If you’re looking for the most comprehensive Big Sur camping guide on the Internet, you’ve found it. We’ll highlight the best free camping sites around, as well as a few paid sites that offer some extra amenities.
Whether you’re camping in Big Sur for the first time or the hundredth, you’re sure to find some new tidbits of information here!
Can You Camp for Free at Big Sur?
Yes, there are some great locations where you can camp for free at Big Sur. While not every site is free, if you’re willing to do a little work to find a spot to pitch your tent or park your RV or camper, Big Sur has some of the most fantastic camping opportunities around.
Just be sure to know what you’re getting into if you head to a free campground, and make sure that you have all the supplies you need to get through your trip. Typically, free campgrounds do not offer any amenities or support staff for you to rely on for disputes or forgotten supplies.
Of course, if you’re looking for a few more amenities than a traditional campground offers, Big Sur has those too! Below we’ve broken down some of the most popular camping destinations at Big Sur!
Popular Free Camping Destinations at Big Sur
Most people enter national or state parks and camp along the forest service roads. While camping at these locations is often free, you might need to pay to enter the park. Once you’re there, it’s only a matter of finding a place to pitch your tent or park your camper for the night!
Finding the perfect location to settle in is part of the unique Big Sur experience. It’s a beautiful setting where you can camp for almost nothing – making it an ideal and affordable vacation spot!
While there are tons of perks using a free campground, everything isn’t perfect. Namely, free campsites aren’t regulated. This means if your camping neighbor acts a bit rowdy until late in the night – there isn’t much you can do.
Moreover, while you should always clean up after yourself while camping, some of your fellow campers may not follow this advice. This means some free campground sites may be messy and smelly.
This isn’t always the case of course, but you never know what you’re going to get with your fellow campers! If you go into the experience with an open mind – and a pair of earplugs – there’s no reason you can’t enjoy the experience regardless of those around you!
Nacimiento-Ferguson Road/Los Burros Road/Plaskett Ridge Road
While these are three different locations – they all offer a similar experience. All three roads are forest service roads along the Los Padres National Forest ridgeline.
Though all three roads offer free camping, you’ll need to claim a spot early due to the area’s popularity – otherwise, you might find that you don’t have anywhere to set up your tent for the night!
If you do get there early and get a spot, you’ll get rewarded with beautiful scenery and a night of free camping in one of the most iconic camping destinations in the world!
Prewitt Ridge Campground is one of the few campgrounds that allow free dispersed camping. However, there is no campground staff around, and the site is entirely unregulated. Furthermore, reaching the campground isn’t for the faint of heart.
It’s a long winding road, and you don’t want to get stuck up there. If you’re camping at Prewitt Ridge, make sure you have a 4WD vehicle.
Popular Paid Camping Destinations at Big Sur
If you don’t want to deal with the hassle or simply want continual access to Wi-Fi and bathrooms, there are some great campgrounds you can choose from at Big Sur.
One of the advantages of a paid campground is the staff who are there to regulate disputes – and because of this, there are typically far fewer of them.
Moreover, paid campgrounds are typically cleaner and better maintained than the free alternatives. So, if you have the cash and are looking for a great camping adventure at Big Sur, below are some of the most popular sites!
Pfeiffer offers over 180 campsites to choose from, so even if you’ve camped Big Sur a time or two, there is a new campground to explore! Pfeiffer campgrounds are reasonably priced – all of their options are under $50 a night.
Even better, they offer hookups for RVs and trailers, and there are no restrictions regarding type of camping equipment or size (i.e. large tents, RVs, campers – all ok!). Keep in mind these campgrounds typically book out months in advance – even during the offseason.
If you’re looking for a great camping adventure at Big Sur – make sure you book early so you’re not left out in the cold!
With only 12 camping spaces, landing a spot at Bottcher’s Gap can be a huge hurdle to overcome in and of itself. They only offer walk-in tent camping, so all you need to do is show up with your gear and food to enjoy a great night in the wilderness!
Bottcher’s Gap is a bit off the beaten path, so if you’re looking for a more secluded campground, this might be precisely what you’ve been looking for!
Just like the Bottcher’s Gap campground, there is limited camping space at Andrew Molera State Park. They only have 24 walk-in campsites, and they are on a first-come, first-served basis. They do not accept any reservations.
This makes landing a spot at Andrew Molera State Park a bit of a risk. However, if you do land a place to camp, it’s hike-in access only and gives you a bit of seclusion during your next trip to Big Sur.
Do You Need a Reservation for Big Sur?
The answer depends on whether you’re looking for a paid campsite or a free one. For almost every paid campsite, you’ll need a reservation – and they book out months in advance. For the free sites, it’s first come, first served, but they don’t have any real regulations.
That means once you’re there, you can stay for a week or a night, and no one is going to come and kick you out. However, if you can’t find anywhere to pull off and set up your tent or camper, you’re out of luck.
If you’re looking to camp for free at Big Sur without a reservation, get there early, so you’re sure to get a spot. If you’re finishing your long day of driving and won’t be getting there until later in the day, get a reservation, or you’ll likely be camping in a Wal-Mart parking lot far away from Big Sur.
