Buckhorn Campground, Angeles National Forest
Miles from Downtown L.A.: 50
Number of Sites: 38
Buckhorn is a little known gem tucked away off the Angeles Crest Highway, and is known for its higher elevation and cooler temps. Buckhorn is a great jumping off point for some of the best National Scenic Trails in Southern California. The Burkhart Trail, which leaves from camp, quickly intersects with both the Pacific Crest and Silver Moccasin trails. You can also hike up for some great views by heading to Waterman Mountain and Twin Peaks East. There is drinking water on-site, as well as pit toilets. Each campground comes with a picnic table, fire pit, and bear box. Bears have been seen in the area, so please be sure to secure your food. Sites cost $12 a night, and are first come, first served.
Local Scoop: Take the Burkhart Trail out of camp to Cooper Canyon Falls. There you will enjoy one of the few swimming holes in Angeles National Forest. The falls are only 2.5 miles from camp, and the trail meanders along a creek the entire time, making for a charming afternoon hike.
Crystal Lake Recreation Area Campground, Angeles National Forest
Miles from Downtown L.A: 50
Number of Sites: 36, in addition to cabins that can be rented out
If you’re looking for silence and solitude, as well as access to some spectacular hiking, then the Crystal Lake Recreation Area in Azusa is your spot. It’s one of the closest local campgrounds, and yet almost never has a crowd. There are just enough amenities to feel plush, but few enough people to feel peaceful.
There are a variety of hikes that start right at the campground, but if you’re looking for a challenging day out, head up the Hawkins Trail to the ridge. From there you can bag south and north Mount Hawkins, as well as Mount Islip. To make it a loop, backtrack from the summit of Mount Islip, and head down the Windy Gap trail to the campground. If you’re looking for something more mellow, try the Tototngna Nature Trail.
Each site has either a BBQ box or a fire pit, and about half of the sites have both. Each site also has a spigot with potable water, and is within walking distance of lit flush toilets. Sites cost $12 a night without an Adventure Pass, or $10 if you have a pass.
Local Scoop: Don’t want to cook, but still want a homemade lunch? Walk down to the Crystal Lake Café near the campground’s entrance. There you’ll find the incredibly friendly owner, Adam, serving up fresh made chili and baked goods. The café also stocks any camping essentials you might have forgotten.
Manker Flats Campground, Angeles National Forest Camping
Miles from Downtown: 50
Number of Sites: 21
Sitting at 6,000 feet, the Manker Flats Campground makes for a cool and comfortable summer get-away. Situated at the base of the 10,064-foot Mount Baldy, the highest point in the San Gabriel Mountains and in Los Angeles County, this campground is a great basecamp for some challenging hikes. One of the most popular is the 11.3-mile loop to the summit of Mount Baldy, which offers amazing 360-degree views of the surrounding valleys and mountains. There are also a handful of other challenging trails near the campground, including the 12.3-mile Bear Canyon Trail (aka Old Mount Baldy Trail), which is one of the most strenuous climbs in the San Gabriels. The 7.2-mile Ice Canyon Trail to Ice House Saddle is shorter, but a fantastic hike as well.
These sites are first come, first served. Amenities include piped water, flush toilets, fire rings, and picnic tables. Sites are $20/night.
Local Scoop: If you aren’t looking for a challenging hike, but would still like to get out and explore a bit around your campsite, check out the 1.4-mile San Antonio Falls trail. The trail begins right across the street from the campground and will bring you to a 75-foot, multi-tier waterfall, where you can relax and soak in the scenery.
Leo Carrillo State Park Campground
Miles from Downtown: 54
Number of Sites: 138
Situated across PCH from Leo Carrillo State Beach, this campground is a beach-lover’s paradise. Within walking distance, visitors can choose from myriad activities, including surfing, fishing, relaxing on the beach, or exploring the many tide pools and caves. The campground also backs up to the Santa Monica Mountains, which offer many options for hiking and mountain biking.
It’s worth making reservations for your Leo Carrillo camping spot far in advance as sites tend to book up. Each site has a fire ring and picnic table, and there are showers and flush toilets on premise. In addition, there is a small general store in the campground that stocks everything from sunscreen to firewood to ice cream. Sites are $45/night.
Local Scoop: Get up early and take the Nicholas Flat Trail from camp and watch the sunrise from the ridge. The trail is a moderately difficult 5.8 miles out and back with 1800 feet of elevation gain. However, the views of the ocean and surrounding mountains make the effort worth it.