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.
Sugarloaf Ridge, Greenhorn Mts
Alta Sierra, Kern River Canyon
SOUTH SIERRA: This route is located in between the Western Divide Highway and the cedar community of Alta Sierra, CA
Sugarloaf Ridge: Forest Rd# 23S16 – Thompson Camp Spring, The Den @ Sequoia National Forest
Driving north on Sierra Hwy N of Kernville, California; Passing Fairview & the Johnsondale bridge; After the R Ranch @ Johnsondale, take the left fork on the main highway; After you climb in elevation, look for brown signs on right side of road & turn left on Forest Service Rd# 23S16. Primitive camp sites are located throughout this area along Packsaddle Creek. Do not turn left up Sugarloaf Rd. There are no good camp sites up that way (unless you wanna make one).
RV campers are very common at Thompson Camp Spring, as this road is paved up to this point. The paved road is windy & narrows after this point. It is not advised for trailers or long motorhomes past Thompson.
For the more adventurous, Bear Meadow & Packsaddle Mdw are located up the dirt road a bit on #23S64.
Paved Sequoia route# 23S16 continues to climb, which leads to the Speas Meadow, the Greenhorn Mountains & you best have a real good map if you are heading up this way. 20 miles of awesome open meadows, small streams, dense forest, wildflowers, some primitive camp sites & great viewpoints overlooking the Kern Canyon. All passenger car accessible! Elevations between 6000-7000′. Sugarloaf Peak has cross country skiing.
Side route #23S05 will take you to White River Campground w/ 12 spots. The paved road winds west down the mountain to Posey & eventually Glennville on Hwy 155.
Instead, to easily reach Hwy 155 – you’ll need to get on dirt for a few miles. While on 23S16, look for the Panorama Campground (@ 7400′ elevation w/ 10 sites). Take dirt road #24S15 to get back to civilization @ Alta Sierra, California.
No Reservations. most camp sites are available first-come, first-serve
RV limitations: 30 feet
69 miles east of Jackson, CA on Highway 88 and then another 12 miles south on Blue Lakes Road. This area is close to Hope Valley, south of Lake Tahoe, CA
Blue Lakes consist of several developed campgrounds. Blue Lakes Rd# 13 is a well signed, paved road off Hwy 88, just east of Carson Pass (8560′ elev). The route is closed during winter snow, while it serves as a winter recreation area. The main paved road becomes dirt near the campgrounds. A dirt road continues past the lakes and south to Deer Creek and meets w/ Hwy 4 near Ebbett’s Pass.
RV campers, fishing folks, hikers, kayakers and disabled travelers like this lake camp area due to the easy access, paved parking and campground amenities. Handicapped camp sites are also prime lake front locations.
Group Campgrounds are reservable. Picnic Areas, Group Sites and campfire rings. Piped water, bear boxes and vault toilets. No RV hookups, no dump station, no showers. Unimproved boat ramps are available at Upper and Lower Blue Lakes.
Upper Blue Lake Campground elev. 8136′
camp sites: 32
Overflow Camp camp sites: 34
Backpackers and day hikers: Sierra trailheads out here lead south into the Mokelumne Wilderness Area. The infamous Pacific Crest Trail also passes thru this high elevation region: PCT access @ Carson Pass, Upper Lake & Tamarack Lake
EASTBOUND Paved Road #64 is Jess Valley, which leads along the Pit River, cool volcanic cliffs, and up to forested Blue Lake Campground, elevation 6051′
Donner Blue Lake
DONNER PASS – Sierra Nevada
Interstate 80 BLUE LAKE CAMPGROUND
i80 Donner Pass, near Truckee, CA; a PGE Campground w/ 4×4 access and hike-in only. First come, first serve. No tables or restrooms, elevation 5900′
Lake side resort w/ boat rentals and fishing, near Upper Lake, CA
A small resort w/ hotel suites and a lakeside setting w/ abundant nature. Two small lakes, kinda close to the highway. Non motorized boats only, kayaks, paddle boards, canoe, swimming, birdwatching, bike paths and fishing. Wedding venue next to lake. Wineries, restaurants, and a casino nearby.
