Palomar Mountain State Park

Palomar Mountain State Park

Palomar Mountain State Park
4.5
7:00 AM - 7:00 PM
Monday
7:00 AM - 7:00 PM
Tuesday
7:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Wednesday
7:00 AM - 7:00 PM
Thursday
7:00 AM - 7:00 PM
Friday
7:00 AM - 7:00 PM
Saturday
7:00 AM - 7:00 PM
Sunday
7:00 AM - 7:00 PM
About
This park's Sierra-Nevada like atmosphere is unique in Southern California.
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4.5
4.5 of 5 bubbles115 reviews
Excellent
59
Very good
39
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12
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5
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Iownit
Capitola, CA165 contributions
3.0 of 5 bubbles
Feb 2020
I had only one day to visit the park, didn't realize that the observatory had limited hours and the gates were locked at 4:30pm when I arrived. The state park has camping, some hikes and a large parking area with a view point that looked west. After driving around to see the state park facilities, I watched with about a half dozen others the sunset on Presidents' day 2020. What I saw was a bright light glowing through very polluted air. I could kind of make out the ocean. Perhaps it's Northern California snobbishness ;), but this has always been my beef with Socal. The air quality is horrible. So while I'm sure this may have a nice view after a rain storm, I'm not sure it is worth the drive otherwise.
Written February 24, 2020
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

SBillBerg
Santa Clarita, CA2 contributions
5.0 of 5 bubbles
Our Cub Scout pack decided to do our yearly 2 night camping trip at the Cedar Grove group camp (1 and 2) due to how close we were to the observatory. And boy, we are all sure glad we did. And I should add that we had to drive 160 miles to get there across Los Angeles traffic!

Firstly, the park is absolutely gorgeous. Yes, a lot of it did burn out during the fires 3 years ago, but when we went (mid May) it was green and the weather was nice (warm in the day, cool at night).

The group sites are separated from the single family camps sites which is awesome when you have 20 boys from ages 6-10 running around. We didn't worry about them disturbing other campers OR about other campers bothering us. They loved to explore the immediate area, including the stream bed about 200 yards from the camp. But as there are bobcats (my daughter saw one) and mountain lions in the area, it is best that adults travel with them when venturing beyond the immediate campsite.

Wildlife was out! Many times we say deer and wild turkeys roaming the area around the camp. Lot's of beautiful birds you'll only see in the area. We had great luck at the local, and stocked, fishing pond. We caught many fish and cooked them up for dinner. (State fishing license required for people 16 and over).

It's also a beautiful place just to take pictures. Gorgeous setting. Many felled trees just in our camp gave us wonderful photos.

We even found some rocks used by the Indians to grind acorns right inside our camp.

Close location to Palomar observatory. We went but didn't take the tour. In hindsight, we should have (and I recommend it if you want to get up close and personal with the 200' telescope.) They run the tour like 3 or 4 times in the day.

Bugs. Yes. I mean, it IS camping and there is water in the area, so mosquitos... of course! But they weren't bad when we went. We had more trouble with flies than mosquitos. Simple bug spray should keep them away.

The bathrooms at the camp weren't bad. Clean -- like as in "camp clean". Showers cost 25 cents for 2 minutes.

That's not to say we didn't have some issues... Minor, to say the least: The drain in the men's shower clogged up. Also, one of the showers completely shut off for some reason while I was taking it... leaving me soapy and uncomfortably talking with my friend in the next "stall" while I waited for him to finish his shower so I could rinse off. But again, all minor (and made for a funny camp story).

Ranger station had limited hours, but we didn't have any issues anyways (but did report the bathroom problems before leaving).

Group camp sites have to be reserved through reserveamerica.com.

Also, if you do group camp there, the Reserve America site says you have to clean the bathrooms and that only 1 parking pass is for the reservation. This information is incorrect. They have multiple parking passes (it is a group camp, after all) and you DON'T have to clean the restrooms. We found this out from the rangers after the fact (of course).

There's also no cell service in the area. If you need to make a call or text, I recommend the parking across the street from the ranger station overlooking the valley below. Great service there.

Oh -- and the photos on the Reserve America website don't do it justice. It truly is a beautiful place!

