As you know, the backpacking season is yet to come. Many people often ask, Which places should we visit for camping in California? There are many places that you can visit for camping in California. On the Central California coast, there are beautiful waterfalls, magical redwood trees, rugged mountains, beautiful beaches, blazing sunsets, and many more. This land is called Big Sur.
Big Sur is a dispersed camping area, It has been attracting tourists for decades. People from different parts of the country and outside the country visit this place. Some places require advance planning, and some places are limited by permit quotas or seasonal road access.
Therefore, we have made a list of the best places in Big Sur that offer RV camping and tent camping for your convenience. This camping guide will help you find the best places to camp in Big Sur and Big Sur backcountry camping tips. I’m sure by the end of this guide, you will have made plans to visit, and you will have packed your backpack as well for the best camping spot.
Let’s dive into the guide.
Table of Contents
What is Backcountry Camping?
Backcountry camping is a great way to experience the outdoor world because it will take you away from cars and people, away from normal life, away from the city, and much closer to the natural world and wild animals.
Background camping means that you have no facilities, meaning you are not near a developed area or a road. In backcountry camping, you have to do all yourself; you must be self-sufficient. You must have all the essential equipment and tools with you. However, don’t carry heavyweight tools or equipment; always carry lightweight equipment so that they can easily fit into a backpack.
Lastly, keep in mind that you must plan before going backcountry camping. Planning is the first rule of camping; otherwise, you may face deep trouble.
Best Places to Backpack in California
There are many places in California for backcountry camping. In this section, you will get to know some of the best places to backpack in California.
1. Ventana Wilderness Sykes Hot Spring – Best Place to Camp in Big Sur
Ventana Wilderness is located in Big Sur. Ventana Wilderness has an almost 40-acre area. It has different campsites, and each campsite has a fire ring with water faucets and a picnic table for eating. Additionally, it has three modern bathhouses.
Keep in mind that in Ventana Wilderness, there’s only a campground; there’s no place for RVs, motor homes, etc. Moreover, they also accept trucks with roof tents, camper vans with roof tents, and other vehicles that have tents on the rooftop. Keep in mind that they don’t accept tents on rooftops longer than 22 ft.
Lastly, it is located approximately 30 miles south of Carmel and 65 miles north of San Simeon. This campsite is a bit challenging, but you will enjoy camping here a lot. We recommend you not to burn fire as burning fire is not allowed in the summer season. Furthermore, we recommend you to go to this place in the off-season, not in summer.
2. Tuolumne Meadows To Yosemite Valley Via Vogelsang Camp
Yosemite National Park was founded almost 120 years ago. People love to visit this park because of its iconic mountains, waterfalls, scenery, and many more. It is the most visited park in the country.
The overall track between Tuolumne Meadows and Yosemite Valley Trail is almost 45.8 kilometers. You will take advantage of many activities by visiting this trail. The good thing about Yosemite National Park is that they don’t charge any fee from the visitors if they are on foot, horse, or bike.
However, they charge an entrance fee for vehicles. If you visit there regularly, you can buy a park-specific annual pass as well. Moreover, I will recommend you to visit there in the spring, Summer, or Fall season. However, I wouldn’t recommend you to go there in the Winter season.
Yosemite Valley is open nowadays, but some services are limited because of COVID-19. For in-depth information on the services that are limited, check from here.
3. Lost Coast California
The Lost Coast trail is one of the best hiking places in the US that offers amazing coastal wilderness hiking experiences. This trail gives you an amazing backpacking adventure that you will surely enjoy. The Lost Coast trail provides exceptional views, a glimpse of some rarely seen California coastal terrain, and a variety of flora and wildlife.
The total distance of the Lost Coast trail is almost 40 km. Don’t take this trail so lightly; it takes a lot of your effort and time. This trip takes around 2 to 3 days, so mentally prepare before starting the trip for the fatigue in the legs and feet. This trail offers great activities that you will surely enjoy. Moreover, Dogs are also allowed in this trial.
Keep in mind that for overnight camping, you have to provide a Backcountry Permit. Other than that, you will not be allowed to stay there at night. However, you can obtain Permits through Recreation.gov on the King Range Wilderness Permits (Lost Coast) page.
Lastly, I recommend this train in the Spring, Fall, and Summer seasons. This trail is not best for Winter because of the weather conditions.
