San Bernardino’s nearby mountains, forests, lakes, and desert make for classic SoCal camping.
East of Los Angeles in the Inland Empire, San Bernardino sits at the base of the San Bernardino Mountains and the San Bernardino National Forest, home to coniferous trees, hiking trails, and snow-capped peaks. Two other nearby ranges—the San Gabriel Mountains and San Jacinto Mountains—multiply the region’s alpine options, while lower-elevation parks and preserves in the valley mean hiking and camping among native plants and chaparral. Aside from the mountains, San Bernardino is also about an hour's drive to Pacific beaches and 90 minutes to Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert, making it a perfect location to explore both the highlights and hidden gems of Southern California wilderness.
For a quick nature excursion near San Bernardino, check out Box Springs Mountain Reserve Park, where you can get a panoramic view of the area from a 3,000-plus-foot peak. Chino Hills State Park is another great local option with more than 90 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails. The campground at Chino Hills has tent sites with picnic tables and restrooms, while RV travelers can also find a variety of San Bernardino RV parks with full hookups, free wifi, dump stations, and everything else needed for travel in a big rig or camper.
Much of the San Bernardino Mountains north of the city are preserved by the San Bernardino National Forest. Within this park system are 42 campgrounds, hundreds of miles of trails, and the highest peak in Southern California: the 11,499-foot San Gorgonio Mountain. The Silverwood Lake State Recreation Area and Big Bear Lake are also in this range, the latter of which sits at 6,752 feet of elevation and features a winter ski run.
The Mount San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness spans 14,000 acres in the San Jacinto Mountains. With granite cliffs, Sequoia trees, and stunning views, this region feels more like the High Sierra than Southern California. There are campgrounds and rugged hiking trails near the park in Idyllwild, or you can start in Palm Springs and let the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway whisk you to 8,516 feet, where hiking trails depart from the tram’s Mountain Station.
There are year-round camping options in San Bernardino due to its proximity to varied climates. While the San Bernardino Valley can become uncomfortably hot in summer, this is a great season to camp at the more temperate beach and mountain areas nearby. Conversely, both the valley and nearby desert sites like Joshua Tree National Park are ideal for a winter camping getaway.