Favorite romantic places in California. Stay overnight, have dinner nearby & make a night of it, or perhaps a whole weekend. Certain places may require a 2-night minimum stay, especially on weekends or any holiday weeks. A wide variety of destinations are listed below, from rustic mountain cabins, to palm oasis hot springs, to historic lodges located in a spectacular scenic setting.
Neighboring lodges or nearby small towns could have equally as nice accommodations, perhaps still affordable, quaint, uncrowded, and “undiscovered” by the masses. Call the innkeeper and ask questions. They should be thrilled to hear from you.
WINTER NOTE: Some of these remote locations may not be open year-round, due to snowy weather, so please confirm by phone before you make the drive. Tioga Pass Resort may require a snow-mobile to access.
Mojave Reservoir @ Colorado River: AZ / NV / CA
@ the V, bottom of Nevada state = Arizona – Nevada – California, all merge together
The Colorado River travels through the southwest desert, splitting the Grand Canyon and further south, separating California from Arizona at the southern tip of Nevada. Agriculture lines the big river down to Baja, Sea of Cortez, Mexico.
Up near Las Vegas and down to Searchlight, NV
Above Hoover Dam is Lake Mead, sediment from Utah National Parks. Red dirt and silt shorelines. South of Hoover dam is a super deep rock gorge w/ hike-in hot springs. Beyond that, this beauty called Lake Mohave – with the super clear water, secluded coves and abundant fishing.
Lake Mohave: elevation 647′
Desert peaks in this region are around 2000-3000′ elevation. Mohave Lake is actually a wide section of the Colorado River, spanning the region from massive Black Canyon south to busy Laughlin w/ river casinos. This lake is long and skinny in spots with lots of shoreline cliffs, canyons and coves. Minimal vegetation, so please bring your own firewood and don’t chop down the few trees trying to survive. Summer temps exceed 100 degrees, so plan your visit for the winter time.
Lake Mohave Ranger Stations
boating, camping, fishing, hiking, hot springs, kayaking, off-road, picnics, viewpoints
El Dorado Canyon Road, main paved route can be accessed near California’s state border. North of Searchlight, Nevada – off main highway 95, on side route 165 to Nelson, NV
Secluded dirt roads up and down canyons near El Dorado Canyon Rd. Minimal vegetation, maximum open scenery and dark skies. Kayak rentals @ El Dorado Canyon.
desert badlands erosion
4×4 camping routes: 15 day camping limit
Find your own route with many to choose from, drive the soft sandy washes (with a few boulders to dodge) and camp for free, right at the waters edge. Adventurers: Only for the self-contained campers. Some routes marked 4WD only, so pay attention to signs. AWD (all wheel drive) vehicles should fare well on the sandy roads; but standard passenger cars and vans will need to keep their speed up in the soft sand areas.
No garbage collection. Pack it in, pack it out.
No facilities, no fees. No buildings. No campfire rings, no picnic tables, very few vault toilets. Bring your shovel!
Driving off the roads is strictly prohibited. Primitive camp sites can be found both at numerous coves and also inland inside the canyons. The ridges get windy in the deserts, but are favorable for night sky views and self contained camper vans.
Always know the weather forecast, cuz flash floods are possible and these dirt roads will be impassible during big rain. This is the main drainage to the big river!
Most desert washes here are signed routes 4×4, but mini vans, AWD sport-wagons, trucks, SUVs, small RVs can all be found camping near Lake Mohave. That is – if you know how to ‘drive off road’, which is not fast, but not too slow either.
Avoid getting stuck in the deep sand: keep speed up, do not turn sharply and do not brake hard. Carry tow strap in case you need an emergency pull. Be nice to strangers and you may find help.
Campfires are allowed, but you need to bring firewood. Dogs are allowed. Party animals tend to trash these desert coves, so be warned that there is a fair amount of litter. Bring a black trash bag and take some out! This trash problem could get the area closed off to vehicles so keep that in mind.
The canyons here have giant power lines that cross @ Aztec Wash; they can easily be avoided.
4×4 recommended @ MOHAVE:
Eagle Wash Road #46 – popular spot
Montana Wash #45 – camping ok
Placer Wash #47 – no camping
The rangers don’t wanna be pulling your ass out of the sand, which is why they post the 4×4 signs. Don’t expect to find help without walking a few miles first, or waiting several hours.
