Aspen Groves are easy to recognize with their thick stands. White trunks with dark knots, slender, with oval shaped leaves. Growing in a network of roots, which are found lining creeks, alpine lakes, or spilling out from higher elevations, along scenic canyons.
The unique round leaves which can turn spectacular colors in the fall season. The fluttering and flapping of the oval-shaped, thick, green leaf is a sure sign of summer. When breezes get cooler, Autumn is only a few weeks away and as quick as the cold comes in, what a short and special show they put on.
California Fall Colors
Aspen trees can be found at higher mountain elevations in California, usually above 4000′ – all the way up to about 10,000′ or higher, depending on the mountain range and local water flows. Groves have an extensive root systems underground, so they often withstand wildfires and can come back after the rest of the forest is gone.
Beavers build dams in creeks around aspen trees, fishermen and campers love to camp next to aspens, and lovers carve their initials into their white bark. These trees do indeed take a beating, from all angles, winter weather included… so stop from cutting them!
summer and autumn
These deciduous trees are naked half the year, typically from November to April, as winter buries them in snow and ice. Time is of the essence, limited to Summer and Autumn – to enjoy their shade and the beauty of the groves. Scenic meadows and fishing creeks are just an added bonus for searching out the aspen.
Aspens can be found in hidden canyons, primarily along the Eastern Sierra US Hwy 395 and surrounding mountain lakes. Some Sierra Passes have decent displays of color as well – like Carson Pass Hwy 88 and Yosemite’s Tioga Pass Hwy 120.
Below is a list of Total Escape’s favorite aspen areas of California
These are the roads that drivers love. More room to roam, more space, more pavement, more scenery to love and less people, less drivers and less distractions. California has endless roadways that wind through every part of the entire state. If you enjoy real driving in California, you like the curvy roads & scenery. Total Escape has dedicated numerous hours to the collection of back roads in California. Some paved, some not.
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:
Sequoia Foothills Reservoir, CA SR 198 Kaweah Lake
Southern Sierra lake located on Kaweah River, near the mouth of Mineral King Canyon. In between the western Sierra foothills and the agricultural San Joaquin Valley. West of Sequoia NP, east of Visalia, California.
Sequoia National Park
There are several recreational reservoirs that are situated at the base of the Sierras, along the western slopes. The Kaweah River transports snowmelt deep from the Sierra Nevada mountains, down to the San Joaquin Valley (Central Valley), for human consumption, households, and agriculture.
Sequoia Highway 198 has many side routes worth exploring: Mineral King Road will get you to amazing scenery, but there ARE NOT ANY Sequoia groves up that way; Crystal Cave, open for tours is located near the south entrance of the National Park; and a lesser known campground in this area is called South Fork, off on a residential side route canyon – South Fork Drive (Road #348); Located on the quiet South Fork of the Kaweah River.
Sequoia Atlas Three Rivers is small town, located along the Kaweah River, near south entrance to Sequoia National Park
North Fork Drive: North Fork of the Kaweah River is a seldom traveled dirt back road that leads from the east side of the lake @ Hwy 198, northbound (along the North Fork of Kaweah River), straight into the backdoor of Sequoia National Park’s ridge line highway @ Dorst Campground. The original town of Kaweah (elev 960′) is along this route. Many small dirt roads to explore up this way and a good topo map is advised.
Eshom Campground(on western border of Sequoia NP), a small slice of Giant Sequoia National Monument land, Redwood Creek and a trailhead called Redwood Saddle are all back up in here.
Have a few good maps to cross-reference while traveling back roads and trails.
This major dirt route is often closed and gated by the rangers during wet, winter months.
(before the dot com crash, before digital cameras, before GPS, before social media & way ahead of smartphones)
Sole creative force of Total Escape, Dana Williams left her 3D animation career to start living and working her dream job, online and off. Utilizing artistic talents, computer skills, a vast knowledge of the California landscape and a simple love of nature, to make it all come together for a killer web site called Total Escape. Over 25 years online means fresh content & updates every month; reworking web code every few years to keep up with various browsers, apps, maps, and wildfires.
