Ventana: a camping trip to remember! My husband and I met 7 years ago as camp counselors at a summer camp. So, for our one-year wedding anniversary, we thought it was fitting to go camping to celebrate! Big Sur has always been on our bucket list – the big water, the winding highway, the magical redwoods. Take a look inside the Ventana Campground at Big Sur to see what it’s like, travel tips, campsite reviews (like which sites are the best and the worst!) what to pack and all the tips you may need for the perfect Big Sur camping trip along Highway One in our beautiful state of California.
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I grew up camping around Wisconsin. I’ve done the multi-week backpacking thing and spent many summer nights as a kid at campsites. Robin, my husband, spent a lot of time camping, too. I used to not even use a tent! But, I didn’t camp much while in college and after moving to California, we didn’t go camping at all for 4 years. We were both rusty, to say the least.
This past Spring, we went camping at Mammoth Lakes with friends (full post here) and short story – it was kind of a fail. Summer nights in Wisconsin don’t fall below the 40’s or 50’s… but in the Sierras, it dropped down to the low 20’s. We literally froze and it was then that I realized that Robin and I needed to ease our way back into camping.
Ventana is a great campground to ease your way into camping at Big Sur campgrounds!
That’s why we opted for Ventana Campground. I’ve heard good things about this Big Sur camping grounds from co-workers in the Bay Area and it looked like the perfect mix of camping with accessible amenities, sites in the forest and the grounds are near the Padres National forest for a hike – basically, a great way to ease back into camping!
Also, a really great campsite for families or people new to camping in general, due to the amenities on the property (like a picnic table and bathrooms!) It’s also near the many Big Sur state park options like Limekiln State Park, Andrew Molera State Park and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. If you are looking for a hard-core camping experience, you probably won’t enjoy Ventana. It’s nice – and I love that!
The Cons of Ventana Campground
To kick off this giant post about camping at Ventana, I wanted to start by addressing the cons that you may or may not have seen on review sites like TripAdvisor. Are there downsides to the this Big Sur campground? Sure, there are downsides to everything travel-related and especially at Big Sur campgrounds as they are so varied.
It’s not cheap. Sites are $85 a night, which is far higher than other Big Sur campsites (Limekiln or Kirk Creek Campground, for example, is just $35 a night.) Camping in Big Sur at Ventana is $$ but still, it’s cheaper than a hotel in the area. Big Sur cabins are pricey as well!
Showers cost $2. A big gripe among campers is that you have to pay $2 for 5 minutes of water at the shower. Many feel that because the campsite price is so inflated, showers should be included. (I have to agree with them here.)
Not all campsites are created equal. As with any campground, some sites are much, much better than others. If you are visiting on a really busy weekend, it would really suck to be stuck with a crappy campsite and pay so much for it. Scroll down to the campsite reviews portion to learn more about the best and worst campsites in the ground!
You can only burn Big Sur firewood and it’s expensive! Ok, so this doesn’t just apply to Ventana, but to all Big Sur campsites, but still. Bundles are $9 each at the store and the wood is DRY AF. We used 4 bundles a night, which all adds up quickly. I wasn’t expecting this, so I just wanted to highlight it here!
The Pros of Ventana Campground
Now, time to quickly highlight the awesome parts of the campground!
You get to camp under Redwoods. And boy are they magical, especially at golden hour when the light filters in and makes everything looks warm and dreamy.
There are lots of water pumps around the campground, so it’s easy to quickly refill water without walking far. We had one right next to our site, which was such a treat.
It’s pretty secure. There’s a front check-in area and gates close each night at 9pm (don’t worry, campers get a code to get in.) During the day, staffers buzz by in carts about every 15-20 minutes. I never once felt unsafe in the campground.
LTE service is here! Neither of had any cell service ANYWHERE in Big Sur but the campground. Thankfully they made sure you can get service here! We were able to load maps and research eats while at the campsite.
The bathrooms are decent. They’re modern (real toilets!) and each bathhouse has single bathrooms as all as a group women’s and men’s bathroom. They’re cleaned each morning, which means they do get dirtier over the course of the day. I can imagine that, on a busy holiday weekend, they get gross, fast, but they probably also clean them multiple times a day during those periods. Basically – know that the bathrooms don’t suck like the can at campsites!
An onsite coffee shop/bar/BBQ airstream is an added touch of luxury and fun that other campsites don’t have. It’s a bit pricey, but if you don’t want to cook over the fire and also don’t want to leave the campgrounds, this is a great option to have.
Ventana Glamping tents are unique to the Big Sur area. If you aren’t willing to go camping but don’t want to book a hotel room, consider staying at one of the glamping sites! They look beautiful.
As I touched on before, my personal least-favorite part of camping Big Sur at this spot is how varied the campsites are. At a lower price point, it wouldn’t matter so much, but I personally would feel a little ripped off I had to pay $85 to have one of the campsites that’s so close to another campsite, you can reach out hand out and touch your neighbors.
