As the massive wildfire bears down on yet another prime vacation destination in Northern California, I feel the need to update this old lake page, so you can see what areas are being affected.
(Dixie Fire of 2021)
Lake Davis @ Plumas National Forest elevation 5886′
Three paved roads access Lake Davis which is located north of Highway 70. Residential areas exist on the south side of the lake, which is 7 miles north of Portola, CA
Grizzly Ridge (elev 7000′) is located on the westside of Lake Davis, East of Quincy, CA
Beckwourth Taylorsville Road #112 (a dirt road) follows Little Grizzly Creek down from Genesee, and flows into this rural reservoir. Grizzly Valley Dam, also known as the Grizzly Creek Dam, reinforced the lake when it was built in 1967.
Quiet Lake Davis
Lake Davis Recreation Area offers a wide variety of outdoor experiences for summer including: camping , picnicking, fishing, hunting, boating, mountain biking, swimming, and wildlife viewing. Waterskiing and jet skis are not permitted. In the winter, ice fishing, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing are popular activities.
Frequent strong winds can cause the lake to become very hazardous for small craft. Boat Ramps at Camp Five, Honker Cove, Lightning Tree and Mallard Cove. Launching facilities have loading docks, paved ramps, parking and restrooms, and they all charge a fee.
Relatively uncrowded lake in the Northern Sierra, this location is often overlooked by travelers for more the popular, larger lakes. Locals use this location for outdoor recreation. Plumas National Forest
The developed campgrounds are located on the southern end of the lake. The backside of the lake is mostly made of up creeks, meadows, forests, dirt roads, wildflowers and abundant wild life.
Located off the main highway, on a side road, with the epic Salmon River! This NFS campground is popular with whitewater enthusiasts in the spring. Rafters, kayakers. Many challenging rapids ranging from Class 3 to 5 are available. Swimming is also popular in the summer and numerous river access areas are a short drive or walk from the campground.
Small campgrounds and secluded camps, accessible by dirt bikes or 4-wheel drive vehicles. Numerous dirt roads, sand dunes and canyons to explore, some with developed campgrounds, other areas w/ primitive camping. Self sufficient campers will enjoy this list.
4×4 camping in California
Okay, you got your 4 wheel drive vehicle dirty, it is now several years old & maybe you even have a scratch or two. Now is the time to finally start using that beast for real off road adventures. The real edge-of-wilderness trips you dream about when your sitting in your cubical wondering what life is really about. Fishing, camping, off roading and enjoying nature, of course!
4×4 camping in California is plentiful. California has trails for OHV use – which means ‘off highway vehicle’, that can accommodate your machine. These remote camps are always primitive camp sites, with picnic tables, fire rings & maybe a pit toilet (if you are lucky). You can find total seclusion on these back roads & trails, well away from the developed campgrounds & RV parks.
Anza Borrego Desert 4×4 Trails – pretty much everywhere in Borrego desert is off road heaven. Minimal pavement and maximum desert means dirt roads galore, white sandy washes, slot canyons, badlands, wind caves, wildflowers, petroglyphs, boulder outcroppings, old railroad trestles and so much more. The San Diego desert elevations range from near sea level to 4000′ on the eastern slopes of Laguna Mountain.
San Bernardino National Forest – has a few trail camps for 4×4 enthusiasts. John Bull Trail (near Holcomb Valley) has one real awesome camp spot with great views over the desert night lights. Holcomb Creek Trail also has a few spots near the creek. Overall this area is somewhat crowded for wheelin’ (especially on the weekends), as the population is so dense nearby.
2 OHV parks in the Los Padres Area: Hungry Valley & Ballinger both serve the off road crowds and have ample facilities, large camp spots to accommodate RVs and trailers.
The northern section of Los Padres (near Big Sur) has plenty of dirt roads & primitive camps, but none are truly 4×4 routes, as most can be accessed easily with a passenger car. See more on Big Sur Camping and Big Sur BackRoads.
Sequoia National Forest– Southern Sierra Nevada area has 4×4 camping right along the Kern River @ Keyesville, at the junction where Hwy 178 meets Hwy 155. Also, further up the river, Forest Rd#22S82 leads to primitive Camp 4, where there are several spots near granite pools, that can only be accessed by 4 wheel drive. The Big Meadows area also has some gorgeous forested back roads worth exploring. Kern Plateau has hundreds of miles of OHV trails near Troy Meadow.
