Camping in Carmel: 15 Best Camping Spots Near Carmel, California

Hidden in the Monterey Peninsula in California’s Central coast sits Carmel-by-the-Sea. This charming and romantic small town features rugged coastline, sandy beaches, and rocky, cypress-covered outcroppings.

Carmel-by-the-Sea was founded in 1902, although it wasn’t incorporated until 1916. It’s where poets, artists, and writers initially came because the natural scenery served as a muse. Many of the early city councils and mayors were actors or poets, including Clint Eastwood and Perry Newberry.

You can find Carmel along the Pacific coast in the Monterey Peninsula about 120 miles south of San Francisco and over 300 miles north of Los Angeles.

The community delivers one of California’s best small-town experiences, but that isn’t the only way to enjoy what this area provides. When you want to explore the beautiful scenery like the artists that came before, camping and backpacking offer exciting ways to see the region.

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Best Tent Camping Near Carmel, California

Tent camping is one of the most affordable ways to enjoy the natural wonders that Carmel-by-the-Sea and nearby Big Sur offers. You’ll find sites that offer different amenities, pet access, and facilities to ensure you’re crafting an experience you’ll love!

Here are some of the best locations for tent camping that you’ll find near Carmel.

1. Veteran’s Memorial Park

Veterans Memorial Park - Camping In Carmel

This popular 50-acre park is located just 1 mile from downtown Monterey. It’s a fun and affordable way to stay on the Monterey Peninsula without putting in too much effort, especially since Wi-Fi is available for as little as $8 per night for a tent site.

Love little luxuries like potable drinking water, being able to take a shower, and using real toilets? Veteran’s Memorial Park has got you covered. Showers are available at this park, along with drinking water access and full bathroom amenities.

Pets are welcome here, and you can bring alcohol if consumed according to local rules. Besides the campgrounds that are open 365 days per year, the park also features hiking trails, BBQ picnic areas, play equipment, turf and lawn fields, and a basketball court.

Pull up a picnic table, bring your favorite snacks, and enjoy being in the heart of all the action! More information can be found here.

  • Distance from Carmel, CA: 15 minutes
  • Campground Features: Picnic area, showers, drinking water, full bathrooms, WiFi, park amenities
  • Pets Allowed: Yes (dogs allowed on the Warden’s Path and River Path, and in day-use lots and campground. Dogs are not allowed on all other trails.)
  • Reservation Information: Camping sites are not reservable; available on a first-come, first-served basis.

2. Saddle Mountain Ranch (RV And Campground)

Saddle Mountain Ranch - Best Camping In Carmel, California

Saddle Mountain Ranch is a tent campground and RV park that is only five miles away from Highway 1. It sits on 89 acres of forested land just off Carmel Valley Road, ensuring that you’re under redwoods, Monterey pines, and oaks. It’s a wonderfully peaceful spot where you can pitch a tent and relax however you want. You can check out the different types of campsites they offer here.

Amenities include restrooms, free hot showers, wifi, cable TV, and a playground for the kiddies. Horseshoe pits, board games, and badminton are available to use as well. You can also take a walk down to the pool to cool off from May to October!

Looking to get a little hike in? Try taking the Saddle Mountain trail up into the forest boasting breathtaking views the entire time.

Yurts, cabins, and RV sites are also available for those who want glamping or a more structured experience. For the RV campers, the RV village offers 30-amp hookups. And if you’re looking to bring your dog with you, you’ll be happy to know that this campground is also very dog-friendly!

Saddle Mountain Ranch - Best Camping In Carmel, California

Do note that the firepits here only accept Duraflame logs, so you should consider bringing a couple with you during the trip. Site guarantees are an extra $5 this year. If you don’t pay the fee ahead of time, your assignment won’t be finalized until the day you arrive.

