Since last time when I noticed Twin Peaks East and Mt. Waterman while hiking Iron, they had been on my mind. So, I looked up closest campgrounds where I could spend a night. I learned that Buckhorn Campground was temporarily closed at the time of prepping my trip, so I chose another campground close to Mt. Waterman Trailhead, and Chilao Campground camping was a logical step. I was quite excited because it was my first time camping at this particular campground.

HOW TO GET TO CHILAO CAMPGROUND

For Chilao Campground camping, if you are coming from the Greater Los Angeles area, it’d be likely that you get on I-210 Fwy E or W depending on whichever direction you’re coming from, and then you take exit 20 from I-210 to CA-2/Angeles Crest Hwy in La Cañada Flintridge. Stay on this windy CA-2 for about 25 miles till you see Chilao Campground sign on your left. 

If you’re coming from the north of San Gabriel mountains, like Lancaster, Palmdale or even Barstow, it makes sense to take CA-138, and then take Forest Service Rd 5N04, Forest Service Rd 3N17/Pacifico Mountain Rd/Santa Clara Divide Rd and CA-2 W to the campground. The campground entrance is on your right. However, make sure that Forest Service Rd is open during Winter/early Spring. 

WHEN TO DO CHILAO CAMPGROUND CAMPING

All year-round, except when the weather condition is not ideal. Most likely when it snows in Winter/early Spring. It is always good to check the status on their web page for Chilao Campground.

ITEMS YOU MUST BRING

  • Plenty of water – Although the website says it has piped water, the spicket at my site didn’t work, probably due to intermitten water pressure, like it’s noted on the USDA web page. It is a good idea to bring drinkable water with yourself
  • Fee of $12 – However, if you have a National Park Pass, you get a half off. Make sure to bring your pass and write down the pass number on the envelope before dropping it into the deposit box

Note: There’s at least one fire pit per site. Bring firewood if you’d like.

MY CHILAO CAMPGROUND CAMPING

[UPDATE: 4/29/2016] I published a post about how to dehydrate spaghetti for backpacking. Since it is a related subject, I decided to make a note on that.

My plan on Chilao Campground camping was simple. Get out there, settle in and go to bed early so that I could get up early to shoot the Milky Way photos and start hiking Twin Peaks and Mt. Waterman early.

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View of Downtown LA

While driving on CA-2/Angeles Crest Hwy, I couldn’t help myself noticing the awesome view of Downtown LA. I pulled into the first of many turnouts and took some photos.

The way that it looked was quite mystic, thanks to a thin layer of smog. Its dim and silhouetted and yet distinctive skyscraper didn’t quite fade into the background. And I liked how the power grid station in the foreground was juxtaposed against Downtown LA.

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View of Mt. Baldy

Once Downtown LA was completely out of sight, I started seeing Mt. Baldy and Ontario ridge line afar off. This was also the moment when I started losing my cell signal although the already downloaded podcasts were still playing.

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Windy Angeles Crest Hwy

CA-2/Angeles Crest Hwy is a very windy road. And t is quite popular with motorcyclists and sports cars. It is not uncommon to see them gathered around at one of the turnouts or driving up and down this windy road.

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Chilao Campground entrance

After driving on this curvy road for about 25 miles since I got off I-210, the Chilao Campground sign greeted me. I followed the narrow road at 10 MPH till I saw the second group campground entrance on my left.

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You come back to drop your fee

The bulletin board and the deposit box were located at the left corner upon entering. I came back to pay the fee once my Chilao Campground camping site was established.

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Site where I camped

I drove around the loop for Chilao Campground camping once and decided to settle in at this particular site – Site 26. After I pitched my tent and unloaded my stuff out of my car, it was time to explore the campground area till the sunset.

I love my Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 tent. It is a two-person tent but it may be rather tight for two adults in my opinion. However, just for myself, it is perfect. To have my gear with me inside the tent, especially when it rains. This is the same tent that I used on my Lost Coast Trail backpacking trip. It was convenient to have all my stuff inside the tent while it was raining outside in the Pacific Northwest-like climate.

Since I purchased mine, Big Agnes redesigned this particular model, which weighs 2 pounds and 5 ounces now. I believe that mine weighs a few more ounces.

