Road conditions on dirt roads change with the weather and the seasons. This route can be rocky and uneven in spots. One lane road, on a big hill w/ minimal pullouts. Snow is possible, during winter & springtime. This route often closed during winter months – or for rock slides. Trailers and RVs are not recommended on this dirt road, although small motorhome campers can try.
Elevation approx 6000′ @ HWY
w / route continuing up to Toro Peak @ 8740′
NFS local camp sites:
Santa Rosa Campground
Santa Rosa Springs Campground
Bare bones, primitive camp sites. Tables, fire rings. Must have a campfire permit for this region. Vault toilets? None.
Did I mention the wind yet? Tall trees do block a majority of the wind, but some areas get whipping – so choose your tent site wisely. And stake it down well, before that quick day hike. Since this is a mountain ridge line, expect thunderstorms, wind and possibly light snow.
The big, famous Palm Canyon in Palm Springs starts below. The impressive desert canyon trails lead up to highway 74. Continue on foot uphill, southbound, cross the pavement, and end up in this Toro Peak region. Small campgrounds, few people, great views over the desert. Pick a smog free weekend (with wind) for best Coachella Valley views.
An overnight stay out-of-doors. Sleeping out under the stars.
Air bed, camping cot, tent… or just a tarp on the ground.
Perhaps a luxury Cabin Rental in the mountains or on the coast. Your choice.
From a luxurious cabin in the mountains, to a small clearing in near a meadow with a stream nearby – with just a backpack, the idea of “camping” is always a bit different for each person. Roughin’ it for free – in the wilderness, or on the back roads; Or pay dearly for the price of real amenities, while on vacation.
camp sites that require you to physically haul your camp gear from a parking area to the camp spot, ranging from 1/8 mi. walk to a 1-3 mile hike
free w/ wilderness permit
ultimate in seclusion, bring it all on your back, on foot into the wilderness & enjoy trail camps
SO CAL CAMP FIRES – Yellow Post Campsites are remote camping spots in secluded areas, in a designated fire safe clearing. No facilities such as toilets or showers. Maybe a picnic table & fire rings, if you’re lucky. Southern California forests have these kinda spots. Required campfire permit & you must double check on local fire restrictions.
These structures are half way between ‘roughing it in a tent on the ground’ & having a ‘mountain cabin’. Tent cabins have wooden floors w/ canvas walls and roof; Dismantled annually for winter rain/snow, they are usually only available in mild, coastal climates or during summer months in the mountains.
Rentals typically include sleeping cots, but you’ll need to bring your own bedding (sleeping bags, sheets, pillows). Some rentals include shaded porches, wooden decks, minimal furniture, kitchenettes and/or wood burning stoves. Electricity may be available, or maybe not. Ask ahead of time, if you really must have that particular luxury when on vacation.
Yurts are a ’round version’ of this canvas cabin – which need to be aired out, often (to prevent mold). Yurt rentals are very popular and in high demand in California.
Find these type of rentals at yoga retreats, hot springs, beach canyons, remote lakes, redwood forests, high sierra camps, fishing camps and at certain RV parks.
California has no shortage of 4 wheel drive vehicles, but how many of them actually use them for what they were intended? If you’ve had your 4WD for a while and are itching to get to know the local trails, then grab yourself a few good OHV maps & head for the hills.
If you are a total novice and think you might want to get familiar with routes, what your vehicle can and cannot do, and learn the ropes from the pros, then you might want to discover the friendly folks in your local 4×4 club. Below we list as many legitimate groups we can find, with or without web sites. If your club is not listed, then please contact us & we might add it.
Off roaders (with running rigs) can enjoy pre-planned back road trips with various 4×4 Groups in California:
Forty-something years running, this San Diego county desert 4×4 event is one of the most popular off-roading weekends. Tierra Del Sol, a local 4 wheel drive club sponsors this wheelin fest in Southern California.
Kaiser Pass Road
Sierra National Forest
2020 wildfire: CREEK FIRE has burnt the majority of this wilderness, roads, trails, lake shores and most campgrounds
Central Sierra Nevada Mountains/ Kaiser Pass & Kaiser Peak / Highway 168
One of the best cell phone coverage areas for any California Wilderness location, this central Sierra region is located south of Yosemite National Park and known primarily for Shaver Lake.
California Hwy 168, along with Dinkey Creek Road (southward) and Kaiser Pass Road (northward) leads off in all splintered directions to secluded campsites, rivers, creeks, lakes, developed campgrounds and amazing forest scenery. Off road trails and hiking trails, everywhere back here! But it is best to have several good maps for cross reference.
Dusy Ershim Trail 4×4 travels past Kaiser Peak and the cell phone towers. Several primitive camp sites with views on ridge. Numerous developed NFS Campgrounds out this way along Kaiser Pass Road.
