Crystal Cove State beach offers camping and cabins. | Shutterstock
From the coast to the mountains, these campgrounds are all within a two-hour drive or train ride from the city
One of the best things about Los Angeles is that it has mountains, beaches, and deserts all relatively close to its urban zones. Since it can be easy to forget just how close those resources are, this list highlights a few great campsites within about two hours of central LA.
There’s something for almost everyone here: spots for the beach lovers, the mountain folks, the car-free, and the Angelenos looking to get about as far away from other people as possible. There are definitely more than eight great place to camp that are close to LA, so this list will be updated with new locations as the seasons change.
For those looking to enjoy the great outdoors without having to actually sleep in them, the LA area also has a plethora of great hiking options.
Crystal Cove Moro Campground
Orange County’s Crystal Cove State Park is famous for its affordable and incredibly popular beachfront cabins, but it also offers campgrounds that are basically on the beach and backcountry camping.
The campground, Moro, sits on bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Laguna Beach. Separated from the shore only by Pacific Coast Highway, the campground has 58 drive-in campsites, 30 of which are designed to accommodate tents, soft-sided trailers, and van-lifers. The other 28 are for RVs. A limited number of sites are reserved for campers with the blue disabled driver placard. All the campsites have a picnic table and flush-toilets and showers are available. There’s not a ton of shade at the sites, so bring that pop-up canopy along.
Sites are $55 a night for tent sites, $75 a night for RV sites, and they can be booked through Reserve California. It’s understandably busy this time of year but worth the trouble—where else are you going to find a place this inexpensive to stay in Laguna Beach?
Sycamore Canyon Campground
Just across the Ventura County line, Point Mugu State Park’s Sycamore Canyon Campground is a nice tent and RV campground near Oxnard with beach access. It hooks up to fun hiking trails too.
The 113-site campground is very close to the beach. The sites are also close to each other, which is something to consider for those who really want that “away from it all” feeling.
This campground has flush toilets, token-operated showers, fire rings, wheelchair-accessible sites, and a dump station for RVs. Campsites start at $45 a night.
When making a reservation, be sure to reserve for Sycamore Canyon, as there’s another campground called Thornhill Broome nearby with reservations on the same site. But Thornill has has chemical toilets, no showers, and no shade, according to the state campsite reservation website Reserve California.
Barton Flats Campground
At 6,500 feet above sea level, Barton Flats is likely to be a bit cooler than your apartment this summer. Even more appealing, the popular San Bernardino County campground has flush toilets and showers. What luxury!
The campground’s sites are available for tents or RVs, and there’s a dump station available for a fee. The campground website shows that there are seven accessible sites for people with mobility issues, and that there are wheelchair-accessible restrooms and showers too.
Campsites include bear boxes (yep, there are bears around) and fire pits. The campground’s sites start at $31 a night and are all reservable through Recreation.gov, but it does get busy, so book early.
Carpinteria State Beach
If you’re sick of driving or living car-free, the year-round campground at Ventura County’s Carpinteria State Beach is for you, because it is accessible by train. The Carpinteria train station—about a block from this campground—is serviced by the Amtrak Coast Starlight train, which leaves from Union Station more than five times a day. The ride takes approximately two hours, and that’s two hours that could be spent catching up on some reading, binging a couple of podcasts, or just taking a snooze instead of sitting in traffic.
This campground is not off the beaten path by any means—it sits among a well-trafficked beach, a bunch of houses, and a tasty microbrewery—but what the adorable, walkable, and bikeable town lacks in remoteness it more than makes up for in sleepy charm.
The campground has flush toilets, fire rings, sites reserved for campers with disabilities, and a dump station for your RV or vintage trailer. Reservations are required here, and available through Reserve California. This map linked on the state beach’s website offers a guide to the locations and amenities at each site, as well as photos of the sites.
A standard campsite starts at $45 for standard site; group sites cost more. If you use a “hike and bike” site, it’s just $10 a night, but those are first come, first served and there’s a two-day limit.
West Fork Trail Camp
Are all these suggestions a little too bustling? Campers seeking more isolation and a higher degree of roughing-it should check out West Fork Trail Camp behind Mt. Wilson, off the Angeles Crest Highway. As the name implies, you park your car 5 miles away and hike along a trail to reach the campground. (Be sure to get an Adventure Pass for your car. Rangers are vigilant!)
Not related to the West Fork Trail that starts up Highway 39 in Azusa, this first-come, first-served campground is classified by the Forest Service as having “light” usage; it only has seven sites and they don’t get full, like, ever. The only water available is from a stream, meaning you have to treat or boil it first. The toilets are pit toilets.
Refugio State Beach
Located about 20 miles west of Santa Barbara, Refugio State Beach campground is the opposite of a secret, but it’s still a good spot whether you’re in a tent or an RV. (The park has a deal with one provider that can even drop off an RV and set it up, so all you have to do is show up.)
Besides proximity to the beach, the campground also offers ADA-accessible showers and flush toilets, fire rings, and state park lifeguard-led kayak tours through August.
The campground has 61 sites, a handful of which are wheelchair-accessible. All sites are close to—if not right up on—the beach. Reservations are required and can be made through Reserve California. Sites start at $45 a night.
Buckhorn Campground in the Angeles National Forest, up the road from La Cañada Flintridge, keeps campers cool in a different way than beach campsites would: The campground is located at an altitude of 6,300 feet. (Because it’s so high up, it usually closes around November, and reopens in the spring.)
Tent and car camping are king here, but RVs are allowed, provided they are under 18 feet. The campground fills up by Fridays in the warmer months, so arrive as early as possible if you don’t want a spot next to the toilets, which are vault-style (kind of like permanent port-a-johns). Buckhorn is a first-come, first-served campground with about 38 sites that fit two cars and up to eight people each. Sites cost $12 a night.
The aptly-named Horse Flats campground in the Angeles National Forest is equine-friendly and has corrals and hitching posts for ponies, but these days it seems just as popular with the bouldering crowd as with horsefolk.
The campground has vault toilets and 26 spacious, Jeffrey pine-filled campsites, all of which are first-come, first-served and cost $12 a night. (Tents and trailers, plus RVs up to 20 feet are allowed.) Do note: The drive-in campground doesn’t have any drinking water available, so bring your own.
Horse Flats is above 5,500 feet and it can get cool at night, so be sure to check the weather forecast. The campground is open now, but usually closes for the winter in November.