EB from Fresno, Hwy 168 up to Shaver, w/ another 30+ miles on paved backroads
(Dinkey Creek Rd & then McKinley Grove Rd)
Way, way back, beyond Dinkey
You gotta really wanna BE at places like this. Magical High Sierra mountains – California’s finest. Sheer beauty surrounds this lake w/ granite domes, granite cliffs, granite trails, forests, peaks and plenty hiking, fishing, water and boating. It does take planning (way ahead) to make it out here, cuz the area is only accessible during summer months. Typical of high altitude lakes, snow buries them annually and the roads get closed off to the public (usually NOV-MAY is winter). Some backcountry routes become snowmobiling trails during winter, and the Sierra National Forest has plenty of great snomo action (if snow is deep).
Wishon Lake, California
High Sierra Granite Reservoir with pines trees and rocky, granite shoreline. Not nearly as amazing as its cousin w/ the domes to the north, Courtright, Wishon has less granite & less wind, but more accessible backroads to explore, plus more car camping options. Both lakes are part of the Helms Creek hydro-electric project (dams) that make up the PG&E water infrastructure out in these parts – The Kings River Drainage System.
Backpacker trailheads, Woodchuck, Rancheria & Crown Valley all lead to dead end dirt roads – with nothing but solitude for miles & miles. Some might be passenger car accessible. Winter weather changes dirt road conditions (often).
The Kings River Geological Area is nearby, as well as both the John Muir Wilderness & Dinkey Lakes Wilderness.
Large Reservoir with 8,000-10,000′ high sierra mountain peaks surrounding. Pine forests, views, fishing, camping, hiking in every direction, secluded dirt roads. Perfect high elevation trailheads, next to John Muir Wilderness. Great for backpackers!
All boating, but no waterski or jet ski.
One public boat ramp. Fishing boat rentals available.
Wishon is a summer vacation paradise for trout fishing, hiking, backpacking and back road exploring.
CLOSED FOR WINTER: NOV-APRIL = Snow closes the road for winter. For all you hardcore campers and hikers, you must call ahead to see if roads are open. It is rural forest, well traveled, but snow storms will shut everything down out here (for many months). Although, in some mild winters you can drive as far as Dinkey Creek on pavement. Gates are locked beyond that.
Dinkey Creek Campground
Gigantea Campground McKinley Sequoia Grove
Sawmill Campground (dirt road)
Free, primitive or open camping abundant on the dirt backroads in Sierra National Forest. 4 wheel drive is not required for most routes, but a high clearance rig would help. Some gravel roads are graded annually and suitable for passenger cars – during summer months and only for about the first mile or two, off of the main road (pavement). Mud and snow are common on backroads!
An overnight stay out-of-doors. Sleeping out under the stars.
Air bed, camping cot, tent… or just a tarp on the ground.
Perhaps A Mountain Cabin Rental. Your choice.
From a luxurious cabin in the mountains, to a small clearing in near a meadow with a stream nearby – with just a backpack, the idea of “camping” is always a bit different for each person. Roughin’ it for free in the wilderness, or on the backroads; Or pay dearly for the price of real amenities, while on vacation.
camp sites that require you to physically haul your camp gear from a parking area to the camp spot, ranging from 1/8 mi. walk to a 1-3 mile hike
free w/ wilderness permit
ultimate in seclusion, bring it all on your back, on foot into the wilderness & enjoy trail camps
SO CAL CAMP FIRES – Yellow Post Campsites are remote camping spots in secluded areas, in a designated fire safe clearing. No facilities such as toilets or showers. Maybe a picnic table & fire rings, if you’re lucky. Southern California forests have these kinda spots. Required campfire permit & you must double check on local fire restrictions.
These structures are half way between ‘roughing it in a tent on the ground’ & having a ‘mountain cabin’. Tent cabins have wooden floors w/ canvas walls and roof; Dismantled annually for winter rain/snow, they are usually only available in mild, coastal climates or during summer months in the mountains.
Rentals typically include sleeping cots, but you’ll need to bring your own bedding (sleeping bags, sheets, pillows). Some rentals include shaded porches, wooden decks, minimal furniture, kitchenettes and/or wood burning stoves. Electricity may be available, or maybe not. Ask ahead of time, if you really must have that particular luxury when on vacation.
Yurts are a ’round version’ of this canvas cabin – which need to be aired out, often (to prevent mold). Yurt rentals are very popular and in high demand in California.
