Road conditions on dirt roads change with the weather and the seasons. This route can be rocky and uneven in spots. One lane road, on a big hill w/ minimal pullouts. Snow is possible, during winter & springtime. This route often closed during winter months – or for rock slides. Trailers and RVs are not recommended on this dirt road, although small motorhome campers can try.
Elevation approx 6000′ @ HWY
w / route continuing up to Toro Peak @ 8740′
NFS local camp sites:
Santa Rosa Campground
Santa Rosa Springs Campground
Bare bones, primitive camp sites. Tables, fire rings. Must have a campfire permit for this region. Vault toilets? None.
Did I mention the wind yet? Tall trees do block a majority of the wind, but some areas get whipping – so choose your tent site wisely. And stake it down well, before that quick day hike. Since this is a mountain ridge line, expect thunderstorms, wind and possibly light snow.
The big, famous Palm Canyon in Palm Springs starts below. The impressive desert canyon trails lead up to highway 74. Continue on foot uphill, southbound, cross the pavement, and end up in this Toro Peak region. Small campgrounds, few people, great views over the desert. Pick a smog free weekend (with wind) for best Coachella Valley views.
West facing canyons of the Sierra Nevada mountain range are prime spots for wild flora, especially in Springtime. Lots of rain means a great show can usually be found. Rivers exit the mountains and carve deep into the landscape. Lush green hills, oaks, boulders. Perfect picnic spots everywhere.
wildflowers bloom: March – July
make a whole day of it
Lower elevations bloom first in the year. Remember if the Central Valley is blooming fruit trees, the mountain foothills are starting up too. Mid-elevations, above 3000′ bloom in summer months, but below that – plenty of river canyons and reservoirs are superb locations to search for wild flowers.
High Sierra wildflowers start to bloom after the snow melt (and roads open) usually JUNE – JULY
The steep Eastern Sierra canyons near US 395, do have some wildflowers in Spring. Rocky, higher elevations bloom in mid-summer. And what Eastern Sierra may lack in wildflowers, they make up for in Autumn Colors (best in the state)
One of the premiere counties for wildflowers inside California. Kern offers amazing displays (blankets of flowers) along roadways, on hillsides, and in the numerous canyons.
Interstate 5 – from the Grapevine up past Tejon Ranch, and over to Gorman is epic blooms of poppy and lupine. Annually in April and only if the previous winter was wet or snowy. For safety sake, please exit the freeway to view the flowers!
The famous high desert Poppy Preserve is located off of I-5, east on Hwy 138, way before the town of Lancaster, CA
But all this mentioned above is not technically the Sierra Nevada mountains, so we will move on…
Off of Hwy 58 west (below Tehachapi) Often called Caliente exit, or Caliente Creek Road – the Bodfish-Caliente Road is a narrow, paved, back road that connects Highway 58 to the Lake Isabella area.
Driving this countryside route is long and curvy, but there are numerous pull-outs and places to see wild flora. Plan for half a day to reach Hwy 178. Gold Pan Canyon and rolling oak hills. Dirt roads lead into National Forests, but watch for private property and no trespassing signs. NOTE: You may need to stop the car. Get out and walk around to find these little beauties.
Historic Havilah has an old schoolhouse and a museum.
LewisHillPreserve (559) 738-0211
Along N Plano Street. North of Porterville, CA
NOTE: Lewis Hill Preserve is not open to the public except for special tours and events.
Lake Kaweah @ Three Rivers, CA
south of Sequoia National Park has wildflower displays along the lake shore, and with snow capped mountains in the background, it can make for excellent photos.
Sequoia Road J21 – HOMER RANCH Dirt back road on the north side of the Lake Kawaeah which connects to Sequoia National Park (the long way). Dry Creek Preserve, McKee Canyon, Ragle Canyon, Indian Canyon. Homer Ranch Preserve, open to the public weekends only, from November 1st – June 1st
Calif Gold Country
Foothills & River Canyons
American River Canyon – Hwy 49, South of Auburn, CA
Salinas is home to the annual California Rodeo. Over 100 years on this event, a very popular family attraction in these parts. One of the top 20 professional rodeos in the United States and the largest rodeo show in California. Parade, concerts, horse show, motocross, carnival rides, games, food.
