Gone are the days of ‘beach blanket bingo’ where film crews glamorized California – the beautiful people, the nice vehicles, the sport of surfing and the glorious beaches. There are very few places left on the California coast that you can actually drive a vehicle on the sand, right next to the ocean. The military bases, oil corporations and the utility companies have the front row seats to the Pacific genocide, and the rest of the population is restricted with extreme limited access.
Baja California has minimal regulations on coastal access with a car. No pavement, no signs, no cell phone signal, and no help for miles – something to consider if you get stuck south of the border in Mexico. Baja has numerous places to explore below Ensenada, but asking locals is always a favored approach. Pay attention to private property signs and always close the cattle gate (if you found it closed).
Southern California, no beaches allow vehicle traffic. San Diego offers a sliver of sand @ Silver Strand SB, which is a developed campground for motorhomes and car campers, located right on the beach south of Coronado, CA. Fiesta Island in Mission Bay, San Diego allows driving on sand and a favorite among active dogs, but not camping is allowed. In Los Angeles you can park a motorhome at a sandy, paved campground for a hefty overnight fee. Dockweiler Beach, right near the Chevron plant and LA sewage treatment facility. Sounds delightful, not.
Ventura & Santa Barbara Coastal Regions have many awesome State Beaches, but none allow vehicles on the sand.
Red, White and Blue Beach – nude beach w/ campground (now closed); north of Santa Cruz, CA
Usal Beach Campground – redwood creeks and forests meets coast and cliffs. Camp fee for overnight use. Long dirt road access. No RVs!
Black Sands Beach (OHV 4×4 trail, now closed to all vehicles) near Shelter Cove, CA
after-the-fun maintenance tip:
Salt water and sand is very corrosive to metal – which will rust your truck or car badly. Now that you’ve had fun on the beach, we remind you to clean the underneath of your vehicle ASAP. Spraying powerful hose in your wheel wells and all underneath the vehicle. You might need to lay on the ground and get wet to do this job properly. Some car wash places might be able to do this service for you, but it will cost ya.
Golden gems of California, a collection of alpine lakes on the north end of Historic Gold Country, North Yuba River, Northern Sierra Nevada
EAST of Downieville, CA
California’s Gold Lake and surrounding lakes; the granite spires of the Sierra Buttes and the creeks, waterfalls, headwaters of the Yuba River — total wild beauty. Steep, granite, river canyon from Downieville drive east on Highway 49 from Sierra City to Bassetts, a gasoline and market stop; they have a small hotel there too.
Take the left turn, north on to the Gold Lake Highway. The alpine and extremely scenic Lakes Basin Area consist of all small lakes in between Hwy 49 to Hwy 89, along GOLD LAKE HWY [Road S620] some maps read Road #24 or call this Gold Lake “Road” instead of highway. Snow closes in this route during winter months.
Frazier Falls Trail
Length: 1 mile RT / Directions: Trail head is located on Old Gold Lake Road, about 5 miles from the Highway 89/Gold Lake Road intersection. Take the signed, narrow paved access road 4 miles to the trail head.
Frazier Park and neighboring towns, like freeway-close Lebec and Gorman, is where the Los Angeles hills meet the Kern County mountains. Mojave Desert meets to Coastal Range. EXIT I-5 @ Tejon Pass (elev 4144′)
Wildflower hills, seasonal creeks, forested peaks, high desert canyons. Bike trails, hike trails, off road routes. High elevation backpacking, hang gliding, mountain biking and camping in every direction.
High desert washes, oak creeks, pinyon pine forests, mountain meadows and numerous peaks – Frazier Peak, Reyes Peak, Alamo Mountain, Mount Pinos, Mount Abel (Cerro Noroeste) and north facing San Emigdio ridge.
Many dirt roads are gated seasonally for wet weather or snow. Call rangers to find out which routes are open before you plan your weekend. Or have a plan B and C camp site ready if route is closed. Flashfloods, thunderstorms, and erosion means you may all-of-a-sudden need to use your 4WD. This is the mountains after all. UNpredictable weather is common.
