California

14 Epic Campgrounds Near Los Angeles, California

by Emily Pennington
Updated December 17, 2021

camping near los angeles
Malibu Creek State Park. Photo: Lando Aviles

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Though it often gets a bad rap on the national scene, Los Angeles offers year-round access to incredible outdoor recreation, without having to empty a tank of gas to get there.

Within a two hour drive of The Golden State’s most populous city, nature lovers have access to desert hot springs, high alpine forests, and beachside escapes. The tricky part? Knowing how to sift through the fluff and get to the good spots.

Luckily, I’ve done (most of) the hard work for you and hand-picked the best campgrounds within a two-hour drive of Los Angeles, perfect fare for a weekend or single-night adventure when you’re short on time but feel the call of the wild.

These campsites offer a mix of old growth forest, craggy beach cliffs, panoramic mountain vistas, and chaparral-strewn hillsides. Because of the different climates, it’s imperative that travelers check the fire restrictions and weather before heading out, as Southern California is known for its enormous temperature swings (90 degrees in the desert sun might mean 40 degree nights in the high mountains).

Likewise, many of the best mountaintop spots can have unexpected snow into spring. If you’re heading up to the mountains early in the season, I’d recommend nabbing a good set of all-terrain tires and reliable snow chains (like these from Security Chain Company) before heading out.

Lastly, if you’re looking to hike or visit a nearby national forest, don’t forget to purchase an Adventure Pass or a National Parks Pass to gain unlimited access all year.

Related Read: 7 Gorgeous Spots to See Fall Colors in California

1. Leo Carrillo State Park Campground

leo carillo state park campground
Photo: Gerry Matthews

Why you should camp here: Enjoy 1.5 miles of scenic California beach at this dog-friendly campground named after a famed conservationist.

  • Location: Leo Carrillo State Park
  • Reservations: Yes
  • Campsite type: Tents, RVs, car camping
  • RV hookups: Yes (20 AMP, 30 AMP, and 50 AMP)

Giant sycamores shade the well-spaced sites at Leo Carrillo State Park Campground, a SoCal favorite located right off infamous Highway 1. That means you and your crew can splay out in the cool breeze when you’ve had enough of the sandy shoreline just a few steps to the west.

Each campsite here is equipped with a fire ring and picnic table, and token-operated showers are dispersed around the 130 sites. Convenient to hiking, sunbathing, and tidepool viewing — this place has it all!

2. Chilao Campground

Chilao Campground California
Photo: Flickr

Why you should camp here: Scenic vistas of Big Tujunga Canyon and towering pine trees will make you feel a million miles from the city.

  • Location: Angeles National Forest
  • Reservations: No
  • Campsite type: Tents, small RVs, car camping
  • RV hookups: No

Chilao is the perfect place for forest lovers to escape the traffic and smog of Los Angeles when they don’t have the time to drive out to Big Bear or the Sierra Nevada.

Nestled at an altitude of 5,300 feet above sea level, the campground is in a completely different biotic zone than the city, with a wealth of plant and animal life you won’t find down south. Fire rings and picnic tables are available here, as are vault toilets for when nature calls.

Don’t miss the spectacular sunset as it washes over the San Gabriel Mountains.

Related Read: 11 Epic Winter Camping Spots in California

3. Huttopia Paradise Springs Campground

huttopia paradise springs
Photo: Expedia

Why you should camp here: Grab some R&R at this tented resort full of canyon greenery, just 90 minutes from L.A.

  • Location: Angeles National Forest
  • Reservations: Yes
  • Campsite type: Relaxed glamping
  • RV hookups: No

Sick of pitching and collapsing your tent every time you want to sleep under the stars? Us too. That’s why we’re such huge fans of Huttopia’s Paradise Springs location, where each site comes complete with a canvas tent, spacious deck, and beds with plush linens already set when you arrive.

Built in the 1920s (with the historic pool to match), this magical spot is an epic family-friendly camping retreat, with outdoor movie screenings, epic stargazing, and, of course, games of corn hole.

4. Malibu Creek State Park Campground

Malibu Creek State Park
Photo: Noah Sauve / Shutterstock

Why you should camp here: Climbers and hikers alike will fall in love with this mountainside spot that’s close to swimming holes, chaparral-covered hills, and craggy rock formations.

