California (especially SoCal) is one of the most sought after states in the entire country, and LA is the city where dreams are made and broken. Most folks would spend their entire life’s savings to make it here, but living here can be exhausting. If you’re looking to break away from the glitz and constant momentum for one minute, then a quick camping trip just outside of the city is just what the doctor ordered.
Here are some of the easiest to access campsites near Los Angeles, we did the recon for you, so all you’ve got to do is read on to find your perfect match!
Emma Wood State Beach is a winner all around. If you’re looking to swim, surf, fish, or just take in the sights, you’re in for a great time here.
Bring your rod and your tackle, you’re in for some great catches. You’ll be able to find perch, bass, cabezon, and corbina without going far from your campsite. Off in the distance (but not too far) if you’re the type to do your fishing with your eyes, you can spot dolphins right offshore without having to bring along any equipment at all. The aquatic options on this campsite are robust and entertaining for a trip of any length.
Family and primitive campsites are available to self-contained vehicles only, and if you’re bringing along a group you can get some nice, comfortable tent camping in. Watch your vehicle size, the turnaround areas are a little tight so avoid bringing along anything over 40 feet in length, and your weekend getaway will go off without a hitch.
Tucked away in Crystal Cove, we have the Moro Canyon camping spot. This is an excellent spot for the hiking lover in your family. The trails here are beautiful, winding, and just the right amount of challenging for hikers of any skill level. If you’re ready to ratchet your hike game up, the strenuous areas are just tough enough to crest without tapping out your energy reserves, and anybody used to a mild hike will get their heart rate up just enough to feel alive. If you’re looking for more of a challenge, or you’re just partial to backcountry hiking, you’ll find that at Moro canyon as well.
Once you’re done hoofing it through the miles of trails, you’ll find campgrounds that can fit nearly any need you have. The family sites are perfect for a small group and come with picnic tables to make meals together a breeze. Your RVs and soft-sided trailers will find themselves right at home in this campsite’s low-impact areas.
Camp Williams is amazing all year round, but it truly shines in the fall. Camp Williams Resort is a short drive from the greater Los Angeles area and nestled away comfortably in the pristine San Gabriel Mountains. This site is full of activities without becoming a sterile camp experience that sucks all of the nature out of the experience.
If you’re looking for a camping area that’ll allow you a quiet weekend alone right on the banks, then Camp Williams is where you should find yourself on your next camping trip. Once you’re here you can entertain yourself with swimming in the river, you can try your luck panning for gold and re-live the glory of the gold rush, or just luxuriate in the simple pleasure of a long bike ride or an invigorating hike.
This campground right off of Little Pines Loop is anything but little. They offer nearly 100 campsites here in the Chilao Campground, and you’ll have plenty of access to potable water, saving you the weight and space to bring along your favorite gear. The elevation here is one of the biggest draws. Once you’re settled in at Chilao make sure to take a minute to take it all in because this is one of the best views in the state.
Camping at Point Mugu State Park is simple and enjoyable. If you’re looking for something without all the frills, and you’re the type to find your thrills in simplicity, then point your car in the direction of Point Mugu.
This vast park is just begging to be explored. The park is in the Santa Monica Mountains and calls itself home to about five miles of ocean shoreline. Some of the shore is littered with rocky bluffs, reminding you of the power of the waves and the long expanse of time. Some of the shorelines are sandy beaches and rolling dunes. You can hike one of the three easy or moderate trails through the uplands here towards the river canyons and the expansive verdant valleys.
Point Mugu State Park is the place to be if you want to draw in a deep breath and take in all of the wonders of nature without worry about much of anything else.
Lake Hemet is (unsurprisingly) all about the Lake. It’s beautiful at any time of the day, and the camping here is phenomenal. The scenery here is excellent for birdwatching, and the mountains perfectly frame Lake Hemet, and everywhere you look you’re greeted by the beautiful silhouette of the American mountains that wormed their way into the National Anthem.
