Big Sur Camping

Big Sur Camping | The Ultimate Guide to Big Sur Campgrounds

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Big Sur, California—welcome to one of the most picturesque places in the world. Big Sur camping is perfect for a family adventure, romantic getaway, friends trip, or solo journey. There are so many campgrounds in Big Sur to choose from, and they all have something unique to offer.  From fishing, to hiking, to scuba diving, there are endless things to do while you’re here Big Sur camping.

Located 150 miles south of San Francisco and 300 miles north of Los Angeles, Big Sur stretches off of Scenic Highway One. Originally called “El Sur Grande,” or the “The Big South,” Big Sur was named after the unexplored wilderness area along this stretch of coastline.

Three Native American tribes, the Esselen, Ohlone, and Salinan, were the first people to live in the area. Much evidence has been found to document their hunter-gatherer existence, which spanned thousands of years in Big Sur. With several old homes and museums to tour, the area’s rich history vibrates through the trees. Speaking of trees, you’ll find some of the largest varieties in the world right here, including the Sequoia sempervirens; a species of evergreen that can live between 1,200 and 1,800 years. These trees can grow over 379-feet tall.

Big Sur Camping

Photo Credit: Karen Brown

What’s the best time of year to go Big Sur Camping?

The golden state of California is one you can visit all year long. May through October is considered busy season, but even the off-season has a lot to offer with fewer crowds and more reasonable rates. There are over 300 days of sunshine each year in Big Sur, so even the months of December and January get to see some gorgeous sunny days with mild temperatures.

Winter temperatures range between 30° and 50° F at night, with an average overall high of 60° and an average overall low of 43°. In the summer, day temperatures are generally between 70° and 80° F, and at night temperatures dip around 50° to 70° F. Bring plenty of layers so you are prepared for anything. Even if you are camping in Big Sur in the summer, always bring a warm jacket or two.

Two times each year, California Gray whales migrate through the area, giving visitors a chance to see these massive ocean beauties up close and in their natural habitat. Starting in February, whales migrate north to Alaska with babies in tow. At this same time, other whales are migrating south. This is the best chance to spot a California Gray Whale because they have their young along for the journey, which means they move slower, and closer to shore—a tactic said to help prevent unwanted attacks from Great White Sharks. In late fall/early winter, California Gray Whales emerge again, this time migrating south to Mexico for warmer waters.

Humpback whales are commonly spotted in the Monterrey Bay area between late April to early December. During the summertime, you may have a chance to see a Blue Whale, as they enjoy feeding on the area’s large abundance of krill.

And now, here are some of our favorite Big Sur camping sites! 

Big Sur Campgrounds and Cabins – Big Sur Cabins

Open: Year-round 8am to 5pm

Cost: Starting at $65

Website: bigsurcamp.com

Founded in 1953, Big Sur Campgrounds and Cabins offers a serene escape from the world. Covered in massive redwoods, this picturesque campground houses activities for the whole family including basketball, volleyball, and a playground for kids. With so much to do during the day, camp settles down for the night, with ‘quiet time’ between 10pm and 8am. You’ll need your rest to conquer the endless miles of hiking trails accessible from just a short drive down the highway.

This camp offers direct beach access, and access to the river where inner tubing is popular. You can rent inner tubes at the on-site Camp Store.

There are designated sites for tents and RVs, you can also rent one of the cabins on the property. RV sites are $10 more than tent camping sites. Cozy camping cabins start at $175 during regular season, and $130 during off-season. There are a variety of cabins to choose from, including 1 and 2-bedroom options.

Need to wash some clothes? Enjoy the beauty of living out in nature while still enjoying some comforts from home. Like the ability to wash your clothes at the campground’s on-site coin laundry facilities, and indulge in fresh drinking water obtained from an on-site well.

