One of Los Angeles’s best attributes is that it has mountains, beaches, and deserts all relatively close to its hardcore urban zones.
It is sometimes easy to forget just how close those resources are, so to nudge would-be travelers into taking advantage of them, we’ve compiled a list of a half dozen great campsites within about 65 miles of central LA (that’s about an hour of freeway driving in fair traffic).
We picked spots for the beach lovers, the mountain folks, the car-free, and the Angelenos looking to get about as far away from other people as they can without feeling like they’re on the brink of a 127 Hours experience.
It’s very likely there are more than six great places to camp near Los Angeles, so if you have a suggestion for a great spot we missed, please let us know in the comments. In the meantime, happy camping!
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Buckhorn Campground in the Angeles National Forest, up the road from La Cañada Flintridge, keeps campers cool in a different way than beach campsites would: The campground is located at an altitude of 6,300 feet. (Because it’s so high up, it usually closes around November, and reopens in the spring.)
RVs are allowed here, too, but have to be under 18 feet. (A note about the Angeles Crest Highway: Like most mountain roads, it winds. If you’re traveling with people or animals who do not like that, plan accordingly.)
The campground isn’t exactly a secret and often fills up by Fridays in the warmer months, so arrive as early as possible if you don’t want a spot next to the toilets, which are vault-style (kind of like permanent port-a-johns). Buckhorn is a first-come, first-served campground with about 38 sites that fit two cars and up to eight people each. Sites cost $12 a night.
As of publication, Buckhorn is still closed for the winter, but it’s expected to be open by the middle of the month, an on-duty ranger told Curbed. Interested campers can call the L.A. River Ranger District at (818) 899-1900 to make sure it’s open before heading up.
Carpinteria State Beach Campground
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The year-round campground at Carpinteria State Beach is nearly two hours and 80 miles away, and that’s in good traffic. But you don’t have to drive to get here.
This campground is just about a block away from the town’s train station, which is serviced by the Amtrak Coast Starlight. The train ride from Union Station takes about two hours, too, but during that time, you can sleep, watch a movie on your phone, or read.
This campground is not isolated— it’s on a very well-trafficked beach and it’s across the street from houses and a pretty tasty microbrewery—but the adorable, walkable and bikeable town is quiet. (It might be cool to hop on the train with your bike, then tool around the town on two wheels.)
And the campground has flush toilets, fire rings, ADA accessible sites, and a dump station for your RV or vintage trailer.
Reservations are required at the campground, and are available through Reserve California. Campsites start from $45 a night for a standard site; group sites cost more. If you arrive on foot or on a bike,you can use a “hike and bike” site, which costs $10 a night per person . Those sites should be reserved at least 48 hours in advance on the same website as campsite reservations.
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Henninger Flats campground is a short, three-mile hike above Altadena. From the get-go, this place is a little more rugged than the other campgrounds: There’s no drive-in option. Hiking is the only way to get here.
The campground is operated by the Los Angeles County Fire Department, and there’s an LACFD forester on-duty at the campground 24/7. Their office is upstairs from the Henninger Flats Museum in the campground. (Ring the bell at the museum for service, an LACFD forester told us over the phone.)
Henninger Flats has more than two dozen, first-come, first-served sites spread across three campgrounds. Free permits are required to camp; they’re available with the on-duty forester.
Sites have camp stoves, which require a permit to use. Anyone over age 18 with a photo ID can get a permit, also available from the on-duty forester. Restrooms are outhouse-style pit toilets.
One thing the campground doesn’t have? Running water. So you’ll have to cart in your own.
Parking to hike to the campground might get a little tricky. There are lots of parking signs and restrictions on the street where the trail to Henninger begins, and it seems the rules are well-enforced. (Directions can be found here; there is no overnight parking in Eaton Canyon’s lot.) The forester recommends campers scout out the area around the trailhead before they come up to camp, so they can find a good, legal place to park ahead of time.
There’s no official website for the campground, but the friendly, on-duty foresters are happy to answer questions via phone at 626-794-0675.
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The aptly-named Horse Flats campground in the Angeles National Forest is equine-friendly and has corrals and hitching posts for ponies, but these days it’s more popular with the bouldering crowd than with horsefolk.
The campground has vault toilets and 26 spacious, Jeffrey-pine-filled campsites, all of which are first-come, first-served and cost $12 a night. (Tents and trailers, plus RVs up to 20 feet are allowed.) The drive-in campground doesn’t have any drinking water available, so bring your own.
Since Horse Flats is above 5,500 feet, it can get cool at night, so be sure to check the weather. The campground is open now, but usually closes for the winter in November.
Sycamore Canyon Campground
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Just across the Ventura County line,Point Mugu State Park‘s Sycamore Canyon Campground is a nice tent and RV campground near Oxnard with beach access. It hooks up to fun hiking trails, too.
The campground offers flush toilets, token-operated showers, fire rings, ADA-accessible campsites, and a dump station for RVs.
When you make reservations, be sure that you are in fact reserving for Sycamore Canyon: There’s another campground called Thornhill Broome nearby with reservations on the same website, but those have no showers, chemical toilets, and no shade.Campsites cost $45 a night.
West Fork Trail Camp
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Are all these suggestions a little too bustling? Campers seeking more isolation and a higher degree of roughing it should check out West Fork Trail Camp behind Mt. Wilson, off the 2 Freeway. To access it, park your car 5 miles away, then hike in. (Be sure to buy an Adventure Pass for your car. Rangers are vigilant!)
Not to be confused with the West Fork Trail that starts up Highway 39 in Azusa, this first-come, first-served camp is classified by the Forest Service as having “light” usage; it only has seven sites, and they don’t get full, like, ever. The only water available is from a stream (so you have to filter, treat, or boil it first). There are vault toilets, at least.
These sites are free to camp in, and are a good jumping off point for those interested in hiking some of the Gabrielino or Silver Moccasin trails, which meet south of the campground.