Find these type of rentals at yoga retreats, hot springs, beach canyons, remote lakes, redwood forests, high sierra camps, fishing camps and at certain RV parks.
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.
Plumas National Forest Camping – Primitive Camp Sites
Plumas Forest Camping
North Sierra Nevada, Northern California
Listed below are primitive campgrounds w/ minimal facilities or open camping areas in Plumas National Forest. Plumas has excellent fishing as the big rivers & numerous creeks run thru this northern Sierra Nevada landscape. Open camping is allowed on almost any dirt road w/ a current campfire permit
Ohio Valley – Seneca Road
[off Hwy 89 to southside] Primitive forest camping near Lake Almanor. ATV trails, hunting. Creeks and river camping closer to Seneca. High clearance or 4WD may be needed on these dirt back roads – depending on snow and mud. There is plenty dirt roads back here to explore.
[good fishing area] Hwy.70 Quincy, go 5 mi. west on Buck Lake Rd. Head north & 5 mi. to the campground at the lake. Elevation 4200′ / Open April – October
JULY 2019 – Many thanks goes to Pike County Lookout for initially spotting the #RockFire – in the Plumas National Forest, near Berry Creek, CA
Lookouts in the California National Forests
Ready to see far and wide – with 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. 4WD may be recommended to reach some of these. 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.
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.
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.
2018 (Mendo Complex Wildfire) Ranch Fire
burnt most of this area
Located in the coastal mountain range north of Clear Lake and west of Stonyford, California; in between I-5 and US 101
On the southern half of the Mendocino National Forest.
East Snow Mountain Peak – 7056′ elevation
West Snow Mountain Peak – 7038′ elevation
Lake Pillsbury – 1818′ elevation Mendocino National Forest
Sheet Iron State Game Refuge
Wilderness permits and campfire permits are required. Check local rangers for up to date weather conditions, road closures, parking and trail conditions.
Dirt Roads M10 and M3 are the major routes around this mountain area. Route M10 is also known as 43A on some older maps. Several 4×4 trails skirt the wilderness boundary near the tallest peaks, so you may see some OHV use in this region when hiking.
National Forest Office
Grindstone Ranger District
Great Overland Stagecoach Route of 1849 San Diego County Rd S2 San Diego County Highway S2
The awesome southern California desert, a stretch of road that traverses north-south direction on the west side Anza Borrego Desert; from Interstate 8 up to to Lake Henshaw @ San Felipe Road. Driving north you gain elevation from sandy badlands into the mountains, but trees are few and far off. Exit I-8 at 400′ elevation above sea level and gradually climb to 3000′ – over near Lake Henshaw & Palomar Mountain.
San Diego Road S-2 is about 50 miles long, through very scenic desert with interesting vegetation and paved the whole way. Perfect for RV travelers, as it has many camping options – from freebie, primitive camp spots to private campground resorts. Palm canyon hide-aways, secret shady spots, endless hiking canyons, and a campground with hot springs.
S2 Road intersects California SR 78 at Scissors Crossing and continues north through the barren San Felipe Hills. The Southern California portion of the Pacific Crest Trail parallels the ridge line on the east side, with the town of Borrego Springs lying behind that ridge at 590′ elevation. The historic mountain town of Julian sits in the hills above Banner Grade (Hwy 78).
Located inside the Sierra Juarez Mountains
Parque Nacional Constitucion de 1857, or
Constitucion de 1857 National Park, Baja California, Mexico
Pine forests in Baja California: Dirt roads access Laguna Hanson, so come prepared to drive many miles with dust & potholes — more than 20+ miles from the paved highway just to reach this prime high elevation destination. Since most of Baja is desert, dirt and coastline, this location is a rare treat for those wishing to travel (off the beaten path). The tallest mountain peak in Baja is nearby with the University Observatory.
Baja Camping in the Mountains
Water levels drop well below normal & what we end up with is a shallow lake with huge boulders emerged. Kinda surreal looking. Tall pines & dense forest surrrounding lake. Wide open & flat areas perfect for biking, stargazing and group camping.
This Baja National Park campground is more like dispersed, or open camping around lake shore. Very popular place in the summer months & if you want seclusion camp away from the lake, deep in the forest. The best quiet spots are located in the north east vicinity.
