Due the nature of gravity, erosion and heavy rocks, creek beds tend to be rocky ravines near mountains – which collect rocks as they slide downhill. Creeks work as water drainage off the mountains. Inside California we have plenty of mountain ranges and plenty of movement, as the Pacific plate plows into North America, tectonically speaking.
How many Rock Creeks are inside the golden state of California? Heck, I dunno. Let’s try to find them all.
Large feeder creek from the north side of highway (California SR 70), in Plumas National Forest. Located in the popular railroad canyon known as the Feather River Canyon.
Sugar Loaf Mountain elev 3553′ with Tobin Ridge line each side of Rock Creek as it descends the mountain tops. The junction where the creek meets the big river is just south of Bucks Creek Power Station @ STORRIE, CA. The overall location is half way in between OROVILLE, CA and QUINCY, CA
But wait, we have California Campgrounds named Rock Creek too.
Rock Creek Campground – US Hwy 101 NorCal Redwood forests, north of Leggett, CA. Camp located on the Eel River, in the Standish Hickey State Recreation Area. (36 camp sites)
Also the is a small ROCK LAKE located insideLakes Basin Recreation Area, northern Gold Country @ Yuba River headwaters. Hike-in access only.
Similarly named ROCK FRONT RANCH is 4×4 trails & 4WD camping area. Cool windcaves, super steep terrain, and wildflowers. Off Highway 166, east of the city of Santa Maria US 101 – on the Central Coast of Cali.
This is one of many small lakes situated within the Lakes Basin Recreation Area , in the Northern Sierra Nevada mountains. Just north of Downieville & Historic Gold Country. Snag Lake is nothing special compared to the rest of the scenic lakes close by, but it is worth a mention due to a few fun facts.
One thing this small lake campground does have is convenience, located right on the Gold Lake Highway – next to Goose Lake, plus hiking distance to the largest of the lakes, Gold Lake. The second feature is the campground is small, 16 primitive sites, picnic tables & one vault toilet. The third thing is that this is a FREE campground; no charge.
Snag Lake Campground
• Elevation: 6600′
• Number of Sites: 16
• Vehicle Accessibility: Small RVs
• Campsites Reservation: No
• Camp Fee: No
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: June – October
• Trailheads: Gold Lake
dirt drive (no pavement)
No motorized boats allowed. No paved boat ramps. Kayaks & canoes can hand launch from several spots. The dirt driveway is easily missed, especially at night. The old wooden, forest service sign is not reflective. The vault toilet is close to the highway and the camp sites are along the lake edge. No pavement anywhere!
Upon arrival, camper trailers will want to get out and select the best route to a camp site. The small boulders, dead trees, root and rock obstacles are abundant on the dirt road entry, all around the campground, and at each camp site. High clearance vehicles would fair best at this camp, but some passenger cars may be able to manage the rocky entrance. Get out and look at the road, before scraping across the biggest rock. Slowly, carefully, maybe… and preferably an arrival before dark.
LOCALS TIP: The wind tends to pick up at night around these lakes, so brace your tent well and position your vehicle appropriately.
Obviously with a name like SNAG, you can imagine that the fishing here is not the best, since roots and old tree stumps make up a good portion of the shoreline. Luckily there are a dozen alpine lakes within a 20 mile radius to choose from for another fishing spot. Some lakes are hike-in only, some require 4×4 to reach and others have cabin resorts.
Gold Lake Hwy (or Gold Lake Road) closes in the winter months (NOV-APRIL) due to snow and the region is used as a winter recreation area. Cross-country skiing and snow-mobiling are both popular activities.
Lassen – Snag Lake
ANOTHER SNAG LAKE in NorCal, can be found by foot, hiking into the Lassen Volcanic Wilderness. Backpacking the lake loop is approx 17 miles RT and includes 3 lakes – Snag Lake, Widow Lake, and Jakey Lake. Trailhead is located at Juniper Lake, at the north shore.
