Finding a campground can be overwhelming right now. Knowing what's still open and what has campsites available for you is difficult to figure out. It doesn't have to be this way!
Over half of the campgrounds in California are first-come, first-served (FCFS). That means that over 1,000 campgrounds in California are waiting for you to ditch work on Friday to find your ideal campsite right there waiting for you.
The underlying fear at this juncture is that all campsites at the camp you choose will already be taken by the time you get there.
That's where our Campgrounds 360 "Superior FCFS Strategy" comes into play.
1. Go to our website and use the filtering system (Advanced Search) to only see FCFS campgrounds on the interactive map.
2. Look at the map and find a cluster of at least 2-3 campgrounds (totaling 50 campsites or more) in the area you're interested in camping. Making certain you have a few campground options will ensure yourself a site even if the first camp you get to is full.
3. Start your camping trip on Sunday - Thursday for highest probability of open sites.
To make your search a bit easier, Ryan and I have listed a few of our favorite FCFS clusters below.
After visiting over 800 campgrounds with Sacramento as the epicenter, Campgrounds 360 has great insight about where to go camping for these last-minute trips.
Most people would say that the ideal camping location during the summer is anywhere on the coast. Unfortunately, most of the campgrounds on the coast are reservation only. The few FCFS trailer and car-camping camps are in high demand. Ergo, the coast isn't a great choice for tent or trailer campers without reservations.
On the positive side, the Los Padres National Forest (outside of Big Sur) has some incredible FCFS campgrounds for backpackers.
Los Padres National Forest:
Check out the area just outside of Big Sur. This area has approximately 30 trail camps making it a great location for hikers. If you're thinking of backpacking through your weekend, I can't think of a better last-minute location. Although Campgrounds 360 doesn't have 360 photos of these camps just yet, the official website for Hike Los Padres is phenomenal. They have great photos and descriptions of what to expect.
Mendocino National Forest:
We call Highway 162 the off-road corridor because there are so many forest roads to explore. These roads are best suited for vehicles modified for off-road adventures. This corridor has a sprinkling of FCFS campgrounds where you can definitely find a site. If you go deeper into the mountains, there are another half dozen camps to choose from.
Lassen National Forest:
This is the hidden gem of all camping locations. You have the comforts of car or trailer camping but you don't have to deal with the stress of reservations or crowds. In this area, you have upwards of 30 campgrounds and over 500 campsites available to FCFS campers. Our top suggestions include Hat Creek, Big Pine and Hole-in-the-Ground campgrounds.
Plumas National Forest:
This area is California's High Country with many lakes and beautiful scenery. We recommend looking at the Gold Lake Highway corridor. Here you'll find 7 campgrounds, totaling over 100 campsites (some are only suitable for 4x4 vehicles), most of which have lake views. The fishing out here is great and you're likely to spot a bald eagle!
Stanislaus National Forest:
The Highway 4 and Highway 108 corridors both have great FCFS options. If you're interested in going up towards Arnold and Calaveras Big Trees (hwy 4), we recommend checking out the campgrounds around Utica, Union and Spicer Reservoirs. Overall, you'll have options at 7-8 campgrounds with over 200 FCFS sites.
If you go up the 108 corridor, towards Pinecrest Lake, we recommend Fraser Flat and Meadowview campgrounds. Meadowview Campground itself has over 100 sites to choose from. Plus it's just around the corner from Pinecrest Lake which has boating opportunities and a great beach.
There you have it! No fear, just confidence as you get out there and explore through camping. Have fun and get dirty! As always, if you have any questions, we are here for you. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.