U.S. National Forest Campground Guide

Cleveland National Forest


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Forest Information

The Cleveland National Forest is at the southern end of California, just north of Mexico and east of San Diego. It is comprised of 422,731 acres. There are twenty-six developed campgrounds, fifteen of which meet our selection criteria.

The Cleveland National Forest is a forest of contrasts. The parched desert surrounds an emerald green oasis. The lacy branches of a desert shrub hides a resting lizard from the Red-tailed hawk. Winter snow covers the heart of the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area while the Forest below simmers in heat waves. The wide range of climates and topography give the Cleveland National Forest's visitors an equally wide range of recreation opportunities and camping locations. From the excitement of Off-highway vehicle trekking to quiet solitude of a hiking a mountain trail, watching the starry night sky to exploring the forest on horseback, or pleasure driving along the Sunrise Scenic Highway or "taking time to smell the flowers," the Cleveland National Forest offers its visitors a great deal to do, see, and enjoy.

Above Lake Elsinore, in the nearby Santa Ana Mountains, is the Wildomar campground with direct access to the OHV Area. Farther south, near the town of Pine Valley, is the Corral Canyon OHV Area. Here Corral Canyon and Bobcat Meadows campgrounds have access to twenty-plus miles of off-road trails designed for various off-road vehicles and a range of skill-levels. Contact the District Ranger's Office for maps and rules.

The Wildomar and Corral Canyon OHV Areas are rugged, dry, and full of fanciful rock formations. Boulders, Greasewood and an occasional Live Oak tree may be the only decorations but the awesome beauty of these areas make them popular with visitors to the Cleveland National Forest.

Although not an official scenic byway, the route to the Corral Canyon Open OHV Area provides many vistas of the valley below. Following the Santa Ana Mountains' ridge line for a good portion of the way, several turnouts offer delightful vistas of the Lake Elsinore area. Some of these turnouts are also used as launch points for hang-gliders. With luck, one can enjoy the sight of a blue satin sheet on the valley floor that is Lake Elsinore while watching a flock of colorful hang-gliders gracefully soaring across the azure sky.

The Ortega Corridor (Hwy. 74 through Santa Ana Mountains) offers a network of hiking trails that challenge and delight the hiker. Many of the trails cross meadows which in the spring are filled with a wide variety of colorful wild flowers. The trail network within the Ortega Corridor is popular with all ages and levels of hikers for good reasons. The El Carios Nature Trail is an easy, self-guided loop well designed for beginning hikers or for a nice little walk after a picnic. The Chiquito Trail, at 9.2 miles, is easily accessed from Hwy. 74 at the Candy Store. The San Juan Trail, the longest trail in the Corridor at 11.6 miles, offers a hiker the most complete forest experience.

The Palomar Observatory is world famous. Located on top of Palomar Mountain, this 200-inch telescope is open to the public each day. The Observatory is closed at night so the astronomers may observe the starry night sky. Nestled among the pines, just below the Palomar Observatory, are Fry Creek and Observatory campgrounds. While the canopy of pines at Fry Creek campground is too thick for stargazing, half the sites at the Observatory are designed to allow a clear view of the stars. Several of these sites have level cement pads to allow the camper a closer view of the stars through their telescope. In the valley below, the Chamise Loop of Oak Grove campground, also offers a good view of the night sky.

The Cleveland National Forest is in horse country. The Boulder Oaks campground, with one loop of pull through aprons and corrals, was designed specifically for campers with horses. Dripping Springs campground, located along Arroyo Seco creek and adjacent to the Agua Tibia Wilderness, also has a loop designated "Equestrian." The Laguna Mountain Recreation Area has Secret Canyon and Noble Canyon trails where horses share with mountain bikers.

Running through the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area is the Sunrise Scenic Highway. From vista points along this highway, the visitor can view the desert and Salton Sea to the east and San Diego, Point Loma, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Campers at Burnt Rancheria campground can take a short hike to the Desert View Picnic area and enjoy a fabulous sunrise. Just south of this campground is Our Lady in the Pines Church where Mass is given on Sunday mornings during the Summer season. And just north of the campground is a privately owned lodge with a restaurant. Burnt Rancheria's elevation of 6000 feet makes it a very popular summer campground. In the wintertime, nearby Laguna campground is the place. Snow is not unknown in the Laguna Mountains and Laguna campground is a very popular place for "snow play." (Caution: chains could be required in cold, inclement weather.) The Forest Service has one loop (Meadow Loop) open year-round for those brave campers who want to camp in the winter.

From the crispy cold sunrise at Laguna Campground to butter-melting temperatures at lunch in Cibbets Flat campground; from the open, star-filled sky of Oak Grove to the lacy shade of El Cariso North; from the sights, sounds, and color of Blue Jay campground's meadows to the stark, surreal beauty of Corral Canyon campground, Cleveland National Forest is a place of wide contrasts. Beauty and recreational opportunities abound throughout the Forest. Come and experience the contrasts of the Cleveland National Forest.

SUPERVISOR ADDRESS 10845 Rancho Bernardo Rd Suite 200 Rancho Bernardo, CA 92127 858-673-6180 RANGER DISTRICTS Descanso 3348 Alpine Blvd. Alpine, California 91901 619-445-6235 Palomar 1634 Black Canyon Rd. Ramona, California 92065 760-788-0250 Trabuco 1147 E. 6th St. Corona, California 92879 951-736-1811

Fred and Suzi Dow