Lake Davis Loop is a 20 mile circle around the lake. Drive or mountain bike route. Scenic drive on dirt roads, or an easy bike ride. Average ride time 2 hours for biking.
A flat, easy loop around Lake Davis is best in summer months, as snow usually closes this area in winter. The whole route is a mix of paved, dirt and gravel road. There are picnic areas along the way, lake views, bird and wildlife viewing, wildflowers.
Numerous primitive camp sites and secondary dirt roads fork in various directions, off of this main loop. Volcanic ridges line the west side of the lake, dense forest and seclusion can be found all around. Bald eagles fly overhead and wild life is abundant.
CROCKER GUARD STATION
Crocker Station is for rent and reservations are required. This wooden 2-story home was built in 1912 for Forest Service personnel, and later staffed as a fire station until the 1980s.
Situated at 5700′ elevation, its alpine beauty and cooler temps make it a much sought after, especially in summertime. Located a few miles from the lake and 10 miles northeast of Portola, California. There is a small campground next door called Crocker Campground. A dirt road access to Crocker Meadow is quickest from lake, but the paved route around is longer.
From California SR 70 (Highway 70) in Portola take West Street approximately 7 miles to the Lake Davis Dam. Park at the information kiosk and get acquainted with maps and the area info.
Drive or bike the lake loop. Travel 1.7 miles west to Forest Service Road 24N10, travel on that for 8.1 miles until you reach the junction with County Road 112. Then turn east and continue around the lake, past the Grizzly Campground a half mile, turn South on Country Road 126 and continue back to the dam.
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.
Cottonwood Lakes Campground, Golden Trout Campground & Horseshoe Meadows Campground… all next to Mount Whitney. This is a prime side option for Whitney & Southern High Sierra packing. Perfect for equestrian travelers, backpackers & day hikers.
Sitting at Tuttle Creek Campground at dusk, just outside of Lone Pine , in the Eastern Sierra – you may have wondered what the hell those lights were. Way off in the distance – to the south. Way up high.
There must be another road that also heads up into the Sierra’s. Yep! Go find this special valley. It is well worth the drive, even for just a day trip. A long and winding drive up from Hwy. 395, in Lone Pine CA – take Whitney Portal Rd up to Tuttle Creek Campground, see the road called Horseshoe Meadows Road on the left. Take it, all the way up, you will be glad you did. Allow hours for the drive, views, hike, & the picnic. It’s bear country so be concerned about your food. Use bear lockers, even for day trips.
Cottonwood Campground is located in the Inyo National Forest , this area is just south of Mt. Whitney, is by far much quieter than the masses at the Portal. Although camping is limited to a ‘one nights stay’, the terrain is spectacular with ample parking for backpackers, sightseers & horse trailers alike. The paved switchback road is steep & long, to say the least. RV are not recommended on this Eastern Sierra Horse Shoe Meadows Road.
This area is definitely geared towards Sierra backpackers & equestrian trips. The parking lots are pretty roomy, plus there is a one night stay limit on the campgrounds: Golden Trout, Cottonwood Lakes, Horseshoe Meadow. New Army Pass & the Golden Trout Wilderness are both accessed from these high Sierra trail heads. Meadows up here are large & lined with pines. They can range from lush wildflowers to golden dry. Granite, horses & high elevations!
walk-in camp sites:
These campgrounds up here are large and spacious with walk in access only. A common parking area is shared, along with the community fire rings & steel bear boxes. Wide open areas with tons of room for star gazing. The camp areas are not considered secluded. Very open skies & perfect for stargazing.
These camp sites are designed for overnighters preparing for their backpacking ventures into the nearby Sierra wilderness. This high altitude mountainous area closes for winter snows (anytime between October-May) & the campgrounds/trail heads will not be accessible. If road is open in early Spring, I imagine the cross country skiing & snow shoeing would be incredible in those huge meadows. Sierra wildflowers are abundant on certain years.
