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
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.
Numerous Silver Lakes, Creeks and other “silver” terrain can be found inside California. After the Gold Rush of 1849 in the western Sierra, Silver was discovered in Nevada shortly after (east of Sierra Nevada mountains). This page is an overview on all places with SILVER in the name, or places that have had a history of silver mining. California Counties are listed in parenthesis. Links below will lead to more detailed pages or campground reservations.
Silver Fork of the American River. Silver Fork Road connects US Highway 50 & Carson Pass Hwy 88. Silver Fork Campground & China Flat Campground (NFS) are both located on this remote, backcountry route, about 8 miles from US Hwy 50
Autumn aspen groves ignite with color in October. Often, some of the best fall colors in the Eastern Sierra. Day trips w/ fishing. Hiking everywhere. Overnighters or backpackers could be greeted with snow at anytime in October or later. The June Lake Loop (SR 158) closes for snow annually!
below are silver mining camps and other silver related destinations, plus some campgrounds
Bodie SHP (State Park)
8375′ elev. US Hwy 395 near Bridgeport, CA. Infamous, high desert ghost town, now a California Historic State Park. Large gold mining camp w/ well-preserved, wooden, old town structures. Silver was discovered in nearby Aurora Canyon. All dirt road access. No developed campground @ Bodie, so try nearby Green Creek Road instead. Or high desert, back road camping on Aurora Canyon Road over to Bridgeport Reservoir.
8500′ elev. Inyo mountains, West of Death Valley, east of US Hwy 395 @ Junction 136. Old mining camp rich in silver history. Someone might even live up there. Extreme remote location in rugged, high desert mountains. 4×4 is always required!
Silver City Sequoia
6935′ elev. cabin resort on Mineral King Road, in the South Sequoia National Park
Silver Valley Campground & Silver Tip Campground (Alpine Co)are both located near Lake Alpine on Highway 4 Ebbetts Pass , Central Sierra
Silvertip is also a Group Camp at Jackson Meadow Reservoir (Sierra Co) off Hwy 89, North of Truckee, CA. Silvertip Group Campground, as with all group camping facilities, is by reservation only.
Silver Lake @ LA (Los Angeles Co) a hip and popular, tree-lined neighborhood in Los Angeles, near Griffith Park.
(San Bernardino Co)
Silver Dry Lake, a dry lakebed in the Mojave desert, near the Hollow Hills Wilderness, north of Baker, CA off I-15
(San Bernardino Co)
2430′ elev. a desert community southwest of Barstow, near Helendale, CA. Located on the Mojave River (which flows underground) in between Historic Route 66 & US Hwy 395. Attraction nearby – Exotic World, the Burlesque Hall of Fame.
Mammoth Lakes area has several festivals throughout the year; a few ski and snowboard competitions, as well as mountain bike races. Mammoth is the outdoor recreation hub of the Eastern Sierra.
This summer mountain festival revolves around beer and live music, in the best spot to be in California’s 100+ degree hot weather – at 7000′ elevation, in the cool, pine forest (with refreshing lakes nearby).
90 years running. Intermountain Fair is held annually at McArthur Fairgrounds, east of Fall River Mills, CA. Small town parade, exhibits, livestock, motocross, demolition derby, carnival rides and games. If you are looking for a small hometown fair inside California, this one is choice pickins.
The Inter-Mountain Fairgrounds is located in the northeastern tip of Shasta County on Highway 299E in the town of McArthur, CA. McArthur is located in the Fall River Valley – along with neighboring communities of Fall River Mills, Glenburn, Pittville, and Dana. All are farming communities with a total population of about 2,000 people @ 3400′ elevation.
When you really wanna get away from it all, take a week off and head up to Modoc – the top northeast corner of California, where the volcanic mountains line the Great Basin. The population is minimal, cattle are abundant and the campers few. Even in mid summer, this ideal lake campground rarely fills up.
Jess Valley Road leads east off US 395 @ Likely, CA – 16 miles back to this hidden gem.
Headwaters to the Pit River.