  • Distance from Carmel, CA: 15 minutes
  • Campground Features: RV hookups, picnic tables, drinking water, full toilet bathrooms, free hot showers, outdoor games, playground, seasonal pool
  • Pets Allowed: Yes
  • Reservation Information: More information is available here.

3. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park - Best Camping Near Carmel CA

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park provides some of the best camping near Carmel. It’s situated within the Big Sur region, making it the perfect spot for exploring Big Sur. Many would even say it’s one of the best places to camp along the iconic Highway 1!

The campground at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park consists of 189 tent and RV sites located among redwood groves and grassy meadows–some sites are even situated right by a river. Each site has a picnic table, fire ring, access to drinking water, toilet restrooms, and showers.

For onsite entertainment, there are a number of hiking trails that are within walking distance from the campground.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park - Camping Near Carmel CA(1)

If you’d like to explore elsewhere, the campground is also conveniently located 20 minutes from both Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and Bixby Bridge, and is just minutes away from Pfeiffer Beach (with the famous keyhole rock).

Because of how popular this campground is, be sure to reserve ASAP! We cannot stress this enough, as it’s not uncommon to find weekends booked out 6+ months in advance. You can learn more about this campground here.

  • Distance from Carmel, CA: 40 minutes
  • Campground Features: Picnic tables, fire ring, access to drinking water, toilet restrooms, and token-operated showers
  • Pets Allowed: Yes
  • Reservation Information: You can make reservations at ReserveAmerica.

4. Big Sur Campground and Cabins

Big Sur Campground and Cabins - Camping Spots in Carmel CA

Located among majestic Coastal Redwood trees along the pristine Big Sur River, Big Sur Campground & Cabins offers camping and lodging that’s perfect for the whole family. Campers can enjoy tent and RV camping on the forest floor or opt for one of several styles of cabins, from rustic camping cabins to fully equipped cabins with kitchens and fireplaces.

Big Sur Campground and Cabins offers a variety of great activities for the entire family. Enjoy an afternoon of swimming in the river or even floating down it with their inner tube rentals. Kids can enjoy an onsite playground as well!

All of the tent campsites have a fire pit and picnic table. You’ll also find a bathhouse with hot showers nearby.

  • Distance from Carmel, CA: 35 minutes
  • Campground Features: RV camping, tent camping, camp store, playground, river tube rentals, picnic tables, showers, drinking water, full bathrooms, coin laundry
  • Pets Allowed: Yes
  • Reservation Information: You can make reservations for tent sites, RV sites, and cabins here.

5. Laguna Seca Recreation Area Campgrounds

Laguna Seca Camping

This unique campground is just minutes from the vibrant areas of Carmel, Monterey, and the Salinas Valley. It’s also located close to racing cars! Whether you prefer a small tent for camping or bring a large RV, there’s a spot for you here! What makes this spot such an attractive option is that you’re right in the middle of the action.

In terms of activities, you can get physical by hiking the trails around Fort Ord National Monument (25 minutes away) or Pinnacles National Park (about an hour away). If you prefer a wine tour, you can enjoy numerous vineyards through the valley region. The WeatherTech Raceway features track rentals and a driving school during the day for a unique experience.

Do note that the water in the facility is non-potable. We’d recommend bringing your own bottled water for drinking and cooking.

  • Distance from Carmel, CA: 20 minutes
  • Campground Features: RV camping, tent campsites, picnic tables, fire pits, drinking water, WiFi, showers, full toilet bathrooms
  • Pets Allowed: Yes
  • Reservation Information: Make reservations here; Walk-ins are accepted at the entry station until 6 PM.

6. Manresa Uplands State Beach

Manresa Uplands State Beach Campground - Camping In Carmel CA

Manresa Uplands State Beach is a tent-only, walk-in campground with 60 campsites. Despite it being walk-in only, you can park in a separate lot when visiting the area–no backpacking necessary. The sites are only available from May to October, and they tend to fill up fast!

