Wondering where to camp in southern California without driving too far? Check out Red Rock Canyon State Park for an easy and memorable camping experience.
The first state park in Kern County, Red Rock Canyon State Park features 50 primitive first come-first serve campsites off of Highway 14 and preserves a unique desert biome.
Founded in 1968, Red Rock Canyon State Park features surprisingly vivid red cliffs and buttes.
After rainy winters, the park rewards visitors with impressive spring flowers. This would be a great area to visit after the 2023 California rains for a super bloom.
The park also protects historic sites including petroglyphs by the Kawaiisu Indians in the El Paso mountains.
Related: Whose land are you on?
Red Rock Canyon State Park is 50 miles north of Lancaster, California on Highway 14 (also known as the Antelope Valley Freeway). From Los Angeles, it takes roughly 2.5 hours to drive there. From San Diego, it will take you 4.5 hours, not accounting for rest stops.
If you are driving from the north, the park is about 3 hours from Fresno. It is also about 3 hours from Death Valley National Park and Alabama Hills along the eastern Sierra Nevada route.
The nearest town is Cantil, California although there are few services here because it is actually an unincorporated community. If you search for Red Rock Canyon State Park on Google or Apple Maps, Cantil will be the town it is associated with.
However, you will more likely find gas and limited food options in the towns of Mojave and California City. If you forgot some essential, but miscellaneous camping supplies or food goods, the nearest Walmart Supercenters are in Tehachapi and Lancaster. The nearest Target is in Lancaster.
The Ricardo Campground is nestled within the canyon landscape. It features 50 campsites and includes wooden and metal picnic tables, sturdy fire rings, and clean pit toilets. Campsites are $25 per night. Additional vehicles cost $6. Dogs are welcome in the campground, but must be kept on a leash.
What should you expect?
It is recommended to bring firewood and your own camping chairs. Headlamps will also make getting around much easier, especially in the bathroom where there is no electricity.
In addition to not having lights, the pit toilets also do not have a sink to wash your hands nor a spot to brush your teeth. There are disinfecting gel dispensers provided to clean your hands.
There are water spigots outside the toilets, however the running of water can depend on the drought level and local, timely ordinances regarding the use of water. In February 2023, the water bottle refill station at the visitor center and water spigots near our campsite were not operational. It is best the bring enough water yourself to not only drink, but also for dish washing and personal hygiene.
How was our experience?
Red Rock Canyon State Park and the Ricardo Campground are hidden gems. The campground was clean and quiet. The way the campsites are tucked back into the canyon in some locations is very cool. In the evening, the light of campfires bounces off the rock walls and stunning stars can be seen overhead. During the day, birds were flying low and building nests in the crannies of the rock face.
We visited in February 2023 and temperatures during the day were comfortable in long sleeves and pants. During the night however, temperatures got quite cold for tent camping. If you visit in the winter, you should bring extra warm clothes and sleeping bags/blankets.
Common desert wildlife can be found in Red Rock Canyon State Park. Foxes, coyotes, hawks, falcons, roadrunners, eagles, lizards, bobcats, squirrels, mice, and more call this landscape home.
Becasue of this, it is especially important to store food and trash securely overnight and reduce your impact on the environment.
Related: How to Leave No Trace.
Things to Do in Red Rock Canyon State Park
- Walk Hagen Canyon Loop Trail: This 1.5 mile loop trail is quite easy. Window Rock, a moderate sized hole in a portion of the rock face, can be found along this trail.
- Visit the Red Cliffs Natural Area: Here red rock formations can be found on both sides of Highway 14. There are dirt lots for parking and short trails for exploring. You can get up close to the cliffs and even climb over some of the rocks. Kids love this spot.
- Hike Nightmare Gulch Loop Trail: This 9-mile hike is of moderate difficulty. It gains roughly 1,200 feet of elevation. This trail provides more opportunities to see the rock formations, especially further away from the road if you’re seeking peace and quiet.
- Biking the roads: Bike riding along primitive and paved roads is a welcome activity if you bring your own bike. You are not allowed to bike off-road though.
Things to Do Nearby
Red Rock Canyon State Park is well oriented as a jumping off point to many desert adventures. In a few hours’ time you could visit one of the largest U.S. National Parks, Death Valley. Death Valley is known for not only being the lowest elevation point in North America, but also for its colorfully colored hills pictured below.
If you are camping on a budget, there is a large array of public land in the eastern Sierra Nevada area where you can do free, dispersed camping on BLM land. The coolest spot is namely Alabama Hills, known for its bizarre piles of rounded rocks.
Just a bit further up north on Highway 395 is the Manzanar Japanese American Internment Camp Historic Site. This is the location of one of ten concentration camps in the United States where Japanese immigrants and Japanese American citizens were unconstitutionally held during World War II.
Visiting with a Dog
Both the Ricardo Campground and Red Rock Canyon State Park welcome dogs, but they must be on a leash. They are not allowed on trails, but are okay in the campground and on primitive roads.
If you are traveling with a small dog (i.e. less than 10 lbs.) be wary of eagles and other large birds of prey.
As always, pick up after your dog and keep them only to roads and trails where signs indicate that they are allowed. It is always best to employ the principles of Leave No Trace, especially when traveling with a pet.
I’m Taylor. If you’re interested in contributing a guest post to the website, drop a message into my inbox. Thanks for visiting!
9 thoughts on “Camping at Red Rock Canyon State Park”
Wow what an incredible park and that campsite location is epic! Will definitely have to take our van there for a road trip – thanks for sharing 🙂
Your dog is so cute. I bet the pooch loves to sleep in a tent.
Great guide to what looks like a stunning destination. The night time under the stars with the lights from the camp fires all around sounds really special. Thanks for sharing.
Spending time in nature hiking is always a wonderful way to spend a day. However, my camping days are long gone.
Is this the place that U2 did a live concert? U2 Live at Red Rocks? Even so, I’d love to visit. This part of America looks so wild!
That’s actually the Red Rock Amphitheater in Colorado. To add to the confusion, there’s also a famous Red Rock Canyon in Las Vegas. This sport in California is definitely the least well known among all the “Red Rocks” out west.
Thanks for clarifying – it still looks so wild.
This seems like a very nice place to camp and explore nature. Would love to visit sometime.
Oh, that picture of your table set up seen from your car. Seems like a great spot to camp.