The Golden State provides a spectacular backdrop for some of the most scenic and diverse campgrounds in the country, from desert camping in Death Valley to glacier camping in the Sierras. But do you know which campgrounds offer the most privacy? Which are the best for first-time campers? Charles Patterson has traversed the entire region, from the Mexican border to coastal Malibu to the rugged Sierras, and compiled the most up-to-date research to steer you to the perfect spot!
Best Tent Camping: Southern California presents 50 private, state park, and state and national forest campgrounds, organized into four distinct regions. Selections are based on location, topography, size, and overall appeal, and every site is rated for beauty, privacy, spaciousness, safety and security, and cleanlinessso you’ll always know what to expect. The new full-color edition of this proven guidebook provides everything you need to know, with detailed maps of each campground and key information such as fees, restrictions, dates of operation, and facilities, as well as driving directions and GPS coordinates.
Whether you seek a quiet campground near a fish-filled stream or a family campground with all the amenities, grab Best Tent Camping: Southern California. It’s a book for tent campers who like quiet, scenic, and serene campsites. This guide is a keeper.
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About the Author
Charles Patterson, a Southern California native, daydreams about his next outdoor adventure every time he finds himself indoors, bound by some professional or otherwise mundane obligation. Naturally, he relishes the opportunity to explore further, pushing himself to greater lengths than most would tolerate. Writing Mountain Bike! Los Angeles County: A Wide-Grin Ride Guide forced Charles to spend many hours in the sticks, often alone, occasionally pondering the size of local mountain lion populations. It was a true adventure, and getting to write about it afterward and share his love for the outdoors was a blessing. Revising Best Tent Camping: Southern California is a natural progression because Charles’s banged-up body certainly can’t tolerate two-wheeled pursuits forever, and tent camping is an activity he’ll still be able to enjoy after his first walker, cane, or wheelchair purchase.
Read an Excerpt
Topanga State Park: Musch Trail Camp
Beauty 4 / Privacy 2 / Spaciousness 1 / Quiet 4 / Security 2 / Cleanliness 4
Just minutes from Los Angeles, go camping in the bohemian backwoods of Topanga Canyon.
Location: Trails leading to Musch Trail Camp can be found at Trippet Ranch: 20828 Entrada Road, Topanga, CA 90290
Contact: 310-455-2465, parks.ca.gov
Operated by: National Park Service
Each site: Picnic table, fire ring
Assignment: First come, first served
Registration: Self-registration if park entrance station is closed
Parking: $10 per vehicle per day at Trippet Ranch
Facilities: Toilets, running water
- Pets: Prohibited
- Fires: Strictly prohibited
- Alcohol: No restrictions
Centered in the foothills of the bohemian hipster enclave known as Topanga Canyon, Musch Trail Camp is one of the Santa Monica Mountains’ best-kept secrets. Of all the campsites detailed in this book, Musch Trail Camp is the closest, as the crow flies, to the big city of Los Angeles. Don’t let that turn you off, though; Musch Trail Camp gives you a wonderfully unfiltered dose of Topanga Canyon’s natural wonders and scenic beauty. There’s a reason people pay big bucks on Airbnb to rent yurts and humble dwellings to stay in this place. It has its own special brand of magic that anyone can appreciate, even if you don’t eat raw foods or do yoga.
For years, Musch Trail Camp has stayed off the radar. In fact, few Topanga Canyon residents even know about it, despite it being right in their backyard. This can be attributed to the campground’s small sizethere are only 8 sitesand, the fact that you’ll need to hike in a short distance to reach the sites. However, these two factors don’t explain everything. Perhaps it’s simply hard to believe there could be a campsite so close to civilization. In the public psyche, camping in the Santa Monica Mountains is almost exclusively limited to Malibu Creek State Park.
Once your skepticism goes away and you start to believe this campground is a real place, pack your stuff and go camping accordingly. Once you park your vehicle at Trippet Ranch (see directions on page 48). It’s just a short walk from the parking lot via the Musch Trail. Once you’ve arrived at Musch Trail Camp you’ll find picnic tables, bathrooms, and running water. It’s one of the smallest officially sanctioned campgrounds in California, but also one of the sweetest.
Miles and miles of great trails to hike, some of Topanga’s best, are easily accessed from Musch Trail Camp. Eagle Rock shouldn’t be missed. You can get there by taking the Musch Trail northward from the camping area. After a few switchbacks, this singletrack terminates at East Topanga Fire Road, where you’ll turn left and reach Eagle Rock after a short, moderate ascent. Fortunately, all of the major trails in this area are visible on Google Maps, so navigation is simple. Or you can simply hang out and take it all in. Musch Trail Camp is situated above much of Topanga’s residential properties, so from the right vantage point, you might not see any sign of civilization as you stare out above the oak trees.
You can camp here year-round, but spring and early summer are probably best. In April and May, you’ll be greeted with mild temperatures and full-bloom flora everywhere you look. In late summer, the warm-dry Santa Ana winds start to blow, making for night temps in the low 80s. Winter has its own delights, but temperatures can drop below freezing at night, so be prepared with appropriate clothing and sleeping arrangements.
