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:
This pine forest is home to the developed NFS campground – which has been named after the tribal elder. The camp location is a sacred spot to the local native tribes. Just above Susanville, CA on the west side, south of the highway; forested w/ creeks and aspen groves. Autumn colors can be found in the creek beds.
Dirt roads all over the place, leading to far away destinations like Diamond Mountain, Antelope Lake and Taylorsville. The backcountry region was recently damaged by wildfires: 2020 Sheep Fire and now the Dixie Fire
FREE CAMPING – W Susanville, CA en route camp
Less than 3 miles of dirt road #29N03 driving will get you back off the highway and into this forest, Hwy 36 W of Susanville. Bring the mountain bike for abundant usage and a week of exploring.
Only 13 miles to downtown Susanville, via the back road. Chaney Creek Road is a main dirt road near Highway 36, which parallels the river, the red rock bluff and the road, downhill into town.
This FREE campground is popular with the hipcampers and pediums – and gets rave reviews; small RV campers do like to use this camp spot, if they don’t mind a little dirt road driving; they’ll need to park in the dirt parking lot, 40+ feet away (not adjacent to the picnic tables or fire rings).
off road trails
walk in campground, and close to town
Walk-In Campsites @ Roxie
AUG 2021 – CLOSED due to the Dixie Fire
Roxie P Campground
Susanville, CA – Lassen NF
• Elevation: 4,800′
• Number of Sites: 10 (walk-in only)
• Vehicle Accessibility: any
• Campsites Reservation: No
• Campsite Fee: No
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: open all year
• Trailheads: Diamond Peak
Flat forest and easy to walk. Shade and pine needles, picnic tables and group fire pits. All facilities are encompassed with a sturdy wooden, fence line. No RV or trailer access to camp sites. Mountain bikers like this spot and so do horseback riders. Travelers passing through eastern California will welcome the convenient location, plus the ease of dirt road.
The Roxie Camp is situated near Willard Creek on the south side of the Highway 36, close to Susanville. Willard is a feeder stream into the Susan River, which flows into town. Quiet camp, most of the time. If a big family is camping here w/ children, or there is a tribal gathering, it could get loud.
PLAN B – head over to Goumaz Campground NFS, due north. Located in between, near the junction of Hwy 38 & 44. Near the railroad tracks and the Susan River. Smaller camp near the NRT (National Recreation Trail), the Biz Johnson Trail (BLM). 2021, this camp is CLOSED!
so find someplace else: PLAN C
(make sure any camp is open by calling rangers before traveling).
OHV activity may be passing the developed campground, but are discouraged – due to the layout of camp. Plenty spots for ‘froaders further out – at the end of the road. Way back there!
Jeeps, 4×4 trucks, quads, dirt bikes, anglers and hunters travel these dirt back roads, as well as rangers, campers, horses, mountain bikes, and big logging trucks. 25 mph slow is always best. Daytime headlights help you get seen in the shadows. Forest is dense and road conditions are ever changing.
Forest Road #29N03 is Gold Run Road, the bumpy dirt road – that skirts around Diamond Mountain on the south side. Lots of one single track or one-lane dirt roads, which will require a National Forest map or a decent topo map to navigate properly.
OHV is common in these areas, but not so busy at this camp. If you seek peace and quiet and solitude, know how to read a map and where the noise is expected to be. Avoid the OHV areas, if you want to nap in the hammock and read a book.
Wild red necks with guns live in NorCal, so pay close attention to property lines and trespassing signs.
USFS Ranger Station is located on the west side, just outside of town, on the wide downhill grade on the highway @ the Eagle Lake turnoff. Cal Fire station is also located along this stretch of road.
Lassen National Forest
Ranger Station USFS
CA-36 @ Eagle Lake Rd
Susanville, CA 96130
Cal Fire Station
697 CA-36, Susanville, CA 96130
Jamison Creek Canyon: the small stream flows all year long
Small Sierra Nevada camp on Upper Jamison Creek in a granite canyon, within a gorgeous red fir forests, wildflowers and fresh mountain air.
high clearance vehicle recommended
Gravel (rocky) road access, and here we use the word “road” loosely: Plumas County Road #507
Plumas Forest Route 507
also known as Johnsville Road; Johnsville McRea Road (misspelled McCrea on Google Maps)
Ross Campground NFS
• Elevation: 6,070′
• Number of Sites: 5
• Vehicle Accessibility: High clearance; No RVs or trailers
• Camp Fee: Yes
• Campsite Reservation: No
• Toilet: Vault
• Water: Creek only
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: May–October
• Trailhead: McRea Ridge & PCT
RUSTIC CAMP: No Picnic Tables!