“travel agent to the back woods”
Living close to the earth with organic gardening and rural living, DanaMite strives to offer California residents, new-comers and visitors unique, local destinations, concentrating on the outdoors – well away from overcrowded, busy, urban cities and tourist traps. Total Escape can show you how to discover the secret, hidden spots on your public lands that the gov web sites will not even dare to mention.
the independent source for California travel
NO CORPORATE sponsorship No venture capital No government subsidies No annoying pop-up ads
No scripts chugging bandwidth No membership needed
Decades without a television set lends plenty of time for studying terrain, topographic maps, GPS coordinates and thousands of photographs to compile more than 8000 pages on just California travel. Far from the daily grind of everyday life, DanaMite continues in educating the public about local travel, camping, family farms, organic cafes, outdoor recreation, respecting the land, responsible use of our resources & how to get more enjoyment out of weekend travels.
There are many gorgeous rivers in California that are perfect for camping and fishing, but none are located in Southern California. None! Yep, you read that right. If you think about it, the golden state is about half desert! The majority of our natural water in our state is coming from the north – so take this as a warning: you might need to drive a few hours to find your ideal river camp.
The easy-to-access waterways are found mostly along highways in the Sierra Nevada – or way up in NorCal. Deep granite gorges carved out by glaciers, surrounded by forested peaks is only half the appeal. High elevation lakes, waterfalls, big trees, abundant wildlife, and the alpine villages are all part of the Sierra Nevada experience. Raft, kayak, fly fish, hike, bike or just camp out next to a big, rushing, flowing river. Our selection of California maps will get you narrowed down to a specific region, so you can find that perfect river campground, or explore and discover the back roads – for the most seclusion.
KERN RIVER: The Kern River is one of the most popular of all the Sierra rivers due to its proximity to SoCal. Hurried, stressed-out, Angelinos (LA) can be at this destination in under 3 hours – which makes it a very busy place most months.
So, let it be told, that summer is not the best time to enjoy the Kern. If you do plan a summer outting, make sure you head for the Upper Kern (10+ mi N of Kernville & Lake Isabella) or the North Fork of the Kern (out in Monache Meadows) where 4×4 is often needed.
The Lower Kern River has only 2 developed campgrounds: Hobo (closed for damage 2019) andSandy Flat (open all year). Numerous primitive camp spots are available along Old Kern Canyon Rd, which parallels the Hwy 178 on the south side. None of which are located at the rivers edges. Remington Hot Springs is a popular spot for soaking. Fishing trails, mountain biking trails and hiking trails, all over. Fire danger is great in this area, so pay extra close attention to signs and fire restrictions.
Kern River above Lake Isabella and Kernville is a better choice for camping availability.
Everybody loves Yosemite! This is the most popular park in the whole state; maybe the whole nation.
The majority of campers want to stay “right on the river” when they visit Yosemite NP, but that is just plain old impossible, since reservations go fast and there is only so much room for everyone in this enclosed, narrow, precious valley.
This particular park has some major floods (1997 & 2005) that wiped out bridges, road ways; all the old wooden cabins (at Yosemite Lodge) are gone and only half of the campgrounds are still available. Yosemite has had 11 winter floods since 1916 that have caused substantial damage to property. That number is expected to increase, as winter precipitation is getting less predictable.
Reservations are taken for camping and cabins – far in advance; like one year. No joke!
3 Yosemite Campgrounds are located next to the Merced River (inside spectacular Yosemite Valley)
Way up in the Yosemite high country, which is only open a few months outta the year, the beautiful Tuolumne Meadows Campground is located next to lush meadows and the scenic Tuolumne River. All Yosemite campsites must be reserved well in advance, so visit links above – if you are serious about a Yosemite camping trip anytime soon.
