Best Campgrounds in Los Padres National Forest

Explore the most popular campground in Los Padres National Forest with detailed reviews and photos from hikers, campers, and nature lovers like you.

The Los Padres National Forest is located in southwestern California along the Pacific Ocean coast. The forest is comprised of 1,754,780 acres. Of the 55 developed campgrounds, 27 meet the selection criteria.

The Los Padres National Forest stretches along the Pacific Ocean from Carmel, California (just north of the Big Sur) to below Santa Barbara, California, then across the mountain-tops and Salinas Valley.

With its variations in topography, vegetation, and wildlife, the Los Padres National Forest offers its visitors a wide variety of recreation opportunities.

Stretching from Ventura to Monterey and including most of the mountainous land along California’s coast, the forest is diverse and features everything from rivers to beaches and mountains to streams.

A popular recreation spot among locals and tourists, Los Padres National Forest, is a vast playground for hiking, backpacking, fishing, swimming, rock climbing, horseback riding, biking, and other outdoor pursuits.

With parts of the forest just 15 minutes from Santa Barbara, it’s an excellent place for a day hike, an after-dinner stroll, or some stellar photo ops.

However, if you’re looking to spend more time connecting with nature, camping in Los Padres National Forest is optional.

Below are some popular and best spots you can book for your next camping:

1

Mount Pinos Campground

Mount Pinos CampgroundBreathe deep, get calm, and find balance at the center of the Native American Chumash World, Mt. Pinos. “Iwihinmu,” in the Chumash language, was considered by the Chumash Indians to be the center of the world, the point where everything was in balance.

At 7,800 feet, the campground, bursting with views of mountains and valleys, is an ideal base for several biking and hiking trails. The dark and clear skies at night make this a picture-perfect stargazing setting.

Mt. Pinos Campground is located in Ventura County, approximately fifteen miles from Frazier Park, CA, on Cuddy Valley Road (9N24) and about eighteen miles west of Interstate 5. Access is via Interstate 5, Frazier Mountain Park Road, and Cuddy Valley Road (9N24).

The campground sits at approximately 7,800 feet and is two miles west of the larger McGill Campground. The surrounding vegetation consists of old-growth Jeffrey Pine and white fir forest with smaller brush and shrub species.

Recreation use at Mt. Pinos Campground is primarily weekend camping. Most users come from the Los Angeles Basin and southern San Joaquin Valley.

The campground has 19 family units, each with a picnic table and fire ring. The interior campground roads and parking spurs are paved. There are two four-riser pit toilets at the site.

Water is not available, but remnants of the old water system remain. There is one large trash bin located in the center of the campground for garbage collection and disposal.

The regular operating season is May thru October but may vary from year to year depending on the weather and snowpack.

2

Plaskett Creek Campground

Plaskett Creek CampgroundBe lulled to sleep by the sound of the surf as you cozy up in your tent, shaded by a canopy of Monterey pine and cypress trees.

Plaskett Creek Campground is ideal for surfers, spearfishers, and self-proclaimed beach bums camping in Los Padres National Forest.

The campground is just across Highway 1 from Sand Dollar Beach, the most extensive stretch of sandy beach in the Big Sur area.

A short five-minute walk with a board or two in the tote will lead you to the shores of Big Sur’s crystal clear waters.

Booking one of the 40 spots here can be tricky, so be sure to plan far in advance if you’re looking to score a spot at Plaskett Creek when camping in Los Padres National Forest.

Though there are no hookups, potable water, sinks, and flush toilets are available, and each campsite has a picnic table and a campfire ring with a grill.

3

Wheeler Gorge Campground

Wheeler Gorge CampgroundWheeler Gorge Campground has 69 family campsites and six double suites for larger groups. It can accommodate RVs up to 35 feet long.

The campsites here are shaded and adjacent to picturesque streams and rocky mountains. A reservation is required for most sites.

Each campsite at Wheeler Gorge Campground has a table, barbecue, and fire ring. However, there is no potable water, no dump station.

The Wheeler Gorge Visitor Center, with museum-like exhibits, interpretive displays, and naturalist programs, is across the campground.

The half-mile Wheeler Gorge Natural Trail is a loop trail that follows a tranquil stream through Riparian and Chaparral habitat.

The campground is a short drive from Ojai and Ventura’s town, making it the ideal place to camp in Los Padres National Forest if you want to sleep under the stars and then drive into town for an excellent, warm breakfast.

