What better way is there to pique a child's interest in nature than to introduce him or her to a shallow, lazily flowing river full of tadpoles and frogs? At Indian Flats Campground, you can get to the river in a matter of minutes by walking and also make use of the usual conveniences of developed campgrounds -- such as water, rest rooms (no showers, though), and fire rings -- that are nice during an overnight campout with the kids.
No reservations are taken at Indian Flats, and sites may fill up rather quickly on summer weekends. You can try arriving early on a Friday afternoon or come up on a weekday. The 17 sites accommodate cars and recreational vehicles up to 15 feet in length. If you park your vehicle here for day use, you'll need to display a National Forest Adventure Pass. Call Cleveland National Forest, Palomar Ranger District, 760-788-0250, for more information.
From Warner Springs, the nearest town, drive 1.6 miles west on Highway 79 to the narrow and thinly paved Indian Flats Road (a.k.a. Lost Valley Road), on the right. Follow this winding road 6.5 miles north to the campground entrance.
Indian Flats lies in the chaparral vegetation belt at 3600 feet elevation, just below slopes speckled with drought-resistant Coulter pines. Live oaks provide shade at the campground, and plenty of picturesque granitic rock formations poke up on the neighboring hillsides.
From the far (west) end of the campground, you can head downhill on foot over rock slabs and decomposed granite to the bank of the East Fork of the San Luis Rey River. By turning upstream, you'll very quickly reach a spot where the stream twists and turns through an obstacle course of boulders. This branch of the river doesn't have much drainage upstream and dries up fairly quickly during the late summer drought, so the sooner you go this season, the better your visit will be.