chilao campground angeles national forest

Review: Chilao Campround, Angeles National Forest

By Heather

It’s wildfire season. That means you’d better be flexible.

We had plans to view the Perseid Meteor Shower from Boulder Basin, a campground I stumbled upon when everything else was full. I guess we weren’t the only ones who wanted to see some shooting stars.

In the days leading up to our trip, we kept a close eye on the fire raging near Banner, especially since one of the roads leading into Boulder Basin was officially closed. The day before leaving, I sent a message to the gang that read something like, “I dunno. Think this fire is going to mess with our plans?”

I asked, the universe promptly answered: The campground was closed within minutes of my sending that.

What resulted was a flurry of emails in which we tried to find an alternate plan. Pretty much every reservable campground in the area was fully booked. That left first come, first served campgrounds as the only option.

How Virgos do first come, first served Oh, they don’t.

I am a pretty typical Virgo: I like lists, organizing, being inside my own head and a plan.

First come, first served campgrounds are the exact opposite of a plan. Chilao consists of only first come, first served sites. The thought that we could spend hours and money planning a camping trip, packing, battling traffic and driving to the campground only to find there’s nothing for us… The mere thought of it is cramping my stomach.

I want to know, after all of that, that I will have a place to sleep that is not the car.

Darren is a Libra, but he’s with me on this.

So, when Steve mentioned that he would be off that Friday and willing to head up and nab a spot for us, we gratefully accepted. Steve is awesome like that.

Ch-ch-ch-Chilao

Turns out, that was the exact right thing to do. Steve got up there bright and early, staked out sites Nos. 14 and 15 (more on why later) in the Manzanita loop and then watched as the rest of the place pretty quickly filled up.

My guess is that it filled up because Chilao is gorgeous!

I’ve been living in Southern California for seven years and I had no idea this beauty was just outside of LA. I’ll shut up and let the pictures do the talking:

Angeles National Forest

Ascend Into Campsite Heaven

The Station Fire tore through the area years ago. Although a lot of new growth has sprung up, there’s still a lot of evidence of the fire, giving the place a haunting beauty. Perfect for B&W processing!

Burned

As a result, Chilao looks like it was recently rebuilt. The restrooms are newish-looking and nice – for vault toilets. Have you ever commented on a vault toilet smelling nice before? You will at Chilao! (Of course, by Sunday, they were looking a little worse for wear. But the smell on Friday and Saturday were downright… tolerable!).

Go ahead. Take a whiff.

Chilao has no host. This could have been a bad thing, but the other people at the campground kept it down and we all had a pleasant time. The only thing that suffered was the aforementioned bathrooms – by Sunday, the toilet paper was running very low and things were getting messy.

As I mentioned, Steve grabbed sites 14 and 15. No, not because we’re greedy.

That’s because these sites – and their picnic tables – were so close together that we would have been eating and sharing a fire ring with complete strangers. Ugh! We hate people!

Several sites throughout the campground have this odd setup, but at $12 per night, grabbing both sites won’t break the bank. If you’re lucky enough to own one of the National Forest passes, you get 50 percent off the fees. Grab two sites, and it’s like buy one, get one free! Yeah!

I never liked poodles

Darren already told you about his and Steve’s Poodle Dog Plant adventures.

I was the lone dork on that hike wearing a tank top and shorts, so by all rights I should be covered in hideous rashes right now. Poor Darren seems to be the only one who got the Poodle Dog Curse, though compared to what we’ve seen, his rash is very minor.

If nothing else, this is an important lesson in reading all of the warnings you see. Not just the ones about rattlesnakes. But come on. Which one would you have paid more attention to? If you said Poodle Dog, you’re just being contrary.

Fun was had

As always on our camping trips, we ate well, drank well and popped corks well. In fact, the cork-popping was especially epic.

Breakfast was breakfast burritos and chilaquiles.

Breakfast

I drank a lot of Pimm’s.

Orangey, gingery goodness.

We nommed on sausages and meatballs for dinner. For lunch, we hopped into our cars and drove to Jensen’s in Wrightwood for some sandwiches. You must take this drive, and you must have those sandwiches. You’ll thank me on both counts.

Oh yeah, about those Perseids

The Perseids weren’t going to peak until after midnight on Saturday/Sunday. To combat tiredness, Darren and I took a nap from about 10 until midnight, then woke up to enjoy the show.

Night Sky

The show, it turns out, was slow. I am not proud to admit this, but I made it about 20 minutes before returning to the tent, and Darren wasn’t far behind. Good thing this wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Steve, however, stayed up to take some awesome photos. Thanks, Steve!

My God, It's Full of Stars

The lowdown

Chilao is an instant fave, despite the first-come, first-serviness of it. I’ve read that this isn’t just because of the Perseids, either – it fills up by Friday afternoon on a regular basis. If we come back here, we’ll have to take a day off work to claim a spot. No problem, it’s totally worth it.

  • Dog friendly: Yes.
  • Toilets: Vault.
  • Water: Yes.
  • Provisions: W-e-l-l-l-l-l… This is the drawback. The closest places to stop for firewood are either in LaCanada-Flintridge, where the 210 and the 2 meet, or Jensen’s in Wrightwood. LaCanada is about 25 miles from the campground; Wrightwood is about 35 miles. I personally suggest Wrightwood because the drive is fantastic. If you opt for LaCanada, there’s a Von’s. Whatever you opt for, just make sure your gas tank is full. There are no gas stations between LaCanada and Wrightwood.
  • Shade: Chilao has some sites that have more shade than others. Some of the sites with the best views have the least shade, so I really suggest bringing a canopy.
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