Photo Credit: Cadence Cook
It's with some reservation we share with you all one of our most frequented camping sites — South Fork Group Campground in Angeles National Forest. Located one and a half hours north of Los Angeles, this hidden valley retreat is a personal favorite for easy weekend trips away from the city in a surprisingly lush portion of the Antelope Valley. It sits privately at the end of a 1 mile service road, adjacent to the seasonally flowing Big Rock Creek, and is short hiking distance to the beautiful Devil's Punchbowl.
While most of the camp sites at South Fork are serviceable, the group site really stands out. This 125-person group campground is separated from the standard sites by a couple hundred yards, situated at the end of the road past a small gate and nuzzled at the base of Mt. Lewis. Areas for tents are terraced into the hillside and shaded most of the day by towering sugar pines and Douglas fir trees.
Our trips to South Fork tend to be relaxed ones. Positioned overlooking the valley and under tree cover, stringing up a hammock and kicking back with a book is an easy way to spend an idyllic afternoon.
There's plenty of room to stretch out and get a bit ambitious in the camp kitchen with four grills and several cooking tables — we like to start roasting and slow cooking early and always end up going a little overboard in the best way.
A standout feature is the large communal fire pit, big enough for our entire crew of friends to sit around late into the night sharing songs, stories and s'mores.
Those looking for a mellow hike should take the trailhead from the base of the campsite half a mile up Mt. Lewis, and enjoy stunning panoramic sunset views and excellent stargazing.
Anyone more adventurous can start their treks at Islap Saddle and cruise downhill on the 2.8 mile forested trail to South Fork (where you might have left a car or hopefully don't mind hiking out). This winding trail is shaded by pine, cedar and oak trees and hugs the contours of over a dozen ravines. The 2,000-foot descent brings you through a variety of landscapes before settling into the the alder and sycamore-covered South Fork creek.
Most difficult — but most rewarding — is the hike to the Devil's Punchbowl. This 5 mile round-trip hike takes about 3 hours, crossing numerous streams, valleys, and forested mountain passes until ending at the "Devil's Chair", a panoramic viewpoint over the strange and bizarrely beautiful Devil's Punchbowl.
Finally, every California camper knows a cold running stream is a privilege and a pleasure. If you're lucky and the season is right you can dip your feet in nearby South Fork Creek. Or, year-round, venture down the road to the waist-deep waters of Big Rock Creek. You won't go chasing waterfalls here, but you'll find enough to cool your feet and chill out. With this persistent drought, we felt blessed to find any H20 at all.
The group site at South Fork is the only reservable campsite here (the individual sites are first come first served) and we recommend booking it in advance.
- Site Name: South Fork Group Campground
- Season: March - September
- Distance from Los Angeles: 1:45 mins
- Elevation: 4,800 feet
- Sites: 1 Group site | 20 Standard sites
- Reservation: Via Ranger District Office
- Cost: Free
- Tents: 60
- Cars: 20
- Drinking Water: No
- Bathrooms: Yes
- Fire: Yes
- Dogs: OK on leash
- Maximum Stay: 14 Days
- Vaults: Yes
- Flush Toilets: No
- Showers: No
- Usage: Light