Camping in California is magical any time of year, but sleeping under the stars in the Golden State just hits differently during autumn — especially at one of our 280 state parks. We might not have New England’s fall foliage, but campsite and lodging reservations at sought-after locations (especially coastal beaches and rustic cabins in the redwoods) are still in high demand, which means they can get snapped up months in advance. But fret not: finding a spot is still possible if you know where to look and book.
Reservations for most campsites can be made online at Reserve California, by phone or on a first-come, first-served basis. Many are snapped up six months out, and there’s a persistent problem handling late-notice cancellations and no-shows. A new bill aims to smooth out the latter issues. But another way to snag a coveted spot is by signing up for Dyrt Alerts, which scans your selected campsites (for a fee) and lets you know via text when one becomes available. Many parks obviously have much better availability this time of year, and we’ve detailed how to claim last-minute openings below.
From the Humboldt Redwoods to the Anza-Borrego Desert, these are the best state campgrounds and parks to visit across California this fall.
Where: Humboldt Redwoods State Park
How to reserve: Tent sites cost $35 per night and can be booked online at Reserve California. To contact the Burlington Campground entrance station directly, call (707) 946-1811.
Open year-round, Burlington Campground is located near the park’s visitor center on the iconic forest drive, Avenue of the Giants. Its 57 sites are spread out among a grove of old- and second-growth redwoods, close to hiking trails and the South Fork of the Eel for fishing.
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Where: Castle Crags State Park
How to reserve: Open for camping year-round, there’s a nightly fee of $15 at this developed site. Reservations can be made by calling (530) 235-2684 or checking online at Hipcamp.
The 4,350-acre Castle Crags State Park features 28 miles of hiking trails, including the stunning Crags Trail and the strenuous but rewarding Castle Dome Trail. Located along the Sacramento River, the well-maintained campground has 64 tent and RV sites spread out over three loops. Across the I-5, Castle Crags Campground ($25/night) has 76 standard campsites for RVs, trailers and tents, plus six environmental campsites. Bookings can be made online at Reserve California.
Where: Lassen Volcanic National Park
How to reserve: Reservations for single campsites ($26/night), one-room rustic camping cabins ($76/night) and bunkhouse cabins ($96/night) at the largest campground in Lassen Volcanic National Park operate on a six-month rolling basis via Recreation.gov.
Forested with Jeffrey and Ponderosa pine and sitting at 5,900 feet just a mile south of the park entrance, Manzanita Lake Campground is within walking distance of popular hiking trails and offers impressive views of Lassen Peak. Comforts include pay showers and a general store.
Where: Sonoma Coast State Park
How to reserve: There are 99 sites total across Bodega Dunes, with a tent-only spot costing $35 a night. Book via Reserve California.
Located on the north side of the Bodega Harbor in Sonoma Coast State Park, Bodega Dunes campsites (65, 67 and 69 have sweet views of Bodega Bay) are equipped with picnic tables and fire pits. Amenities include hot showers, flush toilets and a potable water filling station. Dogs and fires are allowed, but not on Wright or South Salmon Creek beaches.
Where: Mount Tamalpais State Park
How to reserve: The 15 spots here are available on a first-come/first-serve basis, although it’s possible to call the ranger at (415) 388-2070 to learn more or get a feel for spaces opening up.
This is a quiet campground with access to great hiking trails in Mount Tamalpais State Park. In keeping with their historic character, campsites feature grills suspended over rock fire rings. Amenities include drinking water, firewood and restrooms with flush toilets but no showers. Another option is the rustic, 1940s-era cabins ($100/night) at the Steep Ravine Cabins and Campground.
Where: Angel Island State Park
With its San Francisco skyline, Mount Tamalpais and Marin Headland views, Angel Island State Park is a showstopper of a campsite just 30 minutes from the city; to get here, ride the ferry across the San Francisco Bay from Pier 41. Amenities are basic — potable water, picnic tables and toilet paper — so you’ll need to pack in everything else. Just be prepared to walk two miles to the actual campsite after landing. Once set up, you’ll have hiking, fishing at Ayala Cove and wildlife-watching to look forward to.