If you’re keeping your eyes peeled you’ll find yourself able to mark some eagles and hawks off of your birdwatching list, and for your arborists, you’ll find tall pines, manzanita trees, sage, and giant oaks everywhere you look. This place is a natural wonderland, and it’s all easy to appreciate, making this easily one of the most beautiful campgrounds on this list.
Barton Flats is great for RV campers and folks ready to rough it alike. Their campsites are simple and serviceable. You’ll have access to clean drinking water, so save that space for something a little more fun. If you’re worried about feeling grimy after a long day in the woods then worry no more, Barton Flats also has showers on-site, so you can wash away the day and tuck yourself away at night feeling fresh and so clean. RV owners will be happy to hear there’s a dump station on-site as well.
Everyone camping here will have access to a picnic table and a campfire ring (remember to observe fire safety guidelines during the summer season!). Don’t fret too much about bringing along pests with wood from outside of the campsite, there’s plenty for sale here.
You’ll find a nice time here on Carpinteria State Beach. You don’t have to go far to find this relaxing sandy beach, and once you’ve arrived, you’ll find a beach with about a mile of shore to stretch your legs with. Once the temperature starts to dip towards the end of the year seals, sea lions, and gray whales start making an appearance. The tide pools around here are full of life as well. Take a quick peek and you’ll see starfish, sea anemones, crabs, snails, octopi, and sea urchins like you wouldn’t believe.
Carpinteria Beach is a wonderful reminder of how beautiful and full of life the ocean is. The only real downside here is that you’re not able to share all of the wonder and awe with your faithful companion. Dogs are more than welcome on the campgrounds here, but the beach is much more strict about four-legged visitors.
If Carpinteria Beach isn’t enough beach for you, then Leo Carrillo might be the better bet. You’ll find a mile and a half of beach here, a good fifty percent more than Carpinteria beach, and it really shows. The extra half-mile here makes for excellent swimming, windsurfing, and any other beachcombing your heart fancies.
Once you’re done poking at reefs and discovering coastal caves, you’ll find that the sycamore shaded campgrounds are a joy to rest in. If you’re more of a landlubber, then you’ll be pleased that Leo Carrillo has more to offer than beachfront fun. The backcountry hiking here is a joy.
Refugio State Beach is right outside of Santa Barbara. This place is great for a long weekend date. Stop by for some wine tastings, and sequester yourselves right nice to the beach for a comfortable and relaxing stay under the stars. The palm trees planted all around give this state beach an iconic look, it’s the kind of view that people visit from all over the country just to get a taste of.
If you’re looking for something to do during your stay there’s plenty of coastal fishing out on Refugio, as well as picnic tables and lots of hiking. If you’re feeling up to taking on the ocean there are kayak tours offered here for a unique view of the Golden Coast.
Joshua Tree National Park is one of the most unique camping areas in the country. The meeting of the Mojave Desert and the desert systems in Colorado make this a place unlike any other. The extreme climate here has hand-carved some of the most unique vistas you’ll have the pleasure of experiencing.
Any camper that’s willing to take on the outdoors should absolutely make a point of visiting Joshua Tree at some point in their pursuit of starlit slumber for the iconic Joshua Trees alone. There’s nothing like them anywhere in the United States, and you’re doing yourself a disservice if you miss out on the opportunity to see them first hand.
Saddleback Butte is a desert campground situated around a granite top mountain that puts Stone Mountain to shame. Out on Saddleback Butte, you’ll find hiking, horseback riding, and plenty of day-use space for folks that aren’t ready to commit to a night out in the Mojave Desert.
The campgrounds are first-come, first-served, and all of them are outfitted with a barbecue grill, a picnic table, and a fire ring. Most of the sites have a ramada to provide wind blockage and shade from the sun, so there’s that much more incentive to get here early to claim one of the best spots.
Be careful not to gather firewood from the park, desserts are deceptively delicate, and taking dead wood from an area you’re unauthorized to might mean you’re taking home from some of the wildlife out here, so be considerate. It’s also illegal, so leaving their homes comes with the bonus of not ruining your trip.
