A Los Angeles Microadventure: Angeles National Forest

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No matter how dedicated a weekend warrior you might be, if you live in a city long enough, the daily grind is bound to take its toll. The stress of big crowds and a long commute is enough to make anyone a little crazy, especially when paired with limited vacation days.

But what if it were possible to get from your front door to a little slice of camping paradise in less than two hours? After too many weeks of feeling trapped in the Los Angeles sprawl, and no sizable chunk of time to spare for an extended trip, I decided to find out. My first microadventure awaited me.

The concept of a microadventure – a rejuvenating mini-getaway from your normal surroundings – has been blowing up lately. Popularized by author Alastair Humphreys, microadventures are especially gaining traction among adventuresome urban dwellers looking for a quick way to hit the refresh button on the doldrums of routine.

I planned my own trip with a goal in mind: to spend less than 90 minutes getting from my front door to my fully set-up campsite – a seemingly daunting task in a city known mostly for its traffic. After surveying friends and scouring the internet for suggestions, I finally chose Horse Flats Campground, nestled in the San Gabriel Mountains about an hour away from LA (and apparently has some pretty rad bouldering nearby). There were ample sites with fire rings scattered among tall pines, and a promising trailhead starting at the campground.

Photo from Hipcamper Jorge Camil

My expedition was slated for a Friday afternoon, but I did a bit of preparation during the week to minimize my day-of busywork. I loaded up my backpack with the basics – sleeping bag, tent, headlamp, etc. – and stowed it in the corner of my room, ready to be tossed in the car with any last-minute additions. On my weekly grocery run earlier that week, I stocked up for my night away. Since I planned to camp alone, I sent out a message the night before with my intended whereabouts and return date.

Friday was finally upon me. I was ready to hit the road when 3 p.m. rolled around, purposely staying ahead of rush hour. Nearing the windy mountain road leading into Angeles National Forest, I realized that something major had slipped my mind: firewood. No fire meant no dinner, so I backtracked to the nearest town. To my dismay, the first two markets had zero firewood; I finally found a gas station with a few bundles on sale.

Photo from Hipcamper Amanda Proudfit
You don’t have to travel far up the Angeles Crest Highway to feel like you’ve left the city behind. Sweeping views are plentiful – as are bikers and cyclists, taking advantage of the opportunity to bask in the open mountain air. After a few dozen hairpin bends in the road, I arrived at Horse Flats. Much to my chagrin, I was greeted by a prominent sign forbidding campfires due to extremely dry conditions from the ongoing drought. Laughing at the irony of my last minute pitstop, I was grateful for all the extra snacks I’d packed.

With only two or three other scattered groups at the campground, I reveled in the quiet as I set up camp, hanging my hammock between two perfectly spaced trees. Checking my watch, I’d made it door to door just under the wire; even with the detour for unneeded kindling, the journey took me about 90 minutes.

Photo from Hipcamper Amanda Proudfit

As darkness approached, the campground began to fill, and not all of my neighbors were considerate. One big group played loud music late into the night, lighting a bonfire in spite of the cautionary notices. Though I no longer felt quite as far from Los Angeles as I’d hoped, I packed earplugs for situations like this one, and popped them in before drifting off to sleep.

The next morning, I ate a leisurely breakfast before packing up camp and heading to the trailhead. The Hillyer Trail is a short but rewarding hike to the summit of Mt. Hillyer, weaving among boulders that beg to be climbed. The views are pleasant and the grade is consistently mellow, making it a worthwhile and low-commitment activity for hikers with limited time.

On my way back down the highway, I was surprised by the number of cars packed with eager campers headed in the opposite direction, and made a mental note: weekend nights are probably not the best bet if solitude is the goal. All things considered, my microadventure turned out to be incredibly manageable, and I can’t wait for my next mini-escape from town.

With a little bit of planning, you can make microadventures a regular part of your routine, too. Use my lessons learned, listed below, to make your experience as smooth and stress-free as possible.

  • Have a bag of essentials ready to go. If you find the idea of a microadventure super appealing but aren’t sure you’ll commit to it in practice, keep an adventure bag packed and ready to go with everything you need. You can even stock up on snack bars and other food items that have a long shelf life, minimizing effort when its time to take your trip – and leaving you with zero excuses to stay home.
  • Go on a weekday. The point of a microadventure is to make getting away from it all as quick and painless as possible – so if you can, choose a day of the week that allows you to beat the crowds. You’ll spend less time looking for a campsite, and you’ll be more likely to achieve the restorative peace and solitude that you can’t find at home.

  • Be aware of local warnings and restrictions. When I read the description of the campground, I made the mistake of assuming that the presence of fire rings automatically meant I could use them. Had I double-checked the current restrictions, I would have saved myself the time I spent scrambling for firewood at the last minute, and my meal plan would have been altered accordingly. Usually public lands websites post relevant warnings; to be doubly sure, you can always call the ranger station or visitor center directly.
  • Consider flying solo. For the people out there who always have a posse of pals tagging along, a microadventure is the perfect opportunity to try camping alone. The stakes are low – you’re close to home, your phone probably has reception, and it’s a super short period of time by design. Getting out of your comfort zone is what a microadventure is all about, and you might even make solo camping a regular part of your life.

Photo from Hipcamper Jorge Camil

  • Make it as big or small as you want. If you’re yearning for a change of scenery and leaving town truly isn’t an option, get creative. Grab a group of friends and take an urban hike in a pretty neighborhood, go to the park during your lunch break and walk barefoot in the grass, or pitch a tent in your own backyard. It may not seem like much, but even a slight departure from your comfort zone will be rejuvenating.

Jennifer Kotlewski is a Los Angeles based writer, humanitarian, and wildflower junkie. You can see what kind of trouble she’s currently getting into via instagram @jenkotlewski.

Hipcamp Staff

Hipcamp is an online marketplace where you can list, discover, and book campsites and accommodations on private and public land. Hipcamp is your go-to guide to getting outside. If you’re a landowner, Hipcamp creates new revenue streams for your business, which can help conserve your land and keep it wild. #FindYourselfOutside #LeaveItBetter

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