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.
Free Campgrounds in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California
no charge camp, no fee camping, free campgrounds
No fee camping: Bare bones. California Sierra Campgrounds without the fee.
Developed BLM or NFS campgrounds, where you can still have a campfire. Vault toilets, panic tables and fire rings. Use bear boxes when provided for proper food storage.
Below is a good long list of some favorite free developed campgrounds in the Sierras. Many will require dirt road driving, as most are located well of the highway. Perhaps the 12 mile rough road will thin out the crowds. Free overnight stay!
2020 update:this list is shrinking, as more California National Forests start charging for the smallest of campgrounds.
Pack in your drinking water and pack out your trash. Campfire permits are not required at developed campgrounds; but a bringing a water bucket and shovel is necessary for tending your campfire. Piped water is not always available, or perhaps, not in working order at these primitive style camps. Be prepared to rough it a little.
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
Cycling, hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, kayaking and boating are all popular outdoor recreation activities.
Small towns located on the Point Reyes peninsula do have a few private campgrounds, some of which can accommodate motorhomes. Follow towns links for those.
There are no RV parks, camper trailers or motorhomes allowed in campgrounds on the steep coastal region of Point Reyes. Most of the narrow, winding roads are forbidden for motorhome travels. No shoulder, no guard rails, on many curvy roads. Great viewpoints are best when you STOP to look, off the roadway.
The main road parallels the big wash. Quatal Road #9N09 is graded (annually) and usually passenger car accessible; side routes to camps in the big wash or up any canyons may require high clearance or 4WD vehicle. No services in this canyon at all; Cell service is minmal. Gasoline is somewhere along the hwy (near a pistachio orchard).
When people hear the phrase “off road” a hundred things can come to mind. Granola types envision rednecks, guns & beer cans tearing up the wilderness; while teen boys may like dirt bikes or motocross races; your co-worker digs the rock crawling rigs (on TV); your lesbian pals like to do desert & ghost town exploring in their Jeep & a million families like to camp out with RV & toys in tow. The quads, the sand rails, the rock crawling machines, the custom built buggies. Trophy trucks, rally racing Subies, 4WD camper vans, dirt bikes, the standard stock SUV, some w/ 4-wheel drive and who can forget the ever-freaking-popular jeaps. Sunday drivers sightseeing or hard core dare devil racers can be found in the realm of off-road: Off pavement.
They are ALL off roaders! And they are all unique, custom & no two created equal. There is certainty of it & the passionate fans will tell you. The off roading interest has gained popularity as more & more recreation vehicles become available to the main stream market. And TV shows promote these awesome rigs, the sport of dirt racing, rock crawling & the fantastic terrain. (And if you still watch television, that will soon change!)
Baby boomers seek retirement vacations: compact 4WD camper vans, or smaller RVs capable of trailering an off-road machine; Fathers look for ways to entertain family out of doors, or escape on solo trips (for sanity sake). The off-road sport and interest has literally exploded over the past 20 years w/ media, hobby, competitions & after market products – along with the rising gas & tire prices.
Plan better trips, learn to really read a topographic map, depart for your trip over-prepared and find new, amazing destinations all over California. Use Total Escape often and get a bumper sticker for your rig!
Many folks drive dirt roads just to get to a trailhead and go hiking, mountain biking or rock climbing. Many backpackers trailheads are indeed located miles off pavement on forest dirt roads.
Some outdoor enthusiasts crave seclusion: peace and quite, away from city life, city folks, all noise… well away from the crowds. Preferring to camp outside of developed campgrounds, which means free camping (mostly on dirt roads). Campfire permits are always required. Many excellent, hidden camp sites can be found on rugged, unpaved back roads – some requiring 4 wheel drive, others not.
Gear Heads: those who value ‘vehicle time’ over ‘real nature’ will literally SIT inside their rigs (almost all day) – enjoying scenery from a safe distance. Picnic spot, viewpoint, yes, but rarely ever seeking out a hike, or a waterfall. Should a break-down occur, these dedicated guys will have their heads under the hoods or crawling underneath, for hours if needbe. Always be prepared with food in the cooler.
