Deserting LA: Finding a Weekend of Rest and Adventure Among the Cacti

By: Cambrey Knapp + Save to a List

Camping and exploring Red Rock Canyon State Park

It all started with a restless urge to get out of LA. Southern Californians (or even any of you city dwellers), you can probably resonate with me. It was my birthday that weekend and I knew I didn't want to spend it sitting in traffic. However, I also didn't want to spend too much time traveling to a campground so far away.

So, upon researching camping spots, I was led to Red Rock Canyon State Park. Located only 2 hours away from LA, the multi-colored rocks, the dry desert look and the cartoonish Joshua Trees drew me in immediately. Apparently the landscape also drew in several film directors, as I learned later; the state park has been incorporated into over 150 motion pictures, including Jurassic Park and Westworld! Because of all this, I was surprised how over-looked this park seemed to be among the public.

I rounded up my adventurous friends and the four of us headed off into the desert for the weekend.

We camped at Ricardo Campground, the only campground with developed campsites. It was one of the coolest campsites at which I've ever pitched my tent! The campground is backed up by dramatic desert cliffs that seem to hold unlimited crevices to climb up and explore. We camped during Memorial Day Weekend, and I remember being concerned with whether we were going to find a spot. However, when we arrived, there were only a few couples and families who had already marked their territories. So, we happily chose a campsite with the most potential for exploring that we could find. This is one of my favorite parts of traveling to the lesser known places; the extent of your experience always seems to be so much deeper when you aren't limited by availability and crowds. The campsite was near some public vault-toilet bathrooms and a water spigot that produced potable water. Its a little more pricey than other campgrounds at $25 per night, but we quickly realized it was worth every penny, especially when the night sky started showing off it's beautiful stars. Plus, we didn't have to pay to get into the park. When you think about it, camping in a national park is just about as expensive or more when you add up your entrance and camping fees.

In the morning, we were itching to get on a hike, so we stopped at the campground visitor center to get some recommendations. However, there didn't seem to be more than a couple specific trails to hike, and there was limited information about it. I know the park is popular for ATV recreation, but I guess it is not as popular for hikers. Regardless, we set off on one of the poorly marked trailheads to see what we could find. I would try to describe our exploration route, but it literally consisted of "Hey look at that huge pile of rocks, lets go climb it!" I definitely wasn't complaining. We were all easily entertained by the seemingly endless mini mountains of rocks and the neat desert plants like cacti and Joshua trees. We even got the pleasure of seeing a few kangaroo rats scurry between scrub patches

On thing I definitely would have done differently would be to bring more water! We each brought a liter of water with us, but the sun was so intense and hot that we ran out quickly. Our water concerns were ultimately what brought us in from all the exploration. Otherwise, we could have ventured until nightfall. Instead, we ended up going back to the campsite and taking a nap in one of the many caves that we found.

In the evening, we also hiked up to the ridge using a trail that connected with the campground to watch the vibrant sun set on our incredible weekend. I would go back to that park in a heartbeat and encourage you other adventurers to do so as well!

PACK LIST

  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Tent (or ditch the tent for a beautiful night under the stars)
  • Flashlights/lanterns
  • SUNBLOCK
  • Hiking boots
  • Camera
  • Hiking clothes (shorts/t-shirt; it gets HOT)
  • Food!
  • WATER (the campsite has water spigot but bring extra for hiking)
  • Camping stove, or some method of cooking/preparing food
  • Cooking utensils and spices
  • Cooler/ice for storing food
  • Firewood (and s'mores supplies of course)

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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