Winter camping in California in the forest
Central Coast,  Central Valley,  Sierras

12 Best Spots For Winter Camping In California

Are you craving some time outside in the fresh air? I hear ya! Thankfully, there are plenty of places to enjoy winter camping in California to get away for a few days into the great outdoors.

Every winter season I plan a few camping trips in the Golden State. It’s one of my favorite times for traveling because campgrounds are easier to book and you won’t encounter the big summer crowds.

From the mountains to the coast, California offers incredible outdoor adventures that can be accessible year-round (with a bit more prep).

Here are 12 of my favorite places for winter camping in California to embrace the colder seasons!

Planning to rent an RV or campervan for winter camping? I recommend using my favorite van rental company Outdoorsy! Outdoorsy offers thousands of recreational vehicle rentals from popular California cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and others!

12 Best Places For Winter Camping In California:

1. Yosemite National Park – Upper Pines Campground

Woman sitting in a campervan at Yosemite National Park during winter
Snow camping in California at Yosemite National Park.

Campground highlights:

  • Google Map Location: Upper Pines Campground
  • Campsite types: Tent camping and recreational vehicles
  • Amenities: Picnic table, fire ring, food storage locker, flush toilets, drinking water
  • Reservations: Campsites can be booked on here up to five months in advance

Camping at Yosemite National Park is on a bucket list for many outdoor enthusiasts! And there is no better place to stay on a Yosemite winter trip than the Upper Pines Campground.

Located at the heart of Yosemite Valley, this campground offers easy access to many of the park’s famous attractions such as Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Mirror Lake, and Cook’s Meadow among many others.

Upper Pines Campground serves as a great base camp for those who want to immerse themselves in winter adventures while being close to Curry Village where you can go grab food and drinks. Be sure to book Upper Pines campsites early on as they do get sold out, even during winter months!

Winter Camping Tip: During the off-season, you can expect very cold nights in the mountains. We installed this air heater in our campervan before our Yosemite trip to stay cozy through the night. If that’s not an option, bring lots of clothing layers, blankets, and a sleeping bag to stay warm.

Read Next: 20 Best Things To Do In Yosemite In Winter

2. Big Sur – Kirk Creek Campground

Kirk Creek Campground is one of my favorite California winter camping locations in Big Sur.

Campground highlights:

  • Google Map Location: Kirk Creek Campground
  • Campsite types: Tent camping and recreational vehicles, bicycle, and walk-in tent sites
  • Amenities: Picnic tables, fire ring, vault toilets (no showers)
  • Reservations: Campsites can be booked on here up to 6 months in advance

Tucked away along the rugged Big Sur coastline, the Kirk Creek Campground is one of the dreamiest places to camp in California. With mild, temperate weather, Big Sur is a great spot for camping on the California Coast year-round.

Being one of the most scenic and sought-after campgrounds in California, it’s best to book Kirk Creek Campground sites as soon as they become available 6 months in advance. I was lucky enough to camp here during the winter and absolutely loved it!

Situated next to Highway 1, from the campground you’ll have easy access to Big Sur attractions such as Limekiln State Park, Sand Dollar Beach, Ragged Point, and Elephant Seal Vista Point. If you enjoy rugged nature away from the crowds, you’ll love this area!

Read Next: 15 Places To Go Camping On Central California Coast

3. Joshua Tree National Park – Jumbo Rocks Campground

Jumbo Rocks Campground at Joshua Tree National Park.

Campground highlights:

  • Google Map Location: Jumbo Rocks Campground
  • Campsite types: Tent and RV sites, individual and family sites
  • Amenities: Vault toilets, picnic tables, trash, fire rings (no showers, hookups or drinking water)
  • Reservations: Campsites can be booked on here

Joshua Tree National Park is another California destination that I prefer to visit in the winter months. The summer temperatures often reach past 100 °F so winter is a much more pleasant time to hike and camp at Joshua Tree.

My favorite place to camp at Joshua Tree is the Jumbo Rocks Campground. Located at the center of the park it offers easy access to the Skull Rock Trail, Ryan Mountain Trail, and Barker Dam.

With 124 sites, Jumbo Rocks is also the biggest campground at the park. Here you can camp amongst giant boulders that provide plenty of seclusion from neighboring campers.

4. Alabama Hills

Alabama Hills is one of the best places to camp in winter in California.

Campground highlights:

  • Google Map Location: Alabama Hills
  • Campsite types: Dispersed camping
  • Amenities: Porta potties, fire rings
  • Reservations: Reservations will be implemented in the future

Situated in the Sierra Nevada foothills off Highway 395 Alabama Hills offers some of the best winter camping in California. I love to camp here when I feel like escaping off the grid away from crowds and the city noise.

At Alabama Hills, you can feel submerged in rugged nature by staying at dispersed campsites next to unique rock formations.

The campsites here are ‘wild’ and offer no amenities. This means you will need to be self-sufficient and come prepared with food, water, and other camping necessities.

While in the past we could just arrive and set up camp without much planning, in the future camping permits will be required to stay at Alabama Hills. Read more about Alabama Hills camping requirements here.

5. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park campground.

Campground highlights:

  • Google Map Location: Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
  • Campsite types: RV, tent, hike, and bike sites
  • Amenities: Restrooms with showers, picnic table, fire pit, restaurant, camp store, campfire center, laundromat
  • Reservations: Campsites can be made on Reserve California by searching for ‘Pfeiffer Big Sur SP’. Reservations can be booked up to 6 months in advance.

Tucked away between towering redwood trees, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park offers incredible campsites ideal for family and friends’ getaways. This campground has 189 RV and tent sites along with two group campsites to accommodate a variety of travel styles.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is one of the best winter camping locations in California for those who want to get away into nature while staying close to comfortable amenities. The park has an onsite restaurant and a camp store so you can grab firewood, beverages, and other camp supplies for a fun time.  

From the campground, you can easily reach the nearby Pfeiffer Beach where you can enjoy a picnic on the beach or marvel at the unique Keyhole Arch rock formation. Other popular attractions in the area include the stunning McWay Falls and Big Creek Bridge.

6. Sequoia National Park – Potwisha Campground

Woman hiking among giant Sequoia trees along Congress Trail at Sequoia in winter
Sequoia National Park is a magical place to visit in the winter months.

Campground highlights:

  • Google Map Location: Potwisha Campground
  • Campsite types: Tents, RVs, and trailers
  • Amenities: Picnic table, fire ring with grill, food-storage box, flush toilets, drinking water
  • Reservations: Campsites can be booked on here up to 4 months in advance

Visiting Sequoia in winter is truly a magical experience! From snow-capped mountains to empty hiking trails and giant sequoia trees covered in snow, there is so much to love about visiting this National Park in the winter season.

Two Sequoia National Park campgrounds stay open year-round:

  • Potwisha Campground within Sequoia National Park
  • Azalea Campground within the adjacent Kings Canyon National Park

Potwisha Campground is located at the foothills of Sequoia National Park at lower elevation so the weather will be warmer here than staying at Azalea Campground.

This campground is located near the park entrance offering easy access to many of the park attractions that stay open year-round. A few of my favorite Sequoia National Park winter activities include hiking the Big Trees Trail, snowshoeing Congress Trail, and stopping by the General Sherman Tree.

Read Next: 10 Best Winter Hikes In Sequoia National Park

7. Death Valley National Park

Winter is one of the best times to visit Death Valley National Park.

Campground highlights:

  • Google Map Location: Furnace Creek Campground
  • Campsite types: Full RV hookups, dry RV sites, and tent sites
  • Amenities: Potable water, picnic tables, flush toilets, dump station, campfire rings or a grill
  • Reservations: Campsites can be booked on here from October 15 to April 15 up to 6 months in advance

Death Valley National Park is one of those destinations that is best visited in the off-season.

In the summer the weather is too hot to camp in the California desert. Take advantage of the cooler weather in the winter months and plan an epic camping trip to Death Valley!

There are several campgrounds where you can stay at Death Valley National Park in the winter season. The most popular one is Furnace Creek Campground which can be booked from mid-October to mid-April.

Good news for those who like to go on last-minute trips! Most of the campgrounds at Death Valley work on a first-come first-served basis so you can also just show up and grab a campsite at Texas Springs or Sunset Campground. This is what I did on my visit and it was so easy and convenient!

8. Catalina Island – Two Harbors Campground

Catalina Island is one of the best places to camp in the winter months.

Campground highlights:

If you’re looking for places to go winter camping in southern California, Two Harbors on Catalina Island is it! While there are other campgrounds on the island, Two Harbors is the easiest one to reach from the boat dock.

I have stayed at Black Jack Campground and Little Harbor Campground as well. These require a longer trek to reach them and a bit more effort.

Situated on top of a hill, the Two Harbors campground offers incredible views of the nearby town and the turquoise waters that surround Catalina Island.

This campground is a great place to stay for first-time campers. If you forget to bring any camping supplies, within a short walk you’ll be able to head into Two Harbors town where you can find plenty of shops and food options.

Important Note: To reach Two Harbors you will need to book a ferry ride with Catalina Express. The ferry departs from San Pedro twice daily – in the morning and afternoon.

9. Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park – Elk Prairie Campground

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in Northern California.

Campground highlights:

  • Google Map Location: Elk Prairie Campground
  • Campsite types: Standard tent sites, RV sites, hike & bike sites
  • Amenities: Food storage lockers, fire rings, flush toilets, hot showers
  • Reservations: Campsites can be booked on Reserve California by searching for ‘Prairie Creek Redwoods SP Elk Prairie Campground’

Situated within the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Elk Prairie Campground offers an incredible camping experience surrounded by majestic redwood trees. This is where I like to stay while traveling up the 101 Highway from California to the Oregon Coast – one of my favorite road trip routes to do in the winter months.

This campground has easy access to hiking trails including the short Revelation Loop Trail that passes an old-growth forest with ancient redwood trees. Here you can also observe the Roosevelt elk and deer that reside in the nearby Elk Prairie.