And believe it or not, some off-roaders will not even tent camp! They do not sleep on the ground. They prefer a local lodge in the nearest small town or they could own a luxury RV (towing a trailer w/ the overbuilt Jeep). Talk about gas guzlers.
Backcountry routes may be signed – high clearance needed, or not. Black diamond, double diamond trail. Yikes 4×4 required, what! Did we miss a sign or take a wrong turn?
SIGNS are not always reliable on the back roads.
Small Signs: get shot at, run over, blown over and washed away with erosion… so best have a hard copy map (at all times).
In Trinity, locals have been known to remove forest road signs to confuse tourists and prevent traffic in certain directions. I can’t imagine why. Cough, cough, Hyampom!
PVT – private property
This brings us to private ROADS & LAND. Just because a dirt road is located in a forest or rural region doesn’t mean it is open to the public. Generally private lands are well marked w/ ‘No Trespassing’ notices, some fenced and gated. In Baja and in ranching areas in general, public access may be allowed to pass through. Inquire at a local ranger stations for the area you wish to explore.
Litter removal 101 should be the norm; Don’t Trash California! Teach your children well. Respect the land and always Tread Lightly! Find more about ECO – CAMPING
Plaskett Creek Campground has green lawns, pine trees, & flush toilets. Located across the highway from Sand Dollar Beach, right on Hwy 1. Ponderosa Campground, on the other hand, has native grasses, oak trees, a seasonal creek and is located on a paved back road, with easy access from US Hwy 101
Central Coast Camping
Monterey Ranger District of Los Padres National Forest manages several Campgrounds along the Central Coast. Some are first come, first serve.
Backpacking trails lead into the wilderness backcountry, along ridge lines with vast ocean views and also deep into fern creeks with redwood canyons. Sykes Hot Springs is a remote destination, if you like to hike, although summer can get crowded. Overnight wilderness permits and campfire permits may be needed.
Free camping in Big Sur
can be found on dirt back roads:
DISPERSED CAMP: No charge camp sites means dirt road access, tighter camp fire restrictions & no facilities (table, bathrooms, fire pits). Campfire permits are required for primitive camping (stoves & BBQ), but unfortunately much of the time camp fires are not even allowed in the backcountry due to extreme wildfire danger.
None of these free camp sites are located on the beach or ocean shoreline. They are situated in the mountains near the coast. These premium, hard to find camp spots usually require that you venture off the beaten path – w/ a National Forest map or regional topo map. If you want to camp without the tourists and crowds, with excellent views of the coast & the night sky, plus avoiding all fees – then take one of these dirt roads off the main highway & start exploring (preferably before sunset, with a high clearance vehicle).
There are very few camping options along the Los Angeles coastline and what is available is geared toward RV campers and the dreaded, amusement parks. Orange County Coastline has the best camping near the Los Angeles region (without needing to smell the oil refineries). Ventura and Santa Barbara, both north of L.A. also have excellent camping beaches.
blue links lead to State Park pages with camp reservations.
Sunny and near perfect temperatures all year long, Southern California seriously pulls in the tourists. L.A. is a major metropolis city right next to the Pacific Ocean. With 22 million people residing in Southern California, and millions of visitors annually, this region is pretty busy all the time – even in winter months. Off season for camping might be November-March, when most of the precipitation falls for the year, but campground reservations are highly recommended all year long.
Dockweiler State Beach RV Park
Situated near LAX airport, the Chevron refinery and the main sewage treatment plant, this location can be stinky at times. Paved bike path along the beach leads north & south.
Located north of the small community of Riverkern and south of the Johnsondale Bridge, numerous flat camp spots adjacent to the rivers edge can be found.
Ant Canyon Dispersed Area Brush Creek Campground Calkins Flat Dispersed Area Chamise Flat Dispersed Area Chico Flat Campground Corral Creek Campground Springhill Dispersed Area
Kern River Road
Sierra Way in Kernville travels north along the Upper Kern River & becomes Mountain Hwy 99 – which eventually connects with the Western Divide Highway in Giant Sequoia National Monument.
