Awesome granite domes of the western Sierra, plus a scenic recreational lake that is only accessible half the year. Home to “Hells Half Acre” – Mammoth Pool Lake is one of the lesser known reservoirs in the western Sierra Nevada mountains. It’s kinda hard to get to although it is located on the border of Yosemite National Park. Area is totally surrounded by granite creeks, hiking trails, dirt roads and wilderness. This Mammoth Pool is an hours drive, way back behind Bass Lake (off Highway 41), and NOT located near Mammoth Lakes in the Eastern Sierra.
Camping just outside of Yosemite. Although the National Park boundary and trailheads are near by, accessing Yosemite Valley for day trips from this location will be quite tiresome and difficult, with long winding roads and over 2 hours drive one way. Better to camp near Bass Lake if you wanna be convenient to Yosemite NP.
(loop road, backcountry route closed in winter months)
Near the town of Oakhurst and Bass Lake California, get off the main highway and head over to the small town of North Fork. Take South Fork Road 225 (Italian Bar Rd) to Minarets Road (#81) also called Mammoth Road. Side trip paved Auberry Road (#222) which skirts oak hills down to Redinger Lake Road. Hook up w/ Minarets Road (#81) that parallels the San Joaquin River on the forested ridge above, traveling 20 miles to Numerous developed campgrounds and primitive camping sites off this route. Mammoth Pool is a signed right turn down Mammoth Pool Road, a steep road w/ a couple of campground near the lake shore and the only public boat launch is narrow, one at a time and it is not paved.
The lake is closed to the public during May and the first half of June to allow migrating deer to swim across the reservoir. The reservoir is inaccessible following the first snowstorm, as the access road is not snowplowed.
Grizzly Road, a paved route that leads deeper into the woods and connects over to BEASORE. Back on the main route (Road #81) on the far north end of the loop, a narrow, paved side route connects Clover Meadow Ranger Station and the impressive Granite Creek Campground. Plenty water and hiking trailheads that lead into Ansel Adams Wilderness and Yosemite National Park.
Back on the main route (Road #81) – the pavement becomes dirt in some sections and the route loops down to Beasore Road (#7), which traverses past meadows and dense forest, and heads back towards Bass Lake.
backpacking, boating, camping
fishing, water ski, kayaking
Best of both worlds, way back in the boonies – two primitive tubs soaking perched on a soggy hill next to a big river, developed campground below, and a small resort w/ cabins, camping, restaurant and private soaking areas on the other side of the river.
15 mi. NE of Huntington Lake off Kaiser Pass Rd. Huntington Lake & Hwy. 168
Two squared cement tubs overlooking the San Joaquin River, deep in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
The coolest thing about this primitive hot springs is that it is a great destination for a one day snowmobile adventure. Rentals are in the nearby community of Lakeshore & the plowed paths are fairly easy to follow. If you plan on visiting the springs, you must not play around in the meadow much, there is plenty great Sierra scenery to be had. The snomo trip is a good 5 hours round trip with a lunch break & dip at mineral spring tubs.
cross country skiing
Winter: road is closed half the year due to heavy snow. Summer: snow is gone and the road is open.
KAISER PASS ROAD Large motorhomes, RVs are not allowed on this long, steep, narrow paved route.
Max vehicle length: 25 feet
Take Hwy.168, turn right on Kaiser Pass Rd, just past the big ski resort. Pass the large meadow & follow signs to Mono Springs & Lake Edison. Make sure not to miss the left turn or you may end up at Florence Lake.
Parking near the green bridge over the San Joaquin River & hike over to the tubs on the hillsides. If there are other vehicles parked here, expect to see naked people nearby; Soaking should never be rushed. Clothing is optional – in California.
Mono Hot Springs Campground NFS
• Elevation: 6700′
• Number of Sites: 30
• Vehicle Accessibility: RV 25′
• Camp Fee: Yes
• Campsite Reservation: Yes
• Toilet: Vault
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: June – September
• Trailheads: Ansel Adams & John Muir Wilderness
NOTE: This USFS Campground, should not to be confused with the neighboring business, a privately run camp called –
GIANT SEQUOIA: in between Sequoia & Kings Canyon, inside Sequoia NF
This chunk of National Forest land is perfectly located in between 2 very popular National Parks – Kings Canyon and Sequoia. This primary paved road leads to some great camping, a perfect option for NOT camping inside the crowed National Parks.
