California is the hottest spot in the USA for great camping. There are literally thousands of spots that are diverse, unique, and beautiful. Out of those thousands there are hundreds and hundreds of campsites that are free. That’s right. Free. Check out these 10 campsites that are free, beautiful, and waiting for you.
Alabama Hills Recreation Lands in Lone Pine, CA
You may not know this, but you have seen the Alabama Hills Recreation Lands. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been there or not; you’ve seen it. Over 400 Hollywood movies and TV shows have been filmed there including Gladiator, Django Unchained, and the underrated, amazing TV series Firefly (oh please, why don’t they bring it back).
It’s safe to say this place is one of the best places you’ll find in California, at any price. The scenery is diverse and gorgeous with desert and mountain landscapes all in view. Hiking trails are prominent in the area as well. Pick up a free map or visit the Lone Pine museum to learn more or spend a day relaxing outside.
Picnic Ground Road in Lee Vining, CA
Right off of Mono Lake, this free campsite has great views of desert, mountains, and water. The lots around here are pretty small, so it may not be great for large campers. Luckily, there are plenty of spots if you take a drive down the road, just be sure to check them out on foot first, to make sure your camper fits.
While the camping and hiking here are great, and (did I mention?) free, there is even more to do within an hour drive. Most Yosemite adventures can be found close by including exploring, fly fishing, and shuttles to popular spots. Lundy Canyon, Tioga Lake, and Bodie State Park are all just waiting around the corner. Because there is so much to do, so close, it’s a good idea to take some time and write out an itinerary so you can soak in all the adventures that are just waiting for you.
Clark Dry Lake in Borrego Springs, CA
While recently made a little bit smaller, the Clark Dry Lake area is still a great place to do some Boondocking. During most popular times of the year you’ll find a lot of like minded people around. If you want some isolation, pull further away from S22; you’ll lose phone service but you’ll gain some privacy.
The nearby town of Borrego Springs is a unique and interesting town. While it is equipped with normal things like shops, markets, and a restaurants; it also has the Galleta Meadows Sculptures. There are over a 100 sculptures here depicting dinosaurs, people, and even dragons. The land is left opened to the public by Dennis Avery, who passed in 2012.
Williams Hill Recreation Area in Bradley, CA
This little spot boasts seven camping spots with a covered picnic table and their own fire ring. As you head to the Campsite you’ll find a narrow, winding road but it gets more wide as you climb the hill towards the campsite. Make sure you buy your supplies before hand, as the closest store is over 40 minutes away. There is no water or trash pick up, so make sure you are prepared to keep yourself in good shape.
The views in the area are backed by beautiful rolling hills. The area is great for dogs and kids alike. If you have a dirt bike or an ATV you can find some nice trails. Most of the time you won’t find too many other campers, but it could get busy so make sure you get there early. Most of your time will be spent hiking and exploring, or simply relaxing.
Volcanic Tablelands in Bishop, CA
You will find yourself boxed in by mountains on one side and the Sierras on the other side. There isn’t too much in the area nearby, but there is something beautiful about that. The vast isolation is unique and compelling. Winds can be a problem due to the tunnel effect the mountains form over the tablelands. Bishop is a town nearby that has a decent amount of supplies and restaurants that you might need. You’ll also find a few lakes nearby which are good for spending the day at and relaxing. Buttermilk Rocks is another amazing sight that you should definitely see and climb.
Amboy Crater in Amboy, CA
While this spot is small and only really offers one thing, that one thing is very cool; the Amboy Crater. You’ll find a few campsites off of route 66 and these campsites are usually close to the road and even paved themselves. Luckily, though, there isn’t too much traffic so the noise isn’t too bad. A few trains will go nearby, and that’s most of the noise disturbance you’ll hear. Around the campsites the only thing worth really doing is walking the crater. But that is an impressive and unforgettable walk. Even just seeing the crater on the horizon is unique and beautiful. Walking the land itself is completely worth the day you spent to do it.
Sunrise Rock in Cima, CA
Marked by the large White Cross at the top of a hill, the Sunrise Rock is aptly named. This boondocking campsite offers a fire pit and picnic table. There are two roads to reach the campsite and it’s recommended to use the northernmost road, as the second dirt road has some tricky parts that would be very hard for a trailer. You won’t find many amenities here, so prepare carefully. The trails and sights at Sunrise Rock are spectacular. The way the rock formations and dry brush are set by the massive sky and setting sun will be one of the most unforgettable things you’ll ever see. There’s not much else to do around here but see the sights. But those sights are definitely worth seeing.
Shoreline Highway starting in Fort Bragg, CA
This pullout off of Highway One is just a few miles north of MacKerricher State Park, which is worth a visit, too. Once here you will see an amazing view; cliffs big and beautiful, blue waves crashing over rocks, and a big open sky. It’s truly beautiful. You can spend a lot of time in the areas nearby, too. Along with MacKerricher State Park you’ll also find the Glass Beach at Fort Bragg. Or you can just relax and breathe in the fresh ocean air. Either way, this spot is a great place to spend a few days.
Big Black Mountain in Ramona, CA
This little treasure is hard to get to, but it’s really worth it once you get there. First off, the road to the campsite is not very good and you’ll need a decent 4WD vehicle to get there. Also, after storms or rain the roads might be even worse. Once you get to the campsite though you will find some amazing free camping. The views seems to stretch on and on. A clear day can net you a view of the Pacific Ocean and mountains tens of miles away. This spot offers all the great parts of the Cleveland National Forest, too, without a lot of people or noise. A word of caution : fire threats can close the roads you need to get to the campsite so make sure you call the rangers before you start your trip up. Also, take the South road up, not the North road as it is almost always closed.
Fossil Falls Dry Lake Bed in Little Lake, CA
This spot is one of the most underused free campsites on the list. Most of the time once you find a decent spot you won’t see any rangers or other campers, basically leaving you to your own lake bed. Pretty cool.
The hiking and exploration around the Lake Bed are amazing and unique, a dash of salt flats and mountain ranges. Noise is minimal and there are plenty of cool places to hike with family or dogs, but make sure not to leave your dog unattended at any time, as coyotes are known to roam at night.
You can find a rest area that has water and a dumpster pretty close. A town with stores and food is about 30 minutes away, so make sure you pack accordingly.
These 10 spots are a perfect microcosm for the wonders and beauty that makes California what it is. Each of these places gives you a real feeling of isolation and freedom. You don’t need to spend your hard earned money to taste this world. It’s free. And it’s waiting.