Trailheads for horseback, hiking, backpackers, mountaineers, rock climbers. Snowmobiles love this amazing route when the snow is deep; some west coast winters can be better than others. Know before you go!
Kaiser Wilderness are granite mountain peaks, near Huntington Lake & the China Peak ski resort, formerly called Sierra Summit Ski; One lane narrow backcountry paved roads: Kaiser Pass Road 80 (east of Huntington Lake) and Stump Springs Road 5 is West Kaiser (west of Huntington Lake)
Kern River is a top recreation destination for the lower half of the state, since it is the only big Sierra river within easy reach of Southern California.
Lower mountain elevations 2000-4000′ means camping all year is possible on the Kern. With only a few inches of rainfall, plus an average high temperature of 60 degrees in December & January, Kernville has become a year-round recreation destination for the Southern Sierra Nevada mountains. Kern Canyon and most surrounding mountains are managed by USDA: Sequoia National Forest, which extends south to the Tehachapi range!
Sierra Nevada ROAD CLOSURES during winter restricts that Kern Canyon is only accessible via the Hwy 178 route. Both the Western Divide Highway (to the north) and Sherman’s Pass Road (to the east) close for many months, due to snow. (typically, NOV-APRIL closure)
Popular Kern Recreation – backpacking, camping, fishing, hiking, river rafting, kayaking, rock climbing, mountain biking, off-roading & floating (inner tubing).
Kern River can be divided into 5 different & distinct regions:
Kern River High Country
headwaters of the Kern River.
High Sierra, Golden Trout Wilderness, Kern Hot Springs, Mount Whitney snowmelt, Kern Gorge. foot access only, wilderness backcountry. fishing, day hikes, backpacking, rock climbing, mountaineering, horse packs.
backpackers & fishing trailheads
Big parking lot at the bridge. trails travel rivers edge into a tight canyon, impressive rock gorge continues up to the tallest mountain peaks in the High Sierra.
Shermans Pass Road hard right, up hill, turn-off the main (paved) route that connects Kern River to Mojave desert.
RINCON CAMP – The Rincon Fault (an earthquake fault line) runs in a north-south direction, on the east side of Kern River. Popular and rugged RINCON, a dirt bike and mountain bike trail runs this ridge as well. An overgrown hunters camp (which has been almost destroyed) is located up hill from Brush Creek falls; but accessible via unmaintained dirt road – unsigned pull out, just off Shermans’ Pass Road. High clearance vehicle is needed to reach this spot.
BUSY: This part of the Kern River sees much of the action, with kayakers, river rafters, fishermen, RVs, motorcycles, mountain bikers, backpackers and car campers, seeking easy river access, hiking trailheads or just a good picnic spot.
Numerous small lodges between Kernville & Johnsondale
Brush Creek: awesome waterfalls & pools on Brush Creek, only accessible by hiking trail.
Rincon Trail runs above the river on the east side, via the Rincon earthquake fault. This is right where Brush Creek comes down the steep mountain. RINCON is favorite mountain biking trail, that is also open to dirt bikes (OHV) & equestrian, so share the trail and play nice. Rincon Camp is rugged, may be overgrown and unmaintained. Long dirt road might require high clearance vehicle or possible 4×4, if weather is wet.
Huge recreational reservoir in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains. Dry and high desert terrain. Canyons have more vegetation. East part of lake is a wildlife refuge w/ abundant cottonwood trees, which turn golden yellow in Autumn.
The earthen dam is on the south westside. California State Route 178 (Hwy 178), which connects Mojave desert w/ Bako. This major east-west Sierra route is a four-laner (freeway) cutting thru the valley. EXIT# intersects w/ CA 155 to reach Alta Sierra, Wofford Heights, Kernville and all place north of there.
Minimal to modest campsites in the lower canyon. Most seclusion for overnight spots, can be found along the empty stretches of the Old Kern Canyon Road. Many curvy mountain miles, one lane, paved, several flat spots for easy road-side camping. Caution for cattle in roadway. Speed limit is generally under 40 mph for this historic route which parallels the 178, in between Lake Isabella and Bako.
This one is a huge deal in the Los Angeles area. 4×4 extremes – in every direction. Tons of offroad industry vendors, displays, demos, and custom rigs and hot chicks in skimpy shirts for your viewing pleasure. Drool over every suspension, roll cage and locker. Lucas Oils is the big sponsor and this event is held annually, Family Events off road expo, summertime, air conditioning, in gorgeous Pomona.
