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
Southern Sierra mountains and the Giant Sequoias, inside Sequoia National Forest. In the Camp Nelson area, south of the busy National Parks.
SEPT 2021: Closed due to the Windy Fire
GIANT SEQUOIA HWY 190 – Western Divide Highway is the 7000′ ridge line that separates the Upper Kern River from the great Central Valley to the west.
From the San Joaquin Valley – get to Porterville or Springville, continue up the mountain on the main highway, to the paved road turn off (Road #22S94) on the right side of the highway;
After Pierpoint Springs and before Camp Nelson. This quiet campground is located off the highway more than a mile, so traffic noise will not be an issue for the light sleepers. (Unless of course, a loud 4×4 rig screams by at midnight headed to the backwoods, or a horse trailer cruises by at 5am). This camp does border the Tule River Indian Reservation.
Western Divide Highway 190
Giant Sequoia Campground
Sequoia Road #22S94 is a loop road leading to many forest meadows, groves, primitive camps and trailhead destinations. Bear Creek and Coy Creek flow near CoyFlat Campground, which both merge north into the Middle Fork of the Tule River @ the highway.
Belknap Grove is nearby, with Black Mountain Grove a few miles further on the dirt back road (Road #22S94) as it continues to Bateman Ridge and Road #21S12, near the Tule Indian lands. Mountain biking, rock climbing, backpacking and hiking all great in this region.
22S94 continues in forest to 8500′ elevation @ Windy Gap, where the Summit National Recreation Trail intersects road. Popular trail among horse riders. 22S94 connects back to Western Divide Highway, in between Ponderosa and Trail of 100 Giants. Awesome loop drive for those seeking seclusion on the dirt roads, away from the tourists and RVs. Call ahead to make sure that the dirt roads and gates are open, before you plan a weekend vacation around it.
• Elevation: 5,000′
• Number of Sites: 19
• Sites Available: First come, First serve
• Vehicle Accessibility: Vehicle 22 ft. max.
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Water: Piped; Seasonal creek nearby
• Toilet: Vault
• Season: Closed for winter months
• Fee: Yes
• Operated By: National Forest Service
• Closest Town: Camp Nelson, Califronia
Sequoia National Forest
Giant Sequoia Ranger Station
Due to the spread of invasive insects, firewood from outside the area is not permitted. Help protect our forests by purchasing or collecting firewood at or near your camping destination and burning it on-site.
BALCH PARK campground is on a first come basis; no campground reservations needed.
2021 – THIS CAMPGROUND IS CLOSED indefinitely, due to the Castle Fire 2020
Balch Park open May to October
Park info # 559 539-3896
Hedrick Pond lined w/ Sequoia trees
Balch County Park is right in the middle of Mountain Home State Forest, which is within the bigger Sequoia National Forest (aka Giant Sequoia National Monument). But don’t let all the bureaucracy mislead you, this is an ideal park and location, well worth your trip. The campground is the most developed one within the area – with paved roads, RV spaces, flush toilets and a fee to go along with all that. Even gotta fishing pond.
Bears are a big deal in these neck of the woods. Please store all your food properly to avoid a un-welcomed visitor
A Sequoia Grove is nearby with plenty of creeks & meadows.
Trailers not recommended due to the long curvy road leading up the mountain.
• Elevation: 5,500′
• Number of Sites: 10 walk-in camp sites
• Reservations: No
• Sites Available: First come, First serve
• Vehicle Accessibility: No RVs
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Water: River nearby
• Toilet: Vault
• Bear Boxes: Yes
• Trailheads: Tule River; Moses Mountain; Golden Trout
• Season: Closed for winter months
• Fee: Yes
• Operated By: National Forest Service
• Closest Town: Springville, California
tent camping on river
Motorhome RV campers beware; no hook-ups, no paved roads. This is a primitive style camp, way back on a dirt road – not suitable for large vehicles.
NOTE $ This used to be FREE CAMPING, but they recently started charging an overnight fee for this campground.
Golden Trout Wilderness is closeby. Plenty of hiking opportunities, great scenery and several Sequoia groves to visit. Mountain biking is allowed on the dirt roads. Single track trails may be overgrown or even off-limits, due to the fragile eco-system around Sequoia trees.
Both Moses Gulch and Hidden Falls are accessible via a long, narrow, paved mountain road; then a dirt road, leading 3 miles back to the remote reaches of the Wilderness edge.
western south sierra
North of Springville on Highway 190, turn left (north) on to J37, some call it Balch Park Road (Google Maps has it as Wagner Drive) and follow it up 3.5 miles to Bear Creek Road (#220). Drive 17.5 miles on curvy Bear Creek Road, turn right and follow signs to campground.
