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.
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
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.
More & more people are venturing off the beaten path. Tourist flocks to Gold Country, and many do not even leave Highway 49. Get up the mountains, higher than the foothills.
Getting outta the developed campgrounds to discover the joys of dispersed back woods camping is a new adventure, not to be taken lightly.
With truck or SUV ownership come some great rewards! Order a good map & go find some dirt roads. Waterfalls, dense forests, secluded creekside camp sites & more await you. Obtaining a camp fire permit is mandatory for this style of camping.
Campfires are often banned in California, due to extreme wildfire danger. Since the gold mining foothills are usually oak and dry grass, with large steep river canyons, extra caution should be given. Always know the fire conditions before you build a campfire.
Discover the hidden back roads: like Caldor Road off of Grizzly Flat Rd. – above Placerville CA
Hey, now this is what we’re talking about. Plenty of great dispersed camping down by the Cosumnes River & Consumnes Mine Rd. There are hundreds of miles of small roads to discover back behind this historic mining area. Rivers, waterfalls & decent fishing too. Make sure you clean up some litter. This is the only price you pay for the beauty, serenity, peace & quiet & no neighbor campers next to you.
Out exploring these parts, you may run into a dead end road that peters out at some Private Property, which is usually signed & fenced. Make nice with the old crazy miner dude & turn your ass around politely, everything will be okay as soon as you are not within gun shot of him. Yes, there still are plenty of small time mining experts tucked away back here in the hills.
Plenty creeks and rivers run throughout this central Sierra region, so you can fish all day – until your hearts desire. River rafting and river kayaking opportunities are also great reasons to get wet.
Several mountain reservoirs around offer camping and boating too. Eldorado lakes are listed below.
Inyo Forest Campgrounds – Eastern Sierra Campgrounds
areas include: Lone Pine, Mount Whitney, Independence, Onion Valley, Ancient Bristlecone Pines, Big Pine, Bishop [Hwy 168], High Sierra, Owens River, Lake Crowley, Rock Creek, Mammoth Lakes [Hwy 203], June Lake Loop [Hwy 158], Lee Vining & East Yosemite National Park [Hwy 120]. Camping on Eastern Sierra Highway 395
Eastern Sierra recreation – backpacking, horse packing, day hiking, creek fishing, mountain biking, mountaineering, rock climbing
Listed below are Inyo National Forest campgrounds, County Parks, BLM public camps for outdoor recreation. Many campgrounds are closed for winter months. Blue links lead to more camp information. Boldface links to detailed information & photos on campground.
Amazing autumn colors can be found through OCTOBER and NOVEMBER in California, but you’ll need to leave the city in order to find the very best colors and scenic beauty. Fall season happens quickly (within weeks) in the high country and slower (months) in the lowlands. Plenty canyons and parks in the urban centers have hiking trails thru some nice trees, but nothing compares to the backroads, creeks and rivers of the big mountains.
Elevations, the higher the better, is where you’ll find the real displays of color. Aspen groves can be found along mountain slopes, creek canyons from 5000′-10,000′ in elevation. Cottonwood trees are found in the drier regions, in ranching areas and in desert canyons – up to about 6000′ elevation. Aspen trees start to turn yellow as soon as the chill of nights drop; if the temperature shift is subtle, the aspen leaves become more orange as the days go into the fall season. If an early snow or freeze happens, just one night, the glorious foliage becomes dead brown crispies dangling in the wind.
CAMP FIRE RESTRICTIONS are still be in place from the dry summer, and now comes the autumn winds. Any decent amount of rain can change the fire burn status, so make sure to check with the rangers for up-to-date fire info.
Best Autumn Campgrounds in California
Many of these campgrounds are located in or near aspen groves & are simply spectacular during the fall months. Some may be located near alder groves. Maple trees located along rivers turn golden between September and October.
Higher elevation (7000′-9000′) colors will change faster and earlier in the year (as soon as September), whereas the lower countryside may wait until late October.
Pack warmly, cuz the cooler temps at night (20-30 degrees) is what makes these awesome, little autumn leaves change colors. The change can happen very fast (in days). When the early season snows move in – usually a minimal dusting by October, fall colors can fade fast.
The Eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada is the ‘place to be’ for Autumn Colors in California. The dramatic desert meets the tallest granite peaks. Every canyon is a different scene, many lakes lined with aspen groves, some have a creek with aspens.
North Lake Campground
Lake Sabrina Road
Bishop Pass (high country hikes)
Lee Vining, CA
Lee Vining Canyon / Hwy 120
One of the biggest aspen grove canyons in the state of California.
