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SoCal campgrounds start to slowly reopen, some in time for Memorial Day

Jumbo Rocks Campground in Joshua Tree National Park, before the coronavirus pandemic. The national park opened campgrounds Sunday.
(GaryKavanagh / Getty Images / iStockphoto)

Campgrounds naturally lend themselves to social distancing, provided you don’t invite a horde of people to join you during these pandemic days. Southern California campsites are starting to reopen — gradually. Some, like Joshua Tree National Park in the desert east of L.A., are open; some mountain sites will open as soon as Memorial Day weekend; and some need more time to prepare sites before they open.

When you do get back to your favorite camping spot, national forests and parks ask that you limit the number of people to your household members and not gather in large numbers. Also, you should respect the 6-foot distance rule and carry a mask when encountering others in camp or on the trail.

Though California has started to reopen, each county has its own rules to curb the spread of coronavirus. Los Angeles’ stay-at-home order asks residents to avoid nonessential travel through July 1. Here’s what to expect at campgrounds right now.

San Bernardino National Forest

The forest, which includes popular places such as Big Bear Lake, Lake Arrowhead, Silverwood Lake and Wrightwood, plans to open some campgrounds run by private concessionaires starting Friday. Most trails and roads are open as well.

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Double sites at campgrounds will be limited to 10 people, and fire restrictions are in place, meaning the only place to build a campfire is in a fire ring.

Campgrounds that usually require advance reservations have some campsites available on a first come, first served basis, according to the most recent information posted on the reservation system recreation.gov. Campsites are good for tents and RVs (with some limit on sizes and hookups), and you can make future reservations too.

Barton Flats in the Angelus Oaks area will have some first come, first served sites this weekend; $33 to $70.

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Crab Flats near Lake Arrowhead, will have some first come, first served sites this weekend; $24 to $26.

Dogwood, also near Lake Arrowhead, reservations available starting Friday; $37 to $77.

Green Valley, near Arrowbear Lake, reservations available starting Friday; $26 to $56.

Hanna Flat near Big Bear Lake, reservations available starting Friday; $30 to $64.

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Heart Bar, near Angelus Oaks, will have some sites on first come, first served this weekend; $26 to $56.

North Shore near Lake Arrowhead, reservations available starting Monday; $25 to $56.

San Gorgonio north of San Bernardino, reservations available starting Friday; $31 to $66.

Serrano, within walking distance of Big Bear Lake, will have some first come, first served sites Friday through Sunday. ($37 to $77 a night for tents and RVs).

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Other campgrounds, Holcomb Valley and South Fork, will open without reservations required.

Seasonal campgrounds run by the Forest Service in the Idyllwild and San Jacinto area remain closed, though trails in the area are open.

Also, the forest on Friday will temporarily close the 2.5-mile route to popular swimming spots in Deep Creek in the Lake Arrowhead area because of overcrowding, an announcement Thursday said. “The popularity of the creek’s swimming holes, most notably at Aztec Falls, over the past several years has created a growing traffic and parking problem on the narrow Forest Service roads leading to the creek,” the statement said. The closure is set for a year.

Angeles National Forest

Many popular trails reopened Saturday, but the forest’s 66 developed campsites will have to wait a bit longer. The forest “began a reset-and-refit process” for developed sites and facilities, including campsites.

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“For a 700,000 acre forest, that does not mean simply swinging open gates or turning on the lights,” spokesman John Clearwater wrote in an email. “Following a lengthy closure, reopening the Angeles’ unique and wide-ranging collection of recreation sites will take time.”

However, dispersed campgrounds in the back-country in the mountains north of Los Angeles remain open to hikers.

Visitors should check the Angeles Forest website, which will be updated with information as campgrounds reopen.

Los Padres National Forest

All campgrounds are closed in the forest that covers Ojai and Santa Barbara north of L.A. and continues up the coast to Big Sur. Developed campgrounds run by private companies will remain shut through June 1. Forest Service campgrounds are scheduled to open June 19.

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Trails are open in the Ojai, Mount Pinos and Santa Barbara area. You can still picnic along the Santa Ynez River, visit the Red Rock swimming hole ($10) and hike the Manzana Creek Trail in the San Rafael Wilderness. Figueroa Mountain in the Santa Ynez/Los Olivos area also is open.

However, 11 trail heads along Highway 1 are closed, roughly from San Carpoforo Creek north of Hearst Castle to Kirk Creek Campground south of Limekiln Creek Bridge. Check out the forest orders for detailed closures.

Joshua Tree National Park

National parks across the country are slowly reopening. Joshua Tree National Park is the only national park in California that has reopened campgrounds. The park opened Sunday to visitors who want to hike on trails and camp overnight. Most restrooms are open too, but visitor centers remain closed.

Sequoia & Kings Canyon national parks will reopen soon. Yosemite still shut, but has a plan for phased reopening

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Right now, all 520 sites are first-come, first-served and cost $15 to $20 a night. Group campsites remain closed. Back-country camping is allowed, but visitors are asked to camp in small groups with household members.

Scenic ski lifts

Snow Valley Mountain Resort near Running Springs will offer chair lift rides for hikers and cyclists 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday through Monday. No bicycle rentals or food services will be open. Rides cost $15 each; tickets must be bought online before you go. (Social distancing rules apply; visitors are asked to wear a face covering when encountering others less than 6 feet away.)

Mt Baldy Ski Resort north of Claremont will be operating chair lifts 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Monday to Top of the Notch restaurant at 7,800 feet, which will be open for takeout only. Hikers can continue from this point to the 10,050-foot peak. Tickets cost $30 round-trip, $20 one-way. Save 20% if you buy your ticket in advance at the website. Also, social distancing rules apply.

Other areas

California State Park campgrounds and parking lots remain closed. Most parks are open to trail users.

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Catalina Island has reopened boat moorings in the Two Harbors area, including Isthmus Cove, Cat Harbor, Fourth of July Cove, Cherry Cove, Hen Rock, White’s Landing, Moonstone, Emerald Bay, Howland’s Landing, Little Geiger and Buttonshell. Last weekend about 150 boats arrived and most moored offshore.

Visitors must sleep aboard their boats because campgrounds and lodgings are still closed. The Two Harbors General Store is open for supplies (face coverings required), and to-go orders are available at the West End Galley (dining on your boat only). Restrooms and shower facilities are open too.

Ferry service to the island remains limited.

El Capitan Canyon, a private resort with cabins in the hills along Highway 101 just south of Santa Barbara County’s Gaviota Pass, is roughly midway between camping and glamping, with rates from $175-$795.

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To cope with the coronavirus, the resort management has boosted housekeeping efforts, reduced capacity and shut down its “safari tents” and “adventure yurts” so that every guest party will have its own bathroom.

The resort has also streamlined the arrivals process so that guests can check in without leaving their cars; and is spacing out bookings so that every unit has a 72-hour buffer between guest parties.

The neighboring Ocean Mesa Campground & RV Park is closed through at least May 31 “due to updated guidance from the Santa Barbara County Health Department.”


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