More popular, more expansive, and better shaded than its sister site, Little Pine, this first-come, first-served campsite is favored over its counterpoint for sweeping views and nightly front-row seats to fantastic sunsets.
Remarkably close to cacophonous Los Angeles, it takes around an hour to weaving through the rugged San Gabriel Mountains and reach the site. Perched at 5,300 feet, it gets a surprising amount of snow in the wintertime, forcing it to be closed from mid-November to mid-April. More often than not, many are begrudgingly rerouted to Little Pine down the road.
The views from Manzanita unfold over the Big Tujunga Canyon. Long ago, cattle farmers arrived to the west in natural congruence with horse thieves. From Los Angeles, bandidos made their living off of stealing cattle and evading capture by disappearing into the rugged, hard-to-access San Gabriel Mountains. Many of these denizens found haven in the Big Tujunga and its surrounding canyons, and they would use some of the perches around Chilao as a lookout.
The river that runs through the Big Tujunga is a major tributary of the Los Angeles River that stitches together the San Gabriel Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, offering the big-city dwellers a link to a natural wooden environment. Because of its relative inaccessibility by humans and its natural wooden riparian ecosystem, it is an important and essential haven for wildlife and a habitat for a number of sensitive animal species.
Widely broadcasted across the campground are signs to be cautious of bear activity, but wildlife spotted in and around the site include bobcats, coyotes, mule deer, badgers, mountain lion, weasel, and grey fox. None of these animals pose a threat to campers who diligently and safely store their food and travel in pairs.
For even the dustiest of souls, experiencing the expansive and brilliant star-filled night sky is like hitting the refresh button, and it is a welcome reprieve from the city's light pollution.