This is a major river in the Sierra Nevada landscape, as well as in the Gold Rush history of California. Many mining camps, railways, old abandon mines, dirt roads, hiking trails, mountain biking routes, waterfalls and even ancient artifacts can be found on the back roads. The native tribes once heavily populated these river canyons since the location is ideal, half way between the big mountains and the sunny warm valley.
North fork of American River drains most of the Donner Pass region, all along Interstate 80. Indian Creek is a feeder stream coming from Sugar Pine Reservoir. No large reservoirs exist along this American North Fork, although there is a wide section of the river, above Auburn, called the North Fork Lake.
Middle fork of American River comes down from the Granite Cheif Wilderness, next to Lake Tahoe; Foresthill (3225′ elev) is a small mountain community w/ a ranger station; French Meadows Reservoir is way back in there, toward the highest peaks @ 9000′ elevation.
South fork of American River parallels the State Highway 50, which connects Placerville to Lake Tahoe via the Kyburz Pass. Union Valley Reservoir and Ice House Reservoir make up this part of the drainage for abundant snow melt.
The north and middle flows of this river join in Auburn, near the freway @ I-80. The south fork joins the rest downhill in the Central Valley, at Folsom Lake, NW of Sacramento, CA
This is a rapid moving river, with serious force. Not to be taken lightly. Wear life vest and stay alive; Don’t swim in dangerous conditions and spare your life!
Go whitewater river rafting with experienced leaders, who offer professional guide rafting tours. Always wear a life vest in the water. Toying around with an inflatable cheap raft on a big river, can leads to all kinds of trouble.
James W. Marshall discovered gold in January of 1848 on the South Fork of the American River
Numerous feeder creeks and rivers drain into American River:
Silver Creek (flows to south fork)
Silver Fork of the American River (flows to north fork)
Auburn Lodging near the American River with numerous unique overnight options closeby. Colfax, the rail-town up the interstate, also has small motels and inns, most are freeway close. Foresthill is a residential area near the Middle Fork of the American River. Placerville, on the South Fork has more hotel choices. See more on Historic Gold Country
In California the majority of the population live in urban (city) areas, while just a small percentage live in rural areas. California’s rural population is not highly concentrated, but distributed throughout many of the 58 counties.
The California counties listed below may have growing populations, yet most still have available land for small farms, orchards and livestock. Home prices will be higher in areas in close proximity to cities. When planning to relocate outside of a city, abundant water should be a top priority. Wells can dry up during drought years, so check this 2015 map for prior affected regions.
More California Counties w/ Rural Residential Areas:
Rural areas can still be found in Southern California, in places like East County San Diego and maybe Riverside County, but the cost of real estate is high in many parts of the state and generally unaffordable.
Anything near the coast is way more expensive than sunny, hot inland locations, with desert lands being the least expensive. Food grows well in sunshine and heat, just make sure you have lots of water. Be prepared to build shade structures.
Total Escape is here to show you the rest of the state.
purples are rural oranges semi-rural
RELOCATING TO RURAL COUNTRY
Many older homes may be in dire need of complete renovation, so be ready to work, or hire out to have it done. Moldy foundations, collapsing basements, leaky roofs, retaining walls. Home inspection should be learned (in advance) of home ownership.
Rural ranches and mountain homes may be located on dirt roads. Snow and rain make unpaved access messy or impossible, so vehicle choice (4×4) could be an issue when relocating to wilder lands.
Larger properties could be totally undeveloped. Land excavation is quite expensive, so you might need to consider buying your own earth moving machine.
Looking for a rural property with a well and/or a creek will ensure a good water source for years to come, but only if you maintain the system. Upgrades may be needed and water filters are always a reoccurring cost. Water testing is recommended for your home. Well tests are usually offered by local well companies. To drill a new well on raw land, expect to pay thousands of dollars. Especially if no road or drive way exists.
WILD FIRESin California
Wildfire is a common threat in rural areas, due to the amount of vegetation and the remote location. Preparation (years in advance), can go a long way to saving your structures from catching fire.
Harden your home to stand alone, without any expectations of firefighters coming to fight the fire or save your house.
Be physically fit, disciplined and capable of ‘brush clearance’ on your own land, every year. What used to be a 30 foot perimeter clearance around structures, has turned into a 100 foot requirement.
