Palomar Mountain Camping Guide

San Diego County is home to the Palomar Mountain and more importantly, the historic Palomar Observatory. Not too far from this famous star-gazing telescope is the scenic Palomar Mountain, State Park. Here you will find camping activities that appeal to many who like to experience a bit of wild wilderness.

What is Palomar Mountain known for?

Wow, talk about a variety of hiking trails with a dash of odds and ends. Get ready to cross-off your checklist since the Palomar Mountain camping experience will appeal to all kinds of people. It’s best known for Bigfoot sightings, UFO sightings, stargazers, and plenty of adventure-driven campers while loving raw nature. You won’t be disappointed with the number of trails within the park.

One such trail called the Pacific Crest can lead you up to the impressive Eagle Rock in Warner Spring. It’s easier to reach it by car since it takes just 37 minutes. Hikers can expect a full 11 hour day hike up to the peak. It’s part of the old Pacific Crest trail that was used by settlers back around the turn of the century. Directions within Palomar Mountain State park will show you the way.

It’s also known for the vast forests filled with oak, pine, cedar, and fir trees. Birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts will have plenty of local animals and birds to spot. Though it’s been less visited over the years, it was a major destination in the 50s and 60s. These days the park still gets 11,000 visitors per year. Mostly for hiking, camping, mountain biking, and of course trout and bass fishing in Doane Pond.

What is the best time of year to go?

The best time to go is absolutely in the spring and early summer. Due to the elements of late summer, it’s a bad idea because of wildfire dangers. July through September is the highest risk time to go. Winter makes the local trails and roads harder to navigate and otherwise is closed in winter months. Usually due to snow and icy conditions that are above 5000 feet above sea level.

If you do go beware that certain animals will try to get your food. It’s recommended that food storages are in proper mess kits or coolers to ensure that animals don’t get to them!

What campsites are there?

Within the State Park itself there are 31 campsites scattered among the park. 10 of them are well suited for small RVs and some are better for basic camping tents. We’ll look at the most popular sites that have appeal for both types of campers. You can then decide for yourself which location can be best chosen to visit.

Camp Site

Doane Valley Campground

This is the main camping site for most individuals and small families. Each campsite area has a separate fire ring (don’t forget your ignition stick), stand-up BBQ, and a built-in food locker. Each unit also has a picnic table and benches to sit. This facility has a main shared restroom area with running water and hot showers. It’s also close to the Doane Pond that is regularly stocked with trout and sometimes smallmouth bass fish.

This is one of the few facilities in the park that is outfitted for people with disabilities. You can reserve a space up to 6 months in advance and overnight camping is just 30 bucks a night. For those who like snacks, there is a small store that takes debit cards too. Firewood can be purchased at the park entrance for 6 dollars. They don’t allow you to bring in your wood but charcoal is allowed. There is no cell phone signal in this park whatsoever.


Cedar Grove Group Campground

This is the second favorite campground site that is meant for larger families and groups. The first space is perfect for up to 25 people and can include RVs up to 21′ or trailers. Other spaces are suitable for groups up to 15 or so. It also has running water, toilets and campground tables with BBQ grills on the campfire rings. It’s a bit more rustic than the Doane Valley Campground, so expect to rough-it for your stay.

This is not to say you can’t reach the general store to bring in your favorite snacks. It’s also close to the famous ‘Fire Watch Tower’ and hikes right up to it to get a panoramic view. It does have many spaces that are perfect for group camping with tents. Any electricity you need to bring with you, and there is no mobile service here either. The 5000-foot elevation just doesn’t support your online needs.


Things you should know before going?

This is the high country, to say the least, so you must know those wild animals are to be expected. There are non-dangerous mule tail deer and pigs that roam the area along with raccoons and squirrels. The only danger with squirrels is they can carry local bacteria to feeding them is not recommended. There are also mountain lions, bobcats, Palomar bears, black bears, and coyotes that tend to roam the area and up in high mountain trails.

Mountain lions are least likely to see but have been known to come down from the hills. Like all big cats, they are probably thirsty and looking for freshwater. They are easily scared away by the presence of people. Paloma Bears and black bears are more curious and hungry for snacks. Do not feed any of these animals for obvious reasons, since they live off a natural local diet.

According to local legend, you might ever hear of encounters with Bigfoot. There are reports of a blue-eyed type of harry walking beast that lives in the park. So far there is no proof that it exists. But the story itself is proof that Bigfoot people like the Palomar Mountain camping too.

Should you go camping there?

It’s the sort of old-school campground that was highly attractive in the 1950s and 1960s era. Back when American values were very different. It never changed much and still has that vibe left-over. Though it’s not a major attraction like it used to be, Palomar Mountain does have a charm for older folks. Some might even remember the resident at Palomar Gardens: George Adamski.

He is best known for his self-proclaimed book ‘Flying Saucers Have Landed’. He claimed to have contact with the Venus-alien space brother called Orthon. He also sold photos to curious campers for a couple of bucks of what he called UFO pictures. Mostly they were blurry pictures of Venus that are easily photographed, even at sunset. If your grandparents still have one of these photos it’s worth a pretty penny on eBay for sure!

Aside from that historical note, Palomar Mountain camping is the perfect time capsule that timeless and underrated by today’s standards. Those who’ve never heard will find that it’s right around the corner from major attractions like Joshua Tree National Park! The city of Escondido is practically right down the road likewise. It’s a gem of a lost generation that still has plenty of reasons to visit.


The final words

Not every National Park is going to be spectacular, but the serine beauty that Palomar Mountain offers is simplicity. It’s not supposed to be over-the-top wall to wall tourists either making it private and exclusive. If you want to get away for the weekend or a week of relaxing hiking and fishing, this spot offers it all. Be sure to check it out.

See you there!

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.