The tent maker is wonderful. When the rain fly zipper broke, I sent it in for repair. They reached out to me saying that they would replace it with a new one instead, which I got in the following week. Free of charge.

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The campground holds 84 campsites, which is big enough to accommodate late arrivers

For Chilao Campground camping, there were several restroom facilities equipped with vaulted toilets. Considering the fact that how many sites are on this campground, that makes sense.

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View of the east of San Gabriel mountain range from the campsite

What made Chilao Campground camping very cool, particularly with my site (and some of the campsites on this side of the campground) was that it offered the wide open view of the east part of the San Gabriel mountain range.

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A little bushwhacking

I grabbed my camera and went down the hillside. I did some bushwhacking to see how farther I could go down the slope to take some wildflower photos.

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East part of San Gabriel mountain range

Two most distinctive peaks stood out for my attention – Mt. Lawlor (on the left) and Strawberry Peak. And the sun was slowly coming down over the latter.

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San Gabriel Peak, Mt. Lawlor, Strawberry Peak and Josephine Peak

From this elevation I could also see San Gabriel Peak peeking over the end of the ridge line of Mt. Lawlor. It was quite exciting to spot them while doing Chilao Campground camping.

Once I got enough photos for the landscape, I started heading back to my site.

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Trees that caught my eye

Then I saw these tall trees.

To me they were like Ents, those tree giants in the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. I really felt like these trees were overlooking the east part of San Gabriel mountains, as if they were the shepherds of the forest.

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Who wouldn’t enjoy this view

By the time I got back to my tent, the wind that had been blowing like crazy started blowing more aggressively. While, it was blistery outside, however, it was rather calm inside my tent to my surprise. I was enjoying the view quite a bit, which would be one of my favorite Chilao Campground camping moments.

As usual, I was wearing my Altra Lone Peak 2.5. These have such a large toe box, which was the key factor that I decided on them. They have such awesome traction at the bottom of the shoes that helped me go down even loose soils. I am quite pleased with the move that I made from my hiking boots to them. Of course, I will go back to my Vasque 2.0 GTX hiking boots for winter hikes. Till then, I will just put on my Altra. Even when I go backpacking.

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Boiling water

I decided to have dinner before sunset and started boiling water using my usual camping cooking gear – Snow Peak 3 Piece Titanium Cookset and Soto Micro Regulator Stove.

The Cookset weighs 3.2 ounces, and the stove’s weight is 5.6 ounces. All I need is a fuel canister on this Chilao Campground camping.

Some of my friends love JetBoil, because it boils water fast, they say. I think it has a line of great products. I bought one myself when I just started getting into backpacking. But as soon as I realized that I could actually reduce the weight and the size (less bulky) a bit by replacing it with the setup that I have now, I returned it.

That was over 3 years ago, and it is still the same setup. However, I may consider an alcohol based stove. It’ll be homemade with a tuna can. I’ll write a post when I make one.

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My meal is almost ready

Once the water was boiling, I poured it into the pouch with my dehydrated spaghetti in it. I sealed it and left it for 5-6 minutes. Then I stirred it a little bit to make sure that the dehydrated spaghetti was well mixed with the hot water.

After another 5 minutes or so, I opened the pouch.

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Time to eat

My dehydrated spaghetti was completely rehydrated now. First meal while Chilao Campground camping.

I’ll post a post about how to dehydrate spaghetti soon. I published a post about how to dehydrate spaghetti for backpacking. Check it out if you’d like.

It is the same way I dehydrated spaghetti for meals when I did the Lost Coast Trail backpacking and other backpacking trips.

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Sunset

Once I was done with dinner, it was time to get some sunset photos. I grabbed my Canon and headed back out. It was still quite windy, so I decided to hike down a bit and stay on the sloping side of the campground, where I didn’t have to worry about my camera constantly shaking.

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Sunset glow

The sun set over around Josephine Peak. The glow was yet bright enough to turn pretty much everything in gold even when they were slowly sinking in the darkness. It was a beautiful sunset.

Once the sun went over the ridge line, it was time to return to the site and crawl into my tent because the winds reached a gale force and the temperature was dropping rather fast.

A few campers were having hard time holding down their tents because their campsites were very exposed to the winds. It was so strong that those tents were at the brink of being blown away. A couple of campers nearby headed for the lower grounds, and another couple who came to a site next to mine couldn’t pitch their tent and ended up leaving for another site.

