Boondocking santa barbara

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This article about free camping Santa Barbara is brought to you by Banner & Oak. Their hats will keep you shaded at these sunny southern California campgrounds.


Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains, Santa Barbara offers the perfect combination of adventure activities for outdoor enthusiasts. Whether you’d rather hit the beach with your surfboard or trek through some stunning wilderness trails on foot, this region of California has it all.

The best part is you can enjoy all Santa Barbara and surrounding areas have to offer without breaking the bank. Check out these 7 beautiful sites for free camping in Santa Barbara.

1. Arroyo Hondo Vista Point

poodle looking at sushi on a table

Image from The Dyrt camper MementoMori C.

If you’re looking for a free camping spot on your way to or from Santa Barbara, Arroyo Hondo Vista Point is the perfect location for an overnight stop that won’t cut into your road trip’s budget.

You’re limited to a single night stay due to an 8-hour parking limit, but you’ll enjoy access to the water since this spot is right on the coast. This is a great option for van lifers looking for a brief camping break with beautiful views and cell reception. There are no amenities, so you’ll need to be self-contained to enjoy Arroyo Hondo Vista Point.

“Easy to find, right on the highway one, some other campers were there. It’s not a place to stay for too long, but for spending one night it’s perfect, we stayed for about 12 hours.” – Hannah.

Campground Details:

  • Price: Free
  • Number of sites: Informal (no set number of sites)
  • RV sites: Yes
  • Fires allowed: No
  • Pets allowed: Yes

2. Lake Casitas Recreation Area

RV parked at campsite

Image from The Dyrt camper Raf A.

Just over a half-hour drive from Santa Barbara, Lake Casitas Recreation Area is a stunning location for free camping. They have various sites to accommodate tent campers or those traveling in RVs. The biggest draw for this dispersed camping site is the complete immersion in nature, just a stone’s throw away from a bustling city. Some sites are located right on the water, while others are tucked amongst the trees.

If you’re staying for several days, you can make use of a fenced, dry storage facility for kayaks and canoes. Amenities are minimal, and the sites are first-come, first-serve. Campers will have access to Wi-Fi, and water taps are located throughout the campsite. Keep in mind that not all campsites at Lake Casitas are dispersed, free camping sites.

“One of our first camping trips was to Lake Casitas recreation area. We were able to back up to the lake and literally fish off our rear bumper. I would recommend this place, and you should add it to your list.” – Clete B.

Campground Details:

  • Price: Free
  • Number of sites: 400+
  • RV sites: Yes
  • Fires allowed: Yes
  • Pets allowed: Yes

3. Los Padres National Forest Figueroa Campground

van parked in trees at sunset

Image from The Dyrt camper MementoMori C.

Figueroa Campground is located in the Los Padres National Forest near Santa Barbara, making this the perfect wilderness getaway within an hour of the city. While this campground does have some paid sites, it also offers dispersed camping for those looking to experience the great outdoors on a budget. Amenities are extremely limited, with no water or electrical hookups for RVs, though a sanitary dump is available.

Pets are welcome, and fires are allowed, permitted you use local firewood to avoid bringing invasive species to the area.

“This campsite with its gorgeous Manzanita Trees and forestry landscapes left us feeling at peace with nature. It was quiet and felt like we were a million miles from home (we live 2 hrs away). I highly recommend this site, and the hosts are fabulous.” –Allison A.

Campground Details:

  • Price: Free
  • Number of sites: 33
  • RV sites: Yes
  • Fires allowed: Yes
  • Pets allowed: Yes

4. Chorma Camp in Matilija Wilderness

tent dishelved by wind

Image from The Dyrt camper robherr

The reality is that free camping in Santa Barbara is limited, but if you’re willing to venture an hour and a half away from the city, you can enjoy a broad range of dispersed camping options, including the Chorma Camp in Matilija Wilderness.

