CA Camping Laws: 9 Boondocking Northern California Locations

California has been the go-to vacation spot for many years. Its diverse nature lets you get close to nature in the north and the east while letting you access all the theme parks located in the southern portion of the state No matter what you like to do, there is a spot in California for you.

California can be both lenient and strict when it comes to camping. It does let cities regulate their territories while the state has rules for State land. The BLM is federal and the least restrictive of all jurisdictions. This means that there are plenty of spots in federal land where you can boondock.

To learn more about boondocking in California, just continue to read our article. It has the information you want to know about. Just be careful about reading different private websites as they do tend to encourage you to break the law.

Can You Park an RV Anywhere in California?


While California is a free-loving state, it does have many rules and regulations to govern different activities. One rule is that you cannot park your RV just anywhere. While some campgrounds, parks, and forests allow for boondocking, almost all cities in the state do not allow it within their jurisdictions.

Also, you would have to check with each city to see what their individual rules are as each city makes its own. There is no universal standard or application. Then the state itself doesn't have any boondocking laws that we are aware of. They do allow each jurisdiction to make that determination.

That will be the reason why you may be able to camp free at one state park but not another. Anza Borrego Desert State Park does allow boondocking while other state parks do not. Sometimes you have to go by the signs only. When an area says no camping then you cannot park there even for one night.

The national Parks generally do not allow boondocking but the BLM lands and other federal lands do allow it along with disperse camping. You would have to check the websites of BLM and other federal agencies to see what their rules are. California doesn't have jurisdiction over federal lands.

Camping Laws in California

California does have jurisdiction over their own state parks and at their website under parks, you will find a link to the list of rules the state has created to govern their property. Here are some of the rules you will be expected to adhere to when you camp at a state park:

  • 1. No disturbance or destruction of wildlife or the surrounding natural scenery. In other words, do not uproot plants, break dead branches off, and so on.
  • 2. No hunting or loaded firearms unless done so in designated areas. The only rifle you can have in a state park in most sections is an air rifle.
  • 3. Gathering of wood and fauna, even if dead is prohibited. If you need wood for a fire, etc., you can purchase it at the park office or store.
  • 4. Fires are not allowed unless started in containers provided for fires. Portable stoves are allowed but use them with extreme caution.
  • 5. Keep your dogs and cats on a leash. They are not allowed to run free and dogs are not allowed on trails, beaches or wherever posted. The exceptions to this rule will be those assist animals for the permanently disabled.
  • 6. Noise, especially from generators can only be operated between the hours of 10 a.m. And 8 p.m. All loud noises are prohibited at all times.
  • 7. Cars, trucks, trailers, and RVs are restricted to designated roads and areas. No off-roading allowed. The speed limit is 15 mph and blocking of parking spaces is prohibited. Parking is permitted in designated spots only.
  • 8. Campsite fees must be paid in advance and to hold a campsite, you must make a reservation or occupy it. Checkout time is noon and you are allowed to stay in any one campground for up to 30 days within 12 continuous months.
  • 9. Place all garbage, cigarettes, etc., in designated receptacles only.
  • 10. There is no smoking allowed in California’s state parks. There are some exceptions to this rule and you need to see Public Resource code 5008.10.
  • 11. Drones are permitted but only where they are allowed and the district superintendent has direct and complete authority over this issue.

Where Can I Camp for Free in Northern California?


There are more than the 3 places were are listing here. We selected the top 3 free spots where you can boondock in Northern California. The same goes for the other sections. The ones listed here will be used to whet your appetite and get you researching for more top California spots to camp in.

1. Rocky Point West

This campsite is about 5000 feet above sea level and resides right near Eagle lake. There are several campgrounds in this area and some are for dispersed camping. No fee is charged although donations will be accepted.

The best positive that can be said about this area is that you are getting into nature and have a variety of activities that can be done here. The most negative aspect is that you may be far from food and water sources.

There are no fees for dispersed camping so if you are on a tight budget pick your spot well.

2. Hermit Valley Campground

Located just south of Lake Tahoe and near the Nevada state line, you have a great area if you like to hike. Vault toilets and fire rings are available but other than that you are pretty much on your own. The best things to do here are relax, sleep and hike.

The worst thing that can take place is a rush hour of hiker traffic. The camping spots are located near the Ebbetts Pass Scenic Byway and the Pacific Crest Trail. You may be lucky enough to meet new friends and have a great time around the old campfire.

3. Indian Valley Reservoir

If you want to be near the city, this campground is located in the Bay area. It's a small BLM campground but you can boondock with ease and disperse camping is free. However, if you want access to toilets and showers, you have to use one of the pay for campsites nearby.

For recreation, there are a lot of good biking trails as well as hiking trails to explore. The most negative aspect is also one of its more positive ones. You are near large cities. While you can go to the city to sightsee, you may be too close for comfort with illegal activity not that far away.

Best Places to Boondock in California

Best -Places-to-Boondock-in-California

1. No Man’s Trailhead

If you want space and do not want to be crowded there are lots of disperse camping sites at this location The campground is located 16 miles away from Happy Camp and it gives you access to the Clear Creek National Recreation Trail.