Loved it so much, plan to take my family there in the future.
Written May 19, 2010
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

acamper
San Diego, CA11 contributions
3.0 of 5 bubbles
Maybe I missed something but all the negative issues are easily dismissed booking a room in a 5 star hotel at a resort with a view .... 40 years of camping and here's my suggestions on camping as a whole (and yes, I've done Palomar, in the group and the single sites):

- don't make a reservation. Yes, a little tough on a group event, but if you're by yourself and you don't like the site, find another, move. Yes, maybe it takes leaving 6 hours ahead of the rush to make sure you get the site you desire and you're flexible, maybe you're at the next campground down the road. We've done a group event by booking seven sites next to each other and then congregating amongst different sites, but it's fragmented and the campfire never seems have enough space. Remember you're camping.
- pack insect repellent. I actually have a can underneath the back seat of the truck (and sun screen in the door). There's always bugs. sometimes it's constant, i.e. spring and warm weather, esp. if it's been a wet or late winter, sometimes it's less when it's been dry all summer and it's cold, but that brings up another issue. It's the great outdoors, bugs and all.
- good chance it could be cold or wet if you're going camping for a week, even if it's summer. pack layers and be prepared. No bugs are great but that generally means someone's going to be whining at some point during the day/night, esp. if you're married to a skinny so cal chick (yes I am). Be prepared, packing firewood is popular and warm. Sitting in a hot tub while camping and 1/4" hail balls intermittently making splashes in the hot water is pretty cool ... but it could also be a downpour.
- water supply/spring valve could be broke or down the hill. pack a foldable 2 1/2 or rigid 5 gallon water jug. It makes things really easy at the camp site, esp. if you're doing dishes, which I pack a folding alum camping table for so I can do that kind of stuff over to the side, and if there's yellow jackets or bees they'll be attracted over in that direction.
- lastly light. Assign everyone in the group a flash light. I use headlamps so that I get stuff done with two hands and don't need someone holding a flashlight. Tell each person that is their light for the whole trip and to put it somewhere each morning where they can find it in the dark that night. Pack extra batteries.

There's my two cents. Be flexible, it's camping.

Oh, allergies. I'm allergic to bees and on the last trip my son's hands were swollen from mosquito bites. (while fly fishing ironically) I pack bendryl for the bee thing and gave him half of one. Made him a little woozy in the afternoon, but the swelling went down by the next day. The concern with bees, what I've been told, since I also go to baja, is getting stung in the throat or face area where the swelling can affect your breathing. Otherwise you've got time to take the benedryl, see how bad the reaction is and get to a facility as soon as necessary. Some people do pack syringes, but I don't know how long they can be stored and how much they cost ....

KO
Written September 20, 2010
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

ErikAustinWAXX
Hudson, WI69 contributions
5.0 of 5 bubbles
Feb 2013 • Couples
We just returned home to Wisconsin after a weeklong camping trip in California. Palomar Mountiain provided us with wonderful memories and was a highlight of our vacation! Camping in the Sierra Nevada is one of my favorite areas...who knew you could get "Sierra style" in Southern California??

The wooded, cedar-studded Doane Valley campground is at roughly 6,000' above sea level and is really, really nice. I thought all of the campsites looked interesting, with steps and stairs to get to many of them as the terrain is varied on the mountainside. Each site had level ground for trailers and tents, so don't worry about the undulating landscape.

Flushing toilets and a clean showerhouse are provided!

Be sure to check out the Boucher (pronounced "BOO-ker) Hill lookout tower area for a spectacular sunset over southern California. After dark, we could see the city lights of the southern Los Angeles suburbs all the way down to San Diego and Tijuana. Absolutely spectacular!

One note about getting to the park...unless you're a thrill-seeker (like us (: ) be sure to take the "South Grade" road up to Palomar Mountain, and not the unpaved "Nate Harrison Grade"! We, being naive GPS-following people...took our GPS instructions up the Nate Harrison, and I was thankful I was in a rental SUV! You gain about 5,000' in under 10 miles of steep, breakneck, hairpin switchback-laced ROUGH and RUTTED road. I should've known when a sign at the bottom said "vehicles with trailers not recommended." It made for a helluva story and a laugh afterwards...but my girlfriend was NOT amused on the way up!! :)

BIG thanks to Ranger Dan for his hospitality! You made for a very memorable experence! We can't wait to come back!
Written March 2, 2013
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

