It’s no secret Victoria has some of the best camping spots around. These campsites are easy to access by car, not too far from Melbourne and most importantly, will deliver the goods for a ripper weekend out in the sticks.
Now, some of these campsites aren’t the cheapest (check out our top free campsites near Melbourne if that’s more your style), but they are more than worth it. If you pack each site to the maximum, they all come out at under $5-10 per person per night.
I had a quick squiz on Airbnb and you’ll have a tough time finding anything that cheap with views as good. You can also sleep easy knowing that your cashola is helping maintain our beautiful parks and the animals within them.
1. Johanna Beach
Location: Great Ocean Road
Distance from Melbourne: 224 km (approx. 3 hours)
Cost: $28.30 for a 6-person site
With rolling grassy hills to pitch your tent, the ocean so close you can taste it, and dogs permitted on leash, Johanna beach is perfect for a salty getaway. It has 25 campsites which are known to get booked out, so be sure to jump in quick and book your stay.
It’s got some killer waves and is supposedly the backup spot for the Ripcurl Pro if Bells isn’t firing, so don’t forget to pack your board if you’re keen to slide fins. It can be bloody ferocious though so if in doubt, don’t go out.
The last time I was at Johanna we found bioluminescent algae that had washed up on the sand. I can’t promise you’ll be lucky enough to see it, but if you come across it, you’ll be treated to glowing footsteps and a night spent stomping around on the sand.
2. Lake Catani
Location: Mt Buffalo
Distance from Melbourne: 343 km (approx. 4 hours)
Cost: $50.50 for a 6-person site
According to our resident keyboard warrior, Tim Ashelford, Buffalo is one of Australia’s most underrated National Parks. You know what? I’d have to agree with him on that.
Fellow Explorer Casey put it best when she called it the perfect all season playground. On the itinerary for summer you’ve got Rollasons Falls, a dip in Lake Catani itself and enough walks to satisfy Burke and Wills. In winter, there’s 10km of marked cross country ski trails, 20km of unmarked trails and unlimited backcountry options. Toboggans are not merely accepted but openly welcomed.
Oh and if that’s not enough, there’s also climbing and abseiling. All they need is a point break to surf and I’d never leave. On a more practical note, make sure you don’t miss the 1.5km walk up to the Horn for 360-degree views out over the alpine region.
With all the activities around, Lake Catani is perfect for a quick pit stop or a week-long base camp. The campground has 59 sites, with fireplaces, toilets and even a hot shower. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a certified glamping experience.
A hot tip is that Lake Catani is free during the ski season, but there’s only a few sites available. If you’re itching to give snow camping a crack, then this would be a pretty bang on spot to do it. The rest of the year, you’ll need to book a site in advance.
3. Tidal River
Location: Wilsons Promontory
Distance from Melbourne: 225 km (approx. 3 hours)
Cost: $61.40 for an 8-person unpowered site
Wilsons Promontory and Tidal River aren’t exactly a secret. Over 400,000 people visit the Prom annually and it’s one of our busiest National Parks down here in the south, partly because it’s some of the best camping near Melbourne that you’ll find. It’s got incredible day walks, some of Victoria’s best beaches, wildlife coming out its ears, a couple of standout multi-day walks and even the Big Drift.
If you’re lucky enough to time your visit with a new moon or a meteor shower, then Wilsons Prom is the spot to be.
Although Tidal River is a mammoth of a camping area with 484 sites, it’s incredibly well managed and most of the times I’ve been it hasn’t felt nearly that packed. For the summer period, you have to go into a ballot to secure a site, and advanced bookings are required at all other times. Check out the Parks Vic page for more information and to book your site. I’d recommend it for the shoulder seasons, March-May and September-November.
4. Neds Gully
Location: Cathedral Ranges
Distance from Melbourne: 118 km (approx. 2 hours)
Cost: $29.80 for a 6-person site
If you’re looking for camping near Melbourne the Cathedrals have you covered. It’s only two hours from the city, so close enough that you could get a bit carried away at Friday night drinks, duck out for Saturday night at the Cathedrals and still be back in time for tea with Grandma on Sunday.
The campsites are about 100m from the car park, so it’s tent camping only, and you’ll have to lug over whatever you threw in the car. So maybe this time just use the supplied fire pits instead of that four-burner BBQ you were tossing up…
There is also the well-known Cooks Mill campsite just down the road which has spots for caravans and trailers. But if you’ve just got a tent, my preference is always Neds Gully amongst the trees and next to the river; you can book with Parks Vic.
5. Smiths Mill
Location: Grampians National Park
Distance from Melbourne: 271 km (approx. 3.5 hours)
Cost: $29.80 for a 6-person site
The Grampians shouldn’t need any introduction. It’s got day walks, waterfalls, lakes, and soon, an epic 13-day linkup of all the Grampians highlights. All around, I’d say it’s one of the best spots in Victoria for a weekend away. There’s so much to do there you may want to consider the Weekender Extender (go on, pull a sickie on Monday too).
Smiths Mill has 28 sites, and a handful can accommodate those living the luxe life in campervans. They’ve also got fireplaces set up for you, so bring some wood and eat like a backcountry king or queen. All of the sites at Smiths Mill need to be booked in advance.
The Grampians is also a popular spot for climbing, with thousands of routes. However it’s a bit of a mess at the moment as some issues are being worked out, so make sure to check out where you can and can’t climb.
Otherwise, Arapiles is just around the corner and has absolute world class climbs for any level (and the best trad climbing in Aus).