4 camp sites are located at this turnoff @ driveway. Another single camp spot is located half mile up road, next to 2 nice swimming holes. Although the National Forest web site states that this place has 3 sites, it does indeed have 5 camp fire rings. All are available on a first come basis.
No OHV off-road riding in camp.
Snow is possible at this elevation, between October-April. Thunderstorms are common in summer in the Sierra Nevada mountains. 4×4 will be needed to access this area, if winter weather sets in.
Across Jamison Creek from Ross Camp
is Mount Fillmore @ 7715′ elev. Up canyon is Mc Rae Ridge PCT trailhead Mt Etna @ 7063′ Blue Nose Mtn @ 7290′
USFS just started charging a fee for this remote creekside camp. It used to be free, but no more.
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.
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
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.
Canon Sin Nombre – Anza Borrego
Mud Caves and Slot Canyon Hikes
Desert Slot Canyons – South Anza Borrego State Park region, just off County Road S-2 east of the ‘badlands overlook’ view point is a whole network of narrow walkways & skinny canyon trails to explore. Some are so tight you have to turn side ways to fit through. There are more than one of these sandstone topless caverns. Finding a new one each time you visit is a fun challenge. Just north in the Diablo canyon there are dry mud tunnels & trails as well. Explore & be careful not to get lost. And don’t camp at the canyon openings during the threat of heavy rains…duh.
Drive down steep, sandy road into Canon Sin Nombre entrance (the dirt road just to the north of Badlands Overlook). A high clearance vehicle is recommended and 4WD may be required in soft sand. 2WD SUVs/trucks should keep their speed up through the soft sandy areas & try not to turn or stop suddenly. Go slow in narrow sections of the canyon & slow over the rocks to save your oil pan.
Clock your mileage 1 mile exactly from the paved road (s2) & park out in desert wash, pull over between the smoke trees. Hike over to the left side & look for an opening in the canyon walls to a deep secluded trench. A campsite may exists here.
Hike up the first canyon which does require some rock scrambling. The gorge lets you out at the very top with an impressive view over the Sweeney Pass area. The canyon walls are so tight in some spots you may have to turn sideways to fit through. Upper body strength is needed to climb high ledges & boulder scramble through this natural maze.
Once on top, wander on the ridge & check out the views; keeping to the right & then follow the next wash down to start the much longer & easier exit. Hike down in the main slot canyon which leads out to a big camp site & clearing. Exit slot area and turn right, walking back to the vehicle in the big wash.
This particular hike is a blast on a full moon night, but not for a first timers try.
Best time to visit: October – April
HIGH CLEARANCE VEHICLE access to reach trailhead. Moderate hike, boulder scrambling w/ dangerous mud walls. Flash floods here are possible during rains.
Plenty of 4×4 roads, SUV trails, & box canyons in the desert region.
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.
Long, (sometimes rough) dirt road, that parallels the north side of the Kings River. Dirt road used by families, fishermen, kayakers, campers, mountain bikers, rafters and rafting shuttle buses, seasonally. May be gated and closed off to the public in wetter months of the year.
Bear Wallow Trailhead
Kings River Trailhead
Forest Route 12S01 crosses the river and leads to the south side of the river, near Green Cabin Flat. Mill Flat Campground is back this way.
Road 12S01 gains in elevation, turns to high-clearance, continuing up McKenzie Ridge thru a small slice Sequoia National Forest to the highway Kings Canyon National Park. 4×4 may be needed in wet/snowy weather.
An avenue made of dirt, earthen highways, dirt trails, forest roads, fire roads, jeep road, graded roads. Dirt driving trails that lead into the middle of nowhere. No stop signs, no billboards, no stores, no one else around… for miles. Enjoy less crowds and more open space.
If you are fed up with city life, sitting in traffic & need to vacate your mind among the barren hills of California (if only for a weekend), then Total Escape is your place. You seek solitude, peace, maybe a mini tailgate party & BBQ on a dry lake bed, with the heavenly stars above. Imagine the warm camp fire light reflecting off the high canyon walls, your music echoing, moonlight hikes for a few miles.
