Camping Guide:Big Sur

One of the most stunning creations Mother Nature has managed to carve from her rocky meets coastal figure exists on the Southern California coastline. Camping at Big Sur is like no other experience, an especially sparkling gem in a state full of treasures.

With lows in the 40s and 50s year round, and highs between the 60s and 70s, the climate can’t be beat. Forested mountain overlooks and the endless Pacific Ocean views make the scenery a 360 degree delight. And small town conveniences get you out of the hustle and bustle that comprises much of the coast, without leaving you completely isolated from civilization.

If you’re after adventure, natural beauty and the type of peace and quiet typically reserved for dryads in an ancient wilderness, Big Sur is the destination for you, if you know where to go. And thanks to our Class B RV rentals, you can experience everything the area has to offer in style, comfort and knowing that you won’t have to worry about getting stuck in some of the more rugged areas the region has to offer.

Van Camping in Big Sur, California

Millions of people live within a day’s drive of Big Sur. This results in vanloads of traffic during peak season, typically summer and especially the weekends. To make the most of Big Sur, try to plan your visit there during the week, Tuesdays through Wednesdays being your best bet, and November through February or so the best months to visit.

There are ample places to find a place to camp for the night, but hands down the best experience rests on a mountainside by the name of Prewitt Ridge (GPS: 35.970174, -121.452114. You’ll need a 4×4 vehicle with high clearance, as the road leading up to this coveted spot is incredibly treacherous, but absolutely worth the drive. The kind of trail that for which our Winnebago Revel RV rental is absolutely perfect.

That said, perfection doesn’t tend to stay secret for long, so should you find yourself arriving late in the day, or on any given weekend, or you simply don’t want to permanently raise the hairs on the back of your neck, there are a multitude of additional options.

On the northern side of this majestic drive, you’ll find a handful of public and private RV parks to choose from. Furthest north, in Monterey, you’ll find Veterans Memorial Park Campground (GPS: 36.5994, -121.9119), a city campground catering specifically to smaller RVs, like the ones we rent here at Trail Mix RV. It’s a great place to practice driving on winding roads and also take advantage of the amenities (groceries, cheaper gas, and so on) that Monterey has to offer. It’s also one of the last places you’ll find cell service, so if you need to make any last minute texts or download the latest season of whatever you’re binging, this is the time to do it.

From there, you’ll find yourself diving southbound on California State Route 1 (aka the Pacific Coast Highway), and finally, fully and truly immersed in the Big Sur experience. The first official camping comes in the form of privately owned RV parks by the names of Big Sur Campground & Cabins (GPS: 36.2684, -121.8061) and Riverside Campground & Cabins (GPS: 36.2669, -121.804), both of which have water and electric hookups, decent restrooms and showers, and are close to a few breweries. Expect to pay $50 – $65 per night at these RV parks. Cell service is completely non-existent, and WiFi nearly as hard to find, so plan ahead to just point your front bumper south on Route 1 and see what’s around every next bend.

If the bends you find on the main road aren’t quite daunting enough for you, and you’ve rented our 4×4 Winnebago Revel, you may want to take a long, slow crawl along the Old Coast Road. Note that while sitting around a campfire was once common along Big Sur, the prevalence of wildfires in recent years has made fire season a nearly year ’round event. You’ll just have to amuse yourself with the sounds of the ocean crashing below and the redwoods towering above in lieu of s’mores.

If you kept rolling on by the previous two campgrounds, Fernwood Resort (GPS: 36.2606, -121.7925) is the next stop along the way. It’s creekside camping in the redwoods, with a $90 price tag to go along with it, and not exactly the most spacious spots.

If you’ve come to Big Sur for the nature, as many of its visitors do, then your first best bet, and last on the northern stretch of the coastline, is Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park (GPS: 36.2528, -121.7871). Campsites range from riverside to creekside, or just parking lot camping if the park is full and you arrive after closing time. For under $50 (prices vary depending on which site you’re in), you get the splendor of redwoods camping, While the park provides flushing toilets and pay showers, note that it’s completely dry camping, so you won’t have access to a plug at your site. Keep this in mind when choosing a site, as if you’ll be relying on solar you may want to find a spot that isn’t completely obscured by the impressively massive trees that give Pfeiffer Big Sur its mystique.

Camping here also places you in a prime location to explore the MacWay Falls or visit Nepenthe, a cliffside restaurant that never disappoints.

Waking up at Pfeiffer leaves you the ideal distance to traverse Big Sur’s less camping-friendly stretch, where additional state parks and hot springs, scenic overlooks and daredevil turns promise to fill your day.

As you pass the town of Lucia, you’ll come across a handful of additional public campgrounds, more centrally located along the way. Limekiln State Park (GPS: 36.01, -121.518) offers more redwood camping, but also has spots with more access to the sun, and offers the ability to walk down to the beach. Of the campgrounds in this area, this is the only one with showers and flushing toilets. A little further south, Kirk Creek Campground (GPS: 35.9899, -121.4952), like its neighbor, offers recycling, picnic tables and designated “sites” as well, though the restrooms are just pit toilets and so a bit more rustic. However, Kirk Creek is perhaps the dream spot that everyone imagines camping at when traveling Big Sur, cliffside camping where every corner of your eye is treated to some natural wonder that feels like it should be hanging in a museum somewhere. These outstanding views come with a price (other than the literal price, ~$40 per night), you’re 30 slow miles away from the bulk of Big Sur’s services.

From there, two more campgrounds exist closer to Gorda, California, both a part of the Los Padres National Forest. Plaskett Creek Campground (GPS: 35.9187, -121.4671) is absolutely gorgeous, with ocean views through the trees and decent amenities for a state park, though no showers or hookups. However, free camping exists further south on Willow Creek Road (GPS: 35.887, -121.4592), where various “dispersed camping” spots, i.e. places to pull off the road which are allowed by the US Forest Service, await and promise endless views of the watery horizon beyond.

These are among the best places to camp along Big Sur’s coast. Additional camping, both free and paid, public and private, exists further inland, where you’ll trade the coastal salt life for Santa Lucia Mountain camping.