This is because Manresa State Beach rewards visitors with sweeping views of bluff-backed sand and sea, including the Santa Cruz Mountains to the northwest and the forested hills of the Monterey Peninsula to the southwest.

Dogs are allowed in the park, but they cannot be left unattended at the campsite. Fires are only permitted in the designated rings in the park. You’ll also want to review the rules on using drones because of the wildlife in the park. Showers are available for $0.25 – you’ll need to bring quarters.

Dangerous rip currents occur in the water near the beach, so swimming and surfing are not recommended for the average person. However, the fishing here is excellent, or you can sit back to enjoy the dramatic views!

And because these campsites tend to fill up fast, you’ll want to visit ReserveCalifornia as soon as you’re ready to commit to this campground to make sure your travel dates are available.

  • Distance from Carmel, CA: 40 minutes
  • Campground Features: fire rings, picnic tables at the bluffs, showers, drinking water, full bathrooms, coin-operated showers
  • Pets Allowed: Yes, dogs are allowed on a leash at Manresa State Beach. Dogs are allowed in the campground on a six-foot maximum leash, but they cannot be left unattended at the campsite.
  • Reservation Information: Reserve a campsite on ReserveAmerica. Read more about the campground here.

Read More: 15 Hiking and Camping Essentials (With Product Recommendations!)


Best RV Camping Near Carmel, California

If you want the flexibility of bringing your RV to a campground or site while still enjoying the benefits of using a tent, these camping options provide let you enjoy the outdoors comfortably and affordably.

7. Carmel By The River RV Park

You can find this RV park and campground conveniently located just 15 minutes away from Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey, CA.

Carmel By The River RV Park offers a variety of site types to fit your needs including standard, wide, premium, deluxe, mega, and primo. All of the sites are filled with level, crushed granite and include water, electricity, sewer, high-speed WiFi, cable TV, private BBQ’s and are pet friendly. The RV park offers sites with either 30 or 50 amp.

Tent camping is not permitted here, but there is drive-in access to each site so that you can park conveniently. Pets are allowed, plus you’ll get all the hookups needed for a comfortable stay. If you drive a bigger rig, there’s still room for it.

This RV camping spot near Carmel offers quite a lot of recreational opportunities, from air hockey, billiards, and ping pong tables at the lounge area to river access at nearby Garland Ranch Regional Park.

Great hiking is also available at Garland Regional Park, which is less than ten minutes away! If you want to visit Big Sur, just hop into your vehicle for a beautiful 40-minute drive down Highway 1.

  • Distance from Carmel, CA: 15 minutes
  • Campground Features: business lounge, recreation room, public patio, general store, full bathrooms with showers, drinking water
  • Pets Allowed: Yes, though there may an additional fee
  • Reservation Information: Reservations can be made here.

8. Sunset State Beach

Sunset State Beach Camping

A peaceful campground under the pines, picnicking on the beach, and unmatched views of Monterey Bay make Sunset State Beach a favorite year-round destination for tent campers and RV campers alike.

During the summer season, State Parks such as this one offer events and activities including Junior Rangers, nature hikes, and campfire programs.

Sunset State Beach is an awesome option for camping near Carmel, CA if you’re looking to be close to the coast. You can snag a picnic table, utilize one of the charcoal grills, and use clean restrooms. Dogs are permitted at the campsite, but they cannot be left unattended – and they’re not allowed on the beach.

This beautiful camping area delivers several dune-protected family sites that are suitable for RVs or tents, but there aren’t hookups available. RVs up to 31 feet are supported.

  • Distance from Carmel, CA: 45 minutes
  • Campground Features: accommodates trailers up to 31 feet, fire rings, drinking water, showers and bathrooms
  • Pets Allowed: Yes, dogs are allowed at the campsite, but not at the beach
  • Reservation Information: Reservations are available 48 hours ahead of time by visiting this page. Otherwise, the campground follows first-come, first-served rules.

