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Thursday, May 26, 2022

15 Best Campgrounds in Southern California

Written by Brad Lane
Updated May 26, 2022

Nothing caps off a Southern California adventure like camping under the stars, and numerous campgrounds in the region deliver big natural features and dark night skies. From beach camping in the summer to winter camping in the desert, there's a Southern California campground to visit every month of the year.

National parks, state parks, and national forests are common venues for camping in Southern California. These sites typically come with amenities like fire rings and some sort of restrooms (flushing or primitive), with different accommodations for tents and RVs.

The landscapes at these popular places to camp vary widely. Mountain backdrops, coastal panoramas, and giant desert boulders are all in view at campgrounds in Southern California, lending to a wide sense of adventure. And with sunny skies and relatively warm temperatures, winter camping in Southern California also tends to be popular.

Stake your spot under the stars with our list of the best campgrounds in Southern California.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Jumbo Rocks Campground, Joshua Tree National Park

Jumbo Rocks Campground | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

It's easy to see why Joshua Tree is a special place when spend a few nights camping here. Jumbo Rocks Campground is the largest campground in the park and gives you the best chance of securing a site.

It's surrounded by namesake boulders and rock formations, make for easy exploration of the surreal desert landscape. And staying the night enables visitors to experience the magical sunsets of this boulder-rich region, as well as the incredibly dark night skies.

The 124 sites at Jumbo Rocks cater to both tents and RVs, although no electric hookups are available. Visitors have access to vault toilets but need to bring their own water. The campground is centrally located in the park and near prominent features, including Skull Rock.

Jumbo Rocks is one of several campgrounds within the park. And it's one of five that offers reservations during the peak season between October and May. Other reservable campgrounds include Black RockCottonwoodIndian Cove, and Ryan Campground. Jumbo Rocks is the largest, and Indian Cove is the next largest, with over 100 sites also surrounded by monolithic rock formations.

The park also has three developed, first-come, first-served campgrounds. The largest, Hidden Valley Campground, has 44 sites available and is incredibly competitive on winter weekends and holidays. Numerous primitive camping opportunities also abound in Joshua Tree National Park.

Official site:

2. San Onofre Bluffs Campground, San Onofre State Beach

Ocean sunset at San Onofre State Beach

San Onofre Bluffs Campground is an excellent RV campground on the Southern California coast. It lines the Pacific Ocean with 175 sites available, mostly catering to camper vans and recreational vehicles. These campsites lend easy access to the waves of San Onofre Surf Beach–home to some of the best surfing in Southern California.

San Onofre State Beach also hosts an inland campground that caters exclusively to tent camping. The San Mateo Campground has an additional 140 sites available, and a 1.5-mile nature trail that connects campers to the iconic Trestles Beach. Both campgrounds have access to flushing water and coin-operated showers.

San Onofre is a mecca for Southern California sun and fun. Other popular activities from the campground include sunbathing, swimming, and fishing. The neighboring city of San Clemente is also worth visiting, still today resembling a Spanish village by the sea. San Clemente is also home to San Clemente State Beach with more bluff camping available.

Address: Old Pacific Highway, San Clemente, California

Official site:

3. Serrano Campground, San Bernardino National Forest

Serrano Campground

Serrano Campground is within walking distance of the refreshing waters of Big Bear Lake within San Bernardino National Forest, providing some of the best lake camping in California. It has over 100 campsites available, accommodating both tents and RVs.

All of the sites at Serrano are within walking distance of the Lighthouse Trailer Resort and Marina, where hot food and other activities await. Other adventure outlets from the campground include fishing and water sports, as well as mountain biking and hiking with trails like the Cougar Crest Trail nearby.

Thirty-mile drive west from Serrano Campground, and accessible via the Rim of the World Scenic Byway, the Dogwood Campground is another popular place to spend the night in San Bernardino National Forest. The 87 sites at Dogwood are seasonal and only available during the summer and shoulder seasons and cater best to tent camping.

The neighboring and tourist-friendly community of Lake Arrowhead is accessible from the Dogwood Campground with a five-minute drive.