No motorhomes allowed: the road is steep, long, all dirt and narrow in certain spots.
bouldering (rock climbing)
dirt bike trails
No services at lake. Minimal camping facilities. Self sufficient campers a must.
BRING EVERYTHING = ice chest w/ block ice, drinking water, flat tire repair kits, tow strap; extra blankets, medication, first aid kit. There is no store within 30+ miles of here, and the dirt road is very long (both ways) – so it is best to be prepared with all food and beverages.
LOCALS NOTE: An occasional rancher may approach your camp with his farm truck, selling fresh made cheese, beef jerky or other farm produce.
No pavement, no picnic tables. Minimal pit toilets, few rangers patrolling and rock fire rings.
CAMPERS TIP: The toilets can be nasty!! Bring a shovel and wipes; walk into the forest for your bathroom break.
OHV trails are nearby. OFF ROADING, dirt biking and 4×4 routes are essentially any dirt road that is within this forest; Drive slower, keep your ears peeled and watch out when they pass you, cuz they are most nimble and quicker.
No motorcycles signs are posted, but that doesn’t stop them riding all hours of the night. The mountains near Tecate and Mike’s Sky Ranch both cater to dirt bikers and tours, and are located nearby (sorta).
Park rangers & rules here are a lot more lax that in the “States”.
MAP NOTE: Google Maps has this place listed as Laguna Juarez
Gone are the days of ‘beach blanket bingo’ where film crews glamorized California – the beautiful people, the nice vehicles, the sport of surfing and the glorious beaches. There are very few places left on the California coast that you can actually drive a vehicle on the sand, right next to the ocean. The military bases, oil corporations and the utility companies have the front row seats to the Pacific genocide, and the rest of the population is restricted with extreme limited access.
Baja California has minimal regulations on coastal access with a car. No pavement, no signs, no cell phone signal, and no help for miles – something to consider if you get stuck south of the border in Mexico. Baja has numerous places to explore below Ensenada, but asking locals is always a favored approach. Pay attention to private property signs and always close the cattle gate (if you found it closed).
Southern California, no beaches allow vehicle traffic. San Diego offers a sliver of sand @ Silver Strand SB, which is a developed campground for motorhomes and car campers, located right on the beach south of Coronado, CA. Fiesta Island in Mission Bay, San Diego allows driving on sand and a favorite among active dogs, but not camping is allowed. In Los Angeles you can park a motorhome at a sandy, paved campground for a hefty overnight fee. Dockweiler Beach, right near the Chevron plant and LA sewage treatment facility. Sounds delightful, not.
Ventura & Santa Barbara Coastal Regions have many awesome State Beaches, but none allow vehicles on the sand.
Red, White and Blue Beach – nude beach w/ campground (now closed); north of Santa Cruz, CA
Usal Beach Campground – redwood creeks and forests meets coast and cliffs. Camp fee for overnight use. Long dirt road access. No RVs!
Black Sands Beach (OHV 4×4 trail, now closed to all vehicles) near Shelter Cove, CA
after-the-fun maintenance tip:
Salt water and sand is very corrosive to metal – which will rust your truck or car badly. Now that you’ve had fun on the beach, we remind you to clean the underneath of your vehicle ASAP. Spraying powerful hose in your wheel wells and all underneath the vehicle. You might need to lay on the ground and get wet to do this job properly. Some car wash places might be able to do this service for you, but it will cost ya.
Numerous places called SMITH LAKE exist in the Sierra Nevada.
Lakes Basin Recreation Areahas two different spots named SMITH LAKE. This region is in the Northern Sierra Nevada mountains, near Downieville, at the north end of the California Gold Country @ Highway 49.
Smith Lake hiking trail can be accessed from the Gray Eagle Lodge area along Gold Lake Highway; or this hiking lake can also be accessed from a park on the north side. Plumas Eureka State Park, via the Jameson Creek trail.
Lakes Basin also has a small set of two lakes called “Smith Lakes” – located on Smith Creek. Way back behind the larger, most famous Gold Lake.
4×4 Road #11E71 will lead you to this remote destination, with the proper vehicle, of course. Creek crossings and large rocks; A quality topographic map and a 4 wheel drive rig is needed for this adventure.
