Clear cool stream waters flow from snow melt at 10,000' elevation, down to these pristine camps at under 2000' on both sides of the Sierra. The further you drive up the mountain, the better it gets. Where the Eastern Sierra side near Hwy. 395 tends to be more dramatic desert like with sage brush, the western range is much more lush with ferns & dense trees.
Everyone dreams of it. The perfect camp, along the creek. Maybe a waterfall or two, a shady hammock spot & plenty of trees, a flat tent spot, maybe a view. A big, sturdy, rock fire ring (without a bunch of broken glass in it).
This dreamy camp isn't only in your imagination, nor is it at the local county campground a few miles from home. This kinda beauty & rare finds are out there, deep in the mountains! You gotta know where to look & what to bring in order to have a good, easy, relaxing time.
These secluded sites really are around, in your favorite forest, way back there. Best of all, they are free.
Having the opportunity to camp in your very own private, secluded spot, along dirt roads, outside of the annoying rules & fees of a developed campground is a privilege. USE THESE LANDS WISELY & BE A RESPONSIBLE CAMPER.
Let's face it, some people like the amenities. Large picnic tables, toilets, garbage cans, pay phone, laundrymat, all the luxuries. Camping without a bathroom? Huh?
Not everyone can handle it. That is why we at Total Escape have included a few regular developed campgrounds that have a water flowing thru them. These rare select are a hot commodity, so they are obviously they are pretty popular. Campground reservations are strongly suggested in most river camps or streamside campgrounds in California.
Water can make an easy cooler/ice chest. Chill that bottle of white wine, keep the watermelon cool .. just don't forget about it. (cuz that kinda litter maybe a welcomed good surprise for the next camper.)
Secure your wet creek valuables. Even a heavy watermelon can float. Put some rocks around the items or type them in a mess bag, with rope, something to keep them from getting away.
There is nothing that beats a good detailed forest map of where you are going. If you are the type of person who can never make a straight B-line for home on Sunday afternoon, and find yourself wandering just for the sake of wandering - then it's best to have a larger state wide map like this beauty from Benchmark Maps.
Primitive Style - Dispersed Camping
California Creekside Camp Sites
If you are the kinda sport who can really rough it, you may learn to love it. After your first real back woods camping experience, the privacy, serenity & beauty of the land will inspire & relax you so much, that the drawback on the lack of toilet won't bother you.
Check out our classic camp potty page & make you new hobby learning how to stay away from the crowds. Plus you will need a free camp fire permit. Learn to be emersed within nature & enjoy your space outside. Unwind, next to the creek in the shade, with a chair and read for hours, or bring the sketchbook, or just daydream as butterflies go floating by.
Remember to be camp clean, California is black bear country.
Proper disposal of human waste is pretty dang important in these fragile waterways, so make sure you read the Potty page well. Be part of the solution, not the problem. Plus you gotta remember the lil fishes & critters too. Use the good kinda soap silly.
capable vehicle - SUV or Truck, high clearance is best. 4x4 is NOT required. AWD wagons should be more caustious. 2WD is fine for most graded dirt roads, but way out exploring dirt roads, deep mud and snow is quite possible.
destination - Pick a locale. A general area you wanna check out. Not a quickie overnight deal, but an enjoyable lazy 2-4 day camping trip.
exploration - Narrow down a canyon or river, you always wanted to explore. The Sierra Nevada & NorCal is the place to concentrate your efforts, as SoCal is nearly a desert climate with way too much development. Thank goodness the people of our past have saved us some land, leftover for us to enjoy.
The more homework you do before hand, the better chances of finding that secret camp spot, especially on holiday weekends. Go ahead & call the forest rangers. Have your decent topo maps handy, along with pen & paper. That's what they are there for. Have a list of questions on specific areas you want more info on. If you do the prep work well in advance, it makes a more enjoyable camp trip. Cuz you'll be less worried about finding the ultimate places (before dark, or before the other guy does).With your new profound Wilderness Vision, you will have not only a plan B ready, but a plan C as well.
what to look for:
getting permits - If you really wanna camp like this, all secluded on the dirt backroads without the hordes of other campers nearby.... you'll need a capable vehicle, a camp fire permit & be totally self sufficient campers. This means packing out all your own garbage, plus any litter left over by the last campers. It's the least you can do, not having to make reservations. Visit the FireSafe page
it's on your map - After you have a general area narrowed down, some place you always wanted to go, then it's time to get your new maps out & start reading them. Or at least staring at them - maybe over a meal, whenever you have free time to study it. Look for dirt roads, the further off the paved roads is not necessarily the better. Some of the best camp sites are within 5 short miles from the pavement. So get them maps out & start visualizing.
gas up - Make sure you fuel your vehicle before you head into remote areas like the ones we are mentioning. Maybe even an extra can of gasoline too, just in case.
the blue lines - You'll know a decent road when you see it. But when you are starting out at home, you need to concentrate of what dirt roads are along what water sources. And will these streams be flowing at this time of year? Many are seasonal creeks & can dry up in late summer. The most likely place to find great water flow is to look for the streams flowing directly into a major river or Lake/ Reservoir.
- is your choice a main blue line?
- does this one creek feed into another larger stream & is it a creek that will be running strong?
- how far from a paved road is it?
- how far is it to a general store, to re-stock ice?
- any recreational activities closeby?
Are you willing to clean up your camp, before & after, leaving it pristine? Yes indeed! MotherNature will thank you in her mysterious ways.
Some primitive camp sites may be best access with a 4-wheel drive, but each river or creekside camp spot is unique at different times of the year, due to the lands erosion process. For easy-going exploring purposes, small all-wheel-drive vehicles work well too, but clearance can be a limiter.
You wouldn't believe what passenger cars we see on the back roads of Baja. Almost anything goes anywhere, as long as it runs & rolls.
look for the tiny blue lines,
the bolder the better
READING THE MAP Forest Service Back Roads are mainly one lane dirt roads & have strange long numbers attached to them. Maybe signed, but don't count on it.
22S59 is right along a creek, and maybe 22S08 has some water sources, but has a developed campground. 22S59 is likely to have some dispersed sites along it. You always have options open; make a back up choice. Have a few plan B roads, just in case your first choice is too steep of a slope, or packed with RV familes, or totally impassable with your vehicle.
Screen rooms may appear white trash or low class, but those hungry mosquitos don't really care what flavor you are. Them lil suckers are abundant in areas with water, standing or still water, meadows, creekbeds, especially active in the warmer summer months. Beat 'em before they hatch - camp in the springtime. By autumn their numbers seem to dwindle with the nightime chilly temps, but make sure to come prepared for those colder nights.
Wanna do day-trips to this kinda place, fishing or sightseeing, but sleep indoors, then check out lodging in these fine California river towns.