After years of traveling around Southern California, I have grown frustrated with the number of reservation systems I have needed to find to book a campsite. I have decided to compile a list of the top Southern California campground reservation systems that anyone might need. There might be more, but these are the ones that I have found and used. Hopefully, this will help any van or RV lifer reserve a campsite and save them the frustration I have experienced in finding the right reservation system.
Finding a Campground
The first step in determining a campground reservation system to use is first figuring out the campground you plan on staying at. Many websites will show the local campgrounds in the area you want to explore. Hopefully, these websites link you to the appropriate reservation system, but sometimes they do not. If they do not, it is good to know the existing reservation system that a particular campground might fall under. Below is a list of the websites that I use to find campgrounds in SoCal.
Southern California Campground Reservation Systems
I have utilized 11 campground reservation systems while traveling around Southern California. Most are government-operated systems except for one. To reserve a campsite on these systems, you must book at least two days in advance; they do not take same-day reservations. So planning is the key to reserving that perfect campsite.
The top campground reservation systems in Southern California are:
- Reserve California
- Reserve America
- County of Santa Barbara Parks Division
- Kern County Parks and Recreation
- Orange County Parks
- Riverside County Parks
- San Bernardino County Parks
- San Diego Park and Recreation
- San Louis Obispo County Park Reservations
- Ventura Parks
Top 4 Campground Reservation System
Understanding these 11 campground reservation systems is important, but the reality is you are probably only going to use the top 4. These top four represent 80% of the campsites I have reserved in Southern California. But make sure you always check out the remaining 20% because the Counties have fantastic campgrounds that you should explore. Below are the top four:
Recreation.gov is the most extensive reservation system that I use the most. It is easy to use, and it is the first system I utilize when looking for an open campsite in an area I want to explore.
#2 Reserve California
Reserve California is the most extensive Southern California campground reservation system. It is where you go to reserve a campsite for all California State Parks. I like this system because if one campground is full, it gives you a list of other open campgrounds nearby. This is a handy feature.
#3 San Diego County Parks and Recreation
Since San Diego County is one of my favorite places to camp because of the Anza Borrego Desert, knowing their reservation system saves a lot of time. This is the reservation system you use to reserve campsites at two of my favorite campgrounds; Aqua Caliente and Vallecito. Both campgrounds are in the Anza Borrego Desert.
#4 Reserve America
Reserve America has one of the largest listings of private campgrounds and RV parks available in Southern California. It is a great resource to use when the state and county campgrounds are full.
County Campground Reservation System
Southern California has a lot of great county-operated campgrounds. These usually are less known but are generally located in spectacular and often overlooked places. Nine counties represent Southern California, and all have their own individual campground reservation system except Imperial County.
The only problem with having so many Southern California counties is finding all their individual reservation systems. Hopefully, the list above will make that a lot easier.
Private Campground Reservation Systems
Many RV parks are privately run and operated, so they will not be listed on the above reservation systems. I have found that the best reservation system for private campgrounds is Reserve America. It seems to have a complete list of all the private campgrounds and RV resorts throughout Southern California.
KOA Campgrounds and RV parks have their own individual reservation system. KOA’s are located throughout Southern California and provide an excellent option to government-operated campgrounds. They usually offer a more comprehensive range of amenities than state or county-run campgrounds. These amenities can include pools, dog areas, climbing walls, and much more. However, they usually are more expensive as a result.
Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
The BLM website had reservation capability for a few campgrounds years ago, but all those campgrounds have transferred to recreation.com. Now BLM campgrounds are first-come, first-serve, and usually have a 14-day limit. Some BLM campgrounds will require a special pass, so it is always a good idea to check the rules and regulations before you arrive. Getting kicked out of your perfect BLM campsite because you did not know the rules is never fun. I have learned this the hard way.
Website: Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
Links and Other Adventures
What are the top 5 boondocking locations in SoCal for van and RV lifers? The top 5 boondocking locations are: Anza Borrego Desert Joshua Tree