But with recent erratic fire seasons, more aggressive and lasting longer – authorities are now considering a 300 foot clearance mandatory, allowing for tree removal well into neighboring properties.
Be prepared to pay for tree removal and brush clearance, if you cannot do it yourself. Your life and property LITERALLY rely on proper brush clearance around your home.
TREE REMOVAL + BRUSH CLEARING
Since many wildland fires are spread with the dramatic wind events, originating from the east, special consideration should be paid to the east side of buildings.
Geography plays a big part on this. Sometimes winds come from the northeast. Know the unique landscape, hazard potentials and the pattern of weather for the region you reside in.
California has it’s own share of weather related crises’ – from seasonal flooding to landslides, rock slides to avalanches, heatwaves to snow storms, winds events (up to 70 mph) and of course, dry lightning strikes with abundant wild land fires.
Too cold, too hot, too much snow. Research historical weather records for any place you plan to live, and expect those normals to change (maybe drastically) with future predictions.
Over the decades, Total Escape has found the NWS, which is the National Weather Service, forecasts to be more accurate than most of the other weather related web sites. Be ready for any type of weather, from serious downpours to droughts.
California has extreme elevation, with below-sea-level desert basins to the tallest granite, mountain peaks. It is much easier to grow food crops at lower elevations in California, than in the mountains or foothills. Livestock and apple & citrus orchards prefer the sunny mountain foothills, while rice and grains will typically grow only in the low lands. Know what terrain is best for the type of farm or homestead you want to create. Snow is possible, but not very common, down to 1000′ elevation. Snow depth can be an issue for any type of year-round growing above 4000′ elevation.
DOWN THE HILL
Shopping and groceries could be many miles away, so you’ll need to see how far you are willing to drive (and how often) for food staples. Hardware stores, big box stores and most conveniences of city life are now hours away.
As Americans, our ancestors come from the natives, the rebels, the adventurers – and the dreamers, many of who migrated westward to create a better life.
Now is a time that we could re-create ourselves, as a nation – and individually.
During the Great Depression of 1930’s – nearly half the US population worked in agriculture – and most households had a backyard vegetable garden. That lifestyle continued through the 1950’s, but then commercialism and pesticides took over our food; and we became less interested in food production over the decades.
Today, farm workers have decreased to less than 10% of our population. Now we rely on corporations to feed us. If you yearn for a new life – outdoors, out in the country, with less city, less noise and more nature – this site can help you find a new rural location to explore, even in Crowded California.
Total Escape has been focusing on rural California since 1996
Virginia City Nevada Mines, Mining Camp, Ghost Town Storey County, Nevada
South of Reno, NV
NE of Carson City @ US 395
Virginia City Historic District
established 1859 The Comstock Lode
elevation: 6200′ population: 1000
Historic mining district with restored downtown; several mining camps, which are now residential communities. The 1859 mining boom of the Comstock Lode turned Virginia City into the most important industrial city between Denver and San Francisco. At its peak, this location had approximately 25,000 residents.
snow is common in winter
Ghost towns, mining camps and remote, almost abandon locations – always intrigue. Old historic towns that have too much commercialized backing are a big turn off. Any popular tourist mecca, I typically avoid.
Over the decades traveling the West coast, I had heard numerous stories about the legendary Virginia City, in the high desert mining hills of Nevada. The real, authentic, boomtown of silver & gold mining; East of Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada. One day, maybe. Sounds larger than life. Bet it is crowded. Twenty years go by.
Then low and behold, I found myself in the Eastern Sierra – trying to kill time, avoiding the fire smoke in California. Wildfire season was raging and as the weeks progressed, I could no longer find a smoke-free spot to camp. I finally ended up at a small, cute lodge in a desert mining district – Virginia City.
Wild horses graze in the backyard, the main street scene was only a few blocks away, and I had a refrigerator and an air conditioner in my room. I was set! After a long shower and a change of clothes, I hit the trail. Or shall I say sidewalk.
Walking to town I immediately noticed that the entire townsite is built on a steep, dirt, mountain side. Terraced, high desert hills with minimal trees, and miles of mining tunnels located underneath the paved streets.
