A grouping of small lakes on the Eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains near Bridgeport, California. Camping & fishing are the main attractions here, along with a high elevation trailhead. Awesome back country access for the backpackers who love hiking the Hoover Mountain Wilderness.
Aspen trees turn golden colors as freezing temps lower in Autumn, and can be breathtaking in October. Sometimes the window of opportunity is very short, as the first snow of the season usually falls at the same time of year.
If you are ever in Laughlin, Nevada and find yourself in a blank stare, mesmorized at a slot machine in front of your face, wondering ‘why the hell am I here?’ – RUN for the doors & take in the warm desert sun & scenery. There is plenty to do around here for sightseeing & Route 66. Oatman, Arizona is just one favorite option.
A lively, rustic town in the Arizona desert, with a silly commercial twist. Tourist trap to some, but entertaining to others. A meeting spot for travelers, an ideal lunch stop, and conveniently located on paved roads near major highways and close to Interstate 40.
OATMAN town began as a small mining camp and grew into a large town. Many residents that live here today are shop keepers or retirees. Located near the Colorado River, with Laughlin and local indian casinos nearby.
The amount of visitors or tourists can vary depending on time of day, there can be a motorcycle club rolling through, or a meeting of hot rods. Both classic cars and bikes are popular in this desert region. Tour buses and guides also bring their guest here as a good stopping point along their desert whirlwind travels. Holiday weekends & festival weekends can get crowded as well. Centrally located, Oatman sees lots of traffic, so don’t expect a desolate ghost town atmosphere.
The town streets have very limited parking & bringing that huge RV up the hill via the narrow road is not recommended. It may be possible to take a shuttle bus from a nearby hotel.
Souvenir shops, diner, saloon, western town walkways. OATMAN ghost town is super easy to get to. Only 12 miles off the main drag (AZ 95) Mojave Hwy. South of Bullhead City, AZ. Situated up on the Black Mesa above Mojave Valley, Oatman is a modern, developed, touristy ghost town (as ghost town standards go).
BUT, NO GASOLINE IN OATMAN
elevation: 2710′ population: 128
Desert mountains, canyons.
SouthEast of Laughlin, NV
Mojave Valley – in Arizona
@ Nevada / California borders
Off Interstate 40, Route 66
When traveling in the deserts, consider more stretch breaks (mini hikes). Short hikes and viewpoints offer time for relaxing, snacking and exercise.
Remember that finding a great camp site before dark is of utmost importance, if you are not hoteling it; but bottoming out your rig, or getting stuck is another kinda adventure. No fun. Have topographic maps of the region you plan to explore, on foot, or off-road.
Primitive camping on dirt backroads is plentiful and FREE. SUV back road exploring just north of town. Silver Canyon Wash, a graded, dirt road continues back down to Bulhead City. A decent little loop drive (for those needing to get dusty to have fun). Since we’ve been writing about this road, a huge residential neighborhood has sprouted back here, so watch for private property signs. Don’t camp within eye-sight of a home, or you could have the local Sheriff out to move you (at 11pm)
Camper Trailers & RV campers should be very cautious about venturing too far down any dirt road. Wash outs can change the road annually, so it is best to get out & walk it first. The California Mojave is filled with bitchin back road camp sites, and yes, some are very accessible – even with a huge motorhome.
Calaveras is a small but popular Sequoia Park in the Gold Rush foothill country of the western Sierra Nevada Mountains. Large Sequoia redwood trees, Visitors Center, nature trails, 2 large campgrounds, Stanislaus River access, hiking trailheads and picnic spots. Summer and weekends are usually busy. Plan your visit on weekdays or off-season for less crowds.
Park is open during the winter, but expect rain or snow. Sledding is allowed in the State Park during decent snowfall. Snow chains or 4WD may be needed to reach this location during winter months.
walk-in camp sites for tents only:
North Grove Environmental
Oak Hollow Environmental North
Oak Hollow Environmental South
NFS Camp Sites Nearby
Beaver Creek Campground is located on Beaver Creek, on a dirt back road, way back in there. Past the big river. Just beyond the South Grove trailhead. USDA web site states that this camp is currently closed due to tree hazards. Google Maps has it listed, but the gov web site does not. Call local rangers to find out!
Sourgrass Recreation Area is just north of the State Park. Forest Road #52 will lead to numerous river destinations, camp sites, fishing spots and swimming holes.