The area has a few natural hazards to be aware of. Poison oak is common in shaded areas all over the Santa Monica Mountains. Get acquainted with the appearance of this nefarious vegetation, and avoid touching it at all costs. This plant is particularly dangerous when it loses its leaves in the fall and winter. In these seasons, avoid anything that looks like a brown twig sticking out of the ground. You should also be on the lookout for western diamondback rattlesnakes, particularly in summer and fall. These docile, beautiful, yet highly poisonous creatures aren’t aggressive when unprovoked, but they can deliver a very nasty defensive bite if accidentally trampled on. If the unthinkable happens, seek medical attention immediately. There’s also a very small population of mountain lions dispersed over the Santa Monica Mountains, but they’re almost not worth mentioning. These big cats are so elusive they almost don’t exist. Unless you’re a deer or rabbit, you have nothing to worry about.
Groceries can be had at either of Topanga’s marketsTopanga Creek General Store (141 S. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, CA 90290) or Fernwood Market (446 S. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, CA 90290). For anything else you might need, whether it be hippie jewelry, vintage clothing, incense, yoga lessons, fine art, or fancy dinners, look no further than the Topanga town center, roughly located at 122 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, CA 90290. Those apt to enjoy such attractions could easily get lost here, forgetting all notions of camping.
Topanga Canyon is a magical place, with a trippy, unique vibe that sets it apart from nearby, comparably stuffier, snobbier neighborhoods like Malibu, Pacific Palisades, Beverly Hills, and Brentwood. At Musch Trail Camp, you can experience all of Topanga’s charms for pennies on the dollar. Do yourself a favor and visit this place. It’s well worth it.
From Los Angeles, drive east on I-10 until it ends and becomes CA 1 (Pacific Coast Highway). Driving west, stay on CA 1 for 5.8 miles until you reach CA 27 (Topanga Canyon Blvd.) and turn right. Drive into Topanga Canyon for 4.7 miles, then turn right on Entrada Road. After 0.7 mile continue hard left on Entrada Road at the three-way intersection. The entrance to Trippet Ranch will be on your left, 0.4 mile from the intersection. The address is 20828 Entrada Road, Topanga, CA 90290.
GPS Coordinates: N34° 06' 11" W118° 35' 02"
Table of Contents
Southern California Campground Locator Map iv
Map Legend vii
Best Campgrounds ix
The Coast 9
1 Catalina Island: Two Harbors Campground 10
2 El Capitán State Beach Campground 13
3 Fremont Peak State Park Campgrounds 16
4 Kirk Creek and Plaskett Creek Campgrounds 19
5 La Jolla Valley Hike-In Campground 22
6 Leo Carrillo State Park Campground 25
7 Malibu Creek State Park Campground 28
8 Montana de Oro State Park: Islay Creek Campground 31
9 Pinnacles Campground 34
10 Point Mugu State Park: Sycamore Canyon Campground 37
11 Point Mugu State Park: Thomhill Broome Campground 40
12 Reyes Creek Campground 43
13 Topanga State Park: Musch Trail Camp 46
The Desert 49
14 Anza-Borrego Desert State Park: Arroyo Salado Primitive Campground 50
15 Anza-Borrego Desert State Park: Blair Valley Primitive Campground 53
16 Joshua Tree National Park: White Tank Campground 56
17 Mid Hills Campground 59
18 Red Rock Canyon State Park: Ricardo Campground 62
19 Saddleback Butte State Park Campground 65
20 Vallecito County Park Campground 68
The Northern Sierras 71
21 Atwell Mill Campground 72
22 Buckeye Campground 75
23 Cold Springs Campground 78
24 Dorst Creek Campground 81
25 East Fork Campground 84
26 Fairview Campground 87
27 Four Jeffrey and Sabrina Campgrounds 90
28 Horse Meadow Campground 94
29 Kern Plateau Dispersed Camping Area 97
30 Lower Peppermint Campground 100
31 Minaret Falls Campground 103
32 Moraine Campground 106
33 Princess Campground 109
34 Quaking Aspen Campground 112
35 Rancheria Campground 115
36 Redwood Meadow Campground 118
37 Saddlebag Lake Campground 121
38 Tillie Creek Campground 124
39 Trapper Springs Campground 127
40 Trumbull Lake Campground 130
41 Twin Lakes Campground 133
42 Vermillion Campground 136
43 White Wolf Campground 139
The Southern Sierras 142
44 Dark Canyon Campground 143
45 Hanna Flat Campground 146
46 Heart Bar Campground 149
47 Laguna Campground 152
48 Marion Mountain Campground 155
49 Palomar Mountain State Park: Doane Valley Campground 158
50 William Heise County Park Campground 161
Appendix A Camping Equipment Checklist 165
Appendix B Suggested Reading and Reference 166
Appendix C Sources of Information 167
About the Author 175