From Hwy 395 & Lone Pine CA, take Whitney Portal Rd. up to Horseshoe Meadow Rd & turn left. Follow this long & steep road due south hugging the mountain’s edge. This steep winding entrance will take you to some spectacular views over the dry desert Owens Lake & Lone Pine. Then turns sharply west headed straight into the pine filled Southern Sierras. This region is so high in elevation that you can actually see ‘tree line’. At 10,000′ alpine glory, this is prime backpackers country. Exposed granite mountain peaks loom above the tall ponderosa pines.
There’s more than one Cottonwood Campground in California.
JTNP – A more popular spot is the Cottonwood Campground, on the south end of Joshua Tree National Park, near the Interstate 10 park entrance. Click here for camp information.
ABPF – Cottonwood Canyon – 4×4 accessible route which leads to aspen grove and old cabin, on the eastern side of the White Mountains and near the Ancient Bristlecone Pines. Cottonwood Basin is a result of Cottonwood Creek, which flows east toward the state of Nevada.
The majority of California cities are located near sea level, with low lying farmlands and populated coastlines common throughout world geography. California has super diversity w/ the population, as well as the elevation and the terrain. Vast rugged deserts bordering Nevada, from high deserts (8000′ @ Bodie ghost town) to low deserts (below sea level for Mecca) near the Salton Sea. Towering granite peaks with minimal vegetation, to fern canyons and redwood groves at the coast, California has quite the unique landscape.
The beautiful golden state is also home to the highest and lowest point within the lower 48 states; and those points are only about 100 miles apart – Death Valley (-282′ elev) and Mount Whitney (14,494′ elev).
MTN TOWN: upper elevation mountain towns w/ forests and flowing water, are primarily located in the Sierra Nevada range which runs the backbone of California in a north-south direction, separating the Pacific Ocean from the Great Basin. High altitudes are abundant in California, especially in the Eastern Sierra – but most are only accessible by foot.
The coastal mountain range and the Sierra Nevada encompasses most of Central California. The rest of the space is dedicated to large cities, farmlands and farming towns – which are most lower elevation. Orchards and vineyards can be found in the foothills (200′-2000′ elevation)
Northern California has more mountains and rivers, generally higher elevations and plenty more space to explore. Secluded forests, rivers, creeks, lakes, and reservoirs can be found above 2000′ elevation, north of Sacramento. The bigger mountains in the far north part of the state are part of the Cacade Range, which is volcanic in nature. (Mt. Lassen & Mt. Shasta). More water, more trees and more land – NorCal is very different than the lower half of the golden state.
Snow is always a factor in mid to high altitude towns with road conditions being unpredictable with each mountain range and each micro-climate. Winter months range from late October to May, so be warned. Above 3000′ elevation usually gets some snow. Serious snow above 5000′. Some High Sierra Passesdon’t open until JULY (Yosemite Hwy 120 & Sonora Hwy 108). Carry tire chains or have 4×4 to travel safely on snowy roads. Guard rails are seldom around every curve.
California State Park Sierra Hot Spring Camping Resort open all year
South of Lake Tahoe, hidden in a forest meadow near the small town of Markleeville, sits this super scenic, year-round camping resort in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Popular place for senior travelers, RV campers, families, snow skiers, and tourists.
No lodging available, no cabins. Only Campground Camping – Reservations are recommended. This is a popular destination for the Eastern Sierra Tahoe region. May thru September are peak season. During mid-winter a portion of the campsites are closed and the remainder may be on a first come, first serve basis. State Park is located 4 miles west of Markleeville, at the end of Hot Springs Road.
cross country skiing
Piped water, flush toilets, showers, this is luxury camping by State Park standards. Hiking, fishing, stargazing. Quite an ideal spot, especially if you visit during a slow time. Surrounded by mountains that top 10,000′ elevation, expect to see some snow in the winter months.
The hot pool resort is open to the public for day soaking w/ a fee. Wheelchair accessible areas. The pool hours tend to fluctuate with the seasons, so be prepared for anything. Even a snow storm!