Wakalu Hep Yo Campground: Primitive camp; 49 camp sites w/ fee. Pack it in, Pack it out. No garbage services. No reservations. First-come, first-serve. aka Wild River Campground
Big Meadow Campground is a large NFS camp, located right on Highway 4, about 20 miles from Arnold, CA; Large forested camp w/ shade, hiking and fishing closely; North fork of Stanislaus River; Autumn colors in the aspen grove; 68 camp sites, some of which can accommodate RVs. Max length = 27′
Primitive Camp Sites
No primitive camping inside this state park; Campfires are only permitted inside the 2 developed campgrounds.
WALK-IN environmental campsites are available at both of the State Park campgrounds – North Grove & Oak Hollow.
For car camping and free of charge camping spots, you’ll need to exit the park and start your searching on the back roads, in the neighboring Stanislaus National Forest. First, get a good topo map and try to pick several spots worth exploring. Obtain a campfire permit from the USFS ranger station (Arnold, CA)
Driving dirt roads and looking for a primitive camp site should be accomplished during daylight hours. Arriving at night could pose serious problems, like getting lost, encountering wildlife, settling on a poor place to camp or worst, sleep in your car. Always plan for plenty of time and daylight to find a good (free) camp.
Across the Highway (SR 4) from Calaveras State Park a long dirt road ridge line will lead to Railroad Flat – Forest Service Rd#5N23, Summit Level Road
Just north of Calaveras State Park is a paved road worth checking out – Board Crossing Road #52 becomes Forest Service Rd #5N02
State Park has nature trail around Sequoia grove & guided tours in summer. Day hiking trails throughout the park and fishing trails along the river.
The remote town of North Bloomfield is part of Malakoff Diggins State Park, an old mining operation inside of a dense forest. Located in Northern Gold Country, North of Nevada City, CA – the Yuba River region attracts tourists and locals alike. Far enough off the beaten path, that many do not make the extra trek, more than a dozen miles off NB Highway 49. Save it for next time and decades will pass.
Autumn colors can start as early as September and last through October. Maple trees line the small Main Street, turning orange, then a brilliant red during fall.
Antique buildings w/ furnishings. A graveyard, schoolhouse, viewpoints w/ benches. Impressive trees and old shacks. Hiking trails throughout the park.
State Park w/ ranger lead tours, daily. Cabins, saloons, museums, a picnic park, a few private homes, and a campground, (reservations recommended).
This region was a hydraulic mining camp from 1852 to 1884, until it was shut down by environmental laws… the first environmental law in California. The rocky debris and silt washing down river was so excessive, that orchards and towns down stream were being buried and many ruined.
A few full time residents still live in this tiny mountain community called North Bloomfield; please respect their privacy as their homes are located right on Main Street
Campground (open May-November)
North Bloomfield Road (the long way) leaves Nevada City, paved and it winds through a neighborhood, then crosses the river at Edwards Crossing, hairy one lane bridge built before 1900. Road becomes dirt and steep, dusty in certain sections. Camper vans okay, but no camper trailer or RVs!
1 mile uphill, a BLM Campground for South Yuba River is a cheap, small campground w/ vault toilets. Left loop is ideal, but no campsites are located “on the river”. Near the river, but still a really steep hike.
The long dirt road of North Bloom Field continues northbound, past the campground up into the pine forest. Out to the meadows that used to be Lake City, then onward, veering right to the State Park boundary.
Tyler Foote Road (the paved way), also known as Tyler-Foote Crossing Road and Tyler-Foote Xing Rd. Leaving Nevada City on Highway 49, northbound many miles. Road is paved the whole way and required for those driving RVs or motorhomes.
If there is one way to get the Total Escape crew outta California, it will be with the enticing red rock landscapes of Utah. The amazing spanse of colorful desert is enough to inspire any nature lover down to their soul.
Moab, Utah was a sleepy little, rural town until about the 1980’s when the Jeeps took over. Numerous, annual off road events, plus the rise of mountain biking, new hotel development in town, and sheer “word of mouth” made Moab what it is today – a bustling, busy, tourist village with restaurants, brewery, and lodging.
Off Road Mecca of Moab UT
terrain: high desert canyons and mountain peaks
elevation: 4000′ population: 5,253
terrain: High elevation red rock desert paradise. A deep river valley surrounded by snow capped peaks & red rock grandure.
