Leo Carrillo State Park | Outdoorsy

Leo Carrillo State Park
Guide

Introduction

Leo Carrillo State Park was named for the actor, Leo Carrillo, who played Pancho in the TV series, The Cisco Kid, as well as in some movies. However, his more important role to locals was as an environmentalist and preservationist. Californians also appreciated that Carrillo could trace his ancestry back to original settlers in the area.

His namesake, this California coastal trove, is an inviting display of tidepools, offshore reefs, canyon streams, and the challenging call of backcountry wilderness. Leo Carrillo is surely a haven for outdoor adventurists. Those who enjoy getting out and getting around can be confident of finding something to keep them busy. Whether you're here to watch for whales, go fishing, enjoy a leisurely sunbathing session, or head out on a hike, the park's settings are happy to oblige.

The biggest issue you'll have to work around during your stay is whether to go toward the shore or in-land first. Luckily, with a stay in the Canyon Campground, you don't have to pack in all the fun with a one-day visit. Pancho's paradise is sure to bring you one thing -- a good time.

With the City of Angels to the east and Malibu as a close sister shoreline, the location of Leo Carrillo couldn't be more ideal. The warm breezy climate enjoyed in this portion of the West Coast is a pleasant atmosphere to appreciate the outdoor splendor that can be found all around the park. The varied topography supports a plethora of flora and fauna. So, with so much to do and so much fun to be had, it's time to get packed, get parked, and get prepared for an RV adventure at Leo Carrillo State Park.

RV Rentals in Leo Carrillo State Park

Transportation

Driving

Only ten minutes from Malibu and just under an hour from Los Angeles, the drive to get to Leo Carrillo State Park is made easy through either Mulholland Highway or the Pacific Coast Highway. Once within the state park, you'll find that roads are paved and signs make it easy to find beach access, as well as other points in the park. For those staying in the campground, it's important to note you may find narrow roads within the grounds. Those with larger hauls may have a tough time making tight maneuvers or passing by other guests.

Parking

Parking can be found along the Beach Access Road as well as in the two parking lots, for either the main beach or the north beach (the dog beach area). If you're traveling during peak summer seasons, visiting on a beautiful, sunny weekend, or out for some holiday merriment, you'll likely be met with a decent crowd. It's best to park your rig in the campground and take the ten-minute walk to the shoreline. Larger hauls may find that parking within the grounds can be difficult but not impossible. The campground can only accommodate rigs up to 31 feet long.

Public Transportation

Campgrounds and parking in Leo Carrillo State Park

Campsites in Leo Carrillo State Park

Reservations camping

Canyon Campground at Leo Carrillo State Park

The campground at Leo Carrillo State Park lies just above the main parking area of South Beach. The beach is accessible through a tunnel leading under the road from the campground. There are 130 sites hosted here, where are all available to tent campers and RVs and trailers up to 31 feet long. No more than eight people per site are allowed at this campground.

The setting is rather comfortable and somewhat close. Larger hauls may have a rough time maneuvering through the narrow roads of the campground, as well as figuring out the best way to park. Some rigs may find that parking sideways is the best use of space. If you're traveling with a tow-behind, you'll want to be sure you can fit both vehicles. This can be tricky when making reservations, as they are site-specific and do not allow for a change of site upon arrival without cancellations.

It's still well-advised to get your reservations in, however, as this place fills up quite quickly, especially if you're planning a visit sometime between May and October. With so many recreational opportunities, and a beautiful setting to enjoy them in, it's no wonder this park sees so many guests year-round. That includes the family dog, as well! North Beach is dog-friendly and is an ideal setting to let your pooch run off some steam.

Campsites feature a standard fire ring and picnic table. Only 46 sites offer 20-, 30-, and 50-amp electric service, so you'll want to reserve your spot early. Reservations are taken up to six months in advance. Cell phone reception tends to be a bit spotty. There are, however, ample restroom facilities, as well as pay-to-use showers and an RV dump station nearby. Generators may be used from 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM only. If you forgot to pack any necessities, you can get it in the camp store located in the middle of the campground.

The beach isn't the only thing accessible from the campground. The campground also provides access to the area's backcountry trails. There are paths leading from the campground that sport all difficulty levels and do so over various terrains. So, pick out your spot and enjoy your stay at Leo Carrillo State Park.

La Jolla Group Camping

Bring your large group to stay at the La Jolla Group Campground just north of the Canyon Campground. This campground holds up to 50 people and is a tent-only site. There is ample parking available in this area. The campground is located close to the beach access tunnel as well as restrooms and pay-per-use showers.

First-come first-served

Canyon Campground at Leo Carrillo State Park

Canyon Campground does not require reservations in order to stay. In fact, all payment (including that for reservation) is done upon entry into the park. During the off-season, you may find that only self-registration is accessible. Fee amounts are all posted at the entrance station for your convenience.

Your best bet for getting a spot on the spur of the moment is to visit during the off-season. If you're planning a trip some time between May and October, (especially around the holidays), you may wind up disappointed. You'll want to make sure and reserve a spot if you come during the peak season.

For guests who aren't as particular about needing electrical hookups or ample space for privacy and larger hauls, the campground should at least have something to offer with its 130 available sites. So, if you're out to enjoy a day at the beach and want to give RV camping a go, it doesn't hurt to take a look for the perfect spot to fit your rig.

