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.
Feather River Camping, Lake Almanor Campgrounds, Hat Creek, River Fishing NorCal, Topo Maps, California Campground Reservations, Lassen National Forest camp sites and all the outdoor recreation you can imagine.
Volcanic lands of Lassen National Park are surrounded by Lassen National Forest, which means if you cannot find camping inside the National Park – you can surely find it in the outlying regions – with rivers . The National Park Lassen Hwy 89 is often closed during winter months due to snow, as Diamond Peak & Reading Peak are around 8000′ elevation. In 2011 the south entrance did not open until late summer due to heavy snows.
A few Lassen campground sites may be reservable, more info with links below; the rest of the campgrounds in the green lists are on a first come, first serve basis.
Plumas National Foresthas excellent outdoor recreation and developed campgrounds, as well as secluded, primitive back roads camping sites. If you prefer a camp with table, toilet and a campfire ring, then expect to pay a fee. There are several small, remote campgrounds listed below, but most are located on paved roads. Venture down dirt roads to find a premium camp sites for free. Scroll the map links below to explore the back roads of Plumas, and discover hidden fishing holes.
SOME CAMPGROUNDS are closed due to wildfire damage in the Plumas region.
There are many gorgeous rivers in California that are perfect for camping and fishing, but none are located in Southern California. None! Yep, you read that right. If you think about it, the golden state is about half desert! The majority of our natural water in our state is coming from the north – so take this as a warning: you might need to drive a few hours to find your ideal river camp.
The easy-to-access waterways are found mostly along highways in the Sierra Nevada – or way up in NorCal. Deep granite gorges carved out by glaciers, surrounded by forested peaks is only half the appeal. High elevation lakes, waterfalls, big trees, abundant wildlife, and the alpine villages are all part of the Sierra Nevada experience. Raft, kayak, fly fish, hike, bike or just camp out next to a big, rushing, flowing river. Our selection of California maps will get you narrowed down to a specific region, so you can find that perfect river campground, or explore and discover the back roads – for the most seclusion.
KERN RIVER: The Kern River is one of the most popular of all the Sierra rivers due to its proximity to SoCal. Hurried, stressed-out, Angelinos (LA) can be at this destination in under 3 hours – which makes it a very busy place most months.
So, let it be told, that summer is not the best time to enjoy the Kern. If you do plan a summer outting, make sure you head for the Upper Kern (10+ mi N of Kernville & Lake Isabella) or the North Fork of the Kern (out in Monache Meadows) where 4×4 is often needed.
The Lower Kern River has only 2 developed campgrounds: Hobo (closed for damage 2019) andSandy Flat (open all year). Numerous primitive camp spots are available along Old Kern Canyon Rd, which parallels the Hwy 178 on the south side. None of which are located at the rivers edges. Remington Hot Springs is a popular spot for soaking. Fishing trails, mountain biking trails and hiking trails, all over. Fire danger is great in this area, so pay extra close attention to signs and fire restrictions.
Kern River above Lake Isabella and Kernville is a better choice for camping availability.
Everybody loves Yosemite! This is the most popular park in the whole state; maybe the whole nation.
The majority of campers want to stay “right on the river” when they visit Yosemite NP, but that is just plain old impossible, since reservations go fast and there is only so much room for everyone in this enclosed, narrow, precious valley.
This particular park has some major floods (1997 & 2005) that wiped out bridges, road ways; all the old wooden cabins (at Yosemite Lodge) are gone and only half of the campgrounds are still available. Yosemite has had 11 winter floods since 1916 that have caused substantial damage to property. That number is expected to increase, as winter precipitation is getting less predictable.
Reservations are taken for camping and cabins – far in advance; like one year. No joke!
3 Yosemite Campgrounds are located next to the Merced River (inside spectacular Yosemite Valley)
Way up in the Yosemite high country, which is only open a few months outta the year, the beautiful Tuolumne Meadows Campground is located next to lush meadows and the scenic Tuolumne River. All Yosemite campsites must be reserved well in advance, so visit links above – if you are serious about a Yosemite camping trip anytime soon.
MOKELUMNE RIVER: Way up the road, deep in the western Sierra, Gold Country. Small NFS campgrounds, right on the river; Access is long, narrow paved, switch-back road, not suitable for RVs or trailers.
STANISLAUS RIVER: The Sonora Pass, the fishing is very decent way back in this granite gorge. Highway 108 is only open a few months outta the year, due to deep snow & rock slides – so time is of the essence. Summer time is prime vacation weather up here. Several campgrounds are located right on the river, or on the major feeder streams. Or you can opt for secluded primitive camping on the back roads. Find Sonora camping in Stanislaus National Forest.