Aspen Groves are easy to recognize with their thick stands. White trunks with dark knots, slender, with oval shaped leaves. Growing in a network of roots, which are found lining creeks, alpine lakes, or spilling out from higher elevations, along scenic canyons.
The unique round leaves which can turn spectacular colors in the fall season. The fluttering and flapping of the oval-shaped, thick, green leaf is a sure sign of summer. When breezes get cooler, Autumn is only a few weeks away and as quick as the cold comes in, what a short and special show they put on.
California Fall Colors
Aspen trees can be found at higher mountain elevations in California, usually above 4000′ – all the way up to about 10,000′ or higher, depending on the mountain range and local water flows. Groves have an extensive root systems underground, so they often withstand wildfires and can come back after the rest of the forest is gone.
Beavers build dams in creeks around aspen trees, fishermen and campers love to camp next to aspens, and lovers carve their initials into their white bark. These trees do indeed take a beating, from all angles, winter weather included… so stop from cutting them!
summer and autumn
These deciduous trees are naked half the year, typically from November to April, as winter buries them in snow and ice. Time is of the essence, limited to Summer and Autumn – to enjoy their shade and the beauty of the groves. Scenic meadows and fishing creeks are just an added bonus for searching out the aspen.
Aspens can be found in hidden canyons, primarily along the Eastern Sierra US Hwy 395 and surrounding mountain lakes. Some Sierra Passes have decent displays of color as well – like Carson Pass Hwy 88 and Yosemite’s Tioga Pass Hwy 120.
Below is a list of Total Escape’s favorite aspen areas of California
Prime hiking and fishing destination of the Eastern Sierra, California. With impressive Carson Peak (10,909′) towering as a granite backdrop for the lake, every day out here is super scenic. Unless, of course, blizzard white-out conditions occur – which is possible during winter.
October-November, Autumn colors – at this particular location – tend to be fantastic, with aspen groves encompassing the lake, nearby streams and steep canyons.
fish: Reverse Creek, Rush Creek, Silver Lake, Grant Lake, Gem Lake, Gull Lake, June Lake
Winter weather & deep snow can close the paved highway loop, so know road conditions and weather forecast before you go. This beautiful Silver Lake is within walking distance of two lodges – Whispering Pines & Double Eagle Resort, so if rain or snow is predicted make your reservations.
This gorgeous, 80 acre alpine lake is a popular campground for fishing, picnicking, hiking, summer and autumn camping. Accommodates tent camping and RVs. Boat ramp, grocery store, coin-op laundry – all nearby. Camp closes for snow annually.
Silver Lake Campground NFS
• Elevation: 7600′
• Number of Sites: 28
• Vehicle Accessibility: RV 20′
• Campsites Reservation: Yes
• Camp Fee: Yes
• Toilets: Flush
• Water: Piped/Potable
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: April – October
Inyo National Forest
Mono Lake Ranger Station
North US Hwy 395
Lee Vining, CA 93541
Sure splendor for fishing, most of the time. Lake fishing, stream fishing, river fishing. Fishing the Eastern Sierra area, near Mammoth Lakes, California can be very rewarding. You may have read about places like these in the sports magazines, seen them on a television program, or imagined them in a fishing vacation day dream. Summers can be crowded, so pick a lake and camp carefully. Weather can change quickly, so come prepared. Autumn fishing w/ the golden aspens and less crowds is preferred.
Most of these Eastern Sierra lakes listed below are accessible by car, others by foot. Look at the photos, pick a destination and get a good map of the area, so you can explore everything around too.
High elevation NFS campground, located in a huge granite valley w/ waterfalls, wildflowers and aspen groves. The setting is breathtaking and the high altitude valley is nothing less than grand.
The views (east to the Owens valley) are from the paved road up, or from the hiking trails leading up outta camp. Gotta hike up (on foot) to see the views! Any visitor that does not hike, will be missing out on the best features of this destination. Plan to spend more than one day at Onion Valley.
ONLY OPEN for summer months! This small, developed campground closes annually. Big winters and deep snow is the norm w/ elevation this high.
