The US Army Corps of Engineers constructed the Whittier Narrows Dam in the 1950s as part of a project to control flood risks in the Montebello district of Los Angeles. As an extension of the work, they also created five amazing recreational areas in the Whittier Narrows Basin. The group of parks covers more than one thousand acres of land, and although there are no Corps campgrounds at Whittier Narrows Dam, the parks provide an incredible choice of daytime outdoor activities.
If you've been RV camping in the Angeles National Forest or the foothills of the Chino Hills State Park and need a change of scene, the Whittier Narrows Dam recreational areas are a great place to spend the day. There really is everything there, from tennis courts to rifle and archery ranges, BMX circuits, walking trails and disc golf. There are lakes for boating and fishing plus a pier, all types of sports fields and you can even fly your model airplane there if you have one. You can stock up on farm-fresh produce at the Earthworks Urban Farm before heading back to the wilderness or visit Tankland, the American Military Museum. The list of things to do in the Whittier Narrows Dam parks just goes on and on so make sure you stop by there when you're driving your RV through LA.
The CA60 runs right through the center of the Whittier Narrows Dam recreational area, and there are junctions off the CA60 which lead into all of the individual parks. If you've been spending time on the beaches of Point Mugu State Park, you'll have an interesting one and a half drive along the CA1 passing through Santa Monica and the center of Los Angeles to get to Whittier Narrows Dam.
If you're motoring in from Chino Hills, you'll only have a short drive of half an hour to get to the recreational facilities. It depends where you've been RV camping in the Angeles National Forest as to how long the journey from there will take you. If you've been up near Hidden Springs you'll have a forty-minute drive through Shadow Hills on the CA210 then right through the heart of LA. The din of civilization will probably come as quite a shock after you've been camping in the woods, but once you join the C60, you'll be through the suburbs before you know it. From the San Antonio Heights area, it'll take you around half an hour.
All of the five recreational grounds at the Whittier Narrows Dam recreational area have spacious parking facilities you can use during the park opening hours from sunrise to sunset. On weekends and national holidays, there is a $6 charge for parking a vehicle. Not all of the parks have the same facilities so check the official map to see where the activity you want to do is located.
There are no campgrounds at Whittier Narrows Dam. At just half an hour's drive away, the KOA campgrounds at Chino Hills State Park are some of the closest to the day-use recreational area. The Rolling M Ranch Campground at Chino Hills has twenty campsites which can be reserved via the California Parks Department website. The campground caters for a maximum RV or trailer length of twenty-eight feet and there are on-site restrooms and showers. Rolling M Ranch is happy to accommodate horses in their corrals.
Point Mugu State Park has two campgrounds suitable for vehicles up to thirty-one feet in length. Both the Thornhill Broome and the Sycamore Canyon campgrounds are relatively primitive with no water or electricity hook-ups. Thornhill Broome has only cold showers and basic vault toilets. The Sycamore Canyon campground has a few more facilities including coin-operated showers with hot water and flush toilets. Its biggest plus is that the site is just a few minutes walk from the nearest beach.
If you're planning to head to the Angeles National Forest after visiting the Whittier Narrows Dam, you'll be spoilt for choice when it comes to campgrounds suitable for RVs. There are over one hundred campgrounds spread throughout the park's terrain where you can park your RV under the trees or by the side of a lake. The Angeles National Forest is such a peaceful place to go RV camping, you'll find it hard to believe you're only half an hour's drive from Downtown Los Angeles.
If you're arriving in LA from out of state and had a lengthy drive in your RV, the Whittier Narrows Dam recreational area D is the perfect place to park up for a leg stretch. In area D you'll find over five kilometers of scenic walking and jogging trails running around the three lakes in the park.
Cycle rental is available in the park too, and from the eastern edge of area D on Santa Anita Avenue, you can join the San Gabriel River Bike Trail. The asphalted trail follows the course of the San Gabriel River for twenty-eight miles through the El Dorado Regional Park to where it terminates near the jetty in Seal Beach.
Area D is where you'll want to be to go fishing. The park has three different lakes, Legg Lake, North Lake, and Center Lake, which are all stocked by the California Department of Fish and Game. Cast a line from the lakeshore or from the fishing pier, and you could hook yourself some catfish, trout or bass. There's only one area where fishing isn't permitted, and that's in the area of Legg Lake designated as a course for radio controlled boats.
For some target practice head to area C and blast away at some fast-moving artificial quarry. Open seven days of the week, the shotgun sports facility has field traps, skeet fields and twenty-five sporting clay courses as well as a very challenging Olympic Bunker. You don't need to be a member to use the facility, but non-members fees for shooting are slightly higher. Once you've smashed your clays to smithereens, you can take a rest on the cafeteria patio and watch other shooters test their skills. If you prefer bows and arrows to shotguns, there's also an archery range in area C
The Whittier Narrows Nature Center is a four-hundred acre plant and wildlife sanctuary located at the southern end of the Whittier Narrows Dam recreational park. It's a great place to go spotting or photographing the many species of birds, mammals, and reptiles as well as plants that are the natural flora and fauna of California. You could see any of three hundred different types of birds - some of which are on the endangered list - raccoons and opossums, alligator lizards, toads and the odd snake or two.
Tankland is the affectionate second name given to the American Military Museum. You'll find the museum in section B of the Whittier Narrows Dam recreational area. All the museum's exhibits are showcased outdoors and consist of an extensive collection of colossal tanks and armored vehicles, all of which have been in active service. The museum is only open to the public on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and closes if there's heavy rain.
Lake Legg in the D section of the Whittier Narrows Dam recreational area is where you need to go to have some fun on the water. There you can hire a single or double kayak to go out paddling around the calm, pond-like waters. If you prefer using your legs rather than your arms, you can also rent a fun, four-seater paddle boat and once you've set off from the shore, you'll be skimming over the lake at whatever speed your legs can generate.