Grover Hot Spring Campground
• Elevation: 5800′
• Number of Sites: 75
• Vehicle Access: RV 27′ max
• Campsites Reservation: Yes
• Camp Fee: Yes
• Length of Stay: 10 Days
• Season: Open all year
• Trailheads: Carson River
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.
lake camp, hike, mountain bike, off-road, ski, snowmobile
Tahoe Trail Maps / Tahoe National Forest
Numerous State Parks dot the shoreline at Tahoe, while the National Forest lands and Wilderness Areas span most of the peaks above. Camping, backpacking, boating, kayaking, fishing, climbing, mountaineering, mountain biking, snow skiing, snowmobiling are all popular recreation in this Sierra region. US Highway 50 and Interstate 80 are the main western access routes to Lake Tahoe. US Hwy 395 leads to Tahoe, up from the Eastern Sierra and Southern California.
Wanna find every waterfall or every creek to fish? This is the place that will help you find them. Easily, with good old fashion printed maps. Hard copies, some waterproof & tear resistant, most with topographical data and all roads, trails, campgrounds and parks. Whether or not you water ski or cross country ski, these maps will save your ass – when you are way back there in the boonies.
Tahoe’s Rubicon Trail connects the historic Gold Country to the alpine lake via granite wilderness sky ways above 7000′ elevation, but a real 4×4 and overnights are required. The back roads and trails are endless in these parts of the Central Sierra Nevada mountains.
Rock climbing, backpacking, fly fishing creeks, snowmobiling, you name it. No matter what kind of trail you seek in California, we have the maps to get you out there, this weekend. If you seek a week long adventure in the Sierra high country, or a weekend getaway destination you’ve never heard of, or a quick after work hike near your home town, we just might have it listed. And we probably have the waterproof, topographical map too.
DOGS & BIKES on TRAILS:
Dog friendly trails include almost anything within the CA National Forests. Remember that most National Parks & State Parks literally forbid dogs on hiking trails. Mountain bikes can access only certain trails in parks, but in the National Forests nearly every trail or dirt road is up for grabs.
Motorized vehicles, such as quads, ATVs, dirt bikes, Jeeps & 4x4s must stick to designated routes signed specifically for OHV (off highway vehicle) & you won’t be finding many of those inside National Parks & State Parks, so it’s best to look for BLM or NF lands. Many regular, forest, back roads close in winter due to heavy snow pack & thus become cross country ski, snowshoe or even snowmobiling trails. The best ones can be found in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Southern California / San Jacinto Wilderness Area / San Jacinto Mountain / Palm Springs Mountain Hike
The well-photographed snowy mountain backdrop behind the desert deluxe resort-land known as Palm Springs, Mount San Jacinto is the second tallest peak in Southern Cal.
Mighty San Gorgonio peak, across to the east – on the other side of the valley, is the very highest mountain in this desert region. Granite Jacinto peak is located in between the mountains of Idyllwild and the low deserts of Palm Springs.
Day hikes, picnic in the forest, backpacking, horseback rodes w/ SUPER easy access via the fantastic Palm Spring Tram ride, up to 8000′ elevation.
The San Jacinto Wilderness is managed by 2 different agencies: The National Forest Service and California Department of Parks & Recreation.
If you are camping overnight in the forest, you must get your wilderness permit from the agency that administers the area where you plan to spend the night. Day-use permits can be obtained on the day of your trip by visiting one of the ranger stations below. Day-use permits issued by either agency are honored by both, except during the busy summer months when permits to enter the Wilderness via Devil’s Slide Trail can be obtained only from the National Forest Service.
Camping permits can be obtained in advance by mail, in person, or online w/ PDF. National Forest Service accepts requests up to 90 days in advance; Mount San Jacinto State Park accepts them up to 56 days in advance. You can also get them on the day of your trip, if any are available at that time.