Eastern Sierra Nevada – Inyo Mountains
Inyo Forest Back Roads – Mammoth Off Road
Off Road near US Highway 395. Yep, Olancha has some OHV (off-road) areas near the dunes, but this web site is dedicated to the real deal, the scenery, the trail heads, the hot springs, great secluded camping & of course, back road exploring.
You will need a Inyo National Forest map to discover these back roads. These are minimally traveled routes, un-maintained, sometimes washed out, eroded & maybe even creek crossings (without a bridge). Some gravel two-lane routes, some one lane roads leading deep into dead end canyons.
A few popular routes are paved, but most of these listed are indeed dirt roads. Some may require high clearance vehicle, or even 4×4. Know your vehicles limitations & be prepared to turn back when the road worsens. Cuz more often than not, it’s a sign of what more difficult terrain is to come.
Watch out for live stock – they are dumber than they look.
Owenyo Rd – Wanna parallel the highway (395) on dirt; Sure, it’s a long bumpy route – from Hwy 136 @ Dolomite to Bend City @ Mazourka Cyn.
Road# 13S05 – Mazourka Canyon Rd – leads up to some old mining camps & way behind Mazourka Peak (9410′) deep into the Inyo mountains. It’s all desert on this side, but these canyons have pinyons & more vegetation than you would imagine. Road# 9S15 & 9S14 circle Andrews Mountain (9460′) then join back up w/ Death Valley Rd (the North Pass into Saline Valley).
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest has some great dirt roads surrounding it. After you are finished with all the touristy sights & you don’t wanna spend the rest of the day in the visitors center or back at camp, try Cottonwood Canyon – full of aspens, camp sites & fishing, not cottonwood trees. 4×4 is required. Crooked Creek has boulders, boulders & more boulders. Plus some amazing camp sites with open sky views. Silver Canyon is for high clearance only, 2WD okay. This will lead you down to Laws Railroad Museum on Hwy 6, on the back side of Bishop, CA
Benton Crossing Rd (green church @ 395)
This wide road leads out to multiple dirt roads that peel off in every direction. Many Eastern Sierra Hot Springs can be found out here – on the east side of the highway. No hot spring resorts, no facilities, no clothing & very primitive.
Bishop 4×4 route Coyote Flat
Coyote Wash leads up to Coyote Flat & out to Coyote Lake. This a a spectacular high altitude plateau overlooks the Owens Valley & requires 4 wheel drive just to get up there. Pinyons, junipers, aspens, wildflower meadows, old mines, & yes, lakes at 11,000′ elevation. Views of the High Sierra & South Lake.
Buttermilk Road – This dirt road is north turn off of Hwy 168, W of Bishop, CA. “The Buttermilks” are a popular spot among rock climbers. A great place for indian petroglyphs too!
Road# 9S21 – Glacier Lodge Road – Paved road. Creek exploring & fishing. Plenty Campgrounds. W of Big Pine CA
Horseshoe Meadows Rd – Paved route with great views over Owens dry lake bed; access via Lone Pine CA; A nice day trip to meadows & High Sierra scenery. Picnic & day hike!
McMurray Meadows Rd – south off of Glacier Lodge Rd (#9S21) just W of Big Pine CA. You can find ancient cinder cone volcanoes & cave-like lava tubes in between this long dirt road & the highway.
Monache Meadows is a high elevation meadow that takes some time & determination to get to. This area is part of the Inyo National Forest, but can be accessed by either: backpacking thru the high Sierra’s or driving a high clearance vehicle thru Sequoia NF # 22S05 Sherman Pass Road, behind the Black Rock Ranger Station & Troy Meadows Campground. High clearance is needed, 4×4 maybe. Great camping sites near Olancha Peak trailhead. The area is surrounded by Golden Trout Wilderness & South Sierra Wilderness. From US Highway 395 to Kennedy Mdws & then Monache is a full day of exploring, so you may as well stay the night up there. But bring warm gear, a campfire permit & a capable vehicle.
