Palomar Mountain State Park

A cool experience with 6 to 10 mile hikes
Trek into the wilderness and sleep in the backcountry
Pups are welcome at camp and on hiking trails

Stargazing and taking in the views at Palomar Mountain State Park

Stargazing and taking in the views at Palomar Mountain State Park

Stargazing and taking in the views at Palomar Mountain State Park

Stargazing and taking in the views at Palomar Mountain State Park

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Last updated
May 24, 2024

Trip · 3-day camping trip

For · Families and beginner campers

Vibe · Moderate and fun

Permits · Yes! Buy an Adventure Pass for parking, an online campfire permit, and reserve a campsite for $15 per night.

Drive · 1.5 hours from San Diego and 2.5 hours from LA

Ideal dates · November to April (before it gets too hot!)

Pets · Welcome on trails and campgrounds!

Cleveland National Forest (CNF) is a 460,000-acre haven for 22 endangered species and wildlife. It has four wilderness areas: Agua Tibia, Pine Creek, Hauser, and San Mateo Canyon Wilderness, and includes a section of the Pacific Crest Trail. Laguna Mountain Recreation Area, Sunrise Scenic Byway, and Palomar Mountain and Observatory are just a few highlights. More than anything, it's another stunning place to get out in nature, disconnect, get in some quality family time, and see some stars.

Official National Forest Website

Directions to Campground

Main image credit: Hotels.com

Stuff to know

  • Heat exhaustion is real out here. Bring at least 2 liters of water and refill your water supply whenever you can
  • Bear canisters aren't necessary in CNF, but store your food in critter-proof bags/containers
  • Campfires are only allowed in campsite fire pits and might be restricted depending on wildfire risk, check the official national forest site before you go for up to date information.
  • Practice Leave No Trace! That means carrying out any of your trash and leaving the outdoors as you found it.
Check the weather
Cedar Creek Falls

Observatory Campground

The Observatory Campground is $15 per night to reserve. It’s popular in the summer season, so be sure to place a reservation in advance. The campground is popular for its close proximity to the Palomar Observatory, a world-class observatory operated by the California Institute of Technology.

Address: The closest address to the campground is 35899 Canfield Road, Palomar Mountain, California. The campground is about 2 miles north of this address along Canfield Road.

Each site includes:

  • A picnic table
  • A fire ring
  • Trash cans
  • Flush toilets (onsite)
  • Vault toilets (onsite)
  • Coin-operated showers (onsite)

Learn more

Three Sisters Falls
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Itinerary

Day One

Palomar Observatory. Source: Space.com

Leave LA as early as you can and avoid traffic

  • Last pit stop · ARCO - 1015 Main Street in Ramona
  • Nearest grocery store · Stater Bros. Market - 1674 Main Street in Ramona

Head to the campground to check in and make lunch

  • Get settled into camp, find your site, and make some lunch
  • Sandwiches are always a kid-favorite and easy to make while camping

Explore the area on Fry Creek Trail

  • This 1.5 mile loop trail starts at Fry Creek Campground, just across the road from the Observatory campground.
  • Be sure to layer on sunscreen and bug spray before heading out, trail’s proximity to a creek means it’s buggier than usual.

Chill and cook up dinne

  • Enjoy the night under the dark skies and stargaze with your family
  • If you’ve got some kiddos who are afraid of the dark, check out these solar-powered lights and fun multi-colored headlamps to keep the night bright and fear-free.

Attend a Star Party

  • Hosted on weekends once a month in the summer, the Observatory hosts free open-house nights that let you meet with astronomers to see galaxies, planets, and moons
  • You can hike to the Observatory from the campground, but it’s a 4.9 mile hike to the top. Otherwise, be sure to drive up early to ensure you get parking.
The Palomar Observatory is home to the Hale Telescope, which was the world's largest and most important telescope from 1949 to 1992. The observatory also houses a 60-inch telescope that discovered the first brown dwarf star.

Day Two

Boucher Hill Fire Lookout. Credit: California Parks and Recreation

Wake up and make breakfast

  • Get some breakfast going! Add some sprinkles to classic pancakes to make them funfetti.

Check out Doane Pond and Weir Trail Loop

  • This 2.7 mile easy loop takes you through the Doane Valley Natural Preserve
  • Make sure you apply bug spray and sunscreen before you go, and pack enough water (1L per person) and snacks to keep everyone happy on the hike.
  • You’ll get to see Doane Pond and have the option to take a detour to see the Weir Historical Site
  • You can see lots of birds, ponds with frogs and other wildlife, and tall old growth pines throughout the trail

Lunch

  • Have lunch at camp and settle in for an afternoon siesta to avoid afternoon breakdowns

Find views of the valley on Boucher Hill Loop

  • This 1.9 mile easy loop takes you along the top of Boucher Hill
  • Make sure you reapply bug spray and sunscreen before heading out, to keep the family bug bite and sunburn free.
  • Take in the views and check out the fire lookout tower. This is a great opportunity to teach your kiddos about wildfire risks and the importance of forest management.

Chill and cook up dinner

  • Enjoy the night under the dark skies and stargaze with your family
  • We recommend these camp chairs and camp blankets for laying out under the stars.
For millennia, only desert and coastal tribes, like the Kumeyaay, Luiseños, Cahuilla and Cupeño, knew about the lands within CNF. These native people had a deep respect for nature and the land held significance for them. We can learn from the teachings about their land.

DAY THREE

Palomar Mountain. Credit: California Parks and Recreation

Pack up and leave camp in the morning, before it gets hot

  • Cook up brekkie, pick up any random pieces of litter around camp, and save some snacks for the return trek
  • Layer on sunscreen, bug spray, and fill up your water bottles!

Head down the mountains and back to society

Treat yo' self to Nessy Burgers for lunch

  • This roadside burger joint has a retro surfy vibe and outdoor seating. The kids will love the burgers, chicken tenders, fries, and milkshakes. Plus, it’s right off the freeway on the way home.
  • Located at 3235 Old Hwy 395 in Fallbrook
  • Open 7 AM to 7 PM every day

Head home!

The CNF is the southernmost national forest in the contiguous US, extending to 5-miles north of the Mexico border.
June 1, 2024

Bewilder at LAist Super-Fun Saturday

Make wildflower seed bombs with Bezzi the Yeti at LAist's Super Fun Saturday

Event in 2 days

Bewilder Basecamp: Spooky Wonders

Join Bezzi the Yeti on her first spooky camping adventure!

Shop curated gear

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Bezzi's Pick
$399.95

NEMO 4-person Aurora Highrise

This colorful tent has plenty of standing room, is easy to set up, and pack out!

Bezzi's Pick
$249.95

NEMO Stargaze Reclining Camp Chair

Lean back, and we mean all the way back, in this comfy camp chair. You'll never want to sit up.

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$159.95

NEMO Moonlander Camp Table

We can confirm that these camp tables withstand hot bevvies and rock collections.

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Breakfast

Food For The Sole Blueberry Banana Crunch

Gluten Free • Vegan

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Breakfast

Packit Gourmet Diner Deluxe Eggs with Sausage

Bezzi's Pick
Dessert

Campfire cinnamon roll ups

Vegetarian

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Brookside Dark Chocolate Covered Blueberries

Vegetarian

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Angie's Boom Chicka Pop

Gluten Free · Vegan

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Santa Cruz Organic Apple Sauce

Gluten Free · Vegan

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Summer rolls with almond butter satay

Gluten Free · Vegan

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Dan dan noodles

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Asian chicken lettuce wraps

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Pho ramen

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Curry ramen

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Peanut butter cheesecake overnight oats

Vegetarian

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