California has some awesome spots to drive on dirt, get way back in nature. Right up to the edge of the Wilderness boundary. That’s what this one silly “dirt street” page is all about… helping you get out there, the easiest & best way possible. We even got you the right maps!
Most of this is just dirt road driving, graded, some hills, easy stuff. But on occasion you might come across a 4×4 required sign – or perhaps a triple black diamond trail. Having several good maps on hand will help you enjoy these roads, instead of stressing & wondering if there is a lock gate at the other end – 18 miles in.
Some dirt streets lead to campgrounds, some to waterfalls, some to viewpoints, some have loop options & others are just dead end; sometimes at old mines. Get ready to explore with your truck or SUV. 2WD or low clearance vehicles (such as passenger cars) should be ready to turn back if the road get too nasty. Any decent precipitation can make any unpaved road much worse & may require 4 wheel drive, so have a plan B or C as a backup idea.
Rumor has it this lake basin could be the ancient super volcano of the region. MonoLake is located on the north end of the Long Valley Caldera, a volcanic ridge which stretches down to Bishop and parallels Mammoth Mountain & US 395.
Huge shallow lake with a very turbulent history. Signs and plaques throughout the lake shore give info on ancient history of the lake, the wildlife, and regional detail. Majestic views of the Sierra Mountains, with sparse vegetation, lunar type landscape. Eerie with storm clouds; Beware of bad weather. Kayakers love this lake too!
Camping is closeby, but not located on the fragile lakeshore.
Dispersed camping (FREE) is allowed in Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area, the region that surrounds the Tufa State Natural Reserve. Campfire permits are required. Contact the park listed below for all the details on the camping policy.
Horse Canyon is a dirt road up a high desert canyon, with joshua trees and wash outs. 7000′ elevation pinyon pine ridges above w/ PCT.
Most would say the see a whole-lotta-nothingness out here in these deserts…. when they zoom by at 70 mph on the blacktop highway.
at Total Escape, we beg to differ.
Intersection on Hwy 14 @ SC 65, dirt route will travel west into the mountains. Initial desert road follows Little Dixie Wash, but veers north up to Horse Canyon and the higher forested ridges.
Horse Cyn is a scenic, desert, dirt road that becomes a rugged 4×4 trail the higher it climbs in the canyon. The route traverses a ridge line and dead ends at the old cabin; No through route, no loop. The PCT continues on to the Walker Pass @ the 178.
The lower Horse Canyon is area quite accessible by standard truck or SUV. High clearance is recommended out on these kinda roads. Vegetation is quite sparse at first, but improves with the miles traveled. Wildflowers can be awesome, usually April-June. Picnic spots everywhere; primitive camping sites can be found out here, off the main dirt road. Please reuse existing camp sites when possible.
Passenger cars may attempt this, but should watch for unexpected deep dips and rocks, washed out in the road. (No tow service in the middle of nowhere). Road conditions do change with the seasons out in the boonies. Cell phone reception could be spotty back in the deepest of canyons.
PCT trail access: Pacific Crest Trail follows this ridge road for miles. They call this range the SCODIE Mountains; Old cabin at the end of the road.
Sage Canyon and Cow Heaven Canyon are both to the north, along with Freeman Canyon (CA SR 178). Bird Spring and Dove Spring Canyons are both to the south, along with the most popular regions of Red Rock State Park and the Jawbone OHV area.
High mountain desert camp is mislabeled on some maps as “Chimney Peak Campground” or “Chimney Rock Campground”. Pinyon pine forest on Chimney Creek, near hiking trailheads, wildflowers and Chimney Peak Wilderness. Southern Sierra ridge near Mojave Desert and California SR 178.
Canebrake Road is a graded dirt road that makes up part of Chimney Peak Back Country Byway. This rural route is a major graded dirt road located north of Highway 178 – which connects Canebrake to Long Valley up near Kennedy Meadows. Pacific Crest Trail passes next to this campground in the Southern Sierra mountains. The campground turn off is way east of Lake Isabella Hwy 178 is (near Walker Pass & PCT) and follow dirt road north to Kennedy Meadows in the far eastern reaches of Sequoia National Forest
• Elevation: 5,700′
• Number of Sites: 32
• Camping Reservations: No
• Sites Available: First come, First serve
• Vehicle Accessibility: RV limit 28′ max
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Water: Piped (April – Sept)
• Toilet: Vault
• Season: Open all year
• Fee: No
• Operated By: BLM
• Closest Town: Lake Isabella, CA
Bureau of Land Management
BLM Bakersfield Ranger Station 661-391-6000
Bear Meadow: Forest Rd# 23S64 – Packsaddle Creek, Sequoia National Forest
For the more adventurous & ones seeking some seclusion, Bear Meadow is located up the dirt road a bit from Thompson Camp Spring . From Forest Road #23S16 @ Thompson Camp Spring – continue straight on the dirt road #23S64, cross over the one lane wooden bridge; within a mile, turn left into a secluded creek side camping area. Note: Bears are common here (hence the name Bear Meadow)!