The paved road is long and very winding; sheer cliffs, steep drop offs, hairpin curves, minimal guard rails. RV motorhomes are not allowed on this route, due to the steepness of the terrain and the narrow roadway.
No Reservations. most camp sites are available first-come, first-serve
RV limitations: 30 feet
69 miles east of Jackson, CA on Highway 88 and then another 12 miles south on Blue Lakes Road. This area is close to Hope Valley, south of Lake Tahoe, CA
Blue Lakes consist of several developed campgrounds. Blue Lakes Rd# 13 is a well signed, paved road off Hwy 88, just east of Carson Pass (8560′ elev). The route is closed during winter snow, while it serves as a winter recreation area. The main paved road becomes dirt near the campgrounds. A dirt road continues past the lakes and south to Deer Creek and meets w/ Hwy 4 near Ebbett’s Pass.
RV campers, fishing folks, hikers, kayakers and disabled travelers like this lake camp area due to the easy access, paved parking and campground amenities. Handicapped camp sites are also prime lake front locations.
Group Campgrounds are reservable. Picnic Areas, Group Sites and campfire rings. Piped water, bear boxes and vault toilets. No RV hookups, no dump station, no showers. Unimproved boat ramps are available at Upper and Lower Blue Lakes.
Upper Blue Lake Campground elev. 8136′
camp sites: 32
Overflow Camp camp sites: 34
Backpackers and day hikers: Sierra trailheads out here lead south into the Mokelumne Wilderness Area. The infamous Pacific Crest Trail also passes thru this high elevation region: PCT access @ Carson Pass, Upper Lake & Tamarack Lake
BLUE LAKE CAMPGROUND
NorCal region of the South Warner Wilderness in Modoc National Forest. That’s way out near Alturas, CA. Northeast California, real seclusion. Paved Road #64 is Jess Valley, which leads up to forested Blue Lake Campground, elevation 6051′
Donner Blue Lake
DONNER PASS – Sierra Nevada
Interstate 80 BLUE LAKE CAMPGROUND
i80 Donner Pass, near Truckee, CA; a PGE Campground w/ 4×4 access and hike-in only. First come, first serve. No tables or restrooms, elevation 5900′
When you really wanna get away from it all, take a week off and head up to Modoc – the top northeast corner of California, where the volcanic mountains line the Great Basin. The population is minimal, cattle are abundant and the campers few. Even in mid summer, this ideal lake campground rarely fills up.
Jess Valley Road leads east off US 395 @ Likely, CA – 16 miles back to this hidden gem.
Headwaters to the Pit River.
NFS Campground is shady, well managed, and spread out on the eastern slope w/ numerous paved loops. Tent campers, cross country cyclists, truck campers w/ canoes, SUV families, motorhomes with kayaks and kids.
Blue Lake Campground NFS
• Elevation: 6,050′
• Number of Sites: 48
• Vehicle Accessibility: 32′ RV
• Camp Fee: Yes
• Campsite Reservation: No
• Water: Piped
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: May –October
• Trailhead: Lake Loop
• Boat Ramp: Yes
Group Camp Facilities (by reservation only)
Modoc NF Warner Ranger District
Blue Lake National Recreation Trail
Right next to camp: A pretty much perfect LAKE LOOP (1.5 mi) hiking trail is worth a serious stroll; footbridge, wildflowers, fishing spots, minimal hills, lava rocks, and awesome scenery. Plenty of wildlife can be seen, including butterflies and bald eagles. Trail is shaded by tall white fir and ponderosa pine trees. Trailhead is located at the Day Use parking lot, w/ paved boat ramp, dock, and picnic area.
NOTE: not every CAMPSITE has a LAKE VIEW
Certain campsites are adjacent to the lake; some are set facing a meadow (Autumn w/ aspen groves), or the alpine forest w/ deer grazing. Perhaps an inner circle (interior) campsite, for those who like to be close to bathrooms and piped water. Large families will love the abundance of camp settings and accommodations.
