Southern California is known for its beautiful beaches like Malibu and Laguna Beach and mountain resorts like Big Bear Lake and Lake Arrowhead. Many also know it for its two major cities, Los Angeles and San Diego. It’s no wonder that millions of tourists flock to the area each year.
So if you’re looking to save some money, we have seven of the best free campsites in southern California. You won’t have the amenities of a swimming pool or laundry facility, but you’ll have huge natural spaces to connect with the land, rest and relax, and bask in the beautiful scenery. Let’s dive in!
Can You Camp for Free in California?
Like in other states, you can camp for free on public and federal lands. There are acres and acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands and other locations within national forests.
Since California is also on the Pacific Coast, many travelers enjoy camping along the shoreline to enjoy beautiful ocean views and colorful sunsets. You can’t just park your RV or set up a tent anywhere, though. Make sure it’s public land, and always observe posted signs and regulations.
Can You Camp for Free on the Beach in California?
Permits are required for most beach camping in California. Beach camping is limited to preserve the ecosystem. There are very few free camping sites.
However, there are designated campsites off the shoreline within walking distance of the beach where you can park your RV and stay for the night. Numerous campgrounds line the Pacific Coast. Tent campers will have a better chance of finding free beach camping in California.
The 7 Best Free Campsites Around Southern California
Southern California is home to Joshua Tree National Park, Death Valley National Park, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, the Mojave National Preserve, and more scenic treasures. Dispersed camping is quite popular because of the beautiful scenery and ample public lands. Below are seven of the best free campsites around southern California.
Location: 33.0377, -116.4096
About: Located in Julian, Calif., the Blair Valley Dispersed Camping area is a popular area. You might encounter a dozen or more RVs staying the night.
Larger rigs will want to stay closer to the front as the drive farther back gets tighter. There are restrooms at the entrance. The valley offers beautiful scenic views at about 2,500 feet in elevation.
Location: 32.8945, -115.7832
About: If you’re looking for a place to stay the night and enjoy your ATV, the Superstition Mountain OHV Open Area is the location. Unlike Blair Valley, this area is only 32 feet in elevation. The area is several miles, so even if numerous other travelers are parked for the night, you’ll be spaced comfortably and have privacy.
The entrance is off Wheeler Road, about 15 minutes from Interstate 8. The Blue Angels practice in the surrounding area, so if you’re looking for entertainment, you’ll enjoy staying here.
Location: 32.8287, -116.1673
About: Carrizo Badlands Overlook is in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park at about 1,200 feet in elevation. Unlike the previous two locations, this free campsite is not for big rigs.
The state park itself limits RVs to 35 feet. However, there are hiking trails, beautiful views, and quiet solitude here that you might not find in some other free camping locations.
Location: 33.5369, -116.4568
About: The Santa Rosa Yellow Post Campsites are open seasonally in the San Bernardino National Forest in Mountain Center, Calif. Water is available, and restrooms are also on-site. At 6,400 feet in elevation, this is the highest free camping location on the list.
Stunning views overlooking the Palm Desert offer great opportunities for colorful sunsets. You need campfire permits for any type of fire use, and the road coming in may only be suitable for some RVs and vehicles.
Location: 33.6745, -115.8019
About: Located in Chiriaco Summit, Calif., the Joshua Tree South Dispersed Camping location sits at an elevation of about 1,800 feet. It’s right at the South Entrance to Joshua Tree, which is the Colorado Desert section of the park.
It can be quite windy here, but the campsites are spacious, so even when dozens of other RVs are around, there’s still adequate privacy. The stargazing and sunset views are fantastic here.
Location: 32.9384, -114.8672
About: This BLM area is big-rig friendly with good cell service. Remote workers can probably even get a stable internet connection here. It’s a flat open area right at Ogilby Road and Indian Pass Road. The 360-degree views are beautiful at 590 feet in elevation.
Location: 32.7107, -116.5564
About: Located in Cleveland National Forest, the Bobcat Meadow Campground is in Campo, Calif. Each of the 18 sites has a fire ring, and vault toilets are on-site. For RVers looking for OHV trails, this is a great location to stay a couple of nights, as there are miles and miles of off-roading trails through the forest. This location is probably not for RVs over 30 feet long.
The Bobcat Meadow Campground isn’t completely free because you need a $5/night pass or an annual pass for $30 to stay here.
Are Free Campsites in Southern California Worth It?
There’s a reason snowbirds flock to southern California for the winter. The palm trees, warm weather, and endless recreational activities lure travelers year after year. However, it gets hot in the summertime. So if you’re heading along Interstate 8, avoid the middle of the year. But enjoy the beautiful scenery and comfortable temperatures of winter. That’s when much of the rest of the country is dealing with snow and sub-freezing nights.
These free campsites offer up to two weeks of boondocking for RVers. Bring your ATV, mountain bike, or motorcycle and enjoy the trails and scenic byways.
When will you be heading south to bask in the sunshine of southern California?
Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA
To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).
You should give it a try!
As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.
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