San Jacinto State Park: Excellent family camping in Idyllwild

Dates Camped: June 12-14, 2009
Check current conditions: Park Staff (951) 659-2607.
Reservations: Call (800) 444-7275 or reserve online
  • Campground: Idyllwild
  • Sites: 31
  • Summer Rates: $25/night
  • Non-Peak Rates: $20/night
  • Restrooms: Flush
  • Showers: Coin-Operated
  • Open: Year-round
  • Parking: 1 vehicle included
  • Locality: Mount San Jacinto SP
  • Nearest City: Idyllwild, CA
  • Kid-Friendly: Yes
  • Dog-Friendly Camping: Yes
  • Dog-Friendly Hiking: No

I grew up camping and hiking all over the western U.S. with my family; it was pretty much the only way my parents could afford family vacations for us. And those trips remain some of my fondest childhood memories. So, I know from experience how good camping can be for kids and families.

Camping at Idyllwild, June 2009
Gorgeous views from Suicide Rock Trail.

But, I’ve paid my dues sleeping on tent floors and using primitive outhouses. Camping just isn’t my thing anymore. I’d much rather rent a cabin in the woods or a motorhome now. However, that can get expensive and does limit where we can stay. So, my new rule is that I will give in to occasional camping trips, but they have to have flush toilets, showers, and restrooms that are cleaned every day (like I said, I’ve paid my dues roughing it). What does this usually leave us with? …California State Parks. Having spent most of my childhood camp trips in national parks, I was surprised to discover how much nicer the facilities are in our own state parks. Let’s just hope that this level of cleanliness, convenience and service remains intact in California’s current budget crisis.

Camping at Idyllwild, June 2009
Looking over the Inland Empire and Los Angeles basin.

For Father’s Day weekend, in 2009, Jeff and I took the kids to Mount San Jacinto State Park as our first “family” camp trip (this was exactly 8 weeks before our wedding).  We invited my 12-year old niece Jade for the whole weekend.  And my parents and 16-year old niece Vivian (who live nearby) came up for part of the weekend as well.

Camping at Idyllwild, June 2009
Left to right: niece Vivian, niece Jade, Kellie and Hunter.

Mount San Jacinto SP is about 2 hours from Los Angeles or San Diego, and is located in the second highest mountain range in Southern California (high enough to get snow during winter).  It contains part of the Pacific Crest Trail and is accessible from the Palm Springs Tramway.  There are two campgrounds within the park, Stone Creek and Idyllwild.  We opted for the Idyllwild Campground since it’s walking distance to the town of Idyllwild (one of my favorite Southern California towns), and the kids hadn’t visited the town yet.

Camping at Idyllwild, June 2009
The campground is heavily shaded, and offers quite a bit of privacy.
Camping at Idyllwild, June 2009
Family sites are roomy enough for a couple tents and vehicles.

The Idyllwild Campground was just perfect for our family.  The campground was very clean, including the restrooms and showers, and the ranger station had bundles of wood for sale each night.  The sites were spacious enough for two vehicles and two tents (we went with a regular drive-in family site), included plenty of shade, had enough shrubs between each site to offer privacy, and provided a storage box that could be locked up when leaving camp for the day.

Camping at Idyllwild, June 2009
My dad and Jeff had breakfast duty.
Camping at Idyllwild, June 2009
Perhaps just a bit too much smoke from the fire.

We did not do as much hiking as we’d hoped, because Hunter and Jade were both sick, and I was dehydrated from the mountain air.  But, we did squeeze in a couple short hikes, took the kids off-roading, and spent our final afternoon wandering through the town of Idyllwild.

Camping at Idyllwild, June 2009
The kids had a blast off-roading.

The kids loved the campground and the park.  And, I’m sure we’d go back for another weekend if we could find hiking trails that allow leashed dogs.  One of our constant sources of frustration is that California State Parks allow dogs in the campgrounds, but not on the trails (not sure if they think campers don’t hike, or if they expect us to leave our dog unattended in the campground).  So, although we love our state parks, we don’t visit them anymore since getting a dog.

Camping at Idyllwild, June 2009
The park is filled with beautiful red-bark manzanita trees.
Camping at Idyllwild, June 2009
And wildflowers.
Camping at Idyllwild, June 2009
And critters.

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