• Elevation: 3,800′
• Number of Sites: 8
• Vehicle Accessibility: RV 24′ max (trailers not advised)
• Toilet: Vault
• Piped Water: No
• Campsites Reservation: No
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: May – October
• Trailheads: McCloud River Trail
• Operated By: NFS
• Closest Town: McCloud, CA
From McCloud @ Highway 89: Drive 13+ miles (east), past CalTrans warehouse.
The turnoff for Algoma (Stouts Meadow) is NOT SIGNED. Rangers recommend turning at the cross country skier sign, but that sign is so small and faded, you can barely even see it. The paved road intersection is the only one around, so it is hard to miss (if driving under 50 mph). Turn right off the highway, and drive 1 mile to the campground at bridge.
Only two campsites on north side of bridge, and the rest are on the other side of the river. Algoma Bridge may be closed in 2020, so you can park and walk across to reach the campsites. Call ahead to find out current conditions.
Amazing autumn colors can be found through OCTOBER and NOVEMBER in California, but you’ll need to leave the city in order to find the very best colors and scenic beauty. Fall season happens quickly (within weeks) in the high country and slower (months) in the lowlands. Plenty canyons and parks in the urban centers have hiking trails thru some nice trees, but nothing compares to the backroads, creeks and rivers of the big mountains.
Elevations, the higher the better, is where you’ll find the real displays of color. Aspen groves can be found along mountain slopes, creek canyons from 5000′-10,000′ in elevation. Cottonwood trees are found in the drier regions, in ranching areas and in desert canyons – up to about 6000′ elevation. Aspen trees start to turn yellow as soon as the chill of nights drop; if the temperature shift is subtle, the aspen leaves become more orange as the days go into the fall season. If an early snow or freeze happens, just one night, the glorious foliage becomes dead brown crispies dangling in the wind.
CAMP FIRE RESTRICTIONS are still be in place from the dry summer, and now comes the autumn winds. Any decent amount of rain can change the fire burn status, so make sure to check with the rangers for up-to-date fire info.
Best Autumn Campgrounds in California
Many of these campgrounds are located in or near aspen groves & are simply spectacular during the fall months. Some may be located near alder groves. Maple trees located along rivers turn golden between September and October.
Higher elevation (7000′-9000′) colors will change faster and earlier in the year (as soon as September), whereas the lower countryside may wait until late October.
Pack warmly, cuz the cooler temps at night (20-30 degrees) is what makes these awesome, little autumn leaves change colors. The change can happen very fast (in days). When the early season snows move in – usually a minimal dusting by October, fall colors can fade fast.
The Eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada is the ‘place to be’ for Autumn Colors in California. The dramatic desert meets the tallest granite peaks. Every canyon is a different scene, many lakes lined with aspen groves, some have a creek with aspens.
North Lake Campground
Lake Sabrina Road
Bishop Pass (high country hikes)
Lee Vining, CA
Lee Vining Canyon / Hwy 120
One of the biggest aspen grove canyons in the state of California.
NFS Campgrounds in Lee Vining Canyon: Big Bend, Aspen Grove, Boulder, Moraine, and Cattleguard Campground.
NFS Camps @ Yosemite’s EAST GATE (9000′ elev): Ellery Lake, Junction, Saddlebag Lake, and Sawmill Campground.
Impressive Rock Creek Road #4S12 in Rock Creek Canyon, one of the very best “Scenic Autumn Drives” in the whole Eastern Sierra. Numerous NFS Campgrounds on this road; many of which close for the season, just about the time then fall colors peak.
A decent list of California Lakes, Reservoirs and Ponds, in the Sequoia region of the Southern Sierra mountains ….spanning from the Kern River to the Kings River. Some are well known recreation lakes with boating available, while others are secluded lakes or small ponds. Enjoy nature – it’s free!
All the hikes listed here are to super remote alpine lakes w/ granite mountain peaks all around. The Sierra gems are located in the steep, granite, high altitudes, that require hours of strenuous hiking and backcountry skills. These are not paved granny trails by any means. They are the total opposite.
Long, steep trails, with the freshest thin air. Know your physical conditioning (or lack thereof) before taking on a 10 mile day hike. It will wipe you out!!! Backpackers should obtain a wilderness permit before venturing overnight into the back country.
Mc Kinley Grove is a small grouping of Sequoia trees in the Central Sierra Nevada; Located off Hwy 168 & way down Dinkey Creek Road (Sierra Rd #40). deep inside Sierra National Forest, past the Dinkey Creek Campground turn off. It’s a good stretch break and picnic stop on your way to Wishon & Courtright Reservoirs.
By far, one of the best Redwood State Parks near the San Francisco Bay Area. Very popular on weekends and all summer long. Reservations are recommended. Open all year!