Paved Loop Plenty of Vault Toilets Piped Water Recycles & Trash Service
no paved camp stall
no dump station
no cell phone signal
popular lake camp for motorhomes
When driving a large RV back in here, be courteous of other campers. Nothing sucks more than driving a long distance to the boonies, to arrive at camp just before dark and annoying everyone else already there.
Those needing to drive the campground loops (more than twice) looking for the biggest, levelest, best camp site – and burning $10 in gasoline doing so, should consider walking in.
Park that beast (near boat ramp area, before the camp entrance). Get out and walk the hills and loops, BREATHE & relax – prior to a choosing camp site.
Unhitch any tow vehicles; use that to scout out your perfect spot, if you cannot hike it. Trailers and large motorhomes will find this place ideal, but getting the right camp, can make all the difference.
Paved Trail around CampgroundThe wildfire: BLUE FIRE burned this region in 2001, but it is lush and green again (2019). Northern California gets some real weather. Rain and snow, more than half the year. The campground closes annually due to snow.
Kayaking is best done in the morning, cuz wind picks up in the afternoon. Canoes can launch at boat ramp, or at shoreline from trails near campsite.
Hiking trails can be found all around lake and campground. Wilderness access can be found at South Warner trailheads within a short drive from the lake.
Cyclists also love this camp, as it is located near a major highway and is a perfect place to really relax, soak in the scenery and get some quiet-nights sleep.
Modoc Forest Road #64 is a through-route, across the lower South Warners – 40
miles connecting to east side of the mountain, at Eagleville, CA.
Dirt Roads are suitable for trucks w/ trailers. SUVs and rugged passenger cars are okay. Motorhomes are not advised on this route. Washboard conditions are typical. Winter closure on this route is common.
MODOC RD 64
Several miles away from Blue Lake, 2 rustic trailhead campgrounds are located back this way – East Creek Campground & Patterson Campground. Less than 10 camp sites each, equipped w/ horse stalls, vault toilets and maybe piped water. Trailhead parking for backpackers. No RVs!
Autumn colors w/ aspen groves. Open, large meadows and mature forests w/ wildfire scars. Cattle can be found grazing all around, many cattle crossing.
Minimal primitive camping options, along road sides. Campfire permits required. No camping within one mile of a developed campground.
Wide open spaces, mountains, rivers and ranch lands. The very last of the unexplored high country of California. Rural and rustic regions are full of forested mountain ranges with sage brush meadows lying below. Valleys are high elevation deserts with a base terrain sitting above 4000′; Peaks @ 8000′ above sea level.
South Warner Wilderness is in the southern portion of the Warner Mountains, a north south positioned range, located in the top corner of the golden state. Surprise Valley lies to the east, bordering the Nevada state line and Alturas w/ US Hwy 395 on the west side.
California SR 299
Hwy 299, the only paved thoroughfare cuts right through the middle of the Warner Mountains. Paved Parker Creek Road #56 climbs up Parker Creek from Alturas, accessing camping, hiking, dirt back roads and wilderness trailheads. Warner Mountains State Game Refuge is north of the wilderness area.
One dirt route skirts the wilderness boundary – West Warner Road #5, which leads from Parker Creek due south to Jess Valley Rd #64. Blue Lake Road, Patterson Mill and Road #39N15 are nearest to East Creek. Winter driving tips from NFS.
All these campgrounds listed can be accessed by a vehicle, most by narrow back roads (some dirt). If you prefer to drive on paved roads only, then you’ll need to choose Blue Lake or Mill Creek Falls. Deep snow closes forest roads and campgrounds are generally only open a few months per year, from May to October.
Large, granite, alpine lake in the Central Sierra Nevada Mountains. Abundant trout fishing, swimming, camping, boating, hiking, floating, kayaking, picnic sites, and high altitude backpacking trailheads. Shoreline fishing is just as good as by boat. Fishing boats can be rented at Kit Carson Lodge.
