Star travelers can find dark skies and solitude for stargazing only an hour away from downtown San Diego at Laguna Campground in the Cleveland National Forest. Go on a weeknight to enjoy solitary communion with the stars, or pitch your tent over the weekend to become a part of an outdoor community made up of campers at 104 sites, creating a mountain-party vibe.
As the sky begins to darken, prepare for a dazzling display of heavenly bodies. With the Laguna Mountain Range blocking light from San Diego in the west, and the sparsely populated Anza-Borrego Desert below to the east, the only major light source you’ll contend with is the moon.
Thanks to Laguna Campground’s 5,600-foot altitude, the days stay cool and the dark nights can be brisk. The campground has flush toilets, running water, and local firewood to purchase for the large fire pit at every site. Walk along the five different loop roads to get a look at the many campsites and wave hello to your fellow star-party celebrants.
By day you can hike the moderate Laguna Meadow Trail system, or access a segment of the Pacific Crest Trail. For a challenge, venture 2.8 miles south down Sunrise Highway to the Monument Peak Trail for a 2.9-mile (round-trip) out-and-back that features beautiful wildflowers, incredible views, and a challenging ascent.
STAR TIPS: For maximum dazzle, you can head to a mountain overlook less than a mile from the campground, just across the street from Al Bahr Shrine Camp. Watch the sun set over the Anza-Borrego Desert as darkness claims the sky. The San Diego State University Observatory sponsors “Star Parties” for campers at the Forest Service Campgrounds in Laguna Mountain Recreation area. These gatherings happen most Saturday evenings during the summer months.
EXTRA TREAT: If you’re looking for a break from fire-cooked meals, head south on Route S1 for 3.6 miles to the Pine House Café & Tavern for beer, burgers, and live music.
Camping reservations. To reach Laguna Campground, take Sunrise Hwy. (County Rte. S1) 12 miles southeast from SR-79 or 13 miles northeast from I-8. Dog-friendly! Mount Laguna Observatory photo by Christian Ronnel.