9. Moss Landing (KOA Express)

Moss Landing KOA - Best Camping Spots Near Carmel and Monterey CA

Located in a quiet fishing village centered on the Monterey Bay, with easy access to the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, the Moss Landing KOA Express is a nature lover’s paradise.

It’s no wonder this spot is so popular, its location is so prime! You’re also just 30 minutes from the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, while Monterey Bay is 30 minutes to the south. If you don’t want to grab something from the on-site store, you’re within walking distance of several restaurants. There’s a farmer’s market just a block away.

The campground is open all year, with full amenities available. When you need to do some laundry and want access to clean facilities, this campground delivers an affordable outcome to enjoy. It’s close to the water, sharing a wall with the local boat dock parking.

RV parking of up to 60 feet is available, and only self-contained vehicles are permitted. That means no tents, car camping, passenger vehicles, cargo trailers, or converted vans/trailers. Sites consist of concrete-level slabs and very nice hookups. All sites have a patio table with benches.

The sites are packed in to maximize space, so you’ll want to think about bringing some privacy enhancements.

  • Distance from Carmel, CA: 25 minutes
  • Campground Features: cable TV, WiFi, patio table, restrooms with showers
  • Pets Allowed: Yes, but some dog breed restrictions are in place.
  • Reservation Information: Reservations can be made here.

Best Glamping Spots in Carmel, California

When you want the best camping experience possible while visiting Carmel-by-the-Sea, glamping sites deliver incredible opportunities to relax and explore. Whether you plan a day at Pescadero Point or head north to the Old Fisherman’s Wharf near Monterrey, you’ll feel rested and refreshed when staying at any of the following locations.

10. Carmel Valley Ranch

Carmel Valley Ranch - Where To Stay in Carmel CA
Courtesy of Booking.com

With 500 acres of fun to explore, you can design an experience that suits your needs at this glamping spot. Whether you prefer hanging around the facility’s farm, working with their horses, or relaxing in one of their play-and-productivity pods, you can have a glass of wine from the vineyard while enjoying the beautiful weather.

There’s even a par-70 Pete Dye-designed golf course on the grounds. You can book a tee time here.

The suites at Carmel Valley Ranch are absolutely gorgeous–they include a private deck and bathrooms with separate showers and soaking tubs.

There is also a full-service spa, 9 tennis courts, golf lessons, 2 outdoor pools, a gym, hot tubs, and scenic hiking trails. All amenities are included. Pets are also welcome!

  • Distance from Carmel: 13 minutes
  • Pets Allowed: Yes
  • Reservation Information: Reservations are available through Expedia or Booking.com

11. Fernwood Resort

Fernwood Resort - Camping in Carmel CA
Courtesy of Booking.com

Originally established in 1932, this rustic camping location close to Big Sur has delivered one of the friendliest experiences in the region from its first day of operations. You’ll find a “tavern” on the grounds where a laugh is virtually guaranteed as you connect with fellow travelers.

When you’re not enjoying the motel’s sun terrace or mountain views, you can enjoy a meal at the restaurant or a drink at the bar. A grocery store is also on the site.

Numerous camping options are available, ranging from a motel to RV camping. The adventure tents are what deliver the glamping experience, providing a luxurious space that includes a fire pit and a picnic table. When it gets a bit chilly, an electric tent heater is included, along with linens and towels.

Unfortunately, pets are NOT allowed at Fernwood Resort.

  • Distance from Carmel: 37 minutes
  • Pets Allowed: NO
  • Reservation Information: You can check availability and make reservations here.

12. Vision Quest Ranch (Safari Bed & Breakfast)

This glamping experience markets itself as the closest one can get to having a safari in Africa without leaving the United States. You’ll hear the lions and tigers roaring just yards away from where you sleep at night, which is a tent-style bungalow decorated in an African style while delivering the comforts of a modern hotel.