These are the majestic Santa Cruz redwood forests, located behind Boulder Creek, California. Off of Hwy 9, this redwood park has awesome hiking, easy access & overnight accommodations to suit your style. Stay in a tent cabin, a developed campground or use the walk-in camp sites for a real natural setting.
Big Basin Redwood Campgrounds
184 camp spots include:
74 tent campsites
38 walk-in sites
41 tent cabins
31 RV campsites (27′ max)
Additionally there are 40 hike-in camp sites & 4 group camps, by reservation.
Camping out in the Santa Cruz mountains can be a magical experience. It is here where some city dweller first get a glimpse of the coastal giant trees. Towering above in several Redwood Parks, the hiking & camping are endless. Backpacking, day hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding are all popular activities in this region.
NOTE: There is no off-roading, 4×4, OHV trails in these coastal mountains, so it will be more peaceful. Peace and quiet, remember that?
Since this mountain range is in between the Santa Cruz coastline and THE CITY, San Francisco, and situated right next to the mega-city “Bay Area”, you can always expect a few tourists about and lots of locals out enjoying their backyard (at all times of the year).
Make campground or cabin reservations as far in advance as possible. Summers are the busiest months!
Tent Cabins: Big Basin Cabins can be arranged at Big Basin State Park. Campgrounds can be found at all State Parks and some county parks. Private vacation homes are found nearby; a few small towns on Hwy 9 offer hotel accommodations. On the coastal side of this ‘mountain’ is the small community of Pescadero w/ Butano SP.
If you are thinking about fishing or camping the Eastern Sierra, North of Bishop & you are not up for the crowds at Mammoth or June Lakes, then try the Bridgeport area, north on Hwy 395. Rural ranch lands along main road, Bodie ghost town turn off across the highway and Virginia Creek Settlement are also nearby
Green Creek is a 11 mile long dirt road in the lush Eastern Sierra the northern portion. The wide, graded dirt road is signed and dead ends at a Toiyabe National Forest campground called Green Creek Campground. The drive up can be washboard bumpy in some parts, but that doesn’t stop the hundreds of adventurous motorhomes that make this trek annually. This place features some of the best prime Sierra back roads camping options for RVs.
Another dirt route, Dunderberg Meadow Road peels off to the left. Dunderberg departs off Green Creek a couple of miles from the highway and well maintained. This route leads to meadows, aspens, picture perfect scenery and much more seclusion. Passenger car accessible, wide graded dirt roads to wilderness edges. Two-track one lane trails lead to meadow edges and more creeks. Very impressive views of the Sierra peaks over here on this side. Meadows are sensitive areas, wonderful for picnics and you should always minimize impact.
Plain old passenger cars can easily make this route deep into the Eastern Sierra aspen canyon. Graded dirt and4x4 could be needed winter months. Backpackers can enjoy easy access to the Hoover Wilderness trailheads. There is plenty semi-primitive camping spots along the way, right on the creek, for free…. so no need to sleep in your vehicle upon arrival.
Autumn Aspen Groves: fall colors peak in October, which is usually when the first snows for the winter season start. November – usually the freeze gets them and lifeless brown leaves dangle, until the Sierra Nevada wind gust blow real good.
Green Creek Camping
DIRT ROAD CAMPING
Dispersed, primitive camp spots along this main dirt road are on a first come basis. You’ll need a fire permit. Many flat camps are set along the creek in aspen groves, some pines, others have cubby hole privacy. Large granite valley, big creek, bird, scenery and nature everywhere. Some folks spend weeks camping out here in the warm weather months. Fishing is a big attraction.
Old Cabin in autumn leaves, up near the top of the dirt road deep in the aspen groves
Steep, rocky, gravel road, way up above (and behind) Convict Lake. 4WD may be needed during wet or snowy weather. High clearance is always advised. Locked GATE at the bottom means the NFS rangers have closed the route (seasonally) for deep snow, rock slides, avalanches, or other erosion hazards.
Laurel Canyon, US Hwy 395
Oldest, exposed rock in the Sierra Nevada mountains range. Buckling granite w/ volcanic rocks. Evidence of glacial activity including, terminal, lateral, and recessional moraines, glacial striations and polish, erratic boulders, and of course the numerous lakes. see more
Rent a cabin in the redwood forest of the north coast of California, or get a weekend retreat in the Sequoia, deep in the Sierra Nevada. Redwood inns, cottages & yurts can be found in the Central Coast region. Big Sur redwoods & Santa Cruz redwoods. Rustic hostels, historic Sierra lodges, or mountain cabins can be found in the Sierras, from Alta Sierra near Kernville, to Yosemite National Park.