Jamison Creek Canyon: the small stream flows all year long
Small Sierra Nevada camp on Upper Jamison Creek in a granite canyon, within a gorgeous red fir forests, wildflowers and fresh mountain air.
high clearance vehicle recommended
Gravel (rocky) road access, and here we use the word “road” loosely: Plumas County Road #507
Plumas Forest Route 507
also known as Johnsville Road; Johnsville McRea Road (misspelled McCrea on Google Maps)
Ross Campground NFS
• Elevation: 6,070′
• Number of Sites: 5
• Vehicle Accessibility: High clearance; No RVs or trailers
• Camp Fee: Yes
• Campsite Reservation: No
• Toilet: Vault
• Water: Creek only
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: May–October
• Trailhead: McRea Ridge & PCT
RUSTIC CAMP: No Picnic Tables!
4 camp sites are located at this turnoff @ driveway. Another single camp spot is located half mile up road, next to 2 nice swimming holes. Although the National Forest web site states that this place has 3 sites, it does indeed have 5 camp fire rings. All are available on a first come basis.
No OHV off-road riding in camp.
Snow is possible at this elevation, between October-April. Thunderstorms are common in summer in the Sierra Nevada mountains. 4×4 will be needed to access this area, if winter weather sets in.
Across Jamison Creek from Ross Camp
is Mount Fillmore @ 7715′ elev. Up canyon is Mc Rae Ridge PCT trailhead Mt Etna @ 7063′ Blue Nose Mtn @ 7290′
USFS just started charging a fee for this remote creekside camp. It used to be free, but no more.
Sierra Madre Ridge is forest road #32S13, which parallels Hwy 166 (Cuyama River) for over 50 miles on the Sierra Madre Ridge at approx. 5000 feet elevation.
NOTE: A good stretch of this dirt road is closed to vehicle traffic. Although it connects to Santa Barbara Canyon near Ventucopa, you cannot drive it. Only hike or mountain bike!
NFS Gate locked at the HOG PEN trailhead, and from there you can bike or walk all the way the other end at Santa Barbara Canyon near Cuayama Fire Lookout @ Dick Smith Wilderness
Small campgrounds in the region:
off Highway 166 Miranda Pine Campground (on 32S13 @ 11N03) Bates Canyon Campground (via Cottonwood Canyon Rd) also known as White Oaks Campground Aliso Canyon Campground (via Aliso Canyon Road) not accessible by vehicle, from dirt road 32S13; only by trail
in the backcountry Painted Rock Camp (hike-in) Sycamore Camp (hike-in)
Car campers in Southern California dream of the perfect setting: an uncrowded campsite, in a lush forest, with tall trees & flowing stream of crystal clear water. A swimming hole nearby, plus a place for the hammock. They also want it less than a 2 hours drive from their home. Unlikely.
The real California rivers & mountains are in the northern half of the state, while the lower is more like a desert. You will need to drive hours to reach these kinda spots. The Sierra Nevada mountains are the closest bet for finding a creek side camp. Lassen is next, for exploring numerous dirt roads that lead to secluded spots. Northern California, above Redding usually has water flowing and decent fishing, even in the driest years.
Read more on specific California camping techniques:
thin 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.
And if you are really not into to roughing it, but wanna find a CABIN on RIVER or CREEK, check out our extensive list of all vacation cabins here, California Cabin Rentals
San Luis Obispo County Off Roading
Los Padres National Forest
Rock Front Area is located on the north side of Hwy 166 in between New Cuyama and Nipomo, on the very edge of San Luis Obispo county in the center of the Santa Lucia Ranger District of Los Padres National Forest. Landscape varies from rock covered canyons to ridge line trails with outstanding vistas of the the mountains and Cuyama Valley. Remote area features Los Machos Hills, Alder Creek, Branch Creek, Cuyama River, cool rock formations.
41 miles of trails
From US Hwy 101 @ Hwy 166 travel east 25 miles, left turn into Rock Front Ranch gate on left side. (This road may also be known as Branch Creek Rd on some maps). This off road area can be closed during rainy seasons, so it is best to call rangers ahead of time to ensure the gates are open. There is also one brown Forest Service sign along highway 166, (couple of miles from 101) letting eastbound traffic know if this OHV area is open or closed.
The dirt Road #32S07 (Arroyo Seco) from the west connecting historic Huasna townsite to Rock Front is CLOSED to thru traffic and has a locked gate. Private properties and ranches are abundant in the backcountry of Arroyo Grande, CA
OHV trail ratings in this region are designated below
Green diamond – easy & least difficult
Blue diamond – moderate & more difficult
Black diamond – extreme & most difficult
Logan Ridge Trail #17E05
Green diamond. Least difficult. Open to motorcycles, ATVS, 4WD. 1.4 miles long. This route is a good route for beginning riders. It is located on the main ridge top of Logan Ridge. Route dead-ends at a locked gate.