For the adventurous backpacker, these dispersed camping spots deep in the Los Padres National Forest are accessible by hiking trail and offer an opportunity to be fully surrounded by untouched nature. With no amenities onsite, you’ll have to be okay with “roughing it” to reap the benefits of free camping at this location.

“There are no amenities at any of the campsites in this area, they are all primitive dispersed camp areas.” – robherr.

Campground Details:

  • Price: Free
  • Number of sites: Unknown
  • RV sites: No
  • Fires allowed: No
  • Pets allowed: Yes

5. Murietta Campground

rocks and mountains at sunset

Image from The Dyrt camper Stephanie W.

Just over an hour from Santa Barbara, Murietta Campground is one of four undeveloped, primitive dispersed campgrounds along the Matilija Creek Upper North Fork. Sites are exclusively for tent camping with no access for RVs or other vehicles. This is a fantastic experience for the adventurous hiker who doesn’t mind a lack of amenities in exchange for stunning views and no fees.

“We happened upon this campsite late at night, but the views the next morning were stunning, wish we could have stayed longer. There were bathrooms but didn’t see showers.” – Stephanie W.

Campground Details:

  • Price: Free
  • Number of sites: 3
  • RV sites: No
  • Fires allowed: No
  • Pets allowed: Yes

6. Chula Vista Campground at Mount Pinos

3 men on the peak of mount pinos

Image from The Dyrt camper John B.

If you’re willing to drive further away from Santa Barbara, Chula Vista Campground at Mount Pinos offers stunning views, epic hiking trails, and an outdoor experience unique from the rest of the region. Located at Mount Pinos, hikers who want a challenging trek will love the high altitude and cooler temperatures this campsite offers.

Mount Pinos is the tallest point in Ventura County, with its summit elevation measuring 8,848 feet. Chula Vista Campground is the perfect basecamp for exploring this area and scaling a mountain in California. Though it’s a 2-hour drive from Santa Barbara’s city center, this is a free camping experience you can’t get anywhere else in the region. Spots are first-come, first-serve, and while amenities are limited, there are bathrooms onsite.

“Love it that it’s a walk in campground so no cars or RVs. Lots of hiking trails nearby. It’s a lot cooler up here, so it’s a nice way to get away from the summer heat. Awesome area for stargazing.” – Antonio C.

Campground Details:

  • Price: Free
  • Number of sites: 12
  • RV sites: No
  • Fires allowed: No
  • Pets allowed: Yes

7. KCL Campground

grass field at sunset

Image from The Dyrt camper Tommy B.

KCL Campground is located a two and half hour drive outside Santa Barbara’s downtown core and offers scenic views of distant mountains on BLM land. To take advantage of the best free camping in Santa Barbara, you may need to travel a little farther outside the city than you would for paid camping, but the savings and views are well worth it.

This campground offers 12 sites, 2 of which are ADA accessible. There are limited amenities with no electricity, water, or garbage disposal service, but campers can enjoy fire pits, picnic tables, and even horse corales.

Hikers and horseback riders alike will love the views, trails, and wide open spaces for walking or riding. From KCL Campground, you are just a 20-minute drive away from the Carrizo Plain National Monument, marking the largest single native grassland that still remains in California.

“Great spot to relax. There are some nice hiking options, as well.” – Tommy B.

Campground Details:

  • Price: Free
  • Number of sites: 12
  • RV sites: Yes
  • Fires allowed: Yes
  • Pets allowed: Yes

It can be challenging to locate spots for free camping in Santa Barbara, but with this list of 7 incredible sites in the area, you can explore more of California’s wilderness without going broke. Free camping is just a taste of what Santa Barbara has to offer outdoor enthusiasts. For more ideas on where to camp in Santa Barbara, explore The Dyrt’s full list.


This article about free camping Santa Barbara was brought to you by Banner & Oak.

Banner & Oak - Best Trucker Hats

Check out their variety of hats and caps before going to any of these campgrounds.