Dispersed Camping Areas along the Kern River
Open Year Round! These FREE camp areas are called dispersed camping sites. No pavement, no picnic tables, no bathrooms, no piped water. Portable toilets & trash bins may be available in the busier summer months. Campfire permits are required for all campfires, BBQs, and camp stoves. Fire restrictions are common in extreme dry conditions. 14 day limit on camping.
Camp sites listed on this page are dispersed camping areas around the Kern River Area. Not all camp spots are listed, cuz many are unnamed. Bring your GPS to mark your favorite camp sites and you can arrive in the dark, late at night, anytime, (avoiding city traffic after work).
Several spots known as “dirt flats” are easy accessible right off the pavement of Sierra Way. Primitive river camping, fishing spots and raft launch areas north of town. Vault toilets might be available during busy summer months, but you’re on your own the remainder of the year. Bring a shovel and take a hike, away from the water flow. And if that sounds like too much work for a potty break, maybe you are not cut out for the primitive kinda camping style. No garbage service either: pack it in, pack it out.
Wildflowers are abundant in the Kern Canyon nearly every Spring season (April & May), which is a popular time to enjoy this region. Autumn brings minimal fall colors to this dry, desert mountainous landscape, but the fishing is decent at that time of year.
CAMPING OUTSIDE OF CAMPGROUND means you must obtain a free fire permit from the local rangers. Sometimes these dispersed spots are fire-safe areas, and you are allowed to have camp fires. Other times campfire restrictions are in place w/ wildfire dangers too extreme and no fires are allowed, anywhere. (Not even inside a developed campground!)
WILDERNESS NOTE: The USDA National Forests web site states that “Camping and campfires within 25 feet of the water’s edge is prohibited due to the Wild and Scenic Designation”, but that doesn’t seem to stop some from setting up right on the fragile rivers edge. Doubtful that this rule is being enforced by the rangers, but consider yourself warned unless they start to get serious about this restriction. Many believe that the free camping along the Kern river is destroying it, so don’t be surprised if these areas get closed or barriers placed at the flats.
Caulkins FLAT has some new boulder barriers put in place which prevent cars from reaching certain ideal camp spots (right at the waters edge). Tough luck. Now we have to hike more.
Upper Kern River North of Kernville, CA
all camps below listed from south to north
ALL CAPS = developed campgrounds managed by US Forest Service, w/ links to Kern River Campgrounds.
Just north of Goldledge Campground, along the Upper Kern River.
South of Salmon Creek; Hike to Salmon Creek Falls.
12 miles north of Kernville, CA
This camping bluff could be the most forested of all the ‘kern flat’ camping areas, but river is a short hike down a very steep cliff. Fishing is excellent in this stretch.
15 miles north of Kernville, along the Upper Kern River. Just south of Fairview (McNalley’s). Sign at the location reads a different spelling of “Caulkins Flat”. Kayak and rafting put-in spot. One of the best sites for large groups. Area is also known as simply “Lower Campground” on GoogleMap.
Just south of Sherman’s Pass Road turnoff. This place also serves as a Day Use Area, where Brush Creek meets the Kern. Kayaking put in spot. Popular fishing area. Large open dirt parking lot with a vault toilet.
Lower Kern River Southwest of Kernville, CA
Lake Isabella has some shoreline camping with wide open access to the lake. Paradise Cove perhaps?
Historic Keyesville – “off-roaders camping paradise” along the river, but no swimming is allowed due to the extremely dangerous section of river. OHV trails lead (west) down river for many miles. Dirt bikes love the rugged boulder-scapes and steep hills. FREE camping; BLM Kern.
SANDY FLAT CAMPGROUND (NFS) – Open all year long! Terraced & paved hillside with numerous camp sites and plenty of room to spread out. RV campers like this location, due to the proximity to Hwy 178. elev 2300
Remington Hot Springs can be a zoo at times w/ the amount of people who love to stop here. A busy dirt parking lot, right across from the Remington trailhead sign. Many vehicles park here daily for day hikes, hot springs, fishing – and people also like to camp out, although camp sites are on slopes (not ideal), only a few and they fill up fast (before sunset).