Turn east off of Sequoia ‘Generals Highway’ 198, on to the well signed Big Meadow Rd. There is primitive camping all over this area & a few developed campgrounds along this route. Motorhomes be warned: the road narrows to one lane with no “turn outs” or U turn spots for the last 10 miles (on a steep cliff w/ large overhanging rocks)
In the first few miles, the dispersed camp sites on the right side have great views & some situated on fairly flat granite slabs, perfect for astronomer campers or adventurous RVs. To the left side of the road is more primitive style campsites in wooded areas. The whole area is also a very popular cross country ski & snowmobiling spot for winter recreation. Hunters also like these camps during hunting season (in September).
There is a developed Horse Camp on the left side of the road for equestrian campers. This camp is located across from the biggest meadow and may be the first place you notice on this drive.
Buck Rock Campground (7600′ elevation, 5 spots) & Big Meadows Campground (7600′ elevation, 25 spots) are both family style camps, perfect for those who want picnic tables, plus bathroom nearby. Sorry no flush toilets out here, only pit toilets.
Buck Rock Fire Lookout Tower @ 8500′ elevation – is located to the north on Forest Rd # 14S02. It’s a great spot for some impressive views – if you aren’t afraid of heights. To reach the tower you must climb several flights of steel steps. This place is worth a stop if planning a sightseeing day.
Big Meadows Guard Station @ 7500′ elevation (also known as Big Meadows Cabin), is located next to the BIG MEADOW and is available for rent on a weekend basis from the NFS. Hiking Jennie Lakes Wilderness and fly fishing Big Meadows Creek are favorite activities to be enjoyed.
Big Meadows Road is long & narrow – 12+ miles. RVs are not recommended beyond the Big Meadow Campground, as the road is one lane in some spots & it skirts a cliff edge. The views are incredible the farther you go & many creeks feed the region.
The narrow, long paved road eventually forks off into several smaller dirt roads back near Horse Corral Meadow. Way back here, the dirt roads lead out to trail heads for backpacking, horse packing or day hiking in Jennie Lakes & Monarch Wilderness. Backcountry access to either Sequoia or Kings Canyon National Park! Have a good map if you plan to venture out this far. Pay attention & don’t get lost.
GPS would be helpful in this area. Some of the smaller of the dirt roads are not even on the NFS maps. Make sure to GPS way-point your favorite camp site, so you can find in next time…. in the dark.
Hole-in-the-Ground Campground NFS Lassen National Forest
dirt road access #28N06, off Hwy 172 @ Mill Creek, CA
South of Highway 36, near jct Hwy 89
• Elevation: 4,300′ • Number of Sites: 13 • Vehicle Accessibility: No trailers • Campsite Fee: Yes • Campsite Reservation: No • Campsite Water: hand-pump well • Toilet: vault • Length of Stay: 14 Days • Season: April – October • Trailheads: Mill Creek Trail
Shady pines campground situated near the wild and raging Mill Creek, on the south side of Mount Lassen. Outside of the Lassen National Park, this NFS camp offers a real backwoods feel and more seclusion. Easy foot access to Mill Creek and also theIshi Wilderness.
Picnic tables and metal campfire rings provided at these campsites. Summers can be busy, but mid week you may have the whole place to yourself. NOTE: 3 miles dirt road access Lassen Forest Road #28N06. Trailers and large RVs are not recommended on this dirt road.
Hole in the Ground, is also the name of a remote wilderness canyon deep in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Located on the Upper Kern River – in Grasshopper Flat near Hockett Peak (8551′ elev). All inside the Golden Trout Wilderness; accessible only by horseback or hiking trail. Find it on foot @ Jerky Trailhead on National Forest Road# 22S82
Hole in the Wall, California
Similarly named, Hole in the Wall Campground is a popular spot in the Mojave National Preserve. Group facilities, horse corrals, developed campgrounds, centrally located, yet close to Interstate 40.
Stop by the “Hole in the Wall” Information Center (760) 252-6104, for more info and maps. The most popular hike, the Ring Trail, will leads thru rock face (above) to the campground on Black Canyon Road, on the other side of this huge rock wall.