MOKELUMNE RIVER: Way up the road, deep in the western Sierra, Gold Country. Small NFS campgrounds, right on the river; Access is long, narrow paved, switch-back road, not suitable for RVs or trailers.
STANISLAUS RIVER: The Sonora Pass, the fishing is very decent way back in this granite gorge. Highway 108 is only open a few months outta the year, due to deep snow & rock slides – so time is of the essence. Summer time is prime vacation weather up here. Several campgrounds are located right on the river, or on the major feeder streams. Or you can opt for secluded primitive camping on the back roads. Find Sonora camping in Stanislaus National Forest.
YUBA RIVER: The biggest play time river in the northern Gold Country, this runs along Hwy 49 near Downieville and also has a major South Fork for the best swimming holes and primitive camping in this region. Tubing, rafting, kayaking, fishing, camping, gold panning, you name it, Yuba has it. Look for more on the South Yuba Recreation Map, or the USDA issued Tahoe National Forest Map
FEATHER RIVER: Top fishing river in the Lassen to Oroville area. Chester and Lake Almanor in the upper reaches. High Bridge Campground is nice paved-camp-site camping; a forested spot where you can fish 2 rivers on the same day. A Plumas NF or Lassen NF map would be quite helpful for this region. Lower down the mountain, lower Feather Rivers which include all 4 forks which feed Lake Oroville – West Fork (Paradise, CA), North Fork, Middle Fork Feather, (Berry Creek, CA) and the South Fork (Lumpkin). Lots of waterways and creeks worth exploring in between Chico and the mountain town of Quincy.
KINGS RIVER: This one particular river is the longest in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, pulling snow melt from the upper reaches of the High Country and Mount Whitney. The river area just to the West of the National Park, over to Pine Flat Reservoir, is all prime for outdoor recreation. Several river rafting companies work this stretch of river.
GIANT SEQUOIA: in between Sequoia & Kings Canyon, inside Sequoia NF
This chunk of National Forest land is perfectly located in between 2 very popular National Parks – Kings Canyon and Sequoia. This primary paved road leads to some great camping, a perfect option for NOT camping inside the crowed National Parks.
Turn east off of Sequoia ‘Generals Highway’ 198, on to the well signed Big Meadow Rd. There is primitive camping all over this area & a few developed campgrounds along this route. Motorhomes be warned: the road narrows to one lane with no “turn outs” or U turn spots for the last 10 miles (on a steep cliff w/ large overhanging rocks)
In the first few miles, the dispersed camp sites on the right side have great views & some situated on fairly flat granite slabs, perfect for astronomer campers or adventurous RVs. To the left side of the road is more primitive style campsites in wooded areas. The whole area is also a very popular cross country ski & snowmobiling spot for winter recreation. Hunters also like these camps during hunting season (in September).
There is a developed Horse Camp on the left side of the road for equestrian campers. This camp is located across from the biggest meadow and may be the first place you notice on this drive.
Buck Rock Campground (7600′ elevation, 5 spots) & Big Meadows Campground (7600′ elevation, 25 spots) are both family style camps, perfect for those who want picnic tables, plus bathroom nearby. Sorry no flush toilets out here, only pit toilets.
Buck Rock Fire Lookout Tower @ 8500′ elevation – is located to the north on Forest Rd # 14S02. It’s a great spot for some impressive views – if you aren’t afraid of heights. To reach the tower you must climb several flights of steel steps. This place is worth a stop if planning a sightseeing day.
Big Meadows Guard Station @ 7500′ elevation (also known as Big Meadows Cabin), is located next to the BIG MEADOW and is available for rent on a weekend basis from the NFS. Hiking Jennie Lakes Wilderness and fly fishing Big Meadows Creek are favorite activities to be enjoyed.
Big Meadows Road is long & narrow – 12+ miles. RVs are not recommended beyond the Big Meadow Campground, as the road is one lane in some spots & it skirts a cliff edge. The views are incredible the farther you go & many creeks feed the region.
