An overnight stay out-of-doors. Sleeping out under the stars.
Air bed, camping cot, tent… or just a tarp on the ground.
Perhaps a luxury Cabin Rental in the mountains or on the coast. Your choice.
From a luxurious cabin in the mountains, to a small clearing in near a meadow with a stream nearby – with just a backpack, the idea of “camping” is always a bit different for each person. Roughin’ it for free – in the wilderness, or on the back roads; Or pay dearly for the price of real amenities, while on vacation.
camp sites that require you to physically haul your camp gear from a parking area to the camp spot, ranging from 1/8 mi. walk to a 1-3 mile hike
free w/ wilderness permit
ultimate in seclusion, bring it all on your back, on foot into the wilderness & enjoy trail camps
SO CAL CAMP FIRES – Yellow Post Campsites are remote camping spots in secluded areas, in a designated fire safe clearing. No facilities such as toilets or showers. Maybe a picnic table & fire rings, if you’re lucky. Southern California forests have these kinda spots. Required campfire permit & you must double check on local fire restrictions.
These structures are half way between ‘roughing it in a tent on the ground’ & having a ‘mountain cabin’. Tent cabins have wooden floors w/ canvas walls and roof; Dismantled annually for winter rain/snow, they are usually only available in mild, coastal climates or during summer months in the mountains.
Rentals typically include sleeping cots, but you’ll need to bring your own bedding (sleeping bags, sheets, pillows). Some rentals include shaded porches, wooden decks, minimal furniture, kitchenettes and/or wood burning stoves. Electricity may be available, or maybe not. Ask ahead of time, if you really must have that particular luxury when on vacation.
Yurts are a ’round version’ of this canvas cabin – which need to be aired out, often (to prevent mold). Yurt rentals are very popular and in high demand in California.
Find these type of rentals at yoga retreats, hot springs, beach canyons, remote lakes, redwood forests, high sierra camps, fishing camps and at certain RV parks.
Below are developed campgrounds in California that have walk-in camp spots available. Vehicles are parked and you must carry your gear into the camp site (usually a short distance, but can be up to a half mile).
California Campgrounds with more than a 1-mile trek are not included in this list below. Areas such as – Catalina Island, Crystal Cove SP, Angel Island SP, Point Reyes National Seashore, indeed have many hike-to camps, but most are measured in miles (one way).
walk in campsites are perfect for –
people who wish not to see cars @ camp
people who prefer less noise while camping
physically fit folks, who want exercise
backpackers, who plan to hit the trails soon
avid hikers, who may be out day hiking
cyclists, just passing through
mountain bike campers
one nighters, travelers who only stay one night
late comers to the campground
(hint: these are usually the last campsites to fill up)
Walk in campsites are often located away from car campers & RVs. Some camp sites may have more privacy, tucked away in trees, while others have shared community area with fire pits and/or barbecues. All camp sites will have picnic tables and a some kinda toilet nearby. Bear boxes may be available for storing food properly. Sharing these food storage boxes with neighboring campers is common practice.
Campgrounds with walk-in sites range in elevation from sea level marshlands to high altitude alpine lakes. Most of these camps listed below are located inside developed campgrounds with overnight fees. Many are small campgrounds, while others are large hubs of activity. Some may be smaller campgrounds, with just a few camp sites. The most popular places can be reserved, with the links provided.
Many parks can also have day use fees, so know where you park and what time span is allowed. Ask the campground host if needing assistance. Some campgrounds lock their gates at sunset and do not permit entry at night. Others may not allow campers to check in anytime after sundown. Know their rules before you make reservations.
If you plan on not making camp reservations; make sure to have a plan B or C choice camp – in case your desired campground is already full. Many popular destinations can fill up fast (by noon in the summer).
Walk in campgrounds are considered ‘tent camping‘, as opposed to ‘car camping‘, which is literally camping next to your vehicle. This type of hike-in camping may also be referred to as ‘trailhead camping‘, as many ideal hikes begin at these prime locations. Boat-in, bike-in or hike-in camp sites are also available at some of these locations.