USDA National Forest Service
San Jacinto Ranger District
54270 Pine Crest Ave
Idyllwild, CA 92549
Mount San Jacinto State Wilderness
25905 Highway 243
Idyllwild, CA 92549
Plumas Road #24N29, off Bucks Lake Road
East of Bucks Lake, California.
a six mile, one lane, dirt road is the only vehicle access into this high elevation, dammed reservoir, tucked back against the wilderness. Secluded lake campsites await, you’ll just need to get a little dusty first. The turn off, at a small brown sign reading “Silver Lake”, one which is very easy to miss – due to the amount of homes, cabins, fencing and driveways in the vicinity.
No swimming allowed at this Silver Lake, as it serves as a drinking water source for the neighborhoods below. Canoe & kayaking are allowed. Fishing is also popular at this location. Hiking trailheads at Silver Lake lead to the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail), Mount Pleasant, Spanish Peak and a small gem of a swimming hole, we call mini Gold Lake.
This small campground is actually set downhill from the rock earthen dam, which is something to ponder before/during a big earthquake. With sites 1-5 in a shady forest area and the others a bit closer to the lake, no campsite is too close to another. These are all well-spaced-out sites, providing decent privacy and minimal noise from neighboring campers. No campsites are located at the lake edge, as the rocky dam is a long structure and quite complex with water control measures.
All the campsites have new bear boxes for food storage, cuz ‘wilderness’ usually means black bears are roaming about. Deer tend to frequent campsites 1 & 2.
Silver Lake Campground NFS
• Elevation: 5800′
• Number of Sites: 9
• Vehicle Accessibility: RV 22′
• Campsite Reservations: No
• Camp Fee: No
• Toilet: Vault
• Water: No piped/potable
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: May – October
• Trailheads: PCT, Gold Lake, Rock Lake, Granite Gap, Bucks Lake Wilderness
As with most of the high elevation lakes in California, winter months can mean deep snow and dirt road closures. This campground is usually open through the end of October, but call head to the local rangers if in doubt.
Plumas National Forest
Mt. Hough Ranger District
39696 State Highway 70
Quincy, CA 95971
Silver Lake Road #10
20 miles off Highway 89. Northbound, outside of Westwood @ Lake Almanor, take County Road A21 to County Road 110 (Silver Lake Rd)
Dirt road boat ramp @ southern end of lake. Winter weather & snow closes this area annually, so this lake is mainly a summertime destination. Mid-week tends to be less popular for those seeking seclusion.
Hiking trails lead to Caribou Lake, Emerald Lake, Betty Lake, Trail Lake, Shotoverin Lake & Caribou Wilderness.
Silver Bowl Campground NFS
• Elevation: 6400′
• Number of Sites: 18
• Vehicle Accessibility: small RV
• Campsites Reservation: No
• Camp Fee: Yes
• Toilet: Vault
• Water: piped/potable
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: May – October
• Trailheads: Caribou Wilderness
Lassen National Forest
Lassen National Forest
Almanor Ranger District
900 East Highway 36
Chester, CA 96020
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.
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.
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.
Prime hiking and fishing destination of the Eastern Sierra, California. With impressive Carson Peak (10,909′) towering as a granite backdrop for the lake, every day out here is super scenic. Unless, of course, blizzard white-out conditions occur – which is possible during winter.
October-November, Autumn colors – at this particular location – tend to be fantastic, with aspen groves encompassing the lake, nearby streams and steep canyons.
fish: Reverse Creek, Rush Creek, Silver Lake, Grant Lake, Gem Lake, Gull Lake, June Lake
Winter weather & deep snow can close the paved highway loop, so know road conditions and weather forecast before you go. This beautiful Silver Lake is within walking distance of two lodges – Whispering Pines & Double Eagle Resort, so if rain or snow is predicted make your reservations.
This is one of many small lakes situated within the Lakes Basin Recreation Area , in the Northern Sierra Nevada mountains. Just north of Downieville & Historic Gold Country. Snag Lake is nothing special compared to the rest of the scenic lakes close by, but it is worth a mention due to a few fun facts.
One thing this small lake campground does have is convenience, located right on the Gold Lake Highway – next to Goose Lake, plus hiking distance to the largest of the lakes, Gold Lake. The second feature is the campground is small, 16 primitive sites, picnic tables & one vault toilet. The third thing is that this is a FREE campground; no charge.