The narrow, long paved road eventually forks off into several smaller dirt roads back near Horse Corral Meadow. Way back here, the dirt roads lead out to trail heads for backpacking, horse packing or day hiking in Jennie Lakes & Monarch Wilderness. Backcountry access to either Sequoia or Kings Canyon National Park! Have a good map if you plan to venture out this far. Pay attention & don’t get lost.
GPS would be helpful in this area. Some of the smaller of the dirt roads are not even on the NFS maps. Make sure to GPS way-point your favorite camp site, so you can find in next time…. in the dark.
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)
Angeles National Forest extends far north of Santa Clarita, CA. Way up Interstate 5, almost to Tejon Pass (4144′ elev). On the west side of the freeway is Los Padres National Forest and on the opposite side is Angeles National Forest. Both sides have abundant off roading and dirt roads, trails and camping areas.
A few developed campgrounds exist along I-5, but who really wants to camp out and listen to the freeway traffic? This route is a skinny dirt road, leading out to small remote campgrounds, often visited by off roaders. No facilities and no running water; you’ll be lucky if the picnic table isn’t shot up. Simple, bare bones, middle of nowhere for L.A. County.
Forest Road # 7N23
Long dirt road that begins at Three Points Road, off of Hwy 138 – the Antelope Valley freeway which connects the Grapevine and Tejon Pass @ I-5 to the Mojave Highway 14 out east.
USDA National Forest Map is advised, a high clearance vehicle is recommended – and free time needed to enjoy such a spot. 4WD may be needed during snow and really wet weather.
The ever popular Pacific Crest Trail passes by this small NFS campground listed below. Backpackers, horse packers, dirt bikes and truck campers can all access this dirt road, but be warned it is WAY OUT THERE.
Yes, it snows up here (very infrequently) – terrain elevations range from 1000-5000′ around this region. Basic note: if Interstate 5 has snow warnings, this small, backcountry dirt road will get winter weather too. And sometimes that can be significant, during JAN-MARCH. If more than a few inches of snow are predicted, you best have a 4×4 and/or snow chains.
Wildflowers bloom in April, and will need a decent amount of winter rain/snow to display the vivid colors. This area is not too far from the California Poppy Reserve in the Antelope Valley.
Hungry Valley SVRA is a large, popular off road park, located to the north. On the edge of the Los Padres National Forest @ the GORMAN exit.
Bear Campground [2021 CLOSED, due to wildfire from 2020]
open all year
7 camp sites
Oak trees, sage, chaparral w/ wide open sky views. Picnic tables, fire rings and fresh air. Well spaced sites, with lots of room to spread out. OHV trucks & trailers do frequent this spot, so be warned.
Far from everything, so no impromptu beer runs to the mini -market. Bring everything you will need for any overnight stay, including ice, food, drinking water, washing water, and campfire water. LOTS of water is always good. No creeks flow year round. Summer and autumn can be very hot in these hills.
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.
Don’t let the name frighten you, Snake Lake is a very scenic fishing lake – but you will NOT want to swim in it. Lily pads cover the water surface most of the year so it is considered “frog heaven” during the warmer months. NFS has been upgrading these camping facilities recently. Snake Lake Campground has new picnic tables, camp fire rings, bear boxes, vault toilet and expanded equestrian camps and corrals. No piped water, so bring your own. A bucket & shovel are always required for proper campfire maintenance.
One of the best campgrounds in the region, Plumas National Forest and close to Quincy, CA. Paved road access means an easy 3 miles off the main road (Bucks Lake Road, aka Oroville-Quincy Highway, Oro Quincy Hwy). 7 miles west of the town of Quincy, the green, metal, one-lane bridge is easy to spot, but the small sign for “Snake Lake 3” is easy to miss, if driving 50 mph or faster. Turn off is located in between Quincy and Meadow Valley.
