According to the calendar it’s not officially summer until June 21st, but in my book summer starts on Memorial Day Weekend (am i right?). This year Catherine and I decided to pregame the long weekend with a three day camping trip in Leo Carrillo State Park.
Nothing says summer like sand, waves, surfers, s’mores and some killer hikes…the fact that it’s all in Malibu is an added bonus. Snagging a campsite at Leo Carrillo is tough which is why we had to be flexible and go for a mid-week trip rather than the official holiday weekend. On the plus side this freed us up for the REI Anniversary Sale….new gear reviews to come!
The park is named after actor and conservationist Leo Carrillo who is most famous for his role as Pancho in Cisco Kid, an early 1950’s TV show. According to the park’s website, “Leo Carrillo served on the California Beach and Parks commission for eighteen years, and was instrumental in the state’s acquisition of the Hearst property at San Simeon.”
The more time I spend out in state and public parks them more grateful I am to the individuals who came before me that had the presence of mind to make protecting our lands a priority. So before I move on I want to say a big thank you to Leo Carrillo for all he did.
Reservations at Leo Carrillo Campground:
Leo Carrillo Campground reservations can be made 6 months in advance of the current date. Which means if you want to spend July at the beach you better make your reservations in January (I suggest you set your calendar reminders now). Weekends get snapped up quick so if you can swing staying during the week you might have a better chance of getting a spot.
While we were there I noticed lots of empty sites, but I knew that according the website they were “full”. I spoke with a representative from ReserveCalifornia to figure out what was going on and she let me know that individuals who have reserved sites can call the park and let them know they will not be arriving on their specified date. They pay a fee for this, but get to keep their site.
When I asked her if it was possible to snag these unused sites she basically told me it was tough, but that doesn’t mean you can’t check the website every day before you want to camp….you never know you could get lucky.
What to Expect at Leo Carrillo Campground:
First things first, Leo Carrillo Campground is pretty big (139 sites) which means there are lots of other people around…luckily our camp neighbors were pretty mellow. If you’re not fan of sharing the outdoors with other people I’m going to go out on a limb and say this park is not for you.
If you have kids this campground is a pretty special place to take them. There were TONS of kids running around, exploring, playing war games in the wooded areas and walking over to the ocean for some beach time. On the flip side this meant that there were war games being played just behind our tent the entire first day….not exactly what I had in mind, but it was ok since we went off hiking.
Leo Carrillo Campground has a lot of amenities including: showers (hot and cold water!), flush toilets, dump stations, RV hookups, a general store, visitor’s center and a footpath to the beach (no running across PCH with your kids and gear!). I was very impressed with the clean bathrooms and the stock in the general store (especially when our milk went bad and we needed our coffee!).
Getting to Leo Carrillo Campground is pretty straight forward so I won’t waste much time explaining that…we all Google everything anyway. What I will say is that you have access to a couple beaches, one is more of a cove with lots of sandy spots to relax or boulders to climb up for a stellar view and plenty of surfers to watch. If you manage to come here when the tide is low you can also explore the tide pools.
A short walk North on the footpath or a very quick drive on the road will lead you to North Beach and Staircase Beach. These beaches are longer and offer plenty of amazing views, nesting sea birds, and the occasional dolphin in the distance.
In addition to beaches, Leo Carrillo also has several hikes with a nice variety of intensity levels.
Leo Carrillo Beach Trail is about 5 miles long and hugs the coast, giving you great views. It can be somewhat steep in places so consider it a moderate hike.
The Yellow Hill Trail is a 5.9 mile out-and-back hike that leads you away from the beach and into the nearby mountains. The park service rates this hike as easy so it should work well for families or those working up to something bigger.
If you’re looking for something challenging head for the Nicholas Flat Trail. This 6.9 miler hike takes you up 2,000 feet so be prepared for some heavy breathing. Catherine and I managed to tick this one off our list and even added some extra mileage on (thanks to me not bringing the map). More information on that hike to come.
Leo Carrillo Campground Pros:
- Clean campsite and facilities (no clogged sink drains like in Furnace Creek!)
- Well stocked store
- Close to local restaurants and grocery stores if you’re tired of camp cooking
- Endless beach options
- Close proximity to a variety of hikes
Leo Carrillo Campground Cons:
- Lots of people (and in our case shouting kids)
- Too many brazen squirrels and crows hopping on tables
Park Rating: 10/10
Facilities Rating: 8/10
Overall Campsite Rating: 9/10