This article about camping around Palomar Mountain is brought to you by Tentrr. After a day of exploring Palomar Mountain, enjoy a night of camping in southern California at one of Tentrr’s unique and memorable tent sites.
Best known for being the home to the Palomar Observatory and the Hale Telescope, Palomar Mountain is one of the San Diego area’s most diverse mountain landscapes. Large pine, fir, and oak forest occupy much of Palomar Mountain and provide a stark contrast from San Diego’s sandy beaches and drier low elevation shrublands.
Camping, hiking, fishing, and stargazing are popular activities on Palomar Mountain and much of the mountain is above 5,000 feet in elevation, making evenings cool even in the middle of summer. There are no gas stations and few services on Palomar Mountain so be sure to stock up on camping supplies in the nearby major cities of Escondido or Temecula. Here are some of the top Palomar Mountain camping options.
Palomar Mountain State Park is one of the most popular Palomar Mountain camping spots and offers some of the best hiking near San Diego. The park is home to some of the highest peaks in San Diego County and the mountain’s lush oak and conifer forests are one of the few places you can see such dense forest in Southern California.
The historic Boucher Hill Lookout Tower is one of the top park destinations. Originally built in 1921, this lookout tower is still staffed during fire season today. The tower is typically open from May through late November and public tours are available. Other sites of interest include the self-guided Doane Valley Nature Trail, the remains of a primitive cabin on the Scott’s Cabin Trail, and the wildflower filled meadows of the Lower Doane Valley.
Located in Palomar Mountain State Park, the Doane Valley Campground has 31 campsites, each with its own picnic table, fire ring, and food storage locker. Reservations are highly recommended during peak summer season and can be made up to six months in advance. Campground amenities include coin-operated showers, flush toilets, and drinking water, but no hook-ups for RVs. Dogs are allowed in the campground, but are not permitted on park trails. Primitive hiking and biking campsites are also available for a discounted fee.
The Palomar Observatory Campground is a National Forest campground operated by the Cleveland National Forest, just two miles from the Palomar Observatory. Ten of the campgrounds 43 sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis, and the rest can be reserved ahead of time. Campsites are more suitable for tents and small trailers, but some sites may accommodate trailers and RVs under 32 feet. Campground amenities include coin-operated showers, flush toilets, drinking water, and trash services during peak season. No RV hook-ups are available.
The campground caters to astronomy buffs and several campsites have been cleared to allow a clear view of the sky and include level cement pads for telescopes. Once a month on Friday and Saturday evenings, amateur astronomers flock to the Palomar Observatory Campground for star viewing events. A 4.4-mile round-trip trail leaves from the campground and climbs up to the Palomar Observatory and offers spectacular views of the Mendenhall Valley.
The Oak Grove Campground is another Forest Service run Palomar Mountain camping option located at the base of Palomar Mountain. The campground is an excellent basecamp for exploring both Palomar State Park and the Palomar Observatory as well as nearby Temecula Wine Country. The Oak Grove Campground has 58 standard campsites and are best suited for tents or small trailers. The campground’s dense chaparral habitat provides plenty of privacy between campsites. No showers or electric hook-ups are available.
The short and steep Oak Grove Trail is one of the oldest trails in the Cleveland National Forest and begins across from the campground near the Oak Grove fire station. The trail provides fantastic views of the San Jacinto and San Gorgonio Mountains. If you’re looking for a longer adventure, the trail connects with the Oak Grove Truck Trail, which leads to the High Point Lookout. A handful of services including gas and a small convenience store are found in the town of Warner Spring just 15 miles away.
La Jolla Indian Campground is located 30 minutes south of the Palomar Observatory and just an hour north of San Diego. The campground is located on the La Jolla Indian Reservation. Members of the La Jolla Band are part of the Luiseno Tribe and have resided in southern California for thousands of years. Tent camping is first-come, first-served, and RV camping should be made at least a week in advance.
Tubing down the San Luis Rey River is the most popular activity at the campground and tube rentals are available. Some tent sites are located right along the river and you can launch tubes anywhere along the river in the campground. The campground is also home to one of the longest ziplines in Southern California – the La Jolla Zip Zoom. No glass bottles or pets are allowed at La Jolla Indian Campground.
Formerly known as Palomar Gardens, the Oak Knoll Campground is a private campground and RV park at the base of Palomar Mountain. Palomar Gardens was made famous in the 1940s, when then owner George Adamski photographed what he claimed to be UFOs passing over Palomar Mountain. He also went on to claim that he had conversed with an inhabitant of Venus in the California desert.
Today Oak Knoll offers RV sites with hook-ups, tent spots, and rental cabins. The campground is open year-round and amenities include laundry facilities, swimming pool, playground, camp store, and Wi-Fi. The campground is pet-friendly, but an additional pet fee is required and there are breed restrictions.
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