Unplugging 101: Autumn Camping In The Cuyama Badlands

It's no secret that the outdoors is good for the mind, body and soul. So why does the end of summer signal an outdoors hiatus for most people, especially camping?  Fall is a strange kind of twilight zone between summer and the holidays where cold weather and the end-of-year homestretch discourages most people from getting outside.

But we're not most people – and we don't keep secrets (not very well anyway). Here's a summary of our recent trek north of Los Angeles, and tips on how to make autumn weather camping enjoyable. 

In desperate need of some R&R, we set out to find the perfect location for a fall camp sojourn close enough to LA that would take little time and effort to get to, but with the feeling that you've dropped out of society for a bit, a.k.a unplugged.

Enter: Cuyama Badlands, at Songdog Ranch. If you haven't heard of it, Songdog Ranch is a very cozy rustic campground in the middle of the Cuyama Valley located on the northern end of the Los Padres National Forest. The 160-acre property is owned and operated by Jim, an ex-fireman from Santa Barbara, a down-to-earth businessman, and a very nice host. We enjoyed chatting with him for over an hour - he had great stories about the property and its history (crazy parties and cookouts, that were eventually replaced with the campsites).

Sitting at about 2,000 feet elevation with gorgeous desert vistas, it will make you wonder why you don’t get away more often. The campsites are atop a large mesa facing west, the sites overlook a valley dotted with agriculture fields and desert hills that create a nice frame for sunsets. The relatively low elevation helped keep the temperature at a reasonable high of 70 and low of 30 around 5 am. For this time of year, that's about as good as it gets. With the right gear, it's definitely doable.

The sites are far apart and offer some privacy. They're spread out across a few tiny hills, so you're not butted-up next to neighbors. They are large enough to hold a few tents easily.

It gets better. There's running water for dish cleanup, AND a super clean bathroom (outhouse) a few minutes walk from the site. There's a pergola covering a picnic table for shade, and well, rustic cuteness. It doesn't hurt as a backdrop for awesome photos.

Sunset around a campfire and chairs

Pro tip 1: We're huge proponents of investing in the proper gear, including down jackets, mummy down sleeping bags and other insulated but functional accessories that make it easy to enjoy 30 degree nights. With a basic thermal set, down jacket and wool socks you won't feel a thing. Even when you're away from the fire.

Warning: the campsite does have wifi signal within range, but it was pretty easy for us to lock up and forget about our phones for the duration of the trip. 

A huge bonus was the adorable local ranch dog Gypsy, who made a temporary home next to our tent and kept us company for our entire trip. The occasional treat helped sway her.

Petting a dog at campground

Pro tip 2: hot liquids really soothe your soul when it's cold out. We made a big pot of soup and packed various teas + a jet boil (boils water in 30 seconds). 

There's also tons to do and see in the area. There's a local hike you can do that takes you up to a peak where you'll brush past endless aisles of Buckwheat, pinion pine, juniper/oak and other chapparal. Not too far off is the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge where you can view Condors and other birds. 

Pro tip 3: Take some Birkenstocks or slides to slip on with wool socks for late night bathroom breaks, to keep your toes toasty and well, functioning. These are great for hopping around between outfit changes and other chores without buckling down to lace up your boots every time.

Just two hours from Los Angeles, this was the perfect location, giving us a much-needed respite from city life, and ample space to spread out with a cot, some good food and the company of great friends.

Now back to our holiday prep and Thanksgiving recovery. Where did I put my water bottle?


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You can also follow along on Instagram: @kablo_official