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Looking to do something outdoors that is a little less hardcore than camping, but still outdoors? Have you ever tried car camping? If you haven’t then I highly recommend you try it because I think you are going to love it!

If you live in San Diego or plan to visit then I have the perfect car camping adventure for you off of Sunrise Highway San Diego located in Cleveland National Forest. My husband and I headed out to the sunrise highway for a quick mini-adventure.

We had a lot to do that weekend, so we made it a quick 24hr roadtrip! We packed up the car (including out adventure kitten Moko), grabbed some pizza and La croix and headed out for the night to enjoy the sunset and the sunrise.

Heading to sunrise highway in San Diego

This article will give you all the details on what you need to know to go car camping off sunrise highway San Diego. 


Sunrise Highway is a long and windy road that runs through Laguna Mountains which are east of San Diego city. 

From the city of San Diego you are going to head out on the I-8 east for about one hour. You will eventually reach an exit called Sunrise Highway. Take this exit. Turn left off the exit and begin your windy drive up the mountains for about 30 minutes until you reach Kwaaymii Point Road. 

San Diego sunrise views

Turn right onto Kwaaymii Point Road and head down the little road until it dead ends. This is where you will be spending your night. Be careful to not miss this road as it is easy to miss!


Sunrise Highway is a very scenic drive. Along your route, you will see large pine trees, sagebrush, beautiful flowers in the springtime, cows grazing and maybe even some deer!

The mountains range you drive through goes from an elevation of 4000 ft to 6000 ft. Sunrise Highway road is very popular for bicyclists so be cautious when driving the windy roads. 

San Diego sunset views from sunrise highway in Laguna Mountains

This highway was originally built in the 1920s but has since been updated in the 1970s. It was built into the side of the mountain overlooking Pine Valley to the west. There were two major rebuilds near Wooded Hill and Kwaaymii Point. These areas used to cause lots of problems with rock slides and snow slides, but they have now been fixed. 

Make sure to fill up with gas before exiting the I-8 east as there is no gas along sunrise highway San Diego.


Kwaaymii point sits at around 6000 ft elevation and offers some breath-taking views. Honestly, there were times I thought I was back in Kauai at times, that’s how pretty it was. 

Insider’s Tip: I highly recommend going in the spring after it has rained. The hills and mountains are all green and it makes for some stunning photos. 

You can park anywhere along this little road and begin to make yourself feel at home. Kwaaymii point is a popular spot for hangliders, but also a very dangerous place. Once you arrive at the end of the road you will see lots of memorials sites for those who have passed while hangliding. 

Pacific Crest trail Mt. Laguna

It makes for a great spot to hanglide because of how windy it gets, so with that being said bring a beanie and some warm clothes.

Personal experience: we visited Sunrise Highway San Diego in May and arrived around 630pm. It was freezing cold at the top and extremely windy. Pack warm! 

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    We spent the night here. Sunset is beautiful from this location as well as sunrise. If it is a clear day the sky will light up with beautiful pink and purple colors during sunset. Then in the morning, the sun will rise right over the mountains. 

    Check out this article for some of the best road trip songs!

    Make sure to back your car in, so that you can watch the sunrise from the warmth of your car. After you watch the sunrise, you can enjoy a short or long hike directly from Kwaaymii point. 


    Fun fact! This is actually a short segment of the Pacific Crest Trail. So, if you are looking to say you have hiked part of the PCT this could be your chance! 

    There are a lot of options to hike to Kwaaymii point. 

    You can either do the Storm Canyon Trail to Kwaaymii point which is 5.6 miles.

    Garnet Peak to Kwaaymii Point which is a 5 miles round trip.  

    Or you can head out on a short hike directly from Kwaaymii point.  

    Car camping with a cat

    The trail follows a wide ledge that was hacked out of the near cliff that was once part of the original Sunrise Highway. The ledge drops several thousand feet to the Anza-Borrego Desert below.

    This trail is one of the most spectacular places to view the transition from mountains to desert. It is also a popular place for trail runners and for hang gliding.