I had my tent secured with the piles of heavy rocks that I earlier put on the top of every stake. Despite the fact that one side of my tent was flapping like crazy in the winds accompanied with the howling gale outside, I was fine. I had my earplugs.

I decided to call it a night and get up early.

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Looking east while the sun was rising behind me.

The only problem was that the winds never quieted down. Whenever I woke up in the middle of the night, they were as bad as when I went to bed. They were like, somebody forgot to turn off hundreds of wind blowers! And they were blowing all at once!

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And the sunrise

My eyes were wide open at t 3:30ish because it was about time to get up for the Milky Way photography while Chilao Campground camping. But I really didn’t want to get out of the tent. And I really didn’t feel like getting out of my warm and cozy sleeping bag.

It was too cozy and warm inside the bag. So, I decided to continue sleeping in it.

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The sun laid long shadows across the site

And the morning came. The sunrise over the mountain line was beautiful, but the winds were still blowing like crazy. It seemed like it would never stop.

Making coffee for breakfast seemed like a pointless effort, considering the winds were now blowing from every direction. So, I decided to leave for Mt. Waterman trailhead then. I packed up my stuff, loaded it into my car and left my site.

It was time to do some serious hiking. Whether it was windy or not.

What I didn’t know was how cold it would get.

Have you ever camped at Chilao Campground? How was your experience? Was wind an issue when you camped? Have you camped at Buckhorn Campground? How was it? Does Buckhorn Campground have such a view like Chilao Campground does?

Thanks for reading.

Dinnertime

20 COMMENTS

  1. I love the photos, if I may ask what camera and lens did you take the photos for this article? looks astonished. The explanation on the article very easy to understand and great content.

    • Thank you. I have a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and use a Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM Lens for most of my landscape shots. I also have a Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM Lens but that’s used only when I can carry it with me in terms of weight. Car camping is a god example. But if I were to go on a really long and strenuous hike (like 10 plus miles and 2000 plus feet elevation gain), I wouldn’t take the latter. Too heavy.

  2. Beautiful pictures and well written post! I plan on camping at Chilao this weekend so this was very helpful. Thank you!

    • Thank you! And I am glad that my post was helpful! The part of the campground I ended up at was perfect for the sunset! Hope you get one of the campsites there. And if you’d like, just share your experience here when you get back! Thanks again and enjoy your camping there.

    • Thanks for checking it out!!! I am actually writing a post about dehydrating spaghetti at the moment, which I’ll publish soon. I’ve been meaning to do it and because of the Chilao Campground post, I finally got around to it! Check it out when it’s posted! I really go in depth on this subject (well, as far as I know, of course). And let me know if there are other tips to share with me and also others who have never done it but always wanted to. Thank you! 🙂

    • Thanks!!! I am glad you like the photos!!! 🙂 The hiking post is up as well. They are two separate posts but reading the camping post would help anyone understand the magnitude of the crazy winds that any hiker had to deal with that day in the San Gabriel Mountains… Hope you enjoy it if you have a chance to read it. Thank you! 🙂

  3. Just to toss this out there, Chilao is not open year round. It’s seasonal. Like Buckhorn up the road. I’ve camped there when the snow level is low a couple of times in the past and rangers actually patrol because they’re based right up the road. Just tell them you’re passing through and wanted to crash and they’ll be on their way.

    • Boothv, thanks for the input! I understand what you mean by seasonal. And that is why I noted that those who are interested in camping here should check the USDA website for status.

      If I may, the website says, “Open season for camping in the high-country campgrounds may vary due to weather conditions. – Please call the Los Angeles River Ranger District office for camping availability.”

      So, I would guess winter would be out of the question and it is understandable. It made sense when I saw many road gates along the road. And also I was quite surprised that Buckhorn Campground was temporarily closed over the weekend when I visited the website. And of course, when I checked it before publishing this post earlier today, Buckhorn Campground was open.

      And thanks for the tip. I’ll definitely keep that in mind. 🙂

      By the way, have you hiked Mt. Williamson, Mt. Lewis, and Pacifico mountain? I guess they are the next peaks that I’d like to hike when I go back out there.

      Thanks for stopping by.

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