NFS Campgrounds in Lee Vining Canyon: Big Bend, Aspen Grove, Boulder, Moraine, and Cattleguard Campground.
NFS Camps @ Yosemite’s EAST GATE (9000′ elev): Ellery Lake, Junction, Saddlebag Lake, and Sawmill Campground.
Impressive Rock Creek Road #4S12 in Rock Creek Canyon, one of the very best “Scenic Autumn Drives” in the whole Eastern Sierra. Numerous NFS Campgrounds on this road; many of which close for the season, just about the time then fall colors peak.
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.
• Elevation: 7600′
• Number of Sites: 28
• Vehicle Accessibility: RV 22′
• Camp Fee: Yes
• Campsites Reservation: Yes
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: May – September
• Trailheads: McGee Creek, John Muir Wilderness
Mc GEE CREEK CAMP is located –
8 miles north of Mammoth Lakes exit
4 miles from Lake Crowley
2 miles from McGee Creek Canyon trailhead
Aspen trees line McGee Creek that flows down from the Eastern Sierra peaks. Autumn is short and sweet, when the fall colors come and go – usually within a week or two. First snow fall of the season is generally in October and the camp closes for the winter season.
Located about a mile away from Highway US 395 in the wide open high desert. Sage meadows w/ minimal trees at camp. USFS has built shade structures for each camp site, so your time here is not spent in direct sunlight. Summer can get hot and it can also be quite windy at this location.
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.
Kern River is a top recreation destination for the lower half of the state, since it is the only big Sierra river within easy reach of Southern California.
Lower mountain elevations 2000-4000′ means camping all year is possible on the Kern. With only a few inches of rainfall, plus an average high temperature of 60 degrees in December & January, Kernville has become a year-round recreation destination for the Southern Sierra Nevada mountains. Kern Canyon and most surrounding mountains are managed by USDA: Sequoia National Forest, which extends south to the Tehachapi range!
Sierra Nevada ROAD CLOSURES during winter restricts that Kern Canyon is only accessible via the Hwy 178 route. Both the Western Divide Highway (to the north) and Sherman’s Pass Road (to the east) close for many months, due to snow. (typically, NOV-APRIL closure)
Popular Kern Recreation – backpacking, camping, fishing, hiking, river rafting, kayaking, rock climbing, mountain biking, off-roading & floating (inner tubing).
Kern River can be divided into 5 different & distinct regions:
Kern River High Country
headwaters of the Kern River.
High Sierra, Golden Trout Wilderness, Kern Hot Springs, Mount Whitney snowmelt, Kern Gorge. foot access only, wilderness backcountry. fishing, day hikes, backpacking, rock climbing, mountaineering, horse packs.
backpackers & fishing trailheads
Big parking lot at the bridge. trails travel rivers edge into a tight canyon, impressive rock gorge continues up to the tallest mountain peaks in the High Sierra.
RINCON CAMP – The Rincon Fault (an earthquake faut line) runs in a north-south direction, on the east side of Kern River. Popular and rugged RINCON, a dirt bike and mountain bike trail runs this ridge as well. An overgrown hunters camp (which has been almost destroyed) is located up hill from Brush Creek falls; but accessible via unmaintained dirt road – unsigned pull out, just off Shermans’ Pass Road. High clearance vehicle is needed to reach this spot.
This part of the river sees much of the action, with kayakers, river rafters, fishermen, RVs, motorcycles, mountain bikers, backpackers and campers, seeking easy river access, hiking trailheads or just a good picnic spot.
Numerous small lodges between Kernville & Johnsondale
Brush Creek: awesome waterfalls & pools on Brush Creek, only accessible by hiking trail.
Rincon Trail runs above the river on the east side, via the Rincon earthquake fault. This is right where Brush Creek comes down the steep mountain. RINCON is favorite mountain biking trail, that is also open to dirt bikes (OHV) & equestrian, so share the trail and play nice. Rincon Camp is rugged, may be overgrown and unmaintained. Long dirt road might require high clearance vehicle or possible 4×4, if weather is wet.
Huge recreational reservoir in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains. Dry and high desert terrain. Canyons have more vegetation. East part of lake is a wildlife refuge w/ abundant cottonwood trees, which turn golden yellow in Autumn.
The earthen dam is on the south westside. California State Route 178 (Hwy 178), which connects Mojave desert w/ Bako. This major east-west Sierra route is a four-laner (freeway) cutting thru the valley. EXIT# intersects w/ CA 155 to reach Alta Sierra, Wofford Heights, Kernville and all place north of there.
