How to Find the Best Free Camping in California

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A camper naps on a picnic table while camping in the autumn forest in California with his truck and surfboard.

California is always a fun place to visit. You can find so many exciting adventures throughout the state. But you can have a hard time finding free excursions. We want to help. So join us as we look at some of the best spots for free camping in California.

Where to Find Free Camping in California

You can find most free camping in California located on Bureau of Land Management or United States Forest Service land. This land typically has public access and frequently has free or inexpensive camping sites. 

Also, websites like have maps that show available recreational areas open to the public. Dryft also recommended using Benchmark Maps. Benchmark shows national and state parks and even designates between paved and dirt roads.

Pro Tip: Use one of these 7 free camping apps to make finding camping sites quick and easy. 

Can You Camp on Public Lands for Free?

The Bureau of Land Management manages public lands. And California has over 15 million acres of public land under the BLM. That’s 15 million opportunities for free camping in California. You can camp for free on BLM land in most cases, but not all. Some campsites range from $4 to $10. Also, know that you can only camp on BLM land for up to 14 days.

Can You Camp on a Beach in California?

Not all beach locations host free camping. In California, you can camp on the beach, but often you must park in casino parking lots. You may need to settle for a free spot further away or pay for a more desirable location to camp on the beach. 

Woman holds a drink and stands next to her motorhome parked on the beach with the ocean in the background.

The Best Free Camping in California

You can find some fantastic free camping in California. Throughout the state, you can find gratis locations and campgrounds for personal recreational use.

Here are quite a few of our favorites from across the state. Join us as we explain why we love them and why they may make the perfect location for your next California adventure. 

Smith River Recreation Area

A man fishes along the steaming Smith River where you can experience free camping California.

The Smith River Recreation Area is located in Northern California and has four camping sites. Each spot has toilets, fire rings, tables, parking, and drinking water.

While enjoying the Smith River area, you can fish for steelhead, trout, or salmon. You can also swim or raft in the pure Smith River waters and hike the pristine mountains in the warmer months.

Inyo National Forest Dispersed Camping

Bright yellow fall colors surround Rock Creek Lake in Inyo National Forest where you can find free camping California.

Try camping in Inyo National Forest, located near Bishop, California. The United States Forest Service has labeled most of Inyo County as public land. So, this is an ideal place for free camping in California because you can pretty much camp at any spot within the county. 

But, be careful because some land is private. You can purchase maps labeling public and private land. While staying at Inyo National Forest, you can enjoy the many natural land formations such as Mt. Whitney or enjoy some of the weirder landmarks like Teakettle Junction or the Marble Bathtub.

Alabama Hills National Recreation Area 

Alabama Hills National Recreation Area receives thousands of visitors annually looking for free camping in California. However, certain areas are quite remote. Although it is an ideal location for private camping, remember that you must pack in all your supplies. 

The recreation area also hosts the Eastern Sierra Visitors Center near Lone Pine, California. From the viewing point at the visitors center, you can see Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the continental U.S., and Badwater Basin in Death Valley, the lowest place in North America. 

See the amazing spot where we boondocked in Alabama Hills, and hear about our uninvited camp guests!

Mono Lake Boondocking

Early morning sunrise casts peachy hues over the rocky shoreline of Mono Lake in Callifornia.

Mono Lake boondocking is a great way to take advantage of free camping in California. You’ll find it near Lundy Canyon, Crestview, and Inyo National Forest. 

Boondocking means camping on public land in unmarked campsites. It has fewer rules for where and how long you can stay. But boondocking also means you won’t have access to any amenities. Therefore, you must pack in all supplies and take care of all hygiene needs, including the toilet and waste.

Lassen Volcanic National Forest

Blue skies and a light dusting of snow at Cindercone at Lassen Volcanic National Park in California.

You can find free camping in Lassen Volcanic National Forest located in Northern California. Each campsite has tables, fire rings, and lockboxes. 

While camping, you can travel through the National Forest, enjoy a backcountry backpacking trip, and see numerous wildlife. Just know, bears frequent the area, and you will need to lock up all food and scented items before leaving the campsite or going to bed.

Mendocino National Forest

Waves crashing along cliffs at the coast of Mendocino in California.

You can camp for free in Mendocino National Forest, located in the southwestern part of the state near Willow, California. It is the perfect spot for tranquil free camping. This forest is especially peaceful because no major highways or paved roads run through it. 

While staying at Mendocino National Forest, you can go horseback riding, hiking in the nearby Chico Seed Orchard and Red Bluff Recreation Area, and swimming in the Stonyford Recreation Area.

Alder Creek Dispersed Camping

A man looks up at the tall trees surrounding him in Sequoia Nation Park.

Individuals can find free camping in California at Alder Creek Dispersed Camping in Sequoia National Park. This camping spot, located in a heavily wooded area, has vault toilets and Alder Creek nearby. 

The sites have tables, bathrooms, and fire rings. But, please note that during the warmer summer months, the area tends to dry out, and The Department of Fish and Game will strictly enforce fire restrictions. 

Hermit Valley Campground

Brown and yellow entry road sign for Stanislaus National Forest in California.

Located in Stanislaus National Forest, the Hermit Valley Campground lies under old-growth sequoia trees. While camping here, you can enjoy mountain biking, hiking, fishing.

You can even visit Yosemite National Park if you want to travel North. But, be aware; Hermit Valley Campground provides no amenities, which is common with free camping in California. 

What to Know about Free Camping in California Before You Go

So, before you leave for your epic California adventure, you first need to know where to look for free camping. In California, many state parks or BLM lands have great camping sites. 

Be prepared to boondock and pack out what you bring in. Use gentle camping practices to protect the natural resources in many of these national forests and parks.

Keep in Mind: There is free camping all over the US just waiting for you to find it! 

You can try one of these locations on a quick weekend trip or visit all of these free camping spots on a lengthy California tour. So get planning your trip today.

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