Jak-cra
West Palm Beach, FL62 contributions
5.0 of 5 bubbles
Jan 2018 • Solo
Drove out for day while staying in Carlsbad. Interesting drive up mountain to park, switchbacks as you climb from 2000 to 5000 feet. I’m from zero in Florida, so very exciting. The vegetation changes with elevation, so pay attention. No one at entrance when I got there, day use fee is $10. I grabbed envelope and went in. Knew nothing, could have been a bust and a 10 minute drive through. It was not! I wasn’t crazy about the markers for the park when driving around, but I also didn’t grab map at front gate. Found a place to park by a ranger residence constructed by CCC - would have liked to see actual building. Maybe someday if no one in living in it they can open to public. Found trail marker to Boucher point, said 0.7 miles to lookout. Well shoot. I walked up a steep hill for what seemed 2 miles, stayed on trail, and never found it. I did find excellent views, birds and true quiet. Hiking at 5000 feet is not for old person like myself used to living at zero, not straight up anyway. Returned to car and figured out I could drive up there. It’s a one way loop to the lookout by car, not well marked. No side rails, quite thrilling. The lookout is an old fire tower with platform. The view is nothing short of spectacular. Panoramic on top of the world feeling. I stayed for an hour having whole place to myself. Ranger found me and I was berated for not having paid my $10. Swear on my life I planned to do so on way out. He got the fee from me. He had no uniform, wasn’t 100% sure when he approached me, but had official receipts, so I relaxed. I had worked for park service in Florida and looked like a police officer in my get up. He did tell me on a clear day you could see Catalina. And that in the summer the fire tower was open to go in. I drove to another nice area with a pond/ lake, very pretty meadow. Very amusing ducks. Again all to me and no one else in sight. Drove through camping area which looked very nice Hilly. Very big California trees. I can’t even describe well as I don’t know what I am looking at it’s so different from Florida. Seemed well maintained. Can tell you if I was a kid going camping I would love this place! Tent and RV sites.
Worth the ten bucks any day.
Written January 16, 2018
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

amnami
San Diego, CA4 contributions
2.0 of 5 bubbles
Camped two nights with our children at Doane Valley campsite in mid-July 2010. Chose site on the outer circle with lots of trees and shade. Campsites in the inner circle were too close together. In fact, a large youth group occupied 4 sites in the inner circle and they were too noisy and did not abide by the 10pm quiet hours. Scenic campsite but the bugs were out in full force both during early morning and late afternoon/early evening hours. Bug repellent and citronella candles were no match either. Apparently, Palomar had a wet winter so there was an abundance of everything...mosquitos, chipmunks, snakes, etc... Bathrooms with flush toilets were decent but shower facilities were filthy and flooded by the 2nd day. Hiking trails accessible from campsite. Enjoyed easy, scenic hike on the Doane Valley/Weir Trail. Would camp here again but not during summer months because of bugs! As park rangers suggested, try late spring or late autumn.
Written July 20, 2010
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

J_H_L700
San Diego, CA3 contributions
2.0 of 5 bubbles
Aug 2013 • Family
My family and I have camped for many years now, mostly at the beach, but this year we decided to try a camping trip to Palomar Mountain. We just returned from a four day/three night stay at the Doane Family Campground (August 2013). We had sites 25 and 26 booked. FYI. There is no privacy between these two sites whatsoever, so I guess it was a good thing we had booked both.

PROS: Nice scenery, gorgeous starry nights, lots of room for kids to run around and play, hiking trails, a small pond for fishing

CONS:

Tons of bugs, ESPECIALLY bees. I was stung within the first hour of arriving by one that flew up my shorts! One of the kids in our group was stung, too :( They are all over, and especially bad when you're trying to cook or eat. We talked to other campers while there (wondering if it was just our sites). Everyone reported the bee problem at their site, too. Some said it was so bad they were eating in their tents!!

Lots of poison oak, in lots of places, from the trails to the campsites. We had quite a bit surrounding the lower portion of our campsite. Not ideal with kids running around and playing.

Sloped, uneven, rugged and rocky terrain on campsite. It was a family trip, so we traveled with small children and elderly. I kept worrying that my 2 yr. old was going to fall face down over the edge onto the rocky slope, and "Nana" needed help going up and down the rocky steps to get to the site or go to the bathroom (note: to get to sites 25 and 26 you must walk down about 10 rocky steps)

Some sites are quite private, other are not private at all. Same with the shade issue. Ours were very shaded (to the point we didn't need our canopies), however other sites were totally in the sun.

