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Observatory Campground

Away from the glow of city lights, the vast dark skies above the Cleveland National Forest offer a perfect venue for stargazing. On clear nights, dozens of people gather at Observatory Campground on Palomar Mountain in southern California and turn their gazes skyward during monthly “Explore the Stars” events. The free star parties are offered one weekend a month from April through October.

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star(s)

Stargazers can expect to see nebulae, supernova remnants, double stars, the moon, planets, and more. Knowledgeable amateur astronomers will provide telescopes, but visitors are welcome to bring their own equipment as well.  Campers staying at Observatory Campground during “Explore the Stars” events who do not wish to participate are asked to respect the stargazers by keeping light use to a minimum.

The 2.2-mile Observatory National Recreation Trail takes hikers up Palomar Mountain to the famous Palomar Observatory. Constructed in the 1930’s and ‘40s, the California Institute of Technology observatory houses five world-class telescopes, and is open daily to the public.

Camping Under the Stars

The campground itself is open from April through November. Movies such as “The Lorax” are occasionally shown in the amphitheater, along with various interpretive events, making Observatory Campground a perfect family destination.


What Will I See?

  • Entire galaxies, composed of billions of stars through telescopes at monthly Explore the Stars events
  • The habitat of the endangered Laguna Mountain Skipper butterfly
  • Observatory National Recreation Trail leads hikers 2.2 miles to the famous Palomar Observatory
  • Amphitheater for interpretive events

About This Destination

On July 1, 1908 President Theodore Roosevelt signed a declaration that created the Cleveland National Forest and named after President Grover Cleveland, who established several forest reserves that were the precursors of the national forest system. The forest provides habitat for native wildlife, as well as a natural refuge and playground for many of the 3 million plus residents in the greater San Diego area.

What Should I Know?

Amenities: hot showers, flush toilets, vault toilets, two accessible sites, campground host

Operating Season: April 1- Nov. 30

Fee: $15 per night for single unit, $30 per night for double unit, $5 per night for additional vehicle

36 sites (30 single and 6 double); 27 sites available for reservation

Free star parties Fridays and  Saturdays once a month through spring, summer and fall. Check the schedule.

Observatory National Recreation Trail leads to famous Palomar Observatory; 2.2 miles

Mountain lions, feral pigs and black bears have been sighted on Palomar Mountain in the general vicinity of Observatory Campground


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