Places to stay overnight in the Redwoods, or close by –
If you seek big lodges made from redwood timbers, those are the historic inns, located all over California. Redwood was harvested in California since 1850, right after gold was discovered and the masses flooded in. State officials have limited harvesting of ancient redwoods in Northern California in 1988. Logging and agricultural farms have already wiped out 96% of redwood forest that once covered California.
Sequoia trees naturally grow in the Sierra Nevada mountains, on the west side of the range. Several parks & forests make up what is known as “the Sequoias” – in the Southern Sierra, Sequoia National Forest; Giant Sequoia National Monument; Mountain Home State Forest; Central Sierra is home to Sequoia National Park & neighboring Kings Canyon NP; Sierra National Forest & Yosemite NP. Yep, all those areas have Sequoia groves!
The north coast of California is dubbed the Redwood Empire, and driving north on US Hwy 101 passing the well-known wine country and communities near Clear Lake, means you’ve entered the official redwood region of Cali.
With over 150 mile stretch between Ukiah & Crescent City, on the Oregon border, coastal redwoods thrive in this wet climate. All along US Highway 101 you can find every assortment of lodging, from standard hotels walking distance to village shops, to small secluded cottages tucked behind a winery. Sonoma & Mendocino vineyards merge on ridge lines, at the edge of oak countryside, with redwood forests & recreational rivers to the north.
BALD HILLS ROAD: Old logging roads lead way up in elevation, behind Redwood National Park, where you can find free camping spots and firewood piles all over the clearings. A real 4×4 vehicle will be needed in wet or snowy weather conditions. AWD wagons should be cautious of deep mud and know the weather conditions ahead of time. The main gravel/dirt route traverses the Bald Hills range at 3000′ elevation and ‘epic view’ campsites are abundant. Pine Creek Road drops east into Klamath River Canyon down to Klamath Hwy 96.
USAL BEACH: In the olden days, USA Lumber Company had a prime place on the Lost Coast. Now it is a wonderful destination w/ remote beach campground hidden in the trees, next to the redwoods and creek, and the cliffs – and a big sandy beach w/ giant driftwood!
Open Camping in Sequoia National Forest – Forest Road Camping
Seeking secluded campsites? This is one of the best areas to camp in pine forest w/ privacy, relatively close to Southern California. Plenty of primitive car camping on the dirt roads throughout this whole Sequoia & Kern River area.
No facilities. No picnic tables, no toilet, no fees. Just a rock campfire ring & a clearing. Previously used sites have already been established usually near streams. Try to use these first, if at all possible. It takes a bit of exploring but you will find the perfect spot. Don’t even attempt to try to find these kinds of camp spots at night. They are often buried deep in the forest with no visible markers what-so-ever. But in trade, you will be lulled to sleep by your own private mini waterfall & no RV generators. Many of these back roads are closed & gated during winter months due to snow & rock slides.
No amenities are available in this neck of the woods, but plenty of seclusion & wilderness. Check official Wilderness rules for proper knowledge of the area restrictions. You must get a free camp fire permit from the ranger station in order to build a fire outside of a developed campground. A large shovel, plus bucket w/ water are a bare minimum for the privilege of camping like this. Certain dry seasons (summers into autumn) have very strict camp fire restrictions. Check with the ranger to see the latest on building campfires on the back roads.
A Sequoia Forest Service Map is highly advised for this area. There are so many dirt roads for dispersed primitive camping on the back roads. Due to weather & erosion, some roads may require 4×4 or high clearance, so come prepared with a plan B.
Camping Checklist to make sure you’ll have what you need. The drive up from the Los Angeles area averages 3-4 hours and is well worth the trip. Once you’ve found that perfect spot, take detailed note of it, for the next time you visit the area. Then, you will be able to get there easily in the middle of the night, if need be.
Backroad Camping Sequoia: Follow the forest road numbers with your Sequoia map to discover amazing back road camping options. Your own private stream or meadow. Secluded campsites with your own mini waterfall.
As if the government wasn’t confusing enough, now they have named so many areas of the Sierra Nevada “Sequoia” that it confuses people even more. For Pete’s sake, all we wanna do is see some big trees, hike, fish, camp and really relax.
The largest trees in the whole wide world are grounded right here in Cali, deep in the forests of the incredible Sierra Nevada mountains. The giant Sequoia groves are found in several parks in the Sierra, and are not specific to just the parks boundaries. You can find them as far south as the Western Divide Hwy, up past California Hot Springs – in the newest Giant Sequoia park, and you can find them as far north as Gold Rush Country.
Giant Sequoia National Monument (the newest NationalMonument, currently administered by Sequoia National Forest)
These massive Sierra redwoods are not be be confused with the tallest trees – the California Coastal Redwoods, which are found along the Pacific Ocean, from the canyons of Big Sur to rocky shores of Crescent City. The oldest living trees are the Ancient Bristlecone Pines, east of Bishop CA