Hey campers and welcome to my post where we will check out my 10 best camping spots in Southern California for some outdoor relaxation this year. With a variety of state and national parks, as well as privately owned campgrounds, Southern California offers endless options for camping in this beautiful region.
Whether you’re looking for a quiet retreat in the mountains, a beachside camping adventure, or a desert oasis, Southern California has it all. From Joshua Tree National Park to the San Bernardino State Forest, there are plenty of options for every type of camper. So pack your tent and sleeping bag and get ready to explore the great outdoors.
Understanding Southern California’s Geography
Southern California is a vast and diverse region that stretches from the Pacific Ocean to the Mojave Desert known for its warm climate, beautiful beaches and rugged mountain ranges. But before you set out on your camping adventure, it’s important to understand the geography of the area.
The coastal region of Southern California is characterized by its mild climate, sandy beaches and rugged coastline. It is home to some of the most popular camping destinations in the state including Malibu, Santa Barbara and San Diego. The region is also known for its beach towns, which offer a laid-back atmosphere and plenty of outdoor activities.
The mountain region of Southern California is home to some of the most beautiful and rugged terrain in the state. It is characterized by its steep canyons, towering peaks and dense forests. The region is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy hiking, mountain biking, and camping. Popular camping destinations in the mountain region include Big Bear Lake, Lake Arrowhead and Idyllwild.
The desert region of Southern California is known for its hot, dry climate and stunning landscapes. It is home to several national parks including Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park. The region is perfect for camping and hiking, but visitors should be prepared for extreme temperatures and limited amenities.
The Inland Empire is a region located east of Los Angeles and includes Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. It is characterized by its rolling hills, citrus groves and suburban communities. The region offers a variety of camping options including state parks, RV parks and private campgrounds.
Choosing the Right Time to Camp
When planning a camping trip in Southern California, it’s important to choose the right time of year to go. The region’s climate is generally mild and sunny, but temperatures and weather conditions can vary depending on the season and location.
Here are some things to consider when choosing the best time to camp in Southern California:
Southern California is known for its warm and sunny weather however temperatures can vary depending on the time of year and location. Coastal areas tend to be cooler and more temperate, while inland areas can be hot and dry.
During the summer months, temperatures can soar into the 90s and 100s in some areas, making camping uncomfortable or even dangerous. In the winter, temperatures can drop into the 30s and 40s at night, so it’s important to bring warm clothing and gear.
Be sure to check weather forecasts and conditions for your specific camping location before you go.
Crowds and Availability
Some of the most popular camping destinations in Southern California, such as Joshua Tree National Park and the beach campgrounds along the coast can get crowded during peak season. It’s important to make reservations well in advance if you plan to camp during busy times.
If you prefer a quieter, more secluded camping experience, consider camping during the off-season or at lesser-known campgrounds.
Best Times to Camp
Here are some general guidelines for the best times to camp in Southern California:
- Spring (March – May): Mild temperatures and wildflowers in bloom make this a popular time to camp in the region.
- Summer (June – August): Warm weather and long days make this a popular time for beach camping and outdoor activities, but be prepared for crowds and high temperatures.
- Fall (September – November): Cooler temperatures and fewer crowds make this a great time to camp in the region, especially in inland areas.
- Winter (December – February): Mild temperatures and fewer crowds make this a good time to camp in coastal areas, but be prepared for chilly nights in inland areas.
Activities to Do While Camping
Southern California offers a wide range of activities for campers from hiking to stargazing and wildlife watching. Here are a few suggestions to make the most of your camping trip.
With its diverse landscape, Southern California is a hiker’s paradise. Whether you’re looking for a leisurely stroll or a challenging trek, there’s a trail for you. Some of the best hiking trails in the area include:
- The Bridge to Nowhere Trail in the San Gabriel Mountains
- The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Hiking Trails
- The Potato Chip Rock Trail in Poway
- The Mount San Jacinto State Park Trails
Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring plenty of water, sunscreen and a map or GPS device.