YUBA RIVER: The biggest play time river in the northern Gold Country, this runs along Hwy 49 near Downieville and also has a major South Fork for the best swimming holes and primitive camping in this region. Tubing, rafting, kayaking, fishing, camping, gold panning, you name it, Yuba has it. Look for more on the South Yuba Recreation Map, or the USDA issued Tahoe National Forest Map
FEATHER RIVER: Top fishing river in the Lassen to Oroville area. Chester and Lake Almanor in the upper reaches. High Bridge Campground is nice paved-camp-site camping; a forested spot where you can fish 2 rivers on the same day. A Plumas NF or Lassen NF map would be quite helpful for this region. Lower down the mountain, lower Feather Rivers which include all 4 forks which feed Lake Oroville – West Fork (Paradise, CA), North Fork, Middle Fork Feather, (Berry Creek, CA) and the South Fork (Lumpkin). Lots of waterways and creeks worth exploring in between Chico and the mountain town of Quincy.
KINGS RIVER: This one particular river is the longest in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, pulling snow melt from the upper reaches of the High Country and Mount Whitney. The river area just to the West of the National Park, over to Pine Flat Reservoir, is all prime for outdoor recreation. Several river rafting companies work this stretch of river.
Twenty five years ago, when I began this outdoor web site for California, did I ever imagine ‘times like these’ – where we would be held up inside our homes during summer, as annual wildfires destroyed our vast and beautiful forests. Frightened to breathe the toxic, smokey air outside. Saddened by news of yet another town or historic structure burning to the ground. Checking the destruction daily online, in hopes of more containment, fresh photos or any good report.
Now I fear Total Escape may become photographic documentation of how beautiful California once was.
Most California National Forest are currently closed!
Lassen Volcanic National Park is CLOSED due to damages from the Dixie Fire.
In case you missed it: 2020 was the worst year for wildland fires in California history, but 2021 is shaping up to be just as bad. Many forests, roads, trails, campgrounds and parks listed below have been closed to the public for the 2021 season, and possibly longer.
BIG SUR COAST Julia Pfeiffer Burns SP
SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAINS Big Basin Redwoods SP
Butano Redwoods SP
Boulder Creek, CA
Expect that campfire rules will be tighter in the future, overall. Campfires will likely be restricted to ‘only inside developed campgrounds’. Or only allowed during the wet season on the backroads or in the backcountry.
*Unfortunately, this is not a complete list of all the closures inside California parks and forests. I am adding more to this list, as more places burn. This page is a work in progress for autumn 2021
The Western Divide Highway, at 6000 feet elevation, connects the Kern River Valley w/ granite peaks, dome rock, aspen groves & the Giant Sequoia trees! This is one of the southernmost Sequoia groves in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The easy hike is more of a nature trail, wheel chair accessible & approximately 1 mile long. Large Sequoia trees, picnic grounds, near campground.
SEPT 2021: Closed due to the Windy Fire
On busy weekends and holidays the rangers charge a “day use” parking fee, for those wishing to park in the paved parking lots. Avoid this fee by finding additional parking along the highway. Only a few good free parking spots along this busy 3 mile stretch of highway, and don’t forget to park all the way off the pavement.
SOUTHERN SIERRA: Great destination for camping families & sightseers traveling through the Southern Sierra Nevada mountains.
Western Divide Campgrounds
The USDA National Forest Campground across the road from the Trail of One Hundred Giants is called Redwood Meadow Campground. There is also a separate parking lot for the picnic grounds w/ a similar name.
Giant Sequoia National Monument has numerous dirt back roads for free, primitive, car camping. You’ll need a good topo map to find the best ones. Some roads may be muddy, overgrown or extremely rocky, depending on recent weather. Know you vehicles limitations. There is no tow truck service available way back here in the boonies.
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.
Indian Flats Campground is located on a dirt road off Hwy 79, near Warner Springs CA. Boulder ridges & manzanita surround this oak filled secluded canyon. Small seasonal creek & waterfall is a short walk from campsite.
Los Coyotes Campground is a tribal camp, located on Hot Spring Mountain in North San Diego County. High desert chaparral, oak groves and boulders.
Maps Mountains / Desert Topo / San Diego Area Maps
Campground Santa Barbara – Lake Cachuma
Los Padres / Santa Barbara District:
year round creek
Lower Caliente Camp
Middle Santa Ynez
shady, 3 walk-in
water can close
Upper Oso Campground
corrals, OHV traffic
Some of these camps above may have been damaged in recent wildfires, so it’s best to inquire before you make the drive. Call rangers to verify or have a backup alternative (plan B). See more campsites @ Santa Barbara Beach Camping
Los Padres Forest Headquarters Goleta CA
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.
