Curled up along California’s central coast is Carmel-by-the-Sea with some of the most beautiful camping options in California. This quaint village located in Monterey County is only one square mile and is often referred to as simply Carmel. Below are some of the best camping in Carmel locations as well as nearby hikes and day trips.
The distance from San Francisco to Carmel is a little over two hours, as Carmel is just about 130 miles south of San Francisco. From Monterey to Carmel it’s only about a 4.2-mile drive. Breathtaking views are bound to be experienced as one rolls down from Monterey along CA-1N coming into the heart of Carmel.
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Carmel is well-known for the Carmel Mission historical site; one of several missions built to sustain the sojourners of older time periods as they traversed the sprawling Californian terrain. The small town is also famous for hordes of migrating whales and it’s array of libraries and museums. It also is the home of Clint Eastwood, who served as mayor in the 1980s.
Carmel Beach is conveniently situated right at the foot of Ocean Avenue, and just a mile south of that is Carmel River Beach. The Scenic Bluff Path connects the famed Carmel Beach surfing locale to the Carmel River State Beach, which is known for its aviary wonders. Carmel River Beach even hosts a scuba entry point.
10 Best Camping Spots in Carmel California
Carmel by the sea camping is absolutely breathtaking, but there aren’t an abundance of choices within the 1-mile city limit. Because Carmel is such a small town, we’ve chosen to include camping options in some of the towns nearby such as Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach, Marina, Salinas, and even Big Sur. We have a variety of options including beaches in Carmel California, camping on the coast to camping among the Redwoods.
1. Carmel by the River RV Park
Carmel by the River RV Park is a great RV park option. It is a 7 mile or 14-minute drive from Carmel’s center. It is a drive-in park and they do not permit tent camping, however, if you have an RV, this may be Carmel by the Sea RV park for you. Carmel by the River RV Park is situated a hop, skip, and a jump away from river access via Garland Ranch Regional Park.
The park itself is only about the size of a football field. Reserve a space, drive-in, and you can pick out one of their incredible RV sites. It is located in a serene neighborhood location, so the majority of sounds you will hear will be those of the nature that surround the 35 RV spaces.
Boasting full RV hookup sites (including electric, water, sewer, wi-fi, and cable TV, this park is definitely a higher-end option when it comes to glamping in style. Bathrooms with hot showers are located on the property. For a great time, check out the recreation room which hosts pool table games, air hockey, and ping pong.
One of the many things that makes this campsite special is that they offer not only sites for standard RVs but also wider spaces for big rigs. Some of the types of campsites they offer are standard, premium, primo, wide, deluxe, mega, and even primo, with private spaces. The also offer RV Vacation rentals for those who don’t have an RV of their own.
There is plenty of space here to enjoy a peaceful camping in Carmel experience while you lounge in comfort. Final site reservations for this Carmel, California campground can be made on the day of arrival.
2. Monterey Veterans Memorial Park
Located adjacent to Monterey’s 81 Acre Huckleberry Hill Nature Preserve on the Monterey Peninsula, and only a quick 12 minute and just 4.4-mile drive from Carmel, the Veteran’s Memorial Park is another fantastic site for camping near Carmel.
Some of its amenities include clean bathrooms, a fire pit, and tent camping. Its 40 campsites are delightful accommodation, given all the nearby hiking options. One special feature of the park is that it’s large enough to host large groups of youths (up to 100 people at a time) for overnight camping, making it a popular option for events.
3. Saddle Mountain Ranch, RV and Campground
Saddle Mountain Ranch in Carmel is only 7.3 miles from the center of Carmel by the Sea, making it a quick 15-minute drive from many of Carmel’s most popular restaurants and museums. It can be found within 89 acres of forest land near Carmel Valley Road, which is only five miles from Highway 1.
You can hike or drive into the camp area. Campers can choose between reserving an RV spot with full hookups or camping in one of the provided-for decadent tent sites. They also offer three luxury glamping sites as well as cabin rentals.
