Quick camping getaways are as close as the Angeles Crest Highway.
At any given time, an American tradition is taking place. Young and old alike, for indescribably varied reasons, reject the trappings of modern life and scurry into America’s great forests.
There, for days at a time, people live without newspapers, television or Internet, and consider running water, electricity and flushing toilets unnecessary luxuries. They battle with bugs and dirt, fire and smoke, sweltering days and bitter cold nights. And once home again, they can hardly wait to go back.
Americans love camping.
And with the Angeles and San Bernardino National Forests looming just on the edges of So Cal’s infamous urban sprawl, beach bums and inlanders alike have fantastic access to first-rate forest campgrounds.
In 1929, construction began on a fire access road through the Angeles National Forest. It was to be two lanes of pavement traversing the mountainous twists and turns from La Cañada to Wrightwood. Now, nearly 80 years later, the Crest Highway is the main road of travel for campers, hikers and skiers looking to steal a few moments of peace form Mother Nature.
The crisp smell of pine is overwhelming when you reach Table Mountain Campground, just west of downtown Wrightwood. While its eight site-loops might seem hard to navigate at first, once you get your bearings, it’s as simple as spelling the word “simple.” To top it off, its mountainous chaparral setting is a great place for hiking and climbing and the placid waters of nearby Jackson Lake welcome fishing, canoeing and kayaking. But, the greatest part of Table Mountain is that it sports some the best vistas of any campground in the Angeles National Forest.
From the Amphitheater, campers can gaze out over the vast expanse of high desert development that creeps out from I-15 in either direction. The southern edge of the campground delivers an Alps-like view of Mt. Baldy’s northern face as it breaks from sea of deep green pine. And sites 112 and 113, overlooking Highways 2 and 138 as they forge their way west , have the most coveted view of all.
Being located so close to Wrightwood’s restaurants and grocery stores, Table Mountain isn’t true roughing it, but campground utilities are limited to water faucets and pit toilets. Reserve campsites at www.reserveamerica.com for $15 each; extra cars $5.
Slip Away From the City
On the other end Highway 2 is Chilao Recreation Area, a recreational complex located approximately 22 miles from La Cañada. Its 111 campsites offer a uniquely intimate camping experience. The Little Pines Loop, with its many pine trees, has the most shade and is setup with the inner sites close together, making it perfect for large families, full of aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents, to set up adjoining campsites. But if you are looking for a more private setting, a few of the sites on the outer edge of the loop are nicely situated behind walls of trees and brush. The boulders of the Manzanita Loop are less shaded, and privacy is at a minimum, making this loop ideal for large groups. Chilao’s real draw its plethora of activities. The Pacific Crest Trail runs just north of the campground, and the Silver Moccasin National Recreation Trail Runs right through it. In addition, the Chilao Visitors Center is located right in the complex, and it features a variety of informative exhibits ranging on subjects from Native Americans to the importance of forests. Its proximity to downtown Los Angeles unfortunately means crowded weekends, and packed campgrounds often mean inconsiderate neighbors.
Chilao campsites operate on a first come first serve basis and cost $12 a night, with a 14 day maximum duration of stay.
A Little Closer to Home
Manker Flats campground, just above Mt. Baldy Village, is the most accessible mountain campground from La Verne, and probably the best choice for tenters who can’t imagine life without flushing toilets. But beyond supplying the sweet swirl of septic serenity, Manker Flats serves as a starting point for hikers who want to tackle Baldy’s trails, and the perfect winter playground in a fresh fallen snow. Its 22 campsites are easily accessible from the main road, which hugs the western edge of the complex, and are suitable for everything from tents to RVs. The road’s location can be, depending on your preference, a strategic benefit or a righteous hassle. Despite its 5,000 foot elevation, Manker Flats is close to the city and draws large crowds on weekends. A little shop at the north end of the campground serves recreationalists.
The southern campsites at Manker Flats are furthest from the encroaching modernity of the area, but all of the sites are fairly lacking in privacy. If this campground is not ideal for escaping your closest friends, it is perfect for large groups of people looking to turn multiple campsites into a canvas shantytown.
Reserve sites at www.reserveamerica.com for $12 a night; extra cars $4. With a valid Adventure Pass, the fee drops to $10 per site; extra cars $30.
A Lot Closer to Home
In the 1950s, the Great American Road Trip was born as thousands of families answered the call of Route 66, hitching up trailers, mounting campers, revving engines and setting out to see the Nation. Today, RV enthusiasts can find a quick getaway right on the edges of La Verne at the Fairplex Kampgrounds of America. Located at 2200 North White Ave., in Pomona, it is quite cosmopolitan, offering full utility hookup, a sewage dump, swimming pool, hot tub, sauna, laundry room, wireless Internet and a snack bar—not exactly roughing it. And the campground’s abundant 185 paved RV sites are geared toward out-of-towners, who have come to see Southern California’s sights and possibly friends or family, rather than avid campers looking to get away form the city. But despite its appeal to road warriors, there are 11 tent sites and two “Kabins,” alternatives for the RV-impaired. Though its suburban appeal might be lost on nature lovers, its location is a boon for tourists. Nearly all of So Cal’s major attractions, are easily accessible from the KOA. But accessibility comes at a price. Unlike federal and state run campgrounds, which are usually out in the boonies and rarely over $15 a night, the KOA charges $34 to $54 a night for RV sites, $25 to $35 a night for tent sites and $46 to $52 a night for the “Kabins,” and those are just the two person rates.
Offering similar accessibility in a more scenic setting is East Shore RV Park, located on the edge of Bonelli Park at 1440 Camper View Road in San Dimas. East Shore sports similar nightly prices to the KOA, capped off at $42. In addition to the nightly rates, campers can stake out a site for the long haul, paying either weekly or even monthly rates.
The park features full utility and sewage hook up, a general store, a laundry room, mailboxes and a variety of other services and camper comforts. East Shore also features access to Puddingstone Lake in Bonelli Park, which makes for great recreational opportunities including picnicking, fishing, hiking and boating.
People often know far off places like Mammoth, Yosemite and Tahoe better than the areas surrounding their own homes. But with pockets of nature teetering on the edge of the valley, a whole host of natural opportunities await valley dwellers who are willing to see the forest for the trees.