The best camping places in California for kids is a very wide open topic. I have 2 young boys who have been camping all over California and most of the Western United States since both have been in diapers. If you are to ask them what their favorite camping place is and why it's there favorite place I can almost guarantee you that their favorite place is tied into the kids they played with and the activities that they did. My 2 young boys never rant and rave about the beautiful scenery. In many ways they don't give a hoot about the snow-covered mountain peaks and the lush flower covered meadows. This does not interest them.
Kid Friendly Camping Grounds In California
Lassen National Park
Honestly, you're going to have fun and any campground that you go to in California as long as you let your kids enjoy themselves. One of our favorite campgrounds in Northern California is Lassen National Park. This park is filled with a lot of snow as well as boiling hot pots and steaming ground. It reminds me a lot of Yellowstone National Park because of the boiling hot pots. My boys really enjoyed seeing all the thermal activity that they viewed on a long hike. However, they got more excited about several of the snowfields that we found near the road. They made their own sleds out of cardboard and enjoyed sliding on the snow more than any other activity.
Lava Beds National Monument
I learned about Lava Beds National Monument when I was planning a camping trip to Oregon. It was on the map and I became so curious. It was a short drive from Lassen. I read some reviews online and was hooked. It's an amazing park for kids because they can walk inside lava tubes. The best lava tubes are located just a short walking distance from the visitors center. We were going to stay just one day. We liked it so much that we added another day to our stay and drove the park on our way back to the Bay Area. Lava Beds sits on top of a Medicine Lake Shield Volcano. There are over 600 caves inside the park. Most of the good ones are a short walking distance from the visitors center. The park is easy to drive around in. The visitors center will keep the kids entertained with displays and history of the area. Make sure you do the Junior Ranger program at Lava Beds. The park will let you use flash lights for free. However, bring your own as you will not super bright lights for the caves. The landscape is so strange that I felt like I was on another planet. When we camped at Lava Beds National Park, they have great memories of this young man who shows them through the lava tubes with a high-tech flashlight.
Medicine Lake National Forest Campground
This is another jewel that we enjoyed so much. When you wake up in the morning, you will see steam rising off the lake because there is thermal activity below the ground. The lake is much warmer than your average Northern California lake because of the thermal activity. My kids enjoyed hanging around the water all day. They met a nice teenage boy who took them out boating and fishing.
Post Creek Guard Station
Last summer we camped 4 nights inside Post Creek Guard Station in the Shasta Trinity National Forest. My boys had a fantastic time playing with to their playmates. They brought along Nerf guns, toy cars, and bug catchers. They spent hours hunting for lizards and actually caught a few. This is not exactly a campground. It's a tiny 2 room cabin that we rented for only $35 a night. This included a kitchen sink, a flushing toilet, and a cold shower. It was roughing it in luxury. My kids had the time of their playing with 2 other boys that came with us. The 4 boys spent 4 days throwing rocks and digging things up around the surrounding area.
Please don't be discouraged that your kids are not going to get excited about boiling hot pots and all the buffalo that you want to show them on your annual occasion to Yellowstone National Park. We've done all that and my kids and have the time of their life. They talk about the cool ice cream shop they went to a grand Teton national Park.
The point I'm trying to make is that kids can have fun anywhere that you take them if you give them the freedom to be creative. Kids like to improvise and make up their own games. Give them a Frisbee, a tennis ball, a baseball bat, or whatever toys that you care to bring along in there and have fun as long as you don't force them to have fun.
I can remember my 2 young boys taking out their beautiful wooden railroad tracks that I probably brought along for them to set up inside their tent and the cabins that we stayed at. They had a better use for the railroad tracks. They proceeded to set them up in the dirt that sat below a water spigot. They dug a trench line to the railroad tracks and trenched all the way around the tracks. Then they turned on the water and filled the trenches completely full. By the time that they were finished playing it was a mess and dear old dad (me) that kind of ticked off. I held my temper and realized this is a small price to pay for my kids to have fun. The electric Thomas The Tank Engines got jammed up with dirt in the gears and a few of the tank engines were rendered useless. I probably only paid $10-$15 for each engine. I had to swallow my grand illusions a very perfect camping trip and let the kids have fun regardless if they were breaking their choice. As a man I realized that this is just the price of doing business.
Last summer I asked my boys if they wanted to do some fishing while camping at Tugman State Park in Oregon. They were extremely excited about fishing. I bought them new rod and reel combos at a Walmart store in Northern California. On a three-week camping trip, we fished a total of 1 day. My 2 boys were more attracted to building sand castles on the beach and playing with other children at the playground. Think about it. Kids like have fun and at times fishing is a lot of fun and other times just being a kid and running around the playground is a whole lot more fun.