Packsaddle Creek runs thru this forest. Very primitive area with rutted dirt roads & sometimes overgrown; there are several campsites back in here for the ones who seek the wild. (Yes, bears & wild animals are very common way back here). If you continue on straight on the main dirt road Packsaddle Meadow also has camping spots & small corral. The last time we were out this way (2002-ish), the dirt road does not connect with highway to the west, as indicated on the map; due to landslide.
Saline Valley Hot Springs
Saline Valley Warm Springs
NORTH Death Valley National Park, in a super remote desert valley located in the vast mountains in between Big Pine CA Route 168 & Death Valley (west) Highway 190.
Inyo National Forest: Inyo mountains are a towering range of high elevation desert peaks running in between Owens Valley and Saline Valley.
desert wilderness access: 4 dirt road routes lead into Saline Valley – 2 backcountry 4×4 trails from the upper reaches of the park and 2 main dirt roads. All routes require a high elevation pass, so snow is likely in winter months (Nov-May).
Wilderness routes road conditions can change often, seasonally with winter snows, mud and summer thunderstorms. The most popular access are the main routes (both long dirt roads, subject to snow and closure at any time) – the North Pass (Big Pine) and the South Pass (Panamint). Detailed directions on those further below. Both backcountry roads Steele Pass and Lippincott Road, originate from the northern, desolate areas of the National Park and both require 4 wheel drive, with a recommended locking differential. No developed campground facilities. Clothing optional my ass — nudity is the norm here.
Since the challenging drive in to this remote desert valley is so grueling and time consuming, plan to spend a minimum of 4 nights. Anything less is way too rushed to totally enjoy the experience. Best way to enjoy this place is a full week off of work, and as much firewood, food and ice as you can haul. Some folks spend weeks camping here. The NPS limits your camping stay to 30 days! If you plan on driving out to Lone Pine for camping supplies and returning the same day, you best leave at dawn – cuz the entire round trip ‘beer run’ will take 6 hours or more.
High clearance vehicle a must & 4 wheel drive is highly recommended in all this region. All wheel drive wagons and passenger cars have been known to bottom out, break down and pop tires out here in the harsh conditions, so a first challenge may be to obtain a dependable and capable off-road vehicle.
Topographic GPS & decent back road maps are highly advised. One way drive is easily 4 hours, from any paved highway. Pack like you’re gonna live out here, if need be. Warning: this is a very long off-road journey for any average camping trip. This isn’t a weekend kinda place. First timers beware – it’s a full day journey to travel here!
Air Strip? The fly in option is a dirt landing strip called ‘Chicken Strip’, but National Park Service has yet to closed it.
NORTH PASS to Saline Valley Road:
from Big Pine, take Hwy 168 N from Hwy 395, turn right onto Death Valley Road (some maps may have this one listed as Waucoba Springs Road or just Waucoba Road). Proceed on the main route to the hard to read entrance sign marking the Saline Valley Road, past a few old structures and down to the main valley. Winter snow can be deep, so carry chains. 4×4 is best to access this remote valley, AWD high clearance might make it and normal passenger cars, 2WD SUVs should be warned about weather and access to the real world. Many times all mountain passes are snowed in – people do get trapped at Saline and cannot get out for weeks. So take that into account when requesting days off of work for this epic journey.
SOUTH PASS to Saline Valley Road:
from Olancha, take Highway 190 E, turn N off Hwy. 190 to Saline Valley Rd. Rugged 50+ mi. of hard core dirt roads. 4×4 and high clearance a must. Winter months expect snow, springtime rock slides and summers torrential downpours cause overflowing creeks w/ impassable washouts. Grapevine Canyon can be a challenging drive, but with patience and skill you can be down on the main valley floor in about an hour and a half (if you’re lucky). Did I mention the dozen or more miles of heavy washboard road conditions, at the base of the alluvial fan of mountain rock? Newbies and first timers should attempt the North Pass.
