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Why just wonder where that road leads to?
Take the long way home to find out

UTE: With the last decade of capable utility vehicles coming to market - new all-wheel-drive sportwagons to luxurious, off-road camper vans, not to mention the old classics - locked and low, 4-wheel-drive lifted Jeeps, Cruisers, sport utility vehicles - you can find Californians out exploring all year long, any day of the week, in any type of weather. Get to know the real California landscape. Finally take that SUV off road & see what it can do. Or at least get dirt on the Subaru. Always remember to Tread Lightly, so we can continue to have access to OUR public lands.
Dirt Forest Roads
Graded dirt roads, forest service routes, scenic drives on backroads that lead to hiking trailheads, hidden Sequoia groves, unknown waterfalls, amazing views, decent fishing holes, and free, secluded campsites.
topo backroad maps

The best scenic drives in California are often so crowded with tourists, especially on that holiday weekend. You end up cursing the RV w/ senior driver in front, instead of taking in the beauty.

These scenic areas of California likely have small, narrow, unknown back highways. Some routes without a name, just a number. Some not paved. The best roads in California are dirt! Yep, that's cuz there's no traffic jams, no long signal lights & tons of natural beauty. No speeding tho. It's time to quiet the mind & take it all in. Every meadow, every deer sighting, the clouds, the breeze. Thousand of miles of California backroads are awaiting your vehicle. High clearance vehicles, 4x4s & all. Trails for every level.

DanaMite's extensive list of California Back Roads, most listed by Forest Service Road #

Total Escape can show you how to find the dirt roads that parrallel majestic views, popular highways, canyons, Sierra Nevada scenery & desert vistas. You can stop in the middle of the road to take your photo, if you wish. We recommend not stopping on a curve or blind corner. It's so quiet up here in the forest, with the occasional waterfall or creek trickling. You will not hear the tourist traffic out in these parts. Just the birds - and your own pulse. You'll be lucky NOT to see another car for hours.

Which brings me to your vehicle. Total Escape has a huge following rural campers, hard-core RVers and the off-road 4x4 dudes/dudettes. Total Escape is about nature, as much as the car that gets us out there. Way out there. Past the masses, beyond the village shops, past the factory outlet mall & behind the RV parks. Many of these back roads in California are somewhat maintained. Graded dirt, granite gravel, well eroded, even overgrown 2 track trails. Some possibly motorcycle or 4x4 only trails. Routes virtually unknown to the common man.

Best to have a high clearance vehicle (SUV, truck, jeep) to explore such dirt roads, but 4x4 is not required for most. (AWD vehicles do okay, if road conditions are not too soggy, snowy, rocky, muddy or steep). 4 wheel drive may be needed on certain snowy, icy or red dirt back roads; Best to always carry snow chains when traveling in mountain elevations higher than 5000' - even in the summer months. Sierra Nevada snow sits til July. And just as a reminder for the newbies, anything in NorCal is a gonna be wetter & snowier than SoCal.

dirt roads

back roads maps

  • Don't gotta 4x4?
    most roads are easily passable with 2WD, but you need to be able to judge your own vehicles capabilities
  • Frightened about getting lost?
    in proper light at home, learn to read a map (well), like a good book; Get GPS; Feel ultra confident w/ reading skies, path of the sun and stars
  • What's there to do out there?
    picnic, camp, fish creeks, hiking, mountain biking, off roading, frisbee, lay in a meadow, look at ladybugs, hear blue birds, see small frogs, star gaze, photography. Bring a hammock, relax or find a waterfall.
Forested, mountain backroads in higher altitudes can be muddy and/or snowy more than half the year. Be careful when approaching snow on a dirt road. Check the snow & mud depth. Use snow chains or 4 wheel drive if unsure. Snow cables do not have the traction needed for back road driving. Think first. or.... you may walk 3 miles to get a nearby Subaru (full of rockclimbers) to pull you out, or worse, you may hike longer up hill, just to get a cell signal (in the dark, freezing cold). Tow trucks, or local yokels, can charge big bucks (hundreds) to help YOU out of a bad predicament on a remote dirtroad, that is if you can find them or vice versa.

Total Escape is compiling a huge list of all local California tow truck drivers that are willing to go pull you outta a 'dirt road situation'. 4X4 Towing: If you know of a great local tow shop like that, tell them to submit their info here.

