UPDATED JUL 14, 2020
Start a campfire. See stars. Wake up with the morning light… all the things you can never do in the city are the best part about camping. Pack a bag. These amazing campsites near LA are just a short road trip away.
Malibu Creek State Park may only be 25 miles from DTLA, but don’t let its proximity to the city fool you. Spanning over 8,000 acres, campers can expect to be quickly immersed in the beauty of the Santa Monica Mountains. The mountains also provide a variety of options for daytime adventures like hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Yet, even miles into the wilderness, it’s hard to escape all signs of Hollywood. The park’s land was once owned by 20th Century Fox and served as the backdrop for many scenes of the TV series M*A*S*H. Fans of the show can hike to a partially restored set to snap that Instagram photo.
Can’t imagine a weekend without duvet comforters, a coffee maker, and your own bathroom? Just north of Santa Barbara, you’ll find El Capitan Canyon — a campground for those looking to escape into nature without forgoing any modern comforts (hello, Wi-Fi!). For the full glamping experience, book one of the 108 cedar cabins nestled throughout the canyon. If you’re feeling a little more daring, choose one of the 26 safari tents. While the tents don’t include private bathrooms, you’ll still have your own bed.
Catalina Island is a nature-lover’s paradise. If boat-in camping is not an option for you (because who in LA has their own boat?), jump aboard one of the Catalina Express’s ferries leaving out of Long Beach, San Pedro, or Dana Point. Once on land, you’ll be able to choose your own camping adventure. Camp in Avalon or Two Harbors to experience some of the island’s more unique activities, including zip lining, fly fishing, and rock climbing. Or escape the crowds by making the trek to Parsons Landing, one of island’s primitive campsites, accessible only by kayak or a moderately difficult hike.
Jalama Beach in Santa Barbara is hands-down one of California’s best coastline campgrounds. While reservations open six months in advance, the campsites are quickly booked due to the campground’s picturesque location. That means there’s little room for procrastination if you’re hoping to snag one of their 107 campsites. For those who are on top of it, you’ll have your choice of a variety of lodging options: tents with electrical hookups (you'll be able to avoid the dreaded “low battery mode”), tents without electrical hookups (go for the full-on digital detox), group camping sites, and deluxe cabins.
The desert may not be the first place you think of to go camping, but don’t be too quick to rule it out. Jumbo Rocks, the largest campground in Joshua Tree, contains 124 campsites. The sites are scattered among heaps of enormous rocks and boulders, which act as a natural source of shade and privacy. Hiking trails are easily accessible, but you can have just as much fun rock climbing at the campground. No matter how you spend your day, you’ll want to be back to your campsite by evening to enjoy the desert night sky. Fitt Tip: There’s no running water, so bring along way more water jugs than you think you'll need.
Encompassing over a million acres, the Los Padres National Forest can be overwhelming for first-time visitors. So, to make it easier, just follow our lead on this one. You’ll want to grab all necessary supplies and arrive early to the Piedra Blanca Trailhead, where you’ll follow the Sespe River Trail for 9.5 miles until you reach Willett Hot Springs. It’s a great spot to relax and mingle with other campers, but don’t get too comfortable because you’re still six miles away from the real gem: Sespe Hot Springs. The incredible campsites next to the hot springs fill up quickly, so we recommend stopping at one of the two campsites along the way if you’re worried about a place to sleep.
There are countless ways to camp, hike, and enjoy the natural beauty of this national treasure. The good news: There’s no wrong way to do it. One way is to venture to the secluded, tent-only Cold Springs Campground where you’ll find easy access to scenic backcountry trails and alpine lake fishing. Another way is to set up camp at the larger Lodgepole Campground, known for its proximity to grab-to-go meals and hot showers. No matter which of the 14 campgrounds you choose, make sure to save some time for a few adventures: salute General Sherman, the world’s largest tree by volume, and go subterranean at Crystal Cave, the park’s magical underground.
Mountains or ocean? Trick question. You don’t have to choose. Leo Carrillo State Park in Malibu is perfectly situated between the Pacific Ocean and Santa Monica Mountains, making it one of the best camping spots both for activities and views. You can catch the sunrise from your tent, hike the Nicholas Flat Trail, and still be back in time for a little surf session in the afternoon. Oh, and don’t worry about finding someone to watch your dog — they can join you on this adventure! Due to damage as a result of the Woolsey Fire, areas of this campground may be restricted. Make sure you call the Park Service before you head out to see which campsites are open.
In the constant hustle of daily life, it’s easy to forget that there’s a forest oasis only an hour away (90 minutes with traffic). Deep in the Angeles National Forest lies Buckhorn Campground, home to large pine trees, numerous hiking trails, and the kind of serenity foreign to life in LA. And for $12 per night, this is the kind of weekend getaway that won’t break your bank. In fact, you can stay here for up to two weeks before they’ll ask you to leave. Fitt Tip: These 38 campsites are first-come, first-served, so you might want to take that half-day on Friday if you’re determined to get a spot.
Another Angeles National Forest destination, Crystal Lake Recreation Area Campgrounds features 50 campsites, and like Buckhorn, you'll have to arrive early to snag your space because it's also first-come, first-served. Once you've pitched your tent and settled in, there's ample things to see and do. Lace up your hiking boots and trek up to Mt. Islip or Windy Gap. If a more leisurely adventure is what you're after, pack your pole and go fishing at Crystal Lake — it's only a mile hike from the campgrounds. Forgot firewood or need some extra snacks? The Crystal Lake Cafe nearby has your back.
Editor’s note: due to fires, other acts of nature, or construction, trails or campgrounds may be temporarily closed. Please consult the Forest Service website before venturing out.
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