Camping in Southern California offers an incredible array of natural landscapes, from ocean bluffs to towering mountains and enchanting desert. With sunny weather for most of the year, SoCal is the ideal destination for outdoor activity. If you’re planning to take your new truck bed tent camper on the road this summer, start planning your itinerary with this guide to the best national park campsites in this diverse region.
Channel Islands National Park
Explore untouched seascapes when you take a trip back in time at Channel Islands National Park. With no food or retail locations on the islands, you’ll need to bring your own gear, water and sustenance along with everything you need to set up camp. Access to the park is limited to concession boat or seaplane, so make your reservations for transportation before booking your campsite. Once you arrive on your chosen island, you’ll hike to your campsite with everything in tow.
If you want a truly natural experience in an isolated setting, you’ll never forget your visit to this one-of-a-kind park. You’ll find primitive campgrounds on each of the five islands: on San Miguel north Park of Cuyler Harbor, on Santa Rose at Water Canyon, on Santa Cruz at Scorpion Ranch, on east Anacapa, and north of the Landing Cove on Santa Barbara. Campsites have picnic tables and pit toilets. Two of the islands also offer backcountry camping.
Joshua Tree National Park
This iconic Southern California park is best known for its signature namesake trees, but it’s also notable because it marks the junction between the distinct ecosystems of the Colorado and Mojave deserts. Joshua Tree features an array of activities like birding, hiking, rock climbing and biking, so bring your bicycle hitch rack if you plan to visit.
For the best chance at obtaining a campsite in Joshua Tree, visit during the off-season from June through September. Most campgrounds within the park are first-come, first-served during those months, but you can reserve group campsites for up to 25 people at Cottonwood Campground, Indian Cove Campground and Sheep Pass Campground. If you plan ahead, you can reserve a campsite in advance from September through May. Campsites are at high elevation and include tables, fire grates, and pit or flush toilets. Some sites also have water and dump stations.
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
Do you want to camp minutes from downtown Los Angeles? This national recreation area offers challenging mountain hikes along with a healthy dose of sand and surf. Those who visit the Santa Monica Mountains can camp at the National Park Service-operated Circle X Ranch Group Campground, which has sites for a minimum of 10 guests. Located in a former Boy Scout camp, this site offers panoramic Pacific views including a glimpse of the Channel Islands. From your campsite, you’ll be able to access Sandstone, the highest peak in this national recreation area.
If you’re ready to get close to nature at one of these three amazing Southern California national parks, grab your truck’s tonneau cover and book your campsite. No matter what your preferred way to spend time outdoors, you’ll find it in this eclectic region of the U.S.