Plumas Road #24N29, off Bucks Lake Road
East of Bucks Lake, California.
a six mile, one lane, dirt road is the only vehicle access into this high elevation, dammed reservoir, tucked back against the wilderness. Secluded lake campsites await, you’ll just need to get a little dusty first. The turn off, at a small brown sign reading “Silver Lake”, one which is very easy to miss – due to the amount of homes, cabins, fencing and driveways in the vicinity.
No swimming allowed at this Silver Lake, as it serves as a drinking water source for the neighborhoods below. Canoe & kayaking are allowed. Fishing is also popular at this location. Hiking trailheads at Silver Lake lead to the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail), Mount Pleasant, Spanish Peak and a small gem of a swimming hole, we call mini Gold Lake.
This small campground is actually set downhill from the rock earthen dam, which is something to ponder before/during a big earthquake. With sites 1-5 in a shady forest area and the others a bit closer to the lake, no campsite is too close to another. These are all well-spaced-out sites, providing decent privacy and minimal noise from neighboring campers. No campsites are located at the lake edge, as the rocky dam is a long structure and quite complex with water control measures.
All the campsites have new bear boxes for food storage, cuz ‘wilderness’ usually means black bears are roaming about. Deer tend to frequent campsites 1 & 2.
2020 update: overnight camping fees now charged at this campground
Silver Lake Campground NFS
• Elevation: 5800′
• Number of Sites: 9
• Vehicle Accessibility: RV 22′
• Campsite Reservations: No
• Camp Fee: Yes
• Toilet: Vault
• Water: No piped/potable
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: May – October
• Trailheads: PCT, Gold Lake, Rock Lake, Granite Gap, Bucks Lake Wilderness
As with most of the high elevation lakes in California, winter months can mean deep snow and dirt road closures. This campground is usually open through the end of October, but call head to the local rangers if in doubt.
Plumas National Forest
Mt. Hough Ranger District
39696 State Highway 70
Quincy, CA 95971
Inyo National Forest @ Yosemite East
Tioga Pass Hwy 120
This spectacular setting has a top-of-the-world feeling to it. Gorgeous meadow area, right along the main highway, with a small lake next to giant rock slides and impressive granite mountains.
The air is thin, the sky is clearest blue, the snow is melting, the stream is trickling and the nights are chilly – even in summer. Bring a winter coat and extra blankets, if you plan to camp.
Ellery is small campground is located just outside the EAST GATE of Yosemite National Park, along Highway 120 Tioga Pass. Easily accessible and fully paved, this camp is only open half the year due to deep snowpack. The snow usually melts by June, and camp often closes early due to higher elevation weather, sometime in October or November.
Lee Vining Canyon is to the east and Mount Dana is to the west.
Ellery Lake is one of those magical places, where you can spend all day out in nature – without needing to drive anywhere. Gorgeous high country scenery surrounds you in every direction. Walk over to nearby meadows, creeks or neighboring lakes. Climb mountain peaks or enjoy extended day hikes. Watch wildlife from camp or fish in the lake. Stargaze at night w/ the darkest skies around.
Or how about, walk to dinner? This place is easy walking distance to the historic Tioga Pass Resort, where you can enjoy a real, sit-down meal at the cafe. (Hope they will re-open 2020)
Ellery Lake – camp, hike, fish or kayak. No motor boats allowed.
Travelers heading to or from the National Park, often stop at Ellery to take photos and walk around. There is always a flurry of activity around easily accessible lakes and this one is no different. The busy highway and constant traffic may be heard from camp, but the ideal location and epic lake makes up for the inconvenience.
This NFS campground is one of many small camps located along the highway, on the east side of Yosemite National Park. This special place is in high demand, can fill up fast and is quite busy most of the summer.
perfect for tent campers
Small parking areas, tight walkways, landscape and minimal campsites makes this a “no-turn-around” kinda campground, so don’t bring that huge RV (cuz it won’t fit).
Most sites do not have enough room to park a second vehicle at all. Each campsite has a locker for food storage. (bear country = store food properly)
Ellery Lake Campground
• Elevation: 9,538′
• Number of Sites: 12
• Camping Reservations: No
• Sites Available: First come, First serve
• Vehicle Accessibility: Vehicle limit 28 ft.
