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11 Wonderful Weekend Camping Destinations in Southern California

camping in california

Southern California is one of the most picturesque places to explore. The region covers several cities and locations just outside of them that are perfect for camping and exploring nature. If you’re a backpacker or camper who loves going on nature hikes, camping under the stars, or exploring new places — then this article is right up your alley. This article goes over some of the best spots to hike in Southern California as well as some great campsites nearby. No matter what you’re looking for, you’ll find it here!

Leo Carrillo State Beach

Leo Carrillo State Park Campground – Malibu

Leo Carrillo State Park Campground, a Southern California favorite, is shaded by enormous sycamores. When you or your group has had enough of the sandy shoreline directly west, you can sit in the cool breeze under the trees.

The campground is just a short drive from downtown Santa Barbara, making it a great option for a weekend getaway.

Leo Carrillo has 174 tent and RV sites available. Each site has a picnic table and a charcoal grill. There are also restrooms, drinking water, and a dump station at each site. You will also be able to take advantage of the on-site showers and laundry facilities.

The campground opens annually on the second weekend in March and closes on the last weekend in October. Rates vary by date and start at $45 per night for a standard site. Standard sites can accommodate up to eight people and one vehicle.

Reserve for Leo Carrillo Campground

View from Chilao Campgrounds

Chilao Campground – Angeles National Forest

The beauty of Big Tujunga Canyon and the majestic pine trees will make you feel as if you were a million miles from the city, if you camp here.

Chilao is the ideal forest hideaway if you can’t drive to Big Bear or the Sierra Nevada mountains. Because it sits at 5,300 feet above sea level, the campground is in a completely different biotic zone than the city, with lots of plant and animal life.

Here, you can sit at one of the picnic tables or fire rings, or use the vault toilets if nature calls. Don’t miss the magnificent sunset as it cascades over the San Gabriel Mountains.

Chilao Campground Info

Moro Campground

Moro Campground – Crystal Cove State Park

This campground allows RV/tent sites, California self-service pay stations, and primitive camping with a view. Campsites are shaded by coastal live oak trees and have access to restrooms and showers. A dump station is conveniently close to the RV sites. The campground is near the town of Morro Bay and has easy access to the water via a short walk from the RV sites. Campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. You can check out more here on the government campground site.

Reserve for Crystal Cove State Park

Malibu Campground

Malibu Creek – Calabasas

Malibu Creek is an excellent choice for the glamper or camper who wants to get away from the city but does not have the time for a long drive. However, don’t be fooled by the amenities and proximity to Los Angeles – Malibu Creek State Park has plenty of wilderness to explore. Malibu Creek has over 15 miles of trails that are popular with runners, hikers, and mountain bikers. With over 100 bolted sport climbs, the park also caters to rock climbers.

Every campground has a picnic table and a fire pit. There are also showers and drinking water on-site. Despite its remote feel, Malibu Creek camp is very close to Los Angeles, which means that campsites can fill up quickly during the summer.  Sites are $45/night.

Reserve for Malibu Creek Campgrounds

Refugio State Beach Campground

5. Refugio State Beach Campground – Santa Barbara

Where else but California could you drive right up to a campsite set along a sandy stretch of beach with massive, green palm trees gleaming in the summer sun?

If you have an RV or trailer, Refugio State Beach is one of the best oceanside campgrounds in Southern California (only fully self-contained vehicles are allowed at their numbered sites). There are no hookups or a dump station, but you’ll forget about those conveniences when you fall asleep to the sound of the waves lulling you to sleep.

