Ready to go wild! Pack the tent, sleeping bag and all the s’mores fixins for a camping adventure in East County, San Diego’s massive “backyard” which stretches from the rolling foothills and mountains of Cleveland National Forest to the magnificent Anza-Borrego Desert.
I’ve gone camping throughout East County over the years and there’s nothing like the crisp mountain air and relaxing sound of nature to put you in vacation mode.
Following are Five Campgrounds to Try:
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, located south of San Diego’s historic mountain town of Julian, offers 110 miles of hiking trails, most open to horseback riders. Nearby Lake Cuyamaca offers boating and fishing. The park’s highest viewpoint is Cuyamaca Peak (6,512 feet) with panoramic views of Mexico, mountain ranges and the desert floor below. The park is home to lots of wildlife, including mule deer, coyotes, bobcats, an occasional mountain lion and more than 150 species of birds. Picturesque camping sites abound, nestled among meadows, oak and pine woodlands, creeks and the Sweetwater River headwaters.
- First on our list to try is Cuyamaca Rancho State Park’s Paso Picacho campground, which has some beautiful pristine meadows and two great mountain hikes, including a 2 mile trek up Stonewall Peak (elevation 5,700 feet), and 3.5 mile trek up Cuyamaca Peak. It might not exactly be “glamping,” but the park’s 12’ x 12’ cabins are pretty nice by camping standards, featuring full-size bunk beds (bring your own bedding), wood stove, picnic table, BBQ and fire ring. Each holds up to 4 people.
- Cuyamaca’s Green Valley campgroundis pretty as a postcard, situated on the Sweetwater River. There’s an easy hiking trail along the river with clear (and chilly!) pools and waterfalls to explore and swim. The perfect way to beat the heat!
- Also located in the Cleveland National Forest, the pine-studded Laguna Mountains (approx. 6,000 feet) offer some great hiking, mountain biking and fishing for campers. There are seven major campgrounds. With 104 sites, each with a table and fire ring, Laguna Campground is the second-largest, located near the Sunset and Big Laguna trails which encircle the bucolic Laguna Meadow – a must see!
- Just over the mountains, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is a campers’ paradise where you’re sure to spot roadrunners, bighorn sheep (called “borrego” in Spanish), lizards and yes, even snakes (keep your hands and feet out of rock crevices!). As California’s largest state park it’s difficult to choose just one campground out of the 12, but my pick would be Borrego Palm Canyonwhere – as the name suggests – a lush palm oasis awaits hikers. Note: Be sure to bring plenty of water for desert camping, as temps are 100+!
- If you want a cozy home away from home, the swanky new Santee Lakes Cabins provide a fun camping getaway for the entire family. There are 10 cabins to choose from; seven on the water’s edge and three that actually float ON the lake. How cool is that! Each cabin is furnished, decked out with full utilities, including AC, TV, and WiFi, and includes a kitchenette, master bedroom, living room, restroom with shower, porch and BBQ. If roughing it is not quite your thing, Santee Lakes is the place for you.
See you on the trails!