Visiting or living in L.A. means you’ve got your hands full with things to do. The sprawling city is so full of events, attractions and every type of cuisine, it can be easy to forget about the beauty of the wilderness just outside city limits. While “outdoor adventures” may not be the first that come to mind when you think of California’s biggest city, some of the best outdoor hotspots to get some fresh air are just down the road. In fact, many of these natural gems are within a two hour drive from Los Angeles. The access to top-notch campsites, hikes for all skill-levels and breathtaking views is almost too easy.
Here’s our 5 favorite campervan-friendly campgrounds near L.A.:
Distance from Los Angeles: 48.3 miles
Travel time from the city: 1 hr 15 min
For the amount of time it takes some L.A. locals to drive through traffic on their daily commute, you could find yourself leaving the city behind to wind up 6,800 feet into the San Gabriel Mountains. Instead of horns honking or traffic lights flashing, opt for the clean, cedar scent-filled air at Buckhorn Campsite.
Give the L.A. River Rangers (818-899-1900) a call if you’re traveling here during November or Spring to find out if they’re open, as they do shut down for the winter months. Other than taking in the views and enjoying an amenity filled campsite (more on this below), Buckhorn Campground is easily connected to the Burkhart Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Silver Moccasin. Cap off the day with a dip in Pyramid Lake.
- First come first serve campsites
- 38 sites, $12/night
- Vehicles/RVs must be under 18 feet (Voyager Campervans are 15ft)
- Drinking & potable water available
- Pets welcome
- Bear lockers at every site
Carpinteria State Beach
Distance from Los Angeles: 84.5 miles
Travel time from the city: 1 hr 40 min
Long ago, the Spanish named this beach Carpinteria because of the naturally-occurring surface tar the famous local “carpenters” used to waterproof canoes. Today, people flock here for some of the best marine wildlife sightings for miles. Twelve miles south of Santa Barbara, you’ll find tide pools with starfish, crab, octopus, sea urchins and anemones. In certain colder months, you can even spot seals, sea lions, and the occasional grey whale.
Like any beach campground, high tides may close the campground at any time, and the popularity and proximity to the 101 mean you may have a noisier full-house on occasion.
- Reservations required, $45/night
- Maximum vehicle length is 40 feet
- Leashed dogs can camp with you, but need to stay off the main beach (we hear there’s a great dog park sectioned off on one part of the beach)
- Flush toilets, fire rings, ADA accessible sites
- Drinking water & showers available
Crystal Lake Recreation Area Campground
Distance from Los Angeles: 48.9 miles
Travel time from the city: 1 hr 18 min
Just over an hour from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, Crystal Lake Campground is the perfect mix of modern amenities and rustic outdoor experiences. With 10+ hiking trails accessible for all skill levels and a lake to drop a line into, you’ll also find a BBQ box or firepit, and a potable water spigot at every site. You’ll even find a lit pathway to flush toilets.
Since this site is a major find and first come first serve, get here bright and early – especially on the weekends. Near the campground’s entrance, you’ll stumble upon the Crystal Lake Cafe, run by Adam, a longtime friend of campground visitors. In addition to stocking any last minute supplies you may have forgotten, he’s always got homemade soups and fresh baked goods. Does anything sound better while camping?
- No reservations.
- 36 sites, $12/night ($10 with Adventure Pass)
- Potable and drinking water available
- Flush toilets
- Pets allowed
4. Manker Campground
Distance from Los Angeles: 48.2 miles
Travel time from the city: 1 hr 19 min
If you’re the type looking for another feather in your hiking-cap, setting up at Manker Campground is your best bet. At an elevation of 6,028 ft, you’ll have great access to Mt. Baldy’s Bowl trailhead. You can combine this with another popular adventure through Devil’s Backbone to reach 10,069 ft and a loop of 11.3 miles. If you’re just looking for a nice jaunt through the wilderness, try the 1.4 mile round trip to the 75 ft San Antonio falls.
The sites are a joy in and of themselves. Spacious with a decent amount of privacy provided by the old trees, sitting by a fire and seeing the stars through the branches at night is idyllic at Manker. If you do decide to brave Mt. Baldy’s, stop in at Mt. Baldy’s Lodge for some well earned food and drinks. Gazing out over the hills, you’ll have trouble believing you’re so close to L.A.
- 21 sites, $12/per site ($5 for extra vehicle)
- No reservations. Call the Ranger for more info: 626-574-1613
- Toilets accessible
- Pets allowed
- Fires allowed
Sycamore Canyon Campground
Distance from Los Angeles: 47.9 miles
Travel time from the city: 1 hr 5 min
Sitting on the edge of Point Mugu State Park, under the ideal shade of sycamore trees, sits a beach-camping favorite–aptly named Sycamore Canyon. With 70 miles of easy-to-moderate skill level hiking trails through the nearby Santa Monica mountains, and plenty firewood for sale, you can spend the entire weekend right here if you so choose.
Perfect for social butterflies, the sites are closer together than other campgrounds, but are very well kept up and have all the amenities you need. Insider tip: looking for an intense workout? Just up the road is the PCH Sandhill, a dune standing 200-feet tall at the base of a cliff.
- 58 sites, reservations optional, $45/day
- Opens at 8 a.m., and closes at sundown
- Reservations OK
- Token operated showers (dollar bills only)
- Fires allowed if you have fire permit, assessed each day
- Dogs allowed on leash in camping area, but not on the trails
- Drinking water & toilets available
Jumbo Rocks Campground – Joshua Tree
Distance from Los Angeles: 131 miles
Travel time from the city: 2 hr 20 min
Okay okay, this site is more than 2 hours away from L.A., but when writing about outdoor marvels in proximity to LA, it’s hard to overlook Joshua Tree. It’s too spectacular to miss mentioning as one of our favorite campsites.
With insane rock formations, spacious campsites, and famous night skies- this spot may be worth the extra hour or so of driving.
- Reservations available, but often not needed, especially during the Winter months.
- $15 night
- Campfires allowed, BBQs and fire pits available
- Vault toilets available
- Pets allowed
- Potable / drinking water, not available. Bring plenty!
- If you forget something, there are stores and facilities in nearby Twentynine Palms
- There is no cell service or WiFi. There are water and dump stations at Black Rock and Cottonwood Campgrounds, but these are not very close to Jumbo Rocks
Whether you’re looking to escape the fast pace of Los Angeles for a quiet night of stargazing on the beach, or a long day of hiking through the California hills, there is an abundance of exploration to be had for the city dweller and adventure junkie alike. Where will you go? Hop in, we’ll take you there.
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