Boondocking in California: Six Spots to Pin on Google Maps
Thinking about boondocking in sunny California to embrace a bit of the state’s natural side? The first rule of thumb, forget about urban areas. While we completely support camping rights and a free lifestyle, most cities in California are sadly, not quite on top of it yet.
Urban city areas in California have legislation that forbids, on both private and public lands, sleeping in your car, and quite a few of these city centers even stop businesses from granting permission to RV campers to stake out their parking space.
Where you are allowed to camp is defined by a series of state, local, and federal regulations that, in our experience makes it not an easy task to plan a California boondocking trip. That’s why we’ve created a helpful guide with some general tips and guidelines for travelers looking to enjoy some natural vehicle-based camping in the Golden State as well as six key boondocking-friendly locations we feel you must check out.
Boondocking Quick Tips
Whether you’re already an experienced boondocker or are planning your first big adventure, it doesn’t hurt to take a look at these essential Do’s and Don’ts before you get an rv rental in California and take off on a journey of a lifetime.
Do Give Your RV a Check-up
Boondocking with your RV usually means being away from many services and without hook-ups. Boondocking may be about getting off the grid and embracing nature, but this means you have to do a bit of planning and preparation ahead of time to ensure your health, comfort, and safety.
Get your RV serviced, fill your freshwater tank and have extra bottled water on hand, and empty your graywater and blackwater tanks. Ensure you have full propane tanks and a maybe a solar generator on hand.
Check your tire pressure and tread along with making sure you have a spare tire onboard. Create a packing list of all the essentials you’ll need and plan out where everything will be stored ahead of time.
Do Plan out Meals
Boondocking means forgoing restaurant meals and instead preparing them yourself. Be sure to plan out how much food you’ll need for your trip and how you’ll be cooking meals.
It’s often wise to prepare meals or things like side dishes and snacks ahead of time before your trip to save on preparation and cleanup time while you’re busy traveling and enjoying your camping. Wash any food items that need washing while you have plenty of fresh water available.
Be sure you have enough water for both drinking and cooking, never leave rubbish behind, and try not to overuse appliances such as microwaves that may drain your batteries or power source.
Do Travel During Optimal Seasons
Choosing an optimal season to boondock in California means taking into consideration both the weather and tourism. Popular national and state parks often get quite crowded during the summer months, making the spring and fall periods outside of public holidays a great time to visit.
During these periods, you avoid heavy snow in the interior, oppressive summer heat, and the hoards of travelers looking to visit California during school holidays. Not only will boondocking locations be less crowded, so too will the hiking trails, scenic viewpoints, and various natural attractions.
Don’t Be Careless with Campfires
You should always be careful when starting a fire while camping, especially in California. Always research the campfire regulations not just in the state you’ll be camping in, but the actual area of your campsite.
Never start a fire when alerts are issued that prohibits fires, such as during hot and windy periods. California, other than being synonymous with the golden sun and beautiful natural scenery is sadly also very familiar with wildfires, so campfires are quite a sensitive thing here.
Don’t Assume you’ve Found the Best Spot
While you may have done your own research when planning out your California boondocking locations, it’s never a bad idea to interact with locals who may be able to offer advice on special secret camping spots not listed in the popular guidebooks.
Information straight from the locals is often more specific and up-to-date than online research. When you do find a good boondocking spot, be sure to seek out the best camping section within that area. Avoid parking in spots that may be prone to damage from weather or stuff falling from trees.
You can use Google maps on satellite view to scope out where the best camping spots are ahead of time to give you an edge. This, along with knowing positioning of the sun and where to position your RV can help you seek out shade during the heat of summer or full sun if you wish to have warmth during the colder months.
Places to Boondock in California
Whether you’ll be heading along the coast to soak up the sun beachside or inland to enjoy the solitude of the forests, boondocking in dispersed camping areas usually means camping outside of a designated campground. Don’t expect to have many services such as fresh running water, toilets, fire pits, or tables.
