How to Book a Summer Campground: Big Sur, Leo Carrillo, Yosemite

Yes, it’s still winter. But if you’re thinking of camping on the 4th of July — or anytime in July — now is the time to book at some of California’s most popular campgrounds.

California state parks use a reservation system that opens six months in advance of your intended stay. So if you are looking to book a campsite for the 4th of July the window of opportunity opens on the 1st 4am to 8am

And with the nationwide surge in interest in camping and other outdoor activities since the pandemic, the urgency this year may be even greater than usual.

The key to state park reservations is Reserve California, the online booking system that manages approximately 15,000 state park campgrounds throughout California. You can also book your campsite by calling (800) 444-7275 (8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.).

Some of the state’s most popular campgrounds include: Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, with approximately 190 sites for tents, trailers, and RVs; South Carlsbad State Beach and Leo Carrillo State Park in Malibu. (One hazard with booking Big Sur: The most direct route from Los Angeles on Highway 1, which is prone to landslide closures. Be sure to check highway status on the Caltrans website before driving to Big Sur ride.)

For national parks in California, including Yosemite and Joshua Tree, bookings are made through Recreation.gov. As the website notes, “Reservable campsites are available up to five months in advance at 7am PST on the 15th of each month. For example on 1st 15, arrival dates from 15th May to 14th June can be reserved and therefore the full potential arrival window would be 14th 16th to 14th June.”

In California state parks, campers are generally allowed to change reservations up to two times. The exception is Crystal Cove State Park in Orange County, where alterations are prohibited. (Demand for Crystal Cove’s oceanfront cottages is extremely high.)

Most state campgrounds do not accept online reservations until two days prior to arrival. But in the most popular federal and state destinations, all campsites are sold within the first few weeks or days, or sometimes hours, of availability.

In Yosemite, Recreation.gov warns, campgrounds “usually sell out in minutes.” To be competitive, log into your account (or create an account) before the 7am sales open.

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