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Water: Potable water
• Toilet: Vault
• Season: Closed during winter & spring
• Fee: Yes
• Operated By: National Forest Service
• Closest Town: Lee Vining, CA
Tucked way back in the granite high elevations, near Donner Pass is a wilderness water flow called Canyon Creek. Connecting small lakes and big reservoir, this creek is part of the Nevada District water supply. The Sierra Nevada region is Tahoe National Forest and the terrain is abundant rock.
Campground is perched on the edge of rock overlooking the impressive whitewater; sounds of crashing water at certain campsites is deafening. Half of the campsites are located in a forest loop and the rest are out in the open, with much granite and fewer trees, perfect for star watchers.
Canyon Creek California
Lake Faucherie is a mile up the creek and Sawmill Lake is a mile down stream, so it’s a great fishing location, as well as hiking, kayaking and canoeing destination. The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is also routed close by. A hiking trailhead at the north end of Sawmill Lake leads to a loop hike of small lakes.
roughest roads in the region
Campground loop is paved, but the 12+ mile access road is NOT.
Twenty plus miles of paved & gravel backroads in boulder-hopping bliss, leads to granite lined lakes and forested campsites. Two different driving routes into this canyon:
One is the longer way Road 18 – paved access off of Gold Country Highway 20, which becomes an 8 mile long, rocky, rough, one-lane road around Bowman Lake.
The other is slightly shorter, county road #843 that comes in the back way from Jackson Meadow Reservoir (off Hwy 89, N of Truckee).
Both of these primitive roads join at Jackson Creek Campground, a favorite among off-roaders.
Canyon Creek Campground is another few miles up Road ##843-037, a rugged canyon route towards Lake Faucherie, where the road comes to a dead end.
Don’t let the old maps fool you: these National Forest Roads are labeled as gravel roads, but boulders and rock slides are quite common. 4×4 would be nice, but high clearance is recommended.
Minimal signs designate trails, roads and lake access; What signs that do exist are old, faded and broken. No warning signage reading ‘high clearance’ or ‘4WD recommended’ – so obviously Tahoe NF won’t be installing new signs anytime soon.
Faucherie, Sawmill and Bowman Lakes are all along this waterway called Canyon Creek.
National Forest Campground Latitude: 39.436863 Longitude: -120.579564
Canyon Creek Campground
• Elevation: 6600′
• Number of Sites: 20
• Toilet: Vault
• Vehicle Access: High Clearance Vehicle, no trailers
• Campsites Reservation: No
• Camp Fee: No
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: June – October
• Trailheads: Faucherie & Sawmill Lakes
• Managing agency: Nevada Irrigation District
Canyon Creek Campground is an excellent campground for staying away from the crowds, which seem to focus more around Bowman Lake & Jackson Meadows Reservoir.
All campsites at this campground have steel bear boxes – for proper food storage in black bear country.
Prefer camping outside of developed campgrounds? then the primitive camp sites that line Canyon Creek will be a welcomed surprise. Most are clearly marked with small signs and some may require 4×4 to access. When fire restrictions are tight, campfires are only allowed in the developed campgrounds.
Frazier Park and neighboring towns, like freeway-close Lebec and Gorman, is where the Los Angeles hills meet the Kern County mountains. Mojave Desert meets to Coastal Range. EXIT I-5 @ Tejon Pass (elev 4144′)
Wildflower hills, seasonal creeks, forested peaks, high desert canyons. Bike trails, hike trails, off road routes. High elevation backpacking, hang gliding, mountain biking and camping in every direction.
High desert washes, oak creeks, pinyon pine forests, mountain meadows and numerous peaks – Frazier Peak, Reyes Peak, Alamo Mountain, Mount Pinos, Mount Abel (Cerro Noroeste) and north facing San Emigdio ridge.
Many dirt roads are gated seasonally for wet weather or snow. Call rangers to find out which routes are open before you plan your weekend. Or have a plan B and C camp site ready if route is closed. Flashfloods, thunderstorms, and erosion means you may all-of-a-sudden need to use your 4WD. This is the mountains after all. UNpredictable weather is common.
