Best View Camp Sites

view campsite

Great Overlooks for Camping

Best View Camp Site in California 

Overlook Camps, View Spot Camp Sites

This list is comprised of primitive camp sites and developed campgrounds with views overlooking a large area (valley, town, canyon, desert, river, ocean). Many ideal spots may require dirt road driving, and a few might need a 4-wheel drive vehicle to reach.

Prewitt Ridge, Big Sur Coast

This is by far the best, free coastal camping on the Central Coastline of Big Sur. Dirt roads traverse 10 miles out to vacant ridges overlooking the Pacific, with steep hills down to the highway. Camp above the fog layer and above the crowds. Explore the beaches during the day, and camp above the traffic & crowds at night.

Dry brush is abundant on the mountains of Los Padres National Forest. Camp fire restrictions should be of utmost concern in this area, since wildfires burn here often. Camp fire permits are required for camping on the back roads, and much of the time camp fires are banned in this region. Call ahead to the rangers to find out the current conditions.

Swinger

Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park
Big Sur Coastline

Two prime walk-in camp sites, on a shady point, high above a beach cove w/ scenic waterfall. Called “environmental camps” these highly desirable spots need advanced reservations w/ fees many months in advance. Tables, fire rings and a vault toilet. Bare bones basics, but the ideal location is worth it. A forested cliff on the edge of the ocean, high above a secluded cove. This location a can get windy if a storm moves in (generally October – March).

Los Padres National Forest

Kirk Creek Campground
on Highway 1 @ Nacimiento Rd
Big Sur CA

Willow Creek Road # 23S01
primitive camping on dirt road, above Hwy 1 @ Gorda, CA

sunset watch

Reyes Peak Camping
North of Ojai, CA
Pine Mountain Summit, CA Hwy 33

Off Cerro Noroeste Road, W of Pine Mountain, CA

Above Santa Maria, Highway 166
West of New Cuyama, CA

  • Miranda Pines Campground @ 4100′ elev
    Located well off hwy. on Road #32S13

San Bernardino National Forest
Toro Peak Campground

toro_campsite

Angeles National Forest

Fire Safe Spot

San Bernardino National Forest

I-8 East of San Diego, CA

  • Larkin Campground
    McCain Valley BLM OHV
  • Mar Tar Awa above Viejas Casino
  • Sweetwater Summit Co Park San Diego

I-5 North of San Diego, CA

S-22  East San Diego County

Montezuma Grade, overlooking Borrego Springs & Anza Borrego Desert

  • Culp Valley – boulders, primitive camps on dirt roads; better views off-road. No tables, no signs. Small campground at the highway is easy to find.

providence

I-40 Mojave Desert

view spot mojave

US Hwy 395 & surrounding areas

inside Death Valley National Park

  • Mahogany Flat Campground steep dirt road access. Trailhead for tallest peak in the park, Telescope Peak (11,049′ elev)
  • Tucki Mine, 4×4 route. Unmarked dirt road inside Emigrant Canyon, off Wildrose Road.

inside Inyo National Forest

  • Coyote Flat @ Pinyon Boulders – 4×4 required, one primitive camp w/ great views overlooking the Owens Valley & peaks to the east.
  • Onion Valley Campground – High Sierra @ 9200′ elevation. Trailhead to Kearsarge Pass. W of Independence, CA

4x4 Camps

Western Sierra Nevada Mts
Sierra National Forest

    • White Bark Trailhead @ Kaiser Pass,
      primitive camp site, pictured above. 4WD required @ Dusy Ershim Trail (OHV route). NE of Huntington Lake, CA

cabin rental

NFSsee also – NFS Fire Lookouts & Rental Cabins
many of which have excellent views of the wilderness areas; a hike or climb may be necessary

Colorado River Camping
Multiple riverside RV havens near Parker, AZ

coloradoriverRV

 


California Fire Lookout

Dome Land from Bald Mtn, KERN

NFS Fire Lookout Towers

Cabin Rentals in California National Forests

Ready to see wide and wild terrain? Views for 100 miles out and the best scenery California has to offer. Be prepared to off road or hike to reach one of these destinations.

Below is a list of historic look out towers & cabins used for spotting wildfires. Some are located on steep granite peaks, ridge lines or dirt roads. 4×4 may be recommended to reach a few. Road conditions can change w/ harsh mountain weather, so be prepared to rough it. Thunderstorms are common on these mountain ridges.

Several of these places are cabins, some are stone houses, but most fire lookouts are basic metal towers – with high climbing staircases, so you must be in decent physical strength to haul your ass up this high.

rangers cabin mountains hikers vacation

Cabins are also called guard stations, huts, bunkhouses. Most are located on mountain tops, but a few exist in desert regions. Some are refurbished & available for overnight rentals. Bare bones furnishings, so forget the frills. People come up here for the thrills. To be outside w/ epic views, way away from the urban grind & to feel on top-of-the-world.

