The dynamic metropolis of Los Angeles has a little bit of everything: packed freeways, complex ethnic enclaves, the entertainment industry, working-class and wealthy neighborhoods, and first-class restaurants. As the cliche goes with many cities, you either love it or you hate it. With all its glamor and noise, Los Angeles is also surrounded by spectacular reserves and parks, like Joshua Tree National Park, which allows you to take some quick getaways -- all within two to three hours -- for the weekend.
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park (nps.gov/jotr/index.htm), best know for its oddly mesmerizing Joshua trees, or Yucca brevifolia, is 140 miles east of Los Angeles. This gem of a park, idiosyncratic and unlike any other national park you'll visit, includes nine campgrounds open year-round. Each campsite is limited to six people and three tents, as well as two cars. As temperatures can be scorching, bring bottles of water with you. Water is also available at several locations in the park, including the Oasis Visitor Center. Most sites are first-come, first-served, although reservations can be made for the Black Rock and Indian Cove campgrounds from fall to late spring. Each campsite is equipped with a fire grate and picnic table; flush toilets and water are available at Cottonwood and Black Rock campgrounds. You'll need to pay for a vehicle permit to enter the park, which offers a plethora of outdoor activities, such as hiking, horseback riding, nature walks, rock climbing and mountain biking. It extends 1,250 square miles, so plan your itinerary carefully.
Los Padres National Forest
The Los Padres National Forest (fs.usda.gov/lpnf), which extends more than 1,360 square miles, is 125 miles north of Los Angeles in New Cuyama. Although much of this extensive forest remains without roads, you have your choice of camping in dozens of campgrounds in the forest's districts, including campsites in the Monterey, Mount Pintos, Ojai, Santa Barbara and Santa Lucia ranger districts. Larger group campgrounds are available in the Monterey, Ojai and Santa Barbara ranger districts. As each ranger distinct is distinct and offers different camping experiences -- for example, Monterey borders the jagged Big Sur Coast, while Mount Pinos is nestled in mountains -- choose your campsite carefully to get the most out of your trip. In addition to camping, the area is a prime spot for hiking, with more than 1,250 miles of maintained hiking trailheads. Before setting up camp, you'll need to purchase an Adventure Pass online or at a number of vendors.
McGrath State Beach
McGrath State Beach, in scenic Oxnard just north of Los Angeles, is a prime birdwatching spot in the state, as more than 200,000 bird species make their home in or migrate through the area. The campground (parks.ca.gov) includes dozens of campsites good for tenting and RV trailers. Amenities including restrooms, showers, fire rings and a ranger station. The state beach includes a panoramic four-mile walking trail, eight miles round-trip, that goes through a lush estuary in the Santa Clara Rivera area and passes sand dunes, an old Edison power plant and the Oxnord Shores. You can also enjoy lying out along the beach shore. Two miles from the shoreline is McGrath Lake. At the time of publication, the state park is temporarily closed due to flooding.
Channel Islands National Park
"Close to the California mainland, yet worlds apart" is how the National Park Service describes the Channel Islands National Park (nps.gov/chis/index.htm). At the time of publication, each island includes one campground, which is basic and includes picnic tables and pit toilets; no water is available and fires are not permitted, so bring water and pack gas camp stoves. The island has scavenging animals, so also bring animal-proof containers to store your food. In addition to providing stunning views of the Pacific Ocean -- arguably some of the best along the state's central coast -- enjoy hiking, boating, kayaking, diving and snorkeling, whale watching and fishing on the islands. To fish, you'll need a California state fishing license. To get to any of the five channel islands, you must take either a park concessionaire boat or plane from visitor centers in Ventura (no website; 1901 Spinnaker Drive, Ventura; 805-658-3750) or Santa Barbara (outdoorsb.noaa.gov). Camping reservations are mandatory and can be made online (Recreation.gov).
- National Park Service: Joshua Tree
- National Park Service: Directions
- National Park Service: Joshua Tree, Things to Do
- National Park Service: Joshua Tree, Camping
- National Park Service: Visitors Centers
- National Park Service: Joshua Tree, Fees & Reservations
- National Park Service: Joshua Tree, Nature and Science
- United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service: Welcome to the Los Padres National Forest
- United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service: Campground Camping
- United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service: Passes and Permits
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