With summer on the horizon and autumn right behind it, it’s the best time to get out and camp. Going off the beaten path in California can lead you to beautiful campsites, lush wildflowers, and unforgettable adventures.
Even in Los Angeles, one of the busiest cities in the country, campers can get away and take refuge in surrounding wild spaces. State parks and national parks provide a way to get right to the heart of the natural world. Pack up an RV or SUV with as many friends and supplies as you want and need, and make your escape.
Below, we’ve got a few ideas for your next lakeside getaway. Olivers will review where to go, how to prepare, and what to do once you get there.
We start our list just northwest of Los Angeles. A few hours north into Santa Clarita brings you to brilliant Lake Piru.
Lake Piru’s campsite is fully equipped with modern amenities and hookups. Restrooms, showers, 50-amp electricity, and water are all available, making your camping experience as off-the-grid or secluded as you’d like.
These are all wonderful, but they aren’t the main reason you go camping here in the first place. The glistening, warm waters of Lake Piru feature a marina, complete with boat rental opportunities. Boating, swimming, surfing, fishing, and more are all possible ways to enjoy the water.
Reservations at the lake campground are available year-round, except on holidays. A total of 238 RV sites means there’s plenty of space for visitors. At night, cool down and relax by a fire ring. Overnight quiet hours starting at 10 PM help protect wildlife cycles and reduce noise pollution.
Lake Piru wasn’t always what it is today. This lake is actually a reservoir part of the Santa Felicia Hydroelectric Dam. Water is stored and released along Piru Creek here. It isn’t the only reservoir or popular camping site along Piru Creek, either.
We’d be remiss not to mention Pyramid Lake:
Pyramid Lake takes its name from a naturally formed, pyramid-shaped rock carved to help build old highways. Though all lakes are natural hotspots for boaters, water-skiing, and other water sports, Pyramid Lake is special.
Travelers credit part of this unique charm to the peaceful picnic spots only accessible by boat. When you journey to Pyramid Lake, you will definitely get a chance to hit the water when you visit.
The Los Alamos campground is closest to Pyramid Lake but features far fewer sites than Lake Piru. Los Alamos has 90 sites, which fit up to 10 vehicles each, promising access to picnic tables, volleyball courts, dump stations, and more.
Fishing Opportunities at Pyramid Lake
Fish are regularly released into the water for conservation efforts and trophy fishing tournaments. As a result, you may make your biggest catch yet if you bring your fishing gear.
If you’d rather boat, keep in mind that all motorized boats must be muffled on the lake. Any day on the lake will be a busy one, so try to hunt for day apparel with UV protection to stay safe from the sun.
Hiking Opportunities at Pyramid Lake
The Vista Del Lago Visitor Center provides additional information on this and other lakes. Contact them for any updates on the park, as well as additional information. The Visitor Center is conveniently located next to Vaquero Beach and Spanish Point, two of the most popular lakeside areas.
This lake is a wonderful place for hikers, thanks to a pair of length, gorgeous hiking trails. Slide Mountain takes you far uphill for about five miles, offering a moderate challenge. For hikers up for a challenge, try Whitaker Peak Lookout, located about 30 minutes away from the lake. While the latter is more challenging, both hiking trails are beloved for their jaw-dropping views of the lake.
Lake Isabella and its surrounding environments in the Sequoia National Forest offer over 11,000 acres for nearly any outdoor activity. Eight specific campgrounds provide over 800 units for families.
Reservations are available, as well as first-come, first-served campsites. Shoreline camping is available along Lake Isabella’s south shore for a truly unparalleled view of the water.
The site is operated in part with assistance from groups on the county, state, and national levels. The site is also aided by the Nuui Cunni Native American Intertribal Cultural Center. The Cultural Center pays homage to the area's indigenous communities and displays artifacts and artwork of various tribes.
