Whether you are a newbie to camping or a rugged outdoor veteran, one thing is tried and true: camping in San Diego is nearly perfect. With warm temperatures that rarely go below freezing (even in the mountains), low humidity (read: less mosquitos to battle) and a stunning variety of terrains, this expansive county offers a taste of everything.
While there are a variety of campgrounds throughout the county, here are a few must-visit mountain, lake and beach camping sites for a perfect outdoors stay.
Situated an hour outside of San Diego, the Laguna Mountains transport visitors to another world with some of the best scenery in the county. With sweeping views of Anza Borrego and impressive hiking trails (including joining with the Pacific Crest Trail), it’s a favorite for locals.
Laguna Campground: Situated on a fenced meadow, here you’ll find open air camping and big sky stargazing complete with a trailhead starting right from the campground.
Burnt Rancheria: Another popular overnight spot in Laguna, this campground offers a junction to the PCT and a short hike to overlook the desert and the Salton Sea.
Added bonus: On most Saturday evenings, the San Diego State University Observatory sponsors Star Parties nearby both campsites.
Camping reservations can be made at recreation.gov or by calling 877.444.6777.
Mount Laguna, 800.832.1355, fs.usda.gov
CUYAMACA RANCHO STATE PARK
With 100 miles of trails, this playground outside of San Diego offers an almost endless variety of exploration and outdoor fun. Popular hikes within Cuyamaca State Park include Stonewall Peak and Cuyamaca Peak.
Green Valley Campground: Undulating through the hills, this campground is great for exploring after tent set up. The highlight of this area is the trail to Green Valley Falls where you can post up on the rocks or splash in the water. The campsite is currently undergoing upgrades, but will re-open Aug. 1, 2018.
Paso Picacho: Located in a forest of oaks and pines, this campground is popular for hikers, with both Stonewall Peak (2 miles) and Cuyamaca Peak (3.5 miles) starting off from the grounds. Lake Cuyamaca is also just a 2-mile hike from the campground.
Camping reservations can be made at reservecalifornia.com or by calling 800.444.7275.
CA-79 (five miles north of I-8), Julian (760) 765-0755, parks.ca.gov
MISSION TRAILS REGIONAL PARK
Nestled right in Mission Trails Regional Park, the Kumeyaay Campground is a quiet and well-maintained campground that is open only for Friday and Saturday night camping. Explore the short trail behind the campground or head out to tackle nearby Kumeyaay Peak (one of the Five Peak Challenge hikes).
2 Father Junipero Serra Trail, 619.668.2748, mtrp.org/campground
For closer-to-the-city camping and water activities such as fishing and paddle boating, Lake Jennings is a quick getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city. Campers can go the standard tent route or try out one of the five tipi sites for an extra charge. The tipis are set apart from the other sites but still offer beautiful views of the lake. The bait and tackle shop is open Friday through Sunday, with camping supplies, snacks and non-alcoholic beverages.
9535 Harritt Rd., Lakeside, 619.390.1623, lakejennings.org
These campgrounds are extremely popular and book out far in advance, so plan ahead for your next beachside campout.
San Elijo Campground: Situated right above the beach in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, this favorite spot hosts surfers, coastal travelers and families. Definitely not a site for seclusion, the campground is located on Hwy. 101, and is for those seeking a more convenient experience, with restaurants and a gas station right across the street.
2050 S. Coast Hwy. 101, Cardiff, 760.753.5091, parks.ca.gov/sanelijo
South Carlsbad State Beach Campground: Popular with families, this bluff-top site is set right on Hwy. 101 with a stairway down to the beach. A small road in the middle of the campground separates the ocean front and “inland” sites. Located only three miles south of Carlsbad, it’s a quick and easy getaway near the Pacific.
7201 Carlsbad Blvd., Carlsbad, 760.438.3143, parks.ca.gov