Minimal to modest campsites in the lower canyon. Most seclusion for overnight spots, can be found along the empty stretches of the Old Kern Canyon Road. Many curvy mountain miles, one lane, paved, several flat spots for easy road-side camping. Caution for cattle in roadway. Speed limit is generally under 40 mph for this historic route which parallels the 178, in between Lake Isabella and Bako.
California meadow is a common term people search for when dreaming of their mountain retreat vacation or upcoming weekend camping trip.
Meadows are places in the forest where cool air collects and settles. Deer among other wildlife, can often be found here grazing around dawn and dusk. Alpine meadows are usually surrounded by trees with lush green grasses, located at higher altitudes above 6000′ – the ‘highcountry’ as most like to say.
Find meadows on National Forest lands from 3000-10,000′ elevation, and it is not uncommon to see cattle grazing in these same regions. California National Parks have some of the most protected meadows in the golden state!
MT SAGE – mountain sage meadows
High desert mountains have drier landscapes, with large sage brush meadows surrounded by sparse pinon pine and/or juniper forest. The Mojave desert’s sagebrush reaches out westward to the peaks of West Kern County. High deserts and mountain meadows can both have significant wildflower blooms. The deserts start to show color in March & April, while the highest elevations of the Sierra Nevada can bloom as late as July & August. All California Wildflowers depend on autumn seasonal rains & snow melt.
The best places to find secluded wildflower meadows is on the high country trails of various mountains – Mount Pinos, Sierra Nevada, Shasta, Trinity & Lassen – all have marvelous meadows, some have easy access w/ parking nearby and others are hike-in only. Locate hiking trailheads for meadows and possibly find camp nearby.
Excellent near Meadows:
Stargazing, Wildflowers, Wildlife Viewing, Horse Camping
Explore dirt back roads of California to find your very own meadow. If you would like to explore at this level, a good topo map is highly advised. The Sierra Nevada mountains have the most beautiful meadows in the state (by far). Their scenery w/ granite outcroppings and wild flowers, surpasses all else. Although on rare occasions, even the Antelope Valley can look amazing — with poppies.
Mountain Meadows are sacred spaces: Do not disturb the lush, grassy landscape, as wildlife rely on these areas for survival.
No driving on meadows. No camping on meadows; No Campfires; Camp next to (or nearby), but not on top of the meadow. Picnicking should be kept on the sidelines.
Stay on designated dirt roads: No tires across the meadow; No mountain biking, No dirt bikes, No off roading. You’re not spreading the seeds, you’re destroying a fragile ecosystem.
Ranch FENCING w/ barbed-wire is quite common around meadows, to keep cattle out of certain problem areas. Fences also help keep the wandering public out of private lands or sensitive areas.
When hiking – stay out of the muddy spots and know that if you choose to hike directly across meadow, you may encounter water and deep, sinking mud. HINT: There is usually a shallow creek running through most meadows, during all times of the year.
Winter snow usually blankets these fragile areas in winter, and when deep enough – making this terrain prime destinations for snowmobilers.
Sugarloaf Ridge, Greenhorn Mts
Alta Sierra, Kern River Canyon
SOUTH SIERRA: This route is located in between the Western Divide Highway and the cedar community of Alta Sierra, CA
Sugarloaf Ridge: Forest Rd# 23S16 – Thompson Camp Spring, The Den @ Sequoia National Forest
Driving north on Sierra Hwy N of Kernville, California; Passing Fairview & the Johnsondale bridge; After the R Ranch @ Johnsondale, take the left fork on the main highway; After you climb in elevation, look for brown signs on right side of road & turn left on Forest Service Rd# 23S16. Primitive camp sites are located throughout this area along Packsaddle Creek. Do not turn left up Sugarloaf Rd. There are no good camp sites up that way (unless you wanna make one).
RV campers are very common at Thompson Camp Spring, as this road is paved up to this point. The paved road is windy & narrows after this point. It is not advised for trailers or long motorhomes past Thompson.
For the more adventurous, Bear Meadow & Packsaddle Mdw are located up the dirt road a bit on #23S64.
Paved Sequoia route# 23S16 continues to climb, which leads to the Speas Meadow, the Greenhorn Mountains & you best have a real good map if you are heading up this way. 20 miles of awesome open meadows, small streams, dense forest, wildflowers, some primitive camp sites & great viewpoints overlooking the Kern Canyon. All passenger car accessible! Elevations between 6000-7000′. Sugarloaf Peak has cross country skiing.