Numerous shops and restaurants line the main drag, which sit precipitously on a slope of Mount Davidson. Tourists stroll the sidewalks, eat frozen treats and kettle corn. Loud motorcycle engines reverb off the historic buildings and music can be heard on each passing block.
Nevada Highway 341 is the main street, also known as “C” Street, and it runs the length of town and has most of the sidewalk businesses. Parallel side streets – either up hill (labeled A Street, B St) – or down hill (D St, E, F, G, H) span the arid mountain terrain. Residential homes (some historic) surround this historic village.
Nevada Highway 342 is the main (but steep) paved route thru the communities to the south of town. Occidental Grade is Hwy 341, which bypasses the mining camps (to the east side) and is the longer, official ‘truck route’ and preferred RV entrance to VC.
Walk the whole town, twice, and get a work out hiking the steep hills.
Motorcycle rides, classic car shows, old west, cowboy tourists type of destination. Wooden sidewalks, historic buildings, great desert views. The town is home to Victorian buildings built during the 19th-century mining boom. Annual events and parades celebrate the history of this unique locale.
party town: this desert destination is well known for its drinking, local events and celebratory nature, as well as the historic interest
Several hotels and one RV campground cater to overnight travelers. But beware, there is no real grocery store or public laundromat in town. No big chain hotels, coffee shops, nor chain restaurants.
Only one gas station – on the north end of town.
Amazing museums, plenty of saloons, antique stores, numerous curiosity shops, many restaurants, plus an authentic 1800’s cemetery. Historic, classic and not too busy for mid week, but weekends are typically crowded.
After the sun sets, the families go home and a different gang comes in for dinner and drinks. Live music – perhaps. Drinking establishments are usually open late here, so know that this small town can get rowdy at night. Sheriff Station is in the center of town!
Kings River California Sierra Nevada Kings Canyon National Park
Kings River is the longest river in the Sierra Nevada mountains, spanning a 70+ miles of terrain from edge of the Eastern Sierra to the western Sierra foothill reservoirs, and down to the agricultural San Joaquin Valley @ Fresno, CA
Classification/Mileage: Wild — 65.5 miles
Recreational — 15.5 miles
Total — 81.0 miles
The 272-mile long Kings River drops sharply in elevation from its headwaters high in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range on its way to the Central Valley, flowing just south-east of Fresno. The dramatic descent generates electric power for dams and the river also helps irrigate cropland and provides fresh water to Central Valley communities.
Sierra Nevada / Central California
Kings is the mighty river of the whole Sierra Nevada mountain range. Deep granite gorge, wild and dangerous, longest running river with abundant waterfalls, tributaries and runs along side a giant cavern too. The giant, rocky canyon for this big river is so impressive, that the created a National Park around it. Hence the name, Kings Canyon!
The snowmelt starts way up in the high elevation backcountry near the tiny alpine lakes at Kearsarge Pass and the tallest peaks of Mount Whitney. The Kings River passes thru Kings Canyon National Park and spills out into the large Pine Flat Reservoir, on the westen edge of the wilderness. The river continues down to the great California Central Valley to sloughs & irrigation canals for the big agriculture crops, which feed the world.
Middle Fork begins at the alpine levels near
Helen Lake the Pacific Crest Trail
Meadows near Dusy Basin Trail junction
Ranger Station (backcountry)
Blue Canyon (4600′ elev)
Gorge of Despiar
>> JCT w/ South Fork <<<<
Highway 180 has a paved viewpoint overlook for this impressive, deep granite gorge with rivers intersecting. At this confluence of the Middle & South fork, we pick up with notable spots heading west.
Garlic Meadow Creek
Kings River NRT
Fox Canyon 1500′ elev
Mill Flat Creek
Trimmer Springs Road
Mill Flat Campground
The Kaweah River is fed from snow melt in the southern Sequoia National Park & Golden Trout Wilderness . Since this location is the Southern Sierra Nevada mountains, where drought is more apparent, expect this river to be smaller than most of the other Sierra rivers.
Above the town of Three Rivers, the mighty Mineral King Road peels off Highway 190 and winds its way up 25 miles – deep into the southern section of Sequoia National Park. This is a dead end canyon and it is so gorgeous – you’ll want to spend the whole weekend. The road is long, narrow, curvy and takes hours to drive one way. The route closes for winter snow and stays gated for more than half the year.
