Steep, rocky, gravel road, way up above (and behind) Convict Lake. 4WD may be needed during wet or snowy weather. High clearance is always advised. Locked GATE at the bottom means the NFS rangers have closed the route (seasonally) for deep snow, rock slides, avalanches, or other erosion hazards.
Laurel Canyon, US Hwy 395
Oldest, exposed rock in the Sierra Nevada mountains range. Buckling granite w/ volcanic rocks. Evidence of glacial activity including, terminal, lateral, and recessional moraines, glacial striations and polish, erratic boulders, and of course the numerous lakes. see more
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.
Eastern Sierra Nevada – Inyo Mountains
Inyo Forest Back Roads – Mammoth Off Road
Off Road near US Highway 395. Yep, Olancha has some OHV (off-road) areas near the dunes, but this web site is dedicated to the real deal, the scenery, the trail heads, the hot springs, great secluded camping & of course, back road exploring.
You will need a Inyo National Forest map to discover these back roads. These are minimally traveled routes, un-maintained, sometimes washed out, eroded & maybe even creek crossings (without a bridge). Some gravel two-lane routes, some one lane roads leading deep into dead end canyons.
A few popular routes are paved, but most of these listed are indeed dirt roads. Some may require high clearance vehicle, or even 4×4. Know your vehicles limitations & be prepared to turn back when the road worsens. Cuz more often than not, it’s a sign of what more difficult terrain is to come.
Watch out for live stock – they are dumber than they look.
Owenyo Rd – Wanna parallel the highway (395) on dirt; Sure, it’s a long bumpy route – from Hwy 136 @ Dolomite to Bend City @ Mazourka Cyn.
Road# 13S05 – Mazourka Canyon Rd – leads up to some old mining camps & way behind Mazourka Peak (9410′) deep into the Inyo mountains. It’s all desert on this side, but these canyons have pinyons & more vegetation than you would imagine. Road# 9S15 & 9S14 circle Andrews Mountain (9460′) then join back up w/ Death Valley Rd (the North Pass into Saline Valley).
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest has some great dirt roads surrounding it. After you are finished with all the touristy sights & you don’t wanna spend the rest of the day in the visitors center or back at camp, try Cottonwood Canyon – full of aspens, camp sites & fishing, not cottonwood trees. 4×4 is required. Crooked Creek has boulders, boulders & more boulders. Plus some amazing camp sites with open sky views. Silver Canyon is for high clearance only, 2WD okay. This will lead you down to Laws Railroad Museum on Hwy 6, on the back side of Bishop, CA
Benton Crossing Rd (green church @ 395)
This wide road leads out to multiple dirt roads that peel off in every direction. Many Eastern Sierra Hot Springs can be found out here – on the east side of the highway. No hot spring resorts, no facilities, no clothing & very primitive.
Bishop 4×4 route Coyote Flat
Coyote Wash leads up to Coyote Flat & out to Coyote Lake. This a a spectacular high altitude plateau overlooks the Owens Valley & requires 4 wheel drive just to get up there. Pinyons, junipers, aspens, wildflower meadows, old mines, & yes, lakes at 11,000′ elevation. Views of the High Sierra & South Lake.
Buttermilk Road – This dirt road is north turn off of Hwy 168, W of Bishop, CA. “The Buttermilks” are a popular spot among rock climbers. A great place for indian petroglyphs too!
Road# 9S21 – Glacier Lodge Road – Paved road. Creek exploring & fishing. Plenty Campgrounds. W of Big Pine CA
Horseshoe Meadows Rd – Paved route with great views over Owens dry lake bed; access via Lone Pine CA; A nice day trip to meadows & High Sierra scenery. Picnic & day hike!
McMurray Meadows Rd – south off of Glacier Lodge Rd (#9S21) just W of Big Pine CA. You can find ancient cinder cone volcanoes & cave-like lava tubes in between this long dirt road & the highway.
Monache Meadows is a high elevation meadow that takes some time & determination to get to. This area is part of the Inyo National Forest, but can be accessed by either: backpacking thru the high Sierra’s or driving a high clearance vehicle thru Sequoia NF # 22S05 Sherman Pass Road, behind the Black Rock Ranger Station & Troy Meadows Campground. High clearance is needed, 4×4 maybe. Great camping sites near Olancha Peak trailhead. The area is surrounded by Golden Trout Wilderness & South Sierra Wilderness. From US Highway 395 to Kennedy Mdws & then Monache is a full day of exploring, so you may as well stay the night up there. But bring warm gear, a campfire permit & a capable vehicle.
Manzanar Routes – Back behind Manzanar Camp there are miles of dirt roads to explore. Many creeks side camp sites can be found even with a passenger car. Small trees & sage brush. Secluded camping (for free) is possible in the Eastern Sierra.