Little Grass Valley Recreation Area
Plumas National Forest
Tucked way up in the Northern Sierra Nevada mountains, at the top edge of the California Gold Country, is this popular recreational lake in the forest above the busy Sacramento Valley.
Up on the mountain at 5000 feet above sea level, via La Porte Road (Plumas #120), a Sierra Nevada THRU-ROAD – one which closes for winter snow. The lake destination may be open, but the campgrounds are closed up seasonally. (NOV-APRIL)
Little Grass Valley Reservoir
Elevation 5,100′ Surface Area 1,433 acres Shoreline 16 miles Capacity 93,101 acre-feet
With over 300+ camp sites available in 10 different campgrounds, Little Grass Valley has room for everyone. Reservations are recommended in summer months, although some camps are on a first-come basis.
Swim beaches provide excellent swimming and picnicking opportunities. The Lakeshore Trail (13 miles) winds around the entire lake, for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking.
Little Beaver Campground
Red Feather Campground
Sly Creek Campground
TRAVEL NOTE: The nearest town isn’t much of a “town” at all – so driving to get “anywhere w/ tourist services” from here is quite a chore. Gasoline is minimal on this mountain, if any. Plan to bring everything you will need for your outdoor vacation stay, cuz driving to Quincy, or down the hill to O-ville will take more than an hour (one way). Go prepared.
Los Padres Group Camping – Big Sur, Monterey & Ojai, California
Los Padres Forest is the SoCal camping mecca. Pinyon forests & peaks of nearly 9000′ make this the highest elevations of Kern County. This coastal forest on the San Andreas Fault burns bad due to winds & wildfires, but there is plenty back country to enjoy with minimal crowds – as long as camp fire safety is key.
Southern Los Padres National Forest operates Group Campgrounds for reservations. Several back country camp spots can accommodate a large group. Mount Able’s Camp-O-Alto and Mount Pinos’ Chula Vista walk-in camp can both handle a big crowd, but you may need to call the Lockwood Valley ranger station for more info and availability.
Northern Los Padres – Hwy 1 around the Big Sur/Monterey CA region has 2 Group Campgrounds w/ facilities, flush toilets & reservations online.
Plaskett Campground is across the road from Sand Dollar Beach, a popular day use area. California Coast Campground – the infamous Central Coast Highway – Hwy 1 (so you may hear traffic @ this camp)
Hungry Valley SVRA – off-road park located near Interstate 5 @ Gorman, accommodates large and small groups with numerous campgrounds. Expect busy weekends and crowds; sometimes snow during winter months.
Ballinger Canyon OHV Park – off road park near Cuyama River Valley, on Hwy 33 near junction w/ Hwy 166. Campgrounds suited for off-road campers and RVs. Dirt bike trails, off road routes; North of Quatal Canyon (Rd #9N09) & Chumash Wilderness.
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.
By far, one of the best Redwood State Parks near the San Francisco Bay Area. Very popular on weekends and all summer long. Reservations are recommended. Open all year!
These are the majestic Santa Cruz redwood forests, located behind Boulder Creek, California. Off of Hwy 9, this redwood park has awesome hiking, easy access & overnight accommodations to suit your style. Stay in a tent cabin, a developed campground or use the walk-in camp sites for a real natural setting.
Big Basin Redwood Campgrounds
184 camp spots include:
74 tent campsites
38 walk-in sites
41 tent cabins
31 RV campsites (27′ max)
Additionally there are 40 hike-in camp sites & 4 group camps, by reservation.
Tent camping directly on a sandy beach can be found at USAL BEACH – on remote reaches of the rugged Lost Coast, via long dirt roads (not recommended for RV or camper trailers). Numerous small, cheap, forested campgrounds can be found on the Kings Range (dirt) roads. The area is also known as Honeydew or the Emerald Triangle. The “emerald” comes from the color of the main economic staple, cannabis. Heed all warnings. Private Property signs and gates mean that you need to turn arund and look for camping elsewhere. (Before you hear the gun shots.)
The remainder of camp accommodations are State Parks and State Beaches on the Mendo coast, offering developed campgrounds and most are first come, first serve.
There are no campgrounds inside the popular, historic village of Mendocino, CA , but two state parks are within a mile to the north and south side of town: Van Damme Campground & Russian Gulch Campground. Local KOA and a few private RV parks make up the rest of the scenic coastline.