Searching for Bug Juice and GORP in L.A…. week I made a roadtrip to Portland and back on the company dime. For my return drive I opted to spend my hotel per diem on cheap casinos and a visit to REI, where I bought a tent and sleeping bag, and then proceeded to camp out for my two overnights.

My first stop was somewhere south of Valley of the Rogue, Oregon. After a few hours of searching for the state park promised by both my road map and signage, I gave up and headed for a KOA campground, where I ended up being the only tent amid what amounted to a grassy parking lot full of RVs. While KOA offers free wireless internet, it also featured the view, sounds, and smells of the 5 freeway a hundred yards away. I didn’t know this could be legally called camping.

However, back in California, I randomly found a state camping ground next to Lake Oroville, one hour north of Sacramento. For about $12 I had a gorgeous little plot of land for the night. A few other tented campers were around me, but unlike the $24 KOA campground I didn’t have to wear ear muffs to keep from hearing nearby traffic or someone blasting American Idol from their TV. The state campground was the next best thing next to having to hike for miles away from civilization, and left me wanting for more.

Which is where I appeal to the more outdoorsy of readers and contributors at to tell me what are the best campsites in Los Angeles? Places within a short drive, an hour or less, in Angeles Crest or elsewhere where a yokel can go and get away from it all?

11 thoughts on “Searching for Bug Juice and GORP in L.A….”

  1. On the coast – Leo Carrillo’s pretty sweet, but Sycamore cove on the ocean side is sweeter, particularly in the hot months.

    Good luck getting sites this year, though. They’re always booked up many months in advance.

    We really liked the Buckhead campground up in Angeles Crest. Beautiful bike rides thereabouts.

    A hair more than an hour gets you to Lake Casitas, near Ojai, which has boat rentals. But stay away on Saturday night – the partier and gang-banger quotient is a little too high, and you won’t get any sleep.

  2. Have to second Sycamore Cove. Try it in the off season or during the week. The place is packed on weekends, and during the summer you won’t find a spot at all. Up a little further is Thornhill Broome, but you’ll have the same problem and a lot of RVs.

    Though I haven’t been there in years, I recall Circle X ranch up around Malibu Springs and the backbone trail being fun. There’s a grotto that, when we actually have rain, is a nice little getaway.

  3. Kern Valley is less than three hours from here, and there’s lots of camping from Lake Isabella all the way up into the Sequoyah National Forest.

    I’m a big fan of camping up the coast – starting with Ventura and going from there (McGrath state park, for example, while pricey, is very quiet). Unfortunately, everyone else also goes that way in summer. However, the Channel Islands might be a good option, as the only way out there is by private boat. I’ve also camped up by San Simeon, which was AWESOME.

    Finally, this book:
    (the Foghorn Outdoors Guide to California Camping, and its companion, the Guide to California Hiking), is worth its weight in gold when it comes to finding campgrounds. Seriously. It is AWESOME, and does rate campgrounds by peace and quiet.

  4. Head north young man. Mcgrath State beach in Ventura. Exactly an hour north and not near as crowded as Sycamore Canyon.

  5. Millard Campground at the end of Chaney Trail up above Altadena in the Angeles Nat’l Forest is probably the shortest distance between downtown L.A. and a genuine campsite. If you really wanna get away though you’ll park at Millard and hike four miles in along the Mt. Lowe Railway to the Mt. Lowe Trail campground at 4,500 feet (site of the old Alpine Tavern and make camp there). No fee, pit toilets. I don’t think fires are allowed, but campstoves are.

    Link to satellite view of Chaney Trail in Altadena:

  6. I just had the most incredible stay last Sunday night at San Clemente: A friend took me there to go camp surfing (we both live in LA, and that way we can get to the beach around Camp Pendleton super early). The facilities were very clean and the grounds were quiet.

    Some might complain that the campgrounds are too developed, and there’s a train that goes by every now and then (which didn’t bother me at all). My friend mentioned that around summertime that they get busy, but this time of year it’s great. We snagged a site right by the cliff, set up a little 2-man, fell asleep to the waves and I had the best night of sleep I’ve had in weeks.

    Also, if the waves are too loud, there are plenty of campsites closer inland.

  7. The sounds of waves and trains? Sounds sweet! I’d just be afraid that the Pin might find me and kick my ass. (obscure reference to the movie “Brick” that takes place in San Clemente)

  8. Re: waves and trains – my thoughts exactly :). Haven’t slept that well in a long, long time.

  9. what i don’t understand is, i checked all of the campgrounds mentioned here and they’re all booked on weekends through november. how is anyone supposed to just go camping one weekend? it’s really discouraging.

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