High elevation Monache Meadows is a prime fishing & hiking destination on the south fork of the Kern River, accessed by an authentic “Jeep Road”.
Sierra National Forest– central Sierra forest has plenty of 4×4 routes that lead to granite rock gardens & mighty fine, secluded, forested camp sites. Gorgeous Red Lake & Coyote Lake are popular spots that require some technical skills & much patience to access. Both are frequented by fishermen & horses. Bald Mountain trailhead has awesome creekside camps on Rock Creek. Up near Wishon Reservoir is the dead end trail of Spanish Lake. Onion Springs Meadow is awesome back behind Edison Lake. Near the granite wonderland Courtright Reservoir is the infamous Dusy Trail signed #28E34 (aka #7S32, the Dusy Ershim), second only to the Rubicon Trail for high Sierra granite.
Stanislaus National Forest– camping in the Crandall & Niagara Creek OHV section of the forest, right off Hwy 108. Elevations range from 5000′-7000′. Higher up on the other side, Levitt Lake (access road near Levitt Falls) on the east end of the mountain range, east of the Sonora Pass sign.
El Dorado National Forest – has an area called Rock Creek for off roading in the Gold Country. Plus the ever popular Rubicon Trail starts hear (near Georgetown) & leads 20 miles across the High Sierra Nevada granite slabs to Lake Tahoe. Tons of camping back here in the National Forest.
Lakes Basin Recreation Area – Northern Gold County, just above the Yuba River. Gold Lake has many campable lakes. The area sees a lot of snowmobile traffic during winter snows, but warmer months are the time for fishing and camping. Most of the big lakes have small developed campgrounds, some are minimal, or primitive style camp sites on dirt roads without facilities. Maybe a picnic table at most.
Smith Lake is a place that fishermen and 4×4 enthusiasts love. It is small, secluded and kinda hard to find. You’ll need a good topo map of the region. Situated on the border of Tahoe and Plumas National Forest off the Gold Lake Hwy (aka Road #24). The PCT cuts thru this Lakes Basin area w/ Sierra Buttes There are dirt roads and off road trails leading deep into the backcountry from the Packer Lake and Gold Lake areas. Snag Lake is a free camp right on the main road.
Snake Lake Campground has numerous dirt roads and trails leading out to Butterfly Valley. Horse campers use this popular camp spot, so no loud vehicle activity inside the campground. No shooting up the bear locker either!
Milsap Bar is a long, narrow 9 mile dirt road which leads from Bald Rock Road in Berry Creek, down to the Middle fork of the Feather River. NFS Campground on the big river without fees!
China Gulch Road #60, a very long and winding dirt road, leads from Oro-Quincy Highway down to the Little North Fork. Although the NFS Campground is closed due to a landslide (1 mi before camp) there still is primitive camping at the second bridge. Be warned: the campsite at the first bridge is often over run with giant, juicy slugs at night.
Out there east of Quincy, somewhere off the historic, long and winding La Port Road, a few decent 4WD trails thru forest, access ridge lines or the big river below. Great fishing, amazing scenery & very secluded.
(north of La Porte Road)
– Feather River access
@ Cleghorn Bar Campground, 4 campsites (Road #23N24)
@ Stag Point Campground, 5 campsites (Road #22N80Y)
@ Hartman Bar NRT to Dan Beebe Camp (Road 94 to #22N42Y)
(south of La Porte Road)
– Poker Flat Camp near Sawmill Ridge & Table Rock (Road 800)
Sly Creek Reservoir is a super popular NFS Campground with trailheads and dirt roads leading deeper into the forests. The camp area is a favorite amongst the off roaders and dirt bikers that migrate up to the mountains for the weekend, to escape from the heat of the summer in the Sacramento Valley. LGVR is another body of water back in these parts and is more scenic and peaceful than the Sly Creek.
This coastal range is dirt road heaven, graded dirt roads, ridge routes, hiking trails, equestrian trails, big lakes, small lakes, creeks, meadows, forests, wilderness and 4×4 routes. Snow can be the most fun and challenging for the 4WD crews. Mud, snow, some road closures seasonally.
2019 WILDFIRE: Ranch Fire – wiped out most of this area. South of Snow Mountain Wilderness, plenty off road trails leading to peaks and ridge lines. Numerous small campgrounds to choose from, trailheads everywhere, acres and acres of wild mountainous areas, and a lake resort nearby. Lake Pillsbury is kinda the center of all the 4×4 action in Mendo.
