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 or a big meadow to cross country ski.
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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 not easily affordable.
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
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!
Rural, small mountain towns, close to Yosemite National Park.
Everyone wants to live in Yosemite! It’s like a magical wonderland of nature. Maybe the happiest place in California. Once you’ve experienced the incredibly beautiful valley and the granite views of the National Park, your thoughts may go directly to ‘when can I visit again’ or perhaps- ‘is it possible to live near Yosemite?’
YES indeed, people do live near Yosemite. Western foothills are under 5000′ elevation, so super deep snow is generally not a problem. Unless, of course, we break the record on rainy season (again). In 2016-2017, the Sierra Nevada mountains saw the most snow & rain ever recorded. Just so you know.
Often called gateway towns, these towns are the closest to the NPS boundary. There is a whole lotta forest between these towns and the famous Yosemite Valley.
Many more foothills towns (rural residential) are located to the west of Highway 49 – wineries, ranches and oak canyons, most w/ recreational Reservoirs. But we’re here on Total Escape to list the small towns that are closest (in proximity) to Yosemite NP.
Living in or near the mountains is a dream for many people in California. Why wait until retirement? Grow food gardens, get some chickens and hike everyday.
land is always cheaper outside the city limits
home prices are more reasonable in rural areas
more room to breathe (one acre to 40)
property with well for water
Relocating to a new area like this, often means changing your lifestyle. Less television, more stargazing. No gym membership, more biking and hiking. Less dining out, more cooking at home. Less socializing, more yard work & home improvements. Grocery stores farther away, so limit shopping trips to once per month. And the biggest benefit to living rural – grow your own vegetable garden.
PRO: close to nature, fesh air,wildlife, wildflowers, rivers, creeks, water, lakes, forests, fruit trees, small farms, free firewood, horses, livestock
CON: severe wildfire season, triple digit summer heat, lost tourists, landslides, brush clearance, real manual labor, minimal internet
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