Samuel P Taylor State Park
Samuel P Taylor Campground
SamP is one of the large redwood parks north of San Francisco, CA. Coastal redwoods can be found in the mountains above Santa Cruz, as well as on the Point Reyes peninsula in Marin County. Hiking in the region is amazing w/ enchanted forests, dramatic fog, waterfalls, numerous trails in every direction.
One of the best developed campgrounds in the region for car camping and RV campers.
Consisting of several camp loops, a group camp site, a horse camp and hike-in or bike-in camp sites. There are even cabin rentals in the park. This park has several camp sites that can accommodate visitors with disabilities. Reservations are highly recommended, especially during summer months. Be prepared to pay hefty fees for overnight use.
The best free camping in California for RVs & motorhomes is NOT the WalMart parking lot in some random town, but the gems that you find here on Total Escape.
The California back roads is where it’s at. Star filled skies, fresh cedar scents & tall pines, plus the awesome views. Primitive camping at it’s best, with your kitchen sink. No hook-ups, no fees, no problem.
the back roads
So, if you are one of those that are terrified of driving your big luxury camper on dirt roads, these may not suit your taste. But if you crave the back country camps with your RV, then you might enjoy the list below.
Still many dispersed, primitive FREE camp sites to be found – but you’re not gonna find them on those big web sites, that everyone goes to.
no hookups, no paved stalls, no dump station
These are camping areas, that you can pull into anytime of the night or day & find a flat spot. Some places may have picnic tables or campfire rings, but not all. No OHV parks, no large developed campgrounds, just dispersed FREE camp sites on the back roads of Cali.
Tent cabins are made up of wooden floors, canvas walls & a canvas roof – a combination between a tent & a rustic cabin. Most have sleeping cots for beds; some have heaters, wood burning stoves or electrical outlets. A shared community bathroom is often close by.
Yurts are round versions of this same concept, with a wooden floor, real beds and usually nicer decor. Often these places request that you bring your own bed linens and towels, but each resort is different, so check the web links for detailed info.
Hike-in locations in the wilderness, rural river resorts or an easy drive to campground right off the freeway. These popular lodging accommodation are often marketed as GLAMPING, as in Glamour Camping – for the (luxury loving) princess who likes to try out nature – in a very controlled setting. Just watch out for mountain lions and bears.
Below are unique places in California that offer tent cabins, tree houses and yurt rentals.
ALLERGY NOTE: Most tent cabins are constructed out of heavy canvas material (fabric), which can mold when exposed to moisture (rain, fog, snow). Often they get dismantled, cleaned and stored properly over each winter season, sometimes not; All depends on weather, terrain difficulty and individual resort practices. If you suffer w/ allergies, moldy tent walls and dust mites can trigger asthma or other allergic reactions. If in doubt speak to the innkeeper or caretaker ahead of time.
Rent a Treehouse
Post Ranch Inn
Tree-House Rentals in California
Big Sur, CA Big Sur Coastline
7 minute QUADS (topo maps) inside a spiral bound book. Covers both north & south part of Los Padres National Forest. This map book can be found at ranger station – Los Padres USFS or click the book above to take you to the Total Escape Map Shop!
Waterproof plastic map; USDA National Forest Service Maps
Los Padres National Forest, Mount Pinos Ranger District
open year round
open year round; campground reservations 805-434-1996
Pinyon w/ jeffrey pines, a high desert feel to this mountain side ideal camp – where the Mojave desert merges with the coastal ranges in Lockwood. Up high near the Tejon Pass @ Gorman. Sage brush slopes w/ forested campground is approx. 6 mi. off Lockwood Valley Rd. via paved road #8N04 (also called, Frazier Mountain Road).
Adequate for RVs, small creeks around this camp provide
decent vegetation. The sites on the outside back loop are best
for shade & seclusion. Good for a base camp for the weekend
& drive out to see the rest of Los Padres National Forest.
For the mtn. biker, this is a prime spot for hitting up the dirt
back roads on Frazier Mtn. Plenty of hiking and nice views
of the valley around too.
