Cleveland National Forest

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About Cleveland National Forest

Nestled in the greater San Diego area, the Cleveland National Forest offers 460,000 acres of land through three different mountain ranges, with 360 degree views out to the Salton Sea, waterfalls, swimming holes, even a snow recreation area. The southern-most National Forest in California also offers amazing camping. Choose from the Blue Jay campground, El Cariso campground, Upper San Juan Campground, or the Wildomar Campground. Just make sure to check the status of each campground before heading out as they can be seasonally closed. Craving your next Cleaveland National Forest camping adventure? You don’t have to travel far to explore this beautiful wilderness environment.

Campgrounds in Cleveland

Laguna Campground

1. Laguna Campground

100% Recommend (11 Responses)

STAR PARTIES. Need we say more? Photographers, this campground is your jam. By day, meander to nearby Little Laguna Lake, to capture that classic...

Dominic: My favorite campground in the San Diego area. Just a short drive off the 8 only a stop or two past the usual roads to Julian...
46 Saves
Burnt Rancheria Campground

2. Burnt Rancheria Campground

90% Recommend (6 Responses)

At 6,000 feet above sea level, Burnt Rancheria Campground towers over Southern California, boasting epic views of the desert and, on clear days,...

Mark: Try for the first come first served campsites. They are more wooded, especially with pine trees. Also if you have young ones...
22 Saves
Dripping Springs Campground

3. Dripping Springs Campground

Explore Dripping Springs Campground, and your jaw will be dropping in awe! This place seems to have the best of the best, whether you’re looking to...

Jack: Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area is in Utah - please update the description of this campsite! Thanks.
22 Saves
Cibbets Flat Campground

4. Cibbets Flat Campground

100% Recommend (4 Responses)

Looking for some remote Southern California camping? Head on over to Cibbets Flat Campground, hide out in a grove of shady oaks, and watch crimson...

Jacob: Beautiful little campground tucked away and forgotten. Very well maintained with many new features like campsite tables and new...
21 Saves
Oak Grove Campground

5. Oak Grove Campground

Trek around that wooded bramble and converse with Mother Nature like the old friend she is. Oak Grove Campground offers ample hiking opportunities...

Dianne: Love this campground, and camp here at least twice a year. Nice sites, most with shade, and a great host. Lots of trees and...
19 Saves
Upper San Juan Campground

6. Upper San Juan Campground

Enjoy primitive camping under the oaks at Upper San Juan Campground, conveniently located just off Ortega Highway. Despite the ease of access, it’s...

16 Saves
El Cariso Campground

7. El Cariso Campground

Located on a picturesque pass in the Santa Ana Mountains, El Cariso campground has small, sunny and shady sites primarily suitable for tent...

Dexter: Came up here around Memorial Day weekend after unsuccessfully trying to get a spot up at Blue Jay. Arrived around 3pm and the...
13 Saves
Boulder Oaks Campground

8. Boulder Oaks Campground

A picnic in the mountains, a hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, and a ride into the sunset on your favorite horse. If these things put the wind in...

13 Saves
Indian Flats Campground

9. Indian Flats Campground

It’s Friday in San Diego, and you’ve just about had it with the week. What you really need to do is grab your hiking boots, pup tent, some water,...

11 Saves
Bobcat Meadow Campground

10. Bobcat Meadow Campground

Bobcat Meadow Campground is an OHV enthusiast's dream. These primitive and classic camping sites are adjacent to the Corral Canyon OHV area. Time...

11 Saves
Wildomar Campground

11. Wildomar Campground

Small, secluded, non-reservable. . . what’s not to love? OHV-friendly Wildomar Campground offers picnicking, hiking and, of course, plenty of...

6 Saves
Blue Jay Campground

12. Blue Jay Campground

With a variety of primitive sites, and walking access into nearby wooded areas, Blue Jay Campground is a laid-back destination for hikers and...

4 Saves
Crestline Group Campground

13. Crestline Group Campground

Crestline Group Campground is a group hike, cookout, campfire sing-a-long kinda place! Situated in the lovely Palomar Mountains, this...

4 Saves
El Prado Group Campground

14. El Prado Group Campground

Ain’t no party like a party in the mountains! Just be careful not to party too hard, you don’t want to disrupt the habitat of the endangered Laguna...