Lakes Basin Recreation Area
North Sierra mountains, Sierra granite meets Cascade volcanic rock. Bordering of State Park & 2 National Forests
Snake Lake Campground, located west of Quincy, CA – has a small neighboring lake named Smith Lake. Chances are Smith is covered with lily pads, just like Snake Lake. Smaller Smith is accessible via dirt road only. Many people hike, horseback, mountain bike or dirt-bike back on these narrow dirt roads, so use caution when traveling. Butterfly Valley Botanical Garden is located way back here, if you can find it. A real forest service map is advised.
12 NFS Campgrounds are located around Eastern Sierra Rock Creek Canyon. Elevations range from 7000′ at the highway, to over 10,000′ at a trailhead parking lot at the road’s end. Most of these developed campgrounds listed are only open a few months outta the year, due to winter snow closures (NOV-APRIL). On occasion, snow can still be on the roads until MAY.
Rock Creek Loop Road – Dinkey
Sierra Forest Road #9S09, off of paved Dinkey Creek Road. Excellent primitive camping along creek; 4×4 trailheads, as well as hiking & horseback trails. Small RVs okay. Dispersed camp sites, no facilities. Fire permits are required. Near Shaver Lake, CA inside the Sierra National Forest
This camp list is comprised of primitive camp sites and developed campgrounds with good 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.
We were suggesting this very spot way back in 1999, well before anyone else was ‘blogging’ about it. This area 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.
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).
There are several primitive campsites off of M10 with views of chaparral and canyons. Just above Stonyford, CA, on the way up to Fouts Springs. Unfortunately Mendocino National Forest is may be closed for 2019 due Ranch Fire (wildfire 2018) w/ Snow Mountain Wilderness completely 100% burnt.
Planning more scouting of this region summer 2019. Stay tuned.
Angeles National Forest
Mount Pacifico Campground
Angeles Forest Highway
Lightning Point Group Campground
near Jackson Lake @ Hwy 2
San Berdu has more than a few trail camps for 4×4 enthusiasts. Weekends can be busy all year long. Snow usually closes some routes. Pine forest in southern California means very tight campfire restrictions. All yellow post camp sites include table and a fire ring. Campfire permits are required.
East ridge line, rocky, dusty, 4WD-only route, the John Bull Trail (near Holcomb Valley) has ONE real awesome view camp spot with great spans over the Mojave desert w/ smog and city lights @ night.
Culp Valley – boulders, primitive camps on dirt roads; better views off-road. Vault toilet. Few tables, no signs. Small campground at the highway is easy to find. Boulders and bouldering. Mountain biking and hiking. Wildflowers in spring.
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.
Heart Bar Camp: Forest Road #1N02 – San Bernardino National Forest
Heartbar Campground, Heart Bar Horse Camps, RV Dispersed Sites, Coon Creek Cabin. SE of Big Bear Lake; Hiking & Equestrian Trails
Hwy 38 , the long way into Big Bear Lake, up thru Angelus Oaks CA. Heartbar Campground is a developed recreation area, right up front. 94 camp sites, plus the recreation all around. Big equestrian area.
HART BAR: Heart Bar is large pine valley w/ alpine meadows, great camping, San Gorgonio looms overhead with ridges of 10,000′ elevation.
free, dispersed, primitive camping
in Southern Cal
HEART BAR DISPERSED AREA
Forest Service Rd #1N02 – the dirt road is graded & maintained, about half the year. Primitive camp sites require permits; see local rangers. Many forest roads can close due to heavy snow, big rain or rock slides. Best traveled in the warmer months. Winter can be questionable with open gates and road access.
Large open sites, with tables & moderately level dirt access. Seen RV campers way back here. RV’s beyond 30′ are not recommended. At end of this 5 mile dirt route is a hiking trail to Big Morongo Canyon & a really neat historic place called the Coon Creek Cabin.
Totally worth a visit, if you plan on driving to the end of the road – just for the heck of it. Cabin area can be reserved for small group camping in summer months.
Anza Borrego Desert State Park & Borrego Springs Campgrounds
Anza Borrego Desert is the largest of the California State Parks. Borrego Palm Canyon Campground is the official name of this popular palm oasis & developed campground located very close to Borrego Springs CA. Hike or bike to town. There is also a private RV Park named Palm Canyon Resort in town, just to confuse you.
Desert wildflowers blooms, popular hiking & biking trails, plus mud caves & slot canyons draw plenty visitors here, mostly in the winter months. Summer high temps exceed 90 degrees for months at a time.