Total Escape TIP: The very best camps at Remington are actually the ones you hafta hike down to. Less than a half mile down to the rivers edge to find a private mini beach. Pack light and arrive prepared to walk several miles (back & forth, several times).
Old Kern Canyon Road parallels Sierra Highway 178 and sits well above the river, so any flat spots you find will have great views w/ minimal river access.
California back roads are plentiful, beautiful and exquisitely wonderful – if you know where to look.
Off Road typically means “off the pavement”
While many argue the phrase “off-road” means only hard core 4×4 routes, rock crawling or rally racing, here at Total Escape, any road that is not paved is a dirt road and “off road” to us, and always well worth exploring. Graded dirt roads, gravel roads, access roads, washboard routes, forest roads, fire roads, secondary roads, desert washes, one laners, single tracks, OHV trails – can all be dirt roads.
Whether or not your vehicle can handle them is your decision, but believe me, you do NOT need a modified Jeep to start your adventuring. Most dirt roads can easily be accessed with a normal passenger car – if you pay close attention to terrain, deep mud ruts and the rocks in the road.
Vehicle clearance is usually the first thing that will have you hesitating. If you own a truck or SUV – this is enough to be considered a “high clearance vehicle” and good to go on 90% of dirt roads in Cali. Many dirt roads will become 4×4 required or recommended when mud or snow are present, and no signs to warn you, so always check the weather forecast in advance. And most importantly, BRING A REAL MAP.
Paper Maps vs. Online Maps
Driving on Interstates and state highways is one thing, exploring and discovering new routes and real sightseeing is another animal all together. Go prepared to be delayed: to stop and sit, to listen to the wind, to picnic outside, to watch the weather change, photograph the clouds forming above your head, enjoy the process. Remember the journey: Half the fun is getting there!
If you’ve ever tried to travel across the state with a GoogleMap, YahooMap or MapQuest one page printout, you will soon realize the limitations. Stuck in a small town called Julian, at night, on Christmas Eve, arguing with your partner, trying to find your way over to Interstate 10. Not a good plan! A statewide atlaswill save you from many unexpected route changes, as well as prove to be an invaluable tool while traveling. Free as a bird, ready to explore the open road and well prepared is the key to less stress in route.
Know your vehicle limitations, and if in doubt, pull over, get out and look. Examine the ruts, the mud depth, the height of the rocks. Sometimes a good camp site is dependent on how far up that dirt road you can drive. RV campers like to stick to the wider, graded dirt roads and plenty can be found on typical topo maps. Tom Harrison, National Geographic & National Forest maps all have dirt roads as well as trails, trailheads, campgrounds listed.
Nearly every map sold on Total Escape has dirt roads noted:
US National Forest Maps have all the main routes, the dirt roads and some main hiking trails. Trailheads, ranger stations and campgrounds are well marked.
CA Wilderness Map collection have the topographical features you will need to hike the region, peaks, streams, and all dirt roads leading up to the trail heads. Nearby campgrounds will be shown. Equestrian (horse back riding) is okay, but no mountain biking is allowed inside these Wilderness Areas.
OHV Routes & Maps will display the “off highway vehicle” routes, which include single tracks for dirt bikes/motorcycles, wider routes for quads and all roads rated for 4×4 only use. Several selected maps will also show hiking biking and equestrian routes.
Recreation Maps can feature various types of activities all on one map, from off-roading to snowmobiling, river rafting to waterfalls. These maps cover a smaller area or popular region to enjoy.
dirt roads lead to:
dirt bike trails
mountain biking trails
Wanna vacation near a lake this season? So does everyone else in California.
“Mountains” & “lakes” are the top camping destinations sought by most web surfers. Be prepared to search for your ultimate lake side camp. Summertime is prime time at all water sources, so make your reservations, or better yet – find a secluded lake all to yourself. (4×4 may be required).
Lakes area recreation & camping sites in California
Small campgrounds have fewer facilities than the larger developed campgrounds, but less sites means more nature and less people. Roughing it on the back roads with dispersed camping is by far the best experience for seclusion and privacy
real peace and quiet.
