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On the coastline of California, Big Sur is known by many to be one of the most gorgeous places in North America. It’s no wonder that so many people want to camp there.
The popularity of this famous beach and forest stretch means that Big Sur camping isn’t always easy to do. Because of the area’s incredible natural beauty, many other lovers of the outdoors have the same idea.
Many of the best campgrounds get booked up quickly, so it’s a good idea to start early on planning your Big Sur camping trip. Thankfully, there’s an extended camping season there. The weather is pretty much great from the end of April to early November. The ideal time might be early fall when the crowds thin out and the cold winter hasn’t set in.
Tips For Making Campground Reservations For Big Sur Campgrounds
The area known as Big Sur is on the Central Coast south of Carmel and north of San Simeon. It’s 90 miles along the Pacific Coast Highway (also called State Route 1) with a rocky coastline on one side and dense forest on the other.
There are numerous state parks in the region, and they are the natural choice for many campers. They are in beautiful settings and are usually quite affordable. Private campgrounds have higher rates, but they do a bustling business, too.
Because they are in such high demand throughout the year, the state parks are often booked for up to six months in advance. This area’s high demand is why it will pay off to do some advanced planning for Big Sur camping.
Best Campgrounds On The Big Sur Coast
Most of the campgrounds in the area are small and offer a rustic experience with few amenities. Often they are near the beach and also have access to creeks or rivers within the forest. Provided that you can find a vacancy, here’s our guide to the best campgrounds on the Big Sur coast:
Kirk Creek Campground
With just 34 campsites, it’s difficult to score a spot at Kirk Creek Campground. If you do, though, you’ll enjoy a rustic experience on the edge of Los Padres National Forest as well as beach access. Amenities are limited to bathrooms, fire pits, and picnic tables for the most part. It’s a short walk to a rocky beach, and the Vicente Flats trailhead is across the streets. The famous Sand Dollar Beach is just five miles away. Fishing is popular here, and trails nearby offer scenic views of the beach as well as waterfalls and redwood groves.
Limekiln State Park
Limekiln State Park is even smaller, with just 31 campsites that are highly coveted. The campground offers good beach access and is nestled among 700 acres of old-growth forest. It is located two miles south of Lucia and gets its name from four kilns used to produce lime from limestone. Although, it’s dry camping only with a dump station and dirt pads. A creek runs through it, and trails lined with white cedar and hemlock offer a view of the scenic Limekiln Falls.
Plaskett Creek Campground
Just minutes from Sand Dollar Beach, Plaskett Creek Campground lies along the Santa Lucia Mountains’ lowest slopes. This well-kept park has 44 sites in a grassy meadow shaded by pines and cypresses. The limited amenities include picnic tables, grills, and fire rings. There are drinking water and flush toilets, but o hookups or dump station. Wildlife viewing is popular here – you might even see a mountain line or bears along with foxes, deer, bobcats, and raccoons.
In the Big Sur community, Ventana Campground is a tent-only campground but does welcome camper vans and trucks with roof tents or small campers on top (no longer than 22 feet). Set in a 40-acre redwood canyon, the campground has two bathhouses, and each site has a picnic table and a fire ring. In addition, staying here at one of the 80 primitive sites gives you reasonable access to general stores, restaurants, taverns, and gift shops in the community.
Riverside Campgrounds & Cabins
This favorite destination, 22 miles south of Carmel, has 34 sites and offers 20 amp electricity and water hookups. There are also 12 cabins for rent that are surrounded by majestic redwoods. Beach access and hiking trails are minutes away. There are hot showers, clean restrooms, and laundry facilities. You can fish here or do some swimming or tubing in the river, so that makes this a popular place to camp in Big Sur for families.
Big Sur Campgrounds & Cabins
Families also love Big Sur Campgrounds & Cabins (farther up the river), which adds volleyball and basketball courts to its list of amenities. There are a playground and camp store, laundry facilities, and an assortment of cabins. Big Sur has 80 pads and offers electrical and water. There are pull-through sites, and they accommodate rigs up to 40 feet. Cell service is limited, but some brewpubs not far away have WiFi.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is home to the iconic (and much-photographed) McWay Falls. The mesmerizing waterfall crashes into the sandy Big Sur coastline. Named after one of Big Sur’s most beloved pioneers, Julia Pfeiffer Burns, it may also be the toughest ticket in town. It’s hard to get a reservation here. However, if you do, you can enjoy stunning views from the cliff and a genuinely rustic Big Sur camping experience. It’s hike-in primitive camping at only two sites. (Note: This park is often confused with the next one on our list, which is about 10 miles to the south.)
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
This one is gigantic in comparison to the other campgrounds on our list. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park itself covers a little over a thousand acres. Most importantly, there are 189 sites for RVs and tents. So, included are gravel pads, a dump station, bathrooms, and token-operated showers. The park itself is impressive and has been called a “mini Yosemite”. Walking trails through the woods and in the river gorge is easily accessible from camp. However, be aware that cell service is minimal at this Big Sur camp.