Side route #23S05 will take you to White River Campground w/ 12 spots. The paved road winds west down the mountain to Posey & eventually Glennville on Hwy 155.
Instead, to easily reach Hwy 155 – you’ll need to get on dirt for a few miles. While on 23S16, look for the Panorama Campground (@ 7400′ elevation w/ 10 sites). Take dirt road #24S15 to get back to civilization @ Alta Sierra, California.
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.
Clear cool stream waters flow from snow melt at 10,000′ elevation, down to these pristine camps at under 4000′ on both sides of the Sierra. The further you drive up the mountain, the better it gets. Where the Eastern Sierra side tends to be more dramatic desert like with sage brush, the western range is much more lush with ferns & dense trees.
Everyone dreams of it. The perfect camp, along the creek. Maybe a waterfall or two, a shady hammock spot & plenty of trees, a flat tent spot, maybe a view. A big, sturdy, rock fire ring (without a bunch of broken glass in it).
This dreamy camp isn’t only in your imagination, nor is it at the local county campground a few miles from home. This kinda beauty & rare finds are out there, deep in the back woods, the mountains. You gotta know where to look & what to bring in order to have a good, easy, relaxing time.
These secluded sites really are around in your favorite forest, way back there. Best of all, they are free.
Having the opportunity to camp in your very own private, secluded spot, along dirt roads, outside of the annoying rules and fees of a developed campground is a privilege. Use these lands wisely and be a responsible camper. Camp eco-wise! Respecting the land, knowing some basics and following fire safety precautions is all mandatory. A topographic hiking map or a National Forest map is optional, but highly recommended.
Creek water can make an easy refrigerator if the cooler is full. Chill that bottle of wine, keep the watermelon cool .. just don’t forget about it. (cuz that kinda litter maybe a welcomed good surprise for the next camper.) Secure your wet creek valuables. Even a heavy watermelon can float! Put some rocks around items or tye them in a mesh bag, with rope, something to keep them from getting away in the swift water.
There is nothing that beats a good detailed forest map of where you are going. If you are the type of person who can never make a straight B-line for home on Sunday afternoon, and find yourself wandering just for the sake of wandering – then it’s best to have a larger state wide map like this beauty from Benchmark Maps.
If you are the kinda sport who can really rough it, you may learn to love it. After your first real back woods camping experience, the privacy, serenity and beauty of the land will inspire and relax you so much, that the drawback on the lack of toilet won’t bother you.
Make a new hobby of learning how to stay away from the crowds. The less cars you see at camp, the better. Learn to be immersed within nature and enjoy your space outside. Unwind, next to the creek in the shade, with a chair and read for hours, or bring the sketchbook, or just daydream as butterflies go floating by.
Remember to be camp clean, California is black bear country.
capable vehicle – SUV or Truck, high clearance is best. 4×4 is NOT required. AWD wagons should be more cautious when venturing out on the back roads. 2WD is fine for most graded dirt roads, but way out exploring dirt roads, deep mud and snow is quite possible.
destination – Pick a locale. A general area you wanna check out. Not a quickie overnight deal, but an enjoyable lazy multi-day camping trip.
exploration – Narrow down a canyon or river that you have always wanted to explore. The Sierra Nevada & NorCal is the place to concentrate your efforts, as SoCal is near desert climate w/ way too much development.
The more homework you do before hand, the better chances of finding that secret camp spot, especially on holiday weekends. Go ahead & call the forest rangers. Have your decent topo maps handy, along with pen and paper. That’s what they are there for. Have a list of questions on specific areas you want more info on. If you do the prep work well in advance, it makes a more enjoyable camp trip. Cuz you’ll be less worried about finding the ultimate places (before dark, or before the other guy does). With your new profound Wilderness Vision, you will have not only a plan B ready, but a plan C as well.
what to look for:
getting permits – If you really wanna camp like this, all secluded on the dirt back roads without the hordes of other campers nearby…. you’ll need a capable vehicle, a camp fire permit & the understanding of the concept “totally self sufficient campers”. This means bringing your own water, a bucket, a shovel, maybe some firewood, plus packing out all your own garbage, plus any litter left over by the last campers. It’s the least you can do, not having to make reservations. Visit the FireSafe page
it’s on your map – After you have a general area narrowed down, some place you always wanted to go, then it’s time to get your maps out & start reading them. Or at least staring at them – maybe over a meal, whenever you have free time to study it. Look for dirt roads, the further off the paved roads is not necessarily the better. Some of the best camp sites are within a few short miles from the pavement, so get them maps out & start visualizing.
gas up – Make sure you fuel your vehicle before you head into remote areas (like the ones we are mentioning). Maybe even an extra can of gasoline too, just in case.
the blue lines – You’ll know a decent road when you see it. When you start planning at home, you need to concentrate of what dirt roads are along what water sources. And will these streams be flowing at this time of year? Many are seasonal creeks & can dry up in summer. The most likely place to find great water flow is to look for the streams flowing directly into a major river or Lake/ Reservoir.