NFS Campground is shady, well managed, and spread out on the eastern slope w/ numerous paved loops. Tent campers, cross country cyclists, truck campers w/ canoes, SUV families, motorhomes with kayaks and kids.
Blue Lake Campground NFS
• Elevation: 6,050′
• Number of Sites: 48
• Vehicle Accessibility: 32′ RV
• Camp Fee: Yes
• Campsite Reservation: No
• Water: Piped
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: May –October
• Trailhead: Lake Loop
• Boat Ramp: Yes
Group Camp Facilities (by reservation only)
Modoc NF Warner Ranger District
Blue Lake National Recreation Trail
Right next to camp: A pretty much perfect LAKE LOOP (1.5 mi) hiking trail is worth a serious stroll; footbridge, wildflowers, fishing spots, minimal hills, lava rocks, and awesome scenery. Plenty of wildlife can be seen, including butterflies and bald eagles. Trail is shaded by tall white fir and ponderosa pine trees. Trailhead is located at the Day Use parking lot, w/ paved boat ramp, dock, and picnic area.
NOTE: not every CAMPSITE has a LAKE VIEW
Certain campsites are adjacent to the lake; some are set facing a meadow (Autumn w/ aspen groves), or the alpine forest w/ deer grazing. Perhaps an inner circle (interior) campsite, for those who like to be close to bathrooms and piped water. Large families will love the abundance of camp settings and accommodations.
Paved Loop Plenty of Vault Toilets Piped Water Recycles & Trash Service
no paved camp stall
no dump station
no cell phone signal
popular lake camp for motorhomes
When driving a large RV back in here, be courteous of other campers. Nothing sucks more than driving a long distance to the boonies, to arrive at camp just before dark and annoying everyone else already there.
Those needing to drive the campground loops (more than twice) looking for the biggest, levelest, best camp site – and burning $10 in gasoline doing so, should consider walking in.
Park that beast (near boat ramp area, before the camp entrance). Get out and walk the hills and loops, BREATHE & relax – prior to a choosing camp site.
Unhitch any tow vehicles; use that to scout out your perfect spot, if you cannot hike it. Trailers and large motorhomes will find this place ideal, but getting the right camp, can make all the difference.
Paved Trail around Campground
The wildfire: BLUE FIRE burned this region in 2001, but it is lush and green again (2019). Northern California gets some real weather. Rain and snow, more than half the year. The campground closes annually due to snow.
Kayaking is best done in the morning, cuz wind picks up in the afternoon. Canoes can launch at boat ramp, or at shoreline from trails near campsite.
Hiking trails can be found all around lake and campground. Wilderness access can be found at South Warner trailheads within a short drive from the lake.
Cyclists also love this camp, as it is located near a major highway and is a perfect place to really relax, soak in the scenery and get some quiet-nights sleep.
Modoc Forest Road #64 is a through-route, across the lower South Warners – 40
miles connecting to east side of the mountain, at Eagleville, CA.
Dirt Roads are suitable for trucks w/ trailers. SUVs and rugged passenger cars are okay. Motorhomes are not advised on this route. Washboard conditions are typical. Winter closure on this route is common.
MODOC RD 64
Several miles away from Blue Lake, 2 rustic trailhead campgrounds are located back this way – East Creek Campground & Patterson Campground. Less than 10 camp sites each, equipped w/ horse stalls, vault toilets and maybe piped water. Trailhead parking for backpackers. No RVs!
Autumn colors w/ aspen groves. Open, large meadows and mature forests w/ wildfire scars. Cattle can be found grazing all around, many cattle crossing.
Minimal primitive camping options, along road sides. Campfire permits required. No camping within one mile of a developed campground.
Bald Rock Trailhead, Berry Creek, CA Located above Lake Oroville and near the Middle Fork of the Feather River, this well known trailhead is a 1 mile (short, steep & sweet) climb on top of granite rocks – to a wonderful view over the North Sacramento Valley. Dirt parking lot w/ bathroom in a forested setting. Can get muddy during winter. Seasonal creek runs along first part of the hiking trail. Locals like to party here at night. Families hike during daylight and sunset hour. Trailhead sign is well marked on paved Bald Rock Road, about 6 miles from the Oro Quincy Highway.
