6 Must-Visit Southern California Campgrounds - NBC Southern California

1. Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park saddles the meeting point between Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert, therefore hosting two different ecosystems and creating an unbeatable landscape. With giant rock formations scattered through the park, Joshua Tree is a popular destination for climbing. Whether you're hiking or driving through the park, there is constantly something to discover. There are nine campgrounds in the park, three of which supply water and flush toilets. Backpacking is also permitted with a few regulations. Joshua Tree National Park is truly one of those places you have to see in person to understand the beauty and vastness.

2. Leo Carillo State Park and Beach

A frequent film set location, Leo Carillo State Park and Beach offers the best of both worlds, with woodsy campground below giant sycamores only a stones throw away from the beach. The campsite is an excellent location for back-country hiking. On the beach, campers can swim, surf, windsurf, fish, and explore tide pools, coastal caves, and reefs. Situated at the foot of the Santa Monica Mountains, Leo Carillo State Park and Beach is surrounded by photo-worthy vistas.

3. Ocean Mesa Campground in Santa Barbara

Of course not all camping excursions need to be downright rustic. Instead, why not opt for the pampered version otherwise known as glamping? That’s exactly what you’ll find at Ocean Mesa Campground. Nestled in El Capitan Canyon above the stunning shores of Santa Barbara, you’ll be treated to safari-style tents, luxurious yurts and even cozy cabins. Take a dip in the pool, treat yourself to a massage at the on-site spa and sample local wines while you watch the sun melt into the Pacific.

4. Anza Borrego Desert State Park in San Diego County

The largest state park in California, Anza Borrega State Park boasts 110 miles of unrivaled hiking trails. The park is home to large rock formations, colorful badlands, bajadas, desert washes, and mountain views. Campers may even encounter natural springs and oases. Anza Borrego State Park is also ideal for stargazing, especially since Borrego Springs was designated as the first International Dark Sky Community, having restricted and limited lights on public streets, outside businesses, and even on front porches of people’s homes.

5. Carpinteria State Beach Campground in Santa Barbara County

It doesn’t get much better than camping with an ocean view. With lifeguards patrolling the beach year round, Carpinteria State Beach is ideal for families to enjoy swimming, surf fishing, and tide pool exploring. In the first half of the year, campers can see seals and sea lions in the area. Not too far from a charming town center with great restaurants, Carpinteria State Beach also provides shaded picnic areas. Bird watching and nature walks are just some of the activities visitors can enjoy while camping here.

6. Buckhorn Campground in Angeles National Forest

Angeles National Forest is in the San Gabriel Mountains and Sierra Pelona Mountains and extends across 700,176 acres of land. At an elevation of 6,300 feet, the Buckhorn Campground is one of the forest’s best kept secrets. Buckhorn consists of 38 lush campsites situated among tall pines and fragrant cedars. It connects to a vast network of hiking trails through the Angeles National Forest. Ambitious hikers may even find a swimming hole and/or waterfall as they explore.