Some spots may have access to these things, but it’s always better to plan for them not being there and being pleasantly surprised if they are there. Or you can simply do your research ahead of time in regards to what facilities will be available.
Black Rock Campground
There are a number of campgrounds in California named Black Rock, but let us focus on the one within the Sierra National Forest just over two hours east of Fresno. Not to be confused with the more popular and busy Black Rock Campground in Joshua Tree National Park, Black Rock in the Sierra National Forest offers a quieter camping experience under the pines.
The camping area is also close to Sequoia National Park which offers great hiking. There are canyon views within the campground along with tables, grills, and fire rings which are added bonuses. Do note that the narrow entry road might be tricky or impossible if your RV is on the larger side.
Adjacent to Lassen Volcanic National Park is another beautiful camping spot. With vault toilets, fire rings, and excellent fishing spots, the campground has plenty to do for campers of all ages.
Willow Lake is only open from June to October due to the heavy winter snowfall it receives. During the summer months, you can take advantage of the Terminal Geyser Trailhead or check out the floating bog.
Lassen Volcanic National Park is home to the world’s largest plug dome volcano while spring brings about plenty of wildflowers. You may also spot various predators like bears, cougars, bobcats, or coyotes.
This is the nearest boondocking to San Diego you’re going to get. Mount Laguna offers five loops of campsites suitable for an RV and it’s a great location if you have plans in the city since it’s just about an hour to San Diego.
Explore the Otay Mountain Wilderness, Little Laguna Lake, and a segment of the Pacific Crest Trail. Area trails are popular not only with hikers but also horseback riders and mountain bikers.
Death Valley National Park
Finding free campsites within national parks isn’t always that easy, but here in California’s Death Valley, the largest national park in the lower 48, it’s a breeze.
Covering millions of acres, you’ll have no trouble finding your own slice of solitude in the Mojave Desert. There are of course a few rules when it comes to boondocking including not camping closer than 100 yards from a natural water source, avoiding sensitive environmental areas like Eureka Dunes and Greenwater Canyon, not camping in the various historic mining areas, and staying at least a mile off any paved or day-use road within the park.
Despite its ominous name and the fact the park does become one of the hottest places on Earth during summer, you can enjoy rather comfortable camping outside of summer. We recommend the Mahogany Flats and Wildrose areas. Just remember to pack plenty of water.
Carrizo Plain National Monument
If you’re a fan of wildflowers, you’ll love this spot! Located at the southern tip of the Central Valley, you’ll find yourself just a couple of hours away from Los Angeles. If you’re new to the world of boondocking, you may want to strike that perfect balance between being close to a big city for supplies or in case of emergencies, while also being far enough off-the-grid to get an authentic experience of wild California.
While this is one of the lesser-known camping spots in the state, you may still find a number of hikers around Soda Lake, a white salt lake bed surrounded by what is California’s largest single native grassland.
The area is home to many endangered Californian animals including the San Joaquin kit fox. You’ll find plenty of epic dispersed camping spots in the foothills of the Temblor Mountains.
Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area
Well, the name says it all. Camping around the coast is always fun and this recreation area comes with its own set of rewards in the form of 500-foot-tall dunes.
Oceano Dunes is one of the few places in Cali where you can drive on the beach and it also allows the use of non-street-legal vehicles like dune buggies and ATVs. Don’t expect you’ll be able to just drive in and find a perfect boondocking spot in this well known gem, especially on weekends and holiday periods.
You’ll want to be sure to reserve early because daily access is capped. Furthermore, you’ll want to make yourself aware of the tide times and where the high tide line reaches to avoid trouble. It’s best to also have a four-wheel drive vehicle on this 5-mile sandy beach to avoid getting stuck and you can usually expect a great deal of wind.
These are just six great places to boondock in California. Spending time in the great outdoors here can be truly memorable but always remember to do your own research when choosing a camp location and read up on the potential dangers you may face.