Mono Craters (Rd# 1N11) – the youngest mountain range on the continent. Just south of Mono Lake, this route skirts the pumice cones & climbs over the Aeolian Buttes, before it meets back up with Hwy 395.
Walker Creek Rd #19S01 – Oaks & creek. South of Olancha CA, look for turn off & follow dirt road up into the tight canyon.
San Diego Deserts, San Ysidro Mountains
Montezuma Grade Montezuma Highway, Hwy S-22
High desert elevations, large boulders, highway w/ primitive campground. No trees, but much vegetation; flat parking, large tent spots, picnic tables, vault toilet. High desert mountain pass, with boulders, canyons and many dirt roads to explore.
• Elevation: 3,350′
• Number of Sites: 10
• Vehicle Accessibility: all
• Campsites Reservation: No
• Camp Fee: No
• Length of Stay: 10 Days
• Season: October – May
• Trailheads: Grapevine Canyon, Pena Springs, Anza Borrego & PCT (Pacific Crest Trail)
hike highcountry borrego
Culp Valley Trail, Grapevine Canyon, Montezuma Valley, Pena Springs, San Ysidro Mountains.
Dirt roads, backroads, desert trails, OHV routes, single tracks, dunes, fire roads, gravel roads, 4×4 roads
When you wanna explore a new area, California has plenty of public land to offer. Off Road Maps can get you away from the crowds & the main staging areas. Maps can show you prime areas to ride & camp that you may not have ever imagined. Secluded, wide open, or freeway close. Terrain – the endless deserts, the mountain foothills, the higher hills , way above the city. The choice is yours.
Whether you seek secluded stream side camp sites, with some fishing or a dusty, long, desert trail that spans the entire Mojave desert, you can find these secret spots with good old fashioned topographic maps. Hard copies! The real deal. No cell signal? No problem.
Awesome California locations w/ off-road trails nearby. DanaMite has compiled a list of first-hand knowledge information, links, photos, campsites, maps, all revolving around rural California. Check out the ever growing list and get ready to explore the back roads, like never before.
OHV area, motor vehicle use, 4×4 camps, dirt trails, forest routes; Download maps for various off-roading areas in California.
What the heck is it ???
4WD = 4 wheel drive
4×4 = (same as above)
2WD = 2 wheel drive
4×2 = (same as above)
AWD = All wheel drive
SUV = Sport Utility Vehicle
MTB = Mountain Bike
MX = Motocross (dirt bike motorcycle)
SNOMO = Snow Mobile (sled machine)
GAS-POWERED RECREATION: The past two decades have emerged with vehicle redesigns from well known brands, creating a number of new “utility vehicles” for the sport of off-roading (otherwise known as, burning gasoline while recreating in the outdoors). Here is a breakdown on the acronyms, but they all basically refer to much of the same “off road type vehicles”.
ATV = All Terrain Vehicle (quad)
MOHUV = Multipurpose Off-Highway Utility Vehicle
ROPS = Roll Over Protection System
ROV = Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle
RUV = Recreational Utility Vehicle
SxS = Side by Side Vehicle (2 seated)
SSV = (same as above)
UTV = Utility Task Vehicle
Common abbreviations for off-road on public lands:
OHV – Off Highway Vehicle SVRA – State Vehicular Recreation Areas BLM – Bureau of Land Management NFS – National Forest (USDA) MVUM – motor vehicle use map (NFS)
PVT – private land / keep out
MTR – motorized
RD – road
CO – county
RTE – route
SR – state route
FR – forest route / road
EXT – exit
CK – creek
EL – elevation
MT – mountain
STA – station (ranger/fire station)
PO – post office
Around 2012 the National Forest Service printed up a bunch of nice off-road maps for various popular regions of California. Oddly, they told me not to sell them and I never heard anything about them again after that. Not even sure if these above are available to the public, but if you dig around you might find ’em. Call the rangers, they might know.
If interested, you could call the ranger station and ask about any local off-road maps, and availability. Mostly they have freebie one page print-outs, black & white — to keep the crowds where they want them. Other times they might have real color, printed maps for sale at the station. Maps that can get you deeper into the terrain, with wild edges of reality nearby. 4×4 maps, OHV map, MVUM
BLM Maps (Bureau of Land Management)
Government agency that manages large amounts of California land. Public lands that do not fall into the National Forest or National Park or State Park realm. BLM oversees some mountain areas, river canyons and primarily, desert regions within California. Visit a local BLM office to see the selection of area maps.
Decent & FREE: dirt road maps can be found at BLM ranger station, south of NEEDLES, on US Hwy 95. Explore Turtle Mountain and find free camping IN ROUTE; Eastern California Desert.
