Hiking during the day and camping out at night is the ideal way to shake off the grit of the urban sprawl known as Los Angeles. Aim in any direction from the City of Angels and you’ll find fine California wilderness of all descriptions to investigate and to bond with while taking it all in with your favorite companions. That said, the following are five backpacking trips worthy of a short road trip from downtown that feel as if these distinctive destinations are much further away from the fray.
Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau
1 Green Pleasure Pier
Avalon, CA 90704
Catalina Island is a best bet for backpackers looking to do more than just hike and camp, although both activities are a big part of the fun on this island paradise. So are snorkeling, kayaking, diving, parasailing, dishing and beach lounging, all fine ways to soak up the ambiance of this California-based Shangri-La sitting 22 miles off the Pacific Coast. Catalina Island is accessible via Catalina Express boats from San Pedro, Long Beach and Dana Point. Smooth sailing and awesome times ahead.
Joshua Tree National Park
74485 National Park Drive
Twentynine Palms, CA 92277
When a rugged desert park suits your fancy, put the Mojave’s Joshua Tree National Park on your backpacking itinerary. The geology in these parts is absolutely surreal while the diverse wildlife – including bighorn sheep and kangaroo rats – is as active as the black-tailed jack rabbits who also live in Joshua Tree. Meanwhile, wildflowers offer a giant splash of color to the tempting terrain which boasts a number of intimate campsites. Each is limited to only six campers, so reserve early at any of nine available, including Black Rock and Cottonwood, both of which offer water and flushing toilets – creature comforts often welcome when you get back to nature in a desert environment like this one.
Chamber of Commerce
630 Bartlett Road
Big Bear Lake, CA 92315
Miles of hiking trails mixed with nearly year-round sunshine give Big Bear bragging rights big enough to lure backpackers to own the mountain experience. Known as the Island in the Sky, this California resort area is situated 99 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. A giant lake heats up this well-known getaway in the summer with lots of water sports, like wake-boarding, parasailing and stand-up paddle boarding. On dry land, take the Scenic Sky to the top of Snow Summit for jaw-dropping views and the chance to hike back down – or travel by mountain bike if you want to get there faster.
Mojave National Preserve
Kelso, CA 92309
Even for expert backpackers, the Mojave National Preserve can be a challenging choice, partially because, beyond the few established hiking trails, backcountry opportunities come with abandoned dirt roads and potentially dangerous washes. Planning ahead is vitally necessary prior to visiting this celebrated wilderness area that takes over 700,000 acres. In fact, officials who keep this place going say to “to notify others of your travel itinerary” before you set out and to “carry a good map and familiarize yourself with desert travel and survival skills before beginning your trip.” Camping is available but should be done by reusing campsites already in existence. Stay away from all dry washes for overnight stays because flash floods are almost immediate in this part of California.
Los Padres National Forest
Highway 33 at 17017 Maricopa Highway
Ojai, CA 93023
The county to the north of Los Angeles and the south end of the central coast, Ventura is ripe for all kinds of adventures. That said, Wheeler Gorge in Los Padres National Forest a prime pick for backpackers. The nature trail in this part of California is unrivaled and the campground next to to flowing Matilija Creek is the newest place for weary hikers to kick back and enjoy the experience. Another swell campground in Los Padres is Rose Valley, which is the closest place to stay in order to hike to the double waterfall called Rose Valley Falls.
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TEST 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.