12 Superb Lakeside Campgrounds in California
Grab the s’mores kit and sleep out under the stars
Despite international travel being “back” (more than this time last year, anyway) and social distancing not so much of a “thing,” getting away from it all in the great outdoors is still topping the escape list for many of us. From car camping spots with all the hookups to more primitive sites — plus a sprinkling of glamping-approved yurts and A-frames — these regional lakeside cabins and campgrounds will have wilderness enthusiasts and REI-equipped weekend warriors alike enjoying gorgeous views and plenty of fresh air across the Golden State. Also guaranteed? Hiking, fishing and cozy nights around the campfire.
Overlooking Shasta Lake (technically a reservoir and, at 30,000 acres, the largest in California), this A-frame will not only look great on Instagram feeds, but being within easy striking distance of three National Parks (Lassen Volcanic, Redwood and Crater Lake) means you’ll have plenty to see and do after swimming, picnicking, boating and mountain biking at Shasta. The cabin comes stocked with board games, books and an all-important grill for afternoon cookouts on the back deck.
Carnelian Bay, CA
This 1940s-era cabin turned Scandi-chic retreat sits close by like-to-haves (think: coffee shops, breweries and hiking trail access in Tahoe National Forest) yet still feels like a secret hideaway in the woods. The North Lake Tahoe community is a destination for fishermen (mackinaw trout bite year-round), wooden boat enthusiasts (the annual Concours d’Elegance boat show runs August 12-13), kayakers and SUPers.
Emerald Bay State Park
With its rugged shoreline and cobalt blue waters, lakeside camping spots don’t get much more stunning than Eagle Point. Hike into the Desolation Wilderness or take the Rubicon Trail through D.L. Bliss State Park to Rubicon Point (home to the second-highest lighthouse in America). There’s also a replica Scandinavian castle, Vikingsholm, to check out. Tent and RV sites have a dedicated picnic table, fire pit, bear box and parking pad, but dogs are not allowed in most areas at Emerald Bay to protect wildlife.
If your idea of camping involves a queen-size bed and solar power, look no further than these tented cabins at the Bridgeport Reservoir Marina and Campground, where fire pits, Adirondack chairs and picnic tables make up extra perks for just $75 a night. The Eastern Sierra scenery is stunning, the lake and nearby streams are great for fishing, and there’s access to mountain biking and 4×4 trails. Tioga Pass in Yosemite is 40 minutes south by car, but a little closer is Bodie Ghost Town and Travertine Hot Springs.
Clearlake Oaks, CA
All 30 tent and RV sites are waterfront at this campground on the shores of Clear Lake — the oldest natural lake in North America and the largest freshwater lake in California. Bordering Napa and Sonoma, you’ll be close to wine country, but Lake County boasts nearly 40 local wineries too. Rent a boat from one of the marinas, grab some fishing gear or watch for wildlife, including otters who frequent the area.
Sierra National Forest, CA
There are 27 campsites (from $37 a night) along the shores of Huntington Lake, available to book online from June through September. Expect restrooms and water spigots but no showers or RV hookups. All sites have lovely views, but an extra $2 a night will get you a more primo waterside spot. The campground is close to Mono Hot Springs and the Kaiser Wilderness; the latter is famous for its scenic alpine meadows and home to many hiking trails, including the 12-mile Kaiser Loop.
Inyo National Forest, CA
Riding the chairlift to June Meadows Chalet Cafe for breakfast, lunch or cocktails at the Antler Bar is a must-do from this scenic little campsite, which has 28 basic spots for tents or RVs. A great base for outdoor pursuits (from pack trips in search of backcountry fishing spots, cycling the lake loop and climbing routes at nearby Mammoth Mountain), the town of June Lake is within easy walking distance too.
Bass Lake, CA
Less than 30 minutes from Yosemite’s south gate, this campsite on the northern side of Bass Lake has been a popular spot for generations. It provides relatively spendy (from $176) tent-only overnight sites, plus day-use picnic tables. There’s a designated swimming area, but boating, kayaking, canoeing and fishing are the major draws. Nearby hiking trails include Willow Creek, Goat Mountain and Spring Cove.
Lake Nacimiento, CA
Most of the 90 reservation-only RV and tent camp spots have a good view of the lake at Pine Knoll, which many consider to be the best of six campgrounds at Lake Nacimiento Resort. Located half an hour north of Central California wine country town Paso Robles, fishermen come here for the white bass, waterskiers and wakeboarders the glassy afternoon conditions. There’s a swimming pool, seasonal movie theater and a general store stocked with everything from wine, snacks and souvenirs to fishing supplies.
Cachuma Lake, CA
While there are plenty of tent and RV options, seven yurts (named after trees and flowers) are the star digs at Cachuma Lake. Tucked midway between the beaches of Santa Barbara and the Danish Community of Solvang and surrounded by the Santa Ynez and San Rafael Mountains, the views are spectacular — especially from Lupine, Poppy and Sage, which sit on the Western side of the campground. Home-away-from-home amenities include a marina, general store, restaurant and disc golf course.
Lake Arrowhead, CA
It’s all gorgeous lake views and stylish interiors at this surprisingly spacious (it can sleep up to 10 people) three-story A-frame in the San Bernardino Mountains. Dubbed the “Alps” of Southern California, Lake Arrowhead is equally popular with wildlife watchers as it is outdoor enthusiasts who come to hike, backpack, bike ride, fish and even satiate any mid-year festive cravings at SkyPark at Santa’s Village.
Lake Elsinore, CA
It’s not just RV territory at theme park-esque Launch Pointe. The waterfront recreation destination has eight vintage trailers (including a ‘65 Airstream Safari) and six themed yurts (decor styles range from boho and beach to rock n’ roll) fit for glampers. Unfortunately, the general store and the on-site restaurant, The Bobber, are currently closed, but downtown Lake Elsinore is five minutes away for sundries and take-out.
Take your pick from primitive tent-only sites to pull through spots with full hookups at this sweet campsite 30 minutes east of San Diego. Fish for catch and release big bass (the bait and tackle shop is open on weekends), kayak around the lake, challenge camp neighbors to a game of horseshoes or simply kick back beside the fire with a few beers. There are five tipi sites here, too (tipis provided), and Wi-fi is available throughout the property so you can catch up on emails or stream a show on Netflix before bed.
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