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.
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.
JULY 2019 – Many thanks goes to Pike County Lookout for initially spotting the #RockFire – in the Plumas National Forest, near Berry Creek, CA
Lookouts in the California National Forests
Ready to see far and wide – with wild terrain? Views for 100 miles out and the best scenery California has to offer. Be prepared to off road or hike to reach one of these destinations.
Below is a list of historic look out towers & cabins used for spotting wildfires. Some are located on steep granite peaks, ridge lines or dirt roads. 4WD may be recommended to reach some of these. Road conditions can change w/ harsh mountain weather, so be prepared to rough it. Thunderstorms are common on these mountain ridges.
Several of these places are cabins, some are stone houses, but most fire lookouts are basic metal towers – with high climbing staircases, so you must be in decent physical strength to haul your ass up this high.
Cabins are also called guard stations, huts, bunkhouses. Most are located on mountain tops, but a few exist in desert regions. Some are refurbished & available for overnight rentals. Bare bones furnishings, so forget the frills. People come up here for the thrills. To be outside w/ epic views, way away from the urban grind & to feel on top-of-the-world.
Always check for local fire conditions at nearest ranger station, obtain a free campfire permit when camping outside of developed campgrounds, and always practice fire safety when visiting our public lands. You can be held liable for wildfires. Outta control campfire, cigarettes, idling vehicles on tall, dry grass. Be very cautious with fires on the often dry, west coast.
Sierra Road number 9 is a north turn off of Trimmer Springs Road. Marked as National Forest Rd #10S69, as well as just plain NINE. Big Crk. canyon is after the Maxson Road junction, and before the Balch Camp / Blackrock Reservoir turn off on #11S12. The area is known for abundant wildflowers in the early season.
A popular dirt road drive for the western Sierra – Pine Flat Lake region. A forested, south facing canyon in the Southern Sierra Nevada Mountains. Big Creek, wide, graded, dirt road w/ primitive camp sites. 4×4 could be needed in wetter months.
The higher you go on this route, the more pine trees you will experience. Winter weather can close this route. A campfire permit is required to camp along this road.
The lower part of the canyon has rock features, small waterfalls, swimming holes, picnic spots and sometimes cattle grazing. Several prime unmarked, primitive camp sites along this road – but few and far between. High clearance or 4WD may be needed, depending on road conditions.
Soaproot Saddle Road is a not-so-obvious left fork (dirt, without signs) that leads steeply up away from main road. Climbs a steep hillside, way up above and along Rush Creek; continues for many miles. Less people back this way, if you are seeking seclusion. Few primitive camp sites on right side of road, near where the creek breaks away from road. Good for stargazing way back here. 4×4 may be needed. Road may or may not connect through to desired destination.
The mid-route climbs into pine forest and the dirt road switchbacks, steeply, with a few more camp sites available; usually found on short side roads off the main road.
At Sierra #9, a major junction w/ dirt road #10S69, called Dinkey Trimmer Road. This leads way off through the rugged terrain, many miles, over to the pavement at Dinkey Creek Jct – Campground, Trailhead and Dinkey Lakes Wilderness.
Big Creek will turn left (north), and follows the large Big Creek Canyon. Several steep miles climb up into the dense pine forest, following the creek the whole way. Several prime creekside camp sites fill up fast in this stretch. Great views, steep dirt roads. GPS waypoint these camp driveways – so you can find it next time, (first, before everyone) on Friday, Thursday before midnight.
Peterson Mill Road is Rd #10S02, found on the left (west) side of Sierra #9. That westbound route becomes pavement half way back to Highway 168. This way is the quickest way from Fresno, out to the developed NFS Bretz Campground.
Sierra #9 Big Creek Road arrives in the densest of forests. Many camp sites and side routes to explore. Dark, upper elevations, snow lingers long in the shade. 4WD may be needed in wet areas. Mud is quite common MOST of the year in this spot, so know your vehicles capabilities before you get yourself stuck (or stranded). It’s a very long walk to any kinda civilization!
Hunters like to use these upper camps during hunting season. A camp fire permit is required, so bring your shovel and bucket; self-sufficient campers enjoy the back roads most often.
Bretz Campground NFS is up here on the main road, number nine. Clock it w/ dash trip meter; 15 miles from the road start @ Pine Flat Lake. Popular with OHV and 4×4 groups. Max RV or trailer length = 24′
Open all year long; No fee.
Sierra Forest Road #9 the far north end, enters Blue Canyon @ #10S18, but the Rd #9 route continues NE as Providence Creek Road. Eventually intersecting @ Dinkey Creek Rd w/ Rock Creek & Dinkey Dome closeby. Great granite 4×4 Trail @ Bald Mountain (elev. 7832′) overlooking Shaver Lake.
Kern County is known for its oil, its agriculture, and outdoor recreation. The Kern River is the highlight of the region with lush, green and grey granite canyons, a big reservoir & the Sequoia trees just up the road. On the western side of Kern County are small towns like Frazier Park, the golfing cabin community of Pine Mountain Club, plus the oil meccas of Maricopa and Taft. Expansive Lockwood Valley enters into Ventura County. Cuyama River borders Santa Barbara & SLO counties.
The 17 mile long Quatal Canyon, where the indian camp of Mahu Tasen hosts a Bear Dance every summer is also a wild place of bird watching, camping and hunting. The indian word for Mount Pinos is “Iwihinmu” – a sacred spot for Chumash Indians, as well as others; Chumash call it the ‘center of the world’. Locals respond regularly with music, hikes, star gazing, drum circles (seasonally) and local festivals (annually) .