The Guide to Camping Sites Near Los Angeles

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Photo courtesy of Saddleback Butte State Park, Facebook

For many visitors, a trip to Los Angeles isn’t complete without experiencing the natural beauty that surrounds the city. Whether your hotel is in Downtown L.A. or at the beach, there are numerous L.A. County and California State Parks located a short drive away. From spectacular coastal settings to rugged mountains and otherworldly desert landscapes, these parks offer a wide range of daytime activities and options for camping overnight. Read on and find out more about camping sites near Los Angeles.

To make online reservations at L.A. County Parks, use the Activities Reservation & Registration System (LACARRS) to reserve and/or register for County services and programs, including RV Park, camping, picnic, facilities, and rooms.

Online reservations for California State Parks can be made via the ReserveCalifornia system. The format is similar to booking hotel rooms or airline tickets - after creating a profile, you'll be able to reserve campsites and lodging up to six months in advance.

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Boney Mountain | Photo courtesy of Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Flickr

Point Mugu State Park

Located in the Santa Monica Mountains, Point Mugu State Park features five miles of ocean shoreline, with rocky bluffs, sandy beaches, sand dunes, rugged hills and uplands, two major river canyons and wide valleys. There are more than 70 miles of hiking trails. The beach also features swimming, body surfing and surf fishing. The distinct pinnacles of the Boney Mountains State Wilderness Area are located on the eastern edge of the park. There are two campgrounds: Thornhill Broome on the beach, and Sycamore Canyon, located a half-mile inland. Sycamore Canyon is a popular hub for mountain biking. Both campgrounds are non-site specific - your site will be assigned upon arrival, though a prior reservation is still required. Online reservations via ReserveCalifornia.

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Malibu Creek at Malibu State Park | Photo courtesy of Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Flickr

Malibu Creek State Park

Located 25 miles from Downtown Los Angeles, Malibu Creek State Park offers activities such as hiking, fishing, bird watching and horseback riding. There are 15 miles of streamside trails that run through oak and sycamore woodlands. The park’s 25-mile Malibu Creek is the principal watercourse of the Santa Monica Mountains, from Boney Mountain to Malibu Lagoon. The park was the center of Chumash Native American life for centuries, and is a popular location for movies and TV shows, such as Planet of the Apes and M*A*S*H. Online reservations via ReserveCalifornia.

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View from atop Saddleback Butte | Photo courtesy of Ada Be, Flickr

Saddleback Butte State Park

Saddleback Butte is a granite mountaintop that rises a thousand feet above the Antelope Valley, about fifteen miles east of Lancaster, on the western edge of the Mojave Desert. The state park is home to a variety of wildlife, including the endangered Desert Tortoise. There are miles of hiking and equestrian trails, and day-use facilities with picnic tables and barbecue grills. The family campground is open year-round and offers 50 units with tables, stoves, fire rings, and shade ramadas. The campground is available on a first-come, first-served basis. An ideal time to visit is in the spring (February through May), when wildflowers put on a beautiful display of color. Autumn (October and November) is also pleasant, although temperatures may vary widely and change suddenly. Summer temperatures average 95º F and occasionally range as high as 115º F, but evenings are peaceful with warm breezes and clear skies. Average minimum temperature during the winter is 33º F (frost and sub-freezing temperatures are common, with occasional snow).

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Vasquez Rocks | Photo courtesy of Derek Cross, Flickr

Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park

Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park is a 932-acre park located in Agua Dulce, about an hour north of Downtown L.A. The park’s spectacular rock formations reach heights of 150 feet and are the result of millions of years of seismic activity and erosion. Vasquez Rocks takes its name from the outlaw Tiburcio Vásquez, who used the area as one of his many hideouts. A portion of the famed Pacific Crest Trail, which stretches from Canada to the Mexico border, passes through Vasquez Rocks. The park features a history trail tour about the Tataviam Indians, hiking and equestrian trails, picnic areas, and a nature center. The camping area is only available to organized groups. Vasquez Rocks has appeared numerous times in the Star Trek TV and movie series, HBO's Westworld, and classic shows like Bonanza, The Rifleman, Kung Fu, Mission: Impossible and The Twilight Zone. Vasquez Rocks was also featured in movies such as Dracula (1931), Blazing Saddles (1974) and Little Miss Sunshine (2006). Vasquez Rocks was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

Marshall Canyon Park & Nursery

Nestled in the foothills of La Verne, Marshall Canyon Regional Park and Nursery is a 119-acre facility that includes 40 campsites, horseshoe pits, built-in barbeques, a sand volleyball court and a full size stage, dance floor and circle fire pit. The park also houses a tree nursery and The Fred M. Palmer Equestrian Center, which offers a full-size training arena with judge’s stand, water troughs, and forty-five individual horse corrals. There are also picturesque trails for bird watching and mountain biking.

Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area

The 836-acre Santa Fe Dam Recreational Area is nestled at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains, featuring a serene 70-acre lake with year-round fishing and non-motorized watercraft usage. Other features include picnic areas, trails for hiking and biking, and campsites for organized youth groups. During the summer months, the recreational area highlights a five-acre chlorinated swim beach and a popular children’s play area. The facility is home to many protected native plants and animals. The Santa Fe Dam Nature Center offers nature and bird walks, presentations, insect identification, Tongva cultural history and other special programs. The park is also the site of the annual Renaissance Pleasure Faire of Southern California.

Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park

Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park is a 1,800-acre facility located in San Dimas, featuring a 250-acre lake with 14 miles of multi-use trails. Bonelli Park offers a wide variety of outdoor activities, including camping, family and group picnicking, biking, hiking, and water sports such as boating, jet skiing, fishing and swimming. There are also vendors that offer RV camping, hot tubs, horseback riding, and even wedding services in the on-site chapel. Annual special events include fishing tournaments, concerts, triathlons, and cultural events. The Raging Waters theme park is accessed from the south end of the lake.

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Hiking in Placerita Canyon | Photo courtesy of Mitch Barrie, Flickr

Placerita Canyon Nature Center

The Placerita Canyon Nature Center in Newhall is a unique east-west running canyon featuring shaded oak woodlands, chaparral-covered slopes and a seasonal stream. The 350-acre natural park is situated on the northwest side of the San Gabriel Mountains and surrounded by the Angeles National Forest. Placerita Canyon is the home of the famous "Oak of the Golden Dream," where gold was first discovered in California in 1842. The park offers eight trails that network over 12 miles and also features the Walker Cabin, where you can experience early pioneer living. Enjoy a unique animal presentation with live animals in the newly renovated "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design" nature center. Reservations for picnicking and group camping are available by calling the park office at 661.259.7721.

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Castaic Lake State Recreation Area

Located 40 miles north of Downtown L.A. off Interstate 5, the Castaic Lake State Recreation Area is one of the largest and most spectacular state water reservoirs in California. Castaic Lake provides fresh water to local communities, and offers a great local recreational escape for the entire family. This 12,658-acre oasis features two lakes - the Upper Lake has two launch ramps for boating, with various waterways and coves for exploring. The Lower Lake includes picnic areas, launch areas for kayaks, float tubes and other non-gasoline boating, and a swim beach. During summer months, kids can participate in the Junior Lake Lifeguard Program and fishing enthusiasts can enjoy world-class fishing. Recreational activities include hiking, horseback riding, wakeboarding, jet skiing, and RV and tent camping.