Sours: https://thedyrt.com/magazine/local/free-camping-santa-barbara/

Dispersed Camping

The Santa Lucia Ranger District offers a diversity of outdoor opportunities. These lands are yours - to visit, to care for, but most of all, to enjoy. What are you waiting for? Pack up your family and friends and head for adventure in America's Great Outdoors. The Santa Lucia Ranger District offers a variety of recreational opportunities... hiking and backpacking, trail riding by horse, mountain biking, off-highway vehicles, hunting, camping and picnicking, and don't forget vibrant wildflower displays each spring especially in the Figueroa Recreation Area.

Recreation passes are required for use of certain recreation sites and areas in the forest, and for certain facilities and services. 

Parks Management Concession Company

For more information about concession-managed campgrounds and day use areas in the Los Padres National Forest, please visit: www.campone.com.

Adventure Pass

On the Santa Lucia Ranger District, the Adventure Pass is only required at the following campgrounds: Hi Mountain, Miranda Pine, Horseshoe, Bates, Brookshire and American Canyon (deer hunting season only). Contact the Santa Lucia Ranger District office for more information about purchasing and using the Adventure Pass. (805) 448-6487 or contact your nearest Big 5 Sporting Goods Store.

Disperse Camping

Contact the ranger station for disperse camping information: (805) 865-0416

There is currently no disperse camping allowed on West Cuesta Ridge Road (TV Tower Road).

Pursuant to 16 USC 551 and 36 CFR 261.50(b), and to provide for public safety, the following act is prohibited within the Los Padres National Forest, Santa Lucia Ranger District. This Order is effective from November 4, 2020, through November 3, 2021.

Using a motorized vehicle on National Forest System Road No. 29S28 (TV Tower Road), as shown on the attached map.
36 CFR 261.54(a).

SANTA LUCIA RANGER DISTRICT COVID 19 Emergency Road Closure Forest Order No. 05-07-53-20-23 Forest Road No. 29S28 (TV Tower Road) West Cuesta Ridge Road. This road is closed to all motorized vehicles except for emergency personnel, permittees and private property owners.

Sours: https://www.fs.usda.gov/activity/lpnf/recreation/camping-cabins/?recid=10902&actid=34
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Santa Barbara, California

Love this campground! Of all of the places I’ve stayed this summer this has been my favorite. Great beach access, awesome views, popular campground, felt very safe, camp host and rangers were constantly patrolling.

I knocked two stars off of my review however due to two issues. The first issue is…

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Sours: https://thedyrt.com/camping/california/near/santa-barbara/with/dispersed
Pros \u0026 Cons of Living in Santa Barbara CA 2021 - A Moving To Santa Barbara Must See Video - Drone

The 8 Best Places to Camp Near Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is a beautiful place, and there’s no better way to really experience its unique beaches, islands, and mountains then spending the night out under the stars. Whether you crave a remote backcountry experience or simply want to camp next to the beach and listen to the crashing waves as you fall asleep, this place offers it all. Surfing, hiking, wildlife watching, and fishing are just some of the popular activities for campers in this area. You have lots of options when it comes to choosing the right camping spot, but here are eight of the best.

1. El Capitán State Beach

Just 17 miles west of Santa Barbara, you’ll find El Capitán State Beach, which is known for its sandy shoreline, rocky tidepools, and the sycamore and oaks that provide a nice change of pace from the usual Southern California palm trees. Take the staircase down to the beach from the bluffs and you’ll find great fishing, swimming, and surfing opportunities. This spot is also extremely accessible, even offering beach wheelchairs to use at no cost. You can borrow one from the lifeguard station. It’s car and RV camping here, although it does not offer a dump station for your rig.

2. The Santa Cruz Trail

Itching to get out onto the trails? The Santa Cruz Trail, about 23 miles from Santa Barbara, is one of the area’s best. It runs 22 miles through the Los Padres National Forest, gaining about 3,000 feet in elevation—so expect some climbing. You can do it in two days, but it’s a strenuous trip, so you may want to budget three. Be sure to sign the backcountry register located about .7 mile from the trailhead. Campfire permits are required, but you otherwise don’t need a permit to hike and camp. Spring is one of the best times to go, as you’ll find wildflowers like mariposa, california poppies, and lupin in bloom.