Manzanar Routes – Back behind Manzanar Camp there are miles of dirt roads to explore. Many creeks side camp sites can be found even with a passenger car. Small trees & sage brush. Secluded camping (for free) is possible in the Eastern Sierra.
Mono Craters (Rd# 1N11) – the youngest mountain range on the continent. Just south of Mono Lake, this route skirts the pumice cones & climbs over the Aeolian Buttes, before it meets back up with Hwy 395.
Walker Creek Rd #19S01 – Oaks & creek. South of Olancha CA, look for turn off & follow dirt road up into the tight canyon.
North of Ojai, Highway 33 meets Highway 166: Ozena, Ventucopa, & New Cuyama make up the 3 small communities inside the Cuyama River Valley, located in south of the San Joaquin (California’s Central) Valley.
On the outter edge of Santa Barbara County, where Kern, San Luis Obispo & Ventura counties all meet, you can find great solitude, a large red dirt, high desert wash & plenty rural trails. Off-roading, backcountry camping, hiking, mountain biking all over this region.
Ozena Ranger Station sits at the south end of Cuyama, at the intersection of Lockwood Valley Rd & Hwy 33. Ozena Campground with 10 spots @ 3660′ elevation, is to the east off Lockwood.
Nettle Springs Campground (8 spots @ 4400′ elevation) can be accessed via Apache Canyon, a 10 mile long dirt road# 8N06, off Hwy 33
2 smaller campgrounds – Tinta and Ranch Nuevo are on the west side of Hwy 33 & may require a high clearance vehicle to reach. Trails out of these campgrounds lead to the Dick Smith Wilderness.
Chumash Wilderness is just east of Ventucopa, as Los Padres National Forest surround this agricultural valley. Quatal Canyon and Quatal Wash reach from the upper elevations of pinyon pines near Mount Able to Cuyama river bed below, as Cerro Noroeste Road skirts the northern rim of the impressive red rock canyon. Toad Spring Campground is at the top. Apache Saddle and Pine Mountain Club are just east of Quatal Cyn.
Cuyama riverbed follows Highway 33 and then turns west, following Highway 166, past the ranch lands, the volcano hills and notorious Rock Front Ranch.
All the pavement around Cuyama is very popular amongst motorcyclists. Scenic touring kinda roads. A very nice 100 mile loop trip is from Pine Mountain Club – W on Mil Potrero Hwy, W on Cerro Noroeste Rd, W on Hwy 166, S on Hwy 33, East on Lockwood Valley Road – back to Frazier Park & I-5 Lebec.
Mahutasan, the indian sweat lodge and the extremely rustic Sage Brush Annies Restaurant w/ winery are the highlights of this rural agriculture valley called Ventucopa CA. Cuyama Peak and fire lookout tower overlooks the whole Cuayama Valley & can be accessed via Santa Barbara Canyon Rd. 4×4 may be required in certain spots. This lovely oak and manzanita lined canyon was scorched by the Zaca Wildfire in mid 2007.
Dirt roads, backroads, desert trails, OHV routes, single tracks, dunes, fire roads, gravel roads, 4×4 roads
When you wanna explore a new area, California has plenty of public land to offer. Off Road Maps can get you away from the crowds & the main staging areas. Maps can show you prime areas to ride & camp that you may not have ever imagined. Secluded, wide open, or freeway close. Terrain – the endless deserts, the mountain foothills, the higher hills , way above the city. The choice is yours.
Whether you seek secluded stream side camp sites, with some fishing or a dusty, long, desert trail that spans the entire Mojave desert, you can find these secret spots with good old fashioned topographic maps. Hard copies! The real deal. No cell signal? No problem.
Awesome California locations w/ off-road trails nearby. DanaMite has compiled a list of first-hand knowledge information, links, photos, campsites, maps, all revolving around rural California. Check out the ever growing list and get ready to explore the back roads, like never before.
OHV area, motor vehicle use, 4×4 camps, dirt trails, forest routes; Download maps for various off-roading areas in California.
What the heck is it ???
