By Greg Aragon
The stars twinkled through the treetops like a million Christmas lights. A crackling fire provided warmth. And a harmonious concert of croaking bullfrogs, chirping crickets and a trickling stream served as background music. It was a great first night at El Capitan Canyon campground.
Our getaway to El Capitan began when we checked in and followed a camp shuttle nearly one mile into a secluded canyon, where we found our cabin, positioned a few feet from a peacefully flowing stream. Built from cedar wood, the pitched-roof cabin looks rustic from the outside but features comfortable amenities inside. The room boasted a king bed, with comfy down duvet; hideaway twin bed; kitchenette, with microwave and mini-fridge; and an antique-styled gas fireplace. In the bathroom sits a large jacuzzi tub next to a big window, where soakers can wave to squirrels and birds. One of the cabin’s best features is its big wooden porch with a front-row seat to nature. While sitting here reading magazines, we met a friendly local cat, who came over and sat by our feet.
When not relaxing on the porch with Sylvester, we explored El Capitan Canyon. Nestled against Los Padres National Forest, amidst giant groves of California oaks and sycamores, the campground features 163 Cedar Cabins and a bunch of canvas Safari Tents spread spaciously across 3,500 wooded acres. The classic Safari Tents are perfect for those who seek a more traditional camping experience. Each canvas tent measures 12-by-14 feet and is built on a permanent raised wooden deck. They come with either a queen or two double beds and all tents have screened windows and zip-down flaps, bed linens and towels, bedside tables, chairs, a small desk, storage trunk, and coat hooks. Tents are also provided with a small heater and electric lamps for lighting. Safari Tents also have their outdoor picnic table and benches, grill and fire pit. Modern, clean, private bathroom and shower facilities exclusively for Safari Tent campers are conveniently located in nearby buildings. The heated swimming pool is also nearby.
One of the campground’s most luxurious cabins is the Safari Suite, which is located on a private hilltop, known as Safari Village, with breathtaking panoramic ocean, mountain, and canyon views. This two-bedroom suite is equipped with a full kitchen, including a gas stove and oven, microwave, full-size refrigerator, cookware and dishware, pantry and ample countertop space. For guests that prefer outdoor cooking, there is a large gas barbeque grill and prep area is located on the spacious deck. There is also a private fire pit, dining table, and benches. The master bedroom features a king-size bed, vaulted ceilings, a private fireplace, ample closet space, vanity, and separate entry.
Cedar Cabins and Safari Tents are grouped in villages called “Stone Pine,” “Peace Tree,” “Lone Stone” and “Shaded Creek.” As I wandered through the “villages” that make up the different camping areas, the log cabins reminded me of the rural Appalachian Mountains and the tents of an African safari. The villages are surrounded by towering trees, rolling hills with hiking trails, grassy meadows, and the ubiquitous stream. And from the campground, beautiful El Capitan State Beach is only a 10-minute walk.
On our first day at camp, we rode bikes to the beach and swam. Back at the cabin, we stocked up at the Canyon Market, which offers groceries and snacks, fine local wines, magazines, camping essentials and much more. In the back of the market is the Canyon Deli, where guests can enjoy gourmet meals from breakfast to dinner.
The next day we hiked and hit the beach. That night, we sat around the cabin’s private fire pit. With the Milky Way shining through the trees, the stream flowing, and the frogs and crickets singing, we enjoyed grilled fish, veggies and wonderful camping experience.
Other campground amenities include free wireless internet, free bicycle usage, a full-service spa, live summer concert series and a no-car policy around campsites.
El Capitan Canyon is located off the 101 Freeway’s El Capitan Beach exit, 20 miles north of Santa Barbara. For more info, current rates and specials, call (866) 352-2729 or visit elcapitancanyon.com.