Reserve for Refugio State Beach

Buckhorn Campground

6. Buckhorn Campground – Angeles National Forest

Buckhorn Campground, located off the Angeles Crest Highway, is a hidden gem known for its higher elevation (6,300 feet) and cooler temperatures. Buckhorn is an excellent starting point for some of Southern California’s best National Scenic Trails. The Burkhart Trail, which begins at camp, quickly connects with the Pacific Crest and Silver Moccasin trails. You can also hike up to Waterman Mountain and Twin Peaks East for some spectacular views. There is drinking water and pit toilets on-site. Each campground includes a picnic table, a fire pit, and a bear box. Sites are $12 per night and are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Buckhorn Campground Info

7. Manker Flats Campground – Angeles National Forest

At 6,000 feet, the Manker Flats Campground provides a cool and comfortable summer getaway. This campground, located at the base of Mount Baldy, the highest point in the San Gabriel Mountains and Los Angeles County, is an excellent basecamp for some challenging hikes. One of the most popular is the 11.3-mile loop to Mount Baldy’s summit, which offers stunning 360-degree views of the surrounding valleys and mountains. There are a few other difficult trails near the campground, including the 12.3-mile Bear Canyon Trail (aka Old Mount Baldy Trail), which is one of the most difficult climbs in the San Gabriels. The 7.2-mile Ice Canyon Trail to Ice House Saddle is a shorter but equally rewarding hike.

Manker Flats Campground Info

Sycamore Cove Beach right Across the Street from the Campgrounds

8. Sycamore Canyon Campground – Point Mugu State Park

If you’re new to camping, looking for a relaxing weekend, or have too many hobbies to choose from, Sycamore Canyon Campground is for you. This campsite, located just off PCH at the mouth of a canyon in Point Mugu State Park, offers mountain biking, hiking, and running trails and is directly across the street from the ocean. Reservations are not required, but they are strongly advised during the summer months when the tourist season is at its peak. Each campsite has a picnic table and a fire ring. On-site, there are also coin-operated showers and potable drinking water. Sites cost $45 per night.

Reserve for Sycamore Canyon Campground

Table Top Campground

9. Table Mountain Campground – Angeles National Forest

Clean, spacious, and with breathtaking views. Doesn’t that sound fantastic? Table Mountain Campground, located at 7,000 feet on the northern edge of the Angeles National Forest, provides a quiet retreat just up the road from the town of Wrightwood. Watch the sunrise over the desert and the sunset over the mountains; go for a nature walk; or unwind in your camp chairs and hammocks beneath the pine trees.

Instead of taking the freeway to your campsite, take the more scenic Highway 2, which runs through the heart of the Angeles National Forest. This route takes about 15 minutes longer, but it provides drivers with a meandering nature tour rather than the Vegas-bound traffic that can build on Interstate 15.

Reserve for Table Mountain

10. Idyllwild Campgrounds, San Jacinto State Park

Idyllwild is nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains, flanked by Tahquitz Peak and Suicide Rock (famous for its rock climbing). The area has glassy lakes, majestic ponderosa pine forests, and charming nooks and crannies ideal for setting up a tent. Hike, rock climb, mountain bike, fish, or explore the villages of Idyllwild, Pine Cove, and Fern Valley from there. Dolly Parton once owned a home here (though we can’t imagine her camping).

Both Idyllwild and Stone Creek Campgrounds accept walk-ins as well as reservations. Reservations can be made through Reserve California, and more information can be found at San Jacinto Mountains.

Reserve Idyllwild Campgrounds – You need to enter Idyllwild and search it on this site.

11. Jumbo Rocks, Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree is one of California’s most magical places (and the country, we think). The park’s varied and alien landscapes, owing primarily to gnarled, ancient Joshua Trees and massive boulders strewn about, make for impressive scenery during hikes, bike tours, or leisurely drives.

Jumbo Rocks is the park’s largest campground with 124 campsites and is often your best bet for a campsite within the park’s boundaries. It is centrally located in the park and is built around huge rocks with sheer cliff faces and some large Joshua trees. It has both spacious and tiny campsites.

Some of the sites here can accommodate RVs up to 32 feet long (no generators), while others can only accommodate a small tent. The setting beneath a towering rock formation that reflects the late-day sun makes even the smallest campsite here, barely big enough for a single tent and crammed in next to the road, more impressive than some of the best campsites in other national parks.

Reserve for Jumbo Rocks here


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