Sherman’s Pass Road: J41 Mojave to Kern River, Sequoia Forest Rd# 22S05
Sequoia National Forest
This paved Southern Sierra highway (aka J41, off US 395) is a paved route through the eastern portion of the Sequoia National Forest. A curvy mountain corridor which crosses over the forested plateau and also the South Fork of the Kern River. This road skirts the Domeland Wilderness & the South Sierra Wilderness. The PCT (Pacific Crest Trail runs across it as well, near Kennedy Meadows.
East side of Sequoia National Forest, the Kern Plateau meets the Mojave desert w/ BLM Camping & Inyo National Forest.
The Sherman route connects the Kern River, near Fairview to Kennedy Meadows & closes for snow in winter months. There are plenty seasonal creeks, meadows & forests in this region. Elevations range from 4000′ near the Kern River to 8000′ at Black Rock Station.
This is one of many small lakes situated within the Lakes Basin Recreation Area , in the Northern Sierra Nevada mountains. Just north of Downieville & Historic Gold Country. Snag Lake is nothing special compared to the rest of the scenic lakes close by, but it is worth a mention due to a few fun facts.
One thing this small lake campground does have is convenience, located right on the Gold Lake Highway – next to Goose Lake, plus hiking distance to the largest of the lakes, Gold Lake. The second feature is the campground is small, 16 primitive sites, picnic tables & one vault toilet. The third thing is that this is a FREE campground; no charge.
Snag Lake Campground
• Elevation: 6600′
• Number of Sites: 16
• Vehicle Accessibility: Small RVs
• Campsites Reservation: No
• Camp Fee: No
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: June – October
• Trailheads: Gold Lake
dirt drive (no pavement)
No motorized boats allowed. No paved boat ramps. Kayaks & canoes can hand launch from several spots. The dirt driveway is easily missed, especially at night. The old wooden, forest service sign is not reflective. The vault toilet is close to the highway and the camp sites are along the lake edge. No pavement anywhere!
Upon arrival, camper trailers will want to get out and select the best route to a camp site. The small boulders, dead trees, root and rock obstacles are abundant on the dirt road entry, all around the campground, and at each camp site. High clearance vehicles would fair best at this camp, but some passenger cars may be able to manage the rocky entrance. Get out and look at the road, before scraping across the biggest rock. Slowly, carefully, maybe… and preferably an arrival before dark.
LOCALS TIP: The wind tends to pick up at night around these lakes, so brace your tent well and position your vehicle appropriately.
Obviously with a name like SNAG, you can imagine that the fishing here is not the best, since roots and old tree stumps make up a good portion of the shoreline. Luckily there are a dozen alpine lakes within a 20 mile radius to choose from for another fishing spot. Some lakes are hike-in only, some require 4×4 to reach and others have cabin resorts.
Gold Lake Hwy (or Gold Lake Road) closes in the winter months (NOV-APRIL) due to snow and the region is used as a winter recreation area. Cross-country skiing and snow-mobiling are both popular activities.
Lassen – Snag Lake
ANOTHER SNAG LAKE in NorCal, can be found by foot, hiking into the Lassen Volcanic Wilderness. Backpacking the lake loop is approx 17 miles RT and includes 3 lakes – Snag Lake, Widow Lake, and Jakey Lake. Trailhead is located at Juniper Lake, at the north shore.
High elevation NFS campground, located in a huge granite valley w/ waterfalls, wildflowers and aspen groves. The setting is breathtaking and the high altitude valley is nothing less than grand.
The views (east to the Owens valley) are from the paved road up, or from the hiking trails leading up outta camp. Gotta hike up (on foot) to see the views! Any visitor that does not hike, will be missing out on the best features of this destination. Plan to spend more than one day at Onion Valley.
ONLY OPEN for summer months! This small, developed campground closes annually. Big winters and deep snow is the norm w/ elevation this high.
The paved road is long and very winding; sheer cliffs, steep drop offs, hairpin curves, minimal guard rails. RV motorhomes are not allowed on this route, due to the steepness of the terrain and the narrow roadway.