Mid Hills Campground (nearby) has better choice on secluded camping, but rougher road to access. Mojave desert has abundant camping, so there is plenty space for everyone!
Numerous places called SMITH LAKE exist in the Sierra Nevada.
Lakes Basin Recreation Areahas two different spots named SMITH LAKE. This region is in the Northern Sierra Nevada mountains, near Downieville, at the north end of the California Gold Country @ Highway 49.
Smith Lake hiking trail can be accessed from the Gray Eagle Lodge area along Gold Lake Highway; or this hiking lake can also be accessed from a park on the north side. Plumas Eureka State Park, via the Jameson Creek trail.
Lakes Basin also has a small set of two lakes called “Smith Lakes” – located on Smith Creek. Way back behind the larger, most famous Gold Lake.
4×4 Road #11E71 will lead you to this remote destination, with the proper vehicle, of course. Creek crossings and large rocks; A quality topographic map and a 4 wheel drive rig is needed for this adventure.
Lakes Basin Recreation Area
North Sierra mountains, Sierra granite meets Cascade volcanic rock. Bordering of State Park & 2 National Forests
Snake Lake Campground, located west of Quincy, CA – has a small neighboring lake named Smith Lake. Chances are Smith is covered with lily pads, just like Snake Lake. Smaller Smith is accessible via dirt road only. Many people hike, horseback, mountain bike or dirt-bike back on these narrow dirt roads, so use caution when traveling. Butterfly Valley Botanical Garden is located way back here, if you can find it. A real forest service map is advised.
Unbeknownst to most California tourists, the “Shasta” region encompasses most of the northern part of the state. From the majestic Trinity Alps to raging Burney Falls; the huge, snow capped peak of Mount Shasta can be seen by half of NorCal. From the high country on the north side, to the Sacramento Valley on the south side. Shasta dominates this region all around Redding and I-5.
Northern California has numerous camping lakes, most of which are very RV friendly. Boating, fishing, hiking, kayaking & even houseboat rentals are available at Lake Shasta.
The Big Lake you see from Interstate 5 is named Shasta Lake, the main drain from the northern reaches of Oregon. The big reservoir in the middle of the North State.
Whiskey Town Lake is west of Redding, with Trinity Lake tucked way back up in the hills – N of Weaverville.
You could spend a lifetime exploring all the lakes in the Shasta area. On foot, by bike, with a fishing pole and a pack llama. Maybe just an old funky motorhome.
Campground Santa Barbara – Lake Cachuma
Los Padres / Santa Barbara District:
year round creek
Lower Caliente Camp
Middle Santa Ynez
shady, 3 walk-in
water can close
Upper Oso Campground
corrals, OHV traffic
Some of these camps above may have been damaged in recent wildfires, so it’s best to inquire before you make the drive. Call rangers to verify or have a backup alternative (plan B). See more campsites @ Santa Barbara Beach Camping
Los Padres Forest Headquarters Goleta CA
The Mt Pinos Recreation Area is located on the border of Southern and Central California, inside Los Padres National Forest. After passing Frazier Park, the winding, paved, mountain road starts atop Cuddy Valley and is approximately 12 miles from Interstate 5 @ Tejon Pass. The 8831′ peak is the tallest in Kern County and is a popular spot for both summer and winter recreation: cross country skiing, snow shoeing, backpacking, hiking, mountain biking. The snow gates often close during heavy snow.
Mount Pinos Road starts atop Cuddy Valley Rd, at the “Y” – where it intersects with Mil Potrero Highway, which heads out to Pine Mountain Club, California.
One mile up the Mount Pinos route, you will find McGill trailhead on the right side (it is popular w/ mountain bikers) and then the first snow gate at Burbank Rd. Another 4 miles up hill, you come to the only set of dirt roads accessible on this range. A left turn will take you winding thru pine forest to the valley below. 4×4 is not required, but a National Forest map could be very handy. Unfortunately all the private properties at the bottom have locked gates & no thru access to Cuddy Valley is allowed. Although it is an awesome drive to just go exploring in the woods, there is no way out (once you get down the hill), so you must return the same way you came.
