Leo Carrillo State Park
Guide

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Introduction

This California coastal trove is an inviting display of tide pools, 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 to find 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 toward land first. Luckily, with a stay in the Canyon Campground, you don't have to pack in all the fun with a one-day stay. 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 Mediterranean 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 all types of flora and fauna. Nature truly boasts her beauty here and aptly shares it with all park guests.

So, make sure you get a good feel for what fun is in store for you. It's time to get packed, get parked, and get prepared for an adventure at Leo Carrillo State Park.

RV Rentals in Leo Carrillo State Park

Transportation in Leo Carrillo State Park

Driving

The drive to get to Leo Carrillo State Park is made easy by well-traveled access through either Mulholland Highway or the Pacific Coast Highway. Once within the state park, you'll find that roads are still well-paved and signs easily read off how to get to beach access, as well as other points of 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 Northern 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 10 minute (give or take) walk to the shoreline. Larger hauls may find that parking within the grounds can be quite difficult. There is a 31-foot max for length, but if you're traveling with two vehicles, you may be stuck with more of 20 feet as your max. It all depends on how you're able to park within the site.

Public Transport

Campgrounds and parking in Leo Carrillo State Park

Campsites in Leo Carrillo State Park

Reservations camping

Canyon Campground

The campground at Leo Carrillo State Park lies just above the main parking area of South Beach. That means these sites are just minutes away from beach fun. There are 130 sites hosted here. All are available to tent campers and RVs and trailers up to 31 feet.

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 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 some time 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 a few sites offer electrical hookup (another reason to get in those reservations) and 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.

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. The beach and campground are just the beginning. The pathways here are sure to offer your stay even more wondrous discoveries.

First-come first-served

Canyon Campground

Canyon Campground does not require reservation 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.

For most guests, the best way to secure a first-come, first-serve spot is by getting in early and (more often the case) visiting the park during off-season times. If you're planning a trip some time between May and October, (especially around the holidays), you may wind up disappointed. That's the time of year to make sure you get a reservation in.

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 camping a go, it doesn't hurt to take a look for the perfect spot to fit your rig.

Alternate camping

Outside the Park

If your excursions have you out visiting along the California coast for quite some time, you may not always want to stay in the same place - no matter how magical. So, when you're looking for something outside of Leo Carrillo State Park, you're in luck. With Malibu beach only minutes away from these sandy shores, your whole outlook and setting can drastically change--from the more quiet coves to the bustling energy that the rest of California is home to. If Malibu isn't quite your style, you're sure to discover many other options between Leo Carrillo and the park's famous neighbor to the East, Los Angeles.

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 for lucky guests to witness. Lucky beach surveyors will get to see all sorts of tide pool 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 tide pools 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. Still, it is best to remain cautious, as many rocks hide below the surface. Summer brings offshore winds that come from the north, creating ideal surfing conditions. You can be sure these waters get busy on summer weekends.

SCUBA Diving

Leo Carrillo's waters host a number of ideal diving locations all along the shoreline. These coves tend to range in depth and difficulty, but none will leave you without a stunning display of the area's interesting underwater formations and diverse sea 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.

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 prior to fishing for California sheephead, surf perch, calico bass, halibut, and white sea bass. There are several points that jet out into the ocean, creating perfect spots for those looking to cast off from the rocks. Whether by rock, by shore, or if you're a surf fisherman, you're sure to find your fishing sweet-spot.

Off-Season

Fetch On The Beach

The dog-friendly 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. Dogs are welcome to stay in the campgrounds, so even they don't have to end the fun 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 each range in difficulty. Whether you're looking for a gentle roam or an energetic hike, Leo Carrillo provides it all. Some trails show panoramic views of the beach, others embark among wildflowers and other bodies of water. For those looking for a little more leisure, there is a short nature trail that loops near the campfire center at the rear of the Canyon Campground.

Spot Some Sea Birds

Look up in the sky and you're sure to spot what you've heard - there are plenty of birds who actively call out that this place is home. 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. Be sure to bring your binoculars.

Marine Mammal Migrations

Guests visiting the park during the chillier seasons of April and into the beginnings 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. If you're extra observant, you may also witness traveling sea lions, harbor seals, and dolphins.

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 perfect photo subjects. 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. If you've brought your camera along for the ride, know that the park offers much to fill up your memory cards.

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