Looking for a “family camp” in L.A. akin to San Francisco’s “Camp Mather” or “Camp Sacramento”

Water Fall near Camp Mather

Friends who live in San Francisco  have raved over the years about Camp Mather (above), a  “family camp” run by the city’s Park and Rec department that is a great affordable family vacation option for  residents of a famously unaffordable city. The camp  is outside  Yosemite National Park . (Interesting aside, there has been some controversy with the Camp – with some saying it’s too much of a “carefully kept secret” that most San Franciscans don’t know about…more below). Friends in Sacramento rave about a similar offering there called “Camp Sacramento.”

So I’m wondering if Los Angeles offers something similar, now that my brother has moved there with his family.  To date, the information I’ve found suggests that L.A.’s Park and Rec may have some options (known as”out of town camps”) but they’re pretty limited and several camps have long been closed. The best bet I’ve seen so far is Camp Seeley but it’s unclear if like Camp Mather (I think), this camp offers not just facilities but programming for families.

Here’s some info I’ve dug up to date:

Camp Seely is located in the San Bernardino Mountains, 65 miles from City Hall, nestled in a forest of tall pines at an elevation of 4,200 feet. Close to Lake Gregory and the Village of Crestline, it is located on Highway 138, four miles from Lake Silverwood. Camp Seely is owned and operated by the Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks, under permit from the National Forest Service.

The facility includes 60 cabins (each sleeps 4-5 people), a large kitchen, dining hall, rustic lodge, modern restroom/shower facilities, playing field, game room and children’s play area.

Out of Town Camps

The City of Los Angeles offers year-round group camping opportunities at its out-of-town camps.  The fees include rental of individual or dormitory style cabins, depending on the camp, and full use of kitchen and lodges.  Groups must provide their own food.  Weekend rentals are available from Labor Day through mid-June.  During the Summer months (Mid-June until Labor Day), rentals are on a week-long basis (usually Sunday through the following Saturday). Camps vary in size and maximum camper occupancy.

Out of Town Camps
* Select facility name for site specific information
Name Address Maximum Occupancy
Camp High Sierra P.O. Box 711, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93646 6 per site
Camp Radford 3250 Radford River Rd., Angelus Oaks, CA 92305 260 (Camp Temporarily Closed)
Camp Seeley 250 N. Hwy. 138 P.O. Box 3372, Crestline, CA 92325 270
Camp Valcrest HC 01 Box 18, La Cañada, CA 91011-9706 60 (Camp Temporarily Closed)
Decker Canyon Camp 3133 S. Decker Canyon Rd., Malibu, CA 90265 150 (Camp Temporarily Closed)
For more information and/or reservations, please call theCamping Section Office at
(213) 485-4853. Monday through Friday 9 am to 5 pm


Camp Mather is the San Francisco family camp that was built as a sawmill for the construction of the O’Shaughnessey Dam in the 1920’s. 150 miles east of San Francisco near the Hetch Hetchy Valley. The border of Yosemite National Park is a mile up the road, Yosemite Valley is 18 miles south. The camp is beloved by many as an off-the-grid refuge from city life and is a treasure for generations of SF families.

Camp Mather is a camp owned and operated by the City and County of San Francisco. It is located 15 miles front the entrance to Yosemite National Park, in the High Sierras at an elevation of 4,520 feet.  Each year applications are  submitted for attendance to camp through a lottery. It’s a very competitive process,  because there are more applicants than there is space available during  the camp season. Camp Mather Family Lottery registration opens on January 6 (10am), and closes on February 5 (5pm). Camp Mather Family Camp lottery registration is online only at sfreconline.org. There is a $100 registration deposit required at registration. This $100 will be applied to your final bill if you get a  reservation or will be refunded if you don’t get a reservation.

Info from 2008: Camp Sacramento family camp offers affordable, fun-filled vacation experiences without breaking the bank Sacramento, California, May 12, 2008— Camp Sacramento is now taking reservations for its 2008 summer camp season. This summer, as gas price
s keep residents closer to home and families look to get more for their money, Camp Sacramento is already seeing a sizable increase
in its camp reservation rates. Perhaps the most striking thing about Camp Sacramento is its affordability. A family of four can enjoy a four-day vacation experience, meals and  activities included, for as little as $573.00.
Camp Sacramento is a City of Sacramento-operated camp that is located in the EldoradoNational Forest, just over an hour’s drive from Sacramento. The camp provides families a complete vacation experience that includes supervised recreation programs, river play, beautiful scenery, great food, friendly staff, and lots of leisure time for parents.This summer, Camp Sacramento is offering families the choice of four-day mini camps or week-long vacation sessions. Camp guests are provided three meals each day and lots of nature-inspired experiences.Prospective campers can visit the camp’s website, http://www.campsac.org, to get more information
and check camp rates. They can also speak to a CampSacramento representative by calling 916-808-6098.