    There is so much that could be done and seen when driving along the beautiful scenic route in Cleveland National Forest. There are tons of hiking options, lots of beautiful lookouts and some gorgeous spots to watch the sunset and the sunrise. 

    Part of the Pacific Crest trail runs through the Laguna Mountains, so if you are looking to do more than some car camping then you may want to look into backpacking. 

    Make sure to check this website prior to visiting the area. Check for trail closures (especially in the winter as it snows here) and check if you need a permit for the area you are heading to. 

    Here are some must-do hikes within Cleveland National Forest along the sunrise highway:

    Garnet Peak:: 1.2 Miles 

    Pine Mountain Trail 2.3 Miles

    Big Laguna Trail: 10 miles 

    Sunset Trail: 4.6 Miles 


    Like I said previously, car camping is the perfect type of adventure for anyone really, but especially for those who don’t want to go all out camping. 

    Car camping can be a great intro to camping as well; however, whether or not you are a beginner at camping or an experienced camper every camper can enjoy car camping!

    Car camping makes for a great way to travel and creates for a budget-friendly trip! 

    In this article, I am going to give you specifics on car camping at sunrise highway San Diego; however, you can read more here for a complete guide and tips on how to car camp.

    Sunrise views in Cleveland National Forest

    -The only option for food along sunrise highway is from the General Store located inside Laguna Mountain Lodge, so I recommend you bring your dinner along with you as well as some food for breakfast while you watch the sunrise.

    We personally bought a pizza along our drive and ate it while watching the sunset. For breakfast, we brought our jet boiler and some eggs along with bread and avocado. 

    A lot of people ask if it is safe to camp in your car. Yes! Especially here! Always remember to lock your doors at night though and if you feel unsafe then move to a different spot. Also, make sure to tell friends and family where you are going.


    If you are camping close to home then I honestly say pack more! The more the merrier! You never know how cold it is going to get, so might as well pack warm and pack a lot! 

    So, what do you need? Below are the gear items I would recommend for sleeping/camping in your car. 


    Personally we just grabbed a bunch of blankets from our house, but I know some of you may not have tons of extra blankets lying around. Here are some of my favorite sleeping bags that I would highly recommend. 

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    Depending on what the weather is going to be like you can pack a lightweight sleeping bag or a heavy-duty down sleeping bag. Or you can invest in a car specific sleeping bag. 

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    Again, we ended up just bringing the pillows that were on our beds, but if you are going for a long adventure and/or don’t have much room, then a camping pillow is a great option. 


    I don’t know about you, but the back of my car is not comfy at all; therefore we place sleeping pads down in the back of our car for comfort. If you are going camping with someone maybe consider a double-sized sleeping pad for the back of your car.

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    I always like to bring a portable battery with me just incase my phone dies. And I always keep a medical kit in the back of my car for any emergencies. Make sure to pack a bag for hiking incase you adventure out, a warm beanie and warm jacket are a necessity as well.

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    Bringing a pet along?

    Here is what I have for my cat when we go camping. I bring her hiking backpack, her litter box, a clicker, and of course, treats.

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    Looking to make your car feel a little more private? Check out this simple way to make curtains for your car windows.


    Alrighty! There you have it! A detailed guide on how to car camp in San Diego, CA. Fun back story! I posted a video about this weekend on my Tik Tok and it blew up! So, if yo head here I ask that you keep it clean and leave no trace!

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    1. This is awesome! I love sunrise highway and Mt. Laguna!! Now I have even more ideas of where and how to explore it!!! Thanks!

    2. We’ve been talking about embracing car camping as a way to make road tripping easier. My husband and I are tent campers (so it’s not THAT much work when we reach a spot that we want to stay). Thank you for sharing your tips and tricks!

    3. I’m planning on going here soon! I saw your tik tok! I just have a question, you mentioned a camping permit, do you need that for the spot you car camped at?

    4. Hi! I saw this on tik tok and my boyfriend and I are planning on going soon. Do you think it is a safe area for young adults? Are there usually other people camping there too? Thanks!

      1. Yes! Definitely safe for young adults. There were quite a few young adults there when I was there. There was three other cars camping while I was there! Have fun 🙂

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