Southern California is home to some of the best stargazing spots in the country. With its clear skies and minimal light pollution, the area offers a stunning view of the night sky. Some of the best places to stargaze include:
- Joshua Tree National Park
- Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
- Mount Pinos
- Palomar Observatory
Be sure to bring a telescope or binoculars, a star chart, and warm clothing, as temperatures can drop significantly at night.
Southern California is home to a variety of wildlife including coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions. Some of the best places to spot wildlife include:
- The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
- The San Bernardino National Forest
- The Channel Islands National Park
- The Cleveland National Forest
Be sure to keep a safe distance from any wildlife you encounter and never feed them. Remember to respect their natural habitat and leave no trace.
Best Camping Spots in Southern California
If you’re planning a camping trip in Southern California, you’re in for a treat. The region has a wide variety of campgrounds to choose from, each with its own unique features and attractions. Here are some of the top campgrounds in Southern California.
1. Jumbo Rocks Campground
Jumbo Rocks Campground is nestled within the iconic Joshua Tree National Park and stands out as a testament to the park’s unique desert landscape. As the largest campground in the park, Jumbo Rocks offers campers an unparalleled experience surrounded by its namesake boulders and rock formations that not only provide a surreal backdrop but also invite easy exploration of the desert terrain.
Staying overnight at this campground allows visitors to witness the enchanting sunsets that paint the boulder-rich region in warm hues, followed by incredibly dark night skies that offer a stargazing experience like no other.
When it comes to camping options, Jumbo Rocks Campground caters to both tent campers and RV enthusiasts alike however, it’s worth noting that there are no electric hookups available. The campground boasts 124 sites, ensuring a good chance of securing a spot for keen campers and whilst visitors have access to vault toilets, they are advised to bring their own water.
Dispite these shortcomings, its central location within the park makes it a prime spot for accessing prominent features including the famous Skull Rock. Additionally, Jumbo Rocks is one of five campgrounds in the park that offers reservations during the peak season, which runs between October and May.
Book via the Official site.
2. San Onofre Bluffs Campground
San Onofre Bluffs Campground is a gem located within San Onofre State Beach that offers campers a quintessential Southern California coastal experience. Positioned directly along the Pacific Ocean, this campground is not only a haven for those seeking the rhythmic sound of waves but also for surf enthusiasts due to its close proximity to San Onofre Surf Beach, renowned for some of the best surfing waves in Southern California.
The breathtaking ocean sunsets and the gentle sea breeze further enhance the camping experience, making it a sought-after destination for both locals and tourists alike as well.
In terms of camping options, San Onofre Bluffs Campground is primarily tailored for RV camping with 175 sites lining the oceanfront, mostly catering to camper vans and recreational vehicles. These sites provide campers with unparalleled access to the waves and the sandy shores of San Onofre State Beach.
Additionally, the state beach also features the San Mateo Campground, an inland counterpart that is exclusively dedicated to tent camping. This campground offers an additional 140 sites and is connected to the iconic Trestles Beach via a 1.5-mile nature trail. Both campgrounds are equipped with flushing water and coin-operated showers, ensuring a comfortable stay for all campers.
Book via the Official site.
3. Serrano Campground
Serrano Campground is a picturesque retreat nestled within the San Bernardino National Forest offering campers a refreshing escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. Its prime location, within walking distance of the shimmering waters of Big Bear Lake, makes it a favorite for those seeking a blend of aquatic and forested adventures.
The campground’s surroundings are not only ideal for lakeside relaxation but also for engaging in activities such as fishing, water sports and hiking. The nearby Lighthouse Trailer Resort and Marina further enhance the camping experience, providing hot food and a range of other activities for visitors to indulge in.
When it comes to camping accommodations, Serrano Campground is versatile and welcoming to both tent campers and RV enthusiasts alike. With over 100 campsites available, visitors have a range of options to choose from based on their preferences with each site strategically positioned to offer easy access to the lake and the marina.
For those looking to explore the forest’s rugged terrains, trails like the Cougar Crest Trail are easily accessible from the campground. Additionally, a short thirty-mile drive west from Serrano leads to the Dogwood Campground, another popular spot in the San Bernardino National Forest, best suited for tent camping during the summer and shoulder seasons.
