It was another one of those long and tiring days in the office and all I wanted to do was find myself on a open highway heading out of town. So right after the time clock struck five, I raced home, picked up my bags which were packed with my clothing and gear the night before, stopped at my girlfriends home to rescue her from the mundane existence of the apartment, we found ourselves finally on our way into snow country of the Sierra-Nevadas.
Our destination was a small resort community called Lakeshore CA, situated on the shore of Lake Huntington between the Ansel Adams and John Muir Wildernesses in the Sierra National Forest. The drive up the mountain at dark was breath taking and clear, a night in March with a full moon out and a fresh blanket of snow gracing our presence all around us as we drove our truck through the winding mountain road. The temperature must of been in the teens that night but that didn’t faze us as we looked out of our car windows at the spectacular sight Mother Nature had in store for us. Soft snow pillows hung on tree limbs everywhere, glistening moonlight bounced off the gentle lake as we drove along side and huge snow drifts towered on the road shoulder as we traveled to our resort lodge destination.
At first we thought it would require more map insight in finding the lodge under such wintery conditions. But to our surprise, the road we had been traveling on, Highway 168, just dead ended at our weekend getaway. The check into the lodge was fast and simple, soon we found ourselves settling into a decent rustic cabin with drifts of snow twelve feet high all around. Thanks to the constant plowing of roads, everything was accessible within reason due to El Ninos erratic behavior.
The next day we became captivated by the raw beauty of waking in a wintery wonderland, hardly hours away from the hustle and bustle of the big cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco. After a bit of exploring around the frozen lake, we took off on a rented snowmobile for the back country where we became amazed by gorgeous mountain lookouts.
Untouched wilderness full of snow-capped mountains, lost tranquil valleys, and frozen pools and streams locked in a time zone of raw beauty.
I wanted to stay gazing for hours but our destination was deep in the wilderness valley about twenty miles away. There after passing through woodsy trails and snowy spectaculars we arrived at our place of relaxation, the Mono Hot Springs. This out of the way spot has been frequented over the years by naturalists like ourselves who have pulled off the trail to dip into the eighty degree plus waters that caress the body with mineral rich fluids.
Never have I been so relaxed in an environment with no one around for miles, white snow all around with a trickling stream close by for awe and amazement. If it wasn’t for the deadline for the snowmobile return, we could of stayed at this place til sundown. The ride home on the machine, my body seemed to be thanking my mind for bringing it to such an inspiring place. My mood was calm and invigorated by the mountain waters & scenery.
Back at the lodge after freshening up, my girlfriend and I discussed how lucky we were to be able to experience activities like these that really don’t require throngs of urbanites to complicate and mettle up our space. That night we enjoyed and excellent meal inside the lodge dining room which didn’t weight us down. Then over to the saloon we went to indulge in spirits, a small wedding party was happening were participates graced our presence with drunken humor. Even though they looked like the stereo typical yuppies, this didn’t bother us as we knew that they had come to the same spot to be enveloped by the sheer beauty and splendor of Lakeshore, California.
Spring 1998, by Chris DiNenna
Large portions of the Sierra Nevada were greatly affected by recent wildland fires. This area was burnt by forest fire 2020 Creek Fire
From Mammoth Pool to Edison Lake, huge, old growth forests ignited in a major wildfire along the upper San Joaquin River, inside Sierra National Forest. Military helicopters rescued stranded campers by the hundreds, as seen on the nightly news.
BEWARE: this land may not look anything like the photos
“It was sport to have a gale in such weather as this. Yet it blew like a hurricane. The wind seemed to come with a spite, an edge to it, which threatened to scrape us off the yards. The mere force of the wind was greater than I had ever seen before.”
– Richard Henry Dana, Jr. Two Years Before the Mast (1843)
In the early days of California cargo shipping, the sailers referred to the wild winds as “south-easterlies”. So strong and unpredictable in fact, that they often had to cut anchor and drift far out to sea – to wait out the wind event.
Various nicknames have been given to the easterly winds in California. They develop from a high or low pressure system that builds in the Great Basin, pushing winds from the desert towards the west, over the Sierra mountains and into California.
