UPDATED SEP 1, 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 is only 25 miles from DTLA, but don’t let its proximity to the city fool you. The 8,000 acres of wilderness and Santa Monica Mountains provide endless opportunities for adventures like hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and, of course, camping. Yet, it’s still hard to escape Hollywood. The park’s land was once owned by 20th Century Fox and served as the backdrop for scenes from the TV series M*A*S*H. There's still partially restored set you can check out during your camping trip.
Can’t imagine a weekend without duvet comforters, a coffee maker, and your own bathroom? Hit up El Capitan Canyon just north of Santa Barbara. For the full glamping experience (hey, WiFi), book one of the 108 cedar cabins nestled throughout the canyon. If you’re feeling a more classing experience, choose one of the 26 safari tents. The tents don’t include private bathrooms, but you’ll still have your own bed.
If boat-in camping is not an option for you (because who in LA has their own boat?), jump aboard a Catalina Express ferry 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, make the trek to Parsons Landing, one of island’s primitive campsites, accessible by kayak or a moderately difficult hike.
This is hands-down one of California’s best coastline campgrounds. Reservations open six months in advance, but you have to act fast to snag one of their 107 campsites. For those who are on top of it, you’ll have your choice of lodging options: tents with electrical hookups, tents without electrical hookups (perfect for a digital detox), group camping sites, and deluxe cabins.
The desert may not be the first place you think to go camping, but don’t rule it out. Jumbo Rocks, the largest campground in Joshua Tree, contains 124 campsites scattered among heaps of enormous rocks and boulders. Think lots of shade and plenty of privacy. Hike the nearby trails or rock climb at the campground. Either way, get back to camp by sunset for an epic burnt-orange sky followed by even better stargazing. Oh, and there’s no running water, so bring along way more than you think you'll need.
Encompassing over a million acres, the Los Padres National Forest can be overwhelming for first-time visitors. So, just follow our lead on this one. Pack 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 — 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 stop at one of the two campgrounds along the way if you’re worried about a place to sleep.
There’s no wrong way to enjoy the natural beauty of these parks. Venture to the secluded, tent-only Cold Springs Campground, where you’ll find scenic backcountry trails and alpine lake fishing. Or, 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, 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.
Leo Carrillo State Park in Malibu is situated between the Pacific Ocean and Santa Monica Mountains, making it a go-to camping spot 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.
Deep in the Angeles National Forest (and only an hour away from LA) is Buckhorn Campground. It's home to large pine trees, numerous hiking trails, and the kind of tranquility foreign to Angelenos. And for $12 per night, this weekend getaway that won’t break the bank. In fact, you can stay here for up to two weeks before they’ll ask you to leave. These 38 campsites are first-come, first-served, though, 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 secure one of the first-come, first-served spots. 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 you're after a more leisurely adventure, 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 you covered.
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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