Primitive, free camping requires more thought and planning than just pitching a tent in a flat spot at a developed campground.
Campfire permits are usually required for camp stoves, BBQs and any open fires. (bucket & shovel needed).
And most importantly, since California is known for its super dry climate and seasonal wildfires, make sure to check with local rangers to find out about any current campfire restrictions.
some tips for a good camping experience – without scoldings or citations from Mr. Ranger:
Choose existing campsite in a used area – rather than creating another rock ring & trampling a fresh spot.
Always know fire conditions; get a fire permit if you have a campfire outside of a developed campground.
Set up camp away from other people. The majority of people go to the wilderness to experience quiet, peace, & solitude. There is plenty space for everyone, so spread out.
Never set camp in a meadow. It is a very fragile ecosystem.
Use an existing camp site when possible. Rebuilding and cleaning campfire pits is part of the job!
Camping right on the a creek bed or lake shore is damaging to the vegetation and wildlife areas. Place tent at least 20+ feet away from waters edge. Many camp site already exist in prime areas on creek front, so seek out those first. The deeper you go into the wood, the more you will find. Seclusion is possible, if you want to drive beyond the pavement.
Do not camp beneath large dead trees. Check tent spots for old overhanging branches too.
Do not camp near a mine shaft; Toxic heavy metals or radioactive debris could be present in the dirt.
Camping next to a lake, wetlands or a meadow can often result in abundant mosquitoes & insects overall.
Snow is possible anytime from October to May above 5000′ elevation. Chilly nights are common in summer.
Avoid camping inside desert canyons when the threat of rain is approaching: possible flash floods.
Consider the benefits of potential windbreaks in desert terrain. Large rocks, bushes, trees, your vehicle & even a hillside.
Picking a camp spot on a ridge line means sun exposure and windy conditions. Breezes will keep the bugs away and you can’t beat the better view, but wind can pick up at any time especially in desert regions.
Low elevation in late spring and fall means very warm temps; summer is triple digit heat most days.
Do not camp near a mine shaft; Toxic heavy metals or radioactive debris could be present in the dirt.
Avoid camping on fragile coastal cliffs; unstable, which can give way, caving in, resulting in danger to you.
Camping on the beach means watching the tides. Know where high water mark is before you set camp up.
Beach camping in early summer means low clouds and fog are likely. June Gloom can last months.
Avoid building campfires up against a large boulders or against a rock face.
Rivers controlled by hydroelectric dam systems mean that the water levels can change at any time without warning.
Never set camp in a wildflower meadow. It’s too fragile of an ecosystem.
Lower elevations in summer time means potential triple digit heat during mid-day.
Do not camp near a mine shaft; Toxic heavy metals or radioactive debris could be present in the dirt.
Indian Flat Campground is located on the seasonal San Luis Rey River in rural North San Diego County. From I-15 @ Temecula, CA travel eastbound on Highway 79. Look for the tiny turn off (on left side) for forest road #9N05, sorta near glider airport located west of Warner Springs. This poorly paved backcountry route (half dirt/mud at times) is also known as both Indian Flats Road or Lost Valley Road.
Graded dirt road (paved in some portions) travel is approximately 6.5 miles to campground, look for gate and turn off on the left side. When you see the giant boulder near the entrance, you’ll know you’ve made it to the right place.
Oak trees and a few pines, plenty shade, boulders and mountain scenery, this is a great small campground that is well away from everything in Southern California. Seasonal creek-sized river and boulder waterfall often dries up in late summer. This means a wet spring is the best time to visit this camp. Hiking, mountain biking trails and hammock spots. Pacific Crest Trail access.
• Elevation: 3,600′
• Number of Sites: 17
• Camping Reservations: None
• Sites Available: First come, First serve
• Vehicle Accessibility: Length 15′ max.
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Water: No Piped; Seasonal creek nearby
• Toilet: Vault
• Season: Closed for mud & snow during winter months
• Fee: Yes
• Operated By: National Forest Service
• Closest Town:Warner Springs, CA