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Favorite Mountain Camping Near Los Angeles, California: Buckhorn Campground

Our favorite mountain camping getaway near Los Angeles is the Buckhorn campground on the Angeles Crest Highway.

Buckhorn campground has soaring pines and waterfalls with a well-marked hiking trail that lets campers escape the urban sprawl of Los Angeles. From our home in Altadena, Buckhorn is about 1 ½ hours in our Toyota Dolphin motor home (20 feet in length); take a fast car and it’s just over a one-hour drive.

This summer was our first time back to Buckhorn since the Angeles Crest Highway reopened after the Station Fire spread over hundreds of miles in August and September 2009. Charred trees and burned hillsides are evident on the drive, but the area around the Buckhorn campground was not touched and is wonderfully green.

How to Get There

As of July 2010, the highway and campground are only accessible from the Los Angeles and Pasadena areas through Sunland and Big Tujunga Canyon Road while the highway through La Canada remains closed.

Take the Sunland Boulevard exit off the 210 freeway. Drive one mile to Oro Vista, turn left and drive about one mile more to the start of Big Tujunga Canyon Road. Drive about 15 miles to Angeles Forest Highway, turn right, and then another 9 miles to the Angeles Crest Highway. The roads are well marked so taking the wrong turn should not be a problem. Angeles Forest Highway is only open to the Angeles Crest.

On the Angeles Crest, turn left (the only option at this point) and drive east. Pass Charlton Flats, Chilao Campground and Newcomb’s Ranch. Newcomb’s Ranch is a bar and restaurant where bikers congregate on some weekdays but especially weekends. Buckhorn is another seven miles.

This was the first time I had driven through Sunland, and I was surprised at the steep mountain slopes shortly after entering Big Tujunga Road. The climb seems slightly more gradual than the Angeles Crest through La Canada. It also offers a view of meadows which I did not know existed.

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You’ll reach Cloudburst Summit, elevation 7,000 feet, there is the old Mt. Waterman ski area on the right, and the entrance to Buckhorn is just less than one mile after the ski area. There is a sign for Buckhorn. If you miss the entrance, don’t panic. Drive another half-mile and there is a wide area for turning around at the exit coming out of the campground. Turn around and drive back to the entrance.

In my Toyota motor home, I drive at about 35 to 40 miles per hour going up most of the hills. The engine works fine and there are plenty of turnouts to let faster cars pass.

Why Buckhorn is Attractive

It’s hard to believe that a mountain setting just under 7,000 feet is near the second-most populated city in the United States. That’s one reason I’m fascinated by Buckhorn. Seeing mountain peaks and valleys off the hiking trails is another reason I like the area.

A stream runs through the campground and mountain springs feed it as it winds its way below the Burkhart trail near the day use parking lot. The stream cascades down a series of waterfalls and one leads to a popular swimming hole.

When we visited at the end of June, the stream was running well and the underground springs made about 50 feet of the hiking trail muddy – a welcome site in Southern California where droughts are frequent.

Shade trees are another reason Buckhorn is attractive.

Camping Sites

There are 38 sites. The cost is $ 12 per night and its payable at an envelope deposit box. Take the exact amount in bills or take a check to write to the Forest Service department listed on the envelope.

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Nice shady sites are 28, 29, 34, 36, 37, 38. These are also closest to the stream. Other sites to the right side of the campground are further away from the stream but they also have some shade.

Sites have picnic tables, ample dumpsters and pit toilets which are relatively clean. There are water faucets throughout the camp. There are no showers.


Hiking – the Burkhart trail is accessible at the day use parking lot which is well marked in the campground and about a half-mile walk from sites 36 to 38. The trail head is closer to many of the other sites.

The Mt. Waterman trailhead is also worth hiking. It’s immediately next to the Mt. Waterman ski area and about ¾ of a mile from the Buckhorn entrance.

Flowers – at the end of June, there were colorful wild flowers on the hillsides. There was a bright red plant that my wife decided was a type of mushroom. The plant grew in single spears, separated from the others.

Butterflies and Birds – the butterflies and birds gave additional color.

Waterfall – about a ten-minute walk down the Burkhart trail is a side trail that’s fairly well marked leading to a waterfall and water hole for wading. The water is nice and chilly even in mid-summer! Underground springs flowed nicely down the hill into the stream.


Buckhorn can fill up on weekends. It is first come, first serve. We were there overnight from a Thursday (June 24) to Friday (June 25) and the sites were about 30 percent full. We went again Wednesday June 30 and there were fewer than five sites used.

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There is no longer a camp host at Buckhorn. But a forest service staff member will drive through at least once a day.

Important Notes

Campers are allowed to stay up to a maximum of 14 days.

We’ve never experienced any problems with campers even though music may get a bit loud at night.

There is no cell phone reception at the campground. We have AT&T; as our provider.

Some sites are long enough for two cars while most are one car sites.

Recreational vehicles longer than 18 foot (or 20 feet as in our case) are not permitted since extra long vehicles cannot maneuver the tight, narrow road into the campground.

The campground is open approximately March through November. We were told by one camper that the exit is never closed making winter camping possible. However, I don’t advise it.

Bring potable water to drink and use the faucet water for washing dishes.

There are fire pits. Use as allowed. Keep flames extremely low and do not plan to have bonfires.

Buckhorn is an excellent camping value and offers the traveler a completely different view of the greater Los Angeles area.

Click here for a complete list of campgrounds in the Angeles National Forest.