The high altitude location makes this a winter wonderland half the year w/ snow ski resorts nearby! It is an awesome summertime family vacation destination as well. Fishing is excellent through Autumn months. Campgrounds close up shop in October, generally when the snow starts. High Sierra – Deep snow pack means they will not reopen until May (at the earliest).
Carson is major Sierra Pass highway, but it closes for big snows, so always check CalTrans before you make the drive up the mountain. Carson Pass is California State Route 88, which connects the Gold Country (on the western slopes) to the South Lake Tahoe region (on the eastern border), near Nevada.
Check Current Highway Conditions for HWY 88 roads.dot.ca.gov
Cal Trans 800-427-7623
Silver Lake Day Use Areas
These areas listed below are operated by El Dorado Irrigation District and they do charge a day-use fee for many of the amenities provided. Boat Launch fee? Yep. Parking fee? Maybe. Picnic stop! How much? Eat fast!
Ferguson Point is located on the north shore of Silver Lake: 10 picnic tables & vault toilets.
Sandy Cove is on NW shore of Silver Lake: Wheel-chair access to lake edge, 5 picnic tables, piped water & vault toilets.
Oyster Creek Rest Area, up along Highway 88, 1 mile NE of Silver Lake: 10 picnic tables & vault toilets.
Historic Memories: Camp Minkalo, Camp Silverado & Kays Silver Lake Resort are all closed now.
Many small businesses come and go in the rural mountains of California. Throughout the decades, some do survive, but many change hands, change names, or have a difficult time ‘making it all work’ in the off-season. Always call ahead (real phone w/ real person) before you make a big drive to a remote location.
National Forest Campgrounds in this lake vicinity:
• Elevation: 7200′
• Number of Sites: 62
• Vehicle Accessibility: RV 30′
• Campsite Reservations: Yes
• Camp Fee: Yes
• Toilet: Vault
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: June – October
• Trailheads: Hidden Lake, Sandy Cove
El Dorado National Forest
Amador Ranger District
26820 Silver Drive
Pioneer, CA 95666
Older lodges, resorts, camps and cabins at Silver Lake were mainly built in the 1920s, while the oldest resort dates back to the mid 1800s. Wow, how cool is that! Much history in this mountain region w/ Kit Carson Emigrant Trail, all stories totally worth exploring.
Just found another MILL CREEK in Northern California; a waterfall on the west side of the South Warner Wilderness. Located at the headwaters to the Pit River; about 6 miles east of Likely, CA
A small developed campground on a wooded slope; with new bathrooms, shady camp sites, a paved loop, and a short hike to the falls.Hiking trailhead leads into the wilderness area for fishing, hiking, lakes and backcountry access.
Open less than half the year, due to winter snow. Campground access off US Hwy 395, via Jess Valley Road #64
Mill Creek Falls Campground NFS
• Elevation: 5,680′
• Number of Sites: 20
• Vehicle Accessibility: RV 22′
• Camp Fee: Yes
• Campsites Reservation: No
• Piped Water: Yes
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: June – October
• Trailheads: South Warner Wilderness, Clear Lake
Although the grizzly bear image graces the state flag, grizzlies were killed off during the gold rush days. Black bears are found in California mountains and foothills, down to lowest elevations in NorCal. California black bears come in more than one color – light brown, cinnamon, dark brown, and of course, black. For the most part, bears usually stay away from people.
Some areas are more prone to bear problems due in large part to the overpopulation of tourists and abundance of food provided by them. Certain California National Parks are particularly notorious for their brazen bear populations. Concentrated bear problems are sometimes posted so be very aware and read signs. If you see steel bear boxes, leave no food or drink in your vehicle. Use the boxes to keep bears from breaking into your car!
Follow some simple rules:
Keep a very clean campsite
Clean up all dirty dishes & beverage containers (especially before bedtime)
Keep clothing & sleeping bags free from food odors or heavy scents
Never leave any type of food garbage ‘bagged up’, sitting outside of a cabin rental, motorhome, trailer, or mountain home
Store garbage properly inside a locked, sturdy container inside garage or a shed
Stay away from bear cubs, there is sure to be a protective (aggressive) mother in close proximity
Try not to hike alone. Make noise & sing on trails to scare away any unwanted animals.