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Where: Donner Memorial State Park
Located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Donner Memorial State Park near Truckee has more than eight miles of hiking and snow trails. At Splitrock Campground, there are 42 fairly close together campsites in great proximity to the lake with restrooms, showers, bear-resistant food lockers and picnic tables. Fees are required to park in the parking lot.
Where: Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
How to reserve: Sites cost $35/night, plus an $8 reservation fee, and can be booked online with Reserve California. Trailers under 31 feet and RVs under 35 feet can also set up camp here.
The 40-acre, old-growth redwood grove at Henry Cowell is a sweet alternative to Big Basin Redwood State Park (currently only open for day use) in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Its 107 sites sit among pine and oak trees and feature picnic tables, food lockers and fire rings. Explore the hiking trails, head to nearby Santa Cruz Beach or ride the steam train at Roaring Camp Railroad.
Where: Big Sur State Park
How to reserve: A standard site costs $25, and Premium Riverfront sites are $50 a night (the fee includes entry for two vehicles). This is one of the most reliably booked sites in the state, but you can try to grab a walk-up site by checking with the entrance kiosk after 3 p.m. the day of. Otherwise, book on Reserve California.
With just two sites, snagging a night at the iconic Julia Pfeiffer Burns Campground (hike-in only, no vehicle access permitted) isn’t impossible per se, but you’ll need to watch the reservation page like a hawk. No hookups are provided, but each campsite does include a fire pit and a picnic table. Fresh water, hot showers and toilets are located throughout the campground.
Where: Montaña de Oro State Park
How to reserve: Spread along a half-mile-long road with two loops, reservations can be made with Reserve California or by calling Montaña de Oro State Park (805) 772-7434 from mid-May through mid-October. After that, spaces are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Mountain bikers, horseback riders and hikers will find plenty of trails to explore in Montaña de Oro State Park. Six miles southwest of Morro Bay in San Luis Obispo County, Islay Creek has 47 primitive campsites for tent camping and recreational vehicles smaller than 27 feet. Site amenities include fire rings, picnic tables, water spigots and toilets. Purchasing firewood from the campground host helps to fund the Central Coast State Parks Association.
Where: Outside Yosemite in Mariposa County
How to reserve: Book online via Recreation.gov for camping from mid-April through mid-October ($36/night). After that, sites in Loops A and B are available on a first-come, first-served basis ($28/night) until the following April when the reservation system kicks in again.
Located on South Fork Merced River, 45 minutes from Yosemite Valley, each campsite contains a fire ring, picnic table, a food locker and is near a bathroom with drinking water and flushing toilets. Pets are permitted on a leash and fires are possible all year. The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias and Yosemite History Center are a short drive away in the historic town of Wawona.
Where: Yosemite National Park
How to reserve: From May through September, campsites are available by reservation only at Recreation.gov one week in advance of arrival. But from October through (usually early) May, it operates on a first-come, first-served basis. The camping fee is $10 per night.
Located at 4,000 feet near the base of granite cliffs close to Yosemite Falls, Camp 4 is centrally located in the park and within biking and walking distance of food and groceries at Yosemite Valley Lodge and Yosemite Village. It’s also located near the free shuttle route. Amenities are basic, with shared food lockers, potable water, hot showers and flush toilets only.
Where: Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
How to reserve: The booking window for the 110 individual sites operates on a four-month rolling basis, but during winter, 20 are available on a first-come, first served basis. The nightly rate is a flat $28.
One of only two campgrounds open year-round between the two national parks, Azalea sits at 6,500 feet in a mixed conifer forest of sugar pines, fir and sequoia trees, 3.5 miles from the Kings Canyon entrance in the Grant Grove area. It’s also close to Grant Grove Village, where the Kings Canyon Visitor Center, a restaurant, gift shop, post office and market are located. From the campsite, you can hike to the Sequoia Grove (home of the General Grant Tree), the Ella Falls waterfall and Panoramic Point for a money shot view of the high Sierra.
