Oddly enough, one of the best things about living in L.A. is how easy it is to take a road trip (or even a day trip) and get out of town for a much-needed break. And when it comes to the best places to go camping near Los Angeles, locals are in luck. From spending the night on a sandy beach to stargazing in some of the best national parks in the US, there are plenty of great options within driving distance that will make you forget all about the city.
2hrs drive, dog friendly (on a leash in most areas)The idyllic town of Idyllwild is nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains, flanked by Tahquitz Peak and Suicide Rock (famous for rock climbing). The area boasts sparkling lakes, majestic ponderosa pine forests and pretty nooks and crannies perfect for camping. From here, you can hike, rock climb, mountain bike, fish or explore the villages of Idyllwild, Pine Cove and Fern Valley. Fun fact: Dolly Parton once owned a home here (though we can’t imagine her camping).
Los Padres National Forest
2 hours by car, dog friendly (on a leash)Los Padres National Forest is close enough for an overnight or weekend getaway, yet feels thousands of miles from any city. Hike switchback trails that wind through hills and valleys, and stop for a swim at one of the forest’s many swimming holes (those along Sespe Creek are the most accessible). If you’re up for a short backpacking trip, trek the 18 miles (return) to Willett Hot Springs for a relaxing soak. Reservations are on a first-come, first-served basis and you’ll need an Adventure Pass to enter Los Padres, so be sure to pick one up at a nearby petrol station or sporting goods store.
1hr 40mins drive, dog friendly (on a lead at Dogwood Campground)
It may be considered the smaller, lesser-known sibling of nearby Big Bear, but Lake Arrowhead has enough charm and beauty to hold its own as a premier camping destination. The crystal-clear lake serves as the backdrop for the town, which is surrounded by vacation homes, shops, restaurants and the spa-centric Lake Arrowhead Resort. But you’re going camping, so bypass the resort and head to one of Arrowhead’s developed campgrounds, Dogwood or North Shore, best visited from May to October. Each has dozens of tent sites, while some have room for trailers and RVs. At Dogwood, you can expect to be surrounded by a thick forest of its namesake dogwood trees; at Northshore, you can hike the North Shore Recreation Trail to nearby Deep Creek Hot Springs. Then hit the water!
Angeles National Forest
45 minutes by car, dog friendly (on a leash)
As L.A.’s literal backyard, the Angeles National Forest is a popular spot for hikers, picnickers and joyriders, and you’ll find more than 40 campgrounds spread over more than 1,000 square miles of mountainous, evergreen terrain. Although the slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains are only a few miles from Pasadena, the weather can be drastically different once you’re at 11,000 feet. Winter brings snow-capped mountains but potentially snow-covered campsites at higher elevations, while summer and autumn are pleasantly warm, though water is scarce and wildfires are a real threat. All campsites are on a first-come, first-served basis, and you’ll need an Adventure Pass to park anywhere. If entering from the west, detour up Mount Wilson Red Box Road for dramatic views, windy roads and a visit to the Mount Wilson Observatory.
Malibu Creek State Park
1 hour drive, dog friendly (on leash in campgrounds, off leash on trails)
This nearby park covers 8,000 acres and has 15 miles of trails along creeks, through oak and sycamore groves and over chapparal-covered slopes. Hike up the hillside for stunning canyon views or swim in the large volcanic swimming hole. After a good rain, the park’s namesake, Malibu Creek, comes alive – jump in to cool off or pitch your tent nearby. The park takes reservations, so call ahead to check availability. Also check out the summer campfire series, where you can roast marshmallows and listen to talks about native animals, the night sky or the history of the area.