Being the largest State Park inside California, Anza Borrego has certain advantages. Lots of land to explore, abundant dirt roads, free camping and a very diverse terrain. Located in SoCal, this desert has lots to offer the outdoor enthusiasts, all year round.
Anza Borrego Desert
with hundreds of miles of dirt roads to explore
SUV / 2WD / AWD / 4WD / 4×4 / OHV
The Anza Borrego desert, in east San Diego County, is quite large and very easily accessible from Southern California. The park spans mid-elevation, mountain foothills (3000′ elevation) down to dry lake beds near sea level. Large, vast and varied terrain – and full of vegetation in certain spots. Borrego Desert Wildflower blooms attract thousands of visitors between March-May each Spring.
While the majority of the dirt roads inside the ANZA DESERT are passable with a regular passenger car (on most days), some specific areas and routes are indeed considered “too hairy” and may require a 4 wheel drive. Rains change landscape fast in this region, so know before you go.
FLASH FOOD WARNING: Wet weather (anywhere nearby) can make a mild, soft, sandy wash into a wild, flowing river. On occasion desert washes are ‘washed out’ during big rain, often becoming mini rivers that can swallow your vehicle; Road and weather conditions can change suddenly in the California deserts. Wind can also play a huge factor in a selecting a decent camp site. Know the weather report in advance and always be on the watch for big clouds on mountains to the west.
Deep sand washes, steep sandy hillsides, boulder passes, rock yards to boulder hopping, soggy bottoms to straddling ruts, the deserts of SoCal are indeed fun and challenging. Enjoy your public lands responsibly and pick up some litter, stay on the trail and do not target shoot inside park boundaries.
To find these off-roading areas: OHV routes, camp areas and gear heads galore. Or try avoid them. Keep reading.
Anza Borrego Desert State Park itself is NOT AN OFF ROAD PARK. If you want the free-for-all, open, OFF-ROAD areas, with sand dunes and terrain to explore, then the list above should help. Some places can be secluded and private for camping, and only one Jeep may pass by (for the whole weekend).
On the other end of the spectrum, most OHV camping areas are closer to paved routes and busy w/ motorized activity. On weekends, traffic, events and crowds are the norm. ATV, dirt bikes, buggies, quads, jeeps, families, RVs. Often, a big noisy scene.
Seeking to travel to distant places to avoid crowds? then this site can help point to the best destinations. Follow links, browse images, get a decent topo map – and discover private desert camping for free.
other awesome anza trails & canyons
most w/ 2WD access; high clearance vehicle is preferred (and as usual, 4WD may be needed in storm conditions). Not all 4×4 routes will be signed. Signs get washed away in desert areas, so don’t count on them. Have a good hard-copy, topo map handy – just in case.
Wetlands in the desert? Not that rare, water does flow downhill. Some established well-traveled roads may have added gravel to the soggy marsh areas, but many water crossings are bare, and vulnerable to erosion. Try to avoid driving in and around water. DRIVE SLOW through water where route crossing is obvious. Wildlife need these water sources to survive, so don’t muck it up.
Palm canyons and large boulders are numerous in this desert, water sources scarce. Camping near palms can be limited to walking distance. Several palm oasis camps along San Diego County Road S-2, some RV accessible. Even the county-run Hot Springs Park has some palms. Of course, Palm Canyon is the State Park Campground. Visitors Center headquarters in downtown Borrego Springs has the most popular hikes, hotels, restaurants, with abundant campground camping. Very walk-able town. Super hot during summer, triple digits!
back roads: weekends
Weekends are always busier than week days, in general, all over Cali. Keep that in mind when seeking seclusion. Camping in Anza Borrego desert is always best at least 2 miles off the pavement, well away from the traffic on the highway and for those masses seeking the easy camping.
OPEN-CAMPING: camping outside of developed campgrounds, also referred to as ‘primitive camping’ is quite common in Anza Borrego desert. Many Borrego Camping Areas are accessible with regular cars, close to main roads and usually have no bath rooms, or facilities. The further you drive from the pavement, the more likely you are to encounter obstacles like boulders, deep ruts, soft sand and uneven terrain.
An avenue made of dirt, earthen highways, dirt trails, forest roads, fire roads, jeep road, graded roads. Dirt driving trails that lead into the middle of nowhere. No stop signs, no billboards, no stores, no one else around… for miles. Enjoy less crowds and more open space.
If you are fed up with city life, sitting in traffic & need to vacate your mind among the barren hills of California (if only for a weekend), then Total Escape is your place. You seek solitude, peace, maybe a mini tailgate party & BBQ on a dry lake bed, with the heavenly stars above. Imagine the warm camp fire light reflecting off the high canyon walls, your music echoing, moonlight hikes for a few miles.