3 Saves
Corral Canyon Campground

15. Corral Canyon Campground

If you got a thing for dust and dirt, roll them wheels on over to the Corral Canyon Campground. Located in an OHV area, this place is dirttopia! No...

3 Saves
Horse Heaven Group Camp

16. Horse Heaven Group Camp

Horse Heaven Group Camp offers large group sites for rugged tent camping in a forested area of the Laguna Mountain region, along with drinking...

1 Save
Falcon Group Campground

17. Falcon Group Campground

Fancy a group camping site? If you’re in the Cleveland National Forest the Falcon Group Campground is a safe bet. There are three individual sites...

1 Save
Wooded Hill Group Campground

18. Wooded Hill Group Campground

Rev up that fancy RV, 'cause Wooded Hill Group Camp Ground is all about the motorized love. You'll have to leave your electrical hookups at home,...

20 Reviews

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Hipcamper Mark

Try for the first come first served campsites. They are more wooded, especially with pine trees. Also if you have young ones or dogs be wary of rattlesnakes. There is a good chance they are hanging around the campsite.

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Hipcamper Dominic

My favorite campground in the San Diego area. Just a short drive off the 8 only a stop or two past the usual roads to Julian and Lake Cuyamaca. Open meadows, beautiful forests, plenty of hikes, and some lakes and gorgeous views all around. A wonderful place. We came up here Easter weekend and had no problem finding a 2 person walk-in space on Saturday and had a larger space on the next day. A general store, cabin restaurant, and an outdoor store nearby if you need any comforts. Wonderful area and campground.

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Hipcamper Hipcamper

This one is about an hour from San Diego and a getaway spot for many city dwellers. Especially in the summer months, campsites will be crowded. If that’s not your thing, try spring or early fall.

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Hipcamper Hipcamper

Ask a ranger how to get to the “golfball.” You’ll earn yourself some sweet 360 degree views, all the way out to Salton Sea.

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Hipcamper Hipcamper

If you’re planning to head to the popular Mount Laguna Campground, we’d recommend spot #81; it’s pretty private for a large campground, shielded on 3 sides with trees.

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Hipcamper Hipcamper

Check out Three Sisters Waterfall! The views and the swimming spots are well worth it, but be sure to bring water and food for the journey; the hike is a bit strenuous.

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Hipcamper Jacob

Beautiful little campground tucked away and forgotten. Very well maintained with many new features like campsite tables and new pit toilets. Just off of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and usually used by thru-hikers or those trying to avoid Mt. Laguna campgrounds.

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Hipcamper Raleigh

Perfect spot for a weekend getaway. No reservations make it nice, but always a risk! Calm, quiet and serene. This is a favorite spot of mine!

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Hipcamper Jack

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area is in Utah - please update the description of this campsite! Thanks.

Hipcamper Ryan

I like to camp at Cibbets Flat from Sunday to Tuesday. Most people have cleared out by Sunday, leaving 2 days of glorious stillness and solitude. The evenings get chilly, despite the warm days, especially from Oct-May. During summer (Jun-Sep), the temperature can be in the 90's at the high, to the low 50's at the low. Layering is key to comfort! For the cost of an overnight stay ($14, double that for a double size campsite) it can't be beat! There's plenty of hiking in the area, and access to a beautiful creek. The campground has plenty of water spigots (not potable!) and vault toilets.

Hipcamper Dianne

Love this campground, and camp here at least twice a year. Nice sites, most with shade, and a great host. Lots of trees and plants and you can hear the coyotes at night. Lock up food, as there are raccoons who aren't bashful about wandering through your site even when you right there. Store just a few miles away.

Hipcamper Phyllis

Beautiful campground. Very well maintained. We stayed in January and had the campground to ourselves. I believe the torrential rains and being there mid-week probably kept a lot of people away. We managed to do a little hiking between rains. We would certainly stay there again.

Hipcamper Jeremy

This is one of those rare places in Southern California where you can see deciduous trees with leave that change color in the fall!

Hipcamper Jolene

Great hiking, check out Alpine and Pine Valley.

Hipcamper Natalia

Fantastic campground! Pacific Crest Trail is easily accessible from anywhere on the campground, there's a great restaurant walking distance just outside of campground entrance, and each site is a bit unique. They have coin-operated showers and some bathrooms are flush. Well-maintained.

Hipcamper Lindsay

This place is just magical! I can't believe that this is so close to San Diego. It's a combination of meadow and forest and is currently bright green from all of the rain. The campsites are spread out pretty well, so you don't feel like you're right next to other campers. Definitely will be back here!