Snag Lake Campground
• Elevation: 6600′
• Number of Sites: 16
• Vehicle Accessibility: Small RVs
• Campsites Reservation: No
• Camp Fee: No
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: June – October
• Trailheads: Gold Lake
dirt drive (no pavement)
No motorized boats allowed. No paved boat ramps. Kayaks & canoes can hand launch from several spots. The dirt driveway is easily missed, especially at night. The old wooden, forest service sign is not reflective. The vault toilet is close to the highway and the camp sites are along the lake edge. No pavement anywhere!
Upon arrival, camper trailers will want to get out and select the best route to a camp site. The small boulders, dead trees, root and rock obstacles are abundant on the dirt road entry, all around the campground, and at each camp site. High clearance vehicles would fair best at this camp, but some passenger cars may be able to manage the rocky entrance. Get out and look at the road, before scraping across the biggest rock. Slowly, carefully, maybe… and preferably an arrival before dark.
LOCALS TIP: The wind tends to pick up at night around these lakes, so brace your tent well and position your vehicle appropriately.
Obviously with a name like SNAG, you can imagine that the fishing here is not the best, since roots and old tree stumps make up a good portion of the shoreline. Luckily there are a dozen alpine lakes within a 20 mile radius to choose from for another fishing spot. Some lakes are hike-in only, some require 4×4 to reach and others have cabin resorts.
Gold Lake Hwy (or Gold Lake Road) closes in the winter months (NOV-APRIL) due to snow and the region is used as a winter recreation area. Cross-country skiing and snow-mobiling are both popular activities.
In the hills and canyons above Chico many wonders can be found. North Sierra Nevada mountains, medium sized recreation lake surrounded by lush forest; N of Lake Oroville and S of Lake Almanor. North Fork Feather River canyon forms the northern boundary to this designated Wilderness Area. The area is popular with backpackers and PCT hikers, as well as equestrian and the region has over a dozen campgrounds. Backcountry terrain includes an impressive 6 mile long canyon wall.
The popular boating destination, Bucks Lake reservoir, is just outside the wilderness boundary, which makes for an excellent destination for day hikes. Boating, fishing, backpacking, hiking, camping, canoeing, kayaking, rock climbing, snowmobiling and mountain biking are just some of the outdoor recreation in the area. This Wilderness region features a Silver Lake and Gold Lake, as well as numerous other small, unheard-of lakes. A few can be accessed by vehicle, but more than half are hike-in only lakes.
Bucks Lake Wilderness
5200′ elevation at Bucks Lake
Alpine wilderness, mountain peaks, hiking trails, PCT trailheads, numerous small lakes, plus large recreational fishing lake
Bald Eagle Mountain – 7183′
Bucks Mountain Peak – 6819′
Mount Pleasant – 7067′
Small lakes around the Bucks Lake Wilderness Area
Bald Eagle Lake
Cape Lake Gold Lake
Jacks Meadow Pond
Rock Lake Silver Lake Snake Lake
Upper Mud Lake
Mono Hot Pools @ San Joaquin River
Sierra National Forest
Best of both worlds, way back in the boonies – two primitive tubs soaking perched on a soggy hill next to a river, developed campground below, and a small resort w/ cabins, camping, restaurant and private soaking areas on the other side of the river.
15 mi. NE of Huntington Lake off Kaiser Pass Rd. Huntington Lake & Hwy. 168
Two squared cement tubs overlooking the river, deep in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
The coolest thing about this primitive hot springs is that it is a great destination for a one day snowmobile adventure. Rentals are in the nearby community of Lakeshore & the plowed paths are fairly easy to follow. If you plan on visiting the springs, you must not play around in the meadow much, there is plenty great Sierra scenery to be had. The snomo trip is a good 5 hours round trip with a lunch break & dip at mineral spring tubs.
cross country skiing
Winter: road is closed half the year due to heavy snow. Summer: snow is gone and the road is open.
KAISER PASS ROAD No RVs are allowed on this long, steep, narrow paved route .