The easy to reach USFS campground can accommodate motorhomes, RVs, camper trailers up to 26 feet long. Paved access road is narrow and curvy and climbs the hill behind the large ranger station on Lockwood Valley Road.
JULY 2019 – Many thanks goes to Pike County Lookout for initially spotting the #RockFire – in the Plumas National Forest, near Berry Creek, CA
Lookouts in the California National Forests
Ready to see far and wide – with wild terrain? Views for 100 miles out and the best scenery California has to offer. Be prepared to off road or hike to reach one of these destinations.
Below is a list of historic look out towers & cabins used for spotting wildfires. Some are located on steep granite peaks, ridge lines or dirt roads. 4WD may be recommended to reach some of these. Road conditions can change w/ harsh mountain weather, so be prepared to rough it. Thunderstorms are common on these mountain ridges.
Several of these places are cabins, some are stone houses, but most fire lookouts are basic metal towers – with high climbing staircases, so you must be in decent physical strength to haul your ass up this high.
Cabins are also called guard stations, huts, bunkhouses. Most are located on mountain tops, but a few exist in desert regions. Some are refurbished & available for overnight rentals. Bare bones furnishings, so forget the frills. People come up here for the thrills. To be outside w/ epic views, way away from the urban grind & to feel on top-of-the-world.
Always check for local fire conditions at nearest ranger station, obtain a free campfire permit when camping outside of developed campgrounds, and always practice fire safety when visiting our public lands. You can be held liable for wildfires. Outta control campfire, cigarettes, idling vehicles on tall, dry grass. Be very cautious with fires on the often dry, west coast.
Cycling, hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, kayaking and boating are all popular outdoor recreation activities.
Small towns located on the Point Reyes peninsula do have a few private campgrounds, some of which can accommodate motorhomes. Follow towns links for those.
There are no RV parks, camper trailers or motorhomes allowed in campgrounds on the steep coastal region of Point Reyes. Most of the narrow, winding roads are forbidden for motorhome travels. No shoulder, no guard rails, on many curvy roads. Great viewpoints are best when you STOP to look, off the roadway.
alphabetically listed; cross reference by lake or campground name. reservations may be accepted for certain locations; follow links.
Developed Lake Campgrounds
Most of the lake campgrounds listed below are traditional style campgrounds with easy access: paved driveways, toilets, tables, maybe piped water. Various agencies manage these park campsites and additional links are provided.
Some of the campgrounds may be more primitive than others, with long dirt road access, gravel driveways, and minimal facilities. This list includes a wide range of lakes, from reservable group camps, to private RV resorts to back road beauties. Even a few campgrounds without fees!
Higher elevation locations close-up for the seasonal winter snow, which can last from NOV-MAY (or later, depending on snowmelt).
no motor boats?
wilderness lake fishing?
Each lake camp is different, so know what is available at the location before you get out there. Many spots do not have a boat ramp. Some lakes do not allow swimming. Some might be 4×4 access only, w/ hairy granite rock road, 12 miles long. If you require a general store within walking distance, then get the maps out, follow links and make sure.
Inside the granite maze of rock known as Caples Creek, you may find this small lake, just off the highway. Paved access camp ideal for quiet weekends – fish, hike, stargaze and relax. Snow is deep in these parts of the Sierra, so the campground closes annually for winter.
No motor boats
No RV or motorhomes
No horse trailers
• Elevation: 7,600′
• Number of Sites: 12
• Vehicle Accessibility: No RVs
• Campsites Reservation: No
• Campsite Fee: Yes
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: June – October
• hiking trailheads, fishing, swimming, kayaking, canoe, rock climbing
Bears are active in this region, so use the metal bear boxes provided to store all food items.
Extra precautions should be taken with human waste around fragile eco systems, like lakes and meadows. Use the new bathroom, instead of the bushes (or granite crack).