EB from Fresno, Hwy 168 up to Shaver, w/ another 30+ miles on paved backroads
(Dinkey Creek Rd & then McKinley Grove Rd)
Way, way back, beyond Dinkey
You gotta really wanna BE at places like this. Magical High Sierra mountains – California’s finest. Sheer beauty surrounds this lake w/ granite domes, granite cliffs, granite trails, forests, peaks and plenty hiking, fishing, water and boating. It does take planning (way ahead) to make it out here, cuz the area is only accessible during summer months. Typical of high altitude lakes, snow buries them annually and the roads get closed off to the public (usually NOV-MAY is winter). Some backcountry routes become snowmobiling trails during winter, and the Sierra National Forest has plenty of great snomo action (if snow is deep).
Wishon Lake, California
High Sierra Granite Reservoir with pines trees and rocky, granite shoreline. Not nearly as amazing as its cousin w/ the domes to the north, Courtright, Wishon has less granite & less wind, but more accessible backroads to explore, plus more car camping options. Both lakes are part of the Helms Creek hydro-electric project (dams) that make up the PG&E water infrastructure out in these parts – The Kings River Drainage System.
Backpacker trailheads, Woodchuck, Rancheria & Crown Valley all lead to dead end dirt roads – with nothing but solitude for miles & miles. Some might be passenger car accessible. Winter weather changes dirt road conditions (often).
The Kings River Geological Area is nearby, as well as both the John Muir Wilderness & Dinkey Lakes Wilderness.
Large Reservoir with 8,000-10,000′ high sierra mountain peaks surrounding. Pine forests, views, fishing, camping, hiking in every direction, secluded dirt roads. Perfect high elevation trailheads, next to John Muir Wilderness. Great for backpackers!
All boating, but no waterski or jet ski.
One public boat ramp. Fishing boat rentals available.
Wishon is a summer vacation paradise for trout fishing, hiking, backpacking and back road exploring.
CLOSED FOR WINTER: NOV-APRIL = Snow closes the road for winter. For all you hardcore campers and hikers, you must call ahead to see if roads are open. It is rural forest, well traveled, but snow storms will shut everything down out here (for many months). Although, in some mild winters you can drive as far as Dinkey Creek on pavement. Gates are locked beyond that.
Dinkey Creek Campground
Gigantea Campground McKinley Sequoia Grove
Sawmill Campground (dirt road)
Free, primitive or open camping abundant on the dirt backroads in Sierra National Forest. 4 wheel drive is not required for most routes, but a high clearance rig would help. Some gravel roads are graded annually and suitable for passenger cars – during summer months and only for about the first mile or two, off of the main road (pavement). Mud and snow are common on backroads!
Located inside the Sierra Juarez Mountains
Parque Nacional Constitucion de 1857, or
Constitucion de 1857 National Park, Baja California, Mexico
Pine forests in Baja California: Dirt roads access Laguna Hanson, so come prepared to drive many miles with dust & potholes — more than 20+ miles from the paved highway just to reach this prime high elevation destination. Since most of Baja is desert, dirt and coastline, this location is a rare treat for those wishing to travel (off the beaten path). The tallest mountain peak in Baja is nearby with the University Observatory.
Baja Camping in the Mountains
Water levels drop well below normal & what we end up with is a shallow lake with huge boulders emerged. Kinda surreal looking. Tall pines & dense forest surrrounding lake. Wide open & flat areas perfect for biking, stargazing and group camping.
This Baja National Park campground is more like dispersed, or open camping around lake shore. Very popular place in the summer months & if you want seclusion camp away from the lake, deep in the forest. The best quiet spots are located in the north east vicinity.
No motorhomes allowed: the road is steep, long, all dirt and narrow in certain spots.
bouldering (rock climbing)
dirt bike trails
No services at lake. Minimal camping facilities. Self sufficient campers a must.
BRING EVERYTHING = ice chest w/ block ice, drinking water, flat tire repair kits, tow strap; extra blankets, medication, first aid kit. There is no store within 30+ miles of here, and the dirt road is very long (both ways) – so it is best to be prepared with all food and beverages.
LOCALS NOTE: An occasional rancher may approach your camp with his farm truck, selling fresh made cheese, beef jerky or other farm produce.
No pavement, no picnic tables. Minimal pit toilets, few rangers patrolling and rock fire rings.