  • Camp fires allowed
  • Minimum 3-night stay on holidays, minimum 2-night stay for weekends (Friday or Saturday nights)
  • The Camp Store serves ice cream cones in the summer

Reservations: Book your reservation by calling (831) 667-2322. May through October are the busiest months of the year, it is recommended to book as far in advance as 12 months.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park – Big Sur Camping

Open: All year, ½ hour before sunrise and ½ hour after sunset

Cost: Starts at $35 per night

Website: parks.ca.gov

This beautiful campground and National Park offers the chance to amble along river banks under the protection of massive redwoods, oaks, sycamores, maples and willows—just to name a few of the incredible trees that thrive here. You can secure a campsite that sits right on the river, so the sounds of water lull you to sleep. If you’re looking for more substantial accommodations, Big Sur Lodge is located within the park and has 61 guest rooms, plus a grocery store and café.

There are a variety of scenic trails you can venture along, including a self-guided nature trail. Some of the wildlife you have a chance to spot include bobcats, raccoons, a variety of birds, belted kingfishers, black-tail deer and gray squirrels.

For over 75 years, swimming in Big Sur River has remained a favorite pastime. If you’re not already camping along the river, there are hikes that lead directly to swimming holes in the Gorge. After a day of swimming you’re sure to work up an appetite. There is a designated picnic area within the park.

There is no direct beach access from this park. Pfeiffer Beach, located on Highway 1, is about 1 mile south from Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Pfeiffer Beach is not a California State Park and charges an entrance fee ($10 per day).

  • Dogs are allowed in the picnic area, camping area, and on paved roads. They must be leashed and are not allowed on state trails.
  • Campfires allowed

Reservations: You can book your reservations online. Reservations are accepted six months in advance of your stay.

Riverside Campground & Cabins – Big Sur Cabins

Riverside Campgrounds & Cabins - Big Sur CabinsOpen: Year-round

Cost: Starting at $60

Website: riversidecampground.com

Riverside Campground & Cabins offers 12 cabins and 34 sites for tents and RV’s on 16 acres. Tucked under coverage of thick redwoods, this campsite is only a 10-minute walk from beach access and hiking trails. There are full-day hikes, as well as climbing expenditures that’ll take you to the top of a ridge with breathtaking views of the Big Sur valley.

Each campsite is equipped with picnic tables and fire pits. Additionally, campsites have 20amp electricity and water hook-ups. There are also clean restrooms, hot showers, and laundry facilities on-site.

Take a swim in the river, or grab an inner tube and go for a float. Seasonal catch-and-release fishing is permitted November through February.

  • Pet friendly campsite, $5 per night per dog with a 2-dog maximum per site, cabin, or room. Pets must be on leash.
  • Fires allowed, must be put out by 11pm
  • ‘Quiet time’ in place between 10pm and 8am

Reservations: You can book your reservations online here

Ventana Campground – Big Sur Campgrounds

Ventana Campground - Big Sur CampingOpen: Year-round

Cost: Around $105 per night

Website: ventanacamping.com

Picture this: A 40-acre redwood canyon that sweeps through the existing contour of the canyon and Post Creek. This is a tent-only Big Sur camping site that does not accept RV’s, travel trailers, motor homes, or pop-up tent trailers. Camper vans and trucks are accepted if they do not exceed 22 feet in length.

Despite all the surrounding nature, you are a short trip away from general stores, delis, taverns, shops, and the local post office—in case you want to send your loved ones back home a post card.

Each campsite is fully equipped with a picnic table and fire ring, as well as water faucets that are just a short jaunt away. The Ventana Campground respects quiet time between 10pm and 7am. Out of respect for nature, there is no loud music or noise permitted at any time within the park.

  • Dogs are allowed; must be on a leash and never left unattended
  • No RVs, no hookups, no generators
  • Fires allowed, must be contained in designated fire rings

Reservations: Make your online reservation here

Julia Pfeiffer Burns Campground – Big Sur Camping

Julia Pfeifer Burns Campground - Big Sur CampingOpen: Year-round, ½ hour before sunrise to ½ hour after sunset

Cost: $30 per night

Website: parks.ca.gov

Known as some of the best Big Sur camping grounds on the West Coast, there are two environmental campsites located on the west side of Highway 1. No vehicle access is permitted at either campsite, campers must hike-in.  Camping is only permitted at the two designated sites, there is no camping allowed throughout any other part of the park.