Take Hwy.168, turn right on Kaiser Pass Rd, just past the ski resort. Pass the large meadow & follow signs to Mono Springs & Lake Edison. Make sure not to miss the left turn or you may end up at Florence Lake. Park near the green bridge over the San Joaquin River & walk over to the tubs on the hillsides.
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.
The Mt Pinos Recreation Area is located on the border of Southern and Central California, inside Los Padres National Forest. After passing Frazier Park, the winding, paved, mountain road starts atop Cuddy Valley and is approximately 12 miles from Interstate 5 @ Tejon Pass. The 8831′ peak is the tallest in Kern County and is a popular spot for both summer and winter recreation: cross country skiing, snow shoeing, backpacking, hiking, mountain biking. The snow gates often close during heavy snow.
Mount Pinos Road starts atop Cuddy Valley Rd, at the “Y” – where it intersects with Mil Potrero Highway, which heads out to Pine Mountain Club, California. One mile up the Mount Pinos route, you will find McGill trailhead on the right side (it is popular w/ mountain bikers) and then the first snow gate at Burbank Rd. Another 4 miles up hill, you come to the only set of dirt roads accessible on this range. A left turn will take you winding thru pine forest to the valley below. 4×4 is not required, but a National Forest map is very handy. Unfortunately all the private properties at the bottom have locked gates & no thru access to Cuddy Valley is allowed, but it is an awesome drive to just go exploring in the woods.
Back on the main route, shortly after the dirt roads is McGill Campground on the right side & another snow gate. In another mile and a half you will reach Mt Pinos Campground on the left side; the entrance is easy to miss. From here you are less than 2 miles from the end of the main road.
Mountain Bike, Hike, Backpack, Camp, XC Ski, Snow Sled
Darkest Skies for Stargazing in Southern California
The huge paved parking lot is the dead end (2 miles from the peak of Pinos) – very popular with astronomers, mountain bikers, plus the families and snow sledders in winter (if the gates are open). A National Ski Patrol’s Nordic Base, the only building you will see up this way. At 8300′ elevation, the large parking area is perfect overnight spot for amateur astronomers, so be considerate when visiting night. New moon (no moon) weekends APR-OCT are optimal viewing months. In busy summer months you can often find motorhome campers all set up with expensive equipment tracking the heavens all night long. Please be respectful of their hobby & eyes; Turn off headlights when you approach the parking area at night.
ROAD CONDITIONS to Mount Pinos, call the rangers 661-245-3731
Pinos – Peak to Peak Hike
The trailhead for Pinos Summit starts at this parking lot. It is a 2 mile moderate, but steep hike on an old fire road. The neighboring peak to the west is called Mount Abel @ 8286′ elevation (aka Cerro Noroeste). The infamous peak to peak hike along the ridge line from Mt Pinos to Mt Abel is 6.5 miles one way – and very popular in summer months. This hike requires 4-6 hours & a car shuttle should be arranged in advance. The Chumash Wilderness sits between Mount Pinos and the tiny community of Pine Mountain, which can be seen below on many places along the hike.
There are 3 developed campgrounds in the Mount Pinos Recreation Area:
Sierra Nevada Road Conditions – Highway California
Winter Snow/ Winter Roads Sierra Nevada:
On rare occasions the Golden State freeway – Interstate 5 can be closed due to snow; N of Valencia on the Grapevine (near Lebec) or more likely up in NorCal (near Shasta).
Interstate 80 (aka Donner Pass) is often closed during big storms. Luckily there are hotels in Auburn or Truckee.
Highway conditions on mountain passes higher than 4000′ elevation can be unpredictable in winter months (Oct-May). It may be fine & just sprinkling @ 2000′, but a few miles up can be a white out. Ask anyone who’s ever driven the infamous Donner Pass in winter time. (more on Donner Party)
Annual Sierra Highway Closures
Where does it Snow in California ?