Several wilderness areas are located along the west side of this lake & river. Often dirt roads will parallel a portion of the wilderness boundary, providing excellent access to secluded coves and beaches. Emergency CALL boxes are placed in remote parts of these shores.
Ireteba Peaks Wilderness (northwest, next to El Dorado Canyon)
Nellis Wash Wilderness (western side)
Spirit Mountain Wilderness (southwest)
Bridge Canyon Wilderness (southwest, near Laughlin)
developed campground, boat launch, marina, lodging, hiking, picnic areas
Mojave Desert – This river-created lake is located on the Colorado River, in between Las Vegas, Nevada and Needles, California. The river water here is crystal clear, very swimmable and the fishing is decent. No paved boat ramps
nearby towns: (with elevation)
Bullhead City, AZ (540′)
Laughlin, NV (535′)
Kingman, AZ (3340′)
Nelson, NV (2954′) Nipton, CA (3042′) Oatman, AZ
Searchlight, NV (3470′)
If you’ve had it with the traditions, the big meal prep, or just sick of the family. Maybe you are a solo traveler, or a new transplant to California and need to explore more. Take a holiday away – for once this time.
Camping for turkey day? What a concept.
California is the perfect place for camping, all year long!
Stick to the lower elevations, look for canyons, and seek seclusion
California mountains often have snow during November. Avoid camping in snow @ 4000-5000′ elevation and above; Freezing temps above 3000-4000′ elevation.
Deserts, coastal regions and foothills are top choices for late Autumn car camping. Always check the weather ahead of departure, and have a plan B as an alternative. NorCal will be much wetter than the rest of the state.
MEALS: Prepare dinner meals ahead of trip departure. Bake turkey days before your trip and create meals based around that. Make mash potatoes at home and don’t forget to bring the butter. Pack pre-baked turkey for sandwiches, plus other quick snacks & meals for on-the-go travel.
Desert Camping is premium at this time of year. Luckily the eastern half of Southern Cal is desert. The lower the elevation, the better the temps will be overnight. Be prepared for wind when the ‘storm fronts’ approach, the winds do get a cranking! Dirt roads can become flowing washes during a good rainstorm, so know the weather forecast.
Coastal campgrounds may need advanced reservations. Be prepared for wet weather, especially up north. The redwoods groves are gorgeous anytime of year.
Gold County Reservoirs are prime areas for relaxing in nature, while everyone else is out shopping. Oak hills, rivers and canyons. RV campers love these large lakes; boating, fishing, mountain biking trails, kayak rentals, hiking near historic Gold Rush towns.
River Canyons of California are always beautiful destinations in the autumn months. Many campgrounds can be found at lower elevation, river access areas. California’s abundant Hot Springs are also top picks for holiday weekends.
Anza Borrego Desert State Park is always a nice, easy and relatively close get-away for any holiday. Open camping on the backroads (for free) makes it one of the most attractive camping options in all of SoCal. Many dirt roads are accessible for passenger cars, if extreme caution is used. Don’t plan on driving more than a few miles on dirt.
Masses of off roaders love to camp out, especially on Thanksgiving weekend. Wheel all day, eat, drink, bon fires every night and rumor has it ‘they roast their big bird outdoors – deep in a dirt pit’. Really? El Centro, Glamis, Imperial Dunes, Ocotillo Wells, Truckhaven Hills, Johnson Valley. All popular off roading areas in Southern California, so consider yourself warned.
Mojave Desert, near US Hwy 395 Jawbone Canyon expect to see RVs, toy-boxes and families outside enjoying the weekend. OHV style. Often the group tries to create a round corral with their huge convoy of vehicles, to keep thru traffic to a minimum around “their camp”. Just stay well away from those gear-heads. In general, it is a very busy area around Mojave up to Hwy 178 during the holidays. Try high desert Horse Canyon instead.
Horse Canyon is a dirt road up a high desert canyon, with joshua trees and wash outs. 7000′ elevation pinyon pine ridges above w/ PCT.
Most would say the see a whole-lotta-nothingness out here in these deserts…. when they zoom by at 70 mph on the blacktop highway.
at Total Escape, we beg to differ.
Intersection on Hwy 14 @ SC 65, dirt route will travel west into the mountains. Initial desert road follows Little Dixie Wash, but veers north up to Horse Canyon and the higher forested ridges.