South Eastern Utah
south of Interstate 70 on Hwy. 191
description: This locale has boomed in the last few decades with a determined focus on outdoor activities. The town is a recreation mecca set in the vast beautiful desert of southwestern Utah.
Amazingly scenic spot set in red rock landscapes along rivers – with abundant outdoor recreation around every corner. Snow capped mountains are a scenic backdrop for more than half the year.
Tourism & outdoor recreation is very popular in this region, as well as retirees, relaxing and really nice rigs. But the Mormons & ranchers are still out there, so pay attention to private property signs.
There is plenty land for solitude, just make sure to keep the peace. Don’t be honking at any cattle in the roadway. Stressed out city folks will soon be put in their place out in these parts. It is best to plan a full week vacation to thoroughly enjoy this awesome red rock location.
Try this adventure: Drive from Saint George to Moab — on almost all dirt roads! No traffic lights for 5 full days. Weaving in & out of all the National Park & National Forest lands is an experience of a lifetime. Plenty of great dispersed camping – everywhere.
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 snow melt starts way up in the high elevation back country 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 western 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
People visit higher elevation towns & parks just to hang out in the snow. Ski resorts are plentiful, but not every snowy town has a ski lift. They may just have a great sledding hill. Elevations range from 4000′-9000′ above sea level.
Most California snow locations have a wide variety of outdoor recreation, lodging, restaurants, shops. Cute cabins to rent for that upcoming weekend get-away. Or that week-long fishing trip. But with millions people in the state you better make overnight reservations in advance.
When does winter actually ‘set in’ for California?
eastern sierra:OCT- APR western sierra: NOV- APR high sierra:OCT- MAY northern coast:OCT- MAY northeast:OCT- APR
While Southern California doesn’t receive nearly the amount of snow that the rest of the state gets, it does on occasion get some winter storm precipitation. Perhaps just a winter dusting, or maybe a few inches, but sledding families usually enjoy it. For real snow skiing opportunities, head to the Sierras!
Montgomery Creek Canyon Montgomery Mining Camp:
Mountain Queen Mine
Montgomery City, California
WHITE PEAK DISTRICT
As with many historic names inside California, this remote location cannot be classified as a ‘city’ in todays terms. It may have been a notable location back in the early days of early settlement, but it did not last long. Notable producers of this region were the Phoenix Mine and Mountain Queen Mine.
terrain: desert mountain peaks
Old mining camp near the Nevada state border
Eastern California, on Nevada border Mono County
NE of Bishop, & 40 mi. SE of Bodie, CA
East of US 395, up Highway 6 @ Benton, turn right / South towards the Benton dump w/ dirt road Inyo Forest Road #1S77 leading up Montgomery Canyon. 4×4 will be needed to drive the dirt access road. Hiking may be required to reach mining ruins.
When Mono County was still in its infancy, the town of Benton became a destination of miners seeking new strikes, and by 1865 was the county’s largest town.
Miners found ore where perpendicular cliffs of Montgomery Canyon opened onto the alluvial fan. Montgomery City and its mines didn’t thrive for very long and like most operations typical of this era, eventually became an abandoned site.
Circa 1863 and 1864, “some very rich rock was found in Montgomery Canyon, and a tremendous rush and excitement was the consequence. A lively little town of three or four thousand inhabitants at once sprung up, locations were made and mines opened out, and large shipments of rich ore made to San Francisco and other places. I have been told that some of the ore was worth from $2 to $3 a pound; but the ledges were broken on the surface, and apparently gave out, and the excitement soon subsided.”
Montgomery Peak – 13,441′ elev
Mount Dubois – 13,559′
White Mountain Peak – 14,246′
Stone walls can be found within the mining site, located within the drainage of Montgomery Creek. A few old stone cabins hold on to the brink of existence, far up this secluded high desert canyon.
Benton on US Hwy 6 was established as Benton Station in 1880 when the narrow gauge Carson & Colorado Railroad came through the area. Montgomery City is a true ghost town, in every sense of the phrase. Those who make the rough and steep journey to reach this remote location should be rewarded with an enjoyable day trip.
Backpackers, hikers and off-roaders who plan to explore this region in depth should follow the trailhead link above for GPS points and notes on this canyon. A topographic map of the area would also help in navigation.