There is just something wonderful about camping. The combination of fresh air, the detachment from screen time and social media scrolling, the pressure of work and school. The way spending hours getting dirty and sleeping in tents under the stars can manifest such needed bonding attachments to your family and friends there with you.
It has been stated that time in nature is important for all around well being. When you are away from the impulse distractions and stresses of day to day life you are truly helping you and your family stay mentally, physically, and emotionally healthy.
Living in the outdoor paradise of Southern California means you don’t need to go very far to find wonderful places to explore. In fact you don’t even need to leave Orange County. Here are places to camp, things to explore, and activities for the entire family right here in Orange County. The best part? With weather being nearly perfect here in SoCal – you can camp and explore all year round!
Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park
Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park is located a mere 8 miles east, as the bird flies, of the city of San Juan Capistrano off the bustling Highway 74. This Orange County Park managed area is large at 8,000 acres in size. The valleys are fed by bubbling streams, shaded with groves of oak and sycamore trees and right in the beloved Santa Ana Mountains. Visitors beware! Mountain lions, rattlesnakes, and poison oak are also local in this beautiful green space. Did I scare you off? Don’t be! In spring, the Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park is a must to see all the amazing wildflowers in bloom.
Speaking of fauna, the rangers on Sundays lead a nature walk throughout the park. Just contact the Ranger Station during the week to arrange a Ranger guided trek. But the programs do not end there. Guided walks and “Critter Talks” are also available. They are similar to nature walks and ask for advance appointments. However these naturalist walks do ask for a nominal fee. According to the website these programs may be held at the park or brought to your school or organization. I mean, how cool is that?
Hiking is a must to experience all the park has to offer. A great one for the entire family to enjoy is the East Ridge Bell Canyon Loop Trail. This longer hike comes in at almost 7 miles in total. But don’t let the length deter you. This hike is rated easy with a mild incline. The rolling hills of unsurpassed beauty are well worth the trek.
Those looking for a more challenging hike will for sure want to check out the San Juan Hotsprings via the Juaneno Trail. This over 10 mile hike delivers you to warm bath temperature hot springs. Although not exactly inviting on a hot day, the cooler winter months certainly are a better time to tackle this. Please note, all trails are closed for three days after a rain storm to allow the ground to dry.
Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park Campground includes the main camping site, Live Oak Grove Campground, which holds 42 campsites in total. Another option nearby is Ortega Flats Campground with an additional 13 campsites that include electric hook-ups. The park also features several Group Camping Areas and its popular Starr Mesa Equestrian Campground. Parties of 17 or more must use a group site.
Please note dogs are not allowed in Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park.
O’Neill Regional Park
O’Neill Regional Park is located just north of Mission Viejo and about 30 miles northeast of San Juan Capistrano near the town of Rancho Santa Margarita. Although situated so close to urban sprawl, when in the park you feel miles and miles away. The park spans nearly 4,500 acres of oak and sycamore trees in the wilderness of Trabuco Canyon and Live Oak Canyon. Unlike Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park, your four legged best friend is allowed to explore here.
The park has a wonderful camping area with great daily activities. There are picnic tables under shaded trees. Many of them are equipped with barbecues for that classic summer cookout fare. Although they are first come, first serve, you are able to reserve picnic areas for family get togethers, birthday parties, or whatever event you want. Other activities are horseshoe pits, children’s play structures, and two large community turf areas for a game of football.
The park is home to over 23 miles of trails that are open for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. The Mission Viejo’s Oso Creek Trail is an easy, family friendly stroll. This just over 3 mile hike loop is paved and lined with lush greenery. There is even a hedge maze to run through.
If you are looking for something harder, Los Pinos Peak via the Bell View Trail is one to meet that challenge. This over 14 mile hike takes you up to the gorgeous peak climbing almost 2,400 feet in elevation. It is a hot one and the last push is quite steep. You’ll definitely feel accomplished tackling this mountain! Please note, all trails are closed three days after a rain storm to allow the ground to dry.
The Arroyo campground is the only campground located inside O’Neill Regional Park. It is quite expansive with 79 campsites varying in size. Larger get togethers can utilize the eight large group campsites for parties of 17 or more and five equestrian campsites, each equipped with horse corrals, barbeques, and fire pits. Reservations for groups of 17 or more can be made by calling the park office at (949) 923-2260.
Camp Sycamore at Mile Square Regional Park
Mile Square Regional Park has a One-Night Stay Overnight Camping Facility available to reserve for organized Youth Groups such as Boy & Girl Scouts, YMCA, Church Groups and Adventure Guides. Camp Sycamore is designed as a “First Camping Experience” for children between the ages of 6 years old to 12 years old only. There is a small reservation fee payable at the park office, and a permit may be required. Reservations must be made at the park office.
The camp has 24 hour restroom facilities, a picnic shelter with tables, barbeques, electrical outlets, sinks and a camp fire ring with seating. There are no RV hookups. There is an area for tent set-up and a security fence surrounds the entire camp.
For reservation information call the park office, Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at 714-973-6600.
Both Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park and O’Neill Regional Park are managed by OC Parks and are available for camping all year around. Here is what you need to know to camp at Caspers and O’Neill:
- Fees are based on per night per site. They cover a single RV, car, or truck.
- Each site can hold up to eight people only. Have a big family? Consider reserving more than one site or the group site.
- Standard nightly fee is $20.
- Seniors over 65 or anyone classified as disabled based on State Vehicle Code or California State Parks Pass are $15 per night.
- There are utility hook-ups available at $6 per night.
- If you have more vehicles expect to pay $5 more per car, RV, or truck.
- There are group campsites available for larger parties. Reservations are required and a 25% deposit of the fee is required at the time the reservation is made. After that you will need to pay in full 30 days prior to your calling date.
- The group campsite fee varies on the date so make sure you check out the calendar online for more information on prices.
- If you have a horse for some of those horse riding trails you will need to pay a $3 a night fee for each of your horses.
- There is a dump station that is free for campers. Any one not camping can utilize the dump station but will be charged $6 to do so.
- The park offers firewood at $5 a bundle.
I hope you get out and get camping at Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park and O’Neill Regional Park. Because there is just something wonderful about camping.
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Kaitlin is a former ballerina who now travels around the country in an 18-foot converted school bus. Her and her husband have welcomed 34 sweet children into their home the past eleven years. Although they would not be a forever home for all of them, they adopted their daughter buckets and are legal guardians to their son monkey. Follow their crazy adventures on Instagram @runawaymusbus