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Bernardus Lodge, Carmel Valley
Camping at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Camping at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park


Anyone who has camped in Monterey County knows that every campsite in the region is enviable in one way or another. But there's a few specific campsites in the county that those in the know try to book over and over again.

Have an even better vacation in the great outdoors. Don't miss our article on Monterey County's Top 10 Day Hikes!

1. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Big Sur

Sunset Magazine named the two sites at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park as one of the "best spots to pitch a tent on the coast." Bob Cole of California State Parks says these sites are "the best camping on the Big Sur coast, if not the best on the California coast." The consensus among the cognoscenti is that these two spots deserve the number one slot, and they take the top two spaces on our Top 10. The two unimproved sites are perched above McWay Falls, and have breathtaking views. They are both tent-only sites, and campers must hike a half mile with their gear and supplies to get to their spot. Plan ahead if you want these sites; they are usually booked six months out.

2. Limekiln State Park, Big Sur, site 1

Recently reopened Limekiln State Park has a truly spectacular campground; sites are located within a redwood grove and alongside Limekiln Creek. Obtaining a site at this park requires serious effort; all sites are currently first-come, first-served. If you are incredibly lucky, you'll score site 1, the most secluded site at Limekiln State Park's campgrounds. Set up your camp chair outside your tent or small RV and enjoy the breathtaking ocean views.

3. Veteran's Memorial Park, Monterey, site 35

Veteran's Memorial Park is Monterey's best-kept secret, a campground tucked into the forest only a mile from downtown Monterey. The campground perfectly combines scenic beauty and urban convenience. While Veteran's Memorial Park has a number of stellar campsites, one stands out as the best: site 35, which is the most isolated campsite. Camp at site 35 and you may feel like you've found your own private campground.

4. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Big Sur, site 218

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, nicknamed "Mini Yosemite," is the most popular camping destination in Monterey County. The Big Sur River Gorge is one of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park's most popular attractions. Stay at site 218 and you'll practically be on top of it. Site 218 is also adjacent to the popular Big Sur River Gorge hiking trail. The partially shaded site allows campers up to 24 feet in length.

5. Fremont Peak State Park, northern Monterey County, site 14

Tucked into the northeast corner of Monterey County, Fremont Peak State Park has spectacular views that extend over several California counties, as well as an astronomical observatory that is open to the public once a month. The sites are very rustic, but if you enjoy roughing it, you'll be rewarded with views from Santa Cruz to Carmel and beyond during the day and the Milky Way bright above you at night. On moonless Saturday nights, hike over to the Observatory to watch the stars. Visitors who like camping and stargazing compete to stay at site 14. It's one of the few campsites that is first-come, first-served, and is said by astronomy buffs to be the best spot to set up your telescope.

6. Andrew Molera State Park, Big Sur

For a camping area with a Burning Man-meets-Woodstock vibe, your perfect spot is the campground at Andrew Molera State Park. This first-come, first-served unimproved campground is for the outdoor enthusiast seeking rugged, pure tent camping. It has picnic tables, fire rings, vault toilets...and that's it. Campers must carry their gear (including drinking water) about a quarter mile from the parking lot to the grassy field where primitive camping takes place. Once you get there, you'll hear the crashing waves as you set up your tent. Campers share picnic tables and fire rings, and it's not unusual for them to share food as well.

7. Laguna Seca Recreation Area, Salinas, site 145

Laguna Seca Recreation Area has a number of campsites with great views of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca (check out site 113, which has the best view of turn 6 and the hill up to the Corkscrew). But for pure relaxation, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca Vice President Melvyn Record recommends site 145. "It has a spectacular view of the [Salinas] Valley," Record says. When it's not in use, Record says he stops by just to drink in the scenic beauty. "If I need to decompress I like going there," Record says, "because it's quiet and it's just a great view."

8. Lake San Antonio, south Monterey County, Harris Creek Campground, Loop E

Lake San Antonio may be the most popular camping area for Monterey County residents. It has hundreds of campsites, and all have very different flavors. On the north shore of Lake San Antonio, visitors can camp right on the shoreline, a boon to those with boats. On the south shore, the campsites are further away from the water, but often more shaded. Harris Creek Campground wins some of the best reviews for its seclusion, tucked away where Harris Creek feeds into Lake San Antonio, its easy access to the lake, its views and the shade the trees provide. Within that campground, Loop E wins for the best combination of shade and proximity to the lake. Stay at the off season, and you may see bald eagles overhead.

9. Kirk Creek Campground, south Big Sur, site 22

Kirk Creek Campground, four miles south of Lucia on the west side of Highway One, feels like it's perched on the edge of the world. The campground is sited on a bluff overlooking the ocean, next to the creek from which it takes its name. One trail leads down to the beach; both Jade Cove and Sand Dollar Beach are only a short drive away. There's also a trail across Highway One that goes up into the redwoods. Though all the sites are fantastic, site 22, which allows RVs up to 39 feet, is slightly more secluded and right on the edge of the cliff. Don't be surprised if you spot migrating whales in the ocean.

10. Plaskett Creek Campground, south Big Sur, site 33

Plaskett Creek Campground is the sibling to Kirk Creek. It's located on the east side of Highway One, 5.5 miles south of Kirk Creek and directly across from Sand Dollar Beach and Jade Cove. The Monterey pines between the campground and the road provide a nice air of seclusion, great shade and a windbreak for the blowing ocean breeze. All of the sites are beautiful, but site 33, near Plaskett Creek, is set the furthest back from the highway and offers the most privacy.


Lay of the Land

Lay of the Land


County Map


Click on the links for high-resolution maps of Monterey County communities, suitable for printing: Monterey, Carmel and Carmel Valley, Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach, Salinas, Seaside, Marina, Sand City and Moss Landing.


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