare tire
- Battery jumper cables
- Fresh water hose
- Maps and directions (you may lose cell phone connectivity in some areas)
- First aid kit
- Bedroom staples
- Kitchen supplies
- Utensils and napkins
- Plates and bowls
- Can opener
- Pans and skillets
- Garbage bags
- Kitchen towels
- Bathroom supplies
- RV tank chemicals
- Sewer hose
- RV-safe toilet paper
- Sanitation gloves
For clothes, you have to think about comfort. You’ll want to bring layers to take something off during a hot day, but if you get cold at night, you can put it back on. The beauty of RVing around national parks is that you can protect yourself from the elements if needed. You won’t necessarily need your poncho or weatherproof clothes if you plan on staying inside.
- Short sleeve shirts
- Long sleeve shirts
- Long pants
- Extra socks
- Bathing suit
- Hiking boots
- Water shoes
Last but not least, you’ll need some basic camping gear. Even though you have an RV to eat and sleep in, you’ll still want to enjoy the incredible beauty of California’s national parks.
- Lawn chairs
- Canoe or kayak
- Picnic blanket
- Fishing gear
- Sports gear
- Bug spray
These are just the basics for a relaxing or adventure-filled camping trip while you’re RVing around California. One of the benefits of having an RV is that it has the storage space to bring them!
2. Tent Camping Near California National Parks
Let’s go camping the old-fashioned way! Of course, we’re talking about pitching a tent and sleeping outside. Camping around California national parks will let you breathe in the fresh air for your entire trip and be one with nature.
You will want to be prepared to get the most out of your camping trip. Although this seems like the simplest way to camp, you’ll still need to be strategic, making sure you know what to bring and which national park you’ll be staying near. Thanks to the internet, wonderful resources are at your fingertips.
Kings Canyon National Park
Although all California’s national parks are spectacular, Kings Canyon has unique features that can’t be compared. Due to its location, you can experience glacial valleys, lake basins, mountains, meadows, and canyons all around this park. Being on foot and tent camping near here can give you a well-rounded geographic experience across both low and high elevations. Additionally, you will also see a variety of wildlife and ecosystems during your visit according to the season. Kings Canyon has snakes, bears, sheep, mountain lions, birds, and much more, depending on whether you’re in the lower hills, meadows, or alpine areas.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
If you want to experience volcanoes, try camping near Lassen Volcanic. When you visit, you can find the largest plug dome volcano in the world, Lassen Peak, that last erupted in 1921, devastating the area. There are also fumaroles, hot springs, and even mud pots. Although incredibly dangerous due to their boiling temperatures and toxic fumes, these are amazing sites to visit and view during your trip, but please don’t get too close. From a tourist and science perspective, Lassen Volcanic is an exciting park to spend time camping around.
Pinnacles National Park
If you’re into rock climbing, why not experience Pinnacles National Park? It’s known for and is named after its rock formations. They are unique in size, shape, and height, and you can explore rock caves, spires, and various formations created by erosion. As a camper, you also wouldn’t want to miss exploring Bear Gulch reservoir, an artificial reservoir created to prevent flooding. You’ll be able to get there via hiking trails to enjoy the view.
What to Bring
You’ll need to pack a lot less when you camp without an RV, but that’s not a bad thing, since you won’t need as much. Let’s start with the necessities. The following items should be all you need for a fabulous camping trip in California.
- Sleeping bag
- Water bottle
- Lawn chair
- Foldable table
- Pocket knife
- First aid kit
You’ll want to be prepared to cook your own food since there may not be a kitchen in camping sites near California national parks. It’s also fun to get creative and think outside the box for your usual meals. The California Department of Parks and Recreation has some awesome tips and resources for camp-friendly foods and recipes. Lynda Smith Hoggan is a Professor of Public Health, and she compiled a list for the Parks and Rec site. Here’s what she suggests bringing:
- Washable plates, flatware, cups
- Roll of sturdy paper towels
- Roll of sturdy aluminum foil
- Small and large skillet
- Small and large cooking pot
- Wooden spoon
- Several sharp knives
- Can opener
- Long-handled barbecue tools
- Waterproof matches, long matches
- Long-handled lighter
- Baby wipes
- Antiseptic hand cleaner
- Plastic dishpan, biodegradable dish soap, and sponge
Lynda also provided some easy recipes you can make during your trip. Of course, you don’t need all these cooking supplies, but it’s a good list to consider for basics.
