The Best Camping in Los Angeles

Taking in the sunset at Leo Carrillo State Park.
Taking in the sunset at Leo Carrillo State Park. Joseph Voves
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When you think about visiting Los Angeles, camping may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But while LA’s main claim to fame may not be its camping, just outside the bustling city there are some excellent camping getaways. It’s worth remembering that Los Angeles is bordered on three sides by mountains, and one side by ocean, which means easy access to nature and camping within a short distance from the city.

Here, eight of the best campsites within two hours of downtown LA where you can spend more time getting in touch with Mother Nature, and less time scouring the Internet.

1. Sycamore Canyon Campground, Point Mugu State Park

Miles from Downtown: 60

Number of Sites: 58

Sycamore Cove Camping, California.
Sycamore Cove Camping, California. Bjorn

If you’re new to camping, looking for an easy weekend, or have a ton of hobbies and don’t want to pick between them, then this campground is for you. Sycamore is located at the mouth of a canyon in Point Mugu State Park. Just off the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), this campsite offers trails for mountain bikers, hikers, and runners and sits just across the street from the ocean.

Reservations are not required, but during the summer months when tourist season is high, they’re highly recommended. Each campsite comes with a picnic table and fire ring. There are also coin operated showers, and potable drinking water on premises. Sites are $45/night.

Local Scoop: Just a mile up the road is the PCH Sandhill, a 200-foot tall sand dune that rests at the base of a cliff. This area is a popular with locals looking for an intense workout.

2. Leo Carrillo Campground, Leo Carrillo State Park

Miles from Downtown: 54

Number of Sites: 138

Leo Carillo State Beach Campground.
Leo Carillo State Beach Campground. Evan Blaser

Situated across the PCH from Leo Carrillo State Park, this campground is a beach-lover’s paradise. Within walking distance, visitors can choose from myriad activities, including surfing, fishing, relaxing on the beach, or exploring the many tide pools and caves. The campground also backs up to the Santa Monica Mountains, which offer many options for hiking and mountain biking.

It’s worth making your reservation far in advance as sites tend to book up. Each site has a fire ring and picnic table, and there are showers and flush toilets on premise. In addition, there is a small general store in the campground that stocks everything from sunscreen to firewood to ice cream. Sites are $45/night.

Local Scoop: Get up early and take the Nicholas Flat Trail from camp and watch the sunrise from the ridge. The trail is a moderately difficult 5.8 miles out and back with 1800 feet of elevation gain. However, the views of the ocean and surrounding mountains make the effort worth it.

3. Manker Flats Campground, Angeles National Forest

Miles from Downtown: 50

Number of Sites: 21

Sitting at 6,000 feet, the Manker Flats Campground makes for a cool and comfortable summer get-away. Situated at the base of the 10, 064-foot Mount Baldy, the highest point in the San Gabriel Mountains and in Los Angeles County, this campground is a great basecamp for some challenging hikes. One of the most popular is the 11.3-mile loop to the summit of Mount Baldy, which offers amazing 360-degree views of the surrounding valleys and mountains. There are also a handful of other challenging trails near the campground, including the 12.3-mile Bear Canyon Trail (aka Old Mount Baldy Trail), which is one of the most strenuous climbs in the San Gabriels. The 7.2-mile Ice Canyon Trail to Ice House Saddle is shorter, but a fantastic hike as well.

These sites are first come, first serve. Amenities include piped water, flush toilets, fire rings, and picnic tables. Sites are $20/night.

Local Scoop: If you aren’t looking for a challenging hike, but would still like to get out and explore a bit around your campsite, check out the 1.4-mile San Antonio Falls trail. The trail begins right across the street from the campground and will bring you to a 75-foot, multi-tier waterfall, where you can relax and soak in the scenery.

4. Crystal Lake Campground, Angeles National Forest

Miles from Downtown: 50

Number of Sites: 36, in addition to cabins that can be rented out.

Perseid Meteor Shower shot from Azusa Canyon near Los Angeles Create new entry and link Add some existing entries.
Perseid Meteor Shower shot from Azusa Canyon near Los Angeles Create new entry and link Add some existing entries. Mulling it Over

If you’re looking for silence and solitude, as well as access to some spectacular hiking, then Crystal Lake in Azusa is your spot. It’s one of the closest campgrounds to Los Angeles, and yet almost never has a crowd. There are just enough amenities to feel plush, but few enough people to feel peaceful.

There are a variety of hikes that start right at the campground, but if you’re looking for a challenging day out, head up the Hawkins Trail to the ridge. From there you can bag south and north Mount Hawkins, as well as Mount Islip. To make it a loop, backtrack from the summit of Mount Islip, and head down the Windy Gap trail to the campground. If you’re looking for something more mellow, try the Tototngna Nature Trail.

Each site has either a BBQ box, or a fire pit, and about half of the sites have both. Each site also has a spigot with potable water, and is within walking distance of lit flush toilets. Sites cost $12 a night without an Adventure Pass, or $10 if you have a pass.

Local Scoop: Don’t want to cook, but still want a homemade lunch? Walk down to the Crystal Lake Café near the campground’s entrance. There you’ll find the incredibly friendly owner, Adam, serving up fresh made chili and baked goods. The café also stocks any camping essentials you might have forgotten.

5. Buckhorn Campground, Angeles National Forest

Miles from Downtown: 50

Number of Sites: 38

Buckhorn is a little known gem tucked away off the Angeles Crest Highway, and is known for it’s higher elevation and cooler temps. Buckhorn is a great jumping off point for some of the best National Scenic Trails in southern California. The Buckhart Trail, which leaves from camp, quickly intersects with both the Pacific Crest and Silver Moccasin trails. You can also hike up for some great views by heading to Waterman Mountain and Twin Peaks East.

There is drinking water on-site, as well as pit toilets. Each campground comes with a picnic table, fire pit, and bear box. Bears have been seen in the area, so please be sure to secure your food. Sites cost $12 a night, and are first come, first served.

Local Scoop: Take the Buckhart Trail out of camp to Cooper Canyon Falls. There you will enjoy one of the few swimming holes in Angeles National Forest. The falls are only 2.5 miles from camp, and the trail meanders along a creek the entire time, making for a charming afternoon hike.

6. Meadow Group Campground, Angeles National Forest

Miles from Downtown: 41

Number of Sites: 2 (Site one accommodates 24 people, and site two will accommodate up to 80)

At 5,300 feet above sea level, Meadow Group Campground is a great choice for a weekend getaway for you and all your buddies. Relax in the cool mountain air, grill up some s’mores, and bust out the guitar for a campfire sing-along. And if after all that revelry you need a little time with Mama Nature, the campground is located a half-mile from the Silver Moccasin Trail, a 53-miler that cuts through the center of Angeles National Forest.

Each site has picnic tables, fire pits, and a water spigot. Reservations for both sites must be made more than four days in advance. Site one costs $36/night and site two costs $120/night.

Local Scoop: Just two miles down the road is Newcomb’s Ranch, a restaurant, bar, general store, and gas station. Grab a burger and some of their killer fries, and check out the parade of motorcycles outside. On busy weekends it’s not uncommon for hundreds of bikers to cruise through Angeles National Forest, often stopping at Newcomb’s Ranch.

7. Malibu Creek Campground, Malibu Creek State Park

Miles from Downtown: 36

Number of Sites: 63

The filming site for the legendary television show M*A*S*H*, which aired from 1972-1983.
The filming site for the legendary television show M*A*S*H*, which aired from 1972-1983. National Park Service

Malibu Creek is another great option for the beginner camper, or the camper who wants to escape the city, but doesn’t have the time for a long drive. However, don’t let the amenities and close proximity to Los Angeles fool you–Malibu Creek still has a lot of wilderness to explore. There are over 15 miles of trails that run along Malibu Creek, which are popular among runners, hikers, and mountain bikers. The park also caters to rock climbers with over 100 bolted sport climbs.

Each campground includes a picnic table and fire pit. On premise, there are also showers and drinking water. Despite the remote feeling of Malibu Creek camp, it’s very close to LA, which means sites can book well in advance during the busy summer season which typically runs from March to October. Sites are $45/night.

Local Scoop: If you’re looking for a bit of classic television history you’ll find it in Malibu Creek State Park. Follow a well-graded fire road for 2.5 miles to reach the site where the popular television show MASH was filmed. There you will find informational signs as well as some left over set dressing and props. On your way back from the MASH site, stop by the rock pool to cool off and partake in some cliff diving.

8. Table Mountain Campground, Angeles National Forest

Miles from Downtown: 70

Number of Sites: 42

Clean, spacious, and amazing views. Sounds good doesn’t it? Located above 6,000 feet on the northern edge of Angeles National Forest, visitors can watch the sunrise over the desert, and the sunset over the mountains, from their perch on the hill. Just up the road from the cozy town of Wrightwood, Table Mountain Campground offers quiet and solitude; it’s the perfect place to relax. Bring your camp chairs and hammocks and take advantage of the shade from the pine trees, or enjoy the clean air on a nature walk on the trail around the campground.

Each site comes with a paved drive, picnic table, and fire pit. Vault toilets and water spigots are dispersed throughout the campground. The campground closes in early November for the winter season, typically opening again towards the end of March. Sites cost $20/night.

Local Scoop: Instead of hopping on the freeway to get to your campsite, opt for the more scenic Hwy 2, which cuts through the center of Angeles National Forest. This drive adds about 15 extra minutes, but offers drivers a meandering nature tour instead the Vegas-bound traffic which can build on Interstate 15.

Originally written for Discover Los Angeles.

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