Camping. It’s really not for everyone. But if you’re the type that enjoys roughing it, we’re here to help you make it hassle-free. Surprisingly, camping in and around Los Angeles is pretty accessible. You just need the camping gear (hey, hi, that’s us!), a sense of adventure, an appreciation for California’s diverse landscapes and likely a campsite reservation. As Daniel Boone once said, “Nature was here a series of wonders, and a fund of delight.”!
Within just a few hours of LA, you get the best of all the worlds. We’re talking mountains, forests, beaches and deserts. The best part is you don’t have to drive far to pitch a tent. The Angeles National Forest offers 19 campgrounds in the Los Angeles Gateway District and 28 campgrounds in the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. Here’s what you need to know:
- Campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis only. Sometimes it pays to be an early bird.
- The maximum length of stay at any one campsite in the Angeles Forest is 14 days with a total of 30 days per calendar year. Living in nature is cool and all, but maybe don’t make it your permanent residence.
- Each campsite can accommodate up to eight people and two vehicles. Bigger group? You’ll need to claim more than one space.
- Paid campsites require you to check out at 11 a.m. on your departure date.
- Campsites in the Angeles Forest vary majorly. Some are hike-in only. Many don’t have toilets or scheduled trash pick-up. At the time of this writing, some campsites haven’t opened for the season yet.
- Depending on the location, you might need an Adventure Pass or an America the Beautiful Pass. (Cue purple mountains majesty 🎼 vibes.)
- Popular campsites require you to make reservations in advance.
- Please for the love of CAL FIRE, pay attention to fire rules, risks and warnings. You don’t want to be that person responsible for starting a wildfire.
To pick your campsite and for more information about camping in the Angeles Forest, head to the Forest Service website.
If your idea of California Dreamin’ is watching the sunset and waking up to the sunrise near a beach, you’re in luck. The closest beach tent camping options are in Malibu, although Dockweiler in Santa Monica is open to RVs. Take your pick from Leo Carrillo, Sycamore Canyon and Thornhill Broome. Here’s what you need to know:
- It’s pay to play. All beach and nearby beach tent camping require a nominal fee for parking. That is, unless, you can find a spot along the PCH. Campsites at these locations cost $45 per night.
- Restrooms are available at all three Malibu campgrounds. You’ll find showers at Leo Carrillo and Sycamore Canyon. Hooray for not stinking!
- Doggies are welcome at Sycamore Canyon and Thornhill Broome. Just be sure to keep them on a leash.
- Get in on endless beach activities and hiking at these spots.
If you’re willing to drive a bit farther, Bolsa Chica State Beach (RVs only), Crystal Cove State Park and Carpinteria State Beach also offer beach camping. For more details, head over to the California Beaches website.
Our nearest deserts are a bit of a drive. But that shouldn’t discourage you from making the trek and experiencing the otherworldly. If Lady Gaga can come all the way out here to film her music video for Incomplete in the desert, you can probably drive an extra hour out of the way. Most people automatically think of Joshua Tree when they think of camping in the desert, so let’s start there. Here’s what you need to know:
- According to the National Park Service, Joshua Tree campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Let’s hear it again for the early birds!
- Campsites fill up fast on weekends from October through May. Peak season in full effect. Campsites fill up fast during the week from mid-February through mid-May as well as holidays.
- Joshua Tree’s off-season is June through September. Hello, hot, hot heat.
- Book a campsite in advance and avoid that gut-wrenching disappointment when you drive all the way out there only to discover the sites are full.
- If you’re willing to camp outside of Joshua Tree, here’s a handy list of nearby options.
- Campsite prices range from $15 a night to $20 a night inside Joshua Tree plus your park entry fee of $25 good for 7 days.
- You’re allowed a maximum of six people, three tents and two vehicles per campsite if there’s room.
- Pay up your camping fee within one hour of choosing your campsite.
- Check-in for pre-reserved campsites is noon. Checkout is at noon on your departure date.
- You’re allowed to camp up to 30 days per calendar year. Only 14 of those days are permitted during high season.
- Furry friends are allowed at campsites, but must be kept on a 6-foot leash or shorter. Dogs are not allowed on Joshua Tree trails.
- Sorry, no holding or saving campsites for friends who aren’t there.
- Break the rules and you could be ticketed! Depending on the time of year, Joshua Tree may be heavily monitored by the resident park rangers.
See the list of Joshua Tree campsites and more regulations at NPS online.
Our last stop is the Mojave National Preserve. If you’re driving out to Vegas, baby, you might want to pencil in an overnight stay here for views alone. Here’s what you need to know:
- There are two campsite options to choose between: Hole-in-the-Wall Campground (no, we didn’t make that up) and Mid-Hills Campground.
- Once again, these sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. There’s no pre-booking option.
- There's currently no water at either campground so plan accordingly.
- Campsites cost $12 per night or $6 with the America the Beautiful pass.
- Each space can accommodate up to eight people and two vehicles.
- Your lavish amenities include pit toilets, trash cans, fire rings and picnic tables. You’ll need to bring your own firewood.
For more about camping in the Mojave National Preserve, head to NPS online.
If you’re not sold on one of these locations or if everything’s booked because you’re a terrible pre-planner, allow us to introduce you to Hipcamp. This site is basically like Airbnb, but specifically for unique camping experiences. They have yurts, tiny airstream campers, cottages, urban glamping and other options. You can read reviews. There’s easy booking. And depending on where you stay, you may not need to rough it after all.