Horse Cyn is a scenic, desert, dirt road that becomes a rugged 4×4 trail the higher it climbs in the canyon. The route traverses a ridge line and dead ends at the old cabin; No through route, no loop. The PCT continues on to the Walker Pass @ the 178.
The lower Horse Canyon is area quite accessible by standard truck or SUV. High clearance is recommended out on these kinda roads. Vegetation is quite sparse at first, but improves with the miles traveled. Wildflowers can be awesome, usually April-June. Picnic spots everywhere; primitive camping sites can be found out here, off the main dirt road. Please reuse existing camp sites when possible.
Passenger cars may attempt this, but should watch for unexpected deep dips and rocks, washed out in the road. (No tow service in the middle of nowhere). Road conditions do change with the seasons out in the boonies. Cell phone reception could be spotty back in the deepest of canyons.
PCT trail access: Pacific Crest Trail follows this ridge road for miles. They call this range the SCODIE Mountains; Old cabin at the end of the road.
Sage Canyon and Cow Heaven Canyon are both to the north, along with Freeman Canyon (CA SR 178). Bird Spring and Dove Spring Canyons are both to the south, along with the most popular regions of Red Rock State Park and the Jawbone OHV area.
California back roads are plentiful, beautiful and exquisitely wonderful – if you know where to look.
Off Road typically means “off the pavement”
While many argue the phrase “off-road” means only hard core 4×4 routes, rock crawling or rally racing, here at Total Escape, any road that is not paved is a dirt road and “off road” to us, and always well worth exploring. Graded dirt roads, gravel roads, access roads, washboard routes, forest roads, fire roads, secondary roads, desert washes, one laners, single tracks, OHV trails – can all be dirt roads.
Whether or not your vehicle can handle them is your decision, but believe me, you do NOT need a modified Jeep to start your adventuring. Most dirt roads can easily be accessed with a normal passenger car – if you pay close attention to terrain, deep mud ruts and the rocks in the road.
Vehicle clearance is usually the first thing that will have you hesitating. If you own a truck or SUV – this is enough to be considered a “high clearance vehicle” and good to go on 90% of dirt roads in Cali. Many dirt roads will become 4×4 required or recommended when mud or snow are present, and no signs to warn you, so always check the weather forecast in advance. And most importantly, BRING A REAL MAP.
Paper Maps vs. Online Maps
Driving on Interstates and state highways is one thing, exploring and discovering new routes and real sightseeing is another animal all together. Go prepared to be delayed: to stop and sit, to listen to the wind, to picnic outside, to watch the weather change, photograph the clouds forming above your head, enjoy the process. Remember the journey: Half the fun is getting there!
If you’ve ever tried to travel across the state with a GoogleMap, YahooMap or MapQuest one page printout, you will soon realize the limitations. Stuck in a small town called Julian, at night, on Christmas Eve, arguing with your partner, trying to find your way over to Interstate 10. Not a good plan! A statewide atlaswill save you from many unexpected route changes, as well as prove to be an invaluable tool while traveling. Free as a bird, ready to explore the open road and well prepared is the key to less stress in route.
Know your vehicle limitations, and if in doubt, pull over, get out and look. Examine the ruts, the mud depth, the height of the rocks. Sometimes a good camp site is dependent on how far up that dirt road you can drive. RV campers like to stick to the wider, graded dirt roads and plenty can be found on typical topo maps. Tom Harrison, National Geographic & National Forest maps all have dirt roads as well as trails, trailheads, campgrounds listed.
Nearly every map sold on Total Escape has dirt roads noted:
US National Forest Maps have all the main routes, the dirt roads and some main hiking trails. Trailheads, ranger stations and campgrounds are well marked.
CA Wilderness Map collection have the topographical features you will need to hike the region, peaks, streams, and all dirt roads leading up to the trail heads. Nearby campgrounds will be shown. Equestrian (horse back riding) is okay, but no mountain biking is allowed inside these Wilderness Areas.
OHV Routes & Maps will display the “off highway vehicle” routes, which include single tracks for dirt bikes/motorcycles, wider routes for quads and all roads rated for 4×4 only use. Several selected maps will also show hiking biking and equestrian routes.