Don’t plan on doing Mineral King (as a day trip) in addition to the main attractions of Sequoia groves in Sequoia National Park, unless of course, you have a whole week to burn. Mineral King is a remote, high elevation valley that is a favorite hikers paradise, with backpackers trailheads leading into Golden Trout Wilderness. Climb to upper altitude alpine lakes for a day of fishing. Play at the creek at the campground and listen to nightly ranger talks during the summer. Bears and marmots are very active in this area.
Sierra Nevada / Central California
Seeking solitude while camping is difficult near the National Park. Dispersed camping is allowed on a few dirt back roads, but you will need a decent National Forest map to find these routes.
The least busy, smallest campground around these parts is the South Fork Campground which does not accommodate motorhomes. Access is by a secluded South Fork Road, a dead end, rural residential, paved road – on the edge of town (Three Rivers, CA) With only 10 camp sites it is nmuch quieter than any other option. Perfect campground for tent campers, day hikers or backpackers.
Dry Creek Rd #J21 and North Fork Road (dirt roads, on the north side of the lake) are excellent routes for secluded picnics and wildflower meadows. Possibly gated part of the year, these roads connect to the seldom-seen, west side of the Sequoia National Park and some secluded Sequoia groves.
We are taking 20+ mies of dirt road driving, to reach any decent back road destination, so choose this path only if you have a.) a printed hard-copy topo map, b.) a worthy, high clearance vehicle and c.) a full free day to kill just driving slow (25 mph) and exploring.
One of the least known rivers in the Golden State, the Smith is designated as a Wild and Scenic River. This could be one of the wildest and cleanest rivers in the world.
Located in the Pacific Northwest, this area typically sees the most rainfall of any California region. Smith waters flow from the Klamath mountains of Oregon, to cross into California with state line near O’Brien.
Smith is the only major, un-dammed river inside California and it contains the most original, ancient forest ecosystem than any other waterway in the state.
Smith River water often appears emerald green or on clear, sunny days, a turquoise blue color. This is because of the rare green serpentine rocks below that cast their brilliant color.
River Classification & Mileage:
Wild — 78.0 miles
Scenic — 31.0 miles
Recreational — 216.4 miles
Total — 325.4 miles
Beginning up in Oregon….
The Smith River, its three major forks and dozens of side creeks drain a beautiful, rugged terrain of the Pacific Northwest, flowing southwest from the Klamath Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Nearing the coast, the river makes an abrupt turn north to meet the sea.
The NRA encompasses more than 450-square-miles of densely forested mountains, pristine botanical areas, remote wilderness landscapes, high-mountain lakes and steep, rocky canyons. The river is an important stream for fish, with towering trees along its banks provide shaded conditions necessary for cold-water species.
A couple of campgrounds in this area are open year round, but the others close down for winter. Rainy season normally runs from October through April with an average annual rainfall over 90 inches. Summers are dry and warm, with high temperatures between 80-100°F. Contact the NRA Headquarters at the Gasquet Ranger Station for current weather forecast/conditions.
In 1990, the portions of the Smith River on the Six Rivers National Forest were re-designated to create the Smith River National Recreation Area. More than 300 miles of the Smith River drainage are designated wild and scenic, making it one of the most complete river systems in the nation. The emerald-green Smith River flows freely and naturally, without a single dam for its entire length (and the only major river in California to hold this status).
RAPIDS & FLOATS
Winter rains provide the whitewater conditions so avidly sought by kayakers. The Smith River abounds with Class IV and V rapids on all three forks and has many miles of steep creeking waters. Its miles of whitewater require a fairly high degree of technical skills by the boater.
Just past the confluence of the Middle Fork and South Fork, the river leaves the NRA and flows past giant redwoods. Great summer floating in Class I and II waters through here.
Once the three forks join to form the mainstem, the land levels out, and the last 16 miles to the ocean present less demanding conditions, Class I-II in medium flows.