The granite dome hike (above) is often confused with a neighboring trail to the south, called Bald Rock Dome, located at the granite gorge of the Middle Feather River. A much longer hike w/ a canyon view, switchbacks, and longer dirt road access…..
Another dome hike in the same area as above, but on the other side of the pavement; gravel parking lot, and trailhead via dirt road; a right turn off Bald Rock Road (when going north). Near the residential forest of Berry Creek, CA
The official map for Lake Oroville SRA has a granite dome marked as Little Bald Rock @ 3334′ elev. The USDA Plumas National Forest map has both a Little Bald Rock and a Bald Rock Dome (3509′) located on this side of Bald Rock Road.
As you can see listed below, giant granite domes or mountain peaks or river canyons often have the generic name of ‘bald rock’ There are also a heck of a lotta Bald Mountains inside the golden state.
also, in the vicinity –
Bald Rock Canyon is downstream from the big waterfall, Feather Falls, on the Middle Fork of the Feather River; This stretch of wilderness waterway is called Feather Falls Scenic Area which includes, Milsap Bar Campground; Maybe be accessible, by 4×4 and steep foot trail – from the opposite side of the river. Off Lumpkin Road, which is off Forbestown Road (@ 162 above Lake Oroville) 2021: CLOSED due to wildfire damage
Bald Rock Peak (elev 7166′) a mountain peak near Chilcoot Campground and Frenchman Lake, N of Hwy 70 in East Plumas National Forest
Bald Mountain (5780′) off the Skyway, next to Stirling City, CA
Fire Lookout CDF, weather cam & antenna site
On the north side of the lake is Grass Valley Bald Mountain (5906′ elev) in between Black Rock Creek and the northern shore.
The La Porte Bald Mountain Peak (5906′ elev) is located in dense forest, in Plumas National Forest; In between LGVR and the town ofLa Porte, CA 4959′
Area accessible via a long and curvy La Porte Road, which closes in winter on the north end (East Quincy). This Plumas County area is popular w/ snowmobiling due to the amount of snow they receive.
Bald Mountain Range, due north of Truckee and Stampede Reservoir. Near the CA / NV border. Babbitt Peak @ 8790′ is the tallest peak within this range. Historical Henness Pass Road passes through this area.
Bald Mountain Peak @ Sugarloaf Ridge State Park (2279′ elev) located in between Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley.
M22 Mendocino Forest, eastside Forest Route #M22 is on Valentine Ridge, east of South Yolla Bolly (elev 8092′) and near Bald Rock Mountain (7762′). Road M-22 is also known as Bald Rock Road. Mendocino National Forest – Two trailheads up this way are Ides Cove and Horsepacker. M22 wraps around south to Ball Rock @ 6663′ elevation, near Rocky Cabin Campground. Cold Springs Guard Station, Ball Mountain 6557′ and Whitlock Campground are on this route. Much this region has been burnt in recent wildfires of 2020 #ElkhornFire
Popular, local snow ski destination for “the southland”; south of Pasadena, near Rancho Cucamonga, in the San Gabriel Mountains.’
Bald Mountain Road, also known as Inyo Forest Road #01S05, near Indiana Summit and the Mono Craters. East of the Eastern Sierra & US 395; south of Mono Lake, California.
Bald Mountain Road, near Bummerville, California.
Gold Country Sierra Forests, East of Hwy 49 @ Jackson, CA
Bald Mountain Road, rural ranches & residential;
and Bald Mountain Nursery in Browns Valley, near Marysville, CA
Bald Hills Road, Northern California
Well- traveled, graded dirt road connecting the Redwood National Park to the Klamath River @ Hwy 96. Primitive camping, but check on fire restrictions. Must have camp fire permit. Active logging roads on National Forest land, so weekdays could be busy: watch for equipment and big trucks.
