Los Padres National Forest
Guide

Introduction

Stretching from the Pacific Ocean to an elevation of over 9,000 feet, Los Padres National Forest encompasses an astonishing range of different ecosystems in California. You’ll be able to explore the beach one day, fish along mountain streams during the next, and then climb to the summit of Mt. Pino to cap off your RV trip. Hundreds of miles of multi-use trails weave throughout the area, making the forest a popular destination for hikers and mountain bikers.

The forest is home to a diverse range of wildlife and is one of the best places in the state to spot condors. There are dozens of lookout spots that give you panoramic views of the forest. RV campers interested in hunting will also find a variety of big and small game species in the forest. A number of rivers and streams cut through the forest, giving anglers a number of fishing opportunities.

There are over 60 campgrounds located in the forest, giving you a mix of different styles of camping. Whether you want to be a quick drive from the beach or high up in the mountains, there’s a campground for you. Read on for details on some of our featured RV campgrounds at this National Forest.

RV Rentals in Los Padres National Forest

Transportation

Driving

Located just outside of Santa Barbara in southern California, Los Padres National Forest isn’t far away from civilization. The campgrounds in the forest vary in terms of accessibility, with some requiring you to drive along narrow mountain switchbacks.

Driving from Santa Barbara, take US-101 to CA-150, and you’ll be at the edge of the forest within 45 minutes. From Los Angeles, take I-5 north out of the city, and you’ll reach the forest in around an hour.

The terrain in the forest varies widely, so not all of the RV campgrounds are easy to access. The campgrounds in the lower parts of the forest tend to be easier to get to, and you shouldn’t have to drive on too many narrow mountain roads. However, if you want to drive up to some of the higher campgrounds near Mt. Pico, you’ll have to navigate some winding switchbacks that could present problems for large rigs.

Parking

Public Transportation

Campgrounds and parking in Los Padres National Forest

Campsites in Los Padres National Forest

Reservations camping

Mt. Pinos Campground

If you want scenic mountain views, this is one of the best campgrounds you’ll find in the forest. The secluded RV sites offer you plenty of shaded privacy, along with fire pits and picnic tables. None of the 19 sites have hookups of any kind, and there is no drinking water in the campground. Vault toilets can be found throughout the campground.

Hiking is the main attraction around the campground, as you’ll be near trails that lead to the summit of Mt. Pinos. Most sites can be reserved in advance online. RVs and trailers up to 26 feet long can be accommodated.

McGill Campground

This campground is one of the most popular in the Mt. Pinos Ranger District. All of the 73 sites have picnic tables and fire pits with grills, and you’ll have access to vault toilets. No drinking water is provided in the campground. There are a number of hiking trails that lead out of the campground, including an interpretive trail, a trail that leads to the summit of Mt. Pico, and a trail that takes you along Mill Canyon. Most of the sites are open for reservations from May to October and can fit rigs between 20 and 30 feet long.

Figueroa Campground

Located in the Santa Lucia Ranger District, this 35-site campground is one of the best in the forest for wildlife viewing. Deer hunters flock to this campground in the summer. All of the sites have picnic tables and fire pits with grills, and you’ll have access to drinking spigots and vault toilets. The sites do not have hookups of any kind. There are three dumpsters located on the edge of the campground.

The area is known for its wildflower blooms during the spring, which blanket Figueroa Mountain in color. Popular trails around the campground include David Brown/Fur Canyon Trail and Ballard Trail. Reservations are accepted. RVs and trailers up to 25 feet long are permitted.

Seasonal activities in Los Padres National Forest

In-Season

Hiking

With over 9,000 feet in elevation change, there’s plenty of challenging terrain for adventurous hikers at Los Padres National Forest. Trails lead out from almost all of the RV campgrounds in the area, so you won’t have to wander far to find a hiking route. The terrain is varied, from beach side hikes to rugged mountain treks that take you thousands of feet up into the air. The weather in Los Padres is excellent throughout the year, so you should be able to hike in any season.

Mountain Biking

With dozens of miles of trails cutting across the wooded San Emigdio Mountains, Los Padres National Forest is a haven for mountain bikers. There are trails for riders of all experience levels, from short flat loops to routes featuring challenging climbs and descents along narrow mountain switchbacks. Although many trails are multi-use, some are reserved for hiking. Check the markers at the trailhead to see which are open to mountain biking. Always ride with caution, as you’ll often come across hikers.

Relaxing at the Beach

If you are a sucker for surf and sand, head your campervan to the beach at Los Padres National Forest. Take a break after a long day of hiking and head to the sandy beaches of Santa Barbara. You can relax and swim along the long stretch of coastline that is near the forest. The time it takes to get to the water from your RV campground will vary depending on how deep in the forest you stay. You can find a number of RV campgrounds that are just a few minutes from the beach.

Off-Season

Fishing

There are a number of streams and creeks scattered throughout the forest that are excellent for fishing. Salmon Creek Trail has a ten-mile long stretch of water with large populations of trout, and you can also fish along the Santa Ynez River.

If you’re staying near the beach, you’ll also be able to catch a wide range of fish in the Pacific Ocean. Sand Dollar Beach is one of the more popular sites in the forest, but you can find many more stretches of beach with fishable waters.

Birdwatching

With a diverse range of ecosystems, Los Padres National Forest is home to hundreds of different bird species. It’s one of the most popular areas in the state for birdwatching, with a number of scenic lookouts that give you a chance to see rare bird species. Mt. Pinos is an excellent area to look for California condors, as well as golden eagles, northern goshawks, and a variety of owls.

Cross-Country Skiing

With so much terrain variety in the forest, you can go from the beach in the morning to skiing in the afternoon. Mt. Pinos Ranger District, with peaks reaching over 9,000 feet, gets plenty of snow during the winter, making for a great cross-country skiing course. Chula Vista Trail is one of the most popular in the area, and you can also cross through most of Chumash Wilderness, a large pine covered expanse near Mt. Pinos. Don't forget to pack your skis in your camping trailer, and use caution on all trails.