Campgrounds in San Luis Obispo County

July 3, 2012 

The campground at Morro Strand State Beach.

JOE JOHNSTON — The Tribune Buy Photo

Reservation Information

Reservations can be secured seven months in advance or as late as two days prior to arrival for most parks, but are subject to availability. They can be made by calling 800-444-7275 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. or visiting www.reserveamerica.com. Customer service is 1-800-695-2269. A reservation fee of $8 is added to the campground fee. Cancellation fee is $7.50. Some campgrounds do not require reservations and are on a first-come, first-served basis during off-peak season, which is specific to each campground.

San Luis Obispo County offers some of the most spectacular sights in the world — not to mention dozens of sites for camping.

San Simeon State Park

The campground here is divided into two parts — the San Simeon Creek Campground and the Washburn Primitive Campground. This is a great place for trips to see the elephant seals, Hearst Castle and Ragged Point. Even though many of the sites are afforded privacy with trees and vegetation, you don’t get a strong woodsy feeling here, partly because it’s so close to the highway.

Fees: $35 at San Simeon Creek. No hook-ups; primitive site for $20. Reservations taken May 15 through Sept. 15. San Simeon Creek has pay showers. Yearlong camping.

We like: Some of the sites offer ocean views from your tent. Also, the nearest beach is just a short walk away. And when it’s packed everywhere else, this is one of the best places to find availability.

Not so good: The nearest beach is pretty rocky with lots of driftwood and it’s often windy. If you run out of supplies, you’ll have to drive to Cambria to go to a grocery store.

Contact information: 800-444-7275; www.slostateparks.com/san_simeon

Morro Strand State Beach*

This is basically a long runway of pavement. With few trees, this campground doesn’t offer much cover. That said, the site nudges against the dunes and lies just a few yards from the ocean.

Fees: $35. No hook-ups. No showers. Reservations taken May 15 through Sept. 15.

We like: This is a great place for a surfer to camp. Sunsets are great and it’s a perfect place to watch Fourth of July fireworks. If you’re not the outdoorsy type, stores and restaurants are close by.

Not so good: Lacking trees and shrubbery, your business is everyone else’s. If the wind and fog come in, you’d better have a sweater handy.

Contact information: 800-444-7275; www.slostateparks.com/morro_strand

*Morro Strand State Beach was among 70 California state parks slated for closure in July 2012, because of the state’s budget shortfall. However, it will be open until negotiations are concluded. Closure updates are available at www.parks.ca.gov

Morro Bay State Park

Near Black Hill and the estuary, this campground offers a warm, woodsy feel with plenty of trees and nice scenery. The park includes the golf course, natural history museum and a marina where you can rent kayaks. Most sites provide stone picnic tables and fire pits. There’s lots of leafy cover, allowing for filtered sunlight.

Fees: $50 with hook-ups or standard for $35. Reservations taken May 15 through Sept.15.

We like: From Black Hill and the back of the museum, there are great views of Morro Rock. The tables here are sturdy and this is usually a calm, quiet campground. It’s good for family outings.

Not so good: Mosquitoes can get annoying. Walking trails are somewhat limited.

Contact information: 800-444-7275 or www.slostateparks.com/morro_bay

Montaña de Oro

Set in a bowl surrounded by lush hills, this campground features striking views. There are plenty of trees for shade, a fair amount of grass and a vast network of trails for hiking, mountain biking or horseback riding.

Fees: $25. No hook-ups. Pit toilets. No showers. Reservations taken May 15 through Sept. 15.

We like: Because the site is tucked away and there are no busy roads nearby, you’ll feel like you’re really out in the wilderness. At 1,347 feet, Valencia Peak is relatively easy to climb, and the payoff — great 360-degree views — is well worth it. And there are beautiful coves and crashing waves.

Not so good: Heavy rainfall can make fertile ground for ticks. Also, it can get foggy here.

Contact information: 800-444-7275 for reservations, 772-7630 for ranger’s office. www.slostateparks.com/montana_de_oro

El Chorro Regional Park

Located across Highway 1 from Cuesta College, El Chorro Regional Park offers more than 60 campsites in a tree-filled setting. Forty-five of the campsites have electricity, sewer and water hook-ups — though 18 do not — with bathrooms and showers nearby. The park also contains Dairy Creek Golf Course, an off-leash dog park, a botanical garden and trails.

Fees: peak season $33 per night ($31 from Oct. 1 to March 31) for full hook-up sites; $25 per night for primitive sites ($23 from Oct. 1 to March 31). First-come, first-served, except for large groups. Reservations must be made one month in advance.

We like: The campsites with hook-ups are fairly large and well-shaded, and the park is pretty. The park offers many other activities.

Not so good: The highway and the National Guard base are easily visible from the primitive camping area and the golf course is visible from the other section. It’s hard to feel like you’re in nature when golf carts or cars are going by.

