Pros: Great campsites, isolated, low traffic, nice trails, an Observatory, great for kids!
Cons: Scenery is not Yosemite.
This past weekend, my husband and I decided to go camping at Palomar Mountain State Park with some friends. Since we hadn't heard much about it, we were actually going with low expectations. By Sunday afternoon, all our doubts were erased.
After having camped at over 7 different state parks in California, this was by-far our best camping experience. Why?
1. Campgrounds: We found the campgrounds to be extremely spacious, well-maintained, clean and accommodating. Each campground had a fire ring, a picnic table, a storage compartment, a grilling stove, and drinkable running water!! Yes, you read correctly. There were faucets with drinking water at almost every site. The park allows camping year round. The campsites are on a first come, first serve basis, so arrive early.
2. Bathrooms/Showers: Not only do all the campsites have easy access to them, but these were the cleanest camping showers and bathrooms I have ever seen. There was toilet paper in every stall, and they all have hot/cold water with hand soap and paper towels. The showers also have hot/cold water, and you can use them for 25 cents for 2 minutes. I put 75 cents in and had more than enough time to shower comfortably. The bathroom light was also on during the night.
3. Location: The park is located within a short driving distance of San Diego and Los Angeles, somewhat centralized. There's easy access from Highway 15, which depending on traffic can make the trip longer or shorter. The park is also located within an hour of Julian, CA, home of the famous Julian apple pies. We ended up driving to Julian, eating pie, and taking a long route home also stopping to gamble at the Casinos (which are all close to Palomar). We also noticed that Palomar Mountain's isolated mountain roads are a mecca for motorcycle riders. We saw many, many Suzuki and Harley Davidson riders out there meeting in droves at the local mom/pop restaurants.
4. Fishing: Palomar mountain hosts one small lake where people with fishing licenses can go fishing for trout and catfish. The limits are 5 trout and 10 catfish. It's within walking distance from the campground.
5. Trails: There are several trails to walk at the park. We ended up taking one long 3 mile trail what was moderate in difficulty with a little bit of elevation. We also took a smaller trail that was level the entire way and very suitable for families with smaller children. None of the trails were Yosemite-like, but they were great for the occasional hiker/walker who likes to see nature every now and then.
6. Palomar Observatory: On our way out of the park, we drove up to the Palomar Observatory. It's open until 4 p.m. everyday, and it has free admission. For those who like astronomy, it's quite a sight, and you can really appreciate the magnitude of telescope. It's huge! It's also a good educational experience for those with children.
7. Low cost: For one night of Saturday camping and two cars it came out to $19 total. It's $15 for one campsite and one car. $4 for the extra car.
8. Low animal danger: This is totally based on my personal opinion. Unlike other areas of California, there was no mention of bear problems at this park. Apparently, bears don't live on Palomar mountain. There were warning signs for mountain lions, rattlesnakes and ticks/fleas. However, we didn't see any on our hikes. We did see a lot of birds, and experienced a slight problem with gnats. I'm not saying that dangerous animals don't exist at the park, afterall you are in a forest area. I'm just saying that I never felt any danger or sense of discomfort. I do recommend taking insect repellent in case of fleas/ticks. I was never bitten.
9. Scenery: Beautiful mountains and very tall trees. Gorgeous overlook views. Lake Henshaw, which isn't too far, is also very pretty.
10. Climate: For October, it was in the 70s during the day and in the 50's during the night. Perfect for hiking and sleeping.
11. Low-traffic/congestion: Unlike other California parks, Palomar mountain was not heavily congested. There weren't dozens of people walking on the trails, and parking at the campsite was not a problem. The camp was fairly quiet and the large campsites allow people to stay far enough away that they won't bother you.
Comments: Don't expect the jaw-dropping beauty of Yosemite, or the awesome climbing rocks of Joshua Tree. But for those who like to do the occasional weekend camp trip or for those with children, this is a great place to visit!