CAMPERS TIP: The toilets can be nasty!! Bring a shovel and wipes; walk into the forest for your bathroom break.
OHV trails are nearby. OFF ROADING, dirt biking and 4×4 routes are essentially any dirt road that is within this forest; Drive slower, keep your ears peeled and watch out when they pass you, cuz they are most nimble and quicker.
No motorcycles signs are posted, but that doesn’t stop them riding all hours of the night. The mountains near Tecate and Mike’s Sky Ranch both cater to dirt bikers and tours, and are located nearby (sorta).
Park rangers & rules here are a lot more lax that in the “States”.
MAP NOTE: Google Maps has this place listed as Laguna Juarez
Sequoia National Park: Cold Springs Campground in Mineral King Area
A large developed camp ground with bear lockers, a raging creek, some walk in sites, & access to the Sierra Nevada high country trails. This is the last real campground in the main valley, everything beyond this spot is pure alpine highcountry.
9000′-13,000′ peaks – in the Southern Sierra Nevada mountains. Car camp, tent camping or bring a backpack and climb to pristine lakes and into the real Wilderness.
Cold Springs Campground, California
on the East Fork of the Kaweah River, closest campground to the hiker trailheads @ Mineral King Valley. Mineral King Road open May-October (depending on snow)
Atop the mighty canyon sits mountain passes, peaks and lakes above 10,000′ elevation. A rocky alpine valley of wonder and water, granite, dark skies and a good night sleep. Black bears and hikers are everywhere, anytime.
This sweet spot river campground has more than 25 camp sites, but there is not a lot to choose from way back here on the dead end back road known as Mineral King in California. Just up the road a piece from Silver City. Nearest real town is Three Rivers near Sequoia NP south gate, California State Route 198.
Western Sierra /
Sequoia South Camping –
37 camp sites in Mineral King @ 7500′ elevation
vault toilets, river and piped water, bear boxes first come, first served camping
Max Camper Length: 0
(RV, motorhomes, camper trailers are not allowed)
Rangers Office: 559-565-3768
Cold Springs Campground has several campsites right on a river with other sites set up a steep forested hills. There are good number of walk-in camp sites at the end of this campground, ideal for backpackers arriving late at night. The actual walk is more like a hike, so be prepared to carry your stuff a mile down a steep forested trail. You will be rewarded with a great camp spot, near the river, away from the parking lot and noise of the car campers above. Tar Gap hiking trail leads out of Coldsprings campground and straight into the back country.
Coldsprings Camp & Atwell Mill are the only options for local tent camping.
Strapping on a backpack and heading for the high country is what most visitors do, as this is an ideal high country trailhead accessible from the western reaches of the Sierra Nevada range.
East of Three Rivers, CA on Highway 198 – Mineral King Road peels off to the right, south east to a vast 30 mile long canyon. This mostly paved route closes for winter months when snow is present and rock slides are common. There is a few miles of unpaved, graded 2 lane road, but the majority is paved. Late spring (May) is typically the opening season for this road. RVs, buses, and trailers are not allowed on this narrow, winding road!
BIG TREES NOTE: Although this gorgeous, secluded canyon is located within Sequoia National Park, there are no Sequoia redwood trees in this particular canyon. And you might need to drive an hour up the other mountain to reach them. Just a consideration. If you have your heart set on the seeing the big trees, go do that on another trip. Mineral King is a journey and after your drive that road you will understand a few times.
HIKER PARKING: The NPS rangers station is walking distance from Cold Springs Campground. A beautiful meadow walk to the east of the campground. Bears are known to frequent the area, so locking all food in the provided metal bear lockers is a must.
Badgers are a problem too. Them critters eat radiator hoses – no joke! A good roll of chicken wire could be needed if you plan to leave your car unattended for any length of time.
If you know you wanna head up in elevation, higher altitudes – to the pine forests of California, but have no clue where to start, this page may be very helpful in determining your ultimate destination. We have hundreds of pages on adventures & locations throughout the golden state. We sell all California maps for outdoor recreation, hiking topos to off road routes.