There are hundreds of miles of dirt roads to explore, and one could easily spend every weekend for a full year, checking out all there is to see in this vast desert, where elevations range from near sea level to 5000′ peaks.
Vern Whitaker Horse Camp
equestrian campground w/ corrals, 10 camp sites, flush toilets
elev, 960′, located N of Borrego Springs, near scenic and rugged Coyote Canyon. reservations accepted
Backcountry Campgrounds Anza
16 miles east of Borrego Springs on County Road S-22
Blair Valley Camping Area
open car camping & RV spots, vault toilets
on SAN DIEGO County Rd S-2 near Highway 78 jct
Bow Willow Campground
elev, 950′, hwy access, 16 camp sites, pit toilets, overnight fee
near Sweeney Pass & badlands overlook; located on S-2, 9 miles N of Interstate 8
Canon Sin Nombre
off S-2 near Sweeney Pass; entrance near Badlands Overlook; slot canyon hikes
Coyote Canyon Camping
N of Borrego Springs via Di Giorgio Road
rugged backcountry dirt road, tent camping only
car camping near ocotillo gardens; 4×4 needed @ creek crossing & Sheep Canyon
Culp Valley Campgound
elev, 3400′, hwy access, 8 camp sites, pit toilets, free camp
located on S-22, atop Montezuma Grade
Culp Valley Boulders
elev, 3700′, dirt road access, primitive camp sites, free
located off S-22, 4×4 near Montezuma Grade
Fish Creek Campground
Hwy 78 near Ocotillo Wells & Split Mountain
elev, 280′, dirt road access, 8 camp sites, pit toilets, free camp
from hwy, go 12 milies south on Split Mountain Road
5 mi. south of Borrego Springs on County Road S-3 & right on Yaqui Pass Road, go 6 miles to camping area on right side
5 mi. south of Borrego Springs on County Road S-3 & right on Yaqui Pass Road, go 4 miles to camping area on left side
All Desert Campgrounds Nearby
AGUA CALIENTE HOT SPRINGS
(San Diego County Park)
88 camp sites for tents & RVs, flush toilets, overnight / day use fees, 760-765-1188
located on Co. Rd S-2, 22 miles N of Interstate 8 (closed June-Aug)
BOX CANYON RDMecca, CA – in between Joshua Tree NP and Anza Borrego Desert
BLM camping in Box Canyon & Mecca Hills Wilderness Park
LEAPIN LIZARD RV RANCH
(Private Campground Resort)
85 acres, 60 camp sites
located on Split Mountain Road, Ocotillo Wells, CA
OCOTILLO WELLS SVRA
(State Vehicular Recreation Area)
elev. 160′, 4×4 and off road camp sites for trailers & RVs
no water, no hook-ups, pit toilets, no fees, 760-767-5391
located on Highway 78 (closed June-Sept)
(OHV trails & camp spots)
elev. 300′, 4×4 and off road camp sites for car camping, touy hauler trailers & RVs
no water, no hook-ups, no fees,
located on S-22, East of Borrego Springs, CA
(San Diego County Park)
44 camp sites for tents & RVs, no hook-ups, toilets, overnight / day use fees, 760-765-1188
located on S-2, 22 miles N of Interstate 8 (closed June-Aug)
FREE CAMPING ANZA– Let us also remind you that this is the best place to camp in California for primitive car camping (camping outside of a developed campground). Open all year long – always! Super secluded, darkest skies, free and always located on the back roads. 4×4 is not required in all areas, so there are plenty of options. Blair Valley or Coyote Canyon Gardens are popular camp spots, but there are thousands of hidden canyons and washes in this giant State Park, just awaiting your tent. You’ll need a decent topographic map. For more info on free camping click here.
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA MTS:
Big Bear Area Camping; Crabflats is on dirt road – Road# 3N16
North of Green Valley Lake, off Hwy 18. Between Big Bear Lake & Lake Arrowhead, California.
OHV trails abundant in this region, so expect some 4x4s, dirt bikes and engine noise. Looking for peaceful camp, try Heart Bar Camp.