Tips for Camping at Big Sur
The most important thing to consider when planning your camping trip to Big Sur is identifying the kind of experience you’re looking for.
If you’re looking for a family trip, spend the extra money to stay at a registered campsite. While it’s tempting to save a few bucks by staying at one of the free locations, they are entirely unregulated and might not be a family-friendly atmosphere.
However, if you’re looking for a bit more adventure and don’t mind the diverse personalities you’ll meet at the free campsites, it might be a great adventure. Just be sure you take care of the campsite and nature around you – even if others aren’t.
Also, keep in mind you’re not going to have any way to combat irresponsible behavior around you. So, if your neighbor is partying until four in the morning, there’s not much you can do to quiet them down and get a little shuteye.
If you’re still looking for more information about Big Sur, check out this comprehensive guide released by Big Sur California.
Things to Avoid While Camping at Big Sur
The biggest thing to avoid while camping at Big Sur is arriving late and not having a reservation.
Big Sur is one of the most popular camping destinations in the world, and spots fill up quickly. Even if you plan on finding a free place to camp, you’ll need to get there early to get a site.
Why is Big Sur Famous?
While there is some historical merit to Big Sur, the most popular reason people go camping at Big Sur is the scenery. It’s the most extensive stretch of undisturbed coastline in the continental United States and offers tons of aesthetic appeal.
Whether you’re looking for a couple of weeks in the forest, a few days at the beach, or a pristine camping destination, Big Sur has it all. Why settle for camping or a trip to the beach when you can do both?
Because Big Sur offers so much for so many different interests, it has maintained its popularity over the years.
Furthermore, since the area is protected, there’s little doubt that it will be a place you can escape into the wilderness for years to come!
The Aesthetic Appeal
Not only does Big Sur offer miles of undisturbed coastline, but it’s also a camper’s dream location nestled between dramatic cliffs and forests. This offers fantastic camp spots with ridges and overlooks that provide picture-perfect opportunities during your trip.
A Quick History
While the scenery is undoubtedly the main draw for Big Sur, there is some historical appeal too.
The first recorded history of this area begins before colonization. At that time, the area had three Native American tribes inhabiting the region as early as 3500 BC. These tribes – the Ohlone, Esselen, and Salinan – were nomadic hunter-gatherers.
The Spanish attempted to colonize the area in 1769. However, due to the harsh conditions in the region, they were mostly unsuccessful. However, disease spread to the local tribes and devastated most of the local populations.
While the areas officially changed hands a few times, most of that time, the region was mostly uninhabited. It wasn’t until 1853 that the first European settlers broke into the area.
From the 1860s to the early 1900s, settlers came and destroyed much of the accessible redwoods during the gold rush. However, the area was never inhabited as much as the other surrounding regions.
More recently, the area gained attention for the annual Big Sur Folk Festival, which took place from 1964 to 1971. While it hosted several big-name acts like Crosby, Stills, and Nash & Young, the event remained small and was free for anyone.
Unfortunately, the Big Sur Folk Festival no longer takes place, and there are no plans on the horizon for anything similar.
Since then, the region has become notorious for camping and hiking adventures, and California has protected almost two-thirds of the land from further development. That means that Big Sur should remain a pristine camping destination for years to come!
Special Events to Consider
Not only are there great camping and hiking opportunities, as well as beaches along Big Sur, but there are also several notable events for you to check out throughout the year.
The Big Sur Marathon
The Big Sur Marathon is the largest annual event to take place at Big Sur. While it’s not a huge event by any stretch of the imagination, it does draw over 4,500 runners annually. If you’re looking for a beautiful place to run a marathon, you can’t beat Big Sur!
However, keep in mind it’s not exactly an easy route for beginners given all the inclines along the route.
Big Sur River Run
If you’re not up for a full marathon, the Big Sur River Run is a great way to get out and run in the great outdoors for a great cause. Proceeds from the run support the Big Sur Volunteer Fire Brigade and the Big Sur Health Center.
Enjoy an iconic run along with a pristine location while supporting a great cause – what’s not to love?
Growing Popularity and the Future of Big Sur
While much of the region is protected, the growing popularity raises concerns for many Big Sur enthusiasts. While most campers take care of the area, some treat it with reckless abandon, especially at the free campsites.
Combine that with growing crowds and more drive-through tourists, and the area is under more and more scrutiny. However, since California has protected much of the area from further development, there’s hope that we can all enjoy this region for years to come!
One More Camp
If you’re looking for the camping trip of a lifetime, it’s hard to beat Big Sur. It’s one of the best ways to disconnect from your busy life and reconnect with nature in the midst of undisturbed coastline, mountains, and forest for miles around.
Whether you’re looking for a party atmosphere at one of their free sites, or a perfect and affordable family getaway, Big Sur is a great choice! Just make sure to plan your trip accordingly and plan out your adventure in advance!
While it can be a ton of fun to jump in your car and go on an adventure at a whim, Big Sur is a bit too popular for that now. But with a little forethought there is still plenty of opportunity to enjoy this great destination.
What are you waiting for? Start planning your next trip to Big Sur today!