The proximity to the tourist-friendly community of Lake Arrowhead, accessible with just a five-minute drive from Dogwood, further adds to the appeal of camping in this region.
Book via the Official site.
4. Green Valley Campground
Green Valley Campground is a serene haven located within Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, less than an hour west of San Diego. Nestled within the Peninsular Range at elevations exceeding 4,000 feet, this campground offers a refreshing respite from the typical high temperatures of a Southern California summer. The proximity of the Sweetwater River and its numerous swimming holes adds to the allure of Green Valley, making it a popular destination for families and nature enthusiasts alike.
In terms of camping accommodations, Green Valley Campground is well-equipped to cater to a diverse range of camping needs. With over 80 sites situated near the Sweetwater River, campers have the option to set up tents or park their RVs with sites strategically placed to offer easy access to the river’s swimming holes and the park’s extensive hiking trails, such as the Pine Ridge Trail.
For those seeking modern amenities, the campground provides running water and coin-operated showers to ensure a comfortable stay. Additionally, the park’s Paso Picacho Campground offers another excellent option for camping, with facilities for both tents and RVs. The Paso Picacho Group Campground, in particular, can accommodate larger groups, making it ideal for gatherings and events and both campgrounds are known for their incredibly dark night skies, perfect for stargazing and admiring the Milky Way.
Book via the Official site.
5. Manker Flats Campground
Manker Flats Campground is a captivating high-altitude retreat situated within the Angeles National Forest, offering campers a unique blend of mountainous serenity and challenging adventures. Located near the peak of Mount San Antonio, commonly referred to as Mt. Baldy, Manker Flats serves as a popular starting point for one of Southern California’s premier hiking trails, the roughly 10-mile Baldy Loop.
This trail offers hikers an opportunity to immerse themselves in the pristine beauty of the forest while challenging themselves with a rigorous ascent. The campground itself provides a rustic ambiance, complemented by its proximity to the Mt. Baldy Bowl Trailhead, which presents a more strenuous route leading to the nearby summit.
When it comes to camping accommodations at Manker Flats, simplicity and immersion in nature are key. The campground is perched at an elevation of over 6,000 feet, ensuring cooler temperatures and crisp mountain air. It offers 21 sites, which operate on a first-come, first-served basis and while these sites are not often filled to capacity during weekdays, they can become quite popular on weekends, especially during the hiking season.
These sites cater to both tent campers and those with smaller RVs, though it’s important to note that there are no electric hookups available. To cater to basic needs, the campground provides potable water and pit toilets for all overnight guests and the emphasis here is defintiely on connecting with the natural environment.
6. Fern Basin Campground
Fern Basin Campground is a tranquil oasis nestled within the San Bernardino National Forest, offering campers an intimate connection with nature. Located near the charming town of Idyllwild, this campground is enveloped by a dense canopy of pine, cedar and oak trees, creating a shaded and cool environment that contrasts with the typical Southern Californian heat. T
Its location makes it an ideal base for exploring the various recreational opportunities the forest has to offer, from hiking and mountain biking to simply relaxing amidst the verdant surroundings.
The campground features 22 individual sites, primarily catering to tent campers. Each site is equipped with a picnic table and a fire ring, allowing campers to enjoy meals under the stars and gather around a warm campfire. While the campground does not offer hookups for RVs, its secluded nature and proximity to streams make it a favorite for those seeking a more primitive camping experience.
It’s worth noting that the sites operate on a first-come, first-served basis, so early arrival during peak seasons is recommended. For convenience, the campground provides vault toilets, but campers are advised to bring their own water supply as well.
Book via the Official site.
7. Tamarisk Grove Campground
Tamarisk Grove Campground is a unique desert sanctuary located within Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the largest state park in California. This campground offers a stark contrast to the vast, arid landscapes that dominate the park, as it is dotted with native tamarisk trees that provide a shaded oasis amidst the sun-baked desert.
