California

Best Big Sur Campgrounds – plus the secret to snagging a weekend reservation

July 24, 2020
Bixby Creek Bridge in Big Sur

Due to its popularity, getting a reservation to go camping in Big Sur can be hard to come by. This guide will help you discover the best Big Sur Campgrounds and share the secret to snagging a weekend reservation!

If you’re driving the Pacific Coast Highway in Big Sur, the best way to slow down and soak it all in on the most beautiful stretch of California coastline is to plan a night camping here. There’s no better way to enjoy Big Sur than to pitch a tent with views of the ocean, or under the shade of giant coastal redwoods.

Camping in Big Sur fills up fast – summer weekends are usually booked up six months in advance. Plus, it’s a hodge podge of different systems; there are campgrounds in national forests, state parks, and even a few private ones. This guide will help you find the best camping spots in Big Sur without having to dig around and sift through a bunch of different websites. Just make sure you’re planning early to get a great Big Sur camping reservation.

I’ve noted which Big Sur campgrounds have a few first-come first-served campsites if you’re bold enough to chance it without a reservation (though don’t plan on them being empty if you pull up on a Friday night). I’ve also listed a few campgrounds that are a bit north or south of Big Sur in case you find yourself in a pickle and really need a place to stay the night. If you park on the side of the road overnight, you could get a $250 ticket!

If you’re new to camping, or just need a few more pieces of gear, check out this camping gear guide for all my favorites.

Sandy beach in Big Sur, California

Note about camping in Big Sur in light of the Coronavirus pandemic: A number of state campgrounds are still closed as of Summer 2020. Most national and private campgrounds are open, though they may have instituted specific measures to promote social distancing while camping. Please wear a mask, wash your hands often, and practice social distancing.  

Note: This post contains affiliate links. This means if you click on one of them, we may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. For more information, read our full disclosure

Wildflowers in Garrapata State Park in Big Sur California

Summer wildflowers in Garrapata State Park

A few things to know about Big Sur before your go

There is no cell service. From Carmel to about 90 miles south, you’re probably not going to get a signal. Download offline Google maps, book everything you need to ahead of time, and set a meeting spot and time if you’re trying to coordinate with friends.

Gas is really expensive. Like about 2x the price of a regular gas stations. Last time we were here, gas was over $6 a gallon compared to about $3/gallon in the Bay Area.

There are two gas stations located within Big Sur. One is connected to Big Sur Bakery, near Pfieffer Burns State Park. The other is located about 35 miles south of this, near Plaskett Creek Campground. Your best option is to fill up before or after you reach Big Sur (check out Gas Buddy for prices).

There aren’t very many food options. If you’re camping, take a trip to the grocery store and fill up your YETI cooler (seriously, one of our best camping purchases ever. It’s worth it). There are a few convenience stores and camp stores, but you’ll be paying at least double for a pack of hot dogs compared to if you’d just picked them up at the Costco in Monterey. If you’d like to eat out, here are a few options:

  • Big Sur Bakery
  • Big Sur Deli
  • Nepenthe
  • Café Kevah

If you find yourself in need of a bathroom, check out this list of bathrooms you can access for free. California State Parks provide access to restrooms without charging entrance fees, so you can always stop by a state park if you need to.

And finally, the best campgrounds in Big Sur. Don’t forget to read to the end for my best tip on booking over a popular summer weekend!


Best Campgrounds in Big Sur – from North to South

These campgrounds in Big Sur are all available for reservations, and most book up six months in advance. Several of them do have a few sites that are first-come-first-served, but often times people already camping at the campground that want to stay a few extra days are given first dibs on these sites.

Big Sur Campground and Cabins

  • Campsites: Over 90 campsites and cabins
  • Fee: $65-80 per night for tent/RV sites, $135 to $440 for cabins
  • Amenities: hot showers, fire pit, picnic table, tubing, volleyball & basketball courts, playground
  • Check Availability Here  

Big Sur Campground is privately owned, which means rates are bit higher than state or national parks. This campground is located along the Big Sur River and surrounded by redwood trees. It emphasizes its family friendly atmosphere, including quiet time starting at 10pm.

If you want the experience of camping in Big Sur, but a few more luxuries, then check out the cabins at Big Sur Campground. Camping cabin are available for rates from $135 to $185 and standard cabins are $200 to $440 depending on the season and maximum occupancy. The cabins are a great option during the winter as they feature kitchens and fireplaces.

Big Sur River

Riverside Campgrounds and Cabins

  • Campsites: 34 tent/RV sites and 11 cabins
  • Fee: $70-$80 per night, $180 to $275
  • Amenities: Tubing, camp store, showers, pincic table, fire pit, no sewer hookups or dump station for RVs
  • Check availability here

Riverside Campgrounds and Cabins is another privately owned operation with 34 campsites and 11 cabins on a beautiful 10-acre property along the Big Sur River. Several of the cabins include private bathrooms and a few kitchen appliances, like a fridge and coffee maker.  