Scroll to the end of this post for photos of each campsite!
Or the campsites where the fire pit is 3 feet away from the parking spot for your car. Or, one of the sites that require a step near-vertical climb to reach. If that is the only one available, that would suck. When there are so many wonderful campsites in the ground, I would have been really bummed out about paying the same price for a not-so-great site.
We when arrived, we were assigned campsite #2, which is the worst campsite, in my opinion. It’s literally the first campsite in the ground, so everyone has to drive by it. (The noise!! The headlights at night!) The firepit is about 3 feet from the car park area and about 8 feet from the road. I wasn’t happy about having to spend 2 nights with cars constantly whizzing past our tent, or leaning up against our car while roasting marshmallows.
Luckily, the campground was maybe only 1/4 full, so we were able to switch to a far nicer campsite with no problem at all (the front check-in people were very nice about this!) We chose campsite #40 and I couldn’t have been happier with this site!
Want to see photos of each campsite? Scroll to the end of this post for photos! We took photos of (almost) every campsite so you can see what they look like IRL and how varied they are.
What To Pack For Ventana Campground
Now, what should you bring on your camping trip to Big Sur? When you are camping at Ventana, they cover some things for you (like water!) and because you can park your car next to your site, you don’t need to pack in and pack out the same way as while on a long backpacking trip.
Below is what we brought and/or what I wished we had brought to our camping trip.
Big Sur Camping Packing List
The top things to pack for your Big Sur camping trip!
Flashlights: We got one-per-person. The Redwoods make it DARK at night! You can sometimes see the stars peeking between the trees, but don’t rely on moonlight at night. I like flashlights like this one that can stand up and sort of be a lamp.
Various water bottles and jugs: We’re big fans of Stanley. They have such a great variety of water bottles, jugs, cups, etc. We’ll want a bottle per-person at least.
Campfire cooking gear so you can cook yourself some meals at the campsite. We have this set from Stanley that has a pot, 2 bowls, and a collapsible utensils unit. It’s a great starter unit for your camping gear!
Pocket knife, a 101 for camping! Cut things, sharpen sticks, open bottles, etc. It’s a must!
The right food: canned soup, instant coffee, pasta, wine and beer, beans, etc. Things that can be easily cooked on a fire or need no cooking at all. Plus, wine and beer make every camping trip 100% better!
Sleeping Bag + Matts: Spoiler alert – the ground is hard! You’ll want to bring yoga mats or other ways to cushion the ground for sleeping (try this one!) Also, it gets chilly in the woods at night, so make sure to bring a heavy-duty sleeping bag and/or enough blankets to keep you warm. I recommend the mummy sleeping bags, been using mine for years!
A pillow!! Ya girl totally forgot to put pillows on our packing list so we ended up bundling sweaters together for pillows. Since you get to drive in and park near your site, there is no reason to size down and not bring a pillow. Your head will thank you.
Hand sanitizer wipes and paper towels, to keep your hands clean. Very, very important!
Camping clothes: ones that can get dirt, campfire smoke and stains on them. I love button-up shirts from places like Old Navy, along with comfy jeans with pockets. A bandana is handy as it triples as a way to hold back hair, wipe sweat from your face and also as a pot-holder. Plaid is your stereotypical outdoor shirt, but I love mine and recommend bringing a plaid shirt, too. Wear slip-on shoes for around the campsite and hiking boots for venturing around Big Sur.
Bug Spray! The bugs can swarm you in the summer, make sure to bring the good stuff with the deet! This is a must for everyone at campsites near Big Sur. Some people have trouble using 100% deet but, after growing up in the Wisconsin woods, I can tell you that more deets = less bugs bothering you. Camp grounds in Big Sur will eat you alive – I warned you!
A good book to read by the campfire. We spent so much time reading and it was magical.
Big Sur camping on the beach isn’t allowed at most places without a permit. I hear Pfeiffer big sur camping offers it and someone told me Riverside Campground Big Sur may as well.
I hope this helps you plan your Big Sur camping trip! From a day exploring the Big Sur River, tons of Redwood trees, the many state parks, a trail, and miles of ocean views, Big Sur is a beautiful place to visit. We loved our stay at the Ventana Campground and can’t wait to be back soon! Next time, we’ll be exploring more miles South to that tip of the region better.
If you have any questions at all about camping near Big Sur or Ventana, leave a comment below or DM me on Instagram @thewhimsysoul and I’ll do my best to help you! I think Ventana is the best big Sur camping for beginners and I loved it!
Photos of Each Ventana Campground Campsite
Ok, I have like 25ish photos so I didn’t want to plop them in the middle of this blog post, making it hard to read. I numbered the sites and got photos of *almost* all of them. (Some of the sites had people on them so I didn’t want to take photos of those ones.)