San Francisco | April 30, 2021 3:18 pm

5 Exceptional (and Exceptionally Large) Private California Campgrounds

When “getaway” still means “get away from other people”

Wildflower cabin
Wildflower cabin
Wildflower cabin

Though we’re totally down with the “Whoring 20s”/whatever post-pandemic meme you prefer, but for the moment, we’re pretty sure we’re not the only one out here for whom hell is, if not other people per se, a line outside a shared campground toilet. (Or, God help us, latrine.) 

We’re praying that social distancing will soon be a thing of the past, but for our upcoming late-spring vacations, we’re happy to expand that six feet of safety to, say, a few acres of private campland, ideally on the edge of a river. These are our picks for some exceptional California private campgrounds — sized extra-large, for max distancing.

Wildflower Cabin
Joshua Tree National Park

The last time we went to Joshua Tree, we had to wait 40 minutes to get into the park — and that was before half the country decided to go hiking. Temps are on their way up, but if you love a dry, desert heat like we do, now’s exactly the right time of year to head to Joshua Tree — and this cabin sits the middle of a five-acre property, meaning that you can explore your lofted A-frame and surrounding landscape if the crowds threaten.

A Desert Camp
Landers, CA

So you wanted a five-acre desert getaway but without the luxurious cabin provided above? This spread in nearby Landers has little but staggeringly beautiful mountain vistas — bring your own tent and don’t expect any amenities outside of a portable toilet. There’s a ton of land, though, for just $30 a night, and no crowds (read: priceless).

Grist Creek Ranch
Grist Creek Ranch

Grist Creek Ranch
Round Valley, CA

Bring your telescope to this 475-acre ranch in Mendocino County, which its owners promise has less light pollution than just about anywhere else in California. While there’s plenty of privacy and hiking trails on the ranch, you’re not that far from the delights of big-city living, with a grocery store under a mile away and fishing gear available at the local True Value. 

Foothill Forest Knoll Top Base Camp
Grass Valley, CA

You’ll run out of time before you run out of activities on this 40-acre property, which abuts a 40-acre parcel of BLM public land. There’s hiking, fishing, swimming, wine tasting and Gold Rush attractions all nearby — plus the kayaking and rafting possibilities of the South Yuba and American rivers. 

Secluded Vacation Rental
Atascadero, CA

Fact: As a proper scout, we always thought camping required a tent — or less. Now that we’re older (and less uptight), our definition of camping has opened up — to include structures like this three-bedroom ranch house on a 320-acre property in Atascadero. Wifi, deck, hot tub and grill: to be honest, that’s probably exactly where we are with our roughing-it level of comfort, at the end of a terrible, ridiculous year.