4WD = 4 wheel drive
4×4 = (same as above)
2WD = 2 wheel drive
4×2 = (same as above)
AWD = All wheel drive
SUV = Sport Utility Vehicle
MTB = Mountain Bike
MX = Motocross (dirt bike motorcycle)
SNOMO = Snow Mobile (sled machine)
GAS-POWERED RECREATION: The past two decades have emerged with vehicle redesigns from well known brands, creating a number of new “utility vehicles” for the sport of off-roading (otherwise known as, burning gasoline while recreating in the outdoors). Here is a breakdown on the acronyms, but they all basically refer to much of the same “off road type vehicles”.
ATV = All Terrain Vehicle (quad)
MOHUV = Multipurpose Off-Highway Utility Vehicle
ROPS = Roll Over Protection System
ROV = Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle
RUV = Recreational Utility Vehicle
SxS = Side by Side Vehicle (2 seated)
SSV = (same as above)
UTV = Utility Task Vehicle
Common abbreviations for off-road on public lands:
OHV – Off Highway Vehicle SVRA – State Vehicular Recreation Areas BLM – Bureau of Land Management NFS – National Forest (USDA) MVUM – motor vehicle use map (NFS)
PVT – private land / keep out
MTR – motorized
RD – road
CO – county
RTE – route
SR – state route
FR – forest route / road
EXT – exit
CK – creek
EL – elevation
MT – mountain
STA – station (ranger/fire station)
PO – post office
Around 2012 the National Forest Service printed up a bunch of nice off-road maps for various popular regions of California. Oddly, they told me not to sell them and I never heard anything about them again after that. Not even sure if these above are available to the public, but if you dig around you might find ’em. Call the rangers, they might know.
If interested, you could call the ranger station and ask about any local off-road maps, and availability. Mostly they have freebie one page print-outs, black & white — to keep the crowds where they want them. Other times they might have real color, printed maps for sale at the station. Maps that can get you deeper into the terrain, with wild edges of reality nearby. 4×4 maps, OHV map, MVUM
BLM Maps (Bureau of Land Management)
Government agency that manages large amounts of California land. Public lands that do not fall into the National Forest or National Park or State Park realm. BLM oversees some mountain areas, river canyons and primarily, desert regions within California. Visit a local BLM office to see the selection of area maps.
Decent & FREE: dirt road maps can be found at BLM ranger station, south of NEEDLES, on US Hwy 95. Explore Turtle Mountain and find free camping IN ROUTE; Eastern California Desert.
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′)
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.
jeepers, gear-heads, wheelers, ‘froaders, dirt bikers, anything with a motor
Here at Total Escape we love driving on dirt back roads so much, DanaMite created a whole freaking web site about it! Whether you like to “wheel” your Jeep, truck, SUV, ATV, UTV, or an all-wheel- drive sportwagon – we have the California terrain covered. Detailing the dirt – from basic gravel roads and forest routes to High Sierra rock climbing routes; Trailheads, campsites, maps and much more. Mountains to deserts and everything in between.
If you are looking for more than a leisurely Sunday drive or a self guided back road tour, listed below are areas to “tear it up” on dirt w/ your motor bikes, machines & off road toys. Camping is common in certain spots.
CAMPS: Please be respectful of other campers and hikers; do not ride circles around camp sites, stir up dust or rev up engines at night. Choose a camp away from main roadways and access trails for a more enjoyable experience. Equestrian campers often use these same areas for meadow camping and horseback riding. A campfire permit is required.
Just looking for some dirt roads to explore – at a more leisurely pace?
Check out DanaMite’s Sequoia Back Roads list, where you can find awesome unpaved roads throughout the Sequoia Forest & Kern Canyon region. Some of these secluded routes lead to great primitive camping sites, waterfalls, fishing holes, or amazing view points, but are not necessarily popular ATV routes.
Southern Sierra Nevada
secluded camp, fishing & hiking trails
(free campground, open all year long)
South Fork of Kern River & DomeLand Wilderness
20+ miles from the nearest paved road; a remote camp on Long Valley Loop Road, off Canebrake Road. Both are dirt roads: high clearance vehicle recommended!
