10 Campgrounds Solid for Tent Camping in Southern California

Updated July 16, 2021
glowing tent under desert night sky

Tent camping in Southern California is a fun, affordable way to spend time with the whole family. A variety of areas are located throughout Southern California, all of which are ideal for an ideal camping experience. Enjoy Southern California beach camping, life among ancient redwoods or desert living in Joshua Tree. All are possible at Southern California campgrounds.

Tent Camping in Southern California Locations

Tent camping in this region is ideal. The peak season weather is mild to hot, and much of the region of the Sierra Nevada is filled with pine woods and running streams. Some more experienced campers may wish to move closer to the desert regions of Death Valley and beach lovers will find their sweet camping spot too. Throughout most of the area, there are state parks and campgrounds perfect for tent camping.

Andrew Molera State Park Campground

Andrew Molera Beach, Big Sur, California

Located just one mile away from the ocean, Andrew Molera State Park Campground is ideal for tent camping. Most of the region is a grassy meadow, but it does have vaulted toilets and piped-in water. Several campsites are located here to be used, though there is a three-day limit for families and a seven-day limit for large groups. Visitors can enjoy hiking trails and beachy days, as both are activities that campers can partake in during their stay.

Big Pine Creek Campground

Entering Inyo National Forest

Those who wish to take in the sights and scenery of beautiful, natural California may wish to go tent camping in Big Pine Creek Campgrounds, located in Inyo State Park. Here, you will find plenty of terrain to hike, and visitors can enjoy horseback riding, fishing, and in this area as well. The campground offers 30 sites, all with some varying levels of shade available. The cost per night is $21, and campers can stay for up to 14 consecutive days. Here, you will be camping in bear country, so all sites come with bear-proof boxes to keep campers safe.

McGill Park

Jeffrey Pine forest atop Mt Pinos

McGill Campground is located on Mt. Pinos. The campground contains 78 accessible camping units, each with a fire ring for campfires and a picnic table. A vault toilet is located across the road from the campground. One of the draws to this area is the stunning vegetation covering the space and the picturesque hiking trails nearby. Campers can spend their days on the McGill Hiking Trail or The Exploration Trail and then spend the evenings cozied up to a fire.

William Heise County Park Campground

Wooden Cottage

Those in Los Angeles or San Diego are only a few minutes to some of the best campgrounds located in this region. William Heise Couty Park Campground offers rolling meadows and forested landscapes. The park encompasses eleven miles of hiking and equestrian trails and several playgrounds for the kids and ranger-led activities to keep little ones occupied. Those wishing to stay at the park can take advantage of the smaller, family-centric tent sites or larger sites designed for bigger groups and gatherings.

Cleveland National Forest

Bluejay campground, in Cleveland National Forest - Getty Editorial Use

The Cleveland National Forest is a large park with more than 567,000 acres located in San Diego County. This is a densely forested region, though campgrounds are located throughout it. Some campgrounds here include Los Caballos, Horse Heaven, Fry Creek, Dripping Springs, and El Prado. Each campground has specific and unique sights and amenities, so look to choose one that suits your specific needs and desires. There are so many options in this National Forest; you'll be sure always to have a spot for your tent.

South Carlsbad State Beach

Couple relaxing inside vehicle on beach

Beach camping is a serene experience for lovers of the outdoors, so long as you can stand some sand in your tent for a weekend! The campground is located on a sandy bluff overlooking the Pacific; talk about serious scenery. It has 215 camping spots available throughout the season. Tent campers can enjoy park amenities like hot showers, flush toilets, and piped water, making the experience more comfortable. Pier fishing, hiking, bike rentals, and surfing will keep campers plenty active throughout their stay.

Green Valley Campground

The Milky Way in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

Located in the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park region, Green Valley Campground feels like a whole other world compared to the common sights and scenes of busy southern California. With 80 sites near the Sweetwater River, Green Valley is widely known for its family-friendly vibe and plentiful swimming holes. Tent campers can clean off after a day of hiking the numerous trails or riding horses through the forest with hot showers. The campground also provides flushable toilets. The price to set up camp here is $30 a night.

Fern Basin Campground

Fern Basin Campground

This forested campground is located about fifty miles southeast of San Bernardino. Amenities here include vault toilets, a dumpster, picnic tables, and water faucets. The campground is rustic, with only 22 sites to its name. Fees are cheap, at $10 per night, but are perfect for those who wish to get away from city life and enjoy the peace and serenity that life in the trees offers.

Ventana Campground

Small group of tents camping in dark forest, Big Sur, California, USA

Ventana Campground is located in Big Sur, just 30 miles south of Carmel. Tent camping is made easy here among the towering redwoods as the sites have picnic tables, fire rings, and water faucets. The tent-only campground offers bathhouses for those needed to wash away the day and nearby stores, restaurants, gift shops, and taverns in the close by city of Big Sur.

Jumbo Rocks Campground

Campers assembling tent, Joshua Tree National Park, California

Located in Joshua Tree National Park, Jumbo Rocks campground should be at the top of every hiker and camper's bucket list. Outdoors-loving, nature enthusiasts can choose from any of the 124 available sites throughout the entire year. The fee here is only $20 per night, but there is an additional park fee for vehicles coming into the National Park. Some sites accommodate up to six people, but other sites are small and might be more suitable for individuals or couples. Hike, explore the unique rock formations, and spend the nights gazing up at the stars.

Things to Do on Southern California Tent Camping Trips

Tent camping in Southern California offers many outdoor activities. Most parks offer hiking trails throughout them, and many nature lovers come to hike through this guarded, untouched wilderness. For those who wish to hike, visit the California State Parks website to learn more about particular parks and regions ideal for hiking.

Some areas are protected as wildlife preserves and sanctuaries. For example, in Cleveland National Forest, there are four designated areas as wildlife sanctuaries, and while visitors may walk through them, no vehicles or bicycles may be taken through them. Be respectful of posted signs detailing what is allowed.

Backpacking, fishing, bird watching, and water sports may be found in some of these regions as well. Keep in mind that fishing may require a license from the state parks division. There may be a limit on how many fish you can remove from the streams or lakes. There may also be restrictions on which areas may be fished in.

Other activities to do while tent camping may include biking, boating, or canoeing in rivers, lakes, streams, and climbing. Some areas do allow horseback riding. Hunting is allowed in a few designated areas depending on the time of year. Swimming is possible in most areas.

Many great parks are located throughout Southern California, and many of them offer tent camping, either through designated campsites or in the open wilderness. It is important to locate potential areas ahead of time and ensure that all rules and regulations are followed. To view all Southern California state parks, visit the National Park Service website.

Camping in California: a Special Experience

Camping in Southern California is certainly a unique experience for outdoor lovers. In the small area considered to be southern California, campers can choose from desert-like topography, ancient, towering trees, or sandy beaches to set camp up at. With so many great tent camping options, those who revel in the camping lifestyle will never run short on options in Southern California.

10 Campgrounds Solid for Tent Camping in Southern California