The presence of these trees, along with the campground’s central location, makes Tamarisk Grove a popular base for exploring the park’s myriad of natural wonders, from its sprawling badlands and ancient pictographs to its vibrant spring wildflower blooms. The nearby Cactus Loop Trail, a short nature trail, offers campers an easy opportunity to witness some of the desert’s most iconic plant species.
When it comes to camping accommodations, Tamarisk Grove Campground is well-equipped to cater to a variety of camping preferences. The campground features 27 individual sites suitable for both tent camping and smaller RVs. Additionally, for those seeking a more unique desert camping experience, Tamarisk Grove offers five primitive yurts, which are circular tent-like structures with comfortable amenities like beds, heating and cooling. These yurts provide a blend of rustic charm and modern convenience, making them a favorite among visitors.
Each standard campsite is furnished with a picnic table and a fire ring, allowing for outdoor dining and evening campfires. While potable water is available at the campground, there are no hookups for RVs. Given its popularity, especially during the cooler months, reservations are highly recommended to secure a spot here.
Book via the Official site.
8. Furnace Creek Campground
Furnace Creek Campground is a prominent camping destination situated within Death Valley National Park, the largest national park in the contiguous United States. This campground is aptly named, as it lies in one of the hottest and driest regions on Earth. However despite these extreme conditions, Furnace Creek offers a unique and unforgettable camping experience.
Its location at nearly 200 feet below sea level provides campers with unparalleled views of the vast desert landscapes, dramatic mountain ranges and the mesmerizing play of colors during sunrise and sunset. The campground’s proximity to key attractions such as Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, and the mesmerizing Artists Palette drive, makes it a strategic base for exploring the myriad wonders of Death Valley.
In terms of camping accommodations, Furnace Creek Campground is designed to cater to a diverse range of camping needs. The campground boasts 136 sites, with options for both tent camping and RVs. Several of these sites offer full hookups, making it convenient for RV campers seeking modern amenities in this remote desert setting. Each site is also equipped with a picnic table and a fire pit, allowing campers to enjoy meals and gatherings under the vast desert sky.
For those seeking a more primitive experience, the park also offers additional campgrounds, such as the Sunset and Texas Spring Campgrounds, which provide basic facilities without hookups. Given Furnace Creek’s popularity and the limited number of sites, reservations are highly recommended, especially during the cooler months when the park sees its highest influx of visitors.
Book via the Official site.
9. Moro Campground
Moro Campground is a coastal gem nestled within Crystal Cove State Park, located just north of the renowned Laguna Beach in Southern California. This campground offers campers a unique blend of rugged coastal beauty and modern amenities. Perched atop a bluff, Moro Campground provides breathtaking panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean allowing campers to witness the mesmerizing dance of colors during sunrises and sunsets.
The gentle sound of crashing waves and the salty sea breeze further enhances the camping experience and the campground’s location within the state park provides easy access to miles of sandy beaches, tide pools and a network of backcountry trails, making it a haven for both beachgoers and hiking enthusiasts alike.
When it comes to camping accommodations, the campground features 58 family campsites divided into three distinct areas: the North Moro, South Moro, and Lower Moro. These sites can accommodate both tents and RVs though it’s worth noting that there are no hookups available.
For those seeking a more minimalist camping experience, Moro Campground also offers 28 designated primitive hike-in sites, which are perched on the ridges and provide unparalleled ocean views. These hike-in sites are best suited for tent campers and are accessible via a moderately strenuous hike.
Each standard campsite is furnished with a picnic table, a fire pit and access to potable water and restroom facilities. Given its prime location and the limited number of sites, reservations at Moro Campground are highly recommended, especially during peak seasons.
Book via the Official site.
10. Doane Valley Campground
Doane Valley Campground is a verdant retreat nestled within Palomar Mountain State Park, located north of San Diego. This campground offers a refreshing departure from the typical Southern Californian landscapes as it is enveloped by lush forests, rolling meadows and bubbling streams. Situated at an elevation of around 4,300 feet, Doane Valley provides a cool respite from the heat, making it a favorite destination for those looking to escape the summer temperatures.
