5 Beautiful Backpack Camping Spots in California

By Carly Zinderman

5 Beautiful Backpack Camping Spots in California

When it comes to camping, sometimes it’s nice to go for the simple things. Although California is filled with glamping spots that bring the luxuries and the amenities of the indoors outside, a little-known secret is that it is also filled with locations where you can get back to basics. Be prepared and do your homework, check with park rangers and invest in maps and books so that you know what to bring with you, and what to look for, before you head into the wilderness to explore some of the best backpack camping spots in California. 

1. Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is filled with campgrounds, but you can also backpack to spend the night under the stars. Backpacking requires a wilderness permit so make sure that you have your paperwork in order before you go off trail to explore the park’s famous highlights, like Half Dome, valleys and peaks, and other stunning sites and views.

2. Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree is at the meeting point of two different ecosystems, so you can opt to explore hills or valleys—just be aware that the mountain regions are not for the faint of heart, given their great elevation. In addition to campgrounds and day trails, you can also backpack in Joshua Tree, just be sure to check the website for pertinent information and be sure to register at one of the park’s backcountry registration boards for safety—and to prevent your car from being towed. Joshua Tree has numerous points of interest, so you can visit multiple times and never camp in the same spot.

3. Kings Canyon National Park

Kings Canyon National Park includes spacious wilderness areas, perfect for exploring with a backpack. Conservation and respect for the existing and fragile ecosystems are a top priority so check the website for information about what you can and can’t bring into the park. Also, be aware of safety concerns like overflowing waterways that can be treacherous at many times of the year. Permits are required to backpack and many fees are also necessary to help monitor the amounts of visitors entering the park at busy times of the year.

4. Crystal Cove State Park

A little-known fact about one of Orange County’s remaining open spaces is that Crystal Cove State Park offers backpack camping spots. Many backpack camping lovers use the relatively easy trails as a kind of training ground for more advanced trips. Locals tend to use the area as a quick overnight getaway, hitting the trail after work before sunset and getting to see the sunrise before hikers take over. Crystal Cove is filled with lots of hidden gems worth exploring and the ocean views are hard to beat. It’s a good place for newbies or people that want the experience without some of the harder hiking of bigger wilderness areas. Although Crystal Cove is closer to civilization than other backpack camping sites, check out the website for details about how and where to hike and use precautions before heading out.

5. Barker Valley in Palomar Mountains

The Barker Valley trail is a lesser-known trail that is relatively hidden. The hike to the trailhead is several miles within the park and requires a pass from the forest service to enter. Although there are swimming holes, waterfalls and creeks within, experienced hikers advise bringing plenty of water as water isn’t available at many times of the year and may not be drinkable. Beyond a few historic features, including an old mine and a homestead, there are little indications of man within the park. You’ll find lots of flora and fauna and a somewhat arduous hike so many advise spending the night on the way to the trail. 

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