Address: 40800 N Shore Drive, Fawnskin, California

Official site:

4. Green Valley Campground, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

Stonewall Peak in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park provides a reprieve from the high temperatures of a Southern California summer, under an hour west of San Diego. The park is within the Peninsular Range at elevations exceeding 4,000 feet. This heightened landscape supports a lush oak and conifer forest segmented by meandering streams.

The park's Green Valley Campground is a popular family campground with over 80 sites near the Sweetwater River and its many swimming holes. Hiking opportunities like the Pine Ridge Trail extend right from the campground, and all overnight users have access to running water and coin-operated showers.

The park's Paso Picacho Campground is another popular place to pitch a tent or park an RV, and the Paso Picacho Group Campground accommodates up to 40 campers. Both campgrounds often feature incredibly dark night skies that are perfect for viewing the Milky Way.

Address: 14592-14674 CA-79, Julian, California

Official site:

5. Manker Flats Campground, Los Angeles National Forest

View of Mt. Baldy from Lookout Mountain

Manker Flats is a high-altitude campground near the peak of Mount San Antonio–also known as Mt. Baldy. It's a common starting spot for one of the best hiking trails in Southern California, the roughly 10-mile Baldy Loop. The campground offers rustic accommodations within Angeles National Forest. It also has easy access to the Mt. Baldy Bowl Trailhead, which offers a strenuous route to the nearby summit.

The campground sits at an elevation of over 6,000 feet. The 21 sites available are first-come, first-served, and while not often filled to capacity, they can fill up on the weekends. Potable water and pit toilets are available to every overnight user.

6. Fern Basin Campground, San Bernardino National Forest

Fern Basin Campground | San Bernardino Nat'l Forest / photo modified

Just outside the mountain town of Idyllwild, this rustic campground features 22 sites and an abundance of recreational opportunities. Reservations are available for this popular campground and are recommended for the summer season. Vault toilets and potable water are available to all overnight guests.

The Marion Mountain Trailhead is within the campground and provides a strenuous 11.8-mile hike to the top of Mount San Jacinto. But the campground is popular with peak-baggers and casual hikers alike, with numerous less-strenuous hiking trails also stemming throughout the surrounding San Bernardino National Forest.

For groceries, restaurants, live music, and one of the best small towns in California, the friendly community of Idyllwild is less than seven miles away.

Address: Forest Route 4S02, Banning, California

Official site:

7. Tamarisk Grove Campground, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Desert sunrise at a campground in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is one of the largest and best state parks in California, encompassing over 600,000 acres. The best time of year to visit Anza-Borrego is between October and May, when the 100-plus-degree summer heat subsides.

One of the best campgrounds in the park is the Tamarisk Grove Campground. It's also one of the most developed campgrounds within Anza-Borrego and is centrally located within the park. Campsites and cabins are both available. Visitors will want to bring their own water, though drinking water is available for purchase.

Official site:

8. Furnace Creek Campground, Death Valley National Park

Zabriske Point near Furnace Creek Campground, Death Valley National Park

While camping in a place named Death Valley might not sound too appealing, the stark desert landscape of the largest national park in the contiguous states is far from inhospitable.

The Furnace Creek Campground is one of the most accessible campgrounds in Death Valley, with the park's most prominent visitor center located nearby. Some of the prettiest spots in Death Valley are near Furnace Creek, including the Golden Canyons and the inspiring Zabriskie Point.

Two other popular campgrounds are also in the Furnace Creek area of the park, including the Sunset Campground with 270 sites available. It's rare for all campsites to fill up in Death Valley National Park. Most campgrounds in Death Valley National Park, including Furnace Creek and Sunset, have running water and flushing toilets available.

Official site:

9. Moro Campground, Crystal Cove State Park

Pacific Ocean from Moro Campground | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Off the Pacific Coast Highway just north of Laguna Beach, Crystal Cove State Park encompasses miles of stunning beach and the vast inland expanse of Moro Canyon. This combination of canyon hiking trails and a stunning shoreline make it a popular spot for all types of activity, including camping at the park's Moro Campground.

The nearly 60 sites at Moro Campground sit atop a bluff overlooking the ocean. This expansive coastal panorama is quite spectacular, especially come sunset. It can also potentially lead to very windy conditions on blustery days.

