by Lukas Saville
Despite the urban sprawl, Los Angeles actually has hundreds of miles of hiking trails. If you’re willing and able to hop in the car, you can find even more fantastic hiking and camping spots within a few hours’ drive of the city, including some seriously world-class national parks. From oceanside peaks to sequoia trees, hikers around the City of Angels are spoiled for choice. It’s time to leave the traffic behind and get outside! Here are some of the best spots to hike and camp near Los Angeles.
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
In these twin parks, you’ll hike and camp under some of California’s most incredible trees, through deep canyons, and past rushing waterfalls. Big Trees Trail (1.4 miles, 50ft elevation gain) is perfect for a relaxed trip and Alta Peak (14.9 miles, 14,064ft elevation gain) is a top choice for a challenging ascent with great views. While most of the campgrounds in the parks are closed due to COVID, you might be able to snag a spot at one of the three open sites if you plan ahead.
Distance from Los Angeles: 226 miles (4 hours 30 minutes)
Cost to Enter: $35 per vehicle for 1-7 day visits
Death Valley National Park
There’s no other place on earth quite like Death Valley! The hiking here is less maintained, but it’s worth taking on the trails to get expansive views of the sun-baked landscape. Try hiking Golden Canyon up to Zabriskie Point (6 miles, 574ft elevation gain) for sweeping views of purple and red mountains, and then pitch your tent at Furnace Creek or Mesquite Spring. Some campgrounds are closed in the summer months because of the extreme heat, but all open campgrounds are first come, first served. The lack of services means you should plan ahead, but makes camping here a safer option in terms of social distancing. Pro tip: bring so much water.
Distance from Los Angeles: 266 miles (5 hours)
Cost to Enter: $25 per vehicle for 1-7 days
Via Yvette de Wit on Unsplash
Yosemite National Park
Ah, Yosemite. This stunning park is home to some of the most beautiful scenery in California and the United States, and it’s a paradise for hikers and campers. While the summer months can be overbearingly congested, a spring or fall visit should be on everyone’s list. The Yosemite Valley is home to legendary climbing spots like El Capitan and Half Dome in addition to miles and miles of great hiking. While you can check out a more expansive guide to hiking in Yosemite to plan your trip, Panorama Trail (13 miles, 2257ft elevation gain) is an absolute must-do. Afterwards, pitch your tent at one of the 13 campgrounds and you may never want to leave. Yosemite is operating on a reservation-only basis during the pandemic, so make sure you plan your visit ahead of time. You’ll need to make a $35 reservation for day use two days ahead of your visit.
Distance from Los Angeles: 313 miles (5 hours 50 minutes)
Cost to Enter: $2 reservation fee and $35 day-use fee per vehicle (no day-use fee if you have a camping reservation)
The 9,407-foot summit of Mount Baden-Powell (8.9 miles, 2,788ft elevation gain) gives you great views of the Antelope Valley, and you might even get to cool off in some snow depending on the season! It’s also a stone’s throw from the Pacific Crest Trail, so you might spot a few serious trekkers on the way up. There are a few different campsites on the south side of the mountain, so you can sleep under the stars after your ascent.
Distance from Los Angeles: 63 miles (1 hour 30 minutes)
Cost to Enter: $5 per vehicle
Malibu Creek Campground
Malibu Creek is only 36 miles from the city, but it feels days away. There is a network of trails nearby for hikers, and each campground offers a picnic table and fire pit. Try a hike up Mesa Peak (4.8 miles, 1,500ft elevation gain) for breathtaking views and fields of wildflowers. If you’re staying the night, campsites are $45 and booking in advance is recommended during the busy season (March through October). Group campsites are currently closed, but families and individuals are welcome as long as they respect social distancing.
Distance from Los Angeles: 37 miles (41 minutes)
Cost to Enter: $12 per vehicle per day
Via Vitto Somella on Unsplash
Manker Flats in Angeles National Forest is 6,000 feet above sea level, so you’re going to enjoy a bit of a cooler night up here. It’s definitely welcome in the middle of a Southern California summer. The campground is right under Mount Baldy (Mount San Antonio), which at 10,064 feet high is the tallest peak in the county. Go forth and climb! The Baldy Bowl route (4.5 miles, 3,900ft elevation gain) is a local favourite. If that’s not enough of a challenge for you, combine it with an ascent up Devil’s Backbone for an impressive 11.3-mile mountain loop. If you’re not up for a major summit, try the more mellow San Antonio Falls trail (1.3 miles, 272ft elevation gain), which leads to a stunning waterfall. A site here is $20 a night and first come, first served.
Distance from Los Angeles: 49 miles (1 hour)
Cost to Enter: $14 per vehicle
This campground is conveniently located right next to some of the best National Scenic Trails in the area, and there’s a great hidden swimming hole less than 3 miles from the campground. Now that sounds like a weekend plan, doesn’t it? Try the Burkhart Trail to Cooper Canyon Falls hike (4.6 miles, 1,013ft elevation gain) for a great waterfall view. Campsites are $12 a night and first come, first served. Keep an eye open for the phased reopening of the campground after a COVID-related shutdown.
Distance from Los Angeles: 49 miles (1 hour)
Cost to Enter: $12 per night
That should be enough hiking and camping near Los Angeles to keep you busy for a while. With so many incredible trails and campsites near the city, it’s definitely time to get out and enjoy the great outdoors. So, where to first?
WARNING: PLEASE CHECK WITH THE PARKS TO MAKE SURE YOU WILL NOT BE DRIVING THROUGH OR CAMPING NEAR ANY WILDFIRES.
Lukas is a travel and adventure writer who picked up the travel bug on his first trip to Southeast Asia, and since then has travelled to four continents. He found his passion for hiking in the UK’s beautiful Lake District, and he’d prefer to sleep in a tent over a hotel any night. He loves to share his passion for hiking and camping through his writing, and you can check out his full guide to Yosemite National Park to learn more about outdoor adventure in the area.