  • Location: Malibu Creek State Park
  • Reservations: Yes
  • Campsite type: Tents, RVs, car camping
  • RV hookups: No

Only 25 miles from Downtown Los Angeles lies one of the Golden State’s favorite state parks. Malibu Creek is a well-known haven for rock climbers, urban hikers, and seekers of Hollywood history (both M*A*S*H and Planet of the Apes were filmed here).

The campground is a great, family-friendly place to get away for the weekend, with picnic tables, fire rings, token-operated hot showers, and miles of moderate hiking trails you can access from right outside your tent.

Related Read: 10 Best Camping Spots in Big Sur, California

5. Moro Campground

Crystal Cove State Park
Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should camp here: Enjoy RV hookups or primitive bluff-top camping near Laguna Beach, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

  • Location: Crystal Cove State Park
  • Reservations: Yes
  • Campsite type: Tents, RVs, backpacking, car camping
  • RV hookups: Yes

Watch the sunset over the immense, rolling Pacific Ocean at a beachside campground as known for its quaint, historic cottages as it is for its camping.

Park your RV (the grounds have hookups), pitch a tent, or hike your gear 3-4 miles up the canyon to a secluded primitive site. No fires are allowed anywhere in the state park, but you won’t even mind when you’re sipping a cocktail surfside at The Beachcomber.

6. Horse Flats Campground

Horse Flats Campground
Photo: Tom Fassbender

Why you should camp here: Saddle up or drive in to this tree-lined mountain mecca for climbers and equestrians alike.

  • Location: Angeles National Forest
  • Reservations: No, first-come, first-served
  • Campsite type: Tents, small RVs, car camping
  • RV hookups: No

Lounge in the shade and hang a hammock at Horse Flats, a national forest campground located just one hour outside of Los Angeles. Sites here each come with the standard fare of a fire ring and picnic table (check fire restrictions before heading out), plus access to communal vault toilets.

There are hitching posts and corrals for equestrians who want to BYO-horse, numerous bouldering routes a mile’s hike away, and easy access to serene hikes like the Silver Moccasin National Recreation Trail.

No water is available onsite, so be sure to bring plenty for drinking, cooking, and dousing your fire when the night is over.

Related Read: The Best Camping Near Mount San Jacinto & Idyllwild, California

7. Refugio State Beach Campground

Refugio State Beach
Photo: Wayne Via / Shutterstock

Why you should camp here: Pull your RV or trailer up to the edge of a sandy, sparkling beach lined with idyllic palm trees.

  • Location: Refugio State Beach
  • Reservations: Yes
  • Campsite type: RVs, trailers, and hike or bike only
  • RV hookups: No

Where else but California could you wheel right up to a campsite set along a sandy stretch of beach with enormous, green palm trees glistening in the summer sunshine?

Refugio State Beach is one of the best oceanside campgrounds in SoCal, that is, if you’ve got an RV or trailer (only fully self-contained vehicles are allowed at their numbered sites). There aren’t any hookups or a dump station to be had, but you’ll forget all about those creature comforts when you fall asleep to the sound of the waves lulling you into dreamland.

8. Wheeler Gorge Campground

wheeler gorge campground
Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should camp here: Sleep under a canopy of live oaks as a stream gently burbles through the campground.

  • Location: Los Padres National Forest
  • Reservations: Yes (9 sites are first-come, first-served)
  • Campsite type: Tents, RVs, car camping
  • RV hookups: No

When you’ve exhausted your favorite haunts in the San Gabriels, look to the north and drive a bit further out to the woodsy town of Ojai and its stunning national forest lands.

Wheeler Gorge is full of everything you’d want from a mountain escape — creekside swimming holes, shady campsites, rocky peaks – plus, access to amenities like picnic tables and fire rings with BBQ grates.

Once you’re set up (the campground requires that you pack in your own water), enjoy the riparian and chaparral habitat on the kid-friendly Wheeler Gorge Nature Trail, or visit the nearby visitor center for educational programs.