Several interiors for your glamping experience are available, including giraffes, zebras, and big cats. Some are 100% ADA-compliant.

You can spend time with many of the animals that live on the grounds during your stay, especially with the Breakfast on Safari experience offered.

The facility has several viewing decks just a short walk from each bungalow, allowing you to get even closer to the animals. You’ll also get a fantastic view of the Salinas Valley while only minutes away from Carmel.

Each bungalow has access to full amenities, but pets are not permitted.

  • Distance from Carmel: 30 minutes
  • Pets Allowed: NO
  • Reservation Information: You can check availability and make reservations here.

Best Backpacking Sites in Northern California

Northern California provides some incredible backpacking opportunities because the different environments are so varied. When you’re up by Mount Shasta City, you have the rugged Sierras, old-growth forests, and isolated trails to enjoy.

When you come further south by Carmel, you have the Pacific coast to enjoy with all its splendor.

If you love strapping on a backpack to enjoy a lengthy excursion, these backpacking camping sites near Carmel provide a safe spot to rest while getting ready for the next day’s adventures!

13. Andrew Molera State Park Trail Camp

Andrew Molera State Park - Big Sur Itinerary Guide - Travels With Elle

For those who are looking to head to Carmel and the Big Sur area for the weekend but don’t have a reservation, Andrew Molera is a great first come first serve campground right by the beach.

Campers visiting this site will need to park in the day-use lot. It’s about a quarter-mile walk to the campground, which is where you’ll find 22 standard tent sites and two hike-and-bike options.

Campsites will be located in a meadow near the river, each with a picnic table, fire pit, and food storage containers available. Potable water with flush toilets is present, but there aren’t any showers.

Reservations fill up for the standard campsites at least six months in advance, including during the off-season months. You’ll need to visit Reserve California to ensure your time is available. Read more about this campground here.

Although this is an extremely busy campground that often books up way in advance, it is definitely one of the prettiest we have visited. If you want more of a secluded spot, be sure to stay in one of the loops farther in the back!

  • Distance from Carmel: 30 minutes
  • Campground Features: picnic table, fire pit, food storage containers, drinking water, flush toilets
  • Pets Allowed: NO
  • Reservation Information: Make reservations at Reserve California

14. Bottchers Gap Campground (CLOSED)

Although this campground has been closed since 2016, it is still one of the best spots near Carmel for backpackers. There aren’t many amenities included with its infrastructure, but it does provide an organized spot to pitch a tent on a long hike.

Jot this one down on your Big Sur/Carmel camping bucket list in case it even opens back up again!

15. Nacimiento Campground: Las Padres National Forest

Nacimiento Campground is a small campground along the side of a mountain stream approximately 11 miles east of Kirk Creek Campground, up Nacimiento Ferguson Road. It’s open throughout the year during all seasons, but the best times to visit are during spring and fall. Only 9 sites are available, nestled in the oak trees.

Since this one is more of a rustic spot, you’ll need to bring your own water with you. Picnic tables and toilets are available to use. A 14-day maximum stay limitation does apply, and everything is based on first-come, first-served.

Fees are currently $20 per night, but they are subject to change at any time.

  • Distance from Carmel: 1 hour 55 minutes
  • Campground Features: picnic table, fire pit, picnic area, grills, vault toilets
  • Pets Allowed: Yes
  • Reservation Information: No Reservations are necessary all sites are first come first serve.

Are You Ready to Start Exploring Carmel-by-the-Sea?

Camping in Carmel provides an affordable way to enjoy the beauty of this region without compromising on comfort, safety, or access. Making the choice to be one with nature in such a peaceful area in Monterey County will enable you to have a very picturesque and unique getaway, vacation, or extended weekend.

Whether you prefer tent camping, RV access, glamping, or something a bit more rustic, the options near Carmel, CA will provide you with a truly memorable experience.

Be sure to reserve your spots early when you can to ensure you can snag a great site with access to all amenities you want!

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