High Desert meets the Sierra Mountains
Back in the dry pinyon hills east of Kernville, beyond Sherman’s Pass; high above the Mojave desert and north of Canebrake & Highway 178. Long dirt roads, remote campground w/ fishing & hiking trails. Wilderness access.
These dirt back roads listed above skirt the edge of Dome Land Wilderness & Sequoia National Forest winding through BLM Land bordering the Mojave. The byway networks recreation areas between Kennedy Meadows and Canebrake, east of Lake Isabella. Eastern Kern County, California.
People come way out here for the seclusion – the peace & the quiet. Mid-week you can have the whole place to yourself. Abundant hiking trails & fishing access. Into the Dome Land Wilderness you will find incredible scenery and diverse terrain – giant granite domes, waterfall canyons, and the South Fork of the Kern River (3 mi hike to river). The infamous Pacific Crest Trail passes close to Long Valley Campground, but Chimney Creek Campground is much closer to the PCT.
Long Valley Campground
• Elevation: 5200′
• Number of Sites: 13
• Vehicle Accessibility: High Clearance Vehicle
• Facilities: picnic tables, fire rings, vault toilet
• Campsites Reservation: No
• Camp Fee: None
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: Open all year
• Operated by: BLM
• Trailheads: S. Fork Kern River & Domeland Wilderness
Recent Domeland Wild Fires:
Manter Fire (2000)
McNally Fire (2002)
2016 NOTE: The part of the LOOP of Long Valley Loop Road that connects this campground to Kennedy Meadows (to the north) is CLOSED due to a huge washout. The Long Valley campground is accessible from the south side, from Hwy 178 @ Canebrake – and requires many miles of dirt road driving. High clearance vehicles are recommended; 4×4 needed in wet weather or snow.
elevation 5800′ – Canyon Creek connects Lake Faucherie, Sawmill Lake and Bowman Reservoir in the Sierra, Tahoe National Forest. 20+ miles of backroad travel, off I-80.
While many consider Faucherie to be the most beautiful scenic lake, Sawmill Lake just downstream a couple of miles is still quite attractive – with dense forests and a granite mountain backdrop. Sawmill is especially nice for those who like to primitive camp, ouside of developed campgrounds. Way off the interstate @ Hwy 20, tucked in way back behind Bowman Lake a few miles, you can find Sawmill Lake.
Fishing and camping, kayaking and canoeing are all popular recreation around this lake. A trailhead on the northend of the lake leads out to even more alpine lakes (a day hike “lake loop” or backpacking option). The Pacific Crest Trail is also routed nearby.
No motorized boats or watercraft allowed. No boat ramps, no pavement, no picnic tables, no bathrooms, no fees.
Free Camping Lake
The north shoreline is abundant with dispersed campsites: metal fire rings and a clearing only; no picnic tables, no toilets. Self sufficient campers only. Campfire permits, a water bucket and a shovel are required. During extreme fire restrictions campfires may not be allowed. Check with local rangers for up to date info.
Most campsites are drive up and park, while others closer to the shoreline have only walk-in access. Hauling your gear down hill won’t seem unthinkable once you’ve seen the lakeside views. There is even a camp below the dam, next to the waterfall.
The main access Road #843-037 is very rocky and 4x4s love to frequent the area. The backroads here are best suite for truck travel, high clearance vehicles, off-roaders and SUVs. No small RVs or trailers. Passenger cars are not recommended. The access roads around the lake and up to the lake are dusty and rugged. The road below the dam is quite rough w/ rocks.
The water at Sawmill Lake is crystal clear snowmelt. The lakes around here are managed by Nevada Irrigation District, so this is why there are no engines allowed on the lake. This canyon area closes to public entry during winter months (NOV-APRIL), due to deep snow.
Several miles south of the town of Needles numerous desert washes cross the highway with dirt roads leading off into both directions. Turtle Mountain is just one dirt road to explore in this region, but there are many more unmarked, secluded roads. This region is perfect for “campers in-route” traveling who need a quick overnight camp spot (off the freeway).