Equestrian camp sites, horse corrals, OHV trails, group picnic areas. Hiking, fishing, mountain biking, off roading, horseback trails, kayaking or canoe.
Snake Lake Campground NFS
• Elevation: 4200′
• Number of Sites: 17
• Vehicle Accessibility: small RV
• Campsites Reservation: No
• Camp Fee: Yes
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: May – October
• Trailheads: OHV, Horse & Winter Rec
This lake camp serves as a central hub for travelers, motorcyclists, campers, hikers, fishermen, off roaders and equestrians alike. Mountain biking & OHV trails go off in numerous directions and horseback trails are readily accessible. Winter Recreation Area means snowmobile trails too.
Another smaller lake, Smith Lake, is a short drive or short hike (on dirt road) further into the woods, with the Butterfly Valley Botanical Area neighboring it.
another Snake Lake?
Another SNAKE LAKE exist inside Plumas National Forest. The smaller Snake lake can be accessed by off-road trail Road#12E66, off the Gold Lake Highway; 4×4 is required to reach this one. West of Gold Lake in the Lakes Basin Recreation Area. The PCT is routed nearby one mile away.
Seldom used, but often loved. This old camp used to be a California Conservation Corps (CCC) camp, during the construction of Lake Davis in 1966. Situated next to a big meadow w/ ancient lava flows up hill, the small campground hugs a wooded hillside above the freshly paved Beckwourth-Genesse Road #111
If choosing to enter camp from the lake side, take Crocker Mountain Rd. / Plumas Forest Rd #24N06, up from Grizzly Road #112.
The Lake Davis area is a north turn off Hwy 89, in between Beckwourth and Portola, CA
Access from the paved (east) side is via Beckwourth-Genesse Road #111. Adventurous camper trucks, or small RVs may attempt this dirt hillside campground, but roots and rocks and erosion are abundant in the upper portion of the camp, so be warned.
Off Roaders (dirt bikes, quads, 4x4s) like this rustic camp spot, cuz it’s not too far off the pavement – and they can drive their comfy campers w/ trailers en tow, and the big BBQ grill and easy-up shade.
Note: you cannot see Lake Davis from this side of the hill.
Autumn is nice here w/ aspen groves at nearby Crocker Guard Station. There are no aspen trees in the campground – only pines. This primitive campground is located on a forested, volcanic hillside facing east; Dirt road entry, vault toilet w/ minimal facilities. No paved campsite loop here!
Numerous unmarked foot trails lead out to the meadows edge, up lava ridges or into the forest behind the aspens. Crocker Guard Station is a very short walk; and available for rent from the NFS w/ reservation.
Crocker Campground NFS
• Elevation: 5600′
• Number of Sites: 10
• Vehicle Accessibility: Small RV
• Campsites Reservation: No
• Camp Fee: Yes
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: May – November
• Trailheads: Crocker Meadow Loop
Crocker Guard Station
aka Crocker CCC Camp
Set back nicely off the main road, this stylish, historic, two story cabin – with wood siding and front porch – has meadows and aspen groves surrounding it. Paved road access from Beckwourth Genesee Road
CCC = the Civilian Conservation Corps is often mentioned when reading about this specific location.
Crocker Guard Station was built in 1912 as a home for Forest Service personnel, and was later staffed as a fire station until the 1980s. Now the building serves as a USFS Cabin Rental; which could also make a nice (small) wedding location. Very scenic location w/ aspen groves.
Crocker Mountain (7444′ elev) is popular for deer hunting, mountain biking, as well as off-road travel. Trails can be dusty and steep in summer, then snowy, slippery and muddy in wetter months. This Plumas mountain region does get some snow, so check the weather forecast.
Lake Davis is about 5 miles away from this small campground, to the west. From Crocker Camp to Lake Davis (the most direct way) is a one lane, graded dirt road – Plumas Forest Rd #24N06
The paved driving to the lake will be triple the distance – and you’ll need to go back to the highway.