California Camping Rentals: Outdoor gear rentals in California are more common in big cities with large retailers and harder to find in specific, small towns on the back roads. Plan ahead trying to rent gear. Recreation destinations such as Joshua Tree, Mammoth & Bishop might have rental shops, but finding a rental store in an unfamiliar area could be ‘just chancing it’.
Be sure, before you go.
DanaMite has revised this handy list for your wilderness vacation planning, recreational equipment and rental needs.
2020 UPDATE: Recently deleted 4 shops on this page, so don’t be surprised if more gear rental shops vanish.
There are many reason people rent gear. Tourists or vacationers passing through, wanting to experience a non-hotel night outdoors; Beginner backpackers wanting to try out equipment before committing to a big purchase; College students on an impromptu road trip; Novice cross country snow skiers; Doggy now packs in his own food & water too.
A new concept now being delivered is online gear rental, from camping to fly fishing. Seriously. They can ship you quality rental gear, and you can use it, test it, review it, all hands-on, out in the field. These 2 players in the West both ship nationwide. Imagine what else the web will rent in the future?
Mountains of Northern California / NorCal Mountain
California sure has a lot of mountains. West Coast land is home to the tallest Sierra Nevada range, plus the Cascade range, which extends northwards to Canada. (Many of which have volcanic peaks.)
We break down all the mountainous regions in the north part of the state below w/ links, topo maps, lakes, rivers, wilderness, parks and forests. Small towns & cities are linked in red.
North Coast Mountains
Redwood forests and rivers are what make up most of the Northwest part of California, just below the Oregon coast. Logging and fishing are the big industries up here. Lumber mill towns and camps still exists today. Wilderness areas, dirt back roads, river kayaking, stream fishing, camping and real wild indians. Oh yeah, and Big Foot!
The landscape in more dramatic along the North Coast of California, as the steep rocky terrain tumbles into the sea w/ the San Andreas fault running parallel to the shore. Marine life, rocky shores w/ small towns. Del Norte County & Humboldt County. Wild rainy weather, at least half the year; fog and sun the other half.
The furthest north is Siskiyou County, which borders the state of Oregon. We have the Klamath River flowing south into California, with plenty of mountain peaks, forests and wilderness. Interstate 5, Highway 3 and Highway 96
Pacific Crest Trail passes through the area and backpacking is common (all year long). Notable spots – Klamath Knot and The Eddy’s. Prominent Mount Shasta is actually situated inside Siskiyou County, not Shasta.
Giant Mount Shasta is located inside Siskiyou County, and Shasta County & Trinity is everything located to the south of it. Interstate 5, Highway 3 and Highway 299. Recreational lakes, rivers and streams, and off roading trails.
Waterfalls, hot springs, mountain biking and stream fishing can be found within this region. Mining history and museums are primarily situated around Weaverville. Houseboats and boat rentals can be found on the big reservoirs. Whiskeytown was totally toasted in wildfire of 2018. Alpine lakes, granite spires, campgrounds and cavern tours, all located along the Interstate 5 corridor.
Coastal mountains located above the Napa & Sonoma wine country. US 101 & Highway 20. Rivers, forests, wilderness and redwoods is the key terrain that make up the Mendocino County mountains.
There is a fair amount of off road trails and dirt roads located in and around Mendocino, so you can expect to see 4x4s, dirt bikes and toy haulers on the east side of the mountain range. The coastal side of the Mendo National Forest will have the rivers and redwood parks.
Northern Sierra Nevada mountains is where the granite rock of the Sierra meets to volcanic rock of Lassen Volcano. Butte County and Plumas County is the Feather River drainage, all flowing south from Mount Lassen.
Pacific Crest Trail is routed through Bucks Lake Wilderness and the Feather River Canyon, so backpacking is popular. Highway 70
Technically speaking, the Susan River is the top waterway of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Lassen County spans the distance from the Nevada state line, west to Plumas forest and the Feather Rivers (all 4 forks).
Lassen Peak is the middle of the National Park and the National Forest totally surrounds that. Numerous lakes, hiking trails, wilderness areas and dirt roads make up this huge forested area. Snow-mobiling is popular in winter months around the town of Chester.
