California is an outdoor recreation paradise, with near perfect weather, diverse terrain and breathtaking scenery around every corner. Many folks gravitate to the west coast specifically to be outdoors more.
Soaking in the sunshine, every day, every week. Reconnecting with nature and choosing to live a more healthy lifestyle, eat well and learning to relax often. Camping can be a real vacation – without the high cost of travel.
Summer isn’t the only time to go camping in California
Avoid crowds Try getting out there before Memorial Day or after Labor Day!
Desert camping is popular during winter months, while mountain destinations are preferred in summer. Find a secluded small campground or even try roughing it w/ primitive car camping. Motorhome campers who like to boondock, will enjoy the extensive back roads section of Total Escape. If you own a 4WD vehicle, you can reach the most secluded 4×4 camps, lookout towers and some historic cabins.
hot in deserts & country foothills,
smoggy in cities; coastlines can be foggy
mountains & coast
great camping all around,
early winter storms in mountains
coast, deserts, country
snow in mountains & very cold,
windy on coast as seasonal storms move in
snow melt in mountains may be late,
storms can last into late springtime
deserts & country
annual timelines to consider
summer – busiest time for traffic and travel; many travelers, families, tourists; National Parks and coastal towns are crowded; hottest in desert areas, cities and in the mountain oak foothills
autumn – meteor showers, fall colors, fishing, hunting, hiking, mountain biking; fire restrictions higher, firewood collecting, less families out and about, cuz kids are back in school
winter – prime time for desert camping, off roading, ghost towns, museums and meteor showers; coldest months w/ winter storms; snow is possible down to 1000′ elevation
spring – wildflowers, birdwatching, rainy season, lakes, rivers, creeks flowing well; rafting & kayaking; snow storms tapering off w/ snowmobiling in mountains; snow camping
Amazing autumn colors can be found through OCTOBER and NOVEMBER in California, but you’ll need to leave the city in order to find the very best colors and scenic beauty. Fall season happens quickly (within weeks) in the high country and slower (months) in the lowlands. Plenty canyons and parks in the urban centers have hiking trails thru some nice trees, but nothing compares to the backroads, creeks and rivers of the big mountains.
Elevations, the higher the better, is where you’ll find the real displays of color. Aspen groves can be found along mountain slopes, creek canyons from 5000′-10,000′ in elevation. Cottonwood trees are found in the drier regions, in ranching areas and in desert canyons – up to about 6000′ elevation. Aspen trees start to turn yellow as soon as the chill of nights drop; if the temperature shift is subtle, the aspen leaves become more orange as the days go into the fall season. If an early snow or freeze happens, just one night, the glorious foliage becomes dead brown crispies dangling in the wind.
CAMP FIRE RESTRICTIONS are still be in place from the dry summer, and now comes the autumn winds. Any decent amount of rain can change the fire burn status, so make sure to check with the rangers for up-to-date fire info.
Best Autumn Campgrounds in California
Many of these campgrounds are located in or near aspen groves & are simply spectacular during the fall months. Some may be located near alder groves. Maple trees located along rivers turn golden between September and October.
Higher elevation (7000′-9000′) colors will change faster and earlier in the year (as soon as September), whereas the lower countryside may wait until late October.
Pack warmly, cuz the cooler temps at night (20-30 degrees) is what makes these awesome, little autumn leaves change colors. The change can happen very fast (in days). When the early season snows move in – usually a minimal dusting by October, fall colors can fade fast.
The Eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada is the ‘place to be’ for Autumn Colors in California. The dramatic desert meets the tallest granite peaks. Every canyon is a different scene, many lakes lined with aspen groves, some have a creek with aspens.
North Lake Campground
Lake Sabrina Road
Bishop Pass (high country hikes)
Lee Vining, CA
Lee Vining Canyon / Hwy 120
One of the biggest aspen grove canyons in the state of California.
NFS Campgrounds in Lee Vining Canyon: Big Bend, Aspen Grove, Boulder, Moraine, and Cattleguard Campground.
NFS Camps @ Yosemite’s EAST GATE (9000′ elev): Ellery Lake, Junction, Saddlebag Lake, and Sawmill Campground.
Impressive Rock Creek Road #4S12 in Rock Creek Canyon, one of the very best “Scenic Autumn Drives” in the whole Eastern Sierra. Numerous NFS Campgrounds on this road; many of which close for the season, just about the time then fall colors peak.
On rare occasions the local National Forest may be letting the general public cut their own Christmas trees in the nearby forests. There is usually a small fee & a list of rules. They do this for thinning of the forest, where pine trees are too close together. Free labor for the government & you are paying them for the privilege of cutting your own perfect pine tree. American traditions such as this still exist.
We love convenience & the reasonable prices of getting a tree locally. If you must buy your live Christmas Tree in the city, try your local plant nursery first. Orchard Supply Warehouse (OSH) usually has a great selection on live trees. Replant your little pine tree in your yard, or back in to a forest.