Central Sierra Nevada Mountains
Sonora Pass CA 108 / Ebbetts Pass CA 4
Stanislaus National Forest
The Sierra Nevada mountain route that usually closes first and opens last, due to snow and rock slides . Sonora Pass snow is epic, but often unaccessible most of the year. Snow melt can be slow and this route may not open by until mid-summer. (Quite typical on this highway). Check Cal Trans Hwy Reports. Summer and early Autumn is the time to visit this region, so plan accordingly.
This Big Sierra River is so far reaching that it covers areas from two different Wilderness Areas and two Sierra highway systems: Sonora Pass 108 & Ebbetts Pass Hwy 4.
The North Fork of Stanislaus River starts up at Highland Creek (below Highland Lakes) and parallels the Ebbetts Pass pavement westward down the mountain. Numerous lakes and parks along this steep northern fork, all lined with impressive granite rock. Spicer Reservoir, Elephant Rock, Summit Lake, Calaveras Big Trees State Park and Stanislaus National Forest.
Middle Fork of Stanislaus River, overview
Clark Fork flowing from the Dardanelles in Carson Peak Wilderness, become the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River. Numerous Campgrounds, RV camps, horse camps along Clark Fork Road. California Highway 108 may still have a real old fashioned pay phone at this intersection. Go look.
Kennedy Creek comes in from the south side of the highway and creates Kennedy Meadows, a horse packing ranch; Not to be confused with the Kern Kennedy Meadows, way down south.
Eagle Creek and Kennedy, plus the Clark Fork are the main headwaters to Stanislaus River making up the Middle fork of this river. Traveling southwest thru the forest, with numerous Reservoirs and plenty of campgrounds.
Middle Fork comes together near the Fence Creek Campground @ Hwy 108. Flowing downhill to join Donnell Lake, then 10 miles of ‘really rugged wild river’ down to Beardsley Lake, then to Sand Bar Flat Campground further below, and on towards the county line @ Calaveras.
South Fork Stanislaus, the shortest of the forks, flows down from Pinecrest Lake, Dodge Ridge Ski Resort and the Emigrant Wilderness Area. Then hits Lyons Reservoir (4228′ elev) near the community of Long Barn, CA Italian Bar brings it right down to Historical Gold Camp, Columbia.
Eventually the massive Stanislaus River ends up in the San Joaquin (Central) Valley, like most of the Western Sierra rivers do, growing the food crops for all. California is a huge agriculture state.
Backpacking Big Wilderness
With Wilderness making up the majority of the landscape around these river canyons , there is ample opportunity for day hiking, creek fishing and backpacking adventures. May as well plan for a full week off of work, if you wanna explore in some depth. Many trailheads have small parking lots located on dirt roads, which are usually passenger car accessible.
PCT = The Pacific Crest hiking trail cuts right across the tallest Sierra Nevada mountain pass – Sonora Pass 108 @ 9625′ elev.
Black Bears are common in this region and several areas have bear boxes for proper food storage. If not available, you’ll need a bear canister or learn to properly hang your food in a tree.
Winter closures due to deep snow is common more than half the year up here. Check Cal Trans for highway conditions and w/ local rangers to find out what back roads are open, and which ones are too muddy. 4WD may be needed to reach certain destinations, if snow & mud are still present. Winter SNOW CAN LAST UP HERE: on the peaks all summer long; And snow can start falling as early as October, so know the forecast before you set out on a major backcountry trip.
Wilderness permits are required for overnight stays in the backcountry. Stop by a ranger station to get the latest details before your big trek into the woods. USFS web sites are not always so up-to-date. A phone call or personal visit may be needed to get accurate info.
The Wilderness boundaries on each side of the pavement (CA 108) along with giant granite walls, steep cliffs, boulders, wild raging rivers and dense forests make dirt road accessibility somewhat limited along the Sonora Pass Highway. Ebbetts (CA 4) has more dirt road accessibility, especially beyond Beardsley Lake.
County Line Road #6N06 will take you past a developed NFS Camp called Fence Creek Campground. The dirt road climbs into the forest meadows, with 2 trailheads to be found within a few miles. Horse Corral at Wheats Meadow. Numerous primitive campsites for backpackers, car campers, horse campers. Lush meadows, hidden forests, boulder outcroppings, dead end roads.
Back behind Pinecrest Lake & Dodge Ridge Ski are several dirt road loops w/ primitive camping at Bell Meadow Crabtree
Campfire permits are Required for camping outside of developed NFS campgrounds. Obtain a free campfire permit before you build a fire. Have a bucket and shovel at camp, always; attend the fire at all times.
Levitt Lake @ 9556′ elev, on the eastern slope of Sonora Pass has rocky road to wonderful scenery. Mid summer snow melt, so bring the good jacket – even in summer. High elevation camping, hiking, kayaking; rock scrambling at tree line. This alpine lake best reached with high clearance vehicle.