4. Four lakes loop
The four lakes loop trail is one of the most thrilling trails in Northern California. This trail is mainly used for camping, running, hiking, backpacking, and many more. The good thing about this hike is that there’s no strictness of animals. You can bring your dog as well as your horse with you.
The overall distance of our lakes loop trail is almost 28 km. The whole trail is beautiful and is surrounded by multi-colored granite peaks. The shortest way to reach the Four Lakes Loop is by going through Long Canyon. It is recommended to take a wilderness permit with you before coming on the hike.
Lastly, I suggest you go to the Four lakes loop in the Summer or Fall season, between June to October. These months are best for hiking.
5. Rae Lakes Loop
Rae Lakes loop is one of the most famous backpacking trips in the Sierra. It is famous because of its waterfalls, rivers, mountain passes, lakes, and wildlife. This trail is a bit challenging but approachable also at the same time because of the availability of water and campsite.
The overall track of the Rae Lakes Loop is around 68 km. On the other hand, it takes 3 to 4 days to cover the whole track. This trail is best for camping, hiking, and backpacking. Moreover, it is best to go camping or hiking in the Summer or Fall season.
If you are attempting this trail in early summer, then you should be aware of high water at a stream crossing. Additionally, you can complete this loop in any direction. However, most hikers choose a clockwise approach, but it totally depends on you.
Address: Bubbs Creek Trail, Kanawyers, CA 93633, USA
6. John Muir Trail
John Muir Trail is located in California. It is a long-distance trail in the Sierra Nevada, California, that passes through Kings Canyon, Yosemite, and Sequoia. The overall track of this trail is around 340 km which is a very long distance.
John Muir Trail is located near Lone Pine, California that features amazing scenery and a beautiful lake. The trail is mainly used for hiking, camping, and backpacking. For more in-depth information, click here.
Keep in mind that on this hike, dogs are not allowed. Furthermore, this trail comprises 4 sections, named John Muir Trail 1, John Muir Trail 2, John Muir Trail 3, and John Muir Trail 4. Lastly, I recommend you to go to this trail in the summer season.
Address: California, USA
7. Mount Whitney Cottonwood Pack Station
Cottonwood Pack Station is the highest point in the continental US. The name of this hike was named after the surveyor and geologist Josiah Whitney. He was the first person to summit the mountain. The trail operates under permit by the Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park and Inyo National Forest.
This trail is a bit challenging, but you will enjoy it a lot at the same time. The trail is beautiful because of the incredible views. The overall track of the trail is around 102 km. Moreover, this trail is best for hikers as well as campers and riders. For in-depth information, click here.
Keep in mind that dogs are not allowed on this trail. Lastly, the best season to visit this trail is Spring, Summer, and Fall.
Address: 910 Gibson Ranch Rd, Independence, CA 93526, United States
8. Glacier Pass, Sawtooth Pass + Big Five Lakes Hiking Loop
The Mineral King to Little Five Lakes and Big Five Lakes trail is a large loop, and the total distance of the overall track is around 45 km. The trail begins at the Timber Gap Trailhead and follows Sawtooth Pass Trail to Timber Gap Trail to Black Rock Pass Trail to Big Five Lakes Trail to the Lost Canyon Trail.
Additionally, in between Little and Big Lakes, it passes by Columbine Lake, Pinto Lake, Sawtooth Peak, and Monarch Lakes. This trail is located near Three Rivers Southern Sierra, California. The trail features a beautiful lake that is a bit challenging to cross.
The trail offers special activities; you can go fishing as well. Additionally, you will experience exceptional views of the waterfalls, rocky moonscapes, meadows filled with wildflowers, forests, massive canyons, and crystal clear high alpine lakes.
Lastly, the whole trip requires at least 3 days to complete. You can complete the trip clockwise as well as counterclockwise. This totally depends on you. However, the preferable season to visit this trail, in my view, is Summer.
9. Big Pine Creek North Fork Hiking Trail
The Big Pine Creek North Fork Hiking Trail is located in the Eastern Sierra and White Mountains Area, California. The overall distance of the trail is almost 25 km. The trail features amazing scenery and mountain regions. Some peaks exceed 14,000-feet along the Palisade Crest, part of the Great Western Divide.
The trail’s starting point is North Fork Big Pine Creek Trail at the Big Pine Creek Campground. During your journey, you will pass through several waterfalls. Furthermore, the trail offers amazing activities that you will surely enjoy.