Some of the amenities include hot showers and bathrooms, ping-pong, horseshoes, and badminton as well as their Saddle Mountain Trail which leads up into the forest. A glimmering swimming pool also awaits.
4. Luxury Tent Glamping at Saddle Mountain
Only a ten-minute drive from Carmel’s city center is a sophisticated experience with glamping. This luxury tent camping experience is located within Saddle Mountain Ranch, a very short drive from the soft white sands of Carmel Beach. The Luxury Tent is a single campsite that’s fitted with one comfy bed. In addition to this site, there are two additional glamping sites available as a vacation rental.
Outdoor seating, hot showers, a propane BBQ pit, and an outdoor kitchen sink give it a complete domestic feel all within the parameters of nature’s beautiful features. A heated pool on the edge of a central Californian tree-scape is open during the summer and the beginning of Autumn. The hiking trails and horseshoes are enveloped in serene surroundings that allow the eyes to rest comfortably. Reserve via Airbnb or Saddle Mountain Ranch.
5. Moss Landing KOA
Moss Landing KOA is located within the heart of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in a seaport. This fishing village is only a 25 minute or a 22-mile drive from the center of Carmel-by-the-Sea. The amazing forest terrain is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean where otters, sea lions, and harbor seals are seen regularly.
This is another excellent site for fully self-contained RV campers. Beaches and restaurants are only a quick jaunt away from the lovely campgrounds. One of the splendors that makes this camping site unique is that you can take a whale-watching trip from the harbor nearby. Reservations are allowed, but check their website and call for more details.
Pets are welcome, but check the website for breed restrictions.
Note: tent-campers, car campers, converted vans, and trailers are not permitted.
6. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is an excellent option for some of the best tent camping near Carmel-by-the-Sea. It’s only 28 miles from Carmel, and it’s a wildly popular campground for visitors to the region because it offers 189 sites for camping and many of the sites look out across the beautiful Big Sur River.
Nicknamed a “mini Yosemite”, Pfeiffer State Park is home to innumerable Redwood trees which can live up to 2,200 years old. Your camping accommodation will be a short walk (if not directly adjacent to) the gorgeous array of cottonwoods, sycamores, oaks, and resplendent redwoods.
Making a reservation at any Big Sur campgrounds is definitely advised, as many people book out the spots up to six months in advance. Most sites have space for two cars, and towed vehicles and trailers are counted as vehicles. RV camping is only allowed for those en route, so if you only need to stay one night (between 5 PM- 9AM), this park may work for your needs.
Amenities include the hot showers on-site. Firewood is available for purchase and can be burnt in the provided metal fire rings. The Big Sur Lodge is in the park and has 61 guest rooms and a grocery store. It’s a perfect place for hiking to the Big Sur River Gorge, only a half-mile round trip. The Buzzard’s Roost hike will have you overlooking an expansive view into the depths of the Pacific Ocean’s horizon.
7. The Redwood Tent Top Cabin in the Oaks
Do you prefer camping in a tent-topped cabin over glamping or an RV? You may find that the Redwood Tent Top Cabin offers the perfect balance of characteristics you may find camping outdoors and the coziness of being in a luxury inn. This private campsite is located in the middle of a 2-acre meadow and is available for up to three guests.
It’s complete with potable water, a roofed-in kitchen, picnic table, and endless hot showers contained in a private bathroom. It’s also available year-round. This spot in a Redwood grove is only a 45-minute drive from Carmel-by-the-Sea and is 25 minutes from Carmel Valley Village. Reserve via hipcamp.com
8. The Quail Nest
For those who want to go glamping in Carmel, The Quail Nest is a luxury tent camping space located amidst two other camping spots in Andrew Molera State Park and within the Los Padres forest.
It’s only about 25 minutes from Carmel Valley Village and 50 from Carmel-by-the-Sea. Each camping space is self-contained, and with the main house being 300 feet from the Quail Nest, there is plenty of space for pure serenity as well as fun recreational activities. The private bathroom is located within another tent and has a shower and toilet.
