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Springtime RVing in the Los Padres National Forest: The hills are alive!

When it comes to the topic of RVing in the Los Padres National Forest, springtime is undoubtedly the best time of year to do it.

The rain slowed down and then stopped shortly after I arrived at Wheeler Gorge Campground near Ojai, CA. I leashed up my dog, Budley, and headed out for a walk as the rain was expected to start again.

For a place that’s less than two hours from the urban metropolis that is the greater Los Angeles area, the Los Padres National Forest could not be more different.

Opening the RV door at that moment in time, right after a rainstorm in the forest, was akin to Dorothy opening the house door after landing in Oz.

Everything was so bright, green, colorful, dripping, and sparkling!

The river was running, birds were chirping, frogs were croaking, and squirrels were chattering. I nearly expected a trio of small animals to emerge from a hollowed-out log and break out into a chorus of Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah.

Okay, that last part never happened. But after a rainfall, you can truly feel the forest come alive!

I say visit this area in springtime, as it will be a very different experience at other times of the year. This is especially true of summers and fall when the area gets very dry, the rivers dry up, and devastating forest fires are not uncommon.

Evidence of past burns are still visible on the hiking trails. Nature has a way of rebuilding and healing, and new growth now surrounds the burned-out debris.

RVing in the Los Padres national Forest - burned trees
Evidence of past forest fires remain eerily visible, despite all the current new growth.

Hikers and mountain bikers will love this area.

While the Los Padres National Forest visitor’s center was closed, there are trail maps on the signs outside and in the campgrounds. There are lots of scenic trails for hikers of all fitness levels. However, two short and easy hikes start from two of this area’s campgrounds.

Wheeler Gorge Campground and hike

RVing in the Los Padres National Forest, Wheeler Gorge Campground
Flowing stream at Wheeler Gorge Campground, Los Padres National Forest

My home base for this trip RVing in the Los Padres National Forest was Wheeler Gorge Campground.

You can expect smooth roads, albeit a bit windy, to get here. There is a climb but nothing too drastic. In fact, one of the campers in our group commented how much easier it is to get to than other mountain towns like Big Bear and Wrightwood. Yet the springtime scenery was similar.

Sweet dreams at Wheeler Gorge Campground

If you have ever dreamed of being lulled to sleep by the sounds of a running stream, this is your chance!

A fork of the Ojai River runs through the camp and campsites are situated on either side of it.

After a spring rain, the waters are running heavily. But not so heavily that they are anywhere near the campsites, which are situated on the hill above.

Nature hike

Nature trail at Wheeler Gorge

At the far end of the campground, you can pick up a 1/2-mile self-guided nature trail.

We identified nearly all the fauna on the trail markers plus saw majestic turkey vultures and dainty partridges while on this hike (thankfully not together).

As there are several water crossings, Budley got to learn to hop on rocks and navigate fallen logs. (He hates getting his paws wet.)

Other parts of the trail are almost desert-like.

Rose Valley Falls Campground and hike

RVing in the los Padres national Forest -- Rose Valley Falls

About seven miles, but a relatively steep and windy seven miles, up the road from the Wheeler Gorge Campground you’ll find Rose Valley Falls Campground.

We opted to stay at Wheeler Gorge, unhitch, and drive to Rose Valley for the hike, but RV camping is available at both spots.

From the campground, you can pick up a few trailheads. I highly recommend the Rose Valley Falls trail when visiting in springtime.

This is also a short 1/2-mile hike, not too difficult, but with a big payoff in the view of the 300-foot, two-tiered falls. Especially after a rain when the water is really flowing.

The towering moss-covered rock walls camouflage little nooks and caves. Again, I found myself wondering where those Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah singing animals were because it all looked like a picture-perfect scene from Disneyland.

The water was cold and the air a little too chilly for swimming. Too bad, as we saw lots of great natural swimming holes on the way to and from the falls.

While the hike to the falls takes you on a forested trail, the Rose Valley Campground itself is in a wide-open space. Likewise, the night skies at this campground are spectacular, especially looking north.

Consider it next time you want a great meteor shower-watching experience.

Visiting Ojai

When you’ve had enough nature, the nearby town of Ojai will provide a respite. Granted the vibe is a tad pretentious. I found myself wondering, “How many Pilates studios and metaphysical book shops can one tiny village support?” Apparently, a lot. I suspect it might have to do with the fact that the late Ram Dass made Ojai his headquarters.

The town of Ojai is a cute little village to take a walk around. You’ll find wine tasting rooms and good food. Even good vegan food. Not to mention artisan coffee and ice cream shops.

And if you want some retail therapy, you’ll also discover some interesting shops with unique offerings, as small tourist villages like this often have.

Los Padres National Forest RVing tips and practicalities

  • The one downside of both these campgrounds was that there was ZERO phone and internet service. Even my trusty Verizon Wi-Fi hotspot failed me here. (The ONLY other time I have not gotten service was in the middle of nowhere on the E.T. Highway.) On the other hand, it’s not so bad to be unplugged for a few days.
  • Reserve your campground spaces in advance as they can fill up, especially on weekends.
  • Check spot size when you reserve. Not ALL camping spaces will accommodate RVs. The map online can help you choose. Err on the side of caution. I had to do a LOT of maneuvering to get into and out of space #61 with a 25-foot travel trailer.
  • Watch for rocks and posts and other obstacles when driving in or out of the campsites.
  • Campfires are allowed; however, firewood must be bought at the Wheeler Gorge campground. You are not allowed to bring in your own. This is to help avoid crop and tree destroying pests being brought in.
  • Wheeler Gorge Campground has 69 family campsites, 5 handicap accessible sites, and 6 double sites for larger groups. The maximum RV length is 35 feet. Each site contains a table, barbecue and fire ring. There is NO dump station or potable water at the campground. Visit their website here.
  • Rose Valley Falls Campground has 9 fully accessible sites, each with a picnic table, fire ring, and pedestal grill. There is a single vault toilet and bear-proof trash collection bins.  There is NO dump station or potable water at the campground. Visit their website here. 
  • Check out the Ojai visitor’s bureau website for more info on what this cute little town has to offer.
  • Watch out for hitchhikers. We found this little frog sitting in the car one morning.
frog in car while RVing in the Los Padres National Forest
This hitchhiking frog jumped into the car while RVing in the Los Padres National Forest

##RVT1047

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Gregg G.
2 months ago

Nice article, brings back memories of tent camping and hiking in Rose Valley as a kid in the early 70’s!

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