Hipcamper Paige

Hidden campground and absolutely peaceful. My boyfriend and I stayed there in April and the campsites around us were empty and the neighbor we did have was super friendly! Clean toilets too! Even though it isn't far from San Diego, it was pretty chilly up there so make sure to check the weather so you can pack accordingly.

Hipcamper Nicole

Went here on a Friday morning during early May, and secured a first come first serve spot no problem (there was only a couple other people camping). There are lots of cool spots along the creek, we camped across the creek in 21 and had a huge area basically to ourselves. There's plenty of shade and trees, and shrubbery. Lots of places to picnic and hang a hammock. Later in the day more campers rolled up, but still remained largely quiet and peaceful. The drive in is awesome and there's trails around the campgrounds including the PCT. This place is a seriously awesome and underrate spot I would highly recommend to anyone. Also there is new vault toilets, running water and it's only $15 a spot!! See for yourself!
Ps. brig bug spray

Hipcamper Dexter

Came up here around Memorial Day weekend after unsuccessfully trying to get a spot up at Blue Jay. Arrived around 3pm and the place was pretty open but that soon changed. I took Site 19 which I thought was the best spot with a nice little stairway leading up to the site and a tent clearing behind some bushes for extra privacy. It's a small campground but cozy. The only real downside is it's close to the Ortega Highway so you don't get a lot of quiet, but it's good cause it's a short drive to get supplies if you need them.

Hipcamper Lindsay

We love this place so much that we came here two weekends in a row. We actually shot a bit of video here because it was so beautiful:

History of Cleveland National Forest

During the 1700's the land now known as the Cleveland National Forest had been parceled out in large land grants. One of these, the Rancho San José del Valle grant, was given in 1844 to one of the earliest settlers, a fur trader named J. T. Warner. About the same time, Juan Forster received the land grants of Los Piños Potrero, El Cariso Potrero, and Potrero de la Cienega.

Widespread overgrazing throughout the area, brush and trees cut for fence posts, and fires set to produce forage expanded the impact well beyond that of the Indians in the previous centuries.

In 1869, gold was discovered near Julian attracting hordes of miners from the Mother Lode and swelling the town to a population greater than that of San Diego. Also, during this period, zinc, lead, and silver mines were booming in the western canyons of the Santa Anas (hence, Silverado Canyon). Nearby, in Trabuco Canyon, stands the remains of the large (and unproductive) tin mine, once owned (about 1900) by Gail Borden of the Eagle Milk Co. He had hoped to use its yield to produce cans for his milk.

The influx of miners left its mark on the land. Trees were cut for mine timbers, heat and cooking fuel. Great expanses of brush were burned so miners could penetrate new areas to search for minerals. As the mines petered out, so did many of the early ranches which had been overgrazed and had lost their chief labor force as the Indian population died off due to hardship and disease. The principal end results was steadily growing threats to the watersheds, which by now were of critical importance to southern California communities.

Cleveland National Forest became one of the first in the new system and had its basis in the 50,000 acre Trabuco Cañon Forest Reserve (in the Santa Ana Mountains), created by President Harrison in February 1893. In February 1897 President Cleveland created San Jacinto Forest Reserve, a 700,000 acre area which included the desert lands southeast of Palomar Mountain. In 1899, the Trabuco Reserve was more than doubled, in response to a petition sent to the General Land Office by residents near Trabuco Canyon.

These early Forest Reserves had been administered by the General Land Office (GLO) in the U.S. Department of Interior. However, the GLO lacked any trained foresters to aggressively take charge. As a result in 1905 the reserves were transferred to a new Bureau of Forestry (now the Forest Service) in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 1907 their designation as Forest Reserves was changed to National Forests.

In 1907 President Roosevelt made extensive additions to both the Trabuco Canyon and San Jacinto Forest Reserves, to include Palomar and Laguna Mountains and those farther south to the Mexican Border. A year later (1908) President Roosevelt combined the two Reserves to form the new 1,904,826 acre Cleveland National Forest.

During the next seventeen years there were several deletions to the Cleveland. A major one in 1915 when 749,730 acres of non-forest value lands were returned to public entry, and another in 1925 when the San Jacinto unit was transferred to the San Bernardino National Forest. Today the Cleveland National Forest consists of approximately 424,000 acres of forest land.