Camping for Weenies

El Capitan Canyon Puts a New Spin on ‘Roughing It’

LA Family/2004

Some people think roughing it on vacation is finding a hotel without air conditioning—if such a thing even exists anymore. For those willing to take one more step back without having to resort to sleeping bags and backpacks, El Capitan Canyon is a wonderful compromise.

Located just north of Santa Barbara a scant 90 minutes or so from LA., El Capitan Canyon is just the other side of the 101 from El Capitan State Park beach. In the canyon is a warren of dozens of tiny cabins and tents where weekend warriors can tough it out with tiny refrigerators, low-powered microwaves and, in the case of tent-dwellers, remote shower and toilet facilities in strategically placed bath houses. You can choose cabins that range somewhat in size and price, but the emphasis here is on getting out and doing things, and there’s plenty going on in and around the canyon proper.

We took our kids to El Capitan for a late-summer break, occupying a typical cabin with a “safari tent” next door that had the boys thinking they were in heaven. The tent is of the more permanent variety, a large canvas affair mounted on a wooden platform and outfitted with a queen bed, table and chairs. There’s even a light, so you can leave the Coleman at home unless you want it for the outside picnic table. Each campsite comes with its own table and fire pit, and S’mores supplies are available at the little on-site store (as well as gifts, some wines and food, firewood, etc.).

Around the cabin, guests are encouraged to park in central lots after unloading in an effort to keep traffic down. Bikes are available to borrow on a first-come, first-served basis, and shuttles in the form of minivans tool around picking up those disinclined to walk. There are lawns for playing Frisbee and catch, horseshoe pits, volleyball courts, a swimming pool and an outdoor barbecue area where you can purchase dinner nightly. For the most part, though, you’re on your own food-wise, so plan to bring all of your own groceries, cooking supplies and utensils. A camp stove would be a nice thing to have for multiple night stays, as well as warm clothes for the chilly evenings along the coast.

During the day, campers can choose from a variety of activities, from yoga or surfing lessons to an in-room massage or a hike through the canyon. The Canyon staff can arrange most things for you, but be sure to reserve slots in advance since they can fill up quickly, especially on weekends.

For children, the Canyon has a Kids Camp, which features an array of activities from nature hikes and environmental lessons to get the younger set in tune with the surroundings. Originally a haven for the Chumash Indians, the area is rich in history as well as lush with foliage and creeks (except this year, of course). The whole area is covered with enormous trees, which afford plenty of shade to accompany the already cool ocean breezes that waft through the area.

Cabins at El Capitan run from $135 to $305/night, depending on the time of year, size, location etc. Safari tents are $115 to $135 per night. There are also larger round tents called yurts, which can be used for informal meetings or retreats.

For more information about El Capitan Canyon, call 866-352-2729 or check online at

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