Palomar Mountain: 3 tips to happy camping

Under two hours from S.D., Palomar's forest campgrounds are an easy weekend trip.

Doane Pond from the Doane Valley campsite.
  • Doane Pond from the Doane Valley campsite.

Who can resist the great outdoors in Southern California? There’s fun for all here, and California’s state parks are no exception. Witness breathtaking vistas, try new activities like fishing, hiking, biking and horseback riding, or just kick back, relax, and soak it all in.

Located just outside San Diego city limits, Palomar Mountain State Park contains within it the 3rd-highest peak in San Diego County, reaching 6,140 feet. The panoramic views from High Point make camping unforgettable.

If hiking to the highest point isn't your bag, there are numerous nature trails, trails to historical sites, and paths that lead around a beautiful pond in the Doane Valley campground (where seasonal fishing is offered).

Palomar Mountain is an option nearly year-round; however, it does snow here on occasion. The temperature can drop to below freezing. As a first-time camper, this was not something I imagined would be an issue.

Let me share a few quick tips when visiting this area:

1) Research peak and off-peak seasons. There’s a reason why that information is available for most any recreational activity. My first trip was to Palomar Mountain for three days. You can book a site for about $32 a night and — voilà! — the vacation is set in motion. I visited near the end of October.

2) Check the weather and pack accordingly. This tip may seem like common sense, but for the most part, people tend to look at the high of the day and whether or not it will rain/snow/be windy etc. If you don’t pay attention to the low temperature, a trip can easily turn, well...cold.

While my first day was lovely (I hiked, spotted wildlife and read a book cover to cover), my evening was less so as night grew quickly.

3) Build a fire before dawn. Again, common sense. But when you're a newbie, the following can often happen: it's dark, and you struggle (and possibly panic) to give yourself heat and light. This brings me to the first negative experience on my camping trip.

I had a hand-me-down sleeping bag that wouldn't zip, leaving me unable to sustain body heat. I didn't plan on dressing myself with two pairs of everything. The temperature dropped dramatically and sleeping in 27 degrees Fahrenheit was impossible. It had also recently rained. Everything was wet, including the fire pit. Starting a fire in wet surroundings is a great challenge.

Aside from camping, Palomar Mountain is located near the Palomar Observatory, home of the Hale Telescope, which was the largest telescope (200 inches) from 1949 to 1992. Tours are available at a reasonable price and there is a quaint gift shop for those interested in astronomy. I love the book I bought there called The Night Sky which told of all the constellations and how to spot them.

Near the Doane Valley area of the campground, there’s a convenience store equipped with camping essentials, limited food/drink/aspirin, knick knacks, smokes, wood, ice and park information. There's even a little post office!

The restaurant on the campground is called Mother's Kitchen and is cute, clean and cozy. The food is affordable and delicious.

All in all, Palomar's got it. Food, supplies, trails, fishing, hiking, biking, horseback riding, views, history, observatories, education, wildlife, astronomy and hospitality.

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