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12 Best Campgrounds in Northern California

Written by Brad Lane
Dec 2, 2019

Spanning redwood groves to volcanically active areas steaming with attraction, the best campgrounds in Northern California highlight the vast array of environments found in this half of the state. Other scenic aspects of Northern California camping include sandy beaches, fern canyons, and great views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Whether it's family campgrounds or lakeside camping, campgrounds in Northern California represent the best the state has to offer.

The Redwood Country of Eureka and Humboldt Counties is a signature part of the state, and public spaces like Redwoods National and State Parks offer campgrounds nestled beneath century-old trees. Farther south towards Santa Cruz, the massive expanse of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park also features campsites with neck-craning flora.

Coastal camping is also easily accomplished in Northern California, particularly at scenic spots on the Mendocino Coast like Russian Gulch State Park. For unique camping opportunities in Northern California, campgrounds at Lassen Volcanic National Park and Lava Beds National Monument feature out-of-this-world campgrounds near fumaroles and lava tubes.

Lake camping is also a Northern California specialty, with spots like Shasta Lake and Trinity Lake offering campsites with an aquatic view. For campgrounds that are too good to be kept secret, spots like Kirby Cove near the Golden Gate Bridge are often reserved months in advance.

Plan your next outdoor adventure with our list of the top campgrounds in Northern California.

1. Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park Campground, Redwoods National and State Parks

Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

In California's Redwood Country surrounding Highway 101, Jedediah Smith is one of three state parks jointly operated with Redwoods National Park. Less than 10 miles from Crescent City, the campground at Jedediah Smith is popular throughout the year thanks to its proximity to the Wild and Scenic Smith River—as well numerous groves of very tall trees.

With flushing water and coin-operated showers available, Jedediah Smith State Park has over 80 campsites that accommodate tents and RVs.

A total of four developed campgrounds are in Redwoods National and State Parks. The Gold Bluffs Beach Campground at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park offers tent camping on a secluded coastline, and the Mill Creek Campground at Del Norte Coast features plenty of space to RV camp next to some big trees.

Redwoods National and State Parks also offer backcountry campsites for those wanting some solitude among the redwoods.

Address: 1461 US-199, Crescent City, California

Official Site: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=413

2. D.L. Bliss State Park Campground, South Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe from D.L. Bliss State Park

On the southwest shore of Lake Tahoe, this lakeside campground is popular for activities like fishing, swimming, hiking, and SCUBA diving the nearby underwater preserve. As one of the best campgrounds in South Lake Tahoe, D.L. Bliss is surrounded by other great spots to spend the night like Emerald Bay State Park and Meeks Bay Resort.

Overnight guests at D.L. Bliss State Park have the choice between inland campsites and campsites on the beach.

Address: Lester Beach Road, Tahoma, California

Official site: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=505

3. Manzanita Lake Campground, Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Peak seen from Manzanita Lake

On the southern end of the Cascade Range in Northern California, Lassen Volcanic National Park encompasses over 100,000 dynamic acres of a striking environment. Seven campgrounds vary in size, accommodations, and seasonality, and the Manzanita Lake Campground tends to be the most sought after.

The campground's proximity to Redding adds to its popularity, as do the 175-plus sites available—but it's really the access to numerous lake activities that causes the campground to fill up during the summer season.

Other popular campgrounds at Lassen Volcanic National Park include Butte Lake Campground and Warner Valley Campground. Each campground at Lassen offers access to unique areas of the park like Bumpass Hell and Lassen Peak.

For winter camping in Lassen, the only year-round campground is the Southwest Walk-In Campground, where campers must dig themselves a place to stay.

Address: Lassen Volcanic National Park, Mineral, California

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/lavo/index.htm

4. Antlers Campground, Shasta-Trinity National Forest

Sacramento Arm of Lake Shasta

Accommodating both tent and RV camping, the Antlers Campground is atop a bluff overlooking the Sacramento Arm of Shasta Lake. Surrounded by an aromatic and shade-producing oak and pine forest, the campground incorporates many great views of the lake.

For those interested in getting on the water, the Antler public boat ramp is adjacent to the campground. The Antlers Amphitheater is also adjacent the campground, and tours of the nearby Lake Shasta Caverns is a popular day trip nearby.

The surrounding Shasta-Trinity National Forest is the largest in California and offers numerous places to camp. Alongside dispersed camping throughout the forest, another popular place to spend the night is the Hayward Flat Campground at Trinity Lake. Southwest of Shasta and Trinity Lakes, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area provides other scenic lakeside camping spots nearby.

Address: 20682 Antlers Road, Lakehead, California

Official site: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/stnf/recarea/?recid=6421

5. Burlington Campground, Humboldt Redwoods State Park Editor's Pick

Humboldt Redwoods State Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

A defining natural space in California's Redwood Country, Humboldt Redwoods is a place of big proportions. Among the lofty redwood trees that can reach over 350 feet in length, the park also features over 100 miles of hiking trails and 250 standard campsites spread throughout three different campgrounds.

Connected to other park attractions via the 32-mile Avenue of the Giants, the Burlington Campground is the only year-round spot to pitch a tent or park an RV at Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

Flushing toilets and coin-operated showers are available throughout the year at Burlington Campground, and campers also have access to signature areas of the park including the Founders Grove and the Women's Federation Grove. Numerous opportunities to access the South Fork of the Eel River line the Avenue of the Giants near the Burlington Campground.