Wanna camp under the stars this weekend – and avoid the crowds too? You will need a good back road map to find this awesome camp site, guaranteed. Need a hammock spot, small swimming hole & total seclusion? Or how about a large family camp w/ Sequoia grove nearby? Total Escape has something for every ones budget & lifestyle. See below for an extensive breakdown of California mountain regions.
#1 SoCal mountains have tighter restrictions on campfires, larger number of people camping in a smaller amount of space, minimal primitive camping options in the forests, more fees to access these lands.
The Sierra Nevada mountains are the prime outdoor destination for many in the Central California region. High elevations w/ granite slabs to lower country reservoirs & riverside oak flats. Folks come from all over the world to visit parks and lakes within this mountain range. Indeed, 4 National Parks call the Sierras home: Lassen, Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia NP – not to mention the 10 National Forest and 15+ Wilderness Areas.
You want big water? Cabins next to a prime fishing river or camping near lakes, creeks with dense forests, then you will have to drive to the mid Sierra or even NorCal to find ’em.
California Mountain Regions Defined –
find the details on specific region for California mountains
Find little known parks, camps and forests within our vast California BACK ROADS data base. Below is a small sampling of our picturesque mountain pages, where you can find the best seclusion: hiking, camping, fishing, mountain biking trails, rivers, creeks and peaks.
calif lakes / secluded lakes / loop hike around lake / best lake in california / lake elevation / geology lakes / alpine lakes
Wilderness lakes are as pure as it gets. No cattle, no roads nearby. Snow melt, cool days, good fishing, great mountain scenery, granite, fresh air & clean water. You have to really wanna reach them. You must physically WORK to get to these remote alpine wonderlands – hike, bike, or horseback.
Some lakes are accessible via a day hike, with miles of forest trails or granite switchbacks in between. Waterfalls, wildflowers and wildlife will keep you entertained, as you enjoy your trek. No rush, no pressure; Go slow and take it all in. Remember, it’s not a race!
Most people prefer to backpack in to these locations and stay a while. Why not? These puppies are ACCESSIBLE only a few months outta the whole year. May as well enjoy them while you can. The rest of the time they are frozen solid or buried with serious snow. Wilderness areas do not allow dogs nor mountain bikes on trails, so plan accordingly.
camp, fish, hike, horseback, swim
California is lucky to have hundreds of lakes within protected wilderness areas. Almost all are gorgeous and have very limited access. While we haven’t yet been able to hike every Wilderness in Cali, we will leave you with the visuals and links, plus a way to buy the specific topo maps.
HIGH ALTITUDE LAKES: 4000′ elevation to 14,000′ elevation
SEASONAL deep SNOW makes many of these beautiful lakes inaccessible for more than half the year. Call ahead to local rangers to make sure your desired destination is indeed open for traffic. Certain locations may require snow shoes, snowmobile or a 4WD to access.
Forget the hike!
If you are seeking a remote mountain lake that you can drive to, you will need to search for one that has the fewest people. A high clearance vehicle will help you exit the tourist traps, via plenty of the back roads. Some dirt roads are acessible with just a passenger car or AWD wagon. Talk to the ‘field ranger’ for up-todate road conditions and closures. Make sure to get a campfire permit, before you camp outside of developed campgrounds. Always steer clear of crowded, holiday weekends.
alphabetically listed; cross reference by lake or campground name. reservations may be accepted for certain locations; follow links.
Developed Lake Campgrounds
Most of the lake campgrounds listed below are traditional style campgrounds with easy access: paved driveways, toilets, tables, maybe piped water. Various agencies manage these park campsites and additional links are provided.
Some of the campgrounds may be more primitive than others, with long dirt road access, gravel driveways, and minimal facilities. This list includes a wide range of lakes, from reservable group camps, to private RV resorts to back road beauties. Even a few campgrounds without fees!
Higher elevation locations close-up for the seasonal winter snow, which can last from NOV-MAY (or later, depending on snowmelt).
no motor boats?
wilderness lake fishing?
Each lake camp is different, so know what is available at the location before you get out there. Many spots do not have a boat ramp. Some lakes do not allow swimming. Some might be 4×4 access only, w/ hairy granite rock road, 12 miles long. If you require a general store within walking distance, then get the maps out, follow links and make sure.
