These are the roads that drivers love. More room to roam, more space, more pavement, more scenery to love and less people, less drivers and less distractions. California has endless roadways that wind through every part of the entire state. If you enjoy real driving in California, you like the curvy roads & scenery. Total Escape has dedicated numerous hours to the collection of back roads in California. Some paved, some not.
State Parks, State Forests, State Recreation Area, National Parks, National Monuments, National Forests – What is the Difference?
Forest, Park, Reserve, Monument, Recreation Area, BLM, Nature Preserve… arghh!
Don’t let all the park and forest names confuse you. It is all California and it is your public land! No bikes on trails, No gathering wood, No dogs here, No camping there; Now what?
Below is our overview graph for all California parks and forests – the basic concepts & the rules broken down for anyone to understand. Permits may be needed in certain areas. Only the government officials understand the true nature of all the ridiculous red tape.
Back country lands very protected from roads and human impact. Off limits to vehicles & mountain bikes. Only accessible by backpacking, hiking or horseback. Endangered species; Hard to reach terrains in the High Sierra. Overnight visits may require a wilderness permit.
Federal lands are national parks, preserves & monuments; highly regarded as some of the most scenic in world & protected. Very popular places and crowds often in summer. Limited use areas for camping & recreation. No mountain biking on trails. No dogs on trails. Try off-season. Drive thru entrance fees.
Located within the National Park System & more specific to a region. Historic buildings, geological features and deserts ruins qualify. Some National Monuments become National Parks. Many locations have entrance fees.
NRA: National Recreation Area
Located within the National Park System & somewhat specific to a waterways, coastlines, lakes and reservoirs. Some locations have entrance fees.
National Scenic Area National Seashore
Located within the National Park System & is basically scenic area worth preserving. Usually no entrance fees.
Areas of forest lands throughout state; some surround the National Parks. 18 national forests make up 20 million acres of federal land. Multiple use areas: snow skiing, mining, grazing, off-roading. OHV & SVRA Tons of small campgrounds, recreation & primitive spots for real seclusion. Best bet for finding a spot away from the crowds. Get a free fire permit & camp on back roads. No entrance fees, some parking or day use fees; SoCal requires an Adventure Pass.
California Department of Parks & Recreation manages more than 260 parks. These smaller parks are located near cities with historical parks, as well as remote wild state land & coastal beaches. Entrance fees, day use, picnic and some have campgrounds. State Parks charge fees for day use, parking and overnight camping.
California SF: California State Forest
California Demonstration Forests, areas to be protected. Redwoods & Sequoia Groves; fragile eco-systems. Handle with care. May charge entrance fee or day use fee.
State Recreation Areas
California Department of Parks and Recreation. Lakes, Reservoirs, Rivers. Many have boat rentals and active marina. Recreation lakes charge entrance, day use, parking or boat launch fees.
Off Roading folks and dirt bikes can have their fun wheelin. Lands set aside for OHV use; dune buggies, quads & 4×4 enthusiasts. Most in desert regions; forest lands. Developed campgrounds large enough to accommodate RVs and trailers. Fees may apply in these off-road areas for day use or camping.
California County Parks
Desert hot springs, oak foothills and campgrounds, local hills w/ hikes, parks close to urban regions. Back roads & rural land protected from freeways & development. May require parking or entrance fees. Find these listed on the California A-Z town pages
All public lands that do not fall into the above categories. Little to no fees for day use, recreation or overnight camping. Plenty of desert & off roading areas. Some forest lands, certain lakes. Small campgrounds or open camping allowed. Fees may apply in developed campgrounds. Camp overnight almost anywhere out here for free, with a ranger issuedcamp fire permit.
Sequoia – which one?
Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Forest
Giant Sequoia National Monument
Imagine that the Southern Sierra mountains is home to 3 different public parks named Sequoia. Yep, it’s true. Sequoia National Park, Sequoia National Forest, and Giant Sequoia National Monument. Other parks that have Sequoia groves are – Mountain Home State Forest, Calaveras Big Trees State Park, as well as Yosemite National Park.
As far as the Coastal Redwoods, most are included under State Parks. Find these parks on the Central Coast Big Sur and Santa Cruz mountains, plus Marin County, and all along the north coast US Hwy 101 from Mendocino to the Oregon border. Numerous redwoods parks are located along rivers.
The super scenic Big Sur coastline is home to Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park and to the similarly named Pfieffer Big Sur State Park. Leave it to park personnel, state officials or the non-locals to create such a confusing naming system within our most-visited state.
Camping right on the sand is possible in California, you just need to drive far enough to find it. Campground reservations are common (year round) on this stretch of coastline, since PISMO is a premier vacation spot for most of Central California.
blue links lead to State Park pages for camp reservations
This camping page features all beach front camping options along the Central Coast, from Santa Barbara to Big Sur. State Parks, State Beaches, bay side marinas and rugged rural coast camps. We even list private campgrounds and RV parks, just so you have more choices.
USDA National Forests lies inland along the Central Coast of California, all the way from Ventura to Monterey. Numerous recreational lakes and back roads that lead to secluded small campgrounds. Primitive dispersed camping is allowed, but campfires are limited to local fire restrictions. The later part of the year means drier conditions and sometimes campfires are not allowed during wildfire season. Obtain a free campfire permit & check current conditions from the local ranger before venturing into the backcountry.