Observatory Campground Cleveland National Forest Palomar Mountain San Diego County tent camping Southern California

Observatory Campground is a 42-site campground in the Palomar Mountains near San Diego County’s famed Palomar Observatory. The astronomically accommodating Cleveland National Forest campground is the start of Observatory Trail, which ascends to Palomar Observatory.

Observatory Campground is open from April through October and is suitable for tents or RVs. Fire rings, charcoal grills, picnic tables, and flush and vault toilets are provided. There is available drinking water and coin operated showers. Dogs are allowed on leashes in the campground. The maximum vehicle length ranges from 12 to 35 feet depending on the campsite. The campground’s amphitheater near the start of Observatory Trail is a perfect gathering point.

Observatory Campground Amphitheater
An amphitheater at Observatory Campground
Observatory Campground
Observatory Campground

Observatory campground is spread over one big loop. Of the 42 sites, five are “double sites” and have room for 16 people instead of 8. If you count these double sites separately, there are 32 standard sites and 5 large sites. Site 3 is wheelchair accessible. Sites 6, 7, and 9 – 16 have short walk-ins that give campers a bit more wilderness immersion. Sites may be reserved online at recreation.gov. Single sites are $15 per night and double sites are $30 per night. There is a $5 fee for extra vehicles.

Observatory Campground
A site at Observatory Campground

Observatory Campground lies in a mountain forest of oaks and pines an elevation of 4,875 feet, 700 feet below Palomar Observatory. Trees have been cleared from much of the campground, affording campers with a clear sky view. Since Palomar Mountain is a place for astronomy enthusiasts, many of the campsites have cement slabs perfect for setting up a telescope to gaze up into outer space. Even without a telescope, you can enjoy a view of the night sky with minimal light pollution. According to the Cleveland National Forest webpage for Observatory Campground:

An exciting amateur astronomy project, called Explore the Stars – Star Parties, occurs monthly during the spring, summer, and fall at Observatory Campground. A group of amateur astronomers from across Southern California bring the beauty and the awe of the night sky to more than a hundred non-astronomers at a location only two miles from the world renowned Palomar Observatory.

In 2013, the Explore the Stars – Star Parties will happen on the weekend of April 12 & 13 for the new moon and views of Mars and Saturn, May 3 & 4 for the new moon and views of Mars and Saturn, June 7 & 8 for the new moon and views of Mars and Saturn, July 12 & 13 for the new moon and views of Mars and Saturn, August 9 & 10 for the new moon and views of the Milky Way, September 6 & 7 for the new moon (views of Jupiter), and October 4 & 5 for the new moon and views of Jupiter. Call the Palomar Ranger District of the Cleveland National Forest for more information, (760) 788-0250.

Observatory Campground
A site at Observatory Campground

To get to the campground: Take the 15 Freeway to exit 46 for Route 76 east toward Pala. Drive east on Route 76 for 20.4 miles and turn left onto South Grande Road (S6). Take South Grade road for 6.8 miles to an intersection with East Grade Road and angle left to continue up South Grade Road, driving north for another 2.4 miles to Observatory Campground. Turn right into the campground.

Campground address: South Grade Road, Cleveland National Forest, Palomar Mountain, CA 92060
Campground coordinates: 33.342414, -116.878697 (33° 20′ 32.69″N 116° 52′ 43.30″W)

Use the map below to view the campground and get directions:

View Palomar Mountains in a larger map
Or view Southern California trails and campgrounds in a larger map

Nearby Trails
Observatory TrailObservatory Trail
The 5.1-mile hike travels between Observatory Campground and Palomar Observatory, crossing a pleasant mountain woodland with valley views along the way.
Indian Flats TrailIndian Flats Trail
This easy half-mile hike from Indian Flats Campground explores seasonal pools in the East Fork of the San Luis Rey River.
Monserate MountainMoserate Mountain
This 4.4-mile loop begins with a 1 2/3-mile ascent that gains 1,200 feet to reach a panoramic summit and then descends along a ridge for even more views.
Kwaay Paay Peak TrailKwaay Paay Peak
This 2.5-mile hike rewards a good workout with panoramic views as it climbs to a 1,194-foot summit in Mission Trails Regional Park, just 10 miles from downtown San Diego.
Southern California TrailsMore hikes in Southern California
Explore more trails in Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties.
Nearby Camping
Indian Flats CampgroundIndian Flats Campground
This 17-site campground in Cleveland National Forest offers first-come first-serve camping for $12 per night.
El Cariso CampgroundEl Cariso Campground
This 24-site campground in Cleveland National Forest offers convenience camping in the Santa Ana Mountains for $15 per night, with access to nearby trails like El Cariso Nature Trail.

6 Comments on Observatory Campground in Cleveland National Forest

  1. Thomas Beversluis says:

    I made reservations for a site a observatory (site 10) campground, for may 9th for 2 days, now I can’t confirm them. can I get some feed back on this?

  2. Can you tell me if you have an available days in the middle of June or July??? Thanks Pastor Vilma Everette

  3. James Mack says:

    Are there any day hikes nearby the campground?

  4. sarah kreig says:

    Hello. Do you have an option for renting RVs at the campsite? Looking to camp at the observatory campsite in April

Ask a question or share your experience

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *