As with a lot a of small town names in California, Oregon City is not a city at all. It is however, worthy of historic interest.
Oregon City is a rural locale on the back roads of Butte County, California – about 5 miles uphill from the Oroville Dam. A tiny, historic camp, located in the North Sierra foothills between Oroville and Cherokee.
One of the first mining camps in the county, it was established in the autumn of 1848 by a party of Oregonians, who came to California over the Applegate and Lassen trails.
Rock River Mine
Two historic sites, open to the public:
A little covered bridge (painted red)
A wooden one-room schoolhouse (now museum)
Gravel road access w/ paved, narrow and curvy Cherokee Road being pretty much the only way in. Or hiking up Potter’s Ravine, from Lake Oroville.
Minimal residence, maximum oaks.
Oregon City was formerly known as Bloomingdale and Hengy.
North of Oroville, CA
Seeking to explore more of California:
Outside more, Inside less.
Rural reaches of rivers, mountains, high and low deserts. Find a new town in Northern California or in the Sierra foothills. Discover a new place for local vacations, or go all out and get a new job, in a new town.
Relocating, outside of a big city – for a life style change, more nature, less people, less traffic. Real living life outdoors, walking to the market, growing some food, and enjoying a forced, early retirement.
Most populated state in US = California
Most of the towns listed below are NOT located in the popular San Francisco Bay Area, nor the massive hot and smoggy Central Valley, nor in the over-crowded Southern California region.
Upscale villages, mountain hamlets and historic downtowns often have loads of attractions and eateries, yet unaffordable rentals and sky high residential real estate prices. We’ve purposely left out the super expensive and over-priced places like wine country, coastal enclaves and the typical touristy stops.
Many in this list are unheard-of farm towns, forest cabin communities, or river canyons – often neglected, minimal and unimproved. Some of these will not have a Wal-Mart in town, seldom a chain grocery store, nor a main street full of fast food restaurants. Although, they might be located next to a National Park, National Forest or State Park. Hike, bike, kayak and camp!
Backwoods, back roads and backcountry. Wildfires are often an annual threat. Higher in elevation means less smog and more stars. Altitude also means snow is quite possible, at least half the year. If you moved to California to avoid snow, then skip a winter visit (DEC-APR) or find elevations below 3000 feet.
Rocky Knoll Campground, Hourglass Lake, Hidden Lake, Tule Lake, Pine Lake. PCT is located 10 miles to the west of this area, running north-south through the center of the National Park.
Hay Meadows Trailhead
Caribou Lake Trailhead
Susan River follows Silver Lake Road down to Mooney Road A21. Backpacking, fishing and hiking are main attractions out here in the undeveloped lands, but snow can close these routes and trailheads for half the year. Expect crowds on summer weekends, as the Volcanic National Park pulls in a lot of visitors – and those tend to filter over to the outlying regions like the rivers and National Forest.
The Susan River Campground [CLOSED 2020] and Swains Campground, developed NFS campgrounds located on Mooney Rd (aka A21), due N of Westwood, CA
Lassen County Rd #A21 is a minimal signed road, near gas station on Hwy 36; Lassen County A21 is a paved road and very forested, with no services. A forested route which parallels Robber’s Creek, all this above Lake Almanor.
Susan River flows into the Great Basin – not the Pacific Ocean, like most rivers in California. After exiting the slopes of Lassen, the Susan River descends downhill along Highway 44, to McCoy Flat Reservoir (5556′) and then on to Hog Flat Reservoir (5494′) w/ access road #30N06.
NFS Gomez Campground (5200′) is situated along the Susan River, on Road #30N03. Camp centrally located near both highways, with rail road tracks and access to a popular NRT (National Recreation Trail), the Biz Johnson Trail (BLM).
Susan River flows east toward downtown Susanville, underneath highway system. Roxie Peconom Campground (4800′) is on a feeder stream, to the south, on Willard Creek. Forested walk-in camp site w/ large, level drum circle for large gatherings. Awesome location, far enough off the main drag.
Autumn colors can be decent along Willard Creek in September and October. This camping area is only 3 miles from the Highway 36 (via dirt road) and sorta close to town. Only 13 miles (biking distance) west of Susanville, CA
Chaney Creek Road is a dirt road near Highway 36, which parallels the river, the red rock bluff and the road, downhill into town.
Forest Road #29N03 is Gold Run Road, the bumpy dirt road – that skirts around Diamond Mountain on the south side. Lots of one laner dirt roads, which will require a National Forest map or a decent topo map to navigate properly. OHV is common in these areas, so if you seek peace and quiet and solitude, know how to red a map and where the dirt bikes are expected to be.
USFS Ranger Station is located on the west side, just outside of town, on the wide downhill grade @ the Eagle Lake turnoff. Cal Fire station is also located along this stretch of highway.
Lassen National Forest
Ranger Station USFS
CA-36 @ Eagle Lake Rd, Susanville, CA 96130
Susanville, CA 96130
Cal Fire Station
697 CA-36, Susanville, CA 96130
The main road (highway 36 & 44) through here, and the Susan River parallel the whole way – dropping into town. Slow descent into downtown, as sharp curves come up abruptly (without a stop light) and pavement becomes a 25 mph downtown w/ pedestrians.
You can find the river by turning right (south) on Richmond, through neighborhood. Susan River Parkway has some trails and picnic areas, with a ball field nearby. Hobo Camp is walking distance; biking and hiking trails abound.
CAL SALMON – a 19.6-mile long tributary to the Klamath River, located in western Siskiyou County, CA
One of the most remote & biologically intact watersheds left inside California. The headwaters of the Salmon River flow from the Trinity Alps, Marble Mountains, and the Russian Wilderness Areas. 850,000 acres of Wilderness surrounding the Salmon River watershed.
There’s another Salmon River in Idaho, but this page deals with the Northern California river, dubbed “Cal Salmon” with emerald green waters and lush fern-filled canyons w/ a granite inner gorge.
You gotta know how to read a map if you wanna find this hidden gem. Highly sought after destination for river fishing, whitewater rafting and river kayaking. Rapids! With a short rafting season (March-June)
This is a place for those who love seclusion. It’s kinda far for most people to drive here. The NorCal river region is a prime secret spot for true nature lovers: campers, hikers, fishermen, river rafters, kayakers, mountain bikers, backpackers, birdwatchers and horse enthusiasts. Summer is the busiest time and of course, the best weather. The remainder of the year, you’ll basically have the place all to yourself. Winters can be wet and sloppy, so don’t get stuck in the mud. Cell phone reception is minimal in these densely forested backwoods.
Rafting, river beaches, kayak spots. Campground camping, RV camping, tent camping, primitive and wilderness too.
A significant part of the Klamath River’s watershed is in the Karuk Tribe’s Ancestral Territory. Karuk Indians have carefully managed their lands through an integrated continuum with the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystem functions for thousands of years. Salmon, or “Ama” in the Karuk language, was a major source of food and spiritual renewal.
The spectacular Klamath River is both the second largest and second longest river in California, making its way through over 250 miles both the Cascade and Coast Mountain Ranges. It’s one of the most important rivers in the U.S. for fish migration.
NorCal river renowned for fishing = salmon and steelhead
The river is easily accessible off of Highway 96 w/ boat ramps, trailhead parking and campgrounds located nearby.
Klamath River flows down into California from Klamath Falls, Oregon. Many feeder streams and rivers join the big river – Shasta River, Scott River, Salmon River, and it takes a sharp turn north again where the Trinity River joins it from the south. Copco and Iron Gate Dam located at the Oregon border, plus Upper Klamath Lake, north of the state line, are the significant dams along this river.
This area is the last hold-out for tribal members of
Dispersed camping outside of developed campgrounds. Fire permits are required during fire restrictions. Call for more info Orleans Ranger District at 530-627-3291
Aikens Creek West Campground, Road #10N75
No fee. Open all year. No reservations. No services. Trailer spaces available. Maximum trailer length 35′
Ten Bear Trailhead
No fee. Dispersed camping area w/ several corrals, water for animals, and 2 campsites; pefect hunter’s camp. At the hiking trailhead for Ten Bear trail, in the Marble Mountains Wilderness.
Ti-bar, North of Orleans, CA No fee. Heavy use. Ti-bar River Access offers a paved road to excellent dispersed camping with picnic tables, camp fire rings, a vault toilet and information kiosk. Gravel, steep boat ramp; 4WD may be needed to launch boats.
Smith River Recreation Area
Doe Flat Trailhead, Road #16N02
Trail Parking @ elevation: 4500′
3 campsites and a vault toilet
Dry Lake, County Road 405.
No fee. Open all year. Tent camping, Vault toilet. Good fishing.
Stanshaw Equestrian Camp & Trailhead
Dispersed camping; No fee. Excellent base camp for equestrian recreationists heading out on the Stanshaw Trail in the Marble Mountains Wilderness Area. One restroom, 5 large campsites with picnic tables, fire rings; corrals with running water for animals.
Ten Bear Trailhead
No fee. Dispersed camping area w/ several corrals, water for animals, and 2 campsites; pefect hunter’s camp. At the hiking trailhead for Ten Bear trail, in the Marble Mountains Wilderness.
(Not to be confused w/ Panamint Springs, CA which is NW, along the main Highway 190 on the west side of DVNP
Panamint Valley, Death Valley NP
Inyo County, NE of Ridgecrest
East of Hwy 395, south of Hwy 190
Hard to reach ghost town / abandoned mining camp on the mountainous edge of Death Valley National Park. Access via dirt road and steep trail, off the paved Trona Wildrose Road. Panamint Valley, west of Death Valley
best time to visit:November – April
Triple digit heat is common in the warmer months, so spring, autumn and winter time is best for this region, but beware of winter storms.
Snow is common on the peaks, and at higher elevations (like this place) during winter (DEC-APRIL). If you see trees on the terrain – joshua trees or pinyon pines, that indicates that snow falls here often enough. Snow is possible around Death Valley, down to 3000′ elev. during coldest of winter storms.
Surprise Canyon Wilderness BLM– Desert mountains, steep rocky terrain w/ peaks and very few trees. Surprise Canyon can become a waterfall, during heavy desert rains. The canyon is the only access up to reach this hidden town
NO MORE 4×4 Hike or backpack up Surprise Canyon No longer 4WD accessible .Gotta hike it on foot now. So get that fat ass outta the rig for some elevated heart rate (real exercise).
This desert destination used to be a very popular off-road trail, where Jeeps would wench and crawl up the narrow, rocky passage; but all that changed with a wilderness designation (1994) and no longer are machines allowed in this specific canyon area. No vehicles (engines) and no mountain bikes. No wheeled anything.
Off-roading and free-wheelin is still allowed and abundant in neighboring canyons of Nadeau Road & Panamint Valley – Pleasant Canyon, South Park Canyon, Jailhouse Canyon, Goler Wash, Isham Canyon
Ballarat ghost town has a camper bathroom w/ showers and a fee to go along with that. Panamint Springs has a small motel and a big restaurant, plus a large campground (across the highway) which can accommodate tents, camper trailers and RVs.
Death Valley National Park boundary means developed campgrounds are a few miles away up Wildrose Canyon.
Boon-docking, dispersed, FREE, open camping is allowed almost anywhere in Panamint Valley and the neighboring desert canyons. Campfire permits are required and are available at BLM office in Ridgecrest. There is no firewood, nor wood collecting around these parts, so bring your own.
Nadeau Road has abundant flat spots for RVs; Well stocked 4x4s can find secluded camping further up the canyons, but must be a self-sufficient camper and bring water, plenty of ice, extra gasoline, food and firewood.
Locating a ‘real bed’ near this remote desert region will require some driving. The closest option in Panamaint Springs, which only has a few rooms. The next closest, would be Stovepipe Wells inside the National Park.
This 13,000-acre park, located in the Sierra Juárez Mountains, has some of the cleanest air on the planet. View deer, bald eagles, pine and oak forest while hiking or camping. Laguna Hanson sits in the middle of the park. Lake fishing for catfish & bass. Granite outcroppings for rock climbers, popular for bouldering. Mountain bike and camping, as well as off roading.
Sierra de San Pedro Mártir (National Park)
This massive range of mountains, 165,000 acres in size, is covered
with pine, oak and madrone forests. Baja’s highest peak at 3,086
meters, Picacho del Diablo resides here. Home to pumas, mountain
lions, bighorn sheep & over 30 species of bats. The region
is the wettest area on the Baja Peninsula, and from October to
May the mountains are covered with snow.
Isla Rasa (Special Biosphere Reserve)
Located in the Gulf of California, this reserve is only 17 acres in size. On this island 90% of the world’s brown sea gulls (larus hermanni) make their nests. Seals and the yellow-footed sea gull also inhabit the area.
El Vizcaíno (Biosphere Reserve)
This reserve is the largest in the world, made up of over six and one half million acres of islands, deserts, and coniferous forests. The gray whale is the reserve’s most interesting inhabitant, where it hibernates and reproduces. Wildlife such as the lynx, puma, red-tail falcon, and white pelican also reside in the unique area.
Isla Guadalupe (Special Biosphere Reserve)
One of the first protected areas of Mexico, this 62,500-acre island in the Pacific Ocean is a prime refuge to sea lions and seals. Unique volcanic geology and specially adapted plants make this reserve a scientist’s paradise.
Isla del Golfo (Special Biosphere Reserve)
Fifty-three islands in the Gulf of California make up this well preserved 375,000-acre reserve. The are is very isolated, making it ideally suited for scientific research and environmental education. Iguanas, lizards, ospreys, sea gulls and cormorant are some of the island’s many inhabitants.
The Gulf of California
is also referred to as the Sea of Cortez
US Highway 101 cuts thru Salinas Valley & is home to the Salinas River. This area is rich in farming, and industry w/ some residential
Rolling hills with oak trees; cattle in every open field, fresh air and wide open vistas. River has no big campgrounds or city campgrounds, except for the seaside area, where the river hits the ocean @ Marina, CA
Central Coast California Wine Country
Paso Robles, Northern San Luis Obispo County – is where the Salinas River begins & flows northbound along mountains and highway – until it meets the Monterey Bay near Castroville, California.
dirt bike trails
This is a big valley river which drains agricultural land, so boating/kayaking is okay, but fishing/swimming – maybe not so great. This region grows huge amounts of produce, due to the inland coastal foothills near perfect climate. Pesticide runoffs can hardly be controlled. It’s in the well water, it’s in the irrigation channels, it’s everywhere – even inside your gut.
Anyhoo, there are several tourist sites, such as historical California missions & wineries in this region, along with Hollister Hills OHV Park. Be warned summer months can get very hot here.
Best time to visit SALINAS RIVER is NOV-MAY, and in between winter storms, and June Gloom. NOTE: Flooding does occur in these lowlands.
Northern Sierra Nevada Mountains
Tahoe National Forest
North Gold Country @ Historic Highway 49
Historic ‘gold rush’ mining camps and towns line this popular recreation river in the Northern Sierra. Numerous State Parks, museums, and campgrounds can be found along this route, in which Tahoe National Forest land encompasses the whole region.
North fork of the Yuba River lines Historic Highway 49, on the way to Downieville and Sierra City, CA. Plenty of camping in these parts. Lakes Basin Recreation Area is located up behind the impressive granite spires called Sierra Buttes and this area is the headwaters for this portion of the river.
Middle fork of the Yuba River cuts through the residential mountain community on Moonshine Road, and ends up in Lake Bullards Bar; The rest of the middle fork flows through remote forest lands and is only crossed by one dirt road #191 in Tahoe NF.
South fork of the Yuba River flows from the far heights of Donner Pass and I-80; near Lake Spaulding. Passing Washington Ridge; northeast of Nevada City; and North Bloomfield @ Malakoff Diggins continuing down to Bridgeport @ South YUBA – where the longest wooden, covered bridge is located. Numerous old, one-lane bridges cross this southern fork of the river, and the region can take years to explore. Lots of residential and private properties.
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has a campground way back here, the CHEAPEST CAMP around; Look for signs, along the dusty North Bloomfield Rd (graded dirt road) about a mile UP hill from rickety Edwards Crossing (pictured below).
South Yuba State Park, located along the Golden Chain Hwy 49, is a short drive up Hwy 4 from Nevada City and a very popular spot for sightseeing, day hiking, backpacking, mountain biking and riverside picnics. The parking lot at the large curved bridge fills up fast, daily. Pedestrians and hikers are always seen here, so slow down driving along this portion of the highway.
The big river forks all join west of Grass Valley, heading down the mountains, paralleling Hwy 20 to Marysville, CA
The historic river town of Sierra City is defined by the North Yuba River that cuts through the granite, forested canyon. Granite towers above and snow is around more than half the year.
The river is free-running up here; Sierra City is only about 10 miles below the headwaters of the Yuba, at Lakes Basin Gold Lake California. In spring, runoff is pure Class 5 whitewater. Wild Plum Campground is walking distance to town.
Free primitive camping on dirt roads, can be found way up near the Bassetts intersection. Opposite from Gold Lake Hwy – turn RIGHT (south) on to logging roads: Forest Rd #54 (long ridge route, all dirt) and club into the forest. Drive a several miles up to any large dirt pulls out. Passenger car accessible road; No low riders. Carry a good forest map. Many primitive camp spots have wide openings with views of the Sierra Buttes and crystal clear night skies. Wind can get bad on this mountain ridge, so pick your camp spot with that in mind.
Epic view camp – or expensive river camp? (you choose). Campfire permit are required for camping outside of developed campgrounds. Bring your own water and shovel!
Northern California’s impressive Feather River Watershed is massive and drains the lower half of snowy Mount Lassen @ 10,457′ elevation. The Plumas National Forest and Lassen Forest region is where the Sierra Nevada granite meets the volcanic rock of the Cascade mountain range.
In most recent times, 2017 was the wettest year on record for California. The Feather River Watershed recorded more water than any other year, based on 112 years of hydrology records.
West Branch (Paradise, CA) North Feather (Hwy 70 Beldon) Middle Feather (Berry Creek, CA) South Feather (LaPorte, CA)
Northern Sierra Nevada Mountains meet the Cascade Range @ Lassen
The North Feather runs along Highway 70 in the Feather River Canyon with railways, tunnels and trestles traversing the giant gorge. This granite lined canyon is known as the “stairway to power” – water flows stepping down the mountain from numerous reservoirs. Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) operate a series of 9 power plants all interconnected – producing electric power (and in rare occasions, wildfires)
The East Branch of the North Feather River comes out of the American Valley near Quincy, CA
The West Branch of the North Feather River flows south down from “the ridge” – a forested, volcanic ridge line descending from Mount Lassen. West branch flows directly into Lake Oroville at Lime Saddle (Marina). This residential area is currently off limits to tourists, as it recovers from the most destructive and deadly wildfire in California history. The 2018 #CampFire destroyed most of the town and forests of Paradise, Lake Concow, and Yankee Hill. The incident made national news in November, as the worst wildfire season dragged well into autumn.
The South Fork of the Feather River and its reservoirs, are managed by the South Feather Power Project, consisting of 5 lakes, 4 power plants, and 3 diversion dams. The closest paved road to this region would be La Porte Road, off of Highway 70 between Gridley & Marysville, CA
The Middle Feather, or Middle Fork of the Feather, is a beautiful wild and scenic river for 78 miles, with granite walls, domes and few trails or roads. Only 2 campgrounds – Milsap Bar and Little North Fork, are well worth the journey.
EAST PLUMAS CO. Above the lumber & rail town of Quincy, Lake Davis and Frenchman Reservoir are both managed by the Department of Water Resources (DWR). Excellent mountain biking, stargazing and camping at both locations. NFS Campgrounds w/ fee.
North Sierra Waters:
via OROVILLE Reservoir Lake Oroville
All this water listed above is the massive Feather River Watershed. Like a thousand fine hairs that make up a bird feather, there are over 4,500 miles of mountain streams and rivers feeding the bigger Reservoir system below. Dam run by DWR (Department of Water and Power) at the State Recreation Area known as Lake Oroville SRA
Feather River has always been prone to flooding and wild river swings. All that Mount Lassen snowmelt needs to be managed in harmony with one another, so destructive floods do not ruin the agriculture and cities of the valley. Lake Oroville is the place; they try to control these river flows that are headed down to the Sacramento Valley. Oroville Dam was built in 1967. In 2017, a record rainfall winter in California, the Oroville dam showed major signs of stress with massive amounts of incoming water. Several recently published books tell the story in greater detail.
Below Lake Oroville, 2 giant warming ponds Thermalito Forebay & Thermalito Afterbay – built to control irrigation water and also heat the cold river water for the fish downstream
CA SR 162 – West Highway 162: the farming and residential areas of Thermalito & Biggs are held together by rock levees, all running right next to Highway 99. Diversion drainage leads out of Lake Orovillle above to the large inland bays – with river parks and salmon fish hatchery in historic, downtown Oroville. Wildlife viewing , kayaking, boating, fishing. Minimal camping at this area. Big rigs may be seen parked along this stretch of highway, due to its proximity to Hwy 99
Grand-eous ideas, from white men who conquered this land. The scouts on horseback mapped the canyons w/ primitive tools; the with dynamite and danger, they built a railroad through in 1850.
Hydro-electric power systems on the Feather, were constructed between 1908-1961. Native lands and tribal communities have been treated as sacrifice zones for national priorities of irrigation, flood control, and hydroelectric development.
Recent upgrades to Oroville Dam have been completed, although a lot of work still goes on around the Feather region due to wildfire debris, tree trimming, fire clearance, upgrades to power lines, and structural improvements.
Hiking trails, dirt roads and highways may be re-routed, inaccessible or closed due to construction, landslides, rock slides or utility work. Call local rangers for up to date info.