Lastly, it is recommended to have proper footwear, trekking poles, and hydrate because the trail features plenty of elevation gain. Moreover, I think spring, summer, and autumn are the best seasons to visit there.
Address: California 93513, USA
10. Sky Trail Loop
Sky Trail and Bear Valley Loop trail are located near Point Reyes Station, California. This trail features beautiful wildflowers. Additionally, it is rated as moderate. The overall distance of the trail is almost 12 km which can be completed in a single day. You can start your trip at the Bear Valley Visitor Center.
The good thing about the trail is that it offers plenty of activities and is accessible the whole year. Furthermore, Horses are also allowed, which is another good thing about this trail. However, Dogs are not allowed.
Keep in mind that as of March 2021, it was closed because of the wildfire. For current info about the trail, click here.
Address: California 94956, USA
This trail is one of the most famous backpacking trips in the Bay Area. It is located in the San Francisco Peninsula and Santa Cruz, California. The overall distance of the trail is about 27 km, and the whole trip can be completed in three days. You will experience exceptional scenery each day.
The trail starts from Castle Rock State Park at Saratoga Gap and ends at Waddell Beach. For in-depth info on this track, click here.
Keep in mind that the trail has closed because of a wildfire in March 2021. For the latest updates, click here. Lastly, the best season to visit this trail is Summer, Fall, and Spring.
Address: California, USA
12. Sykes Hot Springs
Sky Hot Springs is one of the most famous backcountry hot springs in California. It is located near Big Sur, California. The overall distance of the trail is around 31 km via Pine Ridge Trail. This trail is slightly challenging as you will cross the river twice. Be careful in the winter and spring season, when the water in the river runs fast. If the river is too fast, we do not recommend you to try to cross the river.
This trail is being used for backpacking, hiking, and camping. The good thing about this trail is that it is accessible throughout the year. Additionally, dogs are also allowed on this hike, which is again the best side of this trail. Lastly, you can visit the Sky Hot Springs trail in any season. This makes it best for backpacking, hiking, and camping.
For more detailed information about the trail, click here.
Address: California 93920, United States
13. Grizzly Lake
Grizzly Lake is one of the popular scenic trails that is very crowded during the summer season. It is located 5.79 km from Lincoln Creek Road in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. The overall distance of the trail is around 12 km which can be completed in a long time. However, most hikers complete this backpacking trip in 2 to 3 days.
Grizzly Lake trail is best for hiking and nature trips. Moreover, this trail is best for hiking or camping from June until September. Lastly, Dogs are also allowed in this trial. For more information on the trail, click here.
Address: Junction City, CA 96048, United States
14. Redwood National and State Park
The Redwood National and State Parks (RNSP) is located along the coast of northern California, United States. It was established in 1968 and is now the home of the world’s tallest trees. This Park has one of the most massive tree species on Earth.
The RNSP contains over 10,000 acres of Redwood rainforest and 50 miles of scenic coastline in Northern California. In addition to the redwood forests, the RNSP preserves other indigenous like flora, grassland prairie, fauna, portions of rivers, cultural resources, and other streams.
For checking the current situation of the park, click here.
15. Glacier Point
Glacier Point is a beautiful viewpoint above Yosemite Valley in California, United States. It is located 980 m above Curry Village and at an elevation of 2,199 m on the south wall of Yosemite Valley. You can go to this point by car, bus, or on foot.
The Glacier Point offers exceptional views of the waterfalls and well-known landmarks, including Yosemite Falls, Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Nevada Fall, Vernal Fall, and Clouds Rest. Additionally, you can enjoy yourself a lot on this trail as it offers many great activities.
It is best for Hiking and Walking in Summer and Fall and best for Skiing and Snowshoeing in the Winter. Moreover, it is best for Birdwatching, Stargazing, and Ranger and Interpretive Programs throughout the year.
16. Santa Rosa Island
Santa Rosa Island is the second-largest Channel island in California. The overall area of the lake is 53,195 acres (215.27 km2). It is part of Channel Islands National Park and is located around 42 km off the coast of Santa Barbara, California.
You can visit the Island on a one-day trip, multi-day boat trip, or an overnight camping trip. Keep in mind that getting to this island is a bit challenging because of the weather conditions. The weather on the Island can be winy any time of the year. Therefore, you must be ready for adverse weather.
17. Desolation Wilderness Waterfall Camp
Waterfall camp in Desolation Wilderness is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the US. At this waterfall camp, you have the opportunity to explore more than 50 waterfalls. There’s a lot more to explore, therefore, planning a trip to the “Waterfall Camp” is a good decision.