The bad news about this area is that there are no services provided. What you pack in you must pack out and you will really be roughing it when it comes to camping. Most likely there are no fires allowed either.

2. Black Rock Campground

This area is just north of the Sequoia National park and it is roughly 2 to 2 1/2 hours east of Fresno. If you want to be alone, this is the place to boondock. You will be alone out in this area. However, you do get toilets, drinking water, fire rings, and picnic tables to make sure you have a great adventure.

The downside to this great location is that the road is not made for longer RVs. It has a very narrow approach making navigation quite difficult when you have 30 to 40 footer in tow or driving. Other than that it is a great place to rest after long days of driving.

3. Cherry Lake

The 3 1/2 hour distance from here to San Francisco has you close enough for any emergency aid you may need but far enough away that you should not be troubled by city residents. This time frame and distance put you high up in the Sierra Nevada mountains so you better pack some warm clothing, bedding, and a heater just in case.

There is lots of swimming and boating in the lake and if you like to fish, the trout are biting. Vault toilets are available and that may be one of the cons of this area. But when you boondock you cannot expect lots of services to be provided for you.

Free Beach Camping in Northern California


Just so you know, camping on the beach in California, for the most part, is illegal. Even sleeping in a car in the parking lot of a beach is also illegal and regulated to make sure the law is not violated.

The reason there are laws prohibiting camping on the beach is that the beaches are being protected by the government. Because there are so many people visiting all the beaches regulations had to be implemented to make sure they could be enjoyed by everyone.

That does not mean that there are no places where you can park on the beach and camp. There are roughly 5 that allow camping directly on the beach. The list may be longer but 5 will do for here. The first location is Oceano Dunes SVRA.

The SVRA stands for state vehicular recreation area and it is the only place where you can drive directly onto the beach sand. This camping area is located near Pismo Beach and it is a popular off-road area. You should make advanced reservations and this is not going to be free.

We did not find any free beach campgrounds. The second area you can camp on the beach is Santa Rosa Island. You can go back-country camping on some of the remote breaches on the island. The biggest negative will be getting your RV or camper there. It is a National Parks service area so look at their website to see what you can and cannot do.

A third location is Thornhill Broome beach and its location is just north of Malibu. The good aspect of this location is that you park on the road and pitch your tent right on the beach sand right next to the picnic tables.

Reservations are made through Reserve California and this is part of the California State Park system. The biggest drawback is that you are close to the Los Angeles area and you have to park your RV or trailer on the side of the road.

A final option to be mentioned here is the Lost Coast Trail. This camping area is in northern California and managed by the BLM. This federal organization does allow camping directly on the beaches but you need to be wary of the incoming tides.

The drawback to this option is that it is very remote, and can be very strenuous. A permit is also required t hike the trail and you most likely will need a guide to go along with you on your hikes.

All the options that we saw for free beach camping, you have to hike in, boat in, or bike in. There are no real roads where you can drive your RV over to get to a beach campsite except for Thornhill Bromme.

Do some more research to see if there are other options available but pickings are slim due to the popularity of the beaches in this state.

Where Can You Camp Off The Grid in California?


Just about anywhere you can disperse camp you will be off-grid. Disperse camping gives you a little cleared spot, possibly a fire ring, and nothing else. There are no electrical hook-ups, no internet services and there are usually no toilets.

Some of these disperse camping areas can be driven to in your rig but you have to check the individual camping areas to find them. Most are off in the wilderness where it is only your tent between you and nature.

The good thing about off-grid camping is that there are generally no fees to be paid. You just follow the rules set out by the federal agency or the California state park board and you should be fine.

The only fee you may have to pay will be for your fire permit if there is a fire ring and if the dire warnings are low enough. Other than that you should check with the agency operating and managing the campsites to see what is allowed fire-wise and if you have to pay.

One thing is for sure, if you are camping on California state land, you will have to pack your own firewood in.

Also, off-grid camping can be done in every legal boondocking spot. That is the definition of boondocking. You are running your RV off your batteries and not the power grid. There are just too many locations to mention here.

BLM Dispersed Camping California Map


In order to enjoy disperse camping on BLM lands, it pays to read their website first. It is filled with lots of information you need to know especially if this is your first time on these lands. The link to their website is here and on it, you will find many other links to get all the information you need to know about.

The link to their maps is right here. That link will get you all the maps to all of the disperse camping in all of the BLM lands across the nation.

We are also going to provide links to other maps for other places you can do disperse camping or even regular camping. Having access to maps help make planning your itinerary easier. Click here for one option.

Then for different types of maps for the state of California, click on this link to get even more options. Having multiple resources at your fingertips is the best way to plan your vacation. It just cuts down on the many items that can go wrong.

On the last link, you will find explanations for symbols as well.

Some Final Words

Camping is great fun and it is a great way to see what you are made from. When you leave the on-grid pay-for campgrounds with all of their hookups you can really see the country the way you should see it. Don’t worry about your holding tanks.

The state, while restricting some camping spots, does provide lots of dumping stations at the rest stops throughout their highway system. Once you find the spots you want to camp at, you can use our article on California dump stations to plan where you will empty your tanks.

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