Bear storage canisters are available at sporting good stores & at stores in most National Parks.
Proper Food Storage Outdoors:
Store food in closed up automobile, not visible. Store food correctly: in trunk of your car, or hidden from sight; in campground food lockers when available.
Lock all food, beverages and coolers in the provided metal bear boxes or bear lockers where available.
Toothpaste, deodorant & anything that has a scent should be thought of as food and stored accordingly.
Bears are so strong they can rip your car door open (in places like Yosemite, where bears are problem and you can get cited for not storing food items properly)
Bears are so strong they can break open a garage door to get to the smelly trash inside, so make sure you utilize the curbside pickup service available in some mountain communities or take a trip to the dump once per week.
DO NOT LEAVE FOOD OUT, UNATTENDED, outdoors…
during a picnic lunch, a quick snack, maybe a barbeque, or dinner around the campfire.
Birds, dogs, squirrels and wild animals can move in quickly.
Backpackers should hang food in nylon bag & drape over weak branch in high in tree: hang your food using the counterbalance method. Ranger who issues your wilderness permit can explain the hanging procedure;
2 stuff sacks (with drawstrings) for your food items, and 60 feet of medium weight cord. 2 carabiners make hanging much easier.
When primitive car camping on a dirt road, which does not have campgrounds, nor bear lockers, it is possible to store food in the vehicle. BEST location is on the front floorboards with towel over it. With the car alarm set at bedtime, any ruckus should trigger a decent alarm. Any large animal trying to break in will get blasted with alarm siren & most likely will run away. The noise will wake you up as well, to deal with the intruder, if need be.
If a bear does get into your camp area:
At night, bring bear repellent can into tent, storing it close to the door. Bring a weapon for added protection.
Make as much noise as possible: yell, bang pots/pans, whistle, air horn and get your bear mace or pepper spray ready in hand
Raise your hands up to appear larger; lift clothing, increase appearance of size and yell aggressively toward bear.
Get your entire camp group together, join hands and spread out; Everyone at the camp should be outside the tents in order to be as effective as possible
Throw rocks & small objects; pots, pans, chairs
If possible, try to get to your car for protection
Sound the alarm on a vehicle &/or honk the horn
If you encounter a bear on a hiking trail:
Make as much noise as possible while walking solo. Hum, sing, talk to the birds. Sing or talk to yourself – out loud. Bear bells can be worn on hiking boots. Do not hike w/ headphones on listening to music/radio.
Carry bear spray (mace or pepper) in a belt holster, or easy to reach pack.
If a bear approaches: stand still, slowly retreat, say a few calming words in a friendly voice and calmly retreat, keep eyes on the bear
Canon Sin Nombre – Anza Borrego
Mud Caves and Slot Canyon Hikes
Desert Slot Canyons – South Anza Borrego State Park region, just off County Road S-2 east of the ‘badlands overlook’ view point is a whole network of narrow walkways & skinny canyon trails to explore. Some are so tight you have to turn side ways to fit through. There are more than one of these sandstone topless caverns. Finding a new one each time you visit is a fun challenge. Just north in the Diablo canyon there are dry mud tunnels & trails as well. Explore & be careful not to get lost. And don’t camp at the canyon openings during the threat of heavy rains…duh.
Drive down steep, sandy road into Canon Sin Nombre entrance (the dirt road just to the north of Badlands Overlook). A high clearance vehicle is recommended and 4WD may be required in soft sand. 2WD SUVs/trucks should keep their speed up through the soft sandy areas & try not to turn or stop suddenly. Go slow in narrow sections of the canyon & slow over the rocks to save your oil pan.
Clock your mileage 1 mile exactly from the paved road (s2) & park out in desert wash, pull over between the smoke trees. Hike over to the left side & look for an opening in the canyon walls to a deep secluded trench. A campsite may exists here.