You can do this hike in a single day, but it is a great place to camp. Before starting the trip, make sure you have an overnight wilderness permit. If you don’t have a permit, you don’t have to worry about it. You can get permits at the ranger stations and visitor centers in the Tahoe Basin or buy them online by clicking here:
Lastly, the best and the easiest way to start this trip is to hike at the Echo Lakes. After reaching the waterfall area, follow the waterfalls to the vegetated area. If you want to stay the night there, the best place to camp is at a beautiful alpine pool.
Note: Some places can be temporarily closed due to current global health and safety issues.
Things to Do While Big Sur Backcountry Camping
If you only have a day to spend in Big Sur, spend that day doing the drive, taking pictures, and getting out to take in the scenery at the lookouts. Or you can pick a couple of hikes to do, and we recommend ending the hike by watching the sunset at Pfeiffer Beach.
However, if you want to explore Big Sur deeply, you should have at least two days because it has much to offer and definitely deserves more than one day. There are many beautiful places and hikes in Big Sur that you cannot discover in one day, so staying there for two or three days is a good idea.
We have discussed some of the best places to visit in the Big Sur in this article. Furthermore, other places you should check out in Big Sur or the surrounding area include:
- Bixby Bridge
- Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
- Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
- Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
- Ragged Point
- Henry Miller Memorial Library
- Garrapata State Park
- Many more.
Things You Need to Bring While Backcountry Camping
As you spend your whole day or some days in Big Sur, the weather there can range from damp and cold in the morning to warm and dry in the afternoon. Therefore, be sure to pack proper clothing and bring essential things with you.
The personal gear which you should bring with you includes:
- Synthetic sleeping bag
- Hiking boots
- Sleeping pad
- Hat and gloves
- Sunglasses (UV protection)
- Water bottle or hydration system
- Toilet paper
- Extra food
- Security Belt with Hidden Pocket
- Headlamp and extra batteries
- Pocket Knife
- Heat-approved clothing and rain gear
The group gear includes:
- Tent with footprint
- Cooking pots and utensils
- Stove and fuel
- Basic repair kit
- Water purification
- Sunscreen and bug repellent
- Food hang
- Map and compass
- Heat-approved clothing and rain gear
- First Aid Kit
- Firestarter kit
- Bear spray
- GPS (optional)
Other equipment to add to your comfort include:
- Camp shoes
- Trekking poles
- Pack towel
- Camera With case
- Accessory cord
- Buff or Bandana for your chest and neck
- Multi-function watch with altimeter
- Packable lantern
- Collapsible chairs
- Coffee press/espresso maker
Tips for Backcountry Camping
Following are some packing tips you should keep in mind while Backcountry camping:
- To make weight balance easier, keep the heaviest items in the middle of your bag.
- Pack frequently used items near the top and less used items such as your sleeping bag and pad near the bottom.
- Make sure you have fast access to light sources and bear spray.
- If you have extra space in the bag, it does not mean that you should pack more.
- The best example of a well-packed backpack is a sleeping bag and pad at the bottom, and clothes and extras, water, food, and fuel at the core, up top.
Remember that just because you have extra space doesn’t mean you should pack more.
Lastly, follow the Fleming ABCs rule of backpacking.
- A – Accessibility: Place the items you will frequently use, such as snacks, lunch, first aid kit, and rain jacket, toward the top of the pack or in hip belt pockets.
- B – Balance: Try to distribute the weight of the backpack equally on both sides and front and back.
- C – Compression: Roll your clothes or things tightly so that they take up as little space as possible.
- D – Dry: First, try to pack things in a backpack that is waterproof. If the backpack is not waterproof, Fleming recommends trash compactor bags. Pack everything inside the compactor bags so that the clothes or things will not wet.
- E – Everything inside: Try to pack everything inside the bag and close the zip of the bag after putting things inside it. By doing this, you can safely pass through the branches without any fear of falling things from the bag.
Big Sur Backcountry Camping – FAQs
To conclude here, you can visit Big Sur at any time of the year. However, the summer season is best, and it will be more crowded. Therefore, if you go in other seasons, you will see many fewer people.
Since the Big Sur coastline is almost 145 km, it is important to have a plan when visiting. Think about where you will start and end the trip, where you will eat, etc. It is one of the places in the world that offers so much natural beauty. Lately, I hope you find the information in this guide useful.