October 27, 2022 5 min read

Car campers on the coast

Some say the West Coast is the best coast. Stretching over three states - California, Oregon, and Washington, it boasts stunning beaches and perfect surf breaks.

No wonder that a road trip is one of the greatest ways to explore it - you will be able to enjoy the gorgeous scenery and take the journey at your own pace. Besides, when traveling by car, you have the opportunity to stay at the beautiful campsites that the region offers.

Read ahead to find out which car camping sites of the Pacific Coast are the most picturesque and convenient, and get inspired for your next adventure!

California

California has the third-longest coastline in the US, so there are plenty of campsites overlooking the ocean for you to enjoy.

Salt Point State Park

Fisk Mill Cove view

If you are wondering where to go car camping in California, Salt Point State Park should definitely be on your list. It is a gem of the Sonoma coast that features multiple sights and activities that you don’t want to miss, such as:

  • Fisk Mill cove
  • Inshore kelp beds
  • Red abalone diving

You are sure to enjoy the two campgrounds located in this area, Woodside and Gerstle Cove.

Besides, after setting up your car camp, you can explore the excellent hiking routes with fantastic views - the Stump Beach and Bluff trail, as well as the trails in the adjacent Kruse Rhododendron Reserve.

Black Sands Beach

Black Sands Beach near Shelter Cove

The Black Sands Beach is located in the southern part of the iconic Lost Coast Trail but is luckily also accessible by car. It is definitely worth a visit for its dark sand and a breathtaking view of the Pacific ocean.

Some things to consider before stopping by Black Sands Beach are:

  • Some areas of the Lost Coast are not accessible during high tide. Check the tide charts in advance to know which campsite to choose.
  • The weather conditions in this region are known for dramatic changes, so make yourself aware of the forecast.
  • Hike difficulty. If you plan to leave your car camp to do some hiking, keep in mind that the southern section of the Lost Coast Trail is rather challenging.

Note that camping at the Black Sands Beach trailhead is not allowed. Head north of Telegraph Creek for a good car camping spot.

Gold Bluffs Beach

Car camping on a starry night

 

Another beautiful camping site in California accessible by car is the Gold Bluffs Beach in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

It has earned the love of its visitors with the unobstructed view of the ocean and amazing sunsets. The spot is also very low in light pollution, which makes it a perfect place for night sky photography.

You can expect to have the following amenities on-site:

  • Picnic table
  • Fire pit
  • Bear canister
  • Public bathrooms and showers

Some nuances to take into account are:

  • You will have to drive through a dirt road to get to the camp spot
  • Paid entry (approximately $35/night)
  • The campground has a first come, first served policy, but reservations are also possible
  • The water can get really cold around here

Also, within a mile’s drive down the dirt road, you’ll find forest hiking trails with creeks and waterfalls.

Limekiln State Park

Car camping sites at Limekiln State Park

 

The Limekiln State Park offers car campers an incredible location by the beach in Big Sur. This area is surrounded by cliffs and features a river cascading into the Pacific ocean.

You are sure to enjoy the natural surroundings, as the area has a redwood forest, waterfalls, and multiple hiking trails.

As the name of the state park suggests, it is famous for its lime kilns, so be sure to check those out.

You will find the campground below a bridge along Route 1 of the Pacific Coast Highway. It consists of two sections, located approximately 200 yards away from each other, with bathrooms and showers between them.

Every camp spot offers the following facilities:

  • Space for at least one vehicle
  • Picnic table
  • Fire pit
  • Flat area for the tent

If you plan to go hiking, bring warm clothes with you, as the weather conditions between the beach and the redwood forest tend to be contrasting.

Montaña de Oro State Park

Spooner’s Cove view

Do you want to enjoy a camp spot in a secluded cove? Then the camping ground of Montaña de Oro State Park is a perfect choice. 

You will find the peaceful campsite just across the road from Spooner’s Cove, a renowned landmark of the area.

If you have time to stay for a while, a hike on the Valencia Peak trail will not disappoint.

Oregon

Oregon is well-known for its stunning scenery and natural wonders. The state is home to the deepest lake in the United States, painted hills, Smith Rock, and, of course, the Oregon Coast.

Below are our top picks of vehicle-friendly campsites overlooking the Pacific ocean:

Cape Lookout

Cape Lookout scenery

 

This peninsula extends two miles into the Pacific Ocean from Oregon's coastline. Apart from sandy beaches and scenic trails, it features over 170 locations to stay overnight, including car camping sites.

Besides, you can add some extra adventure to your itinerary by doing whale watching. The peak seasons for this activity are spring and fall.

Ophir Wayside State Park

 

The Ophir Wayside State Park is known for its pristine and secluded beaches. Its territory has several rest areas with picnic tables and bathrooms.

If you are in search of a car campground, Honey Bear resort is a top-rated option overlooking the sea.

Washington

Car camp at a beach

Washington state has a diverse climate and a spectacular landscape, with its active volcanoes, alpine scenery, rainforests, desert plains, and canyons. Thus, rest assured that your trip along its coastline will not lack natural beauty.

Some great car camping spots along the way are:

Rialto Beach

Sea stacks at Rialto Beach

 

Car campers love to visit Rialto Beach for the following reasons:

  • Beginner-friendly hiking trails
  • Proximity to the town of Forks
  • Views of offshore islands
  • Hole-in-the-wall sightseeing

Three miles away from the beach is the 94-site Mora campground. Note that it is crucial to make a reservation, as it gets busy, especially during peak season from June to September.

Pacific Beach State Park

Camp spot at the beach

 

The Pacific Beach State Park campground is extremely popular among travelers. This is due to the fact that it’s the only state park car camping spot in Washington with an ocean view.

The location’s size is only 10 acres, so it fills up really quickly - make sure you arrive in advance.

Although this place is perfect for beach walks, be prepared for strong winds in spring and early summer. Besides, rangers do not recommend swimming or body-surfing, as the riptides are very strong.

Second Beach

Second Beach at low tide

 

The crown jewel of Washington’s Olympic National Park, the Second Beach campground, is not accessible by car. However, it’s only 0,7 miles away from Quileute Indian Reservation, and it’s very well-worth parking your vehicle and hiking this short distance.

Apart from a place to pitch your tent, you will get a chance to experience the following:

  • Massive, picturesque sea stacks
  • Natural arch at the northern end of the beach
  • Tide pools during low water
  • Incredible sunsets and sunrises ideal for taking photos

Be mindful that you will need a wilderness permit to camp at Second Beach.

Some campers decide not to leave their vehicle behind for the night and prefer sleeping in the car or in a rooftop tent. In this case, you can also return to the car after sunset. After all, the trail is that easy - simply take a headlamp with you, and you’re good to go.

Getting Ready for the Road Trip

Can’t resist the urge to go on a West Coast road trip? Great, because it sure will be an experience of a lifetime!

Here are our top three pieces of advice before you set out on the journey:

  1. Pack for your adventure wisely and only use reliable, top-quality gear.
  2. Follow the seven Leave no Trace principles to travel sustainably.
  3. Remember that booking car camping sites in advance is always recommended.

And, of course, don’t forget your camera to capture all the beauty you’ll see along the way!


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