Coon Creek Cabin

 

NFSlogoSee the full list of overnight accommodations on mountain peaks & ridges, some near meadowsNational Forest Cabin Rentals

 

El Dorado National Forest:

Cuyama Peak

Cuyama Lookout is a rough road up. Off Hwy 33, in Los Padres NF

Los Padres National Forest:

  • Cuyama Peak Lookout Tower (pictured above) off Hwy 166 & via Santa Barbara Cyn, 4×4 recommended. Sorta near jct w/ Hwy 33

San Bernardino National Forest:

Sequoia National Forest:

Sierra National Forest:

cabin rentals

BEWARE:
California is the land of wildfires!

Always check for local fire conditions at nearest ranger station, obtain a free campfire permit when camping outside of developed campgrounds, and always practice fire safety when visiting our public lands. You can be held liable for wildfires. Outta control campfire, cigarettes, idling vehicles on tall, dry grass. Be very cautious with fires on the often dry, west coast.

Oroville Dam Emergency

Repairs @ Oroville Dam

spillwaycrews

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!

foreman creek

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.

gaggleofgeese
Geese swim by, with work crews on the dam in the background.

Polymers?

KwikBond

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)

#OrovilleDamSpillway

DWR Spillway Updates
http://www.water.ca.gov/oroville-spillway/index.cfm

Lake Oroville State Park web cam
https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=29411


Lake Mohave

viewpoint mohave

Lake Mohave NRA

Lake Mohave National Recreation Area

Mojave Reservoir @ Colorado River: AZ / NV / CA
@ the V: Arizona – Nevada – California

National Park Service

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, Mex.

Up near Las Vegas

Above Hoover Dam is Lake Mead, red dirt and silt shorelines. South of the dam is a deep gorge w/ hike-in hot springs and then 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.

boating, camping, fishing, hiking, hot springs, kayaking, off-road, picnics, viewpoints

camping areas below listed from north to south

Willow Beach RV Park & Campground
Arizona side, off Hwy 93
928-767-4747

car camp mohave

El DORADO CANYON

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.

No facilities, no fees. No buildings. No campfire rings, no picnic tables, very few vault toilets. Bring your shovel!

desert badlands erosion

deep washes

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. Pack it in, pack it out.

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.

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!

Dogs Allowed

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 and do not brake hard. Carry tow strap in case you need an emergency pull.

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.

montana wash

primitive camping 4x4 camping boat camping

4×4 recommended @ MOHAVE:

Eagle Wash Road #46 – popular spot
Montana Wash #45 – camping ok
Placer Wash #47 – no camping

The NPS 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.

mohave2011

RV camp campground marina

COTTONWOOD COVE
developed campground, boat launch, marina, lodging, hiking, picnic areas

Cottonwood Cove Resort
near Searchlight, NV
702-297-1464

primitive camping boat camping RV camp campground marina

LAUGHLIN, NV
Nevada, California and Arizona states join down in this part of the world. Katherine Landing, full service marina, slip rentals, lodging, city services and casinos.

Lake Mohave Resort
928-754-3245

clearest water

Lake Mohave NRA
NPS Headquarters
601 Nevada Way
Boulder City, NV 89005
Visitor Center open daily
702-293-8990

maps of the region:

Lake Mohave Map (South) PDF

Boulder City River Map PDF

Nat Geo Map Mead

RED ROCK LAS VEGAS MAP

Recreation Map of Lake Mead, Lake Mohave & Lake Havasu, w/ Hoover Dam & Parker

Hiking Las Vegas Book

covecamps

This Mojave Desert river-created lake is located on the Colorado River, in between Las Vegas, Nevada and Needles, California

nearby towns: (with elevation)

Bullhead City, AZ (540′)
Laughlin, NV (535′)
Kingman, AZ (3340′)
Nelson, NV (2954′)
Nipton, CA (3042′)
Searchlight, NV (3470′)

Horse Canyon

Horse Canyon Mojave

Horse Canyon California

Southern Sierra / Mojave Road SC 65

Mojave Desert meets the Sierra Nevada Mountains
North Highway 14

North of Mojave, CA
North of Red Rock State Park
North of Jawbone Canyon

South of south of US Hwy 395, south of jct Hwy 178

backroads BLM camping desert roads hiking PCT mountain bike jeep roads primitive camp

elevation: 3000′-7000′

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.

Solo Driver SUV

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.

wheelin pals

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
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.

cabin mcivers

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.

nearby towns:

INYOKERN, CA
LAKE ISABELLA, CA
MOJAVE, CA
RANDSBURG, CA
RIDGECREST, CA

joshuacanyons