California has many different National Forest districts and each region has their own fire restrictions. State Parks & BLM also manages recreation areas & camping in the Golden State. Each agency & region has different rules, so blanket answers cannot apply to general questions on campfires.
Campfire permits are required for fires outside of designated recreation sites. During fire restrictions, campfires could be banned. Campfire Permit are available from Forest Service, CalFire or BLM offices or online, http://www.preventwildfireca.org/
the new abnormal
California suffers more from wildfires now than ever before. Native tribes let lightning strike wild fires burn and they did not suppress wildfire. Residential development creeping ever higher and denser into the foothills, an abundance of roadways, with the overgrown forest make fire danger ever more real.
Closed off wilderness areas, impassable dirt roads, landslides, fallen trees everywhere. Utility services (power lines), plus high winds and overgrown forest also play a huge part in the current wildfire catastrophes. Drought conditions or record winter rains, the huge population on the west coast -along with many other factors – means more fire danger. Educate yourself and others on fire safety, forests and weather patterns. Heed the wind, while in the wild. Wind spreads fire easily!
By mid summer we have usually have several wild land fires burning, which means campfire restrictions are usually in place before JULY 4th weekend. When this happens – No open campfires are allowed in the backcountry or on the back roads.
Often in the driest of years, no campfires are allowed (even inside the campgrounds).
If you love to primitive camp outside of developed campgrounds, you need to plan more road trips for spring time & autumn. Or head further north, well above Redding – where the forest are moist and snow graces Mount Shasta year round. Or perhaps, go desert camping during winter months. Checking the National Forest web sites can be confusing and their online information could be outdated.
Each forest and area is individually managed. No concise, easy-to-read list or online map exist on which forests are allowing backcountry campfires – and which ones are not. Conditions seem to change so often and they aren’t great about updating those .gov web sites. Best to call a local ranger station and ask about any current fire restrictions. You know, actually “talk on a phone” to a USFS, BLM or CalFire official. If you can speak to a field ranger, they can tell you more on dispersed camping. Or you can navigate the USDA web site to find current ALERTS & RESTRICTIONS. Cryptic lingo may be encountered, and many clicks maybe needed; possibly forcing you to download a PDF of current fire rules.
Wilson Lake Road, connects Hwy 36 to Road #312
Domingo Springs Campground: elevation 5060′ / 18 camp sites / open May-Nov
Lassen Road #29N18
W of Chester, CA
Loop route off Forest Road #311 w/ North Fork of the Feather River, leading to Elizabeth Lake trailhead
Lassen Road #29N19
W of Chester, CA
Graded dirt road w/easy access. Connects Forest Road #311 to highway, paralleling Hwy 36. Lost Creek runs along this route w/ Willow Springs Campground: elevation 5100′ / 14 camp sites / open May-Nov
West of Lassen National Park
Lassen Forest Road #17
W of Lassen NP
North-South dirt road that connects highway 36 to highway 44.
Heart Lake trailhead
At the south end on Hwy 36 is Battle Creek Campground: elevation 4800′ / 50 camp sites / open April-Oct
Lassen Forest Road #29N22
Mineral Road connects Hwy 89 to Viola on Hwy 44
McGowan Lake Winter Recreation Area at South entrance of Lassen National Park
North of Lassen National Park
Lassen Forest Road #32N13 Lassen Forest Road #32N22 (PCT crosses this route)
Twin Bridges networks dirt roads @ Hat Creek.
near Old Station Visitors Center (junction Hwy 89 & 44).
Hat Creek and Cave Campground on highway 89, Big Pine Campground off highway; Numerous dirt back roads for dispersed camping, near the viewpoint on highway 44
Road #32N20 Road #32N56 – road just south of Subway Cave near Old Station, off SR Hwy 44 lead to small Baker Lake.
Road #32N92Y side route leading from Hwy 44 to Road #32N21 along Butte Creek.