CALIFORNIA CREEK CROSSINGS are pretty common on dirt roads and mountain backroads. If you are lucky, there is a cute one lane bridge, but all too often not. Drive through flowing water, slow but steady and keep your foot on the gas pedal (so you will not suck water up your tailpipe).

Proceed foward with caution. There may be oncoming traffic, on the road ahead or hikers, horses, dirt bikes, ATVs nearby or in the stream. Trailhead junctions are popular spots and trails often insect at creek beds.

Anza Borrego
go slow dude!
NOT LIKE THE COMMERCIALS ON TV. Cute lil animals & delicate wildflowers live at water sources. Plus erosion of rock & soil is strong enough, without you adding to the process.
Miller Jeep Trail

California BackRoads There are plenty of dirt roads to be explored in California. Leading to such interest as: meadows, waterfalls, indian pictographs, mud caves, wind tunnels, great view points & most of all, seclusion. It's time to use that new Sport Utility Vehicle for what it's made for. But please respect the earth & the wildlife, stay on the trails & pick up any litter you find. Some of these roads can be accessed by normal passenger cars as well. It's a perfect way to really get away from the crowds.

lost coast roads
desert OHV routes sierra foothills mountain offroading urban 4x4 routes
Coast Desert Country Mtns City
bluffs over looking ocean & coastal foothills steep hills with rocks & flat sandy washes, scenic canyons oaks trees, stream crossing & foothills, beware of cattle in the road small roads that lead to lush dense forest, waterfalls & meadows suburban areas bordering cities, sometimes fire roads with locked gates

Driving Tips

Many backcountry roads can be accessed by passenger cars, but use wise judgment when entering unfamiliar territory. SUV or 4x4 may be required for some roads. Know your cars limits.

  • Most of these back roads are one lane & narrow. Be aware of on-coming traffic.
  • Pass slowly & cautiously.
  • Drive with lights on, even in the day time. You can see lights thru bushes easier than a dark vehicle.
  • If road seems to be worsening, chances are it will get a lot worse a few miles down. Pick a good spot to turn around when you are hestitant or unsure.
  • Try not to travel these roads at night, unless you are familiar with it. There are no markers & can be very dangerous.
  • A patch of snow on a dirt road in spring/summer may look harmless, but there is guaranteed thick mud underneath. Be weary of snow on dirt roads if you don't have a 4 wheel drive vehicle.
  • Try not to stop or even slow down in soft sandy washes. Chances are you will get stuck, unless you have 4 wheel drive & then it is sometimes still questionable.
  • Beginners should not speed on dirt roads, especially on long straight aways. Dips & slight bumps & turns can be dangerous at a high rate of speed. Vehicles handle a lot differently on dirt roads.
  • Down shift, instead of braking, around curves to control your grip.
  • Straddle a deep rut in the road. Placing tires on each side of the trench, to prevent unbalanced driving.
  • Go slowly over big dips in order to prevent bottoming out your vehicle.
  • Bring emergency gear when traveling on back roads: flashlight, shovel, matches, blankets, water, tow strap, cell phone

More on back road travel

A sign for '4x4 required' usually means difficult or bumpy terrain ahead. Know how to use your vehicle's limitations & if you are at all hestitant (maybe your SUV is only 2WD or AWD), take another look from outside of the vehicle. Come back at a later date with a 4x4 pal for further exploration.

National Forest USDA maps show dirt roads, lakes, creeks & campgrounds; Benchmark California Atlas is a great overview for the entire state & Tom Harrison makes waterproof back roads maps for popular California destinations.

Safety off-road

Soft Sand: Don't stop in soft sand. Even 4WD vehicles can get stuck. Bring a shovel, old lumber pieces or an old blanket or tarp to help get out of super soft sandy spots. Or better yet, another vehicle with a tow strap.

Fire Danger: Your catalytic converter can cause a wildfire if you are parked ontop of dry brush for more than a few seconds. Be cautious as to where you pull over & pick a clear spot without weeds or dry wildflowers.

Recent Rains: Dirt roads conditions can change with each season, as the earth's erosion continues. If the road quality is in question, walk the worst parts first to check it out and be sure. Watch for deep gullies and boulders in the road way. Snow patches can be decieving. There may be one foot of deep mud under that 6 inches of old icy hard snow. Use 4WD - or you could end up walking miles for help.