Near the marsh, when you finally reach the sand dunes area, you know the turn off is close-by, so slow down and stop to read the landscape. Know that the hot springs are located above the sand dunes to the east slope of the red volcanic mountains. When you see the metal bat sign and the mass of palm trees in the lower grove, you know you’ve arrived.
You’ve only truly arrived, when your whole body is immersed in hot water looking up at the stars and you learn to relax again. Breathe the deepest you have all year.
CAUTION: Stopping for those vehicles distressed on the side of the road is also a common practice. Many people break down on this route, Jeeps slide off cliffs. Harsh landscapes, plus weather are unforgiving and people die, so realize that this camping trip is no walk in the park.
Saline Valley Road Conditions & discussions can be found on Saline Valley Talk, the Saline Valley Message Board forum.salinepreservation.org
Several miles south of the town of Needles numerous desert washes cross the highway with dirt roads leading off into both directions. Turtle Mountain is just one dirt road to explore in this region, but there are many more unmarked, secluded roads. This region is perfect for “campers in-route” traveling who need a quick overnight camp spot (off the freeway).
Turtle Mountain Road is a one lane dirt road that runs next to a wash, in between Turtle Mountain Wilderness and Stepladder Mountain Wilderness. Leading approx 12 miles from US Highway 95 to the northern edge of the desert wilderness. The Turtle Mountain route continues westward to meet Water Road with Old Woman Mountain Wilderness nearby. Sunflower Springs Road continues north to Essex @ Interstate 40
BLM signage along US Hwy 95 is minimal. Look for vertical brown markers w/ reflectors, numbers or names. Driving slower than typical traffic, coast at 50 mph and keep your eyes peeled to the west side. Turtle Mountain Rd is marked at the pavement, but the marker is very small.
Eastern California Desert Wildflowers
Exploring the eastern side of Southern California, one can find the Colorado River and Arizona border region an excellent destination for winter camping. Springtime offers wildflower blooms, open camping and decent weather with sunny 70 degree days. Wildflowers and BLM beauty awaits those who venture off the paved routes.
Palo Verde trees line the washes and much vegetation can be seen throughout this remote region. Cacti include the cholla, ocotillo, barrel, beavertail, just to name a few. Wildflower blooms here are just as good as Anza Borrego Desert SP.
MARCH & APRIL are both prime months for the desert bloom
Drive more than a mile from the highway if you plan to camp in peace and quiet, as the overnight truck traffic goes all hours.
RV accessible camp spots are few and far in between. They can be found in large, level pullouts close to the main road, but you will be hearing traffic zoom by. Some dirt roads are in better shape than others; Seasonal storms in the low desert can wash out even paved roads. 4×4 may be needed in some areas.
Open camping in this desert is free and there is plenty of room to spread out. Imagine not seeing anyone pass by your camp or drive down your road for days. Camping in a sandy wash may seem appealing, but you best know the weather forecast and if rain is at all predicted nearby, be prepared to break camp (in the middle of the night) before a flash flood hits.
The Needles BLM Rangers Office is located on US Hwy 95, on the south edge of town and they can provide maps and more information.
Needles BLM Office
1303 S. US Hwy 95
Needles, CA 92363
Lake Havasu BLM Office
2610 Sweetwater Avenue
Lake Havasu City, AZ 86406
Since sport utility vehicles were invented for California yuppies, it makes perfect sense that this California market also has the awesome terrain to use these rugged rigs. After the first shopping cart door ding or windshield crack, most folks are open to taking their utilitarian vehicles on dirt roads, but some will only dream about it.
Here at Total Escape, we are here to change all that. The fear of outdoors, the unknown, the capability, the driving skill. Your SUV is a good reason to be outdoors in the golden state, at bare minimum. No excuses. Enjoy the California you never knew – and sometimes that means getting off the pavement. Yes, more than 2 miles.
SUV trail – any path, dirt road or route that can be driven on; high clearance vehicle are often necessary, 4×4 needed on occasion. National Forests, canyons, deserts, mountains, country lane style drives, some classic routes skirt the wilderness boundaries. We have it all for ya here. Rock crawling Rubicon adventures, all the way down to the leisurely ‘Sunday drive’ thru a forest to a meadow for a picnic.