Seasonal activities in Leo Carrillo State Park

In-Season

Tidepooling

Visitors come to explore the rocky outcroppings and caves that line the beach of Leo Carrillo State Park. Seasonal low tides catch some of the small creatures that call this area of the ocean home and leave them in crevices or holes that fill with water after the tide goes out. Fortunate beach surveyors will get to see all sorts of tidepool animals, ranging from anemones to crabs, and sea stars to fish. It's important not to disturb these pools or handle the creatures within them. The tidepools offer a spectacular way to get a closer look at the ocean's inhabitants.

Interpretive Programs

The park's rangers help celebrate the wonders of Leo Carrillo with interpretive programs. These events include guided nature walks, campfire programs, and demonstrations for the Junior Ranger Program. Offered from Memorial Day through Labor Day, these programs are a fun and adventurous way to get more in-tune with your surroundings.

Surfing

Surfing is a popular pastime along the Leo Carrillo shore. Surfers gather to play in the exposed reef and the point break. The waves are fairly average here with none that get too wild or spectacular, which makes it an ideal place to learn the sport. Still, it is best to remain cautious, as many rocks hide below the surface. Summer brings offshore winds that come from the north, creating the perfect surfing conditions. Camping in Southern California along the Pacific Coast should always include a little surfing, so wax up your board, or rent one from a local shop and head on over the Leo Carrillo Beach.

Scuba Diving

Leo Carrillo's waters host a number of ideal diving locations all along the shoreline. These coves tend to range in depth from 12 to 40 feet and in difficulty level, but none will leave you without a stunning display of the area's interesting underwater formations and diverse sea life. This area is home to many exotic creatures, including rays, octopi, and soupfin shark. Discover whole schools of fish in kelp forests, where they gather under rich plant life. There are so many places to explore, and with visibility ranked best in late summer, Leo Carrillo is a sure answer to your desire to dive. Make sure to use a float and flag when beach diving, as well as an anchor line and a descent line for safety.

FIshing

It's not every day that you get to throw a line into the ocean (we're making assumptions here). So, while visiting Leo Carrillo, why not give it a go? Anyone over the age of 16 will need to acquire a valid California fishing license before fishing for California sheepshead, surfperch, calico bass, halibut, and white sea bass. There are several points that jut out into the ocean, creating perfect spots for those looking to cast off from the rocks. Whether by rock, off the shore, or from your skiff, you're sure to find your fishing sweet-spot. Best of all, you can take your catch back to the campsite for an old-fashioned fish-fry.

Off-Season

Photography

Visitors are sure to be awestruck by the spectacular surroundings that Leo Carrillo State Park has to show off. The shoreline boasts rocky outcroppings and unique formations that make for the ideal shot. There's no better subject for that perfect still than the sun setting on a western sea. A sea setting doesn't get much better than this; the secluded feel is easy to take in during off-season times when crowds aren't so dense. Even when the water is too cold for human guests to enjoy, the area wildlife still likes to show off. Whale watching is quite popular here. With so many photo opportunities, you'll want to make sure you have your camera packed in your motorhome.

Fetch On The Beach

Dogs love camping too, and there aren't many beaches in Southern California that allow dogs on the shore. Well, this park has what you've been missing. The dog-friendly north beach at Leo Carrillo is the perfect location to let your pooch run off some of that pent-up steam from travel. Stretch those four legs -- a few rounds of fetch with a sandy stick is always nice any time of year. Dogs are welcome to stay in the campgrounds, so the fun doesn't have to end after a day out. There is so much to do here, even for the furrier guests. If you're on the road with Fido, be sure you make this stop.

Hiking

Guests who enjoy hiking have it good here. There are plenty of trails to choose from, and they from easy to difficult. Whether you're looking for a gentle roam or an energetic hike, Leo Carrillo provides it all. Some trails show stunning beach views, while others pass along wildflowers and other bodies of water. For those looking for a little more leisure, there is a short nature path near the campfire center at Canyon Campground. If you want to see some wildlife during the off-season, try hiking the five-mile Leo Carrillo Beach Trail. Maybe you'll spot a California newt or a southern alligator lizard.

Spot Some Sea Birds

Waterfowl at Leo Carrillo State Park is abundant. Each species has its own unique song and offers the added touch to this California beach setting. Avian enthusiasts are fortunate enough to witness all sorts of grebes, gulls, pelicans, and more. Many glide right overhead and feed along the shoreline. Others will be witnessed along rocky outcroppings or fishing in the waters offshore. If you visit the park any time from November 15th through December 15th, you may catch the migration of many bird species along the coast, roughly following the Pacific Coast Highway (humorously referred to this time of year by locals as the Pacific Coast Flyway). First thing in the morning and right before sunset is the best time to see these migrating flocks. Be sure to bring your binoculars in your campervan.

Marine Mammal Migrations

Birds aren't the only migrating visitors to frequent the area. A popular activity preceding the peak season is whale-watching. Although you can see whales any time of year, guests visiting the park during the chillier seasons of April and into the beginning of May are privy to spotting migrating gray whales. These magnificent creatures roam down the coast and swim rather close to the beach. This event makes for some spectacular views and memories to last a lifetime. Whales aren't the only sea mammals to see in the area. You may also witness traveling sea lions, harbor seals, and dolphins, so make sure to pack your telephoto lens in your travel trailer.

Find the perfect campsite.