Cell Phone Coverage: Remote areas of California and most forest back roads have NO SIGNAL (digital or analog). If you do find signals, they may be weak. Standing still helps the connection if you find one. CB and ham radios are popular offroad accessories.

on a one lane dirt road

Passing on steep hills - the driver with the nearest pull out should reverse to that spot. But if no pull outs are in sight...

When two vehicles meet on a steep road where neither can pass, the vehicle facing downhill must back up until the vehicle going uphill can pass. (The driver facing downhill has the greater amount of control when in reverse, cuz they don't have the gravity to deal with)

Please respect the private lands along these roads & help keep the cattle in their place. Close the gate along the backroads!

remember when traveling w/ a group or caravan, communication is key

Mojave Desert Maps
Forest Service Signs &
Back Road Wilderness Signage

NOTE: High Clearance could be required on any dirt road. 2WD vs. AWD vs. 4X4 - know the difference. Know your vehicles capabilties, bring another rig along when possible & always have a tow strap and a few good maps.

NFS National Forest route signs:

    posted at road entrances & maybe at dirt road intersections
    (if you're lucky)
white numbers on brown background
the route numbers are found on forest maps & topo maps & on Total Escape's newest California back roads mega list

Maintained Roads:

  • horizontal signs for roads kept up for passenger cars
  • pavement, gravel, dirt (or a combination of surfaces)

Non-Maintained Roads:

  • minimal up keep, usually bumpy dirt roads
  • vertical signs for high clearance vehicles
  • not maintained for passenger cars

See DanaMite's favorite forest service roads in California by number!

back roads maps

There are plenty of dirt roads to be explored in California. Leading to such scenic interest as meadows, waterfalls, indian pictographs, great view points & most of all, seclusion. It's time to use that new Sport Utility Vehicle for what it's made for & a perfect way to really get away from the crowds. Most of these are located in National Forest or BLM land. Read all entrance signs & remember, 'private roads' are most likely no entry. Do not even think of taking a road marked 'closed'.

National Forest Service Maps are extremely helpful when venturing off pavement to dirt roads. Most really good primitive camping areas are located on these dirt side roads. Get off the beaten path & find that perfect meadow, waterfall or creek side spot.

Great Areas with Dirt Roads in California

Find Southern California Backroads

back roads maps

Sierra Nevada & California Desert Backroads

region name general area nearby town
Black Canyon BLM north of I-15, west of Barstow Barstow CA
Canebrake / Chimney Pk north off Hwy 178 Kernville CA
El Dorado National Forest areas east of Historic Gold Country Placerville CA
Hollister Hills OHV oak foothills Central Valley Hollister CA
Inyo National Forest Eastern Sierra off Hwy. 395 Bishop CA
Los Padres NF Coast regions around Nacimiento Rd Big Sur CA
Mojave National Preserve between I-15 & I-40, near Essex Barstow CA
Plumas National Forest anywhere off of Hwy. 70 Quincy CA
Sequoia National Forest Hwy.190, Western Divide Hwy. & SM99 Ponderosa CA
Sierra National Forest Hwy 168 near Shaver Lake Lakeshore CA
Stanislaus National Forest Hwy. 108/Beardsly Lake, E Gold Co Sonora CA
Tahoe National Forest I-80 & all around the vicinity  Truckee CA
Toiyabe National Forest Eastern Sierra off Hwy. 395 Bridgeport CA

4x4 routes, dirt roads, california back roads, 4 wheel drive trails, baja backroads, dirt trails 4WD

Northern California Backroads

region name general area nearby town
Klamath National Forest W of Interstate 5, west of Mt. Shasta Yreka CA
Mendocino National Forest W of Interstate 5, above Clear Lake Ukiah CA
Modoc National Forest NE California, N Hwy. 395 Alturas CA
Six Rivers National Forest E of north coast, Hwy.36, 299 & 96 Eureka CA
Shasta Trinity National Forest W of Shasta Lake & Interstate 5 Dunsmuir CA

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Slumberjack Trail Tent

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Slumberjack Trail Tent Footprint

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Slumberjack Trail Tent 2


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