The far northeast corner of the golden state is the remote cattle range lands of Modoc Country inside Modoc County. Drier than the rest of NorCal, the high desert sage brush meadows, a few lakes and pine forest mountains. Highway 299 & US 395
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.
On the eastern mountain slopes of Big Bear Lake, Holcomb Creek creates a forested sage valley – called Holcomb Valley, located only a few miles away from the big lake. A graded dirt road leads out to this pine forest & a prime campground area. Perfect location for picnics and sightseeing.
Although the developed campground is open all year long, please take into consideration that SNOW and mud is the norm for winter months.
Nice shady sites to beat the summer heat. Camp spots spaced out fairly well. Hikers parking lot is located at one end of the campground. Bears are well known in the region, so please lock all food in the provided metal bear lockers.
The epic Pacific Crest Trail runs right through the Holcomb Valley. Doble Trail Camp is out this way for PCT parking, next to Holcomb Valley Road #3N16 which encircles this whole forested area inside San Bernardino National Forest.
Holcomb Valley has a historic cabin to see. Numerous old mines exist around this area. Nearby Gold Mountain is a popular 4WD route.
The dirt back road leads east down to the high desert @ Highway 162. Down to Pioneertown and Yucca Valley, and eventually Joshua Tree National Park.
Frazier Park and neighboring towns, like freeway-close Lebec and Gorman, is where the Los Angeles hills meet the Kern County mountains. Mojave Desert meets to Coastal Range. EXIT I-5 @ Tejon Pass (elev 4144′)
Wildflower hills, seasonal creeks, forested peaks, high desert canyons. Bike trails, hike trails, off road routes. High elevation backpacking, hang gliding, mountain biking and camping in every direction.
High desert washes, oak creeks, pinyon pine forests, mountain meadows and numerous peaks – Frazier Peak, Reyes Peak, Alamo Mountain, Mount Pinos, Mount Abel (Cerro Noroeste) and north facing San Emigdio ridge.
Many dirt roads are gated seasonally for wet weather or snow. Call rangers to find out which routes are open before you plan your weekend. Or have a plan B and C camp site ready if route is closed. Flashfloods, thunderstorms, and erosion means you may all-of-a-sudden need to use your 4WD. This is the mountains after all. UNpredictable weather is common.
Wide open spaces, mountains, rivers and ranch lands. The very last of the unexplored high country of California. Rural and rustic regions are full of forested mountain ranges with sage brush meadows lying below. Valleys are high elevation deserts with a base terrain sitting above 4000′; Peaks @ 8000′ above sea level.
South Warner Wilderness is in the southern portion of the Warner Mountains, a north south positioned range, located in the top corner of the golden state. Surprise Valley lies to the east, bordering the Nevada state line and Alturas w/ US Hwy 395 on the west side.
California SR 299
Hwy 299, the only paved thoroughfare cuts right through the middle of the Warner Mountains. Paved Parker Creek Road #56 climbs up Parker Creek from Alturas, accessing camping, hiking, dirt back roads and wilderness trailheads. Warner Mountains State Game Refuge is north of the wilderness area.
One dirt route skirts the wilderness boundary – West Warner Road #5, which leads from Parker Creek due south to Jess Valley Rd #64. Blue Lake Road, Patterson Mill and Road #39N15 are nearest to East Creek. Winter driving tips from NFS.
All these campgrounds listed can be accessed by a vehicle, most by narrow back roads (some dirt). If you prefer to drive on paved roads only, then you’ll need to choose Blue Lake or Mill Creek Falls. Deep snow closes forest roads and campgrounds are generally only open a few months per year, from May to October.
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
This camp list is comprised of primitive camp sites and developed campgrounds with good views overlooking a large area (valley, town, canyon, desert, river, ocean). Many ideal spots may require dirt road driving, and a few might need a 4-wheel drive vehicle to reach.
We were suggesting this very spot way back in 1999, well before anyone else was ‘blogging’ about it. This area is by far the best, free coastal camping on the Central Coastline of Big Sur. Dirt roads traverse 10 miles out to vacant ridges overlooking the Pacific, with steep hills down to the highway. Camp above the fog layer and above the crowds. Explore the beaches during the day, and camp above the traffic & crowds at night.