Similar to an RV trip, you’ll need to bring comfortable clothes that can be layered, but weatherproof and water-repellent garments are essential for tent camping. Weather is unpredictable, after all, so you’ll want the proper clothing — just in case.
- Raincoat or poncho
- Waterproof pants/shorts
- Waterproof shoes
- Moisture-wicking shirts
- Quick dry socks
With these essentials, you should be ready for camping around California national parks!
3. Glamping Near California National Parks
Glam + Camping = Glamping! Glamping is a fairly new concept that’s exactly what it sounds like — glamorized camping. You have all the comforts of home while being immersed in the wilderness. Here’s what you need to know for glamping around California national parks.
California is an absolute hub for glamping with options galore. When you “glamp,” you’re essentially booking a space like you’d book a hotel room.
You’ll want to use a third-party booking agency, like BookOutdoors, to peruse where you might want to stay. It will help you narrow down the options and determine which California national parks you want to be glamping near. You can also narrow your search with specifications, such as location, cost, and style of accommodations.
The variety of glamping around California national parks will appeal to those who enjoy nature but also want some luxury thrown in. However, you can also choose elevated tents and yurts that aren’t quite glamorous, but you can still have an exciting nature experience and remain comfortable. You can even stay in a fully furnished cabin or tree house.
Joshua Tree National Park
If you’re looking to have an adventure-filled glamping experience, you may want to be close to Joshua Tree. Here, you can have a variety of experiences due to its location. It’s located in the Mojave Desert, so its summers will be hot and dry, perfect for pool weather and AC! On the flip side, it’s cool in winter, so you have the luxury of returning to your heated cabin or resort after stargazing since the park is known for its clear skies. With Joshua Tree, you get the mysterious vastness of the desert to explore while still being close to your accommodations. You can be adventurous without risking convenience or comfort.
Redwood National Park
The Redwoods would be an excellent choice to glamp near if you love animals. Wildlife is abundant among the iconic redwood trees, the largest and tallest trees in the world. Around here, there are great opportunities to either birdwatch from your amenity-filled treehouse or visit the stables at your glamping resort to ride horses through the designated trails.
Sequoia National Park
With literally hundreds of sites to see, Sequoia National Park would be a lovely location to glamp near. Of course, they have everything you might expect: fascinating wildlife, incredible Sequoia trees, and hiking trails galore, but they also have a vast array of wildflowers, especially in the spring in the Foot Hills. This colorful, vibrant flora and fauna is unique to Sequoia, giving you plenty of opportunities to picnic, take pictures, or just soak in the environment on your trip leisurely.
What to Bring
Glamping, as opposed to traditional camping, definitely has some perks. You really only need to bring your clothes, toiletries, and any additional camping gear you desire. You’ll have a roof over your head, your own bed, and running water — which means bathroom and shower privileges! Glamp sites can vary; some offer more than others, but here’s a list of potential amenities.
- Full kitchen
- Heated floors
- Electric blankets
- Flatscreen televisions
- Hot tub
- Wine Tasting
Of course, the more amenities, the more you’ll pay. But there is truly a glamping experience for everyone: men, women, and children. Anyone can find something they’ll enjoy.
A final note: You’ll still be outside, so keep these camping essentials in mind.
- Bug spray
- First aid kit
- Appropriate outdoor clothing and shoes
4. Things to Do While Camping Around California National Parks
Hiking is something you can do in all California national parks. Day hikes are an easy, safe way to experience nature, and most do not require permits. You can follow trail maps that will help keep you on track and avoid unexpected, unmarked intersections and detours.
Preparation is an absolute must, so we recommend checking out the National Park Service’s Trail Safety Guide when camping near California national parks.
Biking is another fun way to see and experience your surroundings. Some parks, like Redwood National Park, have designated bike trails to enjoy as you cruise through the forest. However, it’s important to note that some parks don’t allow biking on certain backcountry hiking trails for fear of erosion.
You might be surprised to learn that electric bikes are permitted in some areas, but be sure to be aware of e-bike zones when camping around California national parks.
Whether you’re camping, glamping, or RVing around California national parks, you’ll want to capture the fun moments. Photography is a great way to create memories and hold on to special moments. Parks like Joshua Tree even encourage visitors to take pictures and tag them on Instagram or other social media to be featured.