Fernwood Campground and Resort

  • Campsites: 60 sites
  • Fee: $70-100 per night
  • Amenities: Flush toilets, showers, camp store, picnic table and fire ring, electricity hookups for RVs picnic table and fire ring
  • Check availability here

The Fernwood Campground borders the Pfieffer Big Sur State Park along its northern edge. It has 60 sites that feature a mix of tent and RV campsites, tent cabins, adventure tents for glamping, and cabins. Cabins range from $135 to $340 per night depending on the time of year and type of cabin. Fernwood also has a 12-room motel and Tavern within the resort.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park Campground

  • Campsites: 189 RV and tent sites; one cabin; two group sites available in summer
  • Fee: $35-50 per night
  • Amenities: Flush toilets, showers, fire pit with half-grill, picnic table, lodge store, dump station, no RV hookups
  • Check availability here

With 189 sites, the campground at Pfieffer Big Sur State Park is one of the largest and most popular places to go camping in Big Sur. Camp sites are situated along the Big Sur river, where a lot of people spend the day playing in the water. The area is shaded by redwoods. There isn’t a limit on the number of tents at your campsite, as long as they’re all within the boundary and not on the vegetation.

Popular trails in the park include the River Path, the Big Sur River Gorge, and the Valley View and Pfieffer Falls Trail. The park features a large Ampitheater for ranger program and sometimes holds evening events. This campground is located near Pfieffer beach and Andrew Molera State Park.  

En Route camping – If you’re just passing through in an RV, the En Route camping at Pfieffer Big Sur is a good option if you haven’t been able to book a regular site. Day Use parking lots 3 and 4 are available for one night only for self-contained RVs with onboard flush toilets only. You can park from 5:00 pm to 9:00 am the next morning.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Ventana Campground

  • Campsites
  • Fee: $80 per night
  • Amenities: Updated bathrooms, picnic table, fire ring, water faucets near campsites, restaurants nearby
  • Check availability here

Ventana Campground is located just south of Pfieffer Big Sur State Park in a 40-acre redwood canyon. It’s associated with the luxury resort Ventana Big Sur, where nightly room rates are several thousand dollars. Ventana Campground is a tent-only campground, with a mix of hike-in and drive up campsites. Camper vans and trucks with roof tents are also allowed.

For something in between tent camping and the Ventana resort, they also offer glamping with safari-style canvas tents, mattresses and premium linens.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park Campground

  • Campsites: 2 hike-in tent sites
  • Fee: $30 per night
  • Amenities: Picnic table, fire ring, and pit toilets. No water and no trash collection (must pack out all trash). The closest running water is across Highway 1 near the restrooms.  
  • Check availability here

While you may be confused with which Pfieffer campground is which, just know that the campground in Julia Pfeiffer Burns SP is one of the smallest with only 2 hike-in sites (and it’s technically the Saddle Rock Environmental Campground on the map, but when you look on the state park website it will be listed as the JP Burns’ Campground). The hike from the parking lot to the campsite is about ½ mile. Or you can park a few minutes down the road were there’s a turnout for a fire road. From here it’s only about 300 yards, but very steep, so pick your poison.  

These sites are typically booked out six months in advance year-round. Make reservations as soon as the slots open for a chance to get one of these spots, or periodically check back for cancellations. Four people max per campsite.

This campground is almost directly above McWay Falls, the most iconic spot in Big Sur. You can’t see the falls from the actual sites, but a 5-minute hike will bring it into view.

McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Limekiln State Park Campground

  • Campsites: 39 tent sites
  • Fee: $35 per night
  • Amenities: Picnic table, campfire ring with grill, water and showers, No RVS allowed
  • Check availability here

Limekiln State Park Campground offers some of the best camping in Big Sur, with half of the campsites located in the redwoods along Limekiln Creek, and the other half down by the beach with ocean views. Note that no RVS of any kind are allowed at Limekiln SP Campground. Campervans, including VWs Vans are only allowed at the oceanfront campsites.

The only downside to this spot is that day hikers that come to through Limekiln will walk through the redwood campground area to get to the trailheads. Don’t miss hiking to Limekiln Falls if you camp here!

Campground at Limekiln State Park in Big Sur, California

Limekiln Falls in Big Sur, California
Limekiln Creek in Big Sur, California

Kirk Creek Campground

  • Campsites: 33 tent/RV sites
  • Fee: $35 per night
  • Amenities: Picnic table, campfire ring with grill, vault toilets, no water or RV hookups
  • Check availability here

I’d vote Kirk Creek as the Big Sur campground with the best views. The campground is located the bluff with amazing ocean views. This campground is a mix of grassy and dirt campsites. A number of them are surrounded by poison oak, so be careful.  