The nearby Doane Pond, a popular spot for fishing and a network of hiking trails, such as the Boucher Trail and the Palomar Observatory Trail, further enhance the recreational offerings of the campground.
The campground features 31 individual sites that cater primarily to tent campers though some sites can accommodate smaller RVs or trailers. Each site is thoughtfully placed to offer privacy and easy access to the park’s amenities including restrooms, showers,and potable water sources. Picnic tables and fire rings are standard at each site, allowing campers to enjoy outdoor meals and cozy campfires under the starlit sky.
For larger groups or gatherings, the park also offers two group campsites, Cedar Grove and Observatory, which can accommodate up to 30 and 15 people, respectively. Given the campground’s popularity and the limited number of sites, reservations are highly recommended, especially during weekends and peak seasons.
Book via the Official site.
Camping Essentials for Southern California
When planning a camping trip in Southern California, it’s important to pack the right gear and supplies to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable experience. Here are some camping essentials to consider:
- Tent – A good quality tent is a must-have for any camping trip. Make sure to choose a tent that is appropriate for the number of people in your group and the weather conditions you may encounter. Look for a tent that is easy to set up and provides adequate ventilation.
- Sleeping Bag and Pad – A sleeping bag and pad are essential for a good night’s sleep. Choose a sleeping bag that is appropriate for the expected temperatures and weather conditions. A sleeping pad will provide additional comfort and insulation from the ground as well.
- Clothing – Pack clothing appropriate for the weather conditions you may encounter. In Southern California, temperatures can vary greatly depending on the time of day and location. It’s a good idea to bring layers, including a warm jacket for cooler evenings.
- Food and Water – Bring plenty of food and water for your trip. Consider bringing a portable water filtration system if you plan to hike or explore the surrounding area.
- Camping Stove and Cookware – A camping stove and cookware will allow you to prepare meals and enjoy hot drinks. Look for a stove that is easy to use and fuel-efficient. Bring cookware that is appropriate for the stove and the meals you plan to prepare.
- Navigation and Lighting – Bring a map and compass or GPS device to navigate the surrounding area. A headlamp or flashlight will provide lighting for nighttime activities and trips to the restroom.
- First Aid Kit – A first aid kit is essential for any camping trip. Make sure to include basic supplies such as bandages, antiseptic, and pain relievers.
Safety Measures While Camping
Camping is an excellent way to enjoy the great outdoors and explore the beauty of Southern California. However, it’s important to remember that camping can also be dangerous if you don’t take the necessary safety precautions. Here are some safety measures you should take while camping:
1. Plan Ahead
Before you go camping, make sure you plan ahead. Research the area you will be camping in and be aware of any potential hazards such as wildlife, weather conditions and terrain. Make sure to bring appropriate gear and clothing for the conditions you will face.
2. Set Up Your Campsite Safely
When setting up your campsite, make sure you choose a safe location. Avoid setting up camp under dead trees or near cliffs or unstable terrain. Keep your campsite clean and organized to avoid attracting wildlife and if you are using a fire pit, make sure it is properly constructed and located in a safe area.
3. Keep Food Secure
Wildlife can be attracted to the smell of food, so it’s important to keep your food secure. Store your food in airtight containers or bear-proof containers and never leave food unattended. Make sure to clean up any food scraps or trash immediately to avoid attracting wildlife.
4. Stay Hydrated
Staying hydrated is essential while camping, especially in Southern California’s hot and dry climate. Make sure to bring plenty of water and drink regularly throughout the day. Avoid drinking untreated water from streams or lakes, as it may contain harmful bacteria.
5. Be Prepared for Emergencies
Accidents can happen, so it’s important to be prepared for emergencies. Bring a first aid kit and know how to use it. Make sure to tell someone where you will be camping and when you plan to return. In case of an emergency, make sure you have a way to call for help.
There you have it; 10 best campsites in Southern California. As usual, let me know of your experiences here or if there is anything you think I need to add.
Also, please do not hesitate to comment below if you have any questions, concerns, or corrections or would like me to check anything else out for you.
Until next time.