Turtle Mountain Road is a one lane dirt road that runs next to a wash, in between Turtle Mountain Wilderness and Stepladder Mountain Wilderness. Leading approx 12 miles from US Highway 95 to the northern edge of the desert wilderness. The Turtle Mountain route continues westward to meet Water Road with Old Woman Mountain Wilderness nearby. Sunflower Springs Road continues north to Essex @ Interstate 40
BLM signage along US Hwy 95 is minimal. Look for vertical brown markers w/ reflectors, numbers or names. Driving slower than typical traffic, coast at 50 mph and keep your eyes peeled to the west side. Turtle Mountain Rd is marked at the pavement, but the marker is very small.
Eastern California Desert Wildflowers
Exploring the eastern side of Southern California, one can find the Colorado River and Arizona border region an excellent destination for winter camping. Springtime offers wildflower blooms, open camping and decent weather with sunny 70 degree days. Wildflowers and BLM beauty awaits those who venture off the paved routes.
Palo Verde trees line the washes and much vegetation can be seen throughout this remote region. Cacti include the cholla, ocotillo, barrel, beavertail, just to name a few. Wildflower blooms here are just as good as Anza Borrego Desert SP.
MARCH & APRIL are both prime months for the desert bloom
Drive more than a mile from the highway if you plan to camp in peace and quiet, as the overnight truck traffic goes all hours.
RV accessible camp spots are few and far in between. They can be found in large, level pullouts close to the main road, but you will be hearing traffic zoom by. Some dirt roads are in better shape than others; Seasonal storms in the low desert can wash out even paved roads. 4×4 may be needed in some areas.
Open camping in this desert is free and there is plenty of room to spread out. Imagine not seeing anyone pass by your camp or drive down your road for days. Camping in a sandy wash may seem appealing, but you best know the weather forecast and if rain is at all predicted nearby, be prepared to break camp (in the middle of the night) before a flash flood hits.
The Needles BLM Rangers Office is located on US Hwy 95, on the south edge of town and they can provide maps and more information.
Needles BLM Office
1303 S. US Hwy 95
Needles, CA 92363
Lake Havasu BLM Office
2610 Sweetwater Avenue
Lake Havasu City, AZ 86406
Since sport utility vehicles were invented for California yuppies, it makes perfect sense that this California market also has the awesome terrain to use these rugged rigs. After the first shopping cart door ding or windshield crack, most folks are open to taking their utilitarian vehicles on dirt roads, but some will only dream about it.
Here at Total Escape, we are here to change all that. The fear of outdoors, the unknown, the capability, the driving skill. Your SUV is a good reason to be outdoors in the golden state, at bare minimum. No excuses. Enjoy the California you never knew – and sometimes that means getting off the pavement. Yes, more than 2 miles.
SUV trail – any path, dirt road or route that can be driven on; high clearance vehicle are often necessary, 4×4 needed on occasion. National Forests, canyons, deserts, mountains, country lane style drives, some classic routes skirt the wilderness boundaries. We have it all for ya here. Rock crawling Rubicon adventures, all the way down to the leisurely ‘Sunday drive’ thru a forest to a meadow for a picnic.
Dust, dirt, mud, snow. Beyond the county line, way back there, where you can discover ghost towns, old mines in the desert, hot springs, historic lodges, petroglyphs, river gorges, fire lookouts, waterfalls, and so much more.
South Big Sur Coast Dirt Roads & super scenic US HWY 1 – North of San Simeon and Hearst Castle, north of Ragged Point and just past Gorda, CA a dirt shoulder, widens, a break in the bushes on the right side of the highway, a small wooden sign for the Yurt Resort called Treebones and the turn off to the back-country of Los Padres National Forest Road #23S01
Willow Creek is a steep coastal canyon w/ Willow Creek Trail #5E08 in the creek below and the dirt road 1000′ above. Willow Creek Day Use Area, the Willow Creek bridge and Willow Creek beach w/ restrooms, picnic tables, and paved parking lot near the highway.
