Can You Camp Anywhere in California National Forest?

For travelers looking to explore the great outdoors and take in some of California’s most breathtaking landscapes, camping in one of the state’s national forests is an ideal way to experience this natural beauty. But before you can set out on your adventure, it’s important to understand the regulations and policies that govern camping in California’s national forests.

California has 18 national forests which are managed by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). The USFS has set forth rules and regulations regarding camping on public lands within each forest, including where you can camp, how long you can stay, and what type of camping is permitted. Some areas may be designated as developed campsites with amenities such as fire rings, picnic tables, and pit toilets; while others may be primitive sites with no amenities.

In general, developed campsites must be reserved in advance through or a private concessionaire. Primitive camping is usually allowed anywhere in the forest unless posted otherwise; however, there are some restrictions on where you can camp such as not within 200 feet of a water source or within 100 feet of a trail.

Fires: Campfires are allowed in most areas but must be kept below 3 feet high and 10 feet wide. Fires must also be contained within fire rings provided at developed campgrounds or rock rings built at primitive sites.

Weapons: Weapons are generally prohibited unless they are used for hunting during legal hunting seasons.

Noise: Loud noise is prohibited during certain hours (generally 10 pm – 6 am). Radios must also be kept at low volumes so as not to disturb other visitors.

Pets: Pets are allowed in most areas but must be kept on a leash at all times and all pet waste must be disposed of properly.

Trash: Campers must pack out all trash that they bring into the forest.


With a little bit of research and preparation, it is possible to camp almost anywhere within California’s national forests. However, it is important to abide by all rules and regulations set forth by the U.S Forest Service in order to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone who visits these beautiful outdoor spaces.

Photo of author

Chris Powell