Saddleback Butte State Park is essentially like a mini version of Joshua Tree National Park, but with far less variety (in terms of rock formations), and far fewer foot traffic. Though we only stayed two nights, I got a great feel for the place and I’d love to return sometime. For those in search of desert solitude, or Joshua Tree sightings, this place is tough to beat, especially since it’s so close to Los Angeles. Find it in the Antelope Valley, just east of Lancaster.
Saddleback Butte Campground Directions:
Take the 14 to Lancaster, then head East on Avenue K until you hit 170th Street East. It’s a long way down a straight country-road. Watch for the Saddleback Butte sign- it’s not that easy to spot (though we arrived at 3:30 am).
Saddleback Butte Campground Details:
At a decent elevation of 3,651 feet, Sattleback Butte looks barren on first inspection, though it’s anything but (at least in the Spring!). A large granite mountain towers over the flat alluvial plane here in the Antelope Valley, just on the western side of the vast Mojave Desert. Saddleback Butte State Park was created in 1960 to protect the unique Joshua Tree forests and other plant and animal species that live here. Campsites are $20 per night, and $5 extra for a second car. Contact the Visitors Center at (661) 727-9899.
There are 50 camp-sites at the campground, each complete with picnic tables, fire rings, and incredible wooden ramadas. I wish other campgrounds in Southern CA would take the hint from Saddleback Butte, because those ramadas are what make this place really worth visiting. Essentially, you can spend the weekend sitting under a porch, with a view of the incredible desert surrounds.
Flush toilets, sinks, and potable water spigots (and drinking fountains) are also available, though showers cannot be found here. There is a limit of 2 cars and 8 people per campsite. Campfires are allowed within the fire rings, but there was no firewood for sale when I got there. You are not allowed to collect firewood since, being the desert, vegetation is relatively rare around here.
There’s also a short (2 mile) trail from the campground to Saddleback Butte itself. It was too hot, and I was too drunk, to make it the entire way, but I’m fairly certain you can get deep into the area and I may return to the campground just to check it out.
Saddleback Butte State Park Contact Information:
Saddleback Butte State Park
On Friday May 14th I drove up to LA to meet with Sean for our trip to Saddleback Butte Campground. Chaz had discovered it while researching other campgrounds and we at once figured that it’d be worth checking out – Joshua Trees and Ramadas are what sold me on the idea. I grabbed Sean from his house and we spent a few hours with our buddy Kaveh, drinking and playing dominos, before taking off to meet with Chaz in Santa Monica for the caravan journey to the campground.
The roads were pretty empty, it being well after 1 am by the time we left, so it didn’t take too long to get there. As soon as we got deep into the drive along the 14, light pollution from LA mostly died out and the stars came out in full effect. It was an impressive sight, with the Milky Way quite easy to distinguish. I guess it helped that I was wearing my contacts too.
We arrived at the campground after quite a long drive down a very straight street that seemed to be out in the middle of nowhere (but that’s just how Lancaster looks at night), and I couldn’t help but think that we were lost. Finally, we spotted the campground entrance and slowly rolled down the dusty dirt road, finding the place evidently completely deserted. I was blown away by the number of stars that I could see, and did my best to capture it on camera (but it didn’t really work).
I slept on the ground sans-tent, as I’m prone to do as long as sap-bearing trees aren’t around, and woke up early the next morning because of it. I wasn’t upset though, since directly in front of me was one of the brightest, yet deepest blue skies that I’ve ever witnessed. It was absolutely enthralling, one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever witnessed. I grabbed my camera gear and set off on the trail to take some photos since the angle of the sun was just about perfect for strong polarization.
I was blown away by the amount of color on the desert floor, with incredible yellow flowers virtually blanketing what I had expected to be barren desert sand. I think we had just missed the peak of wildflower season though, as I witnessed signs of other flowers that seemed to have just wilted. I’d like to return next year a little earlier in the Spring to see if we could catch the Joshua Trees in full-bloom.
Chaz and Sean were out and about by the time I returned to the site, sitting beneath the Ramada and eating breakfast. I cooked up a quick omellete and discovered an entire bottle of Belvedere (that we didn’t realize we had) in the trunk while searching for plates. It was 9am when we started drinking; for the record, Belvedere and Hi-C’s Orange Blast makes a pretty damn good combination!
We got out the dominos and began what would become quite an epic battle that lasted throughout the rest of the afternoon, with short breaks for Beer Pong and Naps. Most of the rest of the day is pretty much a blur for me, though I’m not surprised since we finished the entire bottle of Belvedere between just Sean and myself. At some point I managed to spill a large amount of my V8 & Vodka (perhaps subconsciously on purpose since it was disgusting) all over my leg.
Late in the afternoon Chaz and I went for a walk along the trail, hoping to find some Desert Tortoises and Golden Eagles (both reputed to live in the area), but without having any luck. I was having trouble walking because it was hot as hell out and I was starting to feel hung-over, so I sat down in the shade of the largest Joshua Tree in the area and took myself a micro-nap that was more like a deep meditation. I felt like the tree was absorbing all my uncomfortable feelings and thoughts, leaving me clear-minded and stone cold sober by the time Chaz caught up to me.
I wanted to head all the way out up and into Saddleback Butte itself, but the sun was rapidly setting and I hadn’t brought any light sources along so I was forced to turn back. We played some more dominoes, then laid down for bed once it was dark enough to see the stars. Again, I was blown away by the incredible clarity of the stars and Milky Way, but I was too exhausted to try out some more night-shots and soon fell asleep.
The next morning I was up early again thanks to the blazing early sun, and we decided to pack up early and head home in an attempt to beat the heat. I had been planning on doing the entire loop trail hike, but it warmed up so quickly that it seemed like a bad idea.
All three of us were famished, so we stopped by a Mexican Grocery Store (I forget it’s name) that no one else thought would prove fruitful, even though it had a sign clearly reading “Tacqueria”. I wish I could remember the name of this place, because it was the best goddamned grocery store that I’ve ever been to! I got a strawberry smoothie, a fully loaded quesadilla, and Mexican-style eggs (scrambled eggs with veggies) for under $10! On the way out Sean spotted some straw hats for just $6! We each picked one up since they were so cheap.
The drive home was quick and painless, involving a quick stop at an incredible placed called Vasquez Rocks County Park. The best thing about Saddleback Butte State Park campground, other than it’s desert beauty, is that no one seems to care that it exists!
We were the only people on site (other than the campground hosts) pretty much the entire time that we were there. If you’re into the solitary desert scene, gorgeous views of the night sky, and exploring way out in the middle of nowhere, then this Saddleback Butte should be high-up on your list of places to see.