DIRT ROAD, high clearance is recommended, but not required. 4×4 may be needed in wet weather. Motorhomes, trucks w/ trailers and RV campers are not gonna like this rugged, narrow, steep, dirt road and are advised to stick to the pavement. Camper vans and SUVs are be better suited for this terrain.
Several primitive camp sites can be found along this rugged dirt road, which climbs steeply and switchbacks thru redwoods, madrones, cedars, grass lands and oak hills. Sites within the first 3 miles of this road offer the serene sounds of the ocean – waves, seals, sea lions as well as traffic on the busy highway. There are a few private properties back here in the boonies too, so read signs and don’t go exploring this region in the dark.
About 8 miles back on Willow Creek Rd is Alder Creek Campground – a small developed camp w/ only 2 camp sites and no piped water and no fees.
Prewitt Ridge also has numerous ideal top-of-the-world, free camp sites, which do require a lot more dirt road driving and a very good backcountry map.
Sycamore Flat Road intersects @ 3 miles up
Alder Peak Camp is San Martin Top @ 12 miles up
South Coast Ridge Road is at the very top @ 14 miles
Kern County is known for its oil, its agriculture, and outdoor recreation. The Kern River is the highlight of the region with lush, green and grey granite canyons, a big reservoir & the Sequoia trees just up the road. On the western side of Kern County are small towns like Frazier Park, the golfing cabin community of Pine Mountain Club, plus the oil meccas of Maricopa and Taft. Expansive Lockwood Valley enters into Ventura County. Cuyama River borders Santa Barbara & SLO counties.
The 17 mile long Quatal Canyon, where the indian camp of Mahu Tasen hosts a Bear Dance every summer is also a wild place of bird watching, camping and hunting. The indian word for Mount Pinos is “Iwihinmu” – a sacred spot for Chumash Indians, as well as others; Chumash call it the ‘center of the world’. Locals respond regularly with music, hikes, star gazing, drum circles (seasonally) and local festivals (annually) .
Open car camping is allowed in several places inside Cleveland National Forest, although NO campfires are permitted in the backcountry (trailside or dirt roads) – due to the high fire danger. Your best for FREE, open, dispersed camping (with a campfire) is Anza Borrego Desert State Park. Lower elevations w/ summertime temperature can get very hot, so plan for higher elevation camps. The more you explore, the more you can find.
small campgrounds and secluded camps, accessible by dirt bikes or 4-wheel drive vehicles
4×4 camping in California
Okay, you got your 4 wheel drive vehicle dirty, it is now several years old & maybe you even have a scratch or two. Now is the time to finally start using that beast for real off road adventures. The real edge-of-wilderness trips you dream about when your sitting in your cubical wondering what life is really about. Fishing, camping, off roading and enjoying nature, of course!
4×4 camping in California is plentiful. California has trails for OHV use – which means ‘off highway vehicle’, that can accommodate your machine. These remote camps are always primitive camp sites, with picnic tables, fire rings & maybe a pit toilet (if you are lucky). You can find total seclusion on these back roads & trails, well away from the developed campgrounds & RV parks.
Anza Borrego Desert 4×4 Trails – pretty much everywhere in Borrego desert is off road heaven. Minimal pavement and maximum desert means dirt road galore, white sandy washes, slot canyons, badlands, wind caves, wildflowers, petroglyphs, boulder outcroppings, old railroad trestles and so much more. The San Diego desert elevations range from near sea level to 4000′ on the eastern slopes of Laguna Mountain.
San Bernardino National Forest – has a few trail camps for 4×4 enthusiasts. John Bull Trail (near Holcomb Valley) has one real awesome spot with great views over the desert night lights. Holcomb Creek Trail also has a few spots near the creek. Overall this area is somewhat crowded for wheelin’ (especially on the weekends), as the population is so dense nearby.