Sierra Madre Ridge is forest road #32S13, which parallels Hwy 166 (Cuyama River) for over 50 miles on the Sierra Madre Ridge at approx. 5000 feet elevation.
NOTE: A good stretch of this dirt road is closed to vehicle traffic. Although it connects to Santa Barbara Canyon near Ventucopa, you cannot drive it. Only hike or mountain bike!
NFS Gate locked at the HOG PEN trailhead, and from there you can bike or walk all the way the other end at Santa Barbara Canyon near Cuayama Fire Lookout @ Dick Smith Wilderness
Small campgrounds in the region:
off Highway 166 Miranda Pine Campground (on 32S13 @ 11N03) Bates Canyon Campground (via Cottonwood Canyon Rd) also known as White Oaks Campground Aliso Canyon Campground (via Aliso Canyon Road) not accessible by vehicle, from dirt road 32S13; only by trail
in the backcountry Painted Rock Camp (hike-in) Sycamore Camp (hike-in)
Significant mountain peaks within Dick Smith Wilderness Area:
Big Pine Mountain – 6828′ elevation
Cuyama Peak – 5875′
Lizard Head – 5350′
Madulce Peak – 6536′
Samon Peak – 6527′
Closer to Ojai, Matilija Wilderness is on the southern boundary of DickSmith and the San Rafael Wilderness sits to the west side. Native American petroglyphs can be found in this mountainous region. Access to “Painted Rock” on the Sierra Madre ridge, via Road #32S13 (which has a locked gate on both ends), is a long one so you might want to bring the mountain bike. The dirt road hike is about 10 miles (one way) and it starts at the Santa Barbara Canyon trailhead. If you plan to visit the rock art from the west side – take the dirt road up past Bates Canyon Campground. The turn off on Hwy 166 is called Cottonwood Canyon. Park at the hog pen trailhead and follow Road #32S13 for miles.
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.
On the eastern mountain slopes of Big Bear Lake, Holcomb Creek creates a forested sage valley – called Holcomb Valley, located only a few miles away from the big lake. A graded dirt road leads out to this pine forest & a prime campground area. Perfect location for picnics and sightseeing.
Although the developed campground is open all year long, please take into consideration that SNOW and mud is the norm for winter months.
Nice shady sites to beat the summer heat. Camp spots spaced out fairly well. Hikers parking lot is located at one end of the campground. Bears are well known in the region, so please lock all food in the provided metal bear lockers.
The epic Pacific Crest Trail runs right through the Holcomb Valley. Doble Trail Camp is out this way for PCT parking, next to Holcomb Valley Road #3N16 which encircles this whole forested area inside San Bernardino National Forest.
Holcomb Valley has a historic cabin to see. Numerous old mines exist around this area. Nearby Gold Mountain is a popular 4WD route.
The dirt back road leads east down to the high desert @ Highway 162. Down to Pioneertown and Yucca Valley, and eventually Joshua Tree National Park.
Yosemite National Park, in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, is the most visited of all the National Parks. Tourists, visitors and campers fill the main valley all year long, with the crowds peeking in mid summer. Autumn is gorgeous, winter is snowy, spring is glorious and summer is grand.
The park has numerous alpine lakes, granite domes, meadows, Sequoia groves and a snow ski resort. Backpacking is popular here, hiking all over, bike rentals w/ miles of paved trails. Plus, the best in big wall climbing. Waterfalls and granite cathedrals tower above the lush, glacier- carved valley. Mighty MERCED RIVER, right through the middle of granite and forests.
Storms of recent have rearranged the landscape inside the valley with a number camping facilities wiped out by the river. Yosemite lost half of the campsites, which dramatically reduced the amount of camping available inside the main valley. Older cabins at Yosemite Lodge are gone. Less camping, but more people means you should make camp reservations early as possible; or search for camping just outside the National Park boundary.
Sightseeing and hiking should be part of your visit to Yosemite Valley. Bring your raft for a float down the river. Stay away from the crowds and take the back roads, with our great selection of Yosemite backcountry maps.
We now have links to digital maps for download!
Topographic maps for Yosemite National Park – and the outlying regions:
North of Ojai, Highway 33 meets Highway 166: Ozena, Ventucopa, & New Cuyama make up the 3 small communities inside the Cuyama River Valley, located in south of the San Joaquin (California’s Central) Valley.
