Montana de Oro Camping Guide

The incredible California coastline is host to dozens of amazing camping destinations. Not far from the city of San Luis Obispo toward the coast is the Montana de Oro camping park. It stretches over 8000 acres and includes 7 miles of scenic shoreline. It’s also home to a few excellent camping options that I will cover in this review.

What is Montana de Oro Camping known for?

One particular highlight is the amazing display of ancient volcanic activity that has pushed-up sedimentary rocks and volcanic plugs. These layers are evidence of major explosive energy that pushed the seabed upwards revealing a unique landscape. Aside from that, the State Park itself is called ‘Mountain of Gold’ from the type of wildflowers popping-up in spring. Four peaks are located within the park itself.

They reach 300-500 meters above sea level offering stunning views of the California coast. All through the park are trails that are suitable for horseback riding, hiking, and relaxation. You can also see many blacktail deer and black oystercatcher, but you do have to beware of possible rattlesnakes. At the Oceanside, you can catch a glimpse of humpback whales, seals, and various sea creatures in tide pools.

Some great historical sights include the Spooner Ranch House that was built in 1892. You might need a special guide to help spot them, but there are several Chumash middens all around the park. Chumash Indians lived in this area before 1542 until the Spanish arrived, bringing a killer influenza virus with them. Their ancient garbage mounds are all that’s left of the Chumash people today.

What’s the best time of year to go?

Spring is by far the best time to visit Montana de Oro to see the vast fields of golden spring flowers. Summer is a close second and the coastal air makes summer heat more manageable. Because the fall and winter seasons are usually colder, especially by the ocean; wind and foggy conditions are more common. For those who want to have the best weather with Montana de Oro camping, spring and summer will not disappoint.

It’s also a great time to see the best array of marine animals in various tidepools around the beach areas. Kids especially can learn about colorful starfish that like to live among the nooks and crannies of the sedimentary rocks. Campers should be aware that in April through May there are stinging jellyfish and Portuguese man o’ war that can wash up.

What campsites are there?

State Park at Montana de Oro

Islay Creek Campground

This campground is considered by the park to be an environmentally friendly experience that has no electricity and no running water. Campers are welcome to camp at this park location provided they bring their supplies. It’s located within the park not far from the visitor’s center. It can allow small RVs and standard tents alike. Luckily there is a handy store close to the visitor center where supplies can be purchased.

Badger Flat Camp

This is atop the badger trail 290 feet above sea level. It’s another environmental campsite that cannot be reached by car. There are pit toilets and areas where you can set-up a small tent. Over towards Bluff trail gets you an impressive view of the floating rainbow that is produced by sea-spray mist!

Horse Camp

This particular camp location can be reached by car and allows overnight camping. It also offers visitors to spend a day riding horses through scenic trails. It’s an excellent opportunity to see the park on horseback too. One trail even leads you down from the park directly to the beach. If you’re crazy about having a horse camping adventure, leave your dog at home. Dogs are not allowed around the horses at any time.

Deer Flat Camp

This camp location is not far from the Badger Flat camp and is set on a flat area. It overlooks the southwest view of Grotto Rock and can only be reached by hiking there. Those who decide to camp will need to follow the environmental rules. This campsite does not have a toilet so you need to do your business according to the state park rules. These can be picked up at the visitor’s center when you enter the park.

Things to know before going?

The park trails can be quite steep at times so you should always bring hiking boots for all the trails. There are also some kinds of wild animals that you might spot that are dangerous. Bobcats and other wild cats that might be in the area, though they usually avoid people in general! Be extra careful to look for rattlesnakes that like to sunbathe on the warm hiking path in the afternoon.

For all other safety reasons, bring extra drinking water and a small first-aid kit just in case. Cuts and scratches from slip-n-fall accidents are fairly common. Especially avoid the edges of cliffs that are close to the ocean. The strong rip currents and California beach undertows are especially dangerous even for trained swimmers. Insects such as mosquitoes aren’t very common but you should bring wasp and insect repellent while camping too.

California state parks do have fairly strict guidelines about campfires. Especially in late summer and fall conditions where grass can be dry. Wildfires can spread incredibly fast due to the carrying breeze of the ocean. The parks are very serious about this matter and all cooking must follow strict rules that prevent fires. Following these rules makes Montana de Oro camping safer for you and your family.

Should you go camping at Montana de Oro?

This beachside location has a double treat for those who like to experience a bit of American history. Not only is this a place where American Indians thrived for several hundreds of years, but it’s also a geological wonder! Millions of years in the making, this seaside location also shows the power and fury of ancient volcanoes. Much like any other wonder of nature, Montana de Oro is a place that has a certain charm.

It’s not as grand as the Grand Canyon but it does have the best sunsets only California coastlines can offer. It’s perfect if you make the pilgrimage down the West-coast route along Highway 1. Hitting all the beachside spots you can imagine on the way to Los Angeles. If you’re a real sun lover, this sleepy detour camping location will be one to remember. And it’s also budget-friendly since the park itself doesn’t ask much for camping fees.

Thrilling couples can take along their favorite California white wine and hike-up to a hilltop retreat to toast their afternoon. Families will love it too since the day activities include horseback riding, camping, and exploring the beachside wonders. How much more could you want from a state park camping trip?

Our final words

Nearly all camping trips in California offer fun, but nothing as significant as the Montana de Oro camping experience. If you like real natural adventures that are not so far from any major city, it’s worth a weekend. Not exactly the perfect place for long-term camping, but more or less the perfect scenic retreat. I recommend you to visit this park.

Check out our ultimate car camping checklist before you plan your trip.

See you at the campsite!

Article Author
Sean's an avid camper, kayaker, and RVer. He loves spending time finding new trails and campsites to take his family and friends.