Wind events can last for days, but usually not a full week.
Santa Ana Winds
Wind gusts measuring over 100 mph typically recorded in Sierra passes
RED FLAG – Weather forecasters announce “Red Flag Warnings” when predicting, banning all outdoor burning and all use of campfires. Humidity levels drop into single digits or teens, and created extremely critical wildfire conditions. Utility companies are now preemptively cutting electric power to millions of customers across the state to reduce the risk of fires (sparking from power poles). Extreme fire weather can last for months, usually in the last half of the year. December rains usually put an end to the wildfire dangers, but the wind events can last all winter long.
This is a term often used for travel. High profile vehicles can literally tip over (while driving) in strong winds. Aircraft can be grounded and unable to fly, during such events. Helicopters generally do not fly during strong winds. Boats at harbor may need to be secured.
Electronic Freeway signs can display messages about high winds. These type of vehicle should heed the warnings.
5th wheel travel trailers
moving trucks / rentals
RVs (recreational vehicles)
trailers in tow
California places that experience top wind speeds –
locking down the forests, before they burn (again)
Outside of developed campgrounds and permitted facilities, igniting, building, maintaining or using a fire on national forests in California will be prohibited.
List of Current Fire Restriction Orders for all USFS National Forests in California w/ links.
Fire Restrictions are now in effect for most all public lands in California. Data and news change weekly, so follow links for most up-to-date restrictions, before you make your drive.
These are the earliest and most restrictive campfire orders ever. No? Maybe the long drought years would be equivalent. Below is a brand new list broken down by federal land regions – forest and deserts, including BLM camping areas.
Looks like we are already into Stage II Restrictions for the begining of summer 2020.
NOTE: BBQ grills, all stoves, smoking, firecrackers, welding, chainsaws, off roading, dirt biking, hunting and target shooting are restricted within these orders. A few of these fire restrictions are dated to extend until DEC 31, 2025
More details and specifics can be found on each forests .gov web site, so please use THESE LINKS BELOW (before they break).
The land is dry and wildfire threat is an ongoing battle in California.
FOREST-WIDE FIRE RESTRICTIONS IN PLACE
BLM (Bureau of Land Management)
no campfires outside of developed campgrounds (statewide) (APR 29, 2020 – DEC 31, 2025)
see the current 2020 BLM Campfire Map
USDA PDF map shows only 26 places that you have have a campfire inside Modoc. The far drive could be worth it – for minimal crowds, darkest skies and maximum fishing. Best for week long road trips, super lazy summer style.
Persons with a valid California Campfire Permit are not exempt from the prohibitions.
However, persons with a valid California Campfire Permit may use a portable campfire ring/pit, stove, or lantern ( 5+ feet from flammable materials) IF THE UNIT burns gas, kerosene, jellied petroleum or pressurized liquid fuel, and is EQUIPPED w/ a shut-off valve.
Wow, what a mouthful. Guess the propane campfire is okay?
SUSANVILLE, Calif. May 29, 2020 – Lassen National Forest is enacting campfire restrictions… effective immediately and until further notice. Outside of developed campgrounds and certain permitted facilities, igniting, building, maintaining or using a fire on national forests in California will be prohibited.
BLM Eagle Lake
no campfires outside of developed campgrounds (APR 29, 2020 – DEC 31, 2025)
see the current 2020 BLM Campfire Map
Donner Summit and Lake Tahoe get a majority of the Sierra Nevada snowfall and traffic. Deepest snowpacks are measured way up here, with dozens of small lakes surrounded by granite. Less snow means drier forests for 2020, and more tourists means more campfires. One spark is all it takes!
Yosemite’s west side w/ Bass Lake, Mammoth Pool, Granite Creek, Dinkey Creek, McKinley Grove, Shaver Lake, Huntington Lake, San Joaquin River, Mono Hot Springs, Edison Lake, Florence, Ward, Courtright, Wishon, Blackrock, and the Kings River. Biggest water reservoirs draws the largest crowds. Be fire safe and camp inside of a developed campground this summer.