Butte Lake Ranger Station and Butte Lake Campground: elevation 5600′ / 20 camp sites /open May-Oct
Road #32N09 connects Forest Road #10 to Widow Lake trailhead and Butte Lake. Road #32N60 is Bogart Winter Recreation Area, at Hwy 44
Hat Creek Lassen Road #18 runs north/south along Hat Creek Rim. Dirt road parallels Hat Creek Valley on the east side of Hwy 89 Road #22 connects Hwy 89 to Hat Creek Rim. A popular hang glider launch area after the University of California Radio Astronomy Observatory, then the road continues eastbound to cross Pittville Rd #111 and ends up at Little Valley
Lassen NF Road #111 is Pittville Rd, runs north/south paralleling Hat Creek Rim to the east side. This 30 mile long route connects Hwy 44 to Pitt River at Hwy 299 near Fall River Mills, CA
Heart Bar to Big Bear Lake, via the dirt road
San Bernardino National Forest
Big Bear Back Roads
Highway 38, East of Heart Bar @ Road #1N02
alt big bear
This 8 mile long forested, dirt road begins right off Hwy 38, just east of Heart Bar Campground and is an easy turn to miss. One tiny, brown sign is all that is found (on the guard rail). Driving too fast, you are bound to miss it.
The unimproved route heads north through the National Forest, up and over and around SugarLoaf Mountain (elev 9952′), then down to the Big Bear Lake region.
Several primitive sites – yellow post camp sites – can be found way back in here, but you might NOT be able to have a campfire (depending on fire restrictions). Check w/ local rangers before you head out.
Forest roads are often closed (gated) during the winter, when snow and rain make a muddy mess of the terrain. Rock slides are also common in wetter months. Call the local rangers to inquire on road conditions or if this route is open.
The whole Big Bear Mountain area is a SoCal favorite forest destination, for weekenders and travelers alike. Mountain biking, hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, camping and 4-wheeling.
Plus the recreational lake is full of more water recreation w/ tourist shops and restaurants. Stay away from the crowds and take the back roads for adventure and recreation. Spend less money, stay outta town and camp for free.
Kelso Sand Dunes are a unique geological feature in the middle of the Mojave desert; Located in triangle of high desert in between Barstow, the Interstate 40 and the Interstate 15.
The (long) main (dirt) road (bumpy) access to these sands dunes – is located off of paved Kelbaker Road, which is just south of the train depot at Kelso, CA
Kelbaker Road is located right off Interstate 40, at the eastern edge of Mojave National Preserve. From Barstow California take Interstate 40 eastbound to Kelbaker Road exit, turn north & follow the signs 20+ miles to the Kelso Dunes. The dirt road that accesses the sand dunes is a coupla miles of washboard & low rider passenger cars should use caution.
There is no off road OHV access on these dunes – as this vast desert area of flowing & blowing sand is part of the protected Mojave NP. Nearby, the historic Mojave Road is a dirt 4×4 trailthat cuts straight thru the desert 138 rough miles, from the Colorado River to Afton Canyon near Barstow, CA
Granite Mountains has secret boulder coves and primitive camp sites. Mountain biking, stargazing and bouldering (rock climbing) are abundant this region. Open camping on nearly any dirt road is an option, but pay attention yo signs as there are a few private ranches in these parts. Free camp spots serve as an excellent overnight stop for those traveling to and from the east — Vegas, NV, Grand Canyon, AZ or Utah.
California Mountain Roads –
Snow Chain Requirements
R1 – Chains are required on all vehicles except passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks under 6,000 pounds gross weight and equipped with snow tires on at least two drive wheels. Chains must be carried by vehicles using snow tires. All vehicles towing trailers must have chains on one drive axle. Trailers with brakes must have chains on at least one axle.
R2 – Chains or traction devices are required on all vehicles except four-wheel/all-wheel drive vehicles with snow-tread tires on all four wheels. NOTE: four-wheel/all-wheel drive vehicles must carry traction devices in chain control areas.