10. Sequoia National Forest

If you’re looking for good camping spots in California that allow dispersed camping, head over to Sequoia National Forest!

Campground highlights:

  • Google Map Location: Sequoia National Forest
  • Campsite types: Dispersed camping
  • Amenities: None
  • Reservations: Not Required

At Sequoia National Forest you can find both traditional campsites and dispersed camping that offers more flexibility, especially in the winter months. Dispersed camping is a great option if you don’t mind a more rugged stay with no amenities.

We love to disperse camp after hiking adventures in the mountains. And the best part – it’s free and doesn’t require any reservations!

When camping in winter, be prepared for cold temperatures and snowy or icy conditions. Make sure to bring the right gear, including warm clothing, a four-season tent (if sleeping in a tent), and a sleeping bag rated for cold weather.

There are many locations where wild camping is allowed within Sequoia National Forest. Read more about Sequoia National Forest dispersed camping here.

11. Mammoth Lakes

Mammoth Lakes offers so many fun winter outdoor adventures!

Campground highlights:

If you enjoy winter sports like snowboarding and skiing but don’t want to spend thousands of dollars on accommodations, book a stay at Mammoth Mountain RV Park & Campground. This is one of the only Mammoth campgrounds that stay open year-round offering budget-friendly options to expensive hotels and vacation rentals.

Mammoth Mountain RV Park is located just a 10-minute drive from Mammoth Mountain Ski Area. The campground features excellent amenities including an indoor pool and spa where you can relax after a fun day on the slopes.

This is the perfect base camp for all of your favorite Mammoth Lakes winter activities!

Read Next: 15 Best Things To Do In Mammoth Lakes In Winter

12. Santa Barbara – El Capitán State Beach Campground

Beach tower at El Capitan State Beach in Santa Barbara County
El Capitán State Beach is one of the best places for winter camping in Southern California.

Campground highlights:

  • Google Map Location: El Capitán State Beach Campground
  • Campsite types: Tent sites, group sites, hike & bike sites, RVs, trailers (no hookups)
  • Amenities: Camp store, coin-operated showers, picnic table, fire pit
  • Reservations: Campsites can be booked on Reserve California by searching for ‘El Capitan SB’

If you’re looking for a warmer beach escape, book a site at the El Capitán State Beach campground in Santa Barbara. We love to stay here for a couple of days when we need a quick weekend escape into nature.

Situated just a short drive north of Santa Barbara, this campground provides the perfect backdrop for a memorable camping experience in Southern California.

With panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and towering cliffs as the backdrop, you’ll be treated to a relaxing camping trip just steps from the beach. In the evenings take one of the trails down to the shoreline to enjoy a breathtaking sunset and the soothing sounds of waves crashing against the shore.

Snow covered road at Yosemite National Park in winter
Magical landscape at Yosemite National Park in the winter.

What To Bring Winter Camping In California

When preparing for winter adventures in California, it’s important to consider the location and overnight temperatures. A camping trip to the mountains will require a lot more prep and winter gear than a camping trip on the coast.

Here are a few items that I recommend bringing on a winter camping trip in California:

  • Warm clothing. Packing lots of layers is the key for winter outdoor adventures. You can always take them off, but you’ll regret it if you don’t bring enough. I recommend thermal underlayers, warm jackets, hiking pants, insulated waterproof hiking boots, merino wool socks, gloves, and a beanie.
  • Sleeping bag. It’s important to bring a sleeping bag that is made for cold temperatures. If that doesn’t cut it, bring extra camp blankets.  
  • Sleeping pad. A sleeping pad can provide extra space between you and the cold ground for both comfort and warmth.
  • Tent. If you plan to camp in a tent, get a 4-season tent designed for winter camping.  
  • Cooking equipment. Bring a portable stove so you can warm up a meal at night or a cup of tea to keep you warm.
  • Medical kit. In winter you will encounter fewer people in the outdoors so you will need to be more self-reliant. Having a first aid kit is always a good idea in case something happens.
  • Headlamp. The days are much shorter in the winter, especially in the mountains. Bring a headlamp so you can navigate your surroundings and go to the restroom at night.
  • Phone battery. For outdoor trips, I always bring a fully charged phone battery. Cell phones are known to run out of batter much faster in altitudes and cold conditions.
  • Snowshoes and microspikes. For winter adventures, I bring along snowshoes and crampons that help me take on any winter hiking trail with ease.
  • Many mountain destinations like Yosemite, Sequoia National Park, and Mammoth often require car tire chains. Be sure to check the latest requirements before heading out to the mountains.

From the majestic snow-covered peaks in Yosemite to sunny shores in Santa Barbara, these 12 locations offer some of the best winter camping in California. California’s diverse terrain promises an unforgettable camping experience – year round!

Looking for more things to do in California? Be sure to check out some of our other popular posts below:

This post is written by Laura Sausina. Hi, I’m a California local and the founder of the California Wanderland travel blog. I currently live in Ventura County and help 30,000 readers a month discover things to do in Central California! Read more about me here.

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