Shaw Ridge Trail #17E06
Black diamond. Most difficult. Open to motorcycles, ATVS, 4WD. 8 miles long. This route leaves the Twin Rocks route on a spur ridge that drops into the Alamo Creek drainage and dead-ends. A very steep section of trail exists at the end of this route where specialized equipment is recommended. This section is recommended for advanced riders.
Los Machos Trail #17E07
Green diamond. Least difficult. Open to motorcycles, ATVS, 4WD. 2.8 miles long. This route is a good route for beginning riders. It is located on the main ridge top of the Los Machos Hills. Route dead-ends at a locked gate.
Paradise Trail #17E08
Blue diamond. More difficult. Open to motorcycles, ATVS, 4WD. 2 miles long. Access to Paradise Campground and Los Machos route. It is best suited for intermediate riders due to a steep section along the route. Route dead-ends at a locked gate.
Branch Creek Trail #17E09
Blue diamond. More difficult. Open to motorcycles, ATVS, 4WD. 5.5 miles long. Access to Buck Springs Campground, parallels the Big Rock route and offers a loop ride.
Big Rocks Trail #17E10
Blue diamond. More difficult. Open to motorcycles, ATVS, 4WD. 4 miles long. Located on the main ridge top and intersects with the Jack Springs route.
Twin Rocks Trail #17E12
Blue diamond. More difficult. Open to motorcycles, ATVS, 4WD. 3.5 miles long. This route intersects Shaw Ridge and dead-ends at a locked gate. The first half-mile of this trail is steep. Once on top of the ridge you have excellent views of the Cuyama Valley and the Santa Lucia Range.
Kerry Canyon Trail #30W02
Black diamond. Most difficult. For motorcycles only. 6 miles long. This trail must be accessed through Colson Canyon or Sierra Madre. The trail is highly technical and is recommended for advanced motorcycle riders only.
HORSE TRAINING – Along the highway at the gate of Rock Front Ranch is a rock house and ranch, which may or may not offer equine services.
Yellow Stake Camp Sites / Back Roads Camping NFS
near Cajon Pass, Big Bear & Idyllwild CA
YELLOW POST CAMPS are dispersed camping sites on the back roads in Southern California, where fire danger is greatest. Forest authorities have designated certain spots as ‘fire safe’ for remote, open camping options around Big Bear Lake, Fawnskin and the Idyllwild mountain area.
If you prefer to stay out of the developed campgrounds, you will be the minority. But you must know how to read a map well to reach these beauties.
SoCal camping doesn’t have to mean crowded campgrounds. Seek your seclusion on the dirt back roads, where there are no fees, minimal noises & a private site waiting just for you. These are usually on a first come, first serve basis. A high clearance vehicle (SUV, truck or 4×4) may be needed to reach some of the premium camp spots, but there are also sites accessible by passenger cars. And, of course, a fire permit is required.
In the San Bernardino National Forest there are several back woods ‘fire safe’ camping spots, that are noted with a single yellow post & some may require reservations in busy summer months. You can find out more on reserving from the Big Bear Discovery Center, 909-382-2790
Extra caution should be used when winds are high, camp fires are often banned due to wildfire danger. Check with local rangers for up to date conditions and always get your campfire permit.
No restrooms, no water, no facilities. Just a dirt road, a fire ring & a single picnic table. Hopefully your table will not be shot up, by the local rednecks who ‘get off’ doing stupid stuff like this. Pick up any litter & leave the place better than your found it.
These backroad camps are perfect for the 4×4 group, stressed out social club, church group w/ rugged van, or the city SUVer who wants to get away from the crowds. The most sought after camp spots are nearest to the lake or a site accessible by RVs and horse trailers, but there are many more excellent camp sites to be discovered. USDA Forest Service Map is highly advised to reach these remote, dirt road camp areas. Rugged, steep, one lane dirt roads that lead to some of these spots. A passenger car is sometimes not suitable for all dirt roads. Rutted and steep means turn around. Wet weather changes dirt roads. Often routes close for winter w/ locked gates.
Wildrose is an all-season campground in Wildrose Canyon, on the western edges of Death Valley National Park. This canyon gets very windy, so bring your guy lines, stakes & ropes for securing your tent. Motorhome RVs can make it in here, since the narrow road is a paved route – but be warned it can be curvy and slow going with the climb in elevation. This camp stays cooler than anything on the desert valley floor, so in summer months it can fill up quickly. Further up the hill are both Thorndike & Mahogany Flat Campgrounds (both close in winter, due to snow)
• Elevation: 4,100′
• Number of Sites: 30
• Vehicle Accessibility: Open to all
• Campsites Reservation: No
• Length of Stay: 30 Days
• Season: year round
From Stovepipe Wells, follow Highway 190 W to Emigrant Canyon. Turn left on Wildrose Road and follow it thru the tight rocky canyon, climbing in elevation the whole way. Wildrose Campground is obvious and near the charcoal kilns turn off.