Camp On the Abandoned Santa Margarita Lookout Helipad

Santa Margarita Lookout, San Diego County, California, United States

  • Activities:

    Chillin, Camping, Photography, Hiking

  • Skill Level:

    Beginner

  • Season:

    Year Round

Easy Parking
Romantic
Scenic
Wildflowers
Wildlife

Camp 100 yards from the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base in the Cleveland National Forest on an abandoned helipad overlooking lush green hills and the Pacific Ocean!

Starting in Murrieta, CA you don't have to venture far to enjoy a beautiful view and less light polluted skies.

From Murrieta on the I-15 freeway you're going to want to take the Clinton Kieth Road exit and head west. If you're low on gas make sure to fill up at the 7 Eleven on the left corner. The drive isn't very long in terms of distance but a good portion of it is on graded dirt so you'll be burning through more gas than usual.

After getting off the freeway stay on Clinton Kieth Road for roughly 10-11 miles. You will start climbing and pass a fire station and the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve, if you see these you're on the right track. Stay on Clinton Kieth Road till it turns to dirt and then proceed about 100 yards. After proceeding about 100 yards you will see a three way fork in the road, take the road on the left. This road is Margarita Road but it is not marked as it is a dirt road. This road was recently graded so it can be done in just about any car, but I recommend something with a little bit of clearance since there is still quite a few bumps.

Once on Margarita Road you're going to follow this all the way to the destination. You'll pass multiple forks in the road, keep right on all of them as the left roads are all gated off after about 100 yards. After following this road for about 8-10 miles you will start ascending again along the right ridge of the mountain then you'll reach a turn where you make a full u turn up along the ridge of the mountain. Once you make this u turn you will have about 100 yards till you reach another fork in the road. The one on the right will proceed downward to a gate that enters the Marine Base and the one on the left looks more like a turn out but there is a road on the right side. If you're driving anything other than a lifted Jeep park your car here and hike to the top from here it's only about a quarter mile. The reason you need a lifted Jeep for this last section is because this section of road is littered by boulders and rocks so nothing but a Jeep is suited for this type of rock crawling. Whether you have a Jeep or decide to hike be wary of the cliff on the left side towards the top, however there is plenty of room on the right so just hug right and you'll be ok. Then the final step is set up camp on the helipad and enjoy good views, clear skies and good times!

Fun Fact: On Friday nights you can actually see the Disneyland Fireworks from here!

Pack List

  • Car with enough clearance to drive on dirt (Lifted Jeep needed if you don't plan on hiking the last quarter mile)
  • Firewood (If it's winter)
  • Food
  • Sleeping Bags and Blankets
  • Chairs
  • Camera
  • Trash Bags (Pack out what you bring in please)
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Just a note though if you want to drive up to the top you’ll definitely need a vehicle that is able to rock crawl👌

15 days ago
15 days ago

I just recently checked out the abandoned look out tower this past weekend. It's a pretty amazing spot up on top of the mountain. The trail itself wasn't to difficult for a standard vehicle to make up. However the last 900ft to the top is where a 4x4 is absolutely needed. The rains have made sure of this with boulders and large rocks laying across the remaining trail. My passenger and her kid got out to walk up the remaining part. However my FJ and the Wrangler behind me made it all the way up. An amazing sight once you are on top!

5 months ago
5 months ago

Not much to do during the day, but this is actually the site of the old Santa Margarita Fire Lookout Tower, so the view is incredible. You get the feeling you're in the middle of nowhere, but then you have military helicopters circling you during the day and see the city lights surrounding you once the sun sets.

almost 2 years ago
almost 2 years ago

GNARLY. The directions were unclear and we got lost for an hr and a half. Don't continue on the road given until it "turns into dirt"--turn right on tenja road then follow his directions from there (that's the rd that will turn into dirt). The dirt rd up to the spot was somewhat sketch, very rocky not great on your tires. Parked as the directions said and hiked up--not too bad but pretty hard when carrying everything. Spot was great though!!! 360 degree view, watched the sun set on one side and rise on the other--unreal. Also it's a geocaching spot! That was pretty cool. Altogether it was bomb, thanks for sharing! D efinitely going back!

almost 2 years ago
almost 2 years ago

David Fontneau

Adventure and Landscape Photographer. Chasing the purity of a moment.

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