Desert ghost towns to Sierra meadows & waterfalls, Inyo National Forest offers plenty of diversity for scenery. To list all the hikes in the Eastern Sierra would be obsurd, cuz there are so many trails. This side of the Sierra Nevada is all about hiking, fishing & camping.
No matter where you hike you will probably get a great view over the Owens Valley, Long Valley Caldera or Mono Lake. So that means most of those trails are hiking up a canyon, or a ridge line. Thousands of trails over this region require a good map to make the best decision for your hiking interest.
US HWY 395: The Eastern Sierra is one of the premier hiking destinations of California. Featuring the granite crags of the HIgh Sierra peaks. Mount Whitney, the tallest peak is closest to Lone Pine. Southern Californians love Eastern Sierra destinations, cuz they can avoid Los Angeles Basin and stay outta traffic.
Lone Pine Lake – Whitney Portal is a great, but crowded place for hiking. DO NOT ATTEMPT to hike to Mount Whitney in one day! Leave it to the seasoned pros. The first good stop up the Whitney Trail is gorgeous Lone Pine Lake, a great moderate day hike from there.
Alabama Hills – just below Mt. Whitney and has a totally different landscape than the backdrop granite Sierras behind. Try some boulder hopping & explore the dirt roads. Bring your mountain bike too.
Cottonwood Lakes (Pacific Crest Trail) – day hikes to alpine lakes. US 395 @ Lone Pine, W on Whitney Portal Rd. Left on Horseshoe Meadow Rd & continue up 19 mi. to the Horseshoe Meadow campground. Mostly a trail head camp, way, way up there. Open May – November
Kearsarge Pass – from 9000′ Onion Valley you can access the incredible High Sierra & numerous alpine lakes. The elevation gain makes this a full days hike; rated strenuous. Or continue on w/ backpack into Kings Canyon National Park.
Maps are the key to finding your very own slice of heaven in the Wilderness. Online map sources can barely get you to your city destination correctly, much less the remote waterfall you desire. You will need a real map for your adventure. A topographical map, with all the details, dirt roads & hiking trails. If you are seeking to stay away from the touristy crowds, this is the best possible place you can be…. on this site, searching for ways to make it happen – this weekend.
BACKPACKERS BACKPACKING MAPS –
Mount Whitney, John Muir & way beyond the High Sierra. DanaMite has all the California Wilderness maps on the new map shop. Various brands and types of maps. Most are printed on waterproof plastic now & are tear-resistant.
Planning on camping outside of the developed campgrounds & finding that perfect stream side spot without the reservation & the fees? Then you will need a free fire permit (from a ranger station), plus a good map of the forests & a vehicle capable of handling the rugged the back roads. Much of California is prone to wildfires, so make sure campfires are even allowed on the backroads, before you get out there. Call the “field rangers” for back road advice and current recommendations.
Start your search on the perfect campground or camp site with the destination in mind. Mountains, deserts, coastal. Parks & forests all have their own maps with all nearby camp grounds listed. We feature all the National Forest maps, as well as some State Park & National Park maps
Southern California / San Jacinto Wilderness Area / San Jacinto Mountain / Palm Springs Mountain Hike
The well-photographed snowy mountain backdrop behind the desert deluxe resort-land known as Palm Springs, Mount San Jacinto is the second tallest peak in Southern Cal.
Mighty San Gorgonio peak, across to the east – on the other side of the valley, is the very highest mountain in this desert region. Granite Jacinto peak is located in between the mountains of Idyllwild and the low deserts of Palm Springs.
Day hikes, picnic in the forest, backpacking, horseback rodes w/ SUPER easy access via the fantastic Palm Spring Tram ride, up to 8000′ elevation.
The San Jacinto Wilderness is managed by 2 different agencies: The National Forest Service and California Department of Parks & Recreation.
If you are camping overnight in the forest, you must get your wilderness permit from the agency that administers the area where you plan to spend the night. Day-use permits can be obtained on the day of your trip by visiting one of the ranger stations below. Day-use permits issued by either agency are honored by both, except during the busy summer months when permits to enter the Wilderness via Devil’s Slide Trail can be obtained only from the National Forest Service.