4

Chula Vista Campground

Chula Vista CampgroundChula Vista Campground in Los Padres National Forest is situated in a grove of Jeffrey Pines with several hiking and mountain-biking trails nearby.

The campground parking lot and nearby Mount Pinos are some of the best places in Southern California to see the night sky.

The campground only has a dozen sites, which adds to the seclusion and intimacy you’ll experience while camping here.

5

Kirk Creek Campground

Kirk Creek CampgroundKirk Creek Campground is one of the most popular campgrounds in Los Padres National Forest, and securing a spot might require a bit of persistence and ingenuity.

But as soon as you enter the campground, you’ll realize why these campsites are hard to come upon.

This picturesque, no-filter-required campground boasts spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and is only five miles from Sand Dollar Beach.

However, be sure you properly store all your food and drink because gangs of raccoons run rampant at Kirk Creek, and they are not shy.

6

Reyes Peak Campground

Reyes Peak CampgroundClose to Santa Barbara, Reyes Peak Campground is a high mountain escape that offers sweeping views of the Cuyama Badlands and even the Channel Islands!

Once you settle into the quaint camp, you can head out on the Chorro Grande Trail, Raspberry Spring Trail, or the Reyes Peak Trail in a grove of pines and fir.

After all that hiking, you’ll be looking forward to that cooler full of cold ones waiting for you back at camp!

Ride along the beautiful Santa Barbara coast, the central Monterey coast, or anywhere you want in this vast forest

This campground also offers fishing in the rivers and streams located throughout the forest, hiking in the Ventana wilderness, horseback riding in the Saint Lucia Mountains, paddling, swimming, and more.

7

Colson Canyon Camp

Colson Canyon CampColson Campground is a primitive campground located approximately 40 miles from the city of Santa Maria, CA. There are five campsites with tables and fire rings.

There is no running water and no bathroom. Popular campground for hunters, as this campground is easy access to the Alejandro Trail.

This small and quaint camp is first-come, first-served, and offers a peaceful base from which to explore the surrounding nature. Mountain biking, hiking, campfires, and oceans of stars await!

From Highway 101, take the Betteravia exit and head east. Continue on Betteravia to Tepusquet Mesa Road and continue on Tepusquet to Colson Canyon Road.

Turn right on Colson Canyon Road for approximately 12 miles, and you will leave Colson Campground. A high clearance vehicle is recommended.

8

Mount Figueroa Campground

Mount Figueroa CampgroundSpringtime at Figueroa Mountain is where it’s! Dust off those flower identification books because these hillsides are known for being jam-packed with wildflowers.

Birds come from all over during their migration to stop at this beautiful spot, and so do the people—being in such proximity to various trailheads, this campground can be used as your home base for quick access to more good times.

The grounds are extensive and spread out, with a first-come, first-served system. Make sure you plan for your water and stay hydrated throughout your stay!

The icing on the cake would be making sure to pick up a growler from Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company on your way.

9

Pine Mountain Campground

Pine Mountain CampgroundPine Mountain Campground is nestled in a small valley along the top of Pine Mountain and consists of seven campsites fashioned in a circle with a large open area in the middle.

Time to watch them California Condors soar at the high elevation Pine Mountain Campground.

These remote and spacious sites will offer peace and solitude (and if no one is camping with you, a chance to get in touch with your wild side).

If you need some inspiration, there are trails nearby that are great for wildflower and wildlife viewing.

There are tables, BBQ grills or fire rings, and one pit toilet at this campground. Water is not available, so please bring your water.

10

Chula Vista Campground

Chula Vista CampgroundCamp out, chill out, and stargaze at the Chula Vista Campground, located in a welcoming grove of Jeffrey pine.

Ample hiking and mountain biking are nearby, so bring some water and make some memories.

Mount Pinos is one of the best places to see the night sky in Southern California. The Chula Vista parking is the best spot on the mountain to take in some stars.

Though you can’t go wrong with any of the campsites here, take the first small spur trail on your left and hug the meadow to reach one of the three best spots: sites 10, 11, and 12.

They offer the best meadow views and plenty of shade under the pines, where Nuttall’s woodpeckers drum against the trunks.

Each site has a picnic table, fire pit with grill, and resident chipmunks to keep you company in this truly solitary setting.

You’ll need to bring in your water, and the vault toilets are currently closed, so it’s like camping in the backcountry.

Wrap Up

We hope you have enjoyed our blog and that you will find a suitable place for your next camping. We also have articles on tools needed for camping and the Best Camping Spots in the Upper Peninsula.

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