Are you willing to clean up your camp, before & after, leaving it pristine?
Yes indeed, it is free to camp outside of developed campgrounds.
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.
• Elevation: 5,500′
• Number of Sites: 10 walk-in camp sites
• Reservations: No
• Sites Available: First come, First serve
• Vehicle Accessibility: No RVs
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Water: River nearby
• Toilet: Vault
• Bear Boxes: Yes
• Trailheads: Tule River; Moses Mountain; Golden Trout
• Season: Closed for winter months
• Fee: Yes
• Operated By: National Forest Service
• Closest Town: Springville, California
tent camping on river
Motorhome RV campers beware; no hook-ups, no paved roads. This is a primitive style camp, way back on a dirt road – not suitable for large vehicles.
NOTE $ This used to be FREE CAMPING, but they recently started charging an overnight fee for this campground.
Golden Trout Wilderness is closeby. Plenty of hiking opportunities, great scenery and several Sequoia groves to visit. Mountain biking is allowed on the dirt roads. Single track trails may be overgrown or even off-limits, due to the fragile eco-system around Sequoia trees.
Both Moses Gulch and Hidden Falls are accessible via a long, narrow, paved mountain road; then a dirt road, leading 3 miles back to the remote reaches of the Wilderness edge.
western south sierra
North of Springville on Highway 190, turn left (north) on to J37, some call it Balch Park Road (Google Maps has it as Wagner Drive) and follow it up 3.5 miles to Bear Creek Road (#220). Drive 17.5 miles on curvy Bear Creek Road, turn right and follow signs to campground.
Last night the town of Oroville, California was evacuated due to an emergency at the dam. Downriver – Gridley, Marysville & Yuba City were also evacuated. And the evacuation has not yet been lifted. So today, I went for a hike over at Foreman Creek, which joins the Lake Oroville Reservoir – directly east of the dam.
The waters edge is super high, coming up the paved access road and drowning the green grassy canyon and trees. A gaggle of geese greeted me and then swam away. I looked for the helicopters that were supposed to be working on the tallest dam in the nation. Nothing!
Although I did hear the crews working on the opposite side of the lake, I could not see them. I did not bring my binoculars, nor my tripod. Bummer.
I sat down on the road with my Nikon Coolpix camera and began to use the digital zoom feature, which sometimes works. I had to use my knee to balance the camera so my shots would not be blurry.
The geese decided to come back into view. With the zoom feature of my camera, I was able to make out the work vehicles that were parked on the Oroville Dam. These are the best shots of the day. Click to expand images.
On my way back to the car I started to hear helicopters, more than one – so I do know that the crews are working hard on a plan to fix the dam. All through the night 24/7, plugging the holes on the damaged spillway with rock, boulders, debris, cement, metal, whatever they can. Timing is crucial now, cuz more rain is due in later this week!
Several local creeks and 4 forks of the Feather River empty into Lake Oroville. Count ’em FOUR!
We’ve had 20 something inches of rain recently in the North Sierra Nevada mountains, so this winter is helping drought conditions in NorCal, but also putting major pressure on California’s reservoirs. Recent warm storms melted snowpack at higher elevations (Lassen), which is why the dam is currently maxed out.
Geese swim by, with work crews on the dam in the background.
Construction materials, including plastics, have come a long way since 1968. Trucks seen rolling thru town this week include: double trailer semi rigs “rock trucks”, cement trucks, and flatbeds w/ kwik bond polymers, by the ton, coming from outta state.
Oddly, DWR – Department of Water Resources, does not mention the POLYMERS, or shall we say “plastics”, in the recent news updates.
“Rock, aggregate and cement slurry are being used to repair and backfill the affected areas.” (02/17/2017)
There are many gorgeous rivers in California that are perfect for camping and fishing, but none are located in Southern California. None! Yep, you read that right. If you think about it, the golden state is about half desert! The majority of our natural water in our state is coming from the north – so take this as a warning: you might need to drive a few hours to find your ideal river camp.