West Fork Trail is way up there. You’re going to be about three thousand feet above sea level during your stay. This campsite is a great place to stay if you’re looking for a more rugged experience. The site is well maintained, but they make a point of coming out here much less than the other campgrounds on this list. We understand that sometimes coming out to camp means that you’re coming out to get your hands dirty and to surround yourself with nature.
The hiking trails out here are great for keeping you immersed in the outdoor experience. They’re only open to hikers, bikers, and horseback riders, you’re not going to contend with anything motorized while you settle in for some peace and quiet out on West Fork Trail.
The cedars in Buckhorn’s campground will bring campers in from miles around. This site is quaint and the trees shading the area also provide a robust and comforting aroma for everyone to enjoy. The crisp air of the great outdoors is always a reason to get yourself out of the city, but Buckhorn and the surrounding incense cedars give all other campgrounds a good honest run for their money.
Camping here is easy and convenient as well, the site will only accommodate RVs up to 18 feet, and the sites here are first-come, first-serve, so you don’t have to worry about booking ahead of time if you’re the impulsive type.
Back in 1875, Ulysses S. Grant sent down an executive order to preserve La Jolla Indian Campground. Ever since that day, this area has been a pristine beauty of a campground. It’s the kind of place you go when you’re sick and tired of the city and you’re looking to reconnect with nature. The wildlife and the flora you’ll find are vast and varied.
Bring yourself a journal and clear your calendar, and you’ll find hours, if not days, of wandering and appreciation of the great outdoors.
Catalina Island is the closest you can get to a hidden island paradise without finding yourself way out in the middle of the Pacific. This place is beautiful and you’re surrounded by things to do. Camping here is the kind of camping you do in between trips out to sea and zip lining to dinner.
You can pitch at the tent sites right on the beach, and if you’re not up for all of the dozen or so amenities that Catalina Island offers, it makes for an exceptional beach trip on its own.
Wheeler Gorge is exactly what comes to mind when we imagine camping. It’s tucked away in the beautiful shaded gorge. The approach is beautiful and quiet. After winding through the rocky mountains and navigating the trees, you’ll find yourself in a campground that’s all about the perfect camping experience. The only thing missing here is potable water, but any experienced campers will find an easy solution to that.
Camping on the bay at Campland on the Bay is a glittering oasis of comfort. You’ll find a tent and RV camping here, they’re open to boat owners and if you’re looking to rent an RV, Campland on the Bay has your back. The ocean here is beautiful, and if you’re partial to sunsets the views here are immaculate. Campland on the Bay is a beach campers delight, and it’s close to home.
Table Mountain is great for a quick jaunt or an extended stay. Their distance from the city isn’t so far that you’ll need to commit to an overnight stay to make your trip out here worth your time, so if you’re looking for a place outside of the city to get your biking in or a nice scenic drive then Table Mountain has what you need in spades.
That doesn’t mean that the camping here is lackluster, however. Table Mountain is an excellent place to pitch a tent and leave all of your worries behind. The numerous water spigots and the fire pits at each site make your trip a breeze, and the views here will wash all of the worries out of your mind in no time.
Horse Flats isn’t just a fancy name for the campground. Once you’ve made it up to this lofty area, you’ll be greeted by a quartet of horse corrals, so you and your steed can tear it up out here in the mountains. The trails are long and wide enough for you and your muscular friend to really get a good work out in, and the scenery here is well worth the trip. You’ll have to bring your own water or take yourself on a trek to fetch it with your horse, but that minor inconvenience isn’t enough to put a damper on this wonderful spot.
Emma Wood State Beach is going home with the Outdoor Command trophy this time. Sometimes what you’re looking for is something simple enough to get into and right back out of, with just the right balance of amenities, and Emma Wood has it all without erecting any obstacles.
There’s fishing for your fishers, hiking for you hikers, and sights for the weary introvert. The sites are accommodating for groups of any size or just an individual and their trusty camper. Emma Wood State Beach has everything you’re looking for in a great trip and you won’t have to go far to find it.
Bonus tip: Before you head out to camp in California, it’s always wise to brush up on your wildfire know-how, and this video will do just that!