It’s prime camping time in California, with thousands of residents taking their families to state parks every weekend.
California has a reputation for great camping at its state parks. But some parks rise above others, at least in the collective opinion of those who visit.
The Bee aggregated tens of thousands of reviews from Yelp!, Trip Advisor and Google Maps to see which parks have the highest average visitor ratings. Happy camping!
#1 Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
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Densely forested with masssive trees, Jedediah Smith State Park contains about 7 percent of the old-growth redwoods in the world. It features fishing, snorkeling and kayaking along the Smith River - the longest free-flowing river in California. About 20 miles of trails weave through the Redwoods in the park. Those less inclined to walk can take a scenic drive through the forest along Howland Hill Road. The park’s 10,000 acres are managed cooperatively by the state and the National Park Service.
#2 Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
A sister park to Jedediah Smith, Prarie Creek Redwoods features two campgrounds, three scenic drives, 75 miles of hiking trails and a 19-mile bike loop. A popular hiking spot, Fern Canyon, was used as a backdrop for the movie “Jurassic Park.” Visitors rating the park often remarked on its well-maintained and marked trails; its abundance of wildlife and the excellent condition of its campgrounds.
#3 Mount Tamalpais State Park
Located just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, Mount Tamalpais rises 2,571 feet above the ocean and features majestic views of the rugged coastline and the San Francisco Bay. The park offers hiking, picnicking, bird watching and mountain biking. Visitors rating the park often recommend driving along Ridgecrest Road, which winds over a hilltop overlooking Stinson Beach, and taking one of the many trails.
#4 Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Another great park among the giant trees of northwestern California, Humboldt Redwoods features the 32-mile Avenue of the Giants, one of the most gorgeous driving routes in America. The park also features more than 100 miles of trails for people, bikes and horses. There are also more campsites here than at other state parks in the Redwoods, so it can be a little easier to find a spot (though still very tough on summer weekends).
#5 McArthur-Burney Falls State Park
The highlight of the park is its namesake: the 129-foot Burney Falls, which plummets into a misty, tree-filled basin. About five miles of trails wind through the park’s evergreen forests, as does the Pacific Crest Trail. Campers get the chance to see the falls is the early morning or late afternoon, after the crowds have thinned. Other than the falls, visitors rating the park often mention Lake Britton, which features great swimming in the summer.
#6 Emerald Bay State Park
A jewel of the Tahoe Basin, visitors to Emerald Bay witness a magnificent panorama of mountains, forest and water. The park is home to Vikingsholm, a striking example of Scandanavian architecture, and the “Tea House” on Fannette Island, the only island on Lake Tahoe. Activities include hiking and kayaking.
#7 Big Basin Redwoods State Park
California’s oldest state park, Big Basin features redwoods that have been alive for more than 1,000 years. The park also lets visitors enjoy pristine views of the ocean and beautiful waterfalls while hiking on 80 miles of trails. This is a very popular park, especially in the summer, so arrive with an attitude of patience. Even so, the park is also huge and solitude is available on its many trails.
#8 Hungry Valley State Vehicle Recreation Area
Located in the Tejon Pass north of Los Angeles, Hungry Valley offers 130 miles of trails for motorcycles, ATVs, dune buggies and 4X4 vehicles. In other words, this is a place to bring out the toys, and may not appeal as much to those without an off-road vehicle. Camping options are plentiful but often without many frills. Motorized trails available for every skill level.
#9 Russian Gulch State Park
A few miles north of Mendocino, Russian Gulch features beaches, rocky coastline, waterfalls and a three mile canyon. Visitors can camp, bike, hike, fish, kayak and ride horses.
#10 Calaveras Big Trees State Park
Visitors come mostly to see the massive Sequoia trees located in two separate, lovely groves. This is a spacious park with large campsites. Visitors rating this park highly often speak well of the docent-led tours in the evenings. The famous Pioneer Cabin Tree, also known as the Tunnel Tree, fell and shattered during a storm in January 2017.
#11 Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
More than 100 miles of trails twist through this park about 40 minutes east of San Diego. Visitors can walk, bike or ride horses through pine, fir and oak forests, as well as amidst meadows and streams. Much of the park sits between 4,000 and 5,000 feet above sea level.
#12 Butano State Park
Another lovely park full of Redwoods in the Bay Area, Butano features about 40 miles of hiking trails. This is the one to visit if you value solitude. Visitors often remark that it is less crowded than other state parks in the area.
Sources for ratings: Trip Advisor - Yelp - Google | Sources for images: Jedediah Smith; Prairie Creek; Hungry Valley and Butano - State of California | Calaveras; Cuyamaca; Humbolt Redwoods; Mt. Tam - Wikipedia Commons | Burney Falls - Flickr - user Steven Bratman, under Creative Commons License | Big Basin - Flickr - user Mindgrow under Creative Common License. All photos either in the public domain or licensed for free commercial use. | Excludes parks that did not have at least 100 ratings. Also excludes parks that only offer backcountry camping.