Los Angeles may seem like a mishmash of endless intersecting freeways and the blending of one suburb after another after another, but head out of town in any direction and you’ll discover nature at the area’s finest. In fact, outdoor enthusiasts will find camping in this vicinity a refreshing change of pace from the City of Angels’ daily grind, so pack your tent and get going to any of the following five sites perfect for sleeping under the stars.
Angeles National Forest
La Canada-Flintridge, CA 91011
Price: $12 a night
About a mile and a half from the great Angeles Crest Trail — a path that stretches from Mexico to Canada — at an elevation of about 6,500 feet and about an hour and a half out of town, shaded Buckhorn Campgrounds affords Angelenos 38 slices of heaven. Each site includes a fire ring and allows campers to sleep among the cedars at the edge of an arroyo that leads to a creek surrounded by evergreens (mostly towering Jeffrey pine). Hiking is heaven in these parts, arguably the finest in the San Gabriel Mountains. Before gathering around the communal pit fire at night, seek out either the Burkhart Trail for a close encounter with nature along the way to Cooper Canyon Falls, a 25-foot drop about two miles from camp that splashes down into clear and very cool water. Caution: This is bear country, so put safe storage practices in place, and also take along a snake-bite kit because rattlers like this area as well.
Related: Family Friendly Hikes in the Inland Empire
Dark Canyon Campground
San Bernardino, CA
Plan to arrive in Dark Canyon on a Thursday to get ahead of the weekend crowds at this first-come, first-served site that sits at 5,580 feet. Along with the 21 spots on offer come fireplaces and picnic tables, with five areas sitting alongside a crystal clear stream and the rest hidden among a gaggle of pines including Coulter, white, sugar and yellow. Indigenous trees such as alder, willow and black cottonwood thrive near the stream, a lovely place to chill out in the shade to reflect on the best reason to go camping: nothing.
Two Harbors Campgrounds
Avalon, CA 90704
Price: varies, call to inquire
Not your typical down-and-dirty kind of camping, but it sits near where the buffalo roam. Two Harbors offers most of the accoutrements you usually need to drag along on this kind of rugged trip because this boat-in Catalina Island spot allows you to rent whatever you need. Choose from typical tent camping or so-called tent cabins with cots, camp stove, lanterns and sleeping for six. All share a bluff-side campground overlooking the beach, and beyond that, the Pacific at Catalina’s Isthmus. Coaster rangers are on hand, conveniently ready to hawk firewood, charcoal and propane to campers, and sleeping bags and pads are available for hire (call (310) 510-8368), all to make this a relatively easy experience at a seaside campground. VHF radios for emergency calls are recommended, while reservations and camping permits are required and issued at Two Harbors Visitor Services during check-in.
Related: Best Kids’ Camping Gear
Yellow Post Campgrounds
San Bernardino National Forest
Thirty no-frills camp sites provided by the U.S. Forest Service are delightful respites from the many RV parks and teen hangouts close to Big Bear to the right of Baldwin Lake, a.k.a. duck heaven. Remote Yellow Post offers more than its fair share of clean mountain air, which is quite a privilege for those not thrilled with Los Angeles’ famous smog. Get to the ranger’s station early to pick your camping place — you’ll get to see pictures of what you’re bidding for — grab your wilderness pass and driving directions. Then head on over to your assigned spot. Expect spacious sites and easy hiking trail access. Oh, and the sound of silence, one of the most important reasons for picking this camper’s Mecca.
West Fork Walk-In
701 N. Santa Anita Ave.
Arcadia, CA 91006
For those campers who want to get where they’re going fast, choose this Angeles National Forest sector just an hour away. West Fork Walk-in sits down the dirt road from the Valley Forge Campground — another alternative if you’re looking for a less isolated experience — beyond the Mount Wilson Observatory. Day hike options abound through heavily forested terrain here. The Silver Moccasis Trail follows a creek and is a bit steep, whereas Rattlesnake Trail eventually gets you to Mount Wilson. Whichever walk you take during the day, expect a soothing sleep under the stars away from that metropolis called Los Angeles.
Los Angeles freelance travel writer Jane Lasky, contributes to publications such as Travel + Leisure, Vogue and Esquire. Her weekly sojourning column ran in 40 newspapers for 20 years. Jane is anything but an accidental tourist. Check out her articles on Examiner.com.