About Camp Sacramento (from 2013)

Camp Sacramento is situated in the Sayles Flat area of the Eldorado National Forest. It sits on a 14-acre property owned by the U.S. Forest Service and leased by the City of Sacramento. There are 61 cabins of various sizes scattered throughout the property. These cabins have electricity, but most don’t have any outlets other than the light bulb on the ceiling and the porch light. They are rustic yet charming – most of them were built in the 1930s. The cabins don’t have running water, but there are centrally located restrooms available complete with electrical outlets and private shower stalls. Camp facilites also include a dining hall, a lodge, a camp store, a camp nurse’s office, a softball diamond, a half basketball court, a volleyball court, a campfire pit, arts & crafts areas, ping pong tables, horeshoe pits, and the scenic American River. Camp Sacramento offers eight mini Camp (4 days/3 nights) and four week-long (6 days/5 nights) vacation sessions during its 2011 Family Camp season. We provide guests with 3 meals a day and a vacation full of recreation activities. This is all included in the camp fees. Come and join us as we begin our 90th year of Family Camping Adventures.The last week of the season at Camp Sacramento is Senior Adventure Camp, open only to adults age 50 and older. 

Summary of Recommendations 1. Improve publicity and accessibility to CampMather.
2. Study and improve the usage of the CampMather facilities and grounds.
Mather is a fam
ily cam
p located in Tuolum
ne County near the north
entrance to Yosem
ite National Park. Located approxim
tely 180 m
iles east of San
Francisco at an elevation of 4,520 feet, Cam
Mather is operated for San Francisco
residents and their f
ilies by the San Francisco Recreation and Park Departm
nt (RPD).
It has 90 rustic cabins and 20 tent sites, each able to accom
odate up to six people, on
tely 400 acres. Full board, a cam
p store, and several recreational program
s are
provided for the cam
pers. During a 12-week cam
ping season, two weeks of which are
reserved for seniors, approxim
tely 6,000 persons, in 1,100 fam
ilies, take advantage of
the Cam
Mather facilities. The cam
p can accom
odate 529 people at each session.
The num
ber of applications for cabins and tent sites exceeds the available spaces.
The privately run Strawberry Music Festival, draws another 10,000 people in total
to Cam
Mather on the Mem
rial Day and Labor Day weekends.
Mather is financially self-sufficient and, in past years, has contributed in
excess of $300,000 annually to the RPD general fund. Cam
ing fees and revenue from
SMF and other concessions exceed the expense of operating Cam
Mather. In a tim
e of
budget crisis, Cam
Mather could produce additional revenue.
Mather was described several years ago in the press as “the city’s most carefully kept secret,” one that most San Franciscans don’t know exists. The location,lack of publicity, a complex application process, and failure to provide information about Camp
Mather in languages other than English limit access to Camp Mather for many SanFrancisco residents. The Grand Jury defines “accessibility” as awareness of Camp Mather and its availability to residents, an application f
that is easily read and
leted, an equitable selection process, and availability of
adequate transportation to
the Cam
for people who want to use it.

from 2012, alas: L.A. spent $2 million to keep up camps closed for more than 10 years

The city has paid for caretakers to live at Camp Valcrest and Camp Radford, closed for 13 and 20 years, respectively, an audit by City Controller Wendy Greuel finds.

August 29, 2012|By Frank Shyong, Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles park officials spent $2 million to operate two campgrounds that have been closed for more than 10 years, according to an audit released Wednesday by City Controller Wendy Greuel.

Camp Valcrest in the Angeles National Forest and Camp Radford in the San Bernardino Mountains have been closed for the last 13 and 20 years, respectively, because necessary repairs were deferred. But the city Department of Recreation and Parks has paid $2 million for caretakers to live at the camps since they closed and nearly $100,000 for water to be trucked to Camp Valcrest, the audit states.

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