Fouts Springs – Numerous NFS Campgrounds catering to the off-road types a portion of the year, but mostly quiet other times.
Yosemite is a top destination, all year long. California masses converge on the sacred valley each summer, so expect more as the buses keep rolling in. Plan a Yosemite trip before Memorial Day weekend – or after Labor Day weekend, for less people.
Camping close to Yosemite National Park without being inside the park boundaries. The scenery and wildness doesn’t stop in the back country. There are numerous National Forests surrounding the popular National Park, so much public land has been set aside for these recreation purposes. Granite-lined mountain meadows, dense forests, raging creeks, wildlife and real seclusion. Plenty of great paved back roads, dirt roads and camping options in the Sierra Nevada.
No campground reservations needed, cheaper fees (or free), less crowds, less noise. More freedom, more privacy, more nature.
Hundreds of developed, small campgrounds can be found around Yosemite. A few private RV resorts, cabin rentals, lodging on the main highways. Primitive style camping is considered “camping outside of developed campgrounds”. USDA National Forests usually allows open-camping within the forest boundary – with a required camp fire permit. Sometimes wildfire danger is too extreme, so they often ban campfires in dry conditions.
Gold Country Foothills – listed below are valley reservoirs. Oaks, dry hills, which can can be super hot in summer. Boating, camping and water recreation can be found at most Reservoirs, out in these parts.
California Fire Lookouts for Rent
US Forest Service Cabins
Rent a secluded cabin with an amazing view, a historic tower for wildfire spotting, or a USFS guard station – hidden deep inside USDA California National Forests. Several of these NFS lookouts have been closed recently, so the ones listed below have links to status and reservation information.
Dirt road access is common to reach these remote locations. Some require stair climbing, or steep access hikes. Winter months are usually snowy, inaccessible and sometimes dangerous for these high country locations. Access roads suffer from closures due to rock slides or landslides. Check with the locals ranger station for current conditions.
A few of these rentals are open all year long – in the southern part of the golden state.
Lake Tahoe California
One of the most popular Sierra destinations – be it summer or winter, Tahoe sure is crowded these days.
Below are all the developed campgrounds surrounding beautiful Lake Tahoe, CA. Most of these are located near the lake or, on the Truckee River. Most accept campground reservations in advance. blue links lead to camp info
Tahoe National Forest encompasses a larger region of the Sierra Nevada mountains surrounding the north portion of Lake Tahoe. American River, Yuba River, Northern Gold Country; Plus many small lakes with excellent forests, including Lakes Basin Recreation Area.
Blue Lakes has several campgrounds, south of South Lake Tahoe.
California Stream Fishing California Creek Camping
Since SoCal is more of a desert terrain, big water in California can be found elsewhere throughout the state. Natural waterways flow primarily from NorCal and from the backbone of the west coast, the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Determining the region to explore is a first step, then narrowing it down to several possible camp spots after you’ve found a good printed map (a hard copy, non digital, non electricity, the old fashioned kind).
California Rivers are popular destinations for the outdoor vacationer. The most desirable streams or creeks in California flow into a reservoir, not out of. The wilder scenery above the lake, deeper up the canyons are the secluded places we seek. Some accessed only by dirt back roads. 4×4 camps are commonly positioned near creeks. Wilderness trail heads can lead to even more privacy if you are willing to huff it.
look for the tiny blue lines, the bolder the better
– is your choice a main blue line?
– does this one creek feed into another larger stream?
– is it a creek that will be flowing strong?
– how far from a paved road is it?
Forest Service Back Roads are usually one lane dirt roads and have strange long numbers attached to them. Maybe signed, but don’t count on it. In the illustration: Look Road #22S59 is right along a creek, and maybe 22S08 has some water sources, but has a developed campground w/ possible fee. 22S59 is very likely to have some dispersed sites along it. You always have options open when you have a good map; make your back up choices when planning your destination. Have a few plan B roads chosen, just in case your first choice is too steep of a slope, or packed with RV families, or totally muddy and impassable with your vehicle.
Creekside Camping in California
Spring snow melt is when the dirt roads are still closed (gated) and often quiet muddy. Some primitive camp sites may be best access with a 4-wheel drive, but each river or creek side camp spot is unique at different times of the year, due to the snow depth and land erosion process. For easy-going exploring purposes, small all-wheel-drive vehicles work well too, but clearance can be a limiting factor. You wouldn’t believe what passenger cars we see on the back roads of Baja. Almost anything goes anywhere, slowly, as long as it runs and rolls.
last tip – mosquito, where?
