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Camp Checklist: Campo Alto

Setting up under a nice tree
Setting up under a nice tree
Ryan Ariano

The beauty about being an L.A. camper is the access to so many diverse camping experiences.

Campo Alto is a fantastic spot that's far enough off the beaten path to afford one the luxury seclusion and high enough to give a taste of altitude. At 8,000 feet, it's one of the highest local campsites. Nestled far back in the Los Padres National Forest, it's also one of the last habitats of the majestic California condor.

And after a few days of soaking in some high-altitude beauty, there's no better way to re-enter the real world than by stopping at the Pine Mountain Club on your way out. There are plenty of wholesome family activities, from golf to swimming and a few great cafes to load up on sugar after a few days of mountain living.

But the Campo Alto experience is what really makes it special.

Campo Alto is broken up into 12 campsites but without an office to check in or regular patrols. It's the perfect blend of wilderness experience and car camping and a great place to ease yourself into wilderness camping.

There is no water. The nearest shop is a good 45-minute drive and that's if you're driving recklessly, which is quite dangerous as you power down its windy mountain access road.

Here's a checklist of what you'll need for a 2 night camping trip at Campo Alto:

  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad (can be a bit rocky)
  • 1.5 gallons of water per person per night — this might be excessive but better to have too much than too little. An invaluable yet inexpensive must-have is a collapsible water carrier.
  • 1000 calories worth of food per person per day. 2000 if you're planning on being more active
  • A few bundles of wood. Kindling can be found but large logs might be tough to come by.
  • Heavy coat. Even in the summer it gets cold that high.
  • Binoculars — to get a chance to see California's legendary endangered bird of prey.
  • A propane grill if you're not comfortable cooking over an open fire or you're nervous about starting a forest blaze.
  • Hiking boots
  • Bear spray — ursine visitors have been seen nosing through campsites, even at this altitude

Then just kick back and enjoy some of the best camping views in the Los Padres forest.

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