Where: Death Valley National Park
How to reserve: From October 15 to April 15, bookings can be made via Recreation.gov with nightly rates ranging from $36 (standard) to $60 (group tent).
Furnace Creek has 136 campsites varying from tent-only to full hook-ups with drinking water, picnic tables, flush toilets, fire rings and a dump station. Death Valley National Park is currently closed because of major flash flood damage sustained during Hurricane Hilary, but this is the only reservable campground in the park and it’s worth bookmarking for next year.
Where: Red Rock Canyon State Park
How to reserve: All 50 primitive campsites are walk-in only, including number seven (which is hike-in accessed), but you can still take a look at the Reserve California page for hours and contact info.
Tucked up against the base of dramatic sandstone cliffs, you can pitch a tent or pop up the camper for $25 a night in Red Rock Canyon State Park. The only overnight spot inside the park fills up on weekends, especially during fall. Amenities are basic and include potable water, toilets, fire rings and tables. No pets allowed. Plenty of options to hike, bike and climb nearby.
Where: Malibu State Park
How to reserve: There are 62 tent/RV spaces for $45 a night, plus $12 a day for parking. Reservations can be made online or by calling 1-800-444-7275.
Just 25 miles from downtown Los Angeles, yet what feels like a world away in the Santa Monica Mountains, you can explore historical and cultural sites, swim, hike, picnic and look for wildlife in Malibu Creek. There are fire rings, but check the fire level sign before burning anything. Fun fact: 14-mile Malibu Creek was the backdrop of many movies and TV shows, including M*A*S*H.
Where: Crystal Cove State Park
How to reserve: Standard campsites cost $55, while hookup sites for RVs and trailers cost $75 per night. Other parking spaces are available for $15 a day. Visit Reserve California or call 1-800 444-7275 to book. To reserve one of the 46 vintage coastal cottages in the Historic District by the mouth of Los Trancos Creek, visit the Crystal Cove Conservancy website.
Situated between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach, wooden canyons with 17 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails that wind through gentle rolling hills and 3.2 miles of pristine Pacific coastline await in Crystal Cove State Park. For prime ocean views, pop up the tent in Moro’s blufftop (sites 51–60) and stop by The Beachcomber for breakfast, lunch, dinner or drinks.
Where: Joshua Tree National Park
How to reserve: It’s first-come, first-served at this picturesque, boulder-strewn campsite, but you can call the ranger for information at (760) 367-5554.
If striking rock formations and stargazing top camping wish lists, then this is the Joshua Tree site for you. Located off Pinto Basin Road in the park’s northern end and with access to hiking and biking trails, there are fire pits (BYO firewood) and picnic tables at each site — but no potable water (or showers), so you’ll need to bring your own. Well-behaved pets are welcome, too.
Where: Mount San Jacinto State Park
How to reserve: Fees range from $25 per night for a tent to $45 for full hook-up sites. Bookings can be made on Reserve California, but for on the ground local information, call (951) 659-2607.
Located in the town of Idyllwild in Mount San Jacinto State Park (famous for the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which runs to an elevation of 8,500 feet near the summit of 10,834-foot San Jacinto Peak) and within walking distance of shops and restaurants, Idyllwild Campground sits at 5,400 feet and is open year-round. There are 33 sites total (tent, electric, full hook-up, ADA-accessible) with picnic tables, fire rings and/or barbecues, plus restrooms and showers.
Where: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
How to reserve: Camping is available year round, with highly recommended site-specific online reservations available from October 1 to April 30. Dogs are welcome too, but must be leashed.
The largest state park in California, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park has 12 wilderness areas and miles of hiking trails, providing visitors a real taste of the California desert. Comforts at Borrego Palm Canyon include drinkable water, restrooms and token-operated hot showers.
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