Crab Flats Campground
• Elevation: 6,200′
• Number of Sites: 28
• Camping Reservations: Yes
• Sites Available: 3 first come
• Vehicle Accessibility: RV 15′ max
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Water: No Piped; seasonal creek iffy
• Toilet: Vault
• Season: Open APR-NOV
• Fee: Yes
• Operated By: National Forest Service
• Closest Town: Lake Arrowhead, CA
San Bernardino National Forest
Big Bear Discovery Center
Big Bear Lake, CA
When people hear the phrase “off road” a hundred things can come to mind. Granola types envision rednecks, guns & beer cans tearing up the wilderness; while teen boys may like dirt bikes or motocross races; your co-worker digs the rock crawling rigs (on TV); your lesbian pals like to do desert & ghost town exploring in their Jeep & a million families like to camp out with RV & toys in tow. The quads, the sand rails, the rock crawling machines, the custom built buggies. Trophy trucks, rally racing Subies, 4WD camper vans, dirt bikes, the standard stock SUV, some w/ 4-wheel drive and who can forget the ever-freaking-popular jeaps. Sunday drivers sightseeing or hard core dare devil racers can be found in the realm of off-road: Off pavement.
They are ALL off roaders! And they are all unique, custom & no two created equal. There is certainty of it & the passionate fans will tell you. The off roading interest has gained popularity as more & more recreation vehicles become available to the main stream market. And TV shows promote these awesome rigs, the sport of dirt racing, rock crawling & the fantastic terrain. (And if you still watch television, that will soon change!)
Baby boomers seek retirement vacations: compact 4WD camper vans, or smaller RVs capable of trailering an off-road machine; Fathers look for ways to entertain family out of doors, or escape on solo trips (for sanity sake). The off-road sport and interest has literally exploded over the past 20 years w/ media, hobby, competitions & after market products – along with the rising gas & tire prices.
Plan better trips, learn to really read a topographic map, depart for your trip over-prepared and find new, amazing destinations all over California. Use Total Escape often and get a bumper sticker for your rig!
Many folks drive dirt roads just to get to a trailhead and go hiking, mountain biking or rock climbing. Many backpackers trailheads are indeed located miles off pavement on forest dirt roads.
Some outdoor enthusiasts crave seclusion: peace and quite, away from city life, city folks, all noise… well away from the crowds. Preferring to camp outside of developed campgrounds, which means free camping (mostly on dirt roads). Campfire permits are always required. Many excellent, hidden camp sites can be found on rugged, unpaved back roads – some requiring 4 wheel drive, others not.
Gear Heads: those who value ‘vehicle time’ over ‘real nature’ will literally SIT inside their rigs (almost all day) – enjoying scenery from a safe distance. Picnic spot, viewpoint, yes, but rarely ever seeking out a hike, or a waterfall. Should a break-down occur, these dedicated guys will have their heads under the hoods or crawling underneath, for hours if needbe. Always be prepared with food in the cooler.
And believe it or not, some off-roaders will not even tent camp! They do not sleep on the ground. They prefer a local lodge in the nearest small town or they could own a luxury RV (towing a trailer w/ the overbuilt Jeep). Talk about gas guzlers.
Backcountry routes may be signed – high clearance needed, or not. Black diamond, double diamond trail. Yikes 4×4 required, what! Did we miss a sign or take a wrong turn?
SIGNS are not always reliable on the back roads.
Small Signs: get shot at, run over, blown over and washed away with erosion… so best have a hard copy map (at all times).
In Trinity, locals have been known to remove forest road signs to confuse tourists and prevent traffic in certain directions. I can’t imagine why. Cough, cough, Hyampom!
PVT – private property
This brings us to private ROADS & LAND. Just because a dirt road is located in a forest or rural region doesn’t mean it is open to the public. Generally private lands are well marked w/ ‘No Trespassing’ notices, some fenced and gated. In Baja and in ranching areas in general, public access may be allowed to pass through. Inquire at a local ranger stations for the area you wish to explore.
Litter removal 101 should be the norm; Don’t Trash California! Teach your children well. Respect the land and always Tread Lightly! Find more about ECO – CAMPING
Winter wet weather doesn’t need to put a damper on your outdoor exploring, if you can get your hands on a 4×4 vehicle. Almost any SUV or truck with 4 wheel drive is capable of driving through some snow or mud. Just how deep is the mud (underneath the snow) is usually the big question. Many National Forests and State Parks close certain dirt roads due to over-use, or to control soil erosion and prevent the deep muddy ruts which are costly to re-grade come springtime. Call ahead to the rangers to find which back road routes are indeed open, or bring your printed topo map and wing it.