Screen room tents may appear unsightly, but those hungry, annoying mosquitoes don’t really care what flavor you are. Them lil suckers are abundant in areas with water, standing or still water, meadows, creek beds, especially active in the warmer summer months. Beat ’em before they hatch – camp in the springtime. By autumn their numbers seem to dwindle with the night time chilly temps, but make sure to come prepared for those colder nights.
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.
Take the road next to the Ranger Station (South of Bridgeport, along Hwy 395); Drive up the hill and past the rock quarry. Bear right & look for dirt parking lot. Two pools, short walk, no shade, wonderful views of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Popular with local commuters and travelers, with easy access off the highway. Great spot for views westward w/ sunset picnic and soak.
No overnight camping allowed at Travertine hot springs (posted signs)
Plenty of great, free, camping nearby:
Primitive or developed Campgrounds.
lake camp, hike, mountain bike, off-road, ski, snowmobile
Tahoe Trail Maps / Tahoe National Forest
Numerous State Parks dot the shoreline at Tahoe, while the National Forest lands and Wilderness Areas span most of the peaks above. Camping, backpacking, boating, kayaking, fishing, climbing, mountaineering, mountain biking, snow skiing, snowmobiling are all popular recreation in this Sierra region. US Highway 50 and Interstate 80 are the main western access routes to Lake Tahoe. US Hwy 395 leads to Tahoe, up from the Eastern Sierra and Southern California.
Wanna find every waterfall or every creek to fish? This is the place that will help you find them. Easily, with good old fashion printed maps. Hard copies, some waterproof & tear resistant, most with topographical data and all roads, trails, campgrounds and parks. Whether or not you water ski or cross country ski, these maps will save your ass – when you are way back there in the boonies.
Tahoe’s Rubicon Trail connects the historic Gold Country to the alpine lake via granite wilderness sky ways above 7000′ elevation, but a real 4×4 and overnights are required. The back roads and trails are endless in these parts of the Central Sierra Nevada mountains.
California back roads are plentiful, beautiful and exquisitely wonderful – if you know where to look.
Off Road typically means “off the pavement”
While many argue the phrase “off-road” means only hard core 4×4 routes, rock crawling or rally racing, here at Total Escape, any road that is not paved is a dirt road and “off road” to us, and always well worth exploring. Graded dirt roads, gravel roads, access roads, washboard routes, forest roads, fire roads, secondary roads, desert washes, one laners, single tracks, OHV trails – can all be dirt roads.
Whether or not your vehicle can handle them is your decision, but believe me, you do NOT need a modified Jeep to start your adventuring. Most dirt roads can easily be accessed with a normal passenger car – if you pay close attention to terrain, deep mud ruts and the rocks in the road.
Vehicle clearance is usually the first thing that will have you hesitating. If you own a truck or SUV – this is enough to be considered a “high clearance vehicle” and good to go on 90% of dirt roads in Cali. Many dirt roads will become 4×4 required or recommended when mud or snow are present, and no signs to warn you, so always check the weather forecast in advance. And most importantly, BRING A REAL MAP.
Paper Maps vs. Online Maps
Driving on Interstates and state highways is one thing, exploring and discovering new routes and real sightseeing is another animal all together. Go prepared to be delayed: to stop and sit, to listen to the wind, to picnic outside, to watch the weather change, photograph the clouds forming above your head, enjoy the process. Remember the journey: Half the fun is getting there!
If you’ve ever tried to travel across the state with a GoogleMap, YahooMap or MapQuest one page printout, you will soon realize the limitations. Stuck in a small town called Julian, at night, on Christmas Eve, arguing with your partner, trying to find your way over to Interstate 10. Not a good plan! A statewide atlaswill save you from many unexpected route changes, as well as prove to be an invaluable tool while traveling. Free as a bird, ready to explore the open road and well prepared is the key to less stress in route.
Know your vehicle limitations, and if in doubt, pull over, get out and look. Examine the ruts, the mud depth, the height of the rocks. Sometimes a good camp site is dependent on how far up that dirt road you can drive. RV campers like to stick to the wider, graded dirt roads and plenty can be found on typical topo maps. Tom Harrison, National Geographic & National Forest maps all have dirt roads as well as trails, trailheads, campgrounds listed.