Camping permits can be obtained in advance by mail, in person, or online w/ PDF. National Forest Service accepts requests up to 90 days in advance; Mount San Jacinto State Park accepts them up to 56 days in advance. You can also get them on the day of your trip, if any are available at that time.
USDA National Forest Service
San Jacinto Ranger District
54270 Pine Crest Ave
Idyllwild, CA 92549
Mount San Jacinto State Wilderness
25905 Highway 243
Idyllwild, CA 92549
Desert camping south of Reno? Well there ain’t much to choose from out here. Walker Lake near Hamilton, NV looked dismal, so keep driving northbound and hope for the best.
Maybe one of the canyons near the reservation has a level pull out along the highway. Just far enough off the main road to hear the midnight traffic, just barely.
Fort Churchill, Nevada
Fort Churchill was one of the original US Army forts built to help with the flood of overland pioneers making their way to California. Adobe structures in ruin, plus the sagebrush wetlands and cottonwoods along the river make for ideal scenery. A Pony Express route too!
Shall we call it the first of the California Welcome Centers?
Or an invasion of the “wildness” of the Sierra Nevada, and the West Coast.
From the year 1800 on – trappers, hunters, miners, ranchers, prospectors, surveyors, homesteaders – and basically everyone was headed westward, across the continent. The secrets of the golden state were unfolding worldwide. After gold & silver were discovered in the hills, the real rush to Alta California began.
Ideal “in route camping” if traveling near Reno, south of Interstate 80. You gotta be off on the side route through Yerrington, Nevada to reach this convenient road side campground. Big trucks stick to the main highway, but this rural 2-laner cuts thru residential, reservations, and ranch lands. Rural backroads are abundant and most are private property.
Driving on rural Nevada Highway 95A you can find the park headquarters and fort on the west side of the road. The camping is on the opposite (east) side of the highway, down an embankment, near the Carson River. A very small brown sign with the word CAMPING (reflects at night) and you may see it – if you aren’t driving 70 mph.
DESERT CAR CAMPING – VEGAS TO RENO
Perfect refuge for weary travelers, along the long, lonely, desert highways of Nevada. RV campers will like the wide dirt road w/ some level spots, accommodating the largest of motorhomes w/ dump station nearby. Trucks w/ trailers are often seen sleeping along the roadside at this location. Equestrian river access w/ horse trailers too.
Cottonwoods in some of the lower spots, but mostly sage brush, rabbits and open skies. This is the Carson River Basin, so dirt roads w/ mud and potholes are common. No street light near here. In the dark, the primitive roads are manageable, but the signs are minimal.
SNOW is minimal in WINTER months (DEC-MARCH)
Desperate tent campers (willing to drive dirt for a bit) can find the “scout camp”. Most nights are filled with the cries of the coyotes in the distance. Park rangers patrol in the morning to collect camp fees. Or you can find the park headquarters, across the highway.
NO CAMP RESERVATIONS
Primitive campground has 20 sites suitable for travel trailers, motor homes or tents. Campsites include a table and fire ring, w/ camping limit of 14 days. Group camping is also available.
Los Padres National Forest
Campgrounds & Trailheads
Sespe Wilderness is located in the mountains W of Interstate 5, North of Los Angeles. The chaparral region lies in between Lockwood Valley and the Santa Clara River Valley (Hwy 126). Higher elevation Mount Pinos lies to north side of Sespe and Ojai Valley to the south. The infamous 4×4 Miller Jeep Trail is located on the north side near Alamo Mountain, which is also accessible via Hungry Valley.
The 2006 Day Fire burnt a good portion of the Sespe Wilderness, so you can expect to see some black and toasted areas. Sespe Creek is also referred to as Sespe River. and certain waterways may dry up during drier months. Piru Creek, Alder Creek, Aqua Blanca Creek, Tarr Creek, Mutau Creek, Snowy Creek are several worthy of note. Expect heat and high temperature in the summer & fall month, and possible campfire restrictions during extreme wildfire season.