Dust, dirt, mud, snow. Beyond the county line, way back there, where you can discover ghost towns, old mines in the desert, hot springs, historic lodges, petroglyphs, river gorges, fire lookouts, waterfalls, and so much more.
Mason Valley Truck Trail refers to a network of dirt roads on the west side of San Diego County Road S2, on the steep mountain slopes overlooking the desert badlands of Anza Borrego State Park. These primitive back roads lead up to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) on the edge of Laguna Recreation Area.
Oriflamme Canyon, Chariot Canyon & Rodriguez Trail are all in the area. Chaparral mountain trails lead off in many directions with dead end canyons and side routes. This high desert region consists of private property, ranches with gates, various trails and desert dirt roads – between 2400′ and 4000′ elevation.
A good portion of the lands on the west side of paved S2 are not inside the State Park boundary, but Oriflamme is the exception. The Anza Borrego Desert State Park borders includes this particular back road canyon, almost up to the Cleveland National Forest. Awesome locals little secret!
Oriflamme Mountain @ 4611′ elevation
Chariot Mountain @ 4644′ elevation
The main access to Mason Valley Truck Trail is located near the bottom of Box Canyon (on Co. Rd. S2). The sign at the turn off reads Oriflamme Canyon. The first sandy mile or so gets kinda confusing, as the ranch road, dirt trails and natural desert wash merge with the seasons and rains. You might encounter locked gates if you take the wrong turn. In the wash look for signage for Oriflamme.
Approximately 2 miles from S2 the dirt road splits. To the left is Mason Valley Truck Trail, which continues up Oriflamme Canyon and into wooded Chariot Canyon, eventually connecting with Hwy 78 (at Banner Grade). And the other choice on the right is a rugged 4×4 route called Rodriguez Truck Trail which is 7 miles long and meets back up with the main Oriflamme road about a mile from the highway. These back roads encircle the biggest peak around called Chariot Mountain.
Mountain bikers, hikers, horses and vehicles all use these routes, so be prepared to see others out exploring and please, always yield to equestrian traffic.
Several open, free camp spots lower in the canyon w/ large cottonwood trees. More hidden camps to be found higher up the mountain. A decent topo map, a campfire permit and a metal fire bucket is highly advised.
PCT: Pacific Crest Trail traverses the ridge line near 4000-6000′ and the desert valley below is nearing 2000′ elevation. The ambitious plan for the California Riding and Hiking Trail is still under construction and routed nearby as well.
Butterfield RV Ranch and the historic adobe Vallecito Stage Stop, are the closest thing to civilization you will find around these parts Don’t count on gasoline or cell phone coverage anywhere near here.
South Big Sur Coast Dirt Roads & super scenic US HWY 1 – North of San Simeon and Hearst Castle, north of Ragged Point and just past Gorda, CA a dirt shoulder, widens, a break in the bushes on the right side of the highway, a small wooden sign for the Yurt Resort called Treebones and the turn off to the back-country of Los Padres National Forest Road #23S01
Willow Creek is a steep coastal canyon w/ Willow Creek Trail #5E08 in the creek below and the dirt road 1000′ above. Willow Creek Day Use Area, the Willow Creek bridge and Willow Creek beach w/ restrooms, picnic tables, and paved parking lot near the highway.
DIRT ROAD, high clearance is recommended, but not required. 4×4 may be needed in wet weather. Motorhomes, trucks w/ trailers and RV campers are not gonna like this rugged, narrow, steep, dirt road and are advised to stick to the pavement. Camper vans and SUVs are be better suited for this terrain.
Several primitive camp sites can be found along this rugged dirt road, which climbs steeply and switchbacks thru redwoods, madrones, cedars, grass lands and oak hills. Sites within the first 3 miles of this road offer the serene sounds of the ocean – waves, seals, sea lions as well as traffic on the busy highway. There are a few private properties back here in the boonies too, so read signs and don’t go exploring this region in the dark.
About 8 miles back on Willow Creek Rd is Alder Creek Campground – a small developed camp w/ only 2 camp sites and no piped water and no fees.
Prewitt Ridge also has numerous ideal top-of-the-world, free camp sites, which do require a lot more dirt road driving and a very good backcountry map.
Sycamore Flat Road intersects @ 3 miles up
Alder Peak Camp is San Martin Top @ 12 miles up
South Coast Ridge Road is at the very top @ 14 miles
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