Some of the more popular trails you can access from here include the Overlook Trail, the Partington Cove Trail, and the Waterfall Overlook Trail, also known as McWay Falls.

While here, take a minute to explore what is left of the McWay Waterfall House, originally built by Lathrop and Helen Hooper Brown back in 1924. Around this time, the Browns became friendly with the daughter of a Big Sur pioneer family, Julia Pfeiffer Burns. When Mrs. Brown granted her ranch to the state in 1962, she dedicated the park in honor of Julia Burns.

Sandwiched between Partington Point and McWay Creek you’ll find the Julia Pfeiffer Burns Underwater Area. Established in 1970, this is a great spot for experienced scuba divers to take in incredible underwater habitats. Make sure you have the proper training and licensing, including a licensed permit for scuba diving from a reputable organization, as well as a valid driver’s license.

Reservations: Make a reservation online or call (831) 667-2315. Reservations are accepted up to 6 months in advance, or on the first day of the month when offices open at 8am.

Andrew Molera State Park – Big Sur Camping

Andrew Molera State Park - Big Sur CampingOpen: Year-round, ½ hour before sunrise to a ½ hour after sunset

Cost: Day passes start at $10

Website: www.parks.ca.gov

This largely undeveloped park offers miles of trails that weave through the surrounding mountains and beaches. This is more of a day time park, as there are limited walk-in first-come-first-served camping spots located 1/3 of a mile from the parking lot.

Andrew Molera State Park is home to a gorgeous wilderness beach. Come prepared for the fact there are no lifeguards on duty and water conditions can be dangerous. So, while you can swim and surf, it’s not advised and you must do so at your own risk. Fishing is not allowed, except for catch-and-release fishing at certain times of the year.

Horses are welcome! Horse trailers are permitted in certain lots and horses can go on some marked trails. Arrive early to find parking.

Every year the Department of Fish and Game puts up a seasonal temporary footbridge that grants access across the Big Sur River and to the Beach Trail. The bridge is usually up between the end of October and the middle of June.  When the bridge is not up, hikers must wade across the river to reach the other side.

While you’re here, take the time to visit the Molera Ranch House museum and see what life was like for people who lived here 100 years ago. The California Condor Discovery Center is also located within Andrew Molera State Park. Here, you can learn more about the popular California bird at this reintroduction program run by the Ventana Wildlife Society.

  • Leashed dogs are allowed on paved roads, in the Big Sur camping area, and in parking lots. Dogs are not allowed on State trails.
  • Looking for nearby overnight accommodations? Check out Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park or Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Reservations: You can make reservations online

*Big Sur Camping is occasionally closed due to damage from winter floods, but will eventually reopen. Check for updates on the parks.ca.gov website

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve – Big Sur Camping

Point Lobos Campground - Big Sur CampingOpen: Year-round day use: 8am to 5pm [Only open for day adventures, no on-site camping]

Cost: $10, day use fee

Website: parksca.gov

People travel here from all over to hike, sightsee, scuba dive, study nature, paint, and jog–that’s how inspirational the landscape is. You’ll have to stay somewhere else for the night because there is no on-site camping at this nature reserve. With so much to do here, and so many other campsites nearby, it’s definitely worth a day trip.

Explore rare plant species, view endangered archeological sites and unique geological formations. Certain hiking trails lead you to hidden coves, some of which still hold secrets of the past. The land, once used for the whaling and abalone industry, still holds a tiny lodge built by Chinese fisherman that operates as a cultural history museum at Whalers Cove.