3. Upper Oso Campground

If you’re not up for the full 22-mile hike, you can instead use the Upper Oso Campground as your base camp and do plenty of day hiking in the region. This family-friendly, car campsite has great access to hiking trails in the Los Padres National Forest and even offers full equestrian sites. You’ll find plenty of streams to explore, an off-road vehicle route, and fishing and swimming less than two miles away at the White Rock Day-Use Area. This is a smaller campground, but each of the dozen sites are equipped with a picnic table, campfire ring, and pedestal grill. It’s a great way to see the mountains surrounding Santa Barbara without committing to a long trek in the backcountry.

4. Refugio State Beach

About 25 miles from Santa Barbara, Refugio State Beach is another car-camping beach that’s prime for coastal exploration. Three miles from El Capitán State Beach, it offers many of the same perks, like lifeguards, but it’s just off the beaten path, providing a bit more peace and quiet. If you’re interested in paddling, beginning and intermediate kayak tours are offered by the State Park Lifeguards from Memorial Day through August. These tours feature scenic views of the Pacific coastline, and chances are that you’ll spot some marine life on the trip.

5. Gaviota State Park

The last of the state campgrounds along the coast, Gaviota State Park is 33 miles from Santa Barbara, and you’ll notice as the landscape begins to change from gentle Southern California beaches to the more dramatic cliffs and bluffs that mark the Central Coast. This is a great spot to make your home base if you are interested in exploring Point Conception, where the Santa Barbara Channel meets the Pacific Ocean. Campers often choose to stay at Gaviota when they plan on hiking to Gaviota Peak, a lofty, 2,458-foot summit accessible via a 6-mile trail, which features unforgettable views of the coastline and the Channel Islands.

6. Scorpion Canyon Campground, Santa Cruz Island

Speaking of the Channel Islands, this primitive campground is a great place to experience all that the Channel Islands National Park has to offer. To get here, you’ll travel by boat for about an hour. Scorpion Canyon Campground is located in a valley with a mixture of trees and shrubs, close to a beach that faces the Santa Barbara Channel and below rugged mountain peaks. It’s close to several hiking trails, like the 2-mile Cavern Point Loop or the 7.5-mile round trip to Smuggler’s Cove. Be aware that there are no services on the island, so everything you need has to be packed in and packed out.

7. Del Norte, Santa Cruz Island

The only backcountry campground on Santa Cruz Island, Del Norte is where you will aim to spend the night if you are seeking an island backpacking experience on your trip to the Channel Islands. It’s only about 3.5 miles from Prisoners Harbor, but the National Park Service stresses that only experienced backpackers should plan on staying at this remote site due to the rugged winds and wilderness you will find out here. This is a place where you definitely should brush up on your Leave No Trace principles before setting up camp. It’s located in an oak grove that also features coastal views, and camping is strictly limited to the designated areas within this zone. You can also take the 12-mile route in from Scorpion Anchorage to stretch out the experience and see as much natural flora and fauna as possible.

8. Paradise Campground

This campground in the Los Padres National Forest is known for its easy access to a number of popular swimming holes, which make it a favorite summer destination. The area, which is surrounded by huge oak trees, features large campsites and is close the the Santa Ynez River, perfect for anglers. For those interested in hiking, you have a number of options, including a scenic trek to the Gibraltar Dam. Reservations are required for 60 percent of the sites in the campground, with the rest available on a first-come/first-serve basis. Unlike some of the surrounding primitive sites in the area, Paradise features flush toilets, drinking water, picnic tables, and campfire rings, making it a nice option for families.

Written by Jill Sanford for RootsRated.

Sours: https://rootsrated.com/stories/the-8-best-places-to-camp-near-santa-barbara

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