On the outter edge of Santa Barbara County, where Kern, San Luis Obispo & Ventura counties all meet, you can find great solitude, a large red dirt, high desert wash & plenty rural trails. Off-roading, backcountry camping, hiking, mountain biking all over this region.
Ozena Ranger Station sits at the south end of Cuyama, at the intersection of Lockwood Valley Rd & Hwy 33. Ozena Campground with 10 spots @ 3660′ elevation, is to the east off Lockwood.
Nettle Springs Campground (8 spots @ 4400′ elevation) can be accessed via Apache Canyon, a 10 mile long dirt road# 8N06, off Hwy 33
2 smaller campgrounds – Tinta and Ranch Nuevo are on the west side of Hwy 33 & may require a high clearance vehicle to reach. Trails out of these campgrounds lead to the Dick Smith Wilderness.
Chumash Wilderness is just east of Ventucopa, as Los Padres National Forest surround this agricultural valley. Quatal Canyon and Quatal Wash reach from the upper elevations of pinyon pines near Mount Able to Cuyama river bed below, as Cerro Noroeste Road skirts the northern rim of the impressive red rock canyon. Toad Spring Campground is at the top. Apache Saddle and Pine Mountain Club are just east of Quatal Cyn.
Cuyama riverbed follows Highway 33 and then turns west, following Highway 166, past the ranch lands, the volcano hills and notorious Rock Front Ranch.
All the pavement around Cuyama is very popular amongst motorcyclists. Scenic touring kinda roads. A very nice 100 mile loop trip is from Pine Mountain Club – W on Mil Potrero Hwy, W on Cerro Noroeste Rd, W on Hwy 166, S on Hwy 33, East on Lockwood Valley Road – back to Frazier Park & I-5 Lebec.
Mahutasan, the indian sweat lodge and the extremely rustic Sage Brush Annies Restaurant w/ winery are the highlights of this rural agriculture valley called Ventucopa CA. Cuyama Peak and fire lookout tower overlooks the whole Cuayama Valley & can be accessed via Santa Barbara Canyon Rd. 4×4 may be required in certain spots. This lovely oak and manzanita lined canyon was scorched by the Zaca Wildfire in mid 2007.
The mysterious topographic map maker, Landon Crumpton, is gone. Although his Baja Almanac book of the Mexican peninsula is still as popular as ever.
The Total Escape crew has been using this amazing topo map for Baja Mexico since our the very first excursions in 1990. Click below to read more about the famous, hard-to-find Baja Almanac publication.
California Highway 78 cuts across Southern California and right thru the middle of the largest State Park in the lower 48. Anza Borrego Desert State Park is a place that must be visited more than once to really take in all the beauty it has to offer. Free camping in Southern California is abundant here, if you are willing to follow the primitive camp fire rules of the park and you are comfortable camping away from developed campgrounds.
North-South:San Diego County Road S2 skirts the western border with Laguna Mountain towering above. It starts at Ocotillo @ Interstate 8 and heads Northwest to Lake Henshaw at Warner Springs.
East-West: a major route S22, connects Ranchita /Montezuma Valley to the Borrego Valley, and continues East to the Salton Sea. The center of the parks is pretty much the town of Borrego Springs, where the State Parks visitors center is located. San Diego County Road S3 leads from Hwy 78 down the the town of Borrego Springs Valley.
free camping: While the camping facilities listed above provide picnic tables and toilets, or more luxury camping… Total Escape thinks the best part of camping in Anza Borrego Desert is the vast amount of free, open camping available on most back roads. Hundreds of dirt roads lead off in all directions, so you can find the peace and solitude that few inside busy campgrounds ever experience.
Many Anza desert routes are sandy washes, dirt roads, some for high clearance vehicles only, or 4WD in several canyons. Often there is no signs telling you need 4×4 to proceed. May only find out when its too late and you’re stuck.
Have a good dirt road map with you and know your vehicles limitations. Passenger cars should be very cautious off road. Cell phone coverage is spotty out here in the most remote wilderness areas.
40+ years running, this small mountain town fair is a local favorite in Frazier Park, California. Family fun and festivities include a parade, live local bands, carnival & rides, vendors, dances, pet show and maybe even a fishing derby.
Annual event; August
Mountain Memories Association
P.O. Box 858, Frazier Park, CA 93225