The California destinations listed below are popular winter spots for off roading enthusiasts. Some places may be busier than others. The dirt roads surrounding these spots are real treasures, so try to plan an all-day loop trip if possible. Camping w/ a campfire permit is an option on many back roads. Plenty lodging in nearby small towns if winter camping is not your thing.
Tribal lands are mostly located in rural regions which always have plenty of dirt roads to explore. Get a good back roads map for the public lands nearby, parks, BLM, National Forest. If the overnight camping is dropping into the twenties or teens, then know the forecast. A good rule of thumb for California hotel stays: If the low temps overnight are below the cost of a hotel room at the nearby casino, the comfy lodge might be well worth considering.
@ California – Arizona border.
The Laughlin casino in the middle of nowhere, right on the Colorado River. Jet ski rentals, swimming pools and spas, restaurants, RV park. The historic Mojave Trail, aka Mojave Road, starts next to the property.
Gold Country Casino
@ Lake Oroville, California
Sierra Nevada mountains Northern California. Conveniently located near Feather River (all 4 forks) and Plumas National Forest, with Berry Creek and Bucks Lake Wilderness to explore. Snow often closes the highest elevations.
@ Pine Valley, East County San Diego
Great bouldered mountains with back road exploring, hiking, mountain biking trails, all easy access from Southern California. Get a Cleveland National Forest map and expect some road closures near Laguna Mountain Sunrise Highway, especially when it snows.
Diamond Mountain Casino
Susanville, Northern California
Located in between US Highway 395 and Mount Lassen, the scenic Susan River region has lots to offer for the outdoor enthusiasts. Plenty of roads to explore, some big lakes too. Many Forest roads could be closed due to snow, so be warned and call ahead to the ranger.
The whole Carson City area in Nevada has some excellent dirt roads to explore. Old mines, caves, many miles of pinyon forests. Lake Tahoe is nearby with luxury resorts, casinos and snow skiing.
If you just can’t stand the cold and snow, then warmer climates lie to the south. Baja California is a tourist/traveler and off-roader haven in the wintertime.
Jawbone Canyon for Thanksgiving weekend will get dirt bikes by the thousands and big families. Christmas is busy around the Palm Spring desert destinations – like Joshua Tree. Easter weekend is popular w/ wildflowers and campers in Anza Borrego Desert.
Occasionally, wide graded dirt roads lead to secondary routes, so overnighting it with a motorhome on the back roads is very possible (if deep mud is not present). RV camping is quite the tradition for Southern Californians. Desert off roaders in tow, all over the Mojave. Steer clear of busy family groups. Pick a lesser known area to camp and explore. Get your real topo maps out and choose easy access from pavement, but wide graded dirt roads are best. Plenty roads like this in the Eastern Sierra, on the east side of US Hwy 395. RV campers that follow Total Escape might very well be interested in testing the limits of their recreational vehicle, slowly.
Before AWD got marketed as 4WD, Total Escape was way out there exploring in a 2 wheel drive and posting it online for you. All wheel drive station wagons should stick to the paved and plowed roads. If you plan to do a lotta dirt road driving in the old Subaru, keep the rock crawling to a minimum. If not, you may want to invest in a skid plate for the oil pan. Nothing beats first hand experience and learning ahead of time how your car will behave before you loose control on icy dark steep roads. Go practice with the emergency break and get the vehicle in a wide open snow plowed area if possible, just avoid the temptations to get wild. Don’t get the doughnut urge and plant yourself in a tree. Remember, it’s not like the commercial showed us, those are closed roads they are filming on.
If you plan to be off roading in snow or mud at all you might want to consider some important safety items: tire chains for snow, a tow strap and tire plugs for flats. If you own a high clearance 2WD SUV, you could benefit from running chains on all four tires when snow is present. How deep the snow gets and how steep the hills are, determines how far you can go without a real 4 wheel drive. Some choose to rent a 4WD for the weekend road trip.
Carry these items when traveling in winter conditions:
tools, jumper cables, tow strap, emergency gear, first aid kit, real boots, extra clothes, blankets, flashlights, food, drinking water, cell phone, maps
Indian Flats Campground is located on a dirt road off Hwy 79, near Warner Springs CA. Boulder ridges & manzanita surround this oak filled secluded canyon. Small seasonal creek & waterfall is a short walk from campsite.
Maps Mountains / Desert Topo / San Diego Area Maps