Contact information: 781-5930 or www.slocountyparks.org/activities/el_chorro.htm

Santa Margarita Lake Regional Park

Santa Margarita Lake Regional Park is east of Santa Margarita off Pozo Road and offers more than 50 campsites and a marina. The Santa Margarita Lake Swimming Pool inside the park is open Tuesdays through Sundays from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Fees: $23 every day during the off-season, Oct. 1 to March 31. $25 any day April 1 to Sept. 31. There’s an $8 fee for all advance reservations, which can be made up to a year in advance. No hook-ups.

We like: Wildlife is friendly enough to be seen while driving around the park, the lake is open to boating and fishing, and there are plenty of trails. Campsites on high ground offer nice views.

Not so good: There’s no swimming allowed in the lake — it’s a drinking-water reservoir for San Luis Obispo— and the sites are of the primitive kind, though outhouses and bathrooms are available throughout the grounds.

Contact information: 788-2397 or www.slocountyparks.com/activities/santa_margarita.htm

Lopez Lake Recreation Area

About 10 miles northeast of Arroyo Grande, past Talley Vineyards, lies Lopez Lake Recreation Area, which has more than 350 campsites.

Fees: $33 per night from April to September for full hook-up sites; $25 primitive; and $29 developed with electrical outlet. From October through March, fees are $31 for full hook up; $23 primitive; and $27 developed. Showers are available. Reservations can be made up to a year in advance.

We like: The recreation area is large with ample camping space, and the marina includes a tackle shop, food store, launch ramps and year-round boat rentals for fishing enthusiasts. Part of the lake is open for swimming and the recreation area features Mustang Waterslides, a family water park.

Not so good: It’s a bit of a drive to get there.

Contact information: 788-2381, 489-8898 for Mustang Water Slides or www.slocountyparks.com/activities/lopez.htm

Pismo State Beach, North Campground

Located on the north end of Pismo State Beach, this pleasant campground combines grassy fields with stands of trees and shrubs. Migrating Monarch butterflies spend the winter months here in thick groves of eucalyptus and Monterey pines.

Fees: $35. No hook-ups. Pay showers. Reservations taken May 15 through Sept. 15.

We like: With tall trees shielding tents and RVs from traffic noise, campers will forget they’re so close to town. It’s a short walk to the stunning stretch of beach south of the Pismo Beach Pier.

Not so good: The campground shares its northern border with the upscale Pismo Coast Village RV Resort. North Beach fills up quickly, so latecomers may find themselves staring at the gleaming backside of a Winnebago.

Contact information: 800-444-7275 or www.slostateparks.com/northbeach_campground

Pismo State Beach, Oceano Campground

Oceano Lagoon makes a pretty focal point for this well-maintained campground shaded by tall stands of eucalyptus trees. It’s just off Pier Street and within easy walking distance of the beach and a number of shops and restaurants. On certain afternoons, visitors can check out the Nature Center for insight about the area’s flora, fauna and history.

Fees: $35 standard. $45 for hook-ups. Pay showers. Reservations taken year-round.

We like: This campground seems suited for RV travel with its asphalt surface, well-shaded campsites and generous bathroom facilities. Roughly half of the 82 spots have full hook-ups.

Not so good: It’s difficult to see the ocean.

Contact information: 800-444-7275 and www.slostateparks.com/oceano_campground

Oceano Memorial Campground

All the comforts of home are available at this 24-space campground, which offers water, sewer and electric hook-ups just a few blocks away from shops and restaurants. Campers can fish at the nearby Oceano Lagoon, surrounded by a well-maintained park where seagulls outnumber ducks. There’s another park down the street.

Fees: $31 during the off season (Oct. 1 to March 31). Fees are $33 for any day April 1 to Oct. 1. Showers available. First-come, first-served. Full hook-up.

We like: Although it might bore older kids, this tiny campground is ideal for tots who aren’t ready to take on the great outdoors. They can feed bread to the birds, watch small planes take off at the county airport next door or explore a lavish playground complete with plastic palm trees.

Not so good: Just like camping in your backyard, there’s little sense of escape about setting up an RV in this asphalt-and-barkdust lot surrounded by homes. There’s no view of the beach and the facilities are drab and outdated.

Contact information: 781-4900 or www.slocountyparks.com/activities/oceano.htm

Oceano Dunes Vehicular Recreation Area

Ever popular with off-roaders, this massive beach campground gives visitors a choice of two spectacular views: the rollicking Pacific Ocean or the sun-kissed sand dunes. Drive on the beach, roar down the dunes in an ATV or take in the local wildlife. Campers should be mindful of the barebones facilities; they’ll have to haul in water and take out trash.

Fees: $10 per night per vehicle. No showers. Reservations taken year round from 10 days to six months in advance.

We like: Few places in the county offer the otherworldly beauty of the Oceano Dunes: massive slopes of shifting sand, pelicans resting beside a deep blue sliver of lake, kiteboarders using the wind to crest the waves. Enough said.

Not so good: In general, the Oceano Dunes are only accessible to folks with four-wheel drive because of a swift-moving stream that cuts off campsites from the rest of the beach. Plus, those seeking rest may find their sleep disturbed by rambunctious 20-somethings on ATVs.

Contact information: 473-7220 or 800-444-7275 or www.slostateparks.com/oceano_dunes

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