This park gets its name from the offshore rocks of Punta de los Lobos Marinos, Point of the Sea Wolves, where you can hear the sea lions for miles around. Enjoy access to one of the most vibrant underwater habitats, making this spot incredibly popular with divers around the world. This unique area offers you the chance to spot migrating gray whales, sea lions, seals, sea otters, and countless seabirds.

  • No on-site camping, day visitors only
  • Pets are not allowed
  • No bikes allowed on trails

Reservations: Reservations are not available for this park. It operates on a first-come first-served basis.

Limekiln Campground – Campgrounds in Big Sur

Limekiln State Park Campground - Big Sur Campgrounds

Open: Year-round, 8am to sunset

Cost: Unknown

Website: parks.ca.gov

This serene coastal campground offers 29 campsites with 4 walk-in sites. RVs and trailers are confined to campsites 5 through 16. You can’t reserve specific Big Sur camping sites, but according to frequent visitors, a few of the best camp sites are 1, 2, and 3. Get there early to claim a spot that speaks to you.

It’s around a five-minute walk from the redwoods down to the coast, offering two vastly different sceneries. Limekiln Campground is defined by two main loops, both of which offer a different vibe. One of these loops weaves through the redwoods along Limekiln Creek, and is popular amongst families and hikers. The other loop sweeps through the cliffs perched over the Pacific Ocean, and is popular for surfers and ocean enthusiasts. We recommend checking out both!

Activities include fishing, wildlife watching, and hiking. There are public toilets and showers on site for your convenience. Additionally, there are plenty of picnic tables for feasting in the forest.

  • Pets are welcome
  • Fires are okay
  • Portable water is available

Reservations: You can reserve campsites and lodging online up to six months in advance. There are 4 walk-in campsites for last minute travelers, but you’ll need to arrive early to try and score one of these spots.

Kirk Creek Campground – Big Sur Campgrounds

Kirk Creek Campground - Big Sur CampgroundsOpen: Year-round

Cost: Stats at $35 per night for a 6-8 person site

Website: recreation.gov

Seated in an open bluff 100’ above the Pacific waters below, Kirk Creek is a hotspot for surfing and ocean fishing. While a lot of campgrounds in Big Sur do not allow fishing, you can fish at Kirk Creek Campground. Anyone over 16 must have a fishing permit. A short trail takes campers directly to the beach from the campground site.

Each Big Sur camping site offers views of the Pacific Ocean, and so you can imagine the glorious sunrises and sunsets you’ll have a chance to witness from the comfort of your tent or RV. The campsite is within walking distance to one of the largest sandy beaches in the area. Take a break from the beach and let the Kirk Creek trailhead take you into the Ventana Wilderness. There are a variety of trails to explore throughout the Los Padres National Forest. Many trails lead to scenic overlooks that offer the opportunity to witness gorgeous waterfalls, redwood groves, and more.

  • Dogs are welcome, leashes are mandatory
  • Vault toilets offered throughout campgrounds
  • No utility hookups
  • Each campsite comes with a picnic table and fire ring
  • Bring your own water

Reservations: You can make reservations online, as long as it’s for a date at least 8 days in the future. You can also call 877-444-67777.

Big Sur Beach Canyon Hideaway – Big Sur Camping

Big Sur Campgrounds - Big Sur Beach Canyon Hideaway -Open: Year-round

Cost: $75

Website: hipcamp.com

Tucked away in a secluded canyon, this Big Sur camping site is sandwiched between an incredible beach and gorgeous inland terrain thriving with cypress grove and other magnificent foliage. Accommodations are available for tents, vans, and small trailers.

This site offers excellent proximity to some of the most popular attractions in Big Sur. Some popular activities for visitors include biking, hiking, fishing, paddling, swimming, surfing, and wildlife watching. Plus, it’s only a two-minute drive to Garrapata State Beach. There are picnic tables, toilets, and showers on site for your convenience.

  • Pets are welcome
  • Fires are allowed
  • There is no portable water available on-site, bring your own

Reservations: Reservations are available online, bookings accepted 3 months in advance of your stay.

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