The easy-to-access waterways are found mostly along highways in the Sierra Nevada – or way up in NorCal. Deep granite gorges carved out by glaciers, surrounded by forested peaks is only half the appeal. High elevation lakes, waterfalls, big trees, abundant wildlife, and the alpine villages are all part of the Sierra Nevada experience. Raft, kayak, fly fish, hike, bike or just camp out next to a big, rushing, flowing river. Our selection of California maps will get you narrowed down to a specific region, so you can find that perfect river campground, or explore and discover the back roads – for the most seclusion.
KERN RIVER: The Kern River is one of the most popular of all the Sierra rivers due to its proximity to SoCal. Hurried, stressed-out, Angelinos (LA) can be at this destination in under 3 hours – which makes it a very busy place most months.
So, let it be told, that summer is not the best time to enjoy the Kern. If you do plan a summer outting, make sure you head for the Upper Kern (10+ mi N of Kernville & Lake Isabella) or the North Fork of the Kern (out in Monache Meadows) where 4×4 is often needed.
The Lower Kern River has only 2 developed campgrounds: Hobo (closed for damage 2019) andSandy Flat (open all year). Numerous primitive camp spots are available along Old Kern Canyon Rd, which parallels the Hwy 178 on the south side. None of which are located at the rivers edges. Remington Hot Springs is a popular spot for soaking. Fishing trails, mountain biking trails and hiking trails, all over. Fire danger is great in this area, so pay extra close attention to signs and fire restrictions.
Kern River above Lake Isabella and Kernville is a better choice for camping availability.
Everybody loves Yosemite! This is the most popular park in the whole state. The majority of campers want to stay “right on the river” when they visit Yosemite NP, but that is just plain old impossible, since reservations go fast and there is only so much room for everyone in this enclosed, narrow, precious valley. This particular park has some major floods (1997 & 2005) that wiped out bridges, road ways; all the old wooden cabins (at Yosemite Lodge) are gone and only half of the campgrounds are still available. Yosemite has had 11 winter floods since 1916 that have caused substantial damage to property. That number is expected to increase, as winter precipitation is getting less predictable.
Reservations are taken for camping and cabins – far in advance; like one year. No joke!
3 Yosemite Campgrounds are located next to the Merced River (inside spectacular Yosemite Valley)
Way up in the Yosemite high country, which is only open a few months outta the year, the beautiful Tuolumne Meadows Campground is located next to lush meadows and the scenic Tuolumne River. All Yosemite campsites must be reserved well in advance, so visit links above – if you are serious about a Yosemite camping trip anytime soon.
MOKELUMNE RIVER: Way up the road, deep in the western Sierra, Gold Country. Small NFS campgrounds, right on the river; Access is long paved, switch back roads, not suitable for RVs or trailers.
STANISLAUS RIVER: The Sonora Pass, the fishing is very decent way back in this granite gorge. Highway 108 is only open a few months outta the year, due to snow & rock slides – so time is of the essence. Summer time is prime vacation weather up here. Several campgrounds are located right on the river, or on the major feeder streams. Or you can opt for secluded primitive camping on the back roads. Find Sonora camping in Stanislaus National Forest.
YUBA RIVER: The biggest play time river in the northern Gold Country, this runs along Hwy 49 near Downieville and also has a major South Fork for the best swimming holes and primitive camping in this region. Tubing, rafting, kayaking, fishing, camping, gold panning, you name it, Yuba has it. Look for more on the South Yuba Recreation Map, or the USDA issued Tahoe National Forest Map
FEATHER RIVER: Top fishing river in the Lassen to Oroville area. Chester and Lake Almanor in the upper reaches. High Bridge Campground is nice paved-camp-site camping; a forested spot where you can fish 2 rivers on the same day. A Plumas NF or Lassen NF map would be quite helpful for this region. Lower down the mountain, lower Feather Rivers which include all 4 forks which feed Lake Oroville – West Fork (Paradise, CA), North Fork, Middle Fork Feather, (Berry Creek, CA) and the South Fork (Lumpkin). Lots of waterways and creeks worth exploring in between Chico and the mountain town of Quincy.
KINGS RIVER: This one particular river is the longest in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, pulling snow melt from the upper reaches of the High Country and Mount Whitney. The river area just to the West of the National Park, over to Pine Flat Reservoir, is all prime for outdoor recreation. Several river rafting companies work this stretch of river.
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.