Related Read: 8 Epic Weekend Road Trips from Los Angeles, California

9. Sycamore Canyon Campground

Point Mugu State Park
Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should camp here: Explore seaside cliffs, sandy beaches, and rugged uplands in this fan-favorite campground in the Santa Monica Mountains.

  • Location: Point Mugu State Park
  • Reservations: Yes
  • Campsite type: Tents, RVs, car camping
  • RV hookups: No

Who wouldn’t want to camp amongst shady trees while still enjoying easy access to 3.6 miles of ocean shoreline and 70 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails?

Sycamore Canyon Campground is the best of the bunch in Point Mugu State Park, with picnic tables, fire rings, and token-operated hot showers to clean off after a long day spent in the mountains. Kick back and watch the sunset behind the rolling waves, just steps away from California’s most famous road trip – the Pacific Coast Highway.

10. Deep Creek Hot Springs Campground

Photo: Tom Ha / Shutterstock

Why you should camp here: Bed down at the closest access point to clothing-optional Deep Creek Hot Springs, a year-round retreat for hikers who love a hot soak.

  • Location: San Bernardino National Forest
  • Reservations: No (though glamping tents require them)
  • Campsite type: Tents, RVs, car camping
  • RV hookups: No

The campground at Bowen Ranch has made some vast improvements over the last few years, with showers, breakfast, a weekend taco truck, and glamping tents now available, in addition to their more primitive campground, which hosts picnic tables, fire rings (wood is available for purchase on site), and potable water.

From there, campers can hike down the steep, 2.5-mile (each way) trail to the hot springs themselves, where one can sprawl out in the terraced, rocky pools for hours.

Related Read: 9 Soak-Worthy Hot Springs in California

11. Buckhorn Campground

double head rock
Photo: Chien-Chang Chen

Why you should camp here: Escape into the high peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains at this wooded, streamside retreat.

  • Location: Angeles National Forest
  • Reservations: No, first-come, first-served only
  • Campsite type: Tents, small RVs, car camping
  • RV hookups: No

At 6,300 feet above sea level, Buckhorn is one of the highest camping areas in the San Gabriel Mountains, the notorious, undulating peaks visible from almost anywhere in the city.

Because of its close proximity to Mount Waterman and hiking trails like Cooper Canyon Falls, the campground fills up quickly on weekends, but is well worth the trek out. Incense cedars and sky-high ponderosa pines line the grounds, where each site comes with its own picnic table, bear box, and fire ring, plus access to vault toilets.

Rumor has it that the campground is set to reopen in 2022, after the Bobcat Fire resulted in a long closure.

12. Pyramid Lake – Los Alamos Campground

Pyramid Lake
Photo: Jon Bilous / Shutterstock

Why you should camp here: Easy access to all the swimming, waterskiing, and fishing of Pyramid Lake with great amenities for when it’s time to hit the hay.

  • Location: Angeles National Forest
  • Reservations: Yes
  • Campsite type: Tents, RVs, car camping
  • RV hookups: No

Pyramid Lake is a striking, sapphire tarn set high in the Angeles National Forest with recreational activities galore, and the Los Alamos Campground is the closest you can get if you’re planning a weekend in the area.

The spot is well-apportioned with flush toilets, drinking water, a dump station, and fish cleaning areas, plus each individual campsite comes with your own private fire ring with grill and picnic table.

At 2,900 feet above sea level, it’s a wonderful year-round hideout from the city.

Related Read: 18 Stunningly Secluded Cabin Rentals in California

13. San Onofre Bluffs Campground

San Onofre Bluffs
Photo: Flickr

Why you should camp here: Search for surfers and lounge in the sunshine from your own cliff’s edge campsite.

  • Location: San Onofre State Beach
  • Reservations: Yes
  • Campsite type: Tents, RVs, car camping
  • RV hookups: No

The salty spray of the Pacific Ocean and sincerely incredible views of one of the world’s most famous surf breaks are what makes camping at San Onofre Bluffs so magical.

Set high on a cliffside overlooking the mighty, blue water, each campsite here comes equipped with its own fire ring and wooden picnic table. The grounds also provide chemical toilets, an RV dump station, and cold outdoor showers to avoid that dreaded sand in your sleeping bag feeling.

From camp, saunter down one of six rugged access trails to the shimmering beach below.

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