R3 – Chains required. Chains or traction devices are required on all vehicles, no exceptions.
The most common chain controls are R-1 and R-2. Highways will often be closed before an R-3 control is imposed, but winter weather conditions can change any road condition, hour by hour.
The biggest Gold Lake, California is the well-known one, along the Gold Lake Highway in the Lakes Basin Recreation Area. Plumas meets Tahoe National Forest. North of Gold Country Hwy 49, Downieville & the Yuba River. Right where the Sierra Nevada granite meets the volcanic lava rock of NorCal.
Impressive jagged spires known as The Sierra Buttes (8591′) tower above the stunning lake scenery. This big Gold Lake is surrounded by a dozen smaller alpine lakes which make up the popular region called Lakes Basin. Easy access paved highway, which closes in winter for deep snow and winter recreation. The Gold Lake Highway is also referred to as Plumas County Road #S620
Sardine Peak Fire Lookout NFS fire tower – no more overnight rentals! overlooking the Sierra Buttes and the serene Lakes Basin, Yuba River, Northern Gold Country California
LAKES BASIN RECREATION AREA Cabins, camping, lake fishing, backpacking, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, off-roading, snow-mobiling.
Mini Gold Lake
Another smaller Gold Lake exist on the granite slopes in Bucks Lake Wilderness – E of Oroville & W of Quincy, CA.
This hidden gem is a hike-in only lake – and well worth the effort. A somewhat short hike, great ridge line views to the east, although the last half mile of this route is a doozie (moderately strenuous).
The main trailhead departs from Silver Lake and climbs a ridge line that heads over to the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail). An off-shoot trail goes another mile to the miniature Gold Lake, a granite bowl of sheer beauty. A great day hike for those wishing to see the backcountry. Pack your picnic lunch, camera, and make a whole darn day of it!
Swimming & skinning dipping seem quite natural at this alpine lake, since it is a pretty remote location (without a lot of visitors) and there is absolutely no swimming allowed at neighboring Silver Lake.
The steep, overgrown, rocky shoreline leads one to bush whack through old trails, only to be met by a rock slide. Many dead ends and obstacles to climb around, or over. Some way… maybe, or maybe not!
Boulder and rock scrambling is the key phrase to remember, once you reach this lake. Knees may be sore from climbing, up and over the boulder ledge surrounding the lake bowl.
A few primitive camp sites are scattered about on the edge of the lake for those backpacking in, but be warned – they can be very difficult to reach. Much more suitable campsites can be found scattered throughout the area.
Warning: there are no flat, lush meadows to lounge in up at the lake, so pick yourself a side route (on the walk in) to find real seclusion and privacy.
This mile-long-ridge hiking trail to mini Gold Lake has some amazing views down to the east side – Jacks Meadow right below; then Meadow Valley & Quincy off in the distant hills. RURAL CALIFORNIA – Plumas County from above.
High Sierra Gold Lakes in California
hike-in only lakes
Golden Bear Lake
High Sierra – Kings Canyon National Park
Center Basin / Center Peak 12,760′
PCT – Pacific Crest Trail
North of Mount Whitney
Eastern Sierra, Independence, CA
Overland pioneers and miners flooded the Sierra Nevada mountains after 1848, when gold was discovered, transforming the natural landscape and native life of California – in horrendous ways. Industrius, eager and using the abundance of natural resources available to build homes, divert creeks, and construct a new way of life. Mining for precious metals was not a hobby, it was a ‘way of life’ for many who sought westward locales. Most traversed a continent on foot with covered wagons to get out here.
Many early bridges made of wood have disappeared in California. Historic places, such as these few wooden bridges of the West, need to be protected and preserved. So no carving your initials; spray paint (tagging), littering – nor bullet holes.
Felton Covered Bridge
Santa Cruz Mountains & Redwoods
Railway Train Rides Felton, CA