California has some awesome spots to drive on dirt, get way back in nature. Right up to the edge of the Wilderness boundary. That’s what this one silly “dirt street” page is all about… helping you get out there, the easiest & best way possible. We even got you the right maps!
Most of this is just dirt road driving, graded, some hills, easy stuff. But on occasion you might come across a 4×4 required sign – or perhaps a triple black diamond trail. Having several good maps on hand will help you enjoy these roads, instead of stressing & wondering if there is a lock gate at the other end – 18 miles in.
Some dirt streets lead to campgrounds, some to waterfalls, some to viewpoints, some have loop options & others are just dead end; sometimes at old mines. Get ready to explore with your truck or SUV. 2WD or low clearance vehicles (such as passenger cars) should be ready to turn back if the road get too nasty. Any decent precipitation can make any unpaved road much worse & may require 4 wheel drive, so have a plan B or C as a backup idea.
Maps are the key to finding your very own slice of heaven in the Wilderness. Online map sources can barely get you to your city destination correctly, much less the remote waterfall you desire. You will need a real map for your adventure. A topographical map, with all the details, dirt roads & hiking trails. If you are seeking to stay away from the touristy crowds, this is the best possible place you can be…. on this site, searching for ways to make it happen – this weekend.
BACKPACKERS BACKPACKING MAPS –
Mount Whitney, John Muir & way beyond the High Sierra. DanaMite has all the California Wilderness maps on the new map shop. Various brands and types of maps. Most are printed on waterproof plastic now & are tear-resistant.
Planning on camping outside of the developed campgrounds & finding that perfect stream side spot without the reservation & the fees? Then you will need a free fire permit (from a ranger station), plus a good map of the forests & a vehicle capable of handling the rugged the back roads. Much of California is prone to wildfires, so make sure campfires are even allowed on the backroads, before you get out there. Call the “field rangers” for back road advice and current recommendations.
Start your search on the perfect campground or camp site with the destination in mind. Mountains, deserts, coastal. Parks & forests all have their own maps with all nearby camp grounds listed. We feature all the National Forest maps, as well as some State Park & National Park maps
Road conditions on dirt roads change with the weather and the seasons. This route can be rocky and uneven in spots. One lane road, on a big hill w/ minimal pullouts. Snow is possible, during winter & springtime. This route often closed during winter months – or for rock slides. Trailers and RVs are not recommended on this dirt road, although small motorhome campers can try.
Elevation approx 6000′ @ HWY
w / route continuing up to Toro Peak @ 8740′
NFS local camp sites:
Santa Rosa Campground
Santa Rosa Springs Campground
Bare bones, primitive camp sites. Tables, fire rings. Must have a campfire permit for this region. Vault toilets? None.
Did I mention the wind yet? Tall trees do block a majority of the wind, but some areas get whipping – so choose your tent site wisely. And stake it down well, before that quick day hike. Since this is a mountain ridge line, expect thunderstorms, wind and possibly light snow.
The big, famous Palm Canyon in Palm Springs starts below. The impressive desert canyon trails lead up to highway 74. Continue on foot uphill, southbound, cross the pavement, and end up in this Toro Peak region. Small campgrounds, few people, great views over the desert. Pick a smog free weekend (with wind) for best Coachella Valley views.
Fortunately, those places do not allow driving on the dunes, which is exactly what the off-road boys want to do. Sand flying, motors screaming, music blasting, bon fires blazing and no silence found until the wee hours of early morning.
Autumn, Winter & Spring are the busy months for ‘froaders in the deserts, since summer temps can soar into triple digits heat daily.
Camping out near “the dunes” is usually a big, freaking, free-for-all, outdoors with the latest in motorized toys. Recreation Vehicles encircling bonfires (camp formation for a large group), toy box haulers, trailers, families, and maybe a massive BBQ setup.
OHV (off highway vehicle) Vehicular Recreation Area
California BLM Desert Sand Dunes
Below is a list of California Sand Dunes overseen by the Bureau of Land Management.
Arroyo Salado / Ocotillo Wells
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
Located 10 mi. west of Highway 86 on Highway 78. Rolling hills and sand washes. Designated “Open Area” consisting of 4,800 acres. Adjacent to Ocotillo Wells Vehicular Recreation Area. Near Split Mountain, Anza Borrego Desert
Dumont Dunes Mojave
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
Located 30 mi. north of Baker on Hwy 127, off Dumont Dunes Rd. Steep and tall sand dunes. Designated “Open Area” of 8,150 acres. South of Death Valley National Park.
Glamis / Gecko Road
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
Holiday weekends = NUTS!! Approximately 22,000