With each new responsibility in my life comes a stronger urge to escape to nature. A well-paying job and high-speed internet does have its perks, but this tends to facilitate an existential crisis for me. After reluctantly scrolling through meme blogs for two hours on a Tuesday night I desperately crave encountering a bear and fearing for my life. Fu*k my $2000 tempurpedic, I want some bug bites and a sunburn. So every few months I pack up my tent and hammock and road trip to some of the best parks in the Golden State. Whether you need to run away from your problems and feed some sort of primal dignity or simply love nature, you’re practically obligated to check out these amazing campsites in California.
Starting from North to South:
Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View. Image courtesy of yosemitepark.com.
This place is what made Ansel Adam’s photography famous. The 1,200 square mile park is filled with sweeping valleys, natural waterfalls and lakes, wildflower meadows, black bears, and hundreds of phenomenal hiking trails. It’s the perfect getaway for a long weekend or week, if you have the time. And if you’re based in southern California, it’s only a five hour drive away!
Tuolumne Meadows is one of the best campsites, located in the upper-east side of the park. As the name suggests, it is near a vast meadow where many people have picnics or take in the view at sunset. A creek runs through the grounds to sit next to and relax during the day. It is a great starting point for all-level hikes, like the 2.5 mile trail to Elizabeth Lake or the 5,000-foot ascent to Half Dome.
Tuolumne Meadows at sunset. Image courtesy of summitpost.org
General Sherman Tree. Image courtesy of redwoodhikes.com
The Sequoia landscape is quite similar to Yosemite’s with its lakes and trails, however the main distinction is the size and stature of the trees. The Giant Sequoias cover over 196,000 acres of the forest in 34 different groves. At a volume of over 52,500 cubic feet, the General Sherman tree is the largest tree in the WORLD. It’s quite humbling to stand next to and be in awe of its magnificence.
Me, standing in a fallen Sequoia grove. Photo by Andrew Manart
One of the most popular campsites in Sequoia is called Lodgepole, where some people reserve their spot up to two years in advance. There is a lovely creek and waterfall running through the grounds and you can reserve a spot along the water, if you’re lucky. There are plenty of hiking trails that lead out towards the Sequoia groves and meadows. Also, if you have a fishing license you can fish at most of the nearby lakes. And luckily for those who like to camp clean there is a laundry and shower center just a 1/4 mile away from the campgrounds.
Pfeiffer state park camping. Image courtesy of seemonterey.com
If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair AND make a pit stop in Big Sur. This drive up the California coast was made famous by Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and continues to be an inspiration for me and many other curious explorers. Big Sur encapsulates all that is the west coast with its cavern-crusted beaches, dense forests, and sunny weather. If you have a night or two, reserve a campsite or lodge at Pfeiffer State Park where you can go to the beach and hike during the day and roast marshmallows next to a campfire at night- it doesn’t get more California than that.
Me, chillin in J tree. Photo by Andrew Manart
Joshua Tree is the raddest desert on the west coast and offers some of the best rock-climbing zones in the country. It’s only an hour east of Palm Springs but feels like a light-year once you find yourself standing in a martian-like terrain of exotic cacti and piled rocks. While en route to your camping destination, it is imperative that you stop to see the Cholla Cactus Garden. This vast field features the unique Cholla cactus species ranging from light yellow to pale grey in color and is set against a surreal desert backdrop (Google images doesn’t do it justice). Make sure to camp at Jumbo Rocks and Hidden Valley, where there are plenty of rocks to climb and unbeatable views for watching the sunset and stargazing.