Recreation Maps can feature various types of activities all on one map, from off-roading to snowmobiling, river rafting to waterfalls. These maps cover a smaller area or popular region to enjoy.
dirt roads lead to:
dirt bike trails
mountain biking trails
Beyond the Wildrose Canyon and the charcoal kilns of west Death Valley NP, the high desert dirt road becomes rougher and steeper. Among junipers and pinyon pines sits this remote high-desert campground. High clearance vehicle may be needed to reach this camp at Thorndike – and 4WD is recommended during inclement weather (rain, flash floods or snow). And no RV, motorhomes or trailers should be driving up this way. This is the closest camp to the historic charcoal kilns, which are walking distance away.
Mahogany Flat Campground is another 1000′ higher in on the ridge and Wildrose Campground is way down the canyon at 4000′. Wildrose is open all year long, while Thorndike & Mahogany get snow and close for the winter months.
Number of Sites: 10
Vehicle Accessibility: High Clearance Vehicle, recommended
Campsites Reservation: No
Length of Stay: 30 Days
Season: March – November
From Stovepipe Wells, follow Highway 190 W to Emigrant Canyon. Turn left on Wildrose Road and follow it thru the tight rocky canyon, climbing in elevation the whole way, past Wildrose Campground, past charcoal kilns, to Thorndike Campground on Mahogany Flat Rd.
From Panamint Valley, take Wildrose Road up. Turn right to Mahogany Flat Rd and proceed on the dirt road to the Campground.
The acoustics are really cool inside these historic stone structures. Spending some time at this place humming, drumming & singing. Stand right in the center floor space for the best sound.
The western ranges of Death Valley National Park offer some interesting sites & hikes. This canyon called Wildrose is higher in elevation, a lot cooler than the valley floor, plus it does get pretty dang windy.
These bee-hive shaped kilns were used in the 1800’s for making charcoal, that was used in nearby mining operations. Standing 30′ high & 30′ around, these kilns were only used for a very short time (in the mining heyday) & are some of the best preserved charcoal kilns in the country.
The Wildrose Charcoal kilns are located on the western side of Death Valley National Park. Access the Wildrose Canyon Road from Panamint Valley or from Death Valley Highway 190, take the Emigrant Canyon to Wildrose Canyon Rd up to the historic kilns. Last 3 mi of this road is unpaved and not recommended for RVs or trailers.
Nearby Panamint Valley is for serious off-roaders: Stone Canyon, Barker Ranch, Goler Wash.
Death Valley Campgrounds – Wildrose, Thorndike, Mahogany Flat.
A popular day hike nearby is Telescope Peak, from Mahogany Flat campground, a 14 miles RT hike that leads to the mountain towering over Death Valley at over 11,000′.
FACTOID: Telescope Peak is the only place that you can see both the lowest point & the highest point in the continental USA.
Salmon Creek, Kern Plateau –
Sequoia National Forest
Looking to stay away from the masses camping at the Kern River?
Horse Meadow Campground can be found on the east side of the Kern River, up on the Kern Plateau. Up the infamous, steep and rugged Shermans Pass Road. How exciting!
Climb the hill slowly and cautiously, no guardrails. Up the grade, Shermans eastbound – out of the dryness of the Kern canyon. Find Cherry Hill Road, that is also the Big Meadow turn off: Forest Road# 22S12, a long, narrow dirt road leads from paved Shermans Pass Road, 10 miles out to this ideal campground. Far enough off the main road, so you won’t see much of a crowd out here.
Hunters, horse campers and hikers really like this spot. Mountain bikers are known to frequent the region as well. Forest, meadows, trails, creeks, nature, all around. Dome Land Wilderness is close by; Waterfalls hikes, swimming holes, viewpoints. Fishing, hunting, horseback trails. Dirt roads and single track trails all over – all within the vicinity of Big Meadow.
From the main Rd #22S12, the camp access road #23S08 will lead out to the NFS Campground – HORSE MEADOW. Located at higher elevation forests – 3000′ feet higher than the Kern River!
Nice forested, high country camp spots in a developed campground. The long, access road is worth it for all the scenery and seclusion. Vault toilets, piped water, maybe a small fee. Open summer into autumn, closes for winter months.
Horse Meadow Campground
• Elevation: 7600′
• Number of Sites: 41
• Vehicle Access: RV 23′ max
• Campsites Reservation: No
• Camp Fee: Yes
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: June – November
• Trailheads: Salmon Creek
Developed Campground @ Salmon Creek Trail #33E36. Hiking trailheads lead off to various destinations like, Salmon Creek Falls, Big Meadow, Cannel Meadows and Dome Lands.