Back on the main route, shortly after the dirt roads is McGill Campground on the right side & another snow gate. In another mile and a half you will reach Mt Pinos Campground on the left side; the entrance is easy to miss. From here you are less than 2 miles from the end of the main road.
Mountain Bike, Hike, Backpack, Camp, XC Ski, Snow Sled
Darkest Skies for Stargazing in Southern California
The huge paved parking lot is the dead end (2 miles from the peak of Pinos) – very popular with astronomers, mountain bikers, plus the families and snow sledders in winter (if the gates are open). A National Ski Patrol’s Nordic Base, the only building you will see up this way. At 8300′ elevation, the large parking area is perfect overnight spot for amateur astronomers, so be considerate when visiting night. New moon (no moon) weekends APR-OCT are optimal viewing months. In busy summer months you can often find motorhome campers all set up with expensive equipment tracking the heavens all night long. Please be respectful of their hobby & eyes; Turn off headlights when you approach the parking area at night.
ROAD CONDITIONS to Mount Pinos, call the rangers 661-245-3731
Pinos – Peak to Peak Hike
The trailhead for Pinos Summit starts at this parking lot. It is a 2 mile moderate, but steep hike on an old fire road. The neighboring peak to the west is called Mount Abel @ 8286′ elevation (aka Cerro Noroeste). The infamous peak to peak hike along the ridge line from Mt Pinos to Mt Abel is 6.5 miles one way – and very popular in summer months. This hike requires 4-6 hours & a car shuttle should be arranged in advance. The Chumash Wilderness sits between Mount Pinos and the tiny community of Pine Mountain, which can be seen below on many places along the hike.
There are 3 developed campgrounds in the Mount Pinos Recreation Area:
Lake Tahoe California
One of the most popular Sierra destinations – be it summer or winter, Tahoe sure is crowded these days.
Below are all the developed campgrounds surrounding beautiful Lake Tahoe, CA. Most of these are located near the lake or, on the Truckee River. Most accept campground reservations in advance. blue links lead to camp info
Tahoe National Forest encompasses a larger region of the Sierra Nevada mountains surrounding the north portion of Lake Tahoe. American River, Yuba River, Northern Gold Country; Plus many small lakes with excellent forests, including Lakes Basin Recreation Area.
Blue Lakes has several campgrounds, south of South Lake Tahoe.
Free camping outside of a developed campground, for a self-contained camper who wants seclusion and privacy. Real relaxation in total peace and quiet. More nature, less people and minimal vehicles.
Free Campsites • Dispersed Camps • Open Camping • Boondocking
primitive camp sites –the bare minimum. a clearing for a tent, maybe a fire ring. no toilet, no fees; dirt road access. campfire permits required. And it is up to you to know the current fire restrictions in the area you seek to camp overnight.
Back Roads to Secluded Camps –
The further out you are willing to drive, the more remote you can be. Good topo maps of the region help you to find these ultimate, secret camping spots. National Forests & BLM Lands require a free camp fire permit to have a campfire.
Fire safety is always a big concern in wildfire prone areas like California. Additional Permits & Passes may be needed in some forests or parks; each location is different. Check with the local ranger station for up to date restrictions.
Many dirt roads lead avid campers to the best out-of-the-way camp sites. Camps may have picnic tables or just a fire ring, but usually NO toilets. Have the “No Bathroom Blues”? Don’t sweat it. check out the page onCamp Potty
Some camp sites are as bare as a small clearing, a rock fire ring if you’re lucky. A detailed backcountry map is always advised. If you count on your digital mobile device and online access for mapping, you could find yourself very lost. GoogleMaps is known for mislabeling the smallest of back roads – and they do not feature dirt roads either.
A high clearance vehicle may be needed to reach certain camp spots, but many can be accessed with a standard passenger car. Low riders will likely bottom out and motorcycle riders will get dusty.
Know your vehicles limitations for any off-road use and don’t get stuck in a bad situation. Soft sand is quite common in deserts and 4×4 might be needed. There aren’t any tow trucks out in the boonies and if you do find one, it’ll cost you something fierce. Watch for large rocks, deep ruts or tree limbs in the road (at any time) and watch low overhanging branches when driving a motorhome in to such spots. Some dedicated, hard-core RV campers prefer to camp in remote locations.