Lake Isabella is a popular spot for its proximity to cultural hubs. As such, additional campsites are open on holiday weekends to account for higher numbers of visitors. While many of these campgrounds are open year-round, Boulder Gulch and Hungry Gulch are open only from April to September.
Journey a few hours east, and you’ll find Lake Perris, the only lake on this list well-known for horseback riding. While you can’t rent a horse, the lake has regular equestrian days, and guests are welcome to bring their own. The lake is the namesake of the Lake Perris State Recreation Area.
As of writing, the marina at Lake Perris is closed. This doesn’t stop you from being able to appreciate the rich wildlife of the area. Coyotes, roadrunners, mule deer, and even bobcats populate the area. Turn to the skies to gaze upon swooping waterfowl and birds of prey.
The Russell Mountains and Bernasconi are covered in rugged shrubbery, giving an uninterrupted wilderness appearance to the area. Bike trails reveal stunning views. Be sure to bring your favorite biking shorts as you journey through hills and pathways.
Dogs are welcome, though they must be leashed and kept off the beach area. This serves to protect them, local biodiversity, and the purity of local water sources.
Castaic Lake features a campground operated by Los Angeles County, offering a quiet retreat and incredible waterside views. The lake itself is open to a wide variety of water sports, while a lagoon sits just south of the main lake. This smaller body of water is used for canoeing and kayaking alike.
Castaic Lake Campground hosts group campsites on the western side of the lake. These are primarily designated for RVs and trailers, but some spots are marked for tent camping as well.
Generators can only be operated during daytime hours, from 8 AM to 10 PM. Beyond this time, provided fire rings can create your campfire. As far as other amenities go, dump stations and showers are both available for a fee. Otherwise, restrooms with flush toilets, water, and picnic tables are freely available.
If you have a nonprofit group you are affiliated with, Castaic Lake also supports large group camps at an affordable rate. These start at 50 dollars per night, with an additional dollar per person. The group campsites are marked solely for tents, making it a perfect time to spend late nights outdoors.
The weather is also pleasantly warm year-round, which fits the year-round availability of the camp. In winter, the average high is 64 degrees. This rises up to 95 degrees in the summer months. Castaic Lake is a tempting location in any season for a pleasant, relaxed day or week away.
Our next site is also a close one to the city, set right in the heart of the Angeles National Forest. Many lakes in Southern California are artificial due to the naturally dry environment. Crystal lake is a rare, authentically natural lake. In fact, it is the only naturally occurring lake in the area and has historically been used as a hatchery.
The open-air amphitheater saw countless special events and bands. A dance floor above the amphitheater used to hold concerts but has since fallen into disrepair from use. It may be restored eventually, but until then it exists as a testament to the rich history of the campground.
The camp features several loops of sites, but it doesn’t take reservations. Crystal Lake is first-come, first-served. However, if you miss out on a prime spot, you can easily navigate to other campgrounds.
Crystal Lake itself is just a short, one-mile hike away from the campgrounds. The lake itself is crystal clear, reflecting blue skies, green trees, and white clouds.
Unfortunately, it has shrunk in recent years due to a recent rush of droughts and wildfires. As with many natural water sources, conservation efforts are ongoing to restore it to its peak beauty.
Organizing a camping trip can be time-consuming, especially when you bring multiple people into the mix. Once your trip is over, you’ll have weathered cancellations, re-organizing, and had a memorable trek to invigorate you.
When leaving, you may want to stop by the camp store to pick up something. Many stores highlight local artisans and partially fund local conservation efforts.
Otherwise, if you’re preparing for your next trip, you’ll need to have the right gear to power it. Continue on with our essential car-camping checklist, and above all, happy exploring.
Santa Felicia Hydroelectric Dam Project (Project) (FERC) Project No. 2153 | California State Water Resources Control Board
Native American Inter-Tribal Cultural Center I Nuui Cunni
The History of Crystal Lake Hatchery I California Department of Fish and Wildlife