The majority of California cities are located near sea level, with low lying farmlands and populated coastlines common throughout world geography. California has super diversity w/ the population, as well as the elevation and the terrain. Vast rugged deserts bordering Nevada, from high deserts (8000′ @ Bodie ghost town) to low deserts (below sea level for Mecca) near the Salton Sea. Towering granite peaks with minimal vegetation, to fern canyons and redwood groves at the coast, California has quite the unique landscape.
The beautiful golden state is also home to the highest and lowest point within the lower 48 states; and those points are only about 100 miles apart – Death Valley (-282′ elev) and Mount Whitney (14,494′ elev).
MTN TOWN: upper elevation mountain towns w/ forests and flowing water, are primarily located in the Sierra Nevada range which runs the backbone of California in a north-south direction, separating the Pacific Ocean from the Great Basin. High altitudes are abundant in California, especially in the Eastern Sierra – but most are only accessible by foot.
The coastal mountain range and the Sierra Nevada encompasses most of Central California. The rest of the space is dedicated to large cities, farmlands and farming towns – which are most lower elevation. Orchards and vineyards can be found in the foothills (200′-2000′ elevation)
Northern California has more mountains and rivers, generally higher elevations and plenty more space to explore. Secluded forests, rivers, creeks, lakes, and reservoirs can be found above 2000′ elevation, north of Sacramento. The bigger mountains in the far north part of the state are part of the Cacade Range, which is volcanic in nature. (Mt. Lassen & Mt. Shasta). More water, more trees and more land – NorCal is very different than the lower half of the golden state.
Snow is always a factor in mid to high altitude towns with road conditions being unpredictable with each mountain range and each micro-climate. Winter months range from late October to May, so be warned. Above 3000′ elevation usually gets some snow. Serious snow above 5000′. Some High Sierra Passesdon’t open until JULY (Yosemite Hwy 120 & Sonora Hwy 108). Carry tire chains or have 4×4 to travel safely on snowy roads. Guard rails are seldom around every curve.
Steep, rocky, gravel road, way up above (and behind) Convict Lake. 4WD may be needed during wet or snowy weather. High clearance is always advised. Locked GATE at the bottom means the NFS rangers have closed the route (seasonally) for deep snow, rock slides, avalanches, or other erosion hazards.
Laurel Canyon, US Hwy 395
Oldest, exposed rock in the Sierra Nevada mountains range. Buckling granite w/ volcanic rocks. Evidence of glacial activity including, terminal, lateral, and recessional moraines, glacial striations and polish, erratic boulders, and of course the numerous lakes. see more
Inyo Forest Road #4S12
also known as Inyo Road 12, and also Rock Creek Rd.
Majestic mountain scenery. Popular paved route that leads from US 395 up to Rock Creek Lake, on the edge of granite wild lands; lake is situated above 9000′ elevation and the hiker trailheads are further up, beyond the lake at over 10,000 feet. Steep canyon, large canyon, rocky granite canyon, high elevation.
Super scenic drive, but open less than half the year, due to deep snow. Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains. Inyo National Forest
A popular and favorite place for summer camping, fishing and hiking. Backpacking, horse trails, high elevation lakes, mountain passes, peaks, wilderness areas. RV campgrounds, tent camping, car camping. Mountain biking in vast canyon, near campgrounds and creek. No bikes in the Wilderness (up and above Rock Creek)
Autumn colors, aspen groves usually best in early October. Snow closure in winter months (Nov-May).
elevation 7072′ @ Tom’s Place, CA (US Hwy 395)
elevation 9682′ @ Rock Creek Lake
elevation 10,272′ @ Trailhead Parking (end of road)
UP, UP, HIGHER & AROUND LAKE
One lane, paved route gets narrow, but keeps on climbing. Road #6S05 continues up – past Rock Creek Lake and ends at hiking trailheads, paved parking lot and a few picnic spots.
12 NFS Campgrounds in this region, starting with one at the highway, several along the way and the campgrounds at Rock Creek Lake.
No campfires are allowed in this canyon – outside of a developed campground. Not much in the way of primitive car camping options either, except for strapping on a backpack and heading into high elevation wilderness.