Nearly every map sold on Total Escape has dirt roads noted:
US National Forest Maps have all the main routes, the dirt roads and some main hiking trails. Trailheads, ranger stations and campgrounds are well marked.
CA Wilderness Map collection have the topographical features you will need to hike the region, peaks, streams, and all dirt roads leading up to the trail heads. Nearby campgrounds will be shown. Equestrian (horse back riding) is okay, but no mountain biking is allowed inside these Wilderness Areas.
OHV Routes & Maps will display the “off highway vehicle” routes, which include single tracks for dirt bikes/motorcycles, wider routes for quads and all roads rated for 4×4 only use. Several selected maps will also show hiking biking and equestrian routes.
Recreation Maps can feature various types of activities all on one map, from off-roading to snowmobiling, river rafting to waterfalls. These maps cover a smaller area or popular region to enjoy.
dirt roads lead to:
dirt bike trails
mountain biking trails
When you go camping, you wanna explore the area. That’s why you are camping there, right? Hiking & biking trails, equestrian trails, off road routes, river, streams, waterfalls & the closest trail heads. If you prefer primitive camping, outside of developed campgrounds without all the amenities, topographic maps of the back roads give you a perfect overview on where to begin your search. The ultimate creek side camp spot awaits.
The California maps we carry have developed Campgrounds featured for that region. These camps could be managed by any government agency, BLM, NPS, NFS, SP or perhaps a private campground. Below is a list of gorgeous regions that have excellent Campgrounds:
Small campgrounds have fewer facilities than the larger developed campgrounds, but less sites means more nature and less people. Roughing it on the back roads with dispersed camping is by far the best experience for seclusion and privacy
real peace and quiet.
Primitive, free camping requires more thought and planning than just pitching a tent in a flat spot at a developed campground.
Campfire permits are usually required for camp stoves, BBQs and any open fires. (bucket & shovel needed).
And most importantly, since California is known for its super dry climate and seasonal wildfires, make sure to check with local rangers to find out about any current campfire restrictions.
some tips for a good camping experience – without scoldings or citations from Mr. Ranger:
Choose existing campsite in a used area – rather than creating another rock ring & trampling a fresh spot.
Always know fire conditions; get a fire permit if you have a campfire outside of a developed campground.
Set up camp away from other people. The majority of people go to the wilderness to experience quiet, peace, & solitude. There is plenty space for everyone, so spread out.
Never set camp in a meadow. It is a very fragile ecosystem.
Use an existing camp site when possible. Rebuilding and cleaning campfire pits is part of the job!
Camping right on the a creek bed or lake shore is damaging to the vegetation and wildlife areas. Place tent at least 20+ feet away from waters edge. Many camp site already exist in prime areas on creek front, so seek out those first. The deeper you go into the wood, the more you will find. Seclusion is possible, if you want to drive beyond the pavement.
Do not camp beneath large dead trees. Check tent spots for old overhanging branches too.
Do not camp near a mine shaft; Toxic heavy metals or radioactive debris could be present in the dirt.
Camping next to a lake, wetlands or a meadow can often result in abundant mosquitoes & insects overall.
Snow is possible anytime from October to May above 5000′ elevation. Chilly nights are common in summer.
Avoid camping inside desert canyons when the threat of rain is approaching: possible flash floods.
Consider the benefits of potential windbreaks in desert terrain. Large rocks, bushes, trees, your vehicle & even a hillside.
Picking a camp spot on a ridge line means sun exposure and windy conditions. Breezes will keep the bugs away and you can’t beat the better view, but wind can pick up at any time especially in desert regions.
Low elevation in late spring and fall means very warm temps; summer is triple digit heat most days.
Do not camp near a mine shaft; Toxic heavy metals or radioactive debris could be present in the dirt.
Avoid camping on fragile coastal cliffs; unstable, which can give way, caving in, resulting in danger to you.
Camping on the beach means watching the tides. Know where high water mark is before you set camp up.
Beach camping in early summer means low clouds and fog are likely. June Gloom can last months.
Avoid building campfires up against a large boulders or against a rock face.
Rivers controlled by hydroelectric dam systems mean that the water levels can change at any time without warning.
Never set camp in a wildflower meadow. It’s too fragile of an ecosystem.
Lower elevations in summer time means potential triple digit heat during mid-day.
Do not camp near a mine shaft; Toxic heavy metals or radioactive debris could be present in the dirt.