Hike up the first canyon which does require some rock scrambling. The gorge lets you out at the very top with an impressive view over the Sweeney Pass area. The canyon walls are so tight in some spots you may have to turn sideways to fit through. Upper body strength is needed to climb high ledges & boulder scramble through this natural maze.
Once on top, wander on the ridge & check out the views; keeping to the right & then follow the next wash down to start the much longer & easier exit. Hike down in the main slot canyon which leads out to a big camp site & clearing. Exit slot area and turn right, walking back to the vehicle in the big wash.
This particular hike is a blast on a full moon night, but not for a first timers try.
Best time to visit: October – April
HIGH CLEARANCE VEHICLE access to reach trailhead. Moderate hike, boulder scrambling w/ dangerous mud walls. Flash floods here are possible during rains.
Plenty of 4×4 roads, SUV trails, & box canyons in the desert region.
Sequoia National Park: Cold Springs Campground in Mineral King Area
A large developed camp ground with bear lockers, a raging creek, some walk in sites, & access to the Sierra Nevada high country trails. This is the last real campground in the main valley, everything beyond this spot is pure alpine highcountry.
9000′-13,000′ peaks – in the Southern Sierra Nevada mountains. Car camp, tent camping or bring a backpack and climb to pristine lakes and into the real Wilderness.
Cold Springs Campground, California
on the East Fork of the Kaweah River, closest campground to the hiker trailheads @ Mineral King Valley. Mineral King Road open May-October (depending on snow)
Atop the mighty canyon sits mountain passes, peaks and lakes above 10,000′ elevation. A rocky alpine valley of wonder and water, granite, dark skies and a good night sleep. Black bears and hikers are everywhere, anytime.
This sweet spot river campground has more than 25 camp sites, but there is not a lot to choose from way back here on the dead end back road known as Mineral King in California. Just up the road a piece from Silver City. Nearest real town is Three Rivers near Sequoia NP south gate, California State Route 198.
Western Sierra /
Sequoia South Camping –
37 camp sites in Mineral King @ 7500′ elevation
vault toilets, river and piped water, bear boxes first come, first served camping
Max Camper Length: 0
(RV, motorhomes, camper trailers are not allowed)
Rangers Office: 559-565-3768
Cold Springs Campground has several campsites right on a river with other sites set up a steep forested hills. There are good number of walk-in camp sites at the end of this campground, ideal for backpackers arriving late at night. The actual walk is more like a hike, so be prepared to carry your stuff a mile down a steep forested trail. You will be rewarded with a great camp spot, near the river, away from the parking lot and noise of the car campers above. Tar Gap hiking trail leads out of Coldsprings campground and straight into the back country.
Coldsprings Camp & Atwell Mill are the only options for local tent camping.
Strapping on a backpack and heading for the high country is what most visitors do, as this is an ideal high country trailhead accessible from the western reaches of the Sierra Nevada range.
East of Three Rivers, CA on Highway 198 – Mineral King Road peels off to the right, south east to a vast 30 mile long canyon. This mostly paved route closes for winter months when snow is present and rock slides are common. There is a few miles of unpaved, graded 2 lane road, but the majority is paved. Late spring (May) is typically the opening season for this road. RVs, buses, and trailers are not allowed on this narrow, winding road!
BIG TREES NOTE: Although this gorgeous, secluded canyon is located within Sequoia National Park, there are no Sequoia redwood trees in this particular canyon. And you might need to drive an hour up the other mountain to reach them. Just a consideration. If you have your heart set on the seeing the big trees, go do that on another trip. Mineral King is a journey and after your drive that road you will understand a few times.
HIKER PARKING: The NPS rangers station is walking distance from Cold Springs Campground. A beautiful meadow walk to the east of the campground. Bears are known to frequent the area, so locking all food in the provided metal bear lockers is a must.
Badgers are a problem too. Them critters eat radiator hoses – no joke! A good roll of chicken wire could be needed if you plan to leave your car unattended for any length of time.
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.
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.
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:
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.