Okay, okay ….so it’s nothing like those dreaded East Coast winters, but hey, some parts of California do get some serious snow. (see elevations) And the newbies who don’t prepare for it will be sorry. On the winter vacation travels, be prepared for almost anything, especially in the Sierra’s & Northern California. Snowy towns in California
The following mountain roads are partially closed or totally closed during winter months. Please check road conditions before you leave for your trip. Chains may be required in most mountain areas of California.
Eastern Sierra Destination: June Lake and Mammoth Lakes, CA
The Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains run the length of US Highway 395, through most of the eastern side of California. Mammoth mountain is a volcano, so naturally hot springs come with the package. These hot tub destinations listed here are mostly part of the Long Valley Caldera, an ancient volcanic table land. North of Bishop and near the snow ski destination towns of June Lake and Mammoth, California in Mono County, California.
(This region is not to be confused with Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park, nor the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, South Dakota.)
Backroads Camping is allowed throughout Inyo National Forest, but there is private ranch lands mixed in w/ public lands. Respect property boundaries, and speed limits around gates and intersections.
Camp sites are not located next to the soaking tubs. A few may be within walking distance. Parking is often limited at these remote, public use hot pools. Total Escape TIP: Behind Lake Crowley: abundant, free camping – wide graded dirt roads (RV and passenger car suitable). Inyo National Forest Map is recommended.
Eastside of Highway 395
Casa Diablo Hot Springs near the Mammoth exit, is a location noted on most maps, but this seems to be the geothermal power plant for the region. If you are looking for hot springs tubs to soak in, you’ll need to get off the main drag for those beauties, way off the highway. On to dirt roads perhaps.
Inyo Forest Road #3S45, Hot Creek Hatchery Road
(near Mammoth Airport)
Minimal dirt road driving. A very popular spot where hot springs are located within the big creek, so you can feel cold and hot water flowing by you. Scalding can occur near vents underwater, so use caution when wading. Large parking lot overlooks the soaking area and creek canyon. Swimsuits required.
Little Hot Creek Hot Springs
also known as – “Lil Hot Creek”
Benton Crossing Rd
Inyo Forest Road #2S84, Benton Crossing Road
This rural intersection at US Hwy 395 is known for the little green church on the corner. Turn east off the highway on to this road> Pull over, get out and stretch. Look at your maps, get the GPS out and then start your exploring. FIrst timers might be able to find a soaking tub within half an hour, if you don’t get lost.
Inyo Forest Road #2S07, Whitmore Hot Springs Rd
Whitmore Tubs Road
a major graded dirt road that leads north off of the paved road, becomes Owens River Road and connects back to US395 several miles to the north.
Several primitive hot tubs can be found on dirt roads in this region, which lead off the main paved road. At night these remote pools can be hard to find with no signage, no street lights and pitch black darkness. Plus the mud blogs and grassy fields all around make the landscape difficult to navigate. If you plan a nighttime arrival, then plan to drive in slowly around the pools, have your GPS handy and look for steam in the air. Cut your headlights if you see other cars or people, and proceed slowly and be friendly.
Hill Top Hot Springs
also known as – “Hilltop or Pulky’s Pool”
Crab Cooker Hot Springs
also known as – “Fleur de Lys”
Shepard Hot Springs
also known as – “Shepard Springs”
The Tub Hot Springs
Whitmore Hot Springs
904 Benton Crossing Road
Mono County Park w/ large public swimming pool & day use fee
also known as – “Whitmore Tubs, Whitmore Springs”
Wild Willie’s Hot Spring
also known as – “Wild Willy’s, Crowly, Crowley Springs”
Inyo Forest Road #3S11, Minaret Summit Rd
This wilderness region is located the on the west side of Mammoth Mountain, accessible by the paved Minaret Summit Road, which closes due to deep snow and is generally only open during summer months.
Red’s Meadow Hot Springs
developed campground w/ wooden sheds for baths: showers & tubs.
near Devil’s Postpile National Monument
also known as – “Red’s Meadow Hot Showers”
Iva Bell Hot Springs
remote, wilderness; hike-in hot springs.
south of Mammoth & Rainbow Falls, via trail #2622
also known as – “Fish Creek Hot Springs”