You can take a short hike down to Kirk Creek and the rocky beach right below, just take the trail between campgrounds 9 and 11.  

Kirk Creek has two first-come, first-served tent/RV campsites. There are also a few walk-in only sites, meant for hikers coming through on the popular Vicente Flat Trail. In order to use these sites, you cannot drive a vehicle up to the campground.

Kirk Creek Campground in Big Sur

Kirk Creek Campground in Big Sur

Campsite at Kirk Creek Campground in Big Sur

Plaskett Creek Campground

  • Campsites: 43 tent/RV sites, 3 group campsites
  • Fee: $35 per night
  • Amenities: Picnic table, campfire ring with grill, Flush toilets, sinks and drinking water
  • Check availability here

The Plaskett Creek Campground is located right off the Highway one, across the street from the popular Sand Dollar Beach. This is the largest sandy beach in Big Sur; we didn’t find a lot of sand dollars, but a ton of sand crabs.

All campsites at Plaskett Creek are grassy, which always helps for a softer sleeping surface and keeping your camping gear a bit cleaner. In addition to the 43 sites you can reserve on recreation.gov, there are also two first-come, first-served sites.


Stunning views along the Big Sur Coast

The Secret to booking a weekend camping reservation in Big Sur

Ever since we moved up to Northern California a year ago, we’ve been looking forward to a weekend in Big Sur. After all, it’s only about two hours away now instead of six (from where we lived in Orange County), it’s got incredible beaches, surfing, hiking, and some of the most gorgeous coastline in all of California. But anytime I went to reserve a weekend spot at any of the Big Sur campgrounds, they were all booked up. I’d hop on first thing in the morning when the next Friday night was supposed to open up six months in the future, but it seemed like everyone beat me to it.

Both the national forest/park reservation website (recreation.gov) and the California state park reservation website (reservecalifornia.com) open up campsites on a six-month rolling basis. This means that every day, the day six months out becomes available to reserve. BUT, there’s a little trick here that lets you reserve days before they technically become available. As long as the first day of your reservation is open, you can then book up to fourteen days after that.  

In the screenshot example below of Kirk Creek Campground, say you wanted to camp on Friday, January 22nd. But, Friday night isn’t open to book yet because it’s six months and one day way. However, if you start your reservation on an earlier day that is already open (Thursday, Jan 21), then you can extend it through Friday night (Jan 22), or even two weeks after that.

This means that if you wait until that Friday to start booking the weekend, all of the campsites may already be booked up by people who started reservations earlier in the week and extended them through the weekend. In the screenshot, you can see that a number of the campsites are already reserved for the entire next week (noted as an ‘R’).  

Big Sur Camping Reservation example

My best tip for getting a weekend campsite is to plan a trip starting on a Thursday at the very least. Then you can book it Thursday through Saturday or Sunday.  

If you do end up booking extra days you don’t use, check the refund policy as you may be able to cancel those days ahead of time and get your money back.

And keep in mind, this screenshot example is for January, when Big Sur camping reservations are much easier to come by than in the summer. If you’re planning a trip in the middle of winter, you may be able to wait until the Friday opens up to make a reservation for a campsite. But if you’re trying to book for spring or summer, there likely aren’t going to be many weekends open that aren’t booked up by the Thursday before.  

Sitting around the fire at Kirk Creek Campground


Free Camping in Big Sur

It can be tough to find free camping in Big Sur, trust me, I’ve tried. Some of the areas where dispersed camping was previously allowed, it is now prohibited.  

Camping along Pacific Coast Highway is illegal. Camping along Nacimiento-Ferguson Road used to be a popular free camping spot in Big Sur, but is currently illegal. There is an order that expires August 19,2020 that bans camping along the Nacimiento-Ferguson Road, but these orders keep getting extended. Camping here can result in a fine of up to $5K.  

Prewitt Ridge seems to be the best bet for free dispersed camping in Big Sur. It is located high above the Big Sur Coastline, and you’ll most likely need a 4-wheel drive vehicle to get up the dirt road. The views and sunsets are fantastic, but it can get pretty warm in the summer. As this is dispersed camping, there are no amenities like water, toilets, or trash collection. Please follow leave no trace principles and pack out all your trash.  


If you end up without a camping reservation in Big Sur…

But still want to plan a trip, then here are your next best options.

Look at campgrounds that are a bit out of Big Sur. Your best bet is the San Simeon Creek Campground to the south, which has 115 campsites. This one is located near Hearst Castle where you can book a tour. It has a pretty interesting history, beautiful architecture and indoor pool.

Or, try a hotel or Airbnb a bit to the north in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Carmel has several quaint boutique hotels, like The Colonial Terrace, and the modern rustic hotel, The Hideaway.

I hope this guide helps you get an awesome Big Sur camping reservation! Let us know if you have any questions!

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