Palomar Mountain

Explore Palomar Mountain through hiking, camping, glamping, and visiting the Palomar Observatory Hale Telescope.

If you love the outdoors, a trip to Palomar Mountain is one of the best cheap getaway weekend adventures from San Diego. 

Updated June 21, 2024 by San Diego Beaches and Adventures

Palomar Mountain Camping

Palomar Mountain Campground

Palomar Mountain is a beautiful mountain, just 90 minute drive from San Diego. It is part of a scenic route northeast of San Diego, which includes Laguna on the south and Palomar Mountain on the north. The Palomar Mountain elevation is 6,142 feet at the peak.

Palomar Mountain Observatory Address: 35899 Canfield Rd, Palomar Mountain, CA 92060

Directions to Palomar Mountain California: See below

Parking: Free parking at the Palomar Observatory. $10 day use fee in the Palomar Mountain State Park, and overnight fees for campgrounds.

Palomar Mountain Restaurants: There aren't a lot of places to eat on Palomar Mountain. Mother's Kitchen is sometimes open, located next to the small general store and post office. Your best bet is to bring your own food - picnic lunch and supplies for camping. Firewood and limited supply of food is available for purchase at the general store. Some restaurants are available in neighboring towns.

Palomar Mountain Weather - Depending on the time of year, Palomar Mountain weather can vary a lot. In the winter, Palomar Mountain gets an average of 35 inches of snow at the Palomar Observatory. If you are camping, June - September has the best weather, with highs of 74 to 80 F, and lows at night in the 50s. May and October can be nice for camping too if you bring layers for the cool evenings.


Palomar Observatory

Palomar Observatory

Palomar Observatory

The Palomar Observatory, located at the top of Mount Palomar, has one of the largest telescopes in the world. It is home to the Hale Telescope, a 200 inch (5.1 meter) diameter telescope, which is actively used for astronomical research. It is owned by CalTech.

The Palomar Observatory is open most days to the public from 9 AM to 3:30 PM. You can climb the stairs and see the Hale Telescope through through the glass wall. On some days, tours are given inside the telescope area. The tours are first come first served. Bring a fleece as it can be chilly inside.


Palomar Mountain State Park

The Palomar Mountain State Park is located on Palomar Mountain, and offers a number of hiking trails of varying difficulty. There are some great views from Boucher Lookout, which is accessible by car.

If you are looking for Palomar Mountain hiking trails, I suggest you stop at the Ranger Station and they can advise you on the best trails for your visit.

Palomar Mountain State Park also offers camping at the Doane Valley Campground, and group camping at Cedar Grove Group Campground.


Palomar Mountain Camping

Palomar Observatory Campground

Telescope Pads at Palomar Observatory Campground

There are 3 Palomar Mountain camping options (public campgrounds) to choose from, or a private glamping experience. Each have their pros and cons. During the summer weekends, the campgrounds are full, but during the week is it easier to find a spot.

Palomar Observatory Campground is the largest of the campgrounds, and offers a variety of single and double sites which can sleep 2 - 8 people comfortably. About 2/3 can be reserved in advance, and 1/3 are first-come, first-served basis. Some sites are RV compatible, but there are no hookups. There are a limited number of sites with telescope pads for those who want to bring a telescope and try star gazing. Other sites are shadier and more private. There is a 2.2 mile hiking trial from Palomar Observatory Campground to Palomar Observatory, which makes a nice hike. Take a picnic lunch to enjoy at the top.

Fry Creek Campground is a secluded campground across the road from Palomar Observatory Campground, and runs along a creek. The campsites are shady and a bit smaller. A few sites require you to haul in your gear to the campsite. About 2/3 can be reserved in advance, and 1/3 are first-come, first-served basis.

You can check out the various campsites and make reservations at Palomar Observatory Campground and Fry Creek Campground on recreation.gov

Doane Valley Campground is located within Palomar Mountain State Park. This Palomar Mountain campground is located in a valley, with the campsites on a hillside. The campsites are surrounded by trees, but the terrain in steeper, and most sites can only accommodate 2-4 campers, and parking for 1-2 cars, although the official limit is 8 people per campsite. There are Palomar Mountain hiking trails nearby, such as Lower Doane Trail and Doane Valley Nature Trail.

The Doane Valley Palomar Mountain campground can be reserved at www.reservecalifornia.com


Best San Diego Glamping

San Diego Glamping Tent Baileys Palomar
Are you looking for the best San Diego Glamping spot? Try Baileys on Palomar, a retreat with luxury glamping tents, cabins, yurts, Safari tents, tipis and do-it-yourself camping. Each lodging has its own firepit and wood is provided. So if you want an outdoor experience without all the work, try glamping at Baileys on Palomar.

This private campground is located on Palomar Mountain, off of the State Park Rd., near the Palomar Mountain State Park.

For more information and reservations see mountpalomarlodging.com


Driving Directions

Directions to Palomar Mountain in North San Diego County, California:

Directions to Palomar Mountain CA from North County - From north San Diego County, go east on highway 78 to highway S6. Follow the signs to Palomar Mountain. At the general store, continue straight if you want to go to Palomar Observatory, Fry Creek Campground or Palomar Observatory Campground. Turn left to go to Palomar Mountain State Park, most Palomar Mountain trails, and other Mt. Palomar campgrounds such as Doane Valley.

Directions to Palomar Mountain CA from San Diego - From San Diego, take interstate 15 toward highway 76 for a shorter route, then follow the signs to Palomar Mountain. At the general store, continue straight to go to Palomar Observatory, or these campgrounds: Fry Creek Campground and Palomar Observatory Campground. Turn left to go to Palomar Mountain State Park, most Palomar Mountain hiking trails, and other campgrounds such as Doane Valley.

For the scenic route, take interstate 15 to highway 67, then 78 and go through Santa Ysabel or stop at Julian, then onto highway 79 up to Palomar Mountain. This takes a bit longer, but has nice views particularly on the return drive as you travel along the ridgeline of scenic highway 79.


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