Backpackers trailheads often have a few camp sites near the parking lot, but these may be busy during summer months. Dirt roads leading to trailheads can have primitive camp sites along them as well. Long, big creeks in the forests are notorious for having awesome camp sites. Big river camp sites are sometimes free, if you know where to look. Sometimes the smallest of California campgrounds have no charge, first come, first serve (BLM, National Forest, or State run).
Before it got labeled BOONDOCKING: Primitive Camping in remote spots was what we lived for. Camp outside of developed campgrounds, for free
pros and cons
possible dirt road access, seclusion, privacy, darker skies, no fees, no crowds, real peace & quiet
no toilet, no picnic tables, no pavement, no hospital, a long hike out, no cell phone service?
always be prepared to hike out (if need be). a giant tree can come down and block your exit road. landslides often happen on dirt back roads. the vehicle could break down or become disabled. get a topographic map and know how to read the terrain, without your device/phone.
at Indian Valley, Northern Sierra Nevada mountains
also known as – Taylorsville County Campground Taylorsville Community Campground Taylorsville Park Campground
Beautiful North Sierra Nevada. The rural country life is out here… in the mountains of NorthernCal. Cattle ranches, a few sheep, grazing deer, big old barns, bike races and much residential. Taylorsville is a very small town, on the edge of the Indian Valley. Right across the valley from Greenville and Round Valley Reservoir.
elevation: 3200′ camp sites: 32 piped water near camp: yes toilets: flush showers: yes fee: yes season: May-October
The wooded campground is located at the intersection of North Valley Road, Genesee Rd and Arlington Rd – a few miles off the main highway 89.
Looking for a quiet place to tent camp in between Quincy & Greenville? then this is it. The best developed campground option in the whole region. Closed for winter months – cuz it does snow pretty good up here.
This shaded tent campground loop is on a hillside; across the street from the small rodeo grounds, the community park w/ picnic areas, tennis courts and a small RV park. Campground host located behind the bathrooms.
Nearest local laundromat in nearby Greenville, behind the main grocery market.
bathing… would be nice
Flush toilets and showers, affordable overnight prices, plus ideal walking-hiking-biking location make this a special campground worth mentioning!
Craggy granite peaks, abundant meadows, big streams, w/ 89 lakes are the main highlights of this wild land area in Northern California.
Marble Mountain itself, a stark, red-and-gray marbled peak. Most of the lakes are gems set in rocky settings, and at least one-third of the wilderness is cloaked in a great variety of trees, dominated by
Tanbark oak, madrone, and Douglas fir populate lower elevations, with whitebark pine, foxtail pine, and mountain hemlock higher up in altitude. You will find alpine meadows and bare rock in the highest elevations. Bear, deer, and many other species of wildlife are plentiful. Most of the peaks exceed 6,000 feet in height, with Boulder Peak being the highest at 8299 feet. Long recognized for its wild value, this region became a Primitive area in 1931, a Wilderness in 1953, and a part of the NWPS in 1964. Numerous trails provide excellent and extensive access to the Wilderness, and human use is rated as moderate. The Pacific Crest Trail crosses the entire Wilderness for 32 miles north-south, and accesses many other trails. Most of the trails offer relatively easy travel for humans and horses, and excellent campsites are to be had along the way.
Free Campgrounds in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California
no charge camp, no fee camping, free campgrounds
No fee camping: Bare bones. California Sierra Campgrounds without the fee.
Developed BLM or NFS campgrounds, where you can still have a campfire. Vault toilets, panic tables and fire rings. Use bear boxes when provided for proper food storage.
Below is a good long list of some favorite free developed campgrounds in the Sierras. Many will require dirt road driving, as most are located well of the highway. Perhaps the 12 mile rough road will thin out the crowds. Free overnight stay!
Pack in your drinking water and pack out your trash. Campfire permits are not required at developed campgrounds; but a bringing a water bucket and shovel is necessary for tending your campfire. Piped water is not always available, or perhaps, not in working order at these primitive style camps. Be prepared to rough it a little.
12 NFS Campgrounds are located around Eastern Sierra Rock Creek Canyon. Elevations range from 7000′ at the highway, to over 10,000′ at a trailhead parking lot at the road’s end. Most of these developed campgrounds listed are only open a few months outta the year, due to winter snow closures (NOV-APRIL). On occasion, snow can still be on the roads until MAY.