SUMMERTIME: If you are coming in from Kennedy Meadows on the EAST (or the Mojave desert US 395) – first verify that the Sherman Pass is OPEN for through traffic. Ask road conditions with local rangers ahead of time. ANY amount of snow will close this whole paved route for the winter season, up until June sometimes.
Over 30 miles (one way) to the nearest general store for supplies. Pack ‘block ice’ in the cooler, instead of cubes.
Sherman’s Pass, Sequoia National Forest
Big Meadow borders Dome Land Wilderness
in the Southern Sierra Nevada mountains
There are many large and gorgeous meadows inside Sequoia National Forest, but none compare in ‘grandeur’ to this southern Sierra public pasture. BIG MEADOW KERN
Find your way north of Kernville and the river really comes into view. Up close, right there! Stop, get out of the vehicle for a stretch break and breathe; take it all in. This is only the start of the adventure. Gorgeous Big Meadow is located up on the Kern Plateau, 3000′ above the river on the eastern ridges. Only accessible half the year due to snow, this meadow is a must see for those exploring the eastern side of the Kern River.
Sherman’s Pass Road #22S05 is a hard right turn after the Johnsondale Bridge. It is well signed and still easy to miss. Climb out of the dryness and into the dense forests and meadows of higher altitudes. Driving this southern Sierra-crossing route, Sherman’s Pass Rd. will require all of your concentration. Steep, curvy road without guard rails. Plus epic, scenic views (NOT to die for).
At this point – Rock slides, snow gates and road closure are typical in winter months. Check w/ rangers in Kernville about road conditions (before you head up this way).
The partially paved road will lead south a few miles, then becomes GRADED DIRT and ventures another 15+ miles – way, way out into dead-end territories. Not one road connects down to Lake Isabella!
Spur roads (all one lane, dirt roads) lead out to various places like – Cherry Hill, Big Meadow, Horse Meadow Campground, Dome Land Wilderness Trailheads, Manter Meadow, Salmon Creek Falls, Cannel Meadows, dozens of trails and spurs. Plenty of primitive camping back in these forest areas. A high clearance rig may be required the further back you go. Mud and snow are quite common in spring and fall.
BIG MEADOW is a favorite camp area among –
equestrian (horse campers)
Or perhaps this is not the Big Meadow near Sequoia that you are seeking. The scenic, giant, public horse pasture listed above is not to be confused with #14S11 Big Meadows Road, also in National Forest land, located in between popular Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon. (100 miles north of here)
Big Meadow: Forest Road# 22S12 – Sequoia National Forest
Take Sierra Hwy. N of Kernville, past Fairview & over the Johnsondale bridge; Right turn on Sherman’s Pass Road & drive up to a signed intersection (near a snow gate). NOTE: This area may not be accessible during winter months.
Turn right on Big Meadow Road, aka Forest Service Rd# 22S12. This is a very long road which is paved for the first few miles. 22S12 becomes a graded dirt road, suitable for horse trailers; it forks off to other smaller dirt roads, as it progresses through the forests & dead ends back by Cannell Meadow. The main routes are passenger car accessible, but some of the smaller dirt roads can get quite bumpy. A truck or SUV would be advisable to explore these secondary routes. Certain areas have suffered from wildfires 2000-2002.
Horses & equestrian camping are very popular in this region. There is also a fair amount of backpackers heading into the Domeland Wilderness and mountain bikers looking for premium backcountry rides, away from the crowds at the Kern River.
NFS developed Horse Meadow Campground can be found on the right via road# 23S08. Located at 7400′ elevation w/ 41 spots, in the forest. Trailhead to Salmon Creek leads directly from camp.
SPUR – side routes include:
#23S14 Cherry Hill – a few camp spots near creek & a meadow with views at the very end
#23S41 Poison Meadow
#23S13 Salmon Creek
#22S07 Big Meadow – loop road around the “Big Meadow”. Plenty of primitive camp sites around Big Meadow, but they are the first ones to fill up during a popular summer weekend. The region is perfect for backpackers or day hikers wanting to access Manter Mdw. & the Domelands Wilderness.
#24S13 feeds the last stretch of road to Rattlesnake Meadow. Taylor Creek near 24S43, features numerous waterfalls leading to the South Fork of the Kern River
#24S12 Cannell Meadow & Pine Flat. The Cannell Meadow National Recreation Trail runs thru here, from Big Meadow down to Kernville, CA.