Sonora Pass and the Gold Country have been hit hard by recent wildfires in the past decade, so now we pay the price w/ much tighter campfire restrictions. Popular mid Sierra region, easy access w/ many lakes and reservoirs; highways of CA 108 & CA 44
Tighter than normal campfire rules for the drier Southern Sierra. Kern River Canyon, Kennedy Meadows, Chimney Peak and beyond. Drive up hill, gaining levation to Sherman’s Pass or the Western Divide Highway and find a cooler campground in the dense trees. Forget the triple digit heat, brushy river and the masses, and climb to a higher altitude for the Big Trees and Big Meadows. Breckenridge, Horse Meadow, Long Valley, Mountain Home.
The possession or use of any steel jacketed or steel core ammunition of any caliber. This would include handgun, rifle and shotgun ammunition unless a person is in possession of a valid State of California hunting license and is actively engaged in the legal take/pursuit of game and non-game species in accordance with current California hunting regulations, and
During the issuance of Red Flag Warnings and Fire Weather Watches, as determined by the National Weather Service (NWS), all recreational shooting and use of campfires, is temporarily suspended to reduce the potential of unintended wildland fire ignitions for the period of the event.
Stage II Restriction:
All the restriction in Stage I above, and
Setting, building, maintaining, attending, or using open fire of any kind is prohibited, except campfires within approved fire pits and grills provided for in developed recreation sites; or campfires within the Imperial County Special Recreation Management Areas with a valid California Campfire Permit. Controlled flame devices such as portable stoves and lanterns with shut-off valves,using gas, jellied petroleum, or pressurized liquid fuel are allowed and require a valid California Campfire Permit, and
Smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or camp trailer or while stopped or standing in a three-foot diameter area barren or cleared of all flammable materials and away from federal facility doors, windows and air ducts.
Stage III Restriction:
All the restrictions in Stage I above, and
Setting, building, maintaining, attending, or using open fire of any kind is prohibited. Controlled flame devices such as portable stoves and lanterns with shut-off valves,using gas, jellied petroleum, or pressurized liquid fuel are allowed with a valid California Campfire Permit, and
Smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or camp trailer unless prohibited by State or local laws.
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
California Mountain Roads –
Snow Chain Requirements
R1 – Chains are required on all vehicles except passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks under 6,000 pounds gross weight and equipped with snow tires on at least two drive wheels. Chains must be carried by vehicles using snow tires. All vehicles towing trailers must have chains on one drive axle. Trailers with brakes must have chains on at least one axle.
R2 – Chains or traction devices are required on all vehicles except four-wheel/all-wheel drive vehicles with snow-tread tires on all four wheels. NOTE: four-wheel/all-wheel drive vehicles must carry traction devices in chain control areas.
R3 – Chains required. Chains or traction devices are required on all vehicles, no exceptions.
The most common chain controls are R-1 and R-2. Highways will often be closed before an R-3 control is imposed, but winter weather conditions can change any road condition, hour by hour.
Sierra Nevada Road Conditions – Highway California
Winter Snow/ Winter Roads Sierra Nevada:
On rare occasions the Golden State freeway – Interstate 5 can be closed due to snow; N of Valencia on the Grapevine (near Lebec) or more likely up in NorCal (near Shasta).
Interstate 80 (aka Donner Pass) is often closed during big storms. Luckily there are hotels in Auburn or Truckee.
Highway conditions on mountain passes higher than 4000′ elevation can be unpredictable in winter months (Oct-May). It may be fine & just sprinkling @ 2000′, but a few miles up can be a white out. Ask anyone who’s ever driven the infamous Donner Pass in winter time. (more on Donner Party)
Annual Sierra Highway Closures
Where does it Snow in California ?
Okay, okay ….so it’s nothing like those dreaded East Coast winters, but hey, some parts of California do get some serious snow. (see elevations) And the newbies who don’t prepare for it will be sorry. On the winter vacation travels, be prepared for almost anything, especially in the Sierra’s & Northern California. Snowy towns in California
The following mountain roads are partially closed or totally closed during winter months. Please check road conditions before you leave for your trip. Chains may be required in most mountain areas of California.