Union, Utica, and Spicer Reservoirs have a few dirt roads to explore off Spicer Rd #7N01, with abundant trails for hiking and mountain biking. Tons of firewood, free for the cutting. Bring your saw!
Kayaking and canoeing are popular at both Union and Utica. Dirt road access. No motors on lake. FREE LAKE CAMP: Shoreline camping is possible, but summer crowds – can get downright insane. Nothing like a traffic jam in the middle of nowhere. Big families camping out all week long w/ all their toys, tents, multiple vehicles. Try to visit in the off-season for the best experience at these 2 lovely lakes. Spicer has developed campgrounds w/ fees, but has real boat ramps and can also accommodate RV campers.
OHV Trails Stanislaus
4×4 camps and dirt bike trails can be found at Niagra Creek, on the south side of Highway 108, before Clarks Fork.
Union Reservoir has a popular 4WD trail that connects up to Lake Alpine @ Ebbetts Pass.
BACK ROADS TIP
Regular dirt roads can become “4WD needed” with any decent amount of snow or heavy rains, especially on the steeper sections. Remember: No guard rails on the dirt roads. If you plan to camp ‘way back in there, in the boonies’ – make sure you know the weather forecast and have a vehicle that can get out; no matter how sloppy the road gets. Thunderstorms are possible. Snow is 75% of the year.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The pleasure of visiting McCloud – hiking, biking and camping – is best done in the summer or early autumn. This region receives large amounts of snow, so visiting in winter often means a snow-mobile.
The McCloud River starts on the east side of the National Forest and flows west through these campgrounds listed below, then south to Lake McCloud. The river continues on past the lake and crosses the Pacific Crest Trail, then it descends another 25 miles southbound to the bigger Lake Shasta.
3 developed campgrounds near waterfalls, along Highway 89
Fowlers Campground NFS @ lower falls
Cattle Campground NFS @ swimming hole
Algoma Campground NFS (the free camp)
Fowler Campground is the largest of these campgrounds, with bathrooms and fees. Only 6 miles (biking distance) to the small town of McCloud, CA
#40N44 UPPER FALLS RD – a paved road (which parallels the highway) connects all 3 tiers of water falls, the parking lots, trail systems, and two campgrounds – Fowler and Cattle.
Cattle Campground is a spread out, flat, forest loop, walking distance to the river and numerous swimming holes. Located close to the highway @ Tate Creek Road.
Water from this river originates on Lone Pine Ridge, near Dead Horse Summit (4505′) along Hwy 89. PCT Bartle Gap trailhead.
Feeder streams to this river include: Angel Creek from the south; from mighty Mount Shasta on the north side, Ash Creek joins McCloud River near the Cattle Campground. Mud Creek merges into McCloud River, from the north, running down the east side of town. Lake McCloud is fed by the river and Squaw Valley Creek, coming in from the north. PCT Cabin Creek trailhead.
McCloud Creek starts east of McCloud, CA and becomes a raging, wide river within a few 20 miles.
The smallest of these camps is Algoma Campground – located on a paved road, near a one lane bridge at McCloud Creek, the headwaters to the McCloud River. Algoma is the only free campground on this river, and due to that fact, it fills up quick w/ first come campers.
The paved access road is not well signed from the highway, so it helps to get a decent back roads map of the region and plan to arrive during daylight.
GRIZZLY PEAK RD. or aka Grizzly Peak Lookout Road is
Forest Road #39N06 and it turns to dirt and continues past the campground, deeper into the forest and eventually ends up climbing to an elevation of over 6000′ and then down the mountain to Big Bend @ Pit River.
Small aspen grove has autumn colors during October. A signed river trail leads many miles (down river) to seclusion.
self sufficient campers
Minimal facilities at this campground, so bring your shovel, bucket, water filter, plus any additional gear you may need. Town of McCloud is closest place (19 miles) for ice, groceries and gasoline.
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.
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
A nice surprise for visitors to Mount Whitney region when they happen upon the Alabama Hills. The cool boulder field lies at the base of the eastern Sierra Nevada mountain range – next to the town of Lone Pine, on the way up to Whitney Portal.
The infamous area features a drive named “Movie Road” – with historical spots for filming old westerns & cowboy movies. Plenty of television commercials & videos have been filmed here as well. Relatively close to Los Angeles and SoCal.
high desert: elevation 5354′
From the Mojave desert, take Hwy.395 North to the small town of Lone Pine . At the only traffic light in town; turn left up Mt Whitney Portal Road; continue up to boulders. MOVIE ROAD, right turn to start exploring. Mant graded dirt roads and areas to park vehicles.