Dry brush is abundant on the mountains of Los Padres National Forest. Camp fire restrictions should be of utmost concern in this area, since wildfires burn here often. Camp fire permits are required for camping on the back roads, and much of the time camp fires are banned in this region. Call ahead to the rangers to find out the current conditions.
Two prime walk-in camp sites, on a shady point, high above a beach cove w/ scenic waterfall.
Called “environmental camps” these highly desirable spots need advanced reservations w/ fees many months in advance. Tables, fire rings and a vault toilet. Bare bones basics, but the ideal location is worth it. A forested cliff on the edge of the ocean, high above a secluded cove. This location a can get windy if a storm moves in (generally October – March).
There are several primitive campsites off of M10 with views of chaparral and canyons. Just above Stonyford, CA, on the way up to Fouts Springs. Unfortunately Mendocino National Forest is may be closed for 2019 due Ranch Fire (wildfire 2018) w/ Snow Mountain Wilderness completely 100% burnt.
Planning more scouting of this region summer 2019. Stay tuned.
Angeles National Forest
Mount Pacifico Campground
Angeles Forest Highway
Lightning Point Group Campground
near Jackson Lake @ Hwy 2
San Berdu has more than a few trail camps for 4×4 enthusiasts. Weekends can be busy all year long. Snow usually closes some routes. Pine forest in southern California means very tight campfire restrictions. All yellow post camp sites include table and a fire ring. Campfire permits are required.
East ridge line, rocky, dusty, 4WD-only route, the John Bull Trail (near Holcomb Valley) has ONE real awesome view camp spot with great spans over the Mojave desert w/ smog and city lights @ night.
Culp Valley – boulders, primitive camps on dirt roads; better views off-road. Vault toilet. Few tables, no signs. Small campground at the highway is easy to find. Boulders and bouldering. Mountain biking and hiking. Wildflowers in spring.
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
Eastern Sierra Nevada – Inyo Mountains
Inyo Forest Back Roads – Mammoth Off Road
Off Road near US Highway 395. Yep, Olancha has some OHV (off-road) areas near the dunes, but this web site is dedicated to the real deal, the scenery, the trail heads, the hot springs, great secluded camping & of course, back road exploring.
You will need a Inyo National Forest map to discover these back roads. These are minimally traveled routes, un-maintained, sometimes washed out, eroded & maybe even creek crossings (without a bridge). Some gravel two-lane routes, some one lane roads leading deep into dead end canyons.
A few popular routes are paved, but most of these listed are indeed dirt roads. Some may require high clearance vehicle, or even 4×4. Know your vehicles limitations & be prepared to turn back when the road worsens. Cuz more often than not, it’s a sign of what more difficult terrain is to come.
Watch out for live stock – they are dumber than they look.
Owenyo Rd – Wanna parallel the highway (395) on dirt; Sure, it’s a long bumpy route – from Hwy 136 @ Dolomite to Bend City @ Mazourka Cyn.
Road# 13S05 – Mazourka Canyon Rd – leads up to some old mining camps & way behind Mazourka Peak (9410′) deep into the Inyo mountains. It’s all desert on this side, but these canyons have pinyons & more vegetation than you would imagine. Road# 9S15 & 9S14 circle Andrews Mountain (9460′) then join back up w/ Death Valley Rd (the North Pass into Saline Valley).
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest has some great dirt roads surrounding it. After you are finished with all the touristy sights & you don’t wanna spend the rest of the day in the visitors center or back at camp, try Cottonwood Canyon – full of aspens, camp sites & fishing, not cottonwood trees. 4×4 is required. Crooked Creek has boulders, boulders & more boulders. Plus some amazing camp sites with open sky views. Silver Canyon is for high clearance only, 2WD okay. This will lead you down to Laws Railroad Museum on Hwy 6, on the back side of Bishop, CA
Benton Crossing Rd (green church @ 395)
This wide road leads out to multiple dirt roads that peel off in every direction. Many Eastern Sierra Hot Springs can be found out here – on the east side of the highway. No hot spring resorts, no facilities, no clothing & very primitive.
