Unplugging 101: Autumn Camping In The Cuyama Badlands

It's no secret that spending time in the outdoors is good for the mind, body, and soul. So why does the end of summer and bikini weather signal an outdoors hiatus for the majority of people? It boggles our collective minds. Fall is a kind of strange––but beautiful––twilight zone marking the sweet parting of warm sandy beaches and the beginning of the holidays. And cold weather coupled with the end-of-year homestretch tends to keep most people locked up inside.

But we're not most people, and we don't keep secrets (not very well anyway). We're sharing our summary of a recent trek north of Los Angeles, where we went, 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 far enough that you've unplugged from society and forget about the hustle and grind.

Enter: Songdog Ranch in the Cuyama Badlands. If you haven't heard of it, Songdog Ranch is a very 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 and a down-to-earth businessman with tons of land to share. We enjoyed chatting with him for over an hour––he had great stories about the history of his particular piece of land and his obsession with living selectively around a small number of people. This point was clear when he stated "We don't move out here because we love people." 

Sitting at about 2,000 feet elevation with gorgeous desert vistas, you wonder why you don’t get away more often. The campsites sit 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 30's at the coldest point at 5 am. For this time of year, that's about as good as it gets. With the right gear, however, it's definitely doable.

The sites are far enough apart and offer privacy but not entirely closed off. They're spread out across a few tiny hills, so you're not directly adjacent to neighbors. They are easily large enough to hold a few tents for group trips.

There's running water for dish cleanup, and a squeaky clean bathroom (outhouse) a few minutes walk from the site. There's a pergola covering a picnic table for shade, and even a few rustic foldable chairs. 

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, so if you want to forget about your phone for the duration of the trip I suggest you lock it up in the glove compartment.

A huge bonus: an adorable local ranch dog Gypsy who had no trouble making a temporary home next to our tent and kept us company for most of the trip. 

Pro tip 2: Plenty of hot liquids. We made a big pot of soup and packed various teas and a jet boil (a small device that boils water in 30 seconds). Insulated water bottles and tumblers are a must.

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 functioning. These are great for hopping around between outfit changes and other chores without buckling down to lace up your boots every time.

Pro tip 4: Bring a mummy sleeping bag. This kind of sleeping bag wraps you like a cocoon, zips up all the way if you choose to, and keeps heat trapped in the bag so you can keep warm all night no matter which position you sleep in.

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. 

Just two hours from Los Angeles, this was the perfect spot that gave 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, where did I put my water bottle?


p.s. have you joined our newsletter yet? Subscribe to get occasional updates with green-living tips, stories from people who inspire us, special promos and more. It's forever free, and we only send good stuff. Promise. 

You can also follow along on Instagram: @kablo_official