A great road trip is made up of many important parts – blaring tunes, silly games, delirious laughter, frequent stops for decadent roadside treats, and the grand feeling that you are as free as a bird, to follow your fancy wherever the winding road may lead. In this case, the road was U.S. Route 101 and it was leading us right to the water’s edge of Santa Barbara’s stunning Pacific coastline and our very first glamping adventure at the sumptuous El Capitan Canyon campground.
Mapping this route from Los Angeles to El Capitan Canyon puts the drive at 115 miles, an easy hour and a half drive north on the 101. But, when you add in a stop at Jinky’s in Sherman Oaks for breakfast, a hike at Malibu Creek State Park, and a pop into McConnell’s in Santa Barbara for some of the finest ice cream you’ll ever drool over, drive times look more like 6 hours. But who’s counting, right?
Turning into the driveway of the campground, it appeared as most, a small check-in kiosk with a helpful attendant eager to welcome you, 360 degrees of green leaves and chirping birds. But, as we made our way across a quaint tree-covered bridge and further down the road blanketed on both sides by bright yellow wild mustard plants, we realized quickly this seemingly unassuming hamlet had only given us but a glimpse into its hidden treasures.
One step into adventure yurt revealed amenities one would expect at a hotel; exceptionally comfortable queen and twin trundle beds, fragrant, organic shampoos and soaps, a mini fridge, accent lighting, and even a space heater for those chilly beach nights. Outside we had a large picnic table, a firepit with a removable barbecue grill and an unobstructed view of the lush forest.
We spent our first night getting to know the lay of the land. Just 50 yards from our campsite was a bathhouse, restrooms, heated swimming pool, playground, and a large open grassy field where our daughter played soccer with the other camp kids until twilight passed and they could no longer see the ball. Then our Austrian neighbors and their kids cozied around our campfire as we shared stories of our lives and our travels, and our passion for roasting the perfect marshmallow until late in the night.
We awoke early the next morning ready for some adventure and as luck would have it, we had our pick of two trailheads, both a brisk 5-minute walk from our campsite. We took the advice of the staff and headed up the Llama trail in search of some stunning ocean views and a tiny farm that we were told recently welcomed a dozen new baby goats.
This short hike is perfect for kids and grandparents alike, with only a moderate quarter-mile incline at the start, the rest of this trail is wide, well-maintained and virtually flat. There was nothing between us and the mighty pacific save for the cleansing ocean breeze, the warm sun, and yes, many, many adorable farm animals.
At the tail end of our hike, we decided, as you do when you’re glamping, to swing by the El Capitan Canyon Store to check out the unique handmade gifts, convenient barbecue dinner kits (yes, you don’t have to bring your own food, they have everything you need packaged in neat kits with utensils, plates, and eats like marinated tri-tip, salmon, and even s’mores kits ready to throw on the grill), then we indulged in a delicious double espresso. The rest of our second day was spent catching bugs, climbing rocks, roasting corn, more soccer, and more great conversation over wine with our new Austrian friends.
Two nights was not enough to truly explore all this campground had to offer, so we decided to pack up the car and stay put in search of something spectacular we had heard whispers of from a friend in LA, the superbloom. A rare occurrence in California, a superbloom only happens when evenly-spaced gentle rain storms and low winds combine to germinate dormant wildflower seeds deep in the soil. The result is a sea of vividly-colored petals blanketing the vast valleys and soft rolling hills.
Approaching the Bill Wallace trailhead just at the north end of the campground, we entered a veritable artist’s palette splattered with every hue of green, purple, red, and orange, juxtaposed against a clear blue sky. If it wasn’t for the rather indignant feelings of a five year old, we would have spent half the day on this trail, but our two mile loop was just enough to turn meltdowns into smiles for the long drive back home.
Situated on 300 acres of towering sycamores and California coastal oaks, each one of El Capitan Canyon’s 139 individual sites offers guests a relaxed, communal experience whether you’re in a tent, a yurt or a cozy cabin. Originally a Chumash tribal celebration site, the canyon is blanketed by flavorful elderberries, wildly fragrant sage and the constant crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean.
Our favorite El Capitan Canyon amenities and activities:
Family Room 5+
Heated Outdoor Pool
Complimentary Beach Cruiser Bikes
Bill Wallace Trail
Distance: 12 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: 1,000 feet
Open to: Hiking, Biking, Horseback Riding
Distance: 1.25 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: 300 feet
Open to: Hiking only
To schedule a docent led hike on either the Bill Wallace Trail or the Llama Trail, please email email@example.com