Bishop 4×4 route Coyote Flat
Coyote Wash leads up to Coyote Flat & out to Coyote Lake. This a a spectacular high altitude plateau overlooks the Owens Valley & requires 4 wheel drive just to get up there. Pinyons, junipers, aspens, wildflower meadows, old mines, & yes, lakes at 11,000′ elevation. Views of the High Sierra & South Lake.
Buttermilk Road – This dirt road is north turn off of Hwy 168, W of Bishop, CA. “The Buttermilks” are a popular spot among rock climbers. A great place for indian petroglyphs too!
Road# 9S21 – Glacier Lodge Road – Paved road. Creek exploring & fishing. Plenty Campgrounds. W of Big Pine CA
Horseshoe Meadows Rd – Paved route with great views over Owens dry lake bed; access via Lone Pine CA; A nice day trip to meadows & High Sierra scenery. Picnic & day hike!
McMurray Meadows Rd – south off of Glacier Lodge Rd (#9S21) just W of Big Pine CA. You can find ancient cinder cone volcanoes & cave-like lava tubes in between this long dirt road & the highway.
Monache Meadows is a high elevation meadow that takes some time & determination to get to. This area is part of the Inyo National Forest, but can be accessed by either: backpacking thru the high Sierra’s or driving a high clearance vehicle thru Sequoia NF # 22S05 Sherman Pass Road, behind the Black Rock Ranger Station & Troy Meadows Campground. High clearance is needed, 4×4 maybe. Great camping sites near Olancha Peak trailhead. The area is surrounded by Golden Trout Wilderness & South Sierra Wilderness. From US Highway 395 to Kennedy Mdws & then Monache is a full day of exploring, so you may as well stay the night up there. But bring warm gear, a campfire permit & a capable vehicle.
Manzanar Routes – Back behind Manzanar Camp there are miles of dirt roads to explore. Many creeks side camp sites can be found even with a passenger car. Small trees & sage brush. Secluded camping (for free) is possible in the Eastern Sierra.
Mono Craters (Rd# 1N11) – the youngest mountain range on the continent. Just south of Mono Lake, this route skirts the pumice cones & climbs over the Aeolian Buttes, before it meets back up with Hwy 395.
Walker Creek Rd #19S01 – Oaks & creek. South of Olancha CA, look for turn off & follow dirt road up into the tight canyon.
San Diego Deserts, San Ysidro Mountains
Montezuma Grade Montezuma Highway, Hwy S-22
High desert elevations, large boulders, highway w/ primitive campground. No trees, but much vegetation; flat parking, large tent spots, picnic tables, vault toilet. High desert mountain pass, with boulders, canyons and many dirt roads to explore.
• Elevation: 3,350′
• Number of Sites: 10
• Vehicle Accessibility: all
• Campsites Reservation: No
• Camp Fee: No
• Length of Stay: 10 Days
• Season: October – May
• Trailheads: Grapevine Canyon, Pena Springs, Anza Borrego & PCT (Pacific Crest Trail)
hike highcountry borrego
Culp Valley Trail, Grapevine Canyon, Montezuma Valley, Pena Springs, San Ysidro Mountains.
Approximately 20% of California’s land is desert, located in Mono, Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Diego, Imperial, Riverside Counties… most falling in the eastern portion of California. Almost all of the Baja California peninsula is desert, right down to the beaches on the Sea of Cortez. The Mojave joins in Sonoran desert in Joshua Tree National Park, which is reason enough to explore this fabulous landscape. Anza Borrego Desert has way more cacti and vegetation than the barren Death Valley terrain. But Death Valley offers abundant acreage, seclusion, hot springs, scenic canyons, mining history, the tallest mountain peaks and the lower point in the nation. Inyo has impressive mountains that sit just east of the Sierra Nevada and is a volcanic wonderland along Highway 395 with indian petroglyphs, cinder cones and ancient lava flows.