The best camping near
Los Padres National Forest, CALIFORNIA

341 Reviews270 Campgrounds
Camping California Los Padres National Forest

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Most Recent Los Padres National Forest Camping Reviews
Great view and Free Parking for 8 hours!

This is a California Highway rest area right off the 101 just north of Goleta/Santa Barbara. As the sign says, one is allowed to park their 8 hours. You’ll see many long haul big rig drivers there as well as campers looking for a quick respite.
We decided on a whim to check it out coming from Studio City. We made sure to get there early enough to get a spot looking over the Pacific Ocean. Coincidentally the people next to us had their first time camping at ‘free site’ as well.
We were concerned that since it was a rest area, we weren’t able to put out our folding picnic set but we were able to cook a quick meal right in front of our van before turning in for the night. In the morning, we made a quick breakfast and took a short 15 minute walk over the Amtrak bridge that passes through a special trout canal.

Overnight at the beach #50

Came with my son for a quick overnight trip. The actual site was very small. Not much room for tent, due to large parking space, tree and large bush. The best part of campground is the paved trail to walk on along the coast and down to the beach. Very convenient and amazing sunsets

It’s awesome !!

The only thing we had an issue with is the day we were there the overflow parking was full and there is no cell service, other then that it was a blast we all had a great time the creek made it really fun for the kids and adults too and the little ghost town at the entrance makes an ideal photo op for the kids and adults too… It truly feels a world away! Super helpful camp host, lots of families and overall a super great time took our cat adventure camping and he even loved it a great place especially with kids !!

Smelly Beauty

Our journey to this campground started after a failed attempt to camp at Sequoia National Forest. On our way to the forest, the air was so thick from the SQF complex fire that we turned around and stopped at a parking lot near Taco Bell to plan our next move. After a lunch of packed sandwiches and a quick search on Apple Maps, we head towards McGill Campground in Mt. Pinos.

The road to the campground itself was superior to spending my 23rd birthday in the hustle and bustle of Orange County. On our arrival, we were pleasantly surprised to see that we could camp at any spot that was not reserved for our planned trip. Each camp site has a little sign that says what days the camp site has been reserved, and if you happen to arrive on a day that the site is not reserved, you can use the spot. So we chose campsite number 18. 

Upon getting out of the car, the smell of the pine trees immersed my nasal canal and I felt an immediate sense of joy to be outside. There is nothing like smelling mother nature. I went over to pay for the campsite near the entrance and conveniently that campsites hosts happened to be there to accept my payment. We payed $30 to stay two nights with two cars. 

Each campsite has a bonfire pit with a fire stake, a family sized bench, and is surrounded by beautiful pine trees. We chose a site near the bathroom. Word of advice: try to choose a site away from the bathroom, or don’t choose site number 18! In the morning/daytime, the smell of the pit toilet rises through the chimney looking thing, and the camp site did smell like mother nature indeed. When the wind pushed the smell away from our site, the smell completely disappeared, but if it didn’t the smell is quite overbearing. Despite this, the bathrooms were kept relatively clean and the site had a beautiful view of the sunrise through the trees. If we walked further, there is a little ridge where the sun rises. If you can get the camp site, you should. There is also a beautiful hiking trail on the site where you are walking through the trees.

Overall the site was awesome, and I would definitely go again. Maybe for my 24th birthday!

Best location but very tight spots

Want to be close to Pismo Beach downtown, the pier and the beach? This is the place for you! The spots however are very tight and short, although there are some that are somewhat wider so you can pull in next to your travel trailer.

Great Getaway!

We found campo alto after a forced evacuation cut our yearly Big Sur trip short after 3 days this August.

We’d booked 9 days so we had a lot of time remaining and weren’t prepared to head back to San Diego just yet & trying to find a walk-in campground during COVID made it all the more challenging. After reading some reviews we drove the 4 hours with our fingers crossed hoping to find a spot. Thankfully we arrived around 8:30pm and found walk-on site 17!

We set up for the night using our headlights and awoke the next morning in awe at how HUGE many sites are (including ours) and the utterly breathtaking beauty and quiet that surrounded us!


There’s an old ski lodge at the entrance thats an unexpected find & its forgotten beauty is haunting…if you keep an eye out you’ll see ski life strapping still in many of the trees.

The surrounding forest allows for plenty of hiking opportunities either long or short depending on what you feel up to.

Town is just a 15 minute drive down the mountain & has a store with nearly anything you could need.

You may get 1-2 bars of cell service if needed. I struggled to keep a single bar no matter where I walked too & found it better to stop at one of the pull-off areas halfway down the mountain for full service.


-There’s a large fly & bee population.

Our dog had a healing injury on her back knee that was nearly impossible to keep a bandaged. This quickly became a nightmare…our only option was to re-wrap with new gauze & vet wrap every few hours and put puppy pajamas on her in the evening in attempt to keep wrap up.

I wasn’t too bothered by them but the Mr had a horrible time with them and the bees swarmed our dogs water & our hand water station. Leaving any uncovered water out for more than 2 minutes meant it was full of drowning bees.

-Lack of Shade: I highly recommend bringing a pop-up canopy & side walls for shade if going during the summer. Being hot and sticky with the large flies means you may be miserable sitting still.

-Trash: Its a full pack-out campground so you’ll need to keep trash packed up to take out with you.

Staying for a week meant we really needed to find a dumpster and spent an hour looking for something around town. Unfortunately due to the bear enclosures we didn’t have any luck.

Out of pure desperation we ended up using the dumpster found at the campground located at the bottom of the mountain road despite the surveillance warning signs :-/.


We not only found this campground to be peaceful and stunningly beautiful but loved that its half the length of time to get home compared to Big Sur. We‘ll definitely be back soon!

Location on map incorrect

Location on map and driving directions are incorrect

Views on all sides

This is a great spot to grab a little serenity. Only about 2 hours from Los Angeles and yet you feel so much further away than that. The campground covers the top of the mountain and the sites are well spaced so you don’t feel too packed in with your neighbors. Great spot to sit by the fire, look at the stars, and listen to the wind. We didn’t find much hiking or activity nearby, but we didn’t really look either. Bring plenty of water for both drinking and washing. Best to stay hydrated at this altitude. If you’re not into rugged non-amenity camping, or have difficulty with altitude and/or excessive dryness, you should probably steer clear.

Beautiful campground and beach!

Great veiws of the ocean! spacious, clean sites and facilities. Lovely bike/walking path. Be prepared for the mist and put your food away, so the little animals don’t eat it. Just a short distance from Haskell Beach and Old Town Goleta.

Camping with Water Views

This was our first stay at Lake Cachuma. It is well worth it to get a Premium site as they have lovely views of the lake and sunset. We stayed in a larger group site with one other tent couple and the site was huge. There were a few big oaks for shade but otherwise you were on very dry hard packed dirt in the open. Water spigots and Port a Potties as well as bathrooms and showers ( pay showers) were conveniently located throughout the park. There is no real privacy here as sites are all an an open flat and there are not a lot of trees so camping without a shade tarp could be unpleasantly warm. There is no swimming in the lake but there boat rentals and fishing are allowed. Yurts and cabins are also available for reservation. There is a general store at the entrance and a gas station for all your needs. Oh, yes! A word of caution…my daughter put their tent under the Oaks for shade and evidently their were nests of spiders hatching as their tent was literally inundated with hundreds of thousands of spiders! The ranger said he had never seen anything like it. You might want to think twice about being under the trees, or at least know what spider nests look like!