Bathrooms ran out of toilet paper by 8-9 pm every night we were there!

The pond is just that, a "pond." It's quite small, and the majority of it is surrounded by tall grass, which doesn't give you that many places/opportunities to fish.
Written August 19, 2013
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

lkmewm
Indian River, MI19 contributions
2.0 of 5 bubbles
Since I was going to be visiting my son in California for a week, we decided to go camping at a State Park. He lives in San Diego, so Palomar Mountain State Park was a logical choice. I've spent many, many nights camping in my life but this was one of the worst experiences I've had.

We had reservations but wouldn't have needed it. I'm sure that going on a Thursday night in September caused the park to be virtually empty. There were only 3 other campers there. We had site number 26. The location was good, close to the bathrooms, and had a nice flat spot for our tent. It is adjacent to site number 25 with no privacy whatsoever. This didn't bother us as there was no one camping there.

The minute we stepped out of the car we knew we'd made a mistake. The bugs were simply unbearable. We had taken bug spray and that kept them from biting but they were in constant swarms around you no matter where you went. If you were in the hot sun they were much better, but they were horrible at the campsite and on the trails. They seemed to be little black flies with some mosquitoes. But far worse than the flying bugs were the bees. There was a nest in the ground right between our site and #25. Everytime we had food or water out they were in a huge swarm around us.

Rangers came around rarely, but when we finally saw one in another part of the park, we mentioned the bees. We didn't even have to tell him which site because he already knew. This told us that others had complained. However no one showed up to do anything about it. For someone who is allergic to bees, this could be deadly as it would take a very long time to get medical attention at the top of the mountain. I'm sure they believe in the "live and let live" philosophy, but in this case it could be a dangerous situation.

Perhaps other times of the year the bugs are better. For us it made staying there impossible. We had reservations for two days but left after one. The trails in the park were nice and very well cared for. If you could stand the bugs, the scenery was great and the trails were very well marked.

I suggest taking firewood with you if possible. They have a rule against gathering wood and the ranger station was closed so impossible to buy wood there. I think they probably staff it in the summer or on the weekends. We were able to pick up some wood at the little store at the outside of the park. Also take citronella candles or some sort of bug balm. Perhaps that would have made our stay more enjoyable. None of that was available at the store. Also take quarters for the showers. 25 cents gets you a 2 minute shower.

It was unfortunate that the bugs were bad as I think we would have really enjoyed our stay. The scenery around the park was beautiful. Be sure to go to the observation deck at the top. The view was incredible.
Written September 28, 2008
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

FreqTravelers
San Diego, CA677 contributions
4.0 of 5 bubbles
Jun 2013
Great location outside of San Diego and beautiful scenery of giant pine trees with pine cones the size of your head!

We stayed a Fri and Sat night at campsite #9. It was a great campsite with lots of space. There was some shade except in the late afternoon. There are a lot of other spots with no shade at all or complete shade. This site had a little ravine which is good for kids to climb and play in but also bad if you have a little one like we did. Kids in our group played with kids at the campsite across the ravine at #10.

Our spot was enough away from the crowd in the center that we weren't bothered by much noise. The site was located on the opposite side of the flush toilets which made for a bit of a walk if you wanted running water or a shower but it bead manageable. There are also 2 bathrooms with pit toilets close by which came in handy in the middle if the night.

There is a volunteer camp host on site but we never saw her. The trash cans stayed full the entire weekend but at least they didn't overflow.

We hiked the Observatory Trail one way from the Observatory back to the campsite. It is a really nice hike and great for kids. We had a small one so opted for the one way hike which is about 2 miles.

We really liked the campground and want to go back. Next time we hope to explore the trails around Duane Pond.
Written June 20, 2013
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

SoCalTravelingGal
San Diego2 contributions
4.0 of 5 bubbles
Celebrated my birthday at Cedar Grove group camp site 1 which is fully developed more than the other sites. We had some first timers and experts in our group who were all happy. Concrete fire pit with cobblestone and slate surround. Huge deck with picnic tables and bench seating along the side. Tons more space than we ever needed. Bathrooms were CLEAN and always stocked. Be aware of the time because we were warned by the ranger of our volume after hours.

For mid-june, very foggy weather. Hard to see and feel confident which way you were going. Bring plenty of firewood and extra clothes to keep warm at night.
Written June 15, 2009
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

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