Picacho State Park @ Colorado River
Picacho SRA, California
Winter camping is great at Picacho. Hunters, fisherman, snowbirds & RVers alike, all know this best kept secret. Picacho Peak on the Colorado River is prime spot for outdoor recreation & camping. Canoe, kayak, fish, hunt, mountain bike, hike, and mining history. All this desert fun, less than a 3 hour drive from San Diego.
The main attraction here is the Colorado River, fishing, hunting, plus easy freeway access & the off roading options are an added bonus.
Ancient volcanic peaks surround this wetlands area of the Colorado River. Picacho makes a good stopping point on a river trip between Walter’s Camp and Martinez Lake.
A century ago Picacho was a mining town with 100 citizens. Now it is a State Park, offering diverse scenery, including cactus, burros, bighorn sheep and thousands of waterfowl. The impressive lower Colorado River is the recreation area on the eastern border of California.
Take the 20+ mile road north from Winterhaven, off Interstate 8 (W of Yuma, AZ). The side road to Picacho is paved only a few miles, then becomes graded dirt. The last 18 miles is over a desert road that is easily passable for passenger cars & motorhomes.
In the summer months thunderstorms can cause flash flooding in the washes, making sections of the road impassable. Check weather forecast before traveling into this flash-flood region of the California desert.
EASY HIKES @ CAMP:
Picacho California, rich in desert history, was once a small mining town. Historic signs, trails & buildings surround the Picacho Campground.
Hike straight from the main campground to many areas along the scenic rivers edge. Stroll through the old graveyard & read about the areas history. Walk the washes in early spring and look for wildflowers.
The main dirt road up to Picacho Campground is fine – for RVers that don’t mind the long haul on a wash board road.
Primitive River Camping
Senator Wash – south end of park, open dispersed camping between Squaw Lake & Senators Wash. No other back road dispersed camping inside State Park boundaries.
BOAT IN CAMPING
Small campgrounds for boat in camping listed above on chart.
Colorado River Back Roads
The majority of this desert scenic area is dirt back roads, so get prepared & take precautions: water, warm clothes, matches, maps. Best to get your SUV out & ready to explore on milder terrain, by driving out close to camp. Walking back to camp (note mileage) could be an option, if you get stuck.
Many roads could require 4-wheel drive, but there are still plenty suitable for 2WD. Tell a camping neighbor where you are headed and what time you should be back, just in case you get stranded or lost.
Heading all the way to Anza Borrego Desert, Salton Sea, or Mecca’s Box Canyon – just a day trip (?) is unreasonable and should not be attempted. Rest and relax. Picacho Park has more than enough to keep you entertained and occupied.
OHV PARK – IMPERIAL SAND DUNES RECREATION AREA is due west of Picacho SRA, about 20 miles away (as the crow flies).
About 200 miles east of YUMA is another park called Picacho Peak State Park (AZ): 520-586-2283 and that place closes for summer months. NOTE: This park is often confused online with Picacho State Recreation Area, inside California. There is a Picacho Peak Wilderness on the California side, within the State Park boundary.
North of the Giant Sequoia , above the Western Divide Highway (CA 190) sits a little known Sequoia Park called Mountain Home. This lush forested area separates the Sequoia National Park (to the north) from the Giant Sequoia National Monument (to the south).
Mountain Home is just up the mountain from the West Sierra river town of Springville, CA
Western Sierra Nevada
In part of the vast Sequoia National Forest, lies a hidden gem of State Forest land worth visiting. Waterfalls, the Tule River, fishing ponds, campgrounds and easy access to Golden Trout Wilderness trails.
The official name of this forest: Mountain Home Demonstration State Forest is quite a mouth full, so most just call it “Mountain Home”. In short MHDSF is managed by Cal-Fire and the California State Park system.
the Largest old growth Sequoias in the state!
Numerous awesome Campgrounds can be found near the Sequoia groves, the Tule River, hiking trailheads, fishing, waterfalls. Balch Park is the County Park, listed below.
Balch Park Sequoia
located within the Mountain Home State Forest is a popular destination for the locals and families. Balch Park Campground is paved and RV accessible. 71 campsites, on first come basis.
Meadows, mountain peaks, streams, waterfalls, huge granite rocks & cliffs are all over. Plus some secluded groves of Giant Sequoia trees. Mosquitos can be annoying in these parts, so bring the chemical warfare and the screen room tent.