Other seasonal campgrounds at Humboldt Redwoods include the southern Hidden Springs Campground and the Albee Creek Campground with less traffic driving by.

Address: Avenue of the Giants, Weott, California

Official site: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=425

6. Russian Gulch State Park Campground, Mendocino Coast

Russian Gulch State Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Just two miles north of the village of Mendocino—one of the best small towns in Californiathe Russian River makes quite a splash at Russian Gulch State Park. Alongside unique trail-lined bluffs and tidal features like the Devil's Punchbowl, this coastal state park also has 26 standard sites near the Russian River before it hits the ocean.

The Fern Canyon Trail extends from the campground at Russian Gulch, enabling a six-mile round trip to a 36-foot waterfall and back.

The entire Mendocino Coast is lined with natural attractions and other places to camp. Surrounding the village itself, Mendocino Headlands State Park features plenty of bluff-side ocean views but is day-use only. Less than two miles south of the village, Van Damme State Park offers more camping on the Northern California coast with over 70 sites available.

Address: CA-1, Mendocino, California

Official site: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=432

7. Indian Well Campground, Lava Beds National Monument

Exploring the lava tubes near Indian Well Campground

In California's northeast corner, in Siskiyou County, Lava Beds National Monument is a volcanically shaped landscape dotted with cinder cones and hundreds of lava tubes. The most frequented and family-friendly lava tubes to explore are located on Cave Loop Road within the national monument, and just minutes from the Indian Well Campground. Accommodating tents, trailers, and motorhomes up to 30 feet in length, the campground has potable water and pit toilets available.

Address: Lava Beds Campground Road, Tulelake, California

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/labe/index.htm

8. Castle Crags State Park Campground, Castle Crags State Park

Rocky landscape of Castle Crags State Park

Surrounded by the Shasta-Trinity National Forest near the city of Mount Shasta, Castle Crags State Park is named after the millions-year-old granite spires within its borders. Popular activities at the park include hiking, camping, and fishing in the Sacramento River.

The campground at Castle Crags features over 60 standard sites with access to running water and showers, as well as a first-come, first-served separate Riverside Campground with an extra dozen sites available.

East of Castle Crags, another popular state park adjacent to the Shasta-Trinity National Forest offers similar camping appeal. Close to a fanning waterfall feature, the campground at McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park has over 100 family sites available for tents or RVs.

Both state parks and their campgrounds have hiker/biker sites that are most commonly used by hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Address: 20022 Castle Creek Road, Castella, California

Official site: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=454

9. Lakes Basin Campground, Plumas National Forest

Gold Lake near Lakes Basin Campground, Plumas National Forest

Next to the meandering banks of Gray Eagle Creek, this wooded campground in the Plumas National Forest is surrounded by glacier lakes. At least 20 lakes are connected via an intertwining trail system stemming from the campground, including the impressive Gold Lake only a short walk away.

A public boat ramp on Gold Lake is popular with watercraft owners, and the 22 sites at Lakes Basin also fill with trail hikers, mountain bikers, and horse riders.

Address: Elwell Lodge Road, Blairsden-Graeagle, California

Official site: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/plumas/recreation/recarea/?recid=11199

10. Graham Hill Campground, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

One of the best campgrounds near Santa Cruz, all 100-plus campsites at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park are located five miles from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Surrounded by a lush forest and towering trees, the big surroundings of Graham Hill Campground lend to the feeling of spending the night in a forested wonderland.

Campers can hop on the Eagle Creek Trail right from the campground to hike to the park's signature Redwood Grove Loop Trail.

Less than 20 miles northwest of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, more redwood camping can be found at Big Basin Redwoods State Park. The oldest state park in California, Big Basin has nearly 150 standard campsites spread across four different campgrounds. Backcountry camping is also popular in Big Basin, and many hikers utilize these primitive spots while trekking the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail.

Address: 2591 Graham Hill Road, Scotts Valley, California

Official site: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=546

11. Beal's Point Campground, Folsom Lake State Recreation Area

Purple lupine on the bank of Folsom Lake

Thirty miles west of Sacramento, the scenic Folsom Lake has three campgrounds available. Just north of the Folsom Lake Dam, Beal's Point Campground offers year-round spots to tent or RV camp close to the water. With 69 sites available, every overnight guest has access to potable water and hot showers, as well as proximity to a swimming beach.

North of the campground, the Granite Bay area of the park has several public boat ramps that access the water.

Address: Beals Point, Granite Bay, California

Official site: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=500

12. Kirby Cove Campground, Golden Gate National Recreation Area

A swing on the beach at Kirby Cove Campground

On the north side of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area within the Marin Headlands, the five available sites at Kirby Cove Campground are a bit of a secret spot for those looking to get away from San Francisco without traveling too far.

Encompassing great views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the campsites at Kirby Cove are available by reservation only and are often reserved months in advance. The reservable day-use picnic area at Kirby Cove also tends to fill up fast.

Address: 948 Fort Barry, Sausalito, California

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/goga/planyourvisit/kirby.htm

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Hiking Trails in California: For some of the best Northern California places to take a hike, the beautiful hiking trails in Redwood National and State Parks tour some of the world's tallest trees. Farther south, the best hiking trails near Santa Cruz inspire, with more redwood trees, ocean bluffs, and dramatic views of the Santa Cruz Mountains. For a good look at everything the state has to offer, our article on the Best Hiking Trails in California provides a good guide to start planning a California adventure.

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