Rock Creek Loop Road – Dinkey
Sierra Forest Road #9S09, off of paved Dinkey Creek Road. Excellent primitive camping along creek; 4×4 trailheads, as well as hiking & horseback trails. Small RVs okay. Dispersed camp sites, no facilities. Fire permits are required. Near Shaver Lake, CA inside the Sierra National Forest
Little Grass Valley Recreation Area
Plumas National Forest
Tucked way up in the Northern Sierra Nevada mountains, at the top edge of the California Gold Country, is this popular recreational lake in the forest above the busy Sacramento Valley.
Up on the mountain at 5000 feet above sea level, via La Porte Road (Plumas #120), a Sierra Nevada THRU-ROAD – one which closes for winter snow. The lake destination may be open, but the campgrounds are closed up seasonally. (NOV-APRIL)
Little Grass Valley Reservoir
Elevation 5,100′ Surface Area 1,433 acres Shoreline 16 miles Capacity 93,101 acre-feet
With over 300+ camp sites available in 10 different campgrounds, Little Grass Valley has room for everyone. Reservations are recommended in summer months, although some camps are on a first-come basis.
Swim beaches provide excellent swimming and picnicking opportunities. The Lakeshore Trail (13 miles) winds around the entire lake, for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking.
Little Beaver Campground
Red Feather Campground
Sly Creek Campground
TRAVEL NOTE: The nearest town isn’t much of a “town” at all – so driving to get “anywhere w/ tourist services” from here is quite a chore. Gasoline is minimal on this mountain, if any. Plan to bring everything you will need for your outdoor vacation stay, cuz driving to Quincy, or down the hill to O-ville will take more than an hour (one way). Go prepared.
Cycling, hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, kayaking and boating are all popular outdoor recreation activities.
Small towns located on the Point Reyes peninsula do have a few private campgrounds, some of which can accommodate motorhomes. Follow towns links for those.
There are no RV parks, camper trailers or motorhomes allowed in campgrounds on the steep coastal region of Point Reyes. Most of the narrow, winding roads are forbidden for motorhome travels. No shoulder, no guard rails, on many curvy roads. Great viewpoints are best when you STOP to look, off the roadway.
The lands surrounding Las Vegas are NOT managed by the NPS, National Park Service – but Lake Mead is considered a National Recreation Area. Hoover Dam is located at the south end of Lake Mead, then the Colorado river connects further down stream to Lake Mohave.
Tourist are no longer burdened by the constant flow of traffic over the dam, because a beautiful, new bypass bridge has been recently built above the dam.
Boating, kayaking, fishing, hiking, off-roading and camping are popular attractions at both the reservoir lakes. Mohave Lake is lesser known and therefore, less crowded. 4×4 may be need to reach certain coves at Mohave.
Most of the public lands in this Vegas desert are managed by BLM or the USDA National Forests. The Great Basin National Park is located in central Nevada, nearly 300 miles NW of the city of Las Vegas.
Red Rock Vegas
Some folks know these rock walls as Red Rock Canyon, or Red Rock Park near Vegas – but the official name now ‘Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area’ and the lands are managed by the BLM.
The closest red rock park to Las Vegas, this one is located at the far west end of Charleston Blvd. – an easy exit to find off the freeway Interstate 15. Day hikes, rock climbing, mountain biking, picnics and a large BLM campground. This desert range can get very windy and the only campground around is poorly located along the busy highway, on a ridge. Bring good tent stakes and be prepared for serious wind. Better camping options can be found over at the higher elevation Mount Charleston, see below.
Vegas Valley of Fire
This beautiful desert park is 60 miles N of Vegas and well worth the day trip to explore native petroglyphs, hike among red rocks, sandy washes and just relax to take in breathtaking vistas. See more about the Valley of Fire State Park
Mount Charleston Camping
Several developed campgrounds are available in a pine forest setting. Some may charge a nightly fee, or a day use fee. Mary Jane Falls is well worth the hike. Two lodges grace this mountains, The Mount Charleston Resort is the big log and stone cabin along a straight away on Kyle Canyon Road #157. The Mount Charleston Lodge is above at 7717′ elevation and has a popular restaurant and nice modern mountain cabin rentals.