Roads Open: May – October
Forest mountain roads close annually, due to winter snow
Area activities include:
Backpacking Back Road Exploration Campground Camping Fishing Hiking Horseback Riding Meadows Mountain Biking Picnic Sequoia Groves Swimming Holes Tule River (North Fork) Golden Trout Wilderness
USDA Forest Service Map is highly advised for this area. There are many dirt roads & numerous trails. Minimal cell phone signal inside these dense forests and large granite river canyons. GPS even has trouble getting connected, due to the immense canopy of trees.
In the backcountry, tent camping is allowed any place on soil 100 feet from trail or water. No camping on meadows. Ground fires are very allowed with fire permit. Use existing camp site when available. Check with the correct ranger district for all back country camping rules. Wilderness permits are needed for backpackers and horse packers staying overnight in the wilderness area.
Local Ranger Stations:
Sequoia USFS Headquarters
Tule River Ranger District
Mountain Home Backroads
Dirt back roads are so narrow they cannot accommodate the large motorhome or RV traveler. Trucks pulling horse trailers are common, with very few options for a pull-out to pass.
This forested area is filled with old logging roads that lead to lush Sequoia groves & meadows. The whole network of forest roads back here either – loop back to each other, or deal end, often at a trailhead parking area. No roads connect through to any other portion of the Sierra range. Golden Trout Wilderness is a road-less area of the Southern Sierra Nevada.
Signs Not Reflective
The old skool, painted, wooden road signs do not READ well at night, so avoid arriving in the dark.
When it’s dark outside, it is best to STOP: Shut off the vehicle, get out and take a stretch break, find the north star; Get your bearing straight, look at the real map with a flashlight – before driving miles to an unknown destination, just to turn around.
Be very aware of the Forest Service signage, use your trip meter for clocking mileage. Have a good map on hand. See MAP ABOVE. It is very easy to get lost in this forest and you may end up driving for hours, maybe in circles. I swear this intersection looks familiar.
Mountain Home Campgrounds
Balch and Frazier are the two larger, developed campgrounds; all others are smaller camps w/ primitive facilities.
NOTE: all the Campgrounds in this forest now charge an overnight fee for camping. (Decades ago they were free, but not anymore.)
Frasier Mill Campground is spelled w/ a Z (like Frazier)on many printed maps and inside some camping books, but the proper spelling (on a sign at the campground) is actually Frasier w/ an S. This camp is located at the site of an old lumber mill. Meadows, trailheads, picnic areas, parking.
Decent signage leads to smaller, secluded campgrounds and hiking trail heads. Dirt road driving will be required. See BACKROADS (above heading) for tips on back road driving and night time arrivals.
Plenty of trails for horses back in these parts, most of them lead to Golden Trout Wilderness. Watch out for oncoming vehicles with horse trailers!
No primitive camping outside of developed campgrounds. Due to fire dangers around these majestic Sequoia trees. You must camp within the designated campground, or HOOF IT into the the wilderness for backpacking.
Mountain Home Hiking
Numerous trails around each campground area will lead to the waters edge @ Tule River; into the Golden Trout Wilderness (for longer day hikes), along creeks w/ wildflowers, near lush meadows or through Giant Sequoia Groves.
Bikes are limited to existing paved and dirt roads; NO SINGLE TRACK trails for mountain bikers – due to the fragile, shallow roots of Sequoia groves, and the direct access to Wilderness. NO bikes in the Golden Trout Wild!
south – west – north & finally into the Klamath River
Northern California’s top river destination, the path of the Trinity River is not a typical westward flow. Headwaters begin in the Scott Mountains and the Trinity Alps, making its way into the Trinity Reservoir, then southbound to the Lewiston Reservoir, passing Douglas City and heads westward to parallel Hwy 299, beyond Weaverville. Trinity waters hugs the paved westbound highway – all the way from Junction City to Willow Creek – then turns abruptly north to merge with the Klamath River along Hwy 96.
The largest town near the Trinity River, is the county seat of Trinity, Weaverville, CA. The historic mining camp and logging town, located at the junction of Hwy 299 and Hwy 3. Oddly, the town itself does not have direct access to the Trinity River, but it is well worth a visit anyway.