6. Bunga Arm
Location: Gippsland Lakes
Distance from Melbourne: 285 km (approx. 3 hours)
Cost: $22.40 for a 6-person site
This one is a little bonus and has a slight catch to it… it’s only accessible by boat.
However, if you’re up for the challenge of a paddle, or have a boat on hand, then you’ll be thoroughly rewarded. Bunga Arm is the patch of sand that builds up a barrier between the ocean and Lake Victoria.
With mooring points along the beach and campfire spots, I can’t think of a better way to spend the weekend. For the birdwatchers among us, there’s also plenty to see; the Little Tern, Fairy Tern and Hooded Plover breed and roost in the area. There are 7 separate campgrounds, each with a handful of sites. You’ll be able to spread out and get a bit of space to yourself and it’s unlikely to book out except for around major holidays (you can book here).
If you can think of a better escape than sailing or paddling (or swimming) to a campsite inaccessible from land, all only 2 hours from Melbourne, let me know. ‘Cause so far this is all I got, and pretty sure it’s also all I need.
7. Boreang Campground
Location: Grampians National Park
Distance from Melbourne: 260km west
Cost: $13.70 a site
This campsite is perfect for beautiful early morning views of the Grampians and also has fireplaces so you can legally light up your campfire and toast your marshmallows 100% guilt-free.
Boreang campground is located amongst sheltered woodland on the western side of the Wonderland Range. It’s close to popular attractions in the Central Grampians and is a great base for exploring the Victoria Valley and Victoria Range.
The best reason to stay here however is to wake up early and walk to the Pinnacle! Whichever way you get there, the view from the Pinnacle lookout will astound you.
While you get your breath back after your ascent, you’ll be able to see Halls Gap far below you, as well as Lake Bellfield. Plus you’ll get a close-up look at the irregular and fascinating rock formations for which the Grampians are so well-known.
I’ve camped here in order to get up early and complete the Pinnacle walk and I suggest you do the same! The campsite fireplaces here are communal and are shared between a few sites. It’s great for meeting fellow campers to tackle the climb with and even better if you’ve run out of marshmallows.
8. The Gums
Location: King Lake National Park
Distance from Melboure: 65km north
Cost: $13.70 a site
Personally, when looking for a campsite I want to make sure that I’m not camped on top of a family with crazed children running wild on red cordial and fresh air. I want to feel like I’m in the middle of nowhere and a part of nature. I want to be able to light my campfire, sit back and listen to the sounds of the bush and look up at the stars (and drink a few tinnies).
I also quite like doing my business on an actual toilet and that’s what makes this campsite perfect. The Gums offers a small personal campsite with your own fireplace and for when nature calls, some composting toilets. I have camped here several times and while there are others around the campsite, your own spot is still very private.
It has the privacy of a hike-in campsite with the luxury of being able to drive right up to your campsite and enjoy your very own fireplace.
9. Princetown Recreation Reserve and Camping
Location: The Great Ocean Road
Distance from Melbourne: 233km south-west
Cost: $15 for the first person and $5 every person after that
This place has all the essentials of a classic Australian beach camping adventure. Undercover BBQ area, picnic tables, hot showers, children’s playground, tennis court, laundry and most importantly kangaroos!
It’s also one of the last places on the Great Ocean Road that allows campfires. What even is camping without a fire? Sitting in the dark . . . that’s what.
The Princetown Recreation Reserve and Camping is the perfect central base for sightseeing along the Great Ocean Road. The 12 Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge, Melba Gully, Port Campbell and Otway National Parks, The Otway Fly, G.O.R.G.E Chocolates and The Great Ocean Walk are all within a few kilometres of the reserve.
This is also one of the few campsites where you don’t need to book and can just drive in and pick a spot. Set up the BBQ, fill the esky and relax.
10. Mount McLeod Campground
Location: Mount Buffalo National Park
Distance from Melbourne: 335km north-east
Mount Buffalo National Park has sheer cliffs, imposing granite tors, tumbling waterfalls, snow gums and stunning wildflowers. The park features over 90km of walking tracks and it’s also absolutely freezing for most of the year.
For some of us, the cold is just as exciting as the beach is for others. Just as prawns for Christmas lunch can make Australians seem strange to outsiders, so too can camping in the heat, shirt off and cricket bat in hand. I’ve always found it kind of funny to see all the extreme weather gear in Australian camping stores, but if there’s a place where you can truly try them out it’s Mount Buffalo.
Within the park, Mount McLeod Campground provides a remote, hike-in camping experience. It’s accessible along the Mt Mcleod track, located approximately 8km from the Reservoir Picnic area.
One thing that’s not great about this campsite is the no campfire policy. Considering it’ll be freezing for most of the year, make sure you really do check out that camp store for the super-insulated sleeping bag.
Before You Go!
Although these are paid sites managed by Parks Vic, they don’t all have rubbish collection and you’ll most likely need to take out everything you bring in to make sure you leave no trace. Pack some rubbish bags!
The campsites also don’t guarantee drinking water, so bring enough to keep you going for however long you plan to stay. Then bring some more, ‘cause I’ve got a feeling that when you see these spots, you won’t want to leave anytime soon…
Finally, not all of these campsites are caravan or camper trailer friendly and may be tent only, so if you’re travelling in luxury, check up on that before you go.
Oh and sorry to tell you this at the end of the article, but all of this is completely useless. The only way you can make it useful is by getting out there and using my info. So pick a spot, get out there, and get right up in it. I can hear nature calling your name.
If you’ve got a go-to spot that didn’t make the list, let us know! We’re always on the hunt for saucy new escapes.
Additional campground inclusions by Andrew Barratt
Photos by Pat Corden unless stated