Updated: Feb 28
There are so many great reasons to love San Diego County. One of them is all the camping options. Not only is camping a good social-distancing activity, it is also a great way to get some extra vitamin D. There are so many beautiful campgrounds to choose from you might just have to keep coming back until you’ve tried them all out!
In San Diego County, you can go from the ocean to the valleys, to the mountains and desert, all in two to three hours. Whether you’re looking for a one-night getaway or an extended vacation, the San Diego Backcountry has many enchanting places to visit.
A Few Reminders:
Always check the weather beforehand so you can pack accordingly.
Make sure your campground of choice is pet-friendly if you’re bringing furry family members.
Bring bug spray.
Here are some of the top places for families to camp in the greater San Diego region.
Backpack on the Pacific Crest Trail
The Pacific Crest Trail runs from the Mexico border to the Canada border. You can backpack some or all of the 133 miles of the PTC in San Diego County. Hikers can pick and choose the portions of the trail to hike. Without a doubt, this trail gives hikers a perspective of the county like no other experience. Permits are required.
Mount Laguna is a small community in the unincorporated region of San Diego County surrounded by the Cleveland National Forest. Boulder Oaks, Cibbets Flat, Laguna Campground, and Burnt Rancheria campgrounds allow you to embrace nature while still having modern amenities. For more adventurous campers, dispersed camping is allowed in certain parts of the park. Permits are required, and fires are never allowed outside of developed campgrounds or picnic areas.
For those looking for a no-hassle camping experience, check out Alter Experiences. They operate in the Cleveland National Forest campgrounds under permit of USFS. When you stay with them, they provide everything, even an outdoor kitchen sink. Sleep up in the trees or on a comfortable bed inside a fully decorated bell tent. Either way, you’ll wake up to the birds singing and the fresh mountain air.
For a non-camping overnight experience, rooms are available at the Laguna Mountain Lodge.
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
Between the Paso Picacho and Green Valley campgrounds, the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park has over 160 campsites. Campsites have a picnic table and a fire ring. Restrooms, pay showers, and water can be found throughout each campground. There are no hookups. Additionally, the campgrounds have a dump station, and firewood and ice are available for purchase. Reservations are necessary April through October. Attended dogs are allowed only in campgrounds, picnic areas, and on paved roads.
The park also offers 100 miles of hiking trails, a number of streams, remarkable views, and features Lake Cuyamaca. This is a great place to see wildlife.
Lake Cuyamaca Recreation
Lake Cuyamaca is one of the most popular sites to see within the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. The lake is operated by the Helix Water District, and recreation is managed by Lake Cuyamaca Park and Recreation District. There are 25 full hookup sites and 26 tent sites available. Campers can enjoy a lakeside campsite at Chambers Park, Lone Pine, West Shore, and South Lot. Showers are available at Chambers Park. (No dump station.) Group camping is available. For those looking for an alternative camping experience, sleeping cabins, deluxe cabins, and condominiums are spread around the lakeshore. Please note that wood fires are not allowed anywhere, anytime. Reservations can be made during the week.
The Lake Cuyamaca recreation area also offers hiking, boating, and fishing. Swimming in the lake is not allowed.
William Heise County Park
William Heise County Park is a 1000-acre park tucked away in the northern edge of the Cuyamaca Mountain Range. The 100-site campground offers showers, water, and bathrooms. RV sites (with electricity), tent sites, group sites, and cabins are available. Each site includes a fire ring, a table, pad, and a parking space. The park also offers picnic areas, a playground, and hiking trails.
Pinezanita RV Park & Campgrounds
Pinezanita RV Park and Campground is owned and operated by the Stanley family. For over 50 years, the family has been hosting campers of all kinds. Here each site is level, has a picnic table, a campfire ring, shade trees, and hookups (electric, water, sewer) are available. There’s a dump station. For those looking for a little more comfort, there are cottages for rent. The campground has a catch-and-release pond. Pets must be on a 6-foot or shorter leash at all times.
Pinecrest Retreat is a family-owned, 80-acre recreational park in the mountains of San Diego County. They offer a variety of camping options, from short-term overnight stays in one of their vintage trailers to annual memberships. Guests can also rent the A-frame vacation rental. Locally, Pinecrest is known for its solar-heated Junior Olympic-sized swimming pool.
KQ Ranch RV Resort
KQ Ranch RV Camping Resort is a secluded membership RV and camping resort just 40 miles east of San Diego. There are over 200 full hookup campsites. Sites with personal horse corrals are also available. Campers have access to clean bathrooms, showers, and laundry. Trailers cabins are available. The ground amenities include a clubhouse, amphitheater, heated swimming pool, an oversized Jacuzzi, and a fishing pond. Furthermore, the park has miniature golf courses, horseshoe pits, and volleyball, tennis, and basketball courts. A well-stocked country store is also conveniently located within the resort.
Ramona Oaks RV Park
Located halfway between Ramona and Julian, Ramona Oaks RV Park is a great central basecamp. The property features shower & laundry facilities, Wi-Fi, a catch & release pond, a dog run, and lots of recreation activities! Stay a night, stay a week, stay for months!
La Jolla Indian Campground
Just north of Julian and south of Palomar Mountain is Pauma Valley, and there sits the La Jolla Indian Reservation and Campground. From the campground, visitors can easily make a day trip to the greater Julian area, Anza-Borrego Desert, and the northern part of San Diego County. The Reservation’s main attraction is going tubing down the San Luis Rey River. Additionally, there is a camp store nearby.
Los Coyotes Reservation
The largest Native American Indian reservation in San Diego County, Los Coyotes Indian Reservation, is just east of Warner Springs. The Band of Cahuilla & Cupeño Indians established Los Coyotes Indian Reservation in 1889. The reservation is over 25,000 acres of remote unspoiled wilderness bordering the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Cleveland National Forest. The reservation is best known for being home to Hot Springs Mountain (6,533 ft) which is the highest point in San Diego County by about 11 feet. The tribe grants public access for camping and hiking.
Palomar Mountain is known for being home to the world-famous Palomar Observatory. In addition to stargazing, visitors can explore the Palomar State Park and the Cleveland National Forest. The state park features Doane Valley Campground and Cedar Grove Group Campground. Campgrounds in the national forest include Dripping Springs Campground, Indian Flats Campground, Oak Grove Campground, Fry Creek Campground, and the Observatory Campground. The region is beautifully forested. There are lots of hiking trails, historical landmarks, and wildlife.
Honestly, desert camping is not my first thought. Nevertheless, I can assure you Anza-Borrego is a great place to camp during warmer winter days, early spring, and fall. I have always had a wonderful time when I do camp in this sector of the county. The state park has four campgrounds with amenities. Campers wanting to rough it can do free primitive camping or roadside camping in select areas like Blair Valley. Borrego offers miles of hiking trails, waterfalls, slot canyons, wind caves, and the Galleta Meadows Sculptures (120 large metal sculptures).
Agua Caliente County Park
Nestled within the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Agua Caliente County Park is best known for its geothermally heated spring pools. The park has a large campground. Campers can pick between full hookups, partial hookups and tent sites, group sites, and seven camping cabins. During the winter months, hikers can enjoy miles of trails. Wildlife sightings are common.
Be sure to take some time to enjoy our beautiful night sky. It is sure to take your breath away.