Los Padres National Forest – the most 4×4 camping readily accessible to Southern California. Tis is the best kept secret for Angelinos wanting an escape. The southern portion of the forests has Tecuya Ridge #9N22, with several camps only minutes from I-5. Out west, Cerro Noroeste Road has the Blue Ridge & Quatal Canyon #9N09. Hwy 166 leads to Miranda Pines towering above the fields of Santa Maria & so much more. 2 OHV parks in the area: Hungry Valley & Ballinger both serve the OHV crowds. The northern section of Los Padres (near Big Sur) has plenty of dirt roads & primitive camps, but none are truly 4×4 routes, as most can be accessed easily with a passenger car.
Sequoia National Forest– Southern Sierra Nevada area has 4×4 camping right along the Kern River, near Keyesville, at the junction where Hwy 178 meets Hwy 155. Also, further up the Kern, Forest Rd#22S82 leads to primitive Camp 4, where there are several spots near granite pools, that can only be accessed by 4 wheel drive.
Sierra National Forest– central Sierra forest has plenty of 4×4 routes that lead to granite rock gardens & mighty fine, secluded, forested camp sites. Gorgeous Red Lake & Coyote Lake are popular spots that require some technical skills & much patience to access. Both are frequented by fishermen & horses. Bald Mountain trailhead has awesome creekside camps on Rock Creek. Up near Wishon Reservoir is the dead end trail of Spanish Lake. Onion Springs Meadow is awesome back behind Edison Lake. Near the granite wonderland Courtright Reservoir is the infamous Dusy Trail signed #28E34 (aka #7S32, the Dusy Ershim), second only to the Rubicon Trail for high Sierra granite.
Stanislaus National Forest– camping in the Crandall & Niagara Creek OHV section of the forest, right off Hwy 108. Elevations range from 5000′-7000′. Higher up on the other side, Levitt Lake (access road near Levitt Falls) on the east end of the mountain range, east of the Sonora Pass sign.
El Dorado National Forest – has the area called Rock Creek for off roading in the Gold Country. Plus the ever popular Rubicon Trail starts hear (near Georgetown) & leads 20 miles across the High Sierra Nevada granite slabs to Lake Tahoe.
Lakes Basin Recreation Area – Northern Gold County, just above the Yuba River. Gold Lake has many campable lakes. The area sees a lot of snowmobile traffic during winter snows, but warmer months are the time for fishing and camping. Most of the big lakes have small developed campgrounds, some are minimal, or primitive style camp sites on dirt roads without facilities. Maybe a picnic table at most.
Smith Lake is a place that fishermen and 4×4 love. It is small, secluded and kinda hard to find. You’ll need a good topo map of the region. Situated on the border of Tahoe and Plumas National Forest off the Gold Lake Hwy (aka Road #24). The PCT cuts thru this Lakes Basin area w/ Sierra Buttes There are dirt roads and off road trails leading deep into the backcountry from the Packer Lake and Gold Lake areas.
Plumas National Forest – out near Quincy, somewhere off the long and winding La Port Road, a few decent 4WD trails thru forest. Access ridge lines or the big river. Great fishing, amazing scenery & very secluded.
(north of La Porte Road)
– Feather River access
@ Cleghorn Bar Campground, 4 campsites (Road #23N24)
@ Stag Point Campground, 5 campsites (Road #22N80Y)
@ Hartman Bar NRT to Dan Beebe Camp (Road 94 to #22N42Y)
(south of La Porte Road)
– Poker Flat Camp near Sawmill Ridge & Table Rock (Road 800)
This coastal range is dirt road heaven, graded dirt roads, ridge routes, hiking trails, equestrian trails, big lakes, small lakes, creeks, meadows, forests, wilderness and 4×4 routes. Snow can be the most fun and challenging for the 4WD crews. Mud, snow, some road closures seasonally. South of Snow Mountain Wilderness, plenty off road trails leading to peaks and ridge lines. Numerous small campgrounds to choose from, trailheads everywhere, acres and acres of wild mountainous areas, and a lake resort nearby. Lake Pillsbury is kinda the center of all the 4×4 action in Mendo.