Coin-operated showers and running water are available at the campground, and more primitive camping spots are found at the hike-in-only sites at Lower Moro Campground.

Address: 8471 North Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, California

Official site:

10. Doane Valley Campground, Palomar Mountain State Park

View from Mt. Palomar

Sixty miles north of San Diego, the verdant scenery and alpine features of Palomar Mountain State Park defy expectations of a Southern California camping experience. The best way to enjoy the rolling topography and lush forests of this stream-lined state park is to spend the night at the Doane Valley Campground within its borders. This family campground features 31 sites for either tents or RVs and access to flushing toilets and coin-operated showers.

Address: 19952 State Park Drive, Palomar Mountain, California

Official site:

11. Sycamore Canyon Campground, Point Mugu State Park

Point Mugu State Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is home to some of the closest campgrounds to Los Angeles. This vast public space stretches along the coast from Santa Monica to near Oxnard and features endless amounts of outdoor recreation and places to spend the night.

Point Mugu State Park is only one of many great camping spots in the Santa Monica Mountains. The park's Sycamore Canyon Campground has nearly 60 sites available for tents and RVs and features high bluff views of the ocean and a sprawling network of canyon trails.

Farther east on the coast and closer to Los Angeles, Leo Carrillo State Park offers over 150 campsites close to the ocean, as well as a large group campsite that can accommodate up to 50 people. Also near Los Angeles, Malibu Creek State Park offers generous views from its 50-plus campsites.

Overnight guests at any state park in the Santa Monica Mountains have access to flushing toilets and coin-operated showers.

Official site:

12. South Carlsbad State Beach Campground

Stairs to South Carlsbad State Beach

For some of the best beach camping in Southern California, stunning state beaches line the 50-mile stretch of the San Diego coast. Among the most popular for camping, thanks to the 220 bluff-top sites available, is the South Carlsbad State Beach Campground.

All overnight guests at South Carlsbad enjoy ocean views and easy access to the sprawling beach. The sites are also within proximity to flushing toilets and coin-operated showers.

Official site:

13. Malibu Creek State Park

Malibu Creek State Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Malibu Creek State Park offers one of the best outlets into the Santa Monica Mountains of Southern California. The park is accessible with a six-mile drive on Malibu Canyon Road from the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. This uphill drive sets the elevated tone for the rest of the trip.

The Malibu Creek Campground at the state park has more than 55 campsites spread out along a very large loop. Tents and RVs are welcome, and no electrical hookups are available. The campground has flushing restrooms and coin-operated hot showers. Each site has a picnic table, fire ring, and typically a view of nearby mountain peaks.

The real treasure of Malibu Creek Campground is how easy it makes hitting the trails the next morning. Malibu Creek State Park encompasses over 8,000 acres, including 3,000-plus acres of natural preserves, and over 35 miles of trails that skirt this vast expanse. Many of the most popular routes follow the riparian corridor formed by the park's namesake.

14. Doheny State Beach

Doheny State Beach at sunset | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Doheny is one of the most popular state beaches in Southern California. It's in Dana Point, approximately halfway between San Clemente and Laguna Beach, and encompasses 62 oceanfront acres. The beach and coastline offer several activities, including surfing, fishing, volleyball, and simply enjoying the year-round warm weather.

Camping is also popular at Doheny State Beach. Approximately 113 sites are available for both RVs and tents, although no electric hookups are available. These sites tend to book out months in advance throughout the year. The campground has flushing toilets and coin-operated hot showers, and easy access to over a mile of beach.

15. Lake Perris State Recreation Area

Lake Perris State Recreation Area | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Lake Perris is a massive reservoir in the Inland Empire of Southern California, approximately 11 miles southeast of Riverside. It's the southernmost reservoir of the California State Water Project. And alongside its storage capacity for nearby desert communities, it offers abundant recreation.

Boating and fishing are two of the most popular activities at Lake Perris. The reservoir is well known for its largemouth bass. The lake has a 200-boat limit, which is reached throughout the summer. Advanced launch reservations are available.

Camping is also wildly popular at the State Recreation Area. Lake Perris has over 350 campsites spread throughout five campgrounds. Different accommodations are available at each campground, with some featuring paved RVs spots with full electric hookups. Reservations are also recommended throughout the summer.

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