The Pacific Coast Highway(also known as highway one, the Cabrillo highway, or Coast highway)is famous for its ocean views, its surfing opportunities, and its array of wildlife. It’s a road that attracts thousands of visitors, and we loved exploring it’s nooks and crannies. The hotels along this route can charge a premium for their location. But what if I told you you could stay along this road entirely for free? Yup, free camping is possible all over this beautiful stretch of road.
We loved our time along highway one. We got to watch elephant seals basking, hike beautiful coastal trails, and watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean. But while this road stole our hearts, we didn’t let it steal our wallets! In fact, after leaving San Francisco, we didn’t spend anymore money on accommodation until we arrived in Los Angeles! And we even did it legally.
How did we camp for free?
The wonderful thing about the pacific coast highway is that a huge portion of it is within the bounds of Los Padres national forest. And if you want to camp cheaply in the US, the most important thing to know is that in most national forests you can camp anywhere for free! Nation Forests are free camping central. There are a few exceptions to this rule (look our for signs that say “no overnight parking”) but generally once you hit national forest you’re in free territory!
There are definitely some down sides to free camping. I can’t promise you even basic facilities like running water. But what you will get are amazing views, and some extra money in your bank account to enjoy your travels. Any roadside rest stop along forest roads is fair game to free camp in. You can park in the Big Sur visitor centre and hike into the forest to really camp in the wilderness (you need permits for some activities like lighting camp fires, and as always you should check in at the visitor centre and let them know when you’ll be returning). There are no bears around Big Sur so you won’t have that to worry about! The forest begins just south of Carmel and continues almost as far as San Simeon. And once you get passed San Luis Obispo it begins again, stretching passed Santa Barbara and almost as far as Los Angeles!
If you like the idea of camping along the PCH but hate the idea of peeing behind a bush, there are still options for you! There are a few paid but still cheap campsites along the way. These include:
Andrew Molera State Park-$25 per night
Kirk Creek Campground-$25 per night
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park-$30 per night
For more information and to reserve a spot at these campsites visit reserveamerica.com