A gas BBQ grill and outdoor sink await visitors. Swim at the Carmel River, which is only a five-minute walk from the property. Fishing and kayaking options are available at the Los Padres Dam which is only a short hike away from the property. Reserve via hipcamp.com.
9. Salinas/Monterey KOA
Just a quick 25-minute drive (24 miles) from Carmel-by-the-Sea, the Salinas/Monterey KOA is a great option for large groups. This park does not support or allow for tent camping, however, they have cabin rentals and offer numerous amenities for those with RVs.
They offer standard KOA amenities, such as hot showers and RV hookups as well as cottages. The property has a general store, a heated swimming pool that’s open year-round, and cable TV. It’s only a short drive away from many wineries and Monterey’s Cannery Row, which is recognized worldwide largely because of John Steinbeck’s famous novel.
Going out to the aquarium, seeing the Monarch Grove Sanctuary, or visiting the 17-mile long drive alongside Pebble Beach’s Golf Course would make for an excellent day trip. The Gilroy Garlic Festival in a neighboring town, Gilroy, occurs annually in late July, and the amount of events that occur regularly in Monterey is nearly endless. Reserve a campsite upon arrival or over the phone right beforehand.
10. Monterey Pines RV Campground
The Monterey Pines RV Campground is a military campground. It is open year-round to all active duty, reservists, retirees, family members and DOD Civilians. It offers 29 full RV hookups and 8 partial RV hookup sites and is only 12 minutes or 5.6 miles away from the center of Carmel.
Enjoy their exceptional amenities, such as hot showers, and feel free to make use of the coin-operated laundry facility. Active military members can reserve a site up to four months in advance. Free wifi stretches across the majority of the campground.
Day Trips/Nearby Hikes
If you are camping in Central California there are numerous great hikes and day trips you can take from your campground. Or, if you don’t have time to camp, but want to experience the beautiful outdoors, there are great places for hiking during a trip to Carmel. Atop the northern crest of the Santa Lucia Mountains, the trails encounter open oak areas and spectacular vistas.
Andrew Molera State Park
Andrew Molera State Park is full of marvelous bending hiking trails that curve past the beach from the mouth of the Big Sur River to Cooper Point. An expansive trail- The Panorama Trail- glimpses a pygmy Redwood forest. Hike or bicycle across the miles of grasslands and coastal shrubs. It’s only a 35 minute/23.5 mile drive from Carmel-by-the-Sea.
The Carmel Highlands
The Carmel Highlands are an ideal day trip for a beautiful hike. The park runs alongside Monastery Beach where you can catch a view of the marvelous west coast sunsets in action. In the springtime, you can hike amidst more than 25 varieties of wildflowers which grow in abundance along both sides of the paths of the highlands. The meadows trail is a perfect trail for novice and experienced hikers alike. It’s only a 12 minute drive/5.2 miles from the center of Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Garland Ranch Regional Park
If you are camping in Monterey or Carmel, Garland Ranch is a great day trip for outstanding views and hiking trails. There are several self-guided hikes at Garland Ranch Regional Park that range from easy to strenuous. The trails are well-marked and well-maintained but don’t feel overly manicured. The trails and park are most known for their spectacular views along the Monterey Peninsula
What is your top camping in Carmel California location? Are you planning any additional camping in Central California? Let us know in the comments below.
Alexa Meisler is the editorial director of 52 Perfect Days. Born in Paris, France she has since lived in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon. She currently resides in San Diego with her husband and son where they enjoy exploring California and Mexico.
Travel has always been a part of her life; traveling to such places as Morocco, Tangiers and Spain as a young child as well as taking many road trips to Mexico with her grandparents as a young girl. Since then, she has traveled abroad to locations such as Russia, Taiwan and throughout Europe.
Prior to working at 52 Perfect Days she was a freelance travel writer; focusing on family and women’s adventure experiences.