However, if you’re having more than just casual photo ops, you should know that professional photography requires a permit for all California national parks.
If you want to spend time with animals, horseback riding might be another fun activity. There are designated horse camps near California national parks where you can hang out with the horses and do some riding. There are also stables near certain parks, like Sequoia and Kings Canyon, where you can enjoy guided horseback riding.
Have an adventurous spirit? You might be daring enough to do some rock climbing. Different areas have different rules for climbing, since it can be dangerous, and all parks require permits and insurance. This activity is not for beginners, but it’s definitely a fun way to experience California and the areas around national parks.
Rock climbing can affect the environment, so make sure you know the rules and zones where this activity is permitted. As an example, here’s the guide for rock climbing in Yosemite.
You can’t go wrong if you go camping, RVing, or glamping around California’s national parks. The scenery is unique wherever you go, and you’ll find different experiences and possibilities in each locale.
Thanks to California’s Department of Parks and Recreation, you don’t have to do too much research to find other things to do and see while camping. They’ve compiled information about activities in each park. Here are a few highlights!
- Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley
- Crystal Cave Tours in Sequoia National
- Loomis Museum in Lassen Volcanic
- Keys Ranch Tour in Joshua Tree
- Cables on Half Dome in Yosemite
There’s so much to do, explore, and experience when you go on a camping trip. You might not fit it all in one trip, but this will give you the excuse to book another vacation near the same national park or even a different one.
If you still have questions, we’re here to help! You might still wonder about a few things.
Are dogs allowed in California National Parks?
It depends! The open space and fresh air are great for dogs, but every park has different rules. Generally, dogs are not permitted on most beaches and always need to be kept on a leash. Service dogs are almost always allowed in spaces open to the public. You should check each park’s page for the most up-to-date information on pets and dogs. Here’s an example for Joshua Tree National Park.
What is the best time of year to visit California National Parks?
According to the California Department of Parks and Recreation, the best time to camp around California national parks is during the “shoulder seasons”: April, May, September, and October. These months between the peak and off seasons offer comfortable weather without the likelihood of high temperatures or dangerous weather conditions.
What are the rules for camping near California national parks?
Each campsite is different, so here is a general list of some important rules to remember when camping near California national parks.
- There is always a capacity limit per booking, so you need to double-check how many people are allowed per tent or RV space at your campsite or in your glamping accommodations.
- Vehicles are not permitted at certain campsites except in designated areas. But you can RV around California national parks and park in lots specifically for RVs.
- Some campsites require you to have a permit that you can pay for and receive in advance.
Is camping dangerous near California national parks?
The natural environment always carries an element of danger. That’s why it’s essential to be prepared and bring the supplies you need while also mapping out your routes carefully. In addition, be realistic about the hiking trails or activities you’re physically capable of handling. Know your limits and your surroundings.
RVing, camping, or glamping near and around national parks in California also means you may encounter wildlife and unfriendly terrain, which can also offer potential threats. Familiarize yourself with national park safety tips and those of the park you’re visiting to ensure you have wonderful memories.
Is RVing, camping, and glamping good for kids around California national parks?
There are tons of RV parks, campsites, and glamping resorts that cater to families with young children and provide activities for them to participate in. Some sites, however, do not accommodate children. Be sure that the facilities, no matter what type, will be a good fit for you and your family.
6. BookOutdoors is Ready for You to Start Your Adventure
Now that you’re familiar with the different ways to camp around California National Parks, the camping world is your oyster. RVing, camping, and glamping are equally wonderful experiences to see some of nature’s most wondrous creations. They all have their own unique benefits that will give you the ultimate camping experience.
RVing gives you a road trip and the comfort of shelter while experiencing your environment. Tent camping lets you get down and dirty by being completely outside and living off the land. And finally, glamping lets you enjoy the beauty of your environment while still having the creature comforts of home and much more. There is no right or wrong way to camp as long as you have fun. Happy camping!
BookOutdoors is a great resource to book your dream RV, camping, or glamping trip. With BookOutdoors, your booking experience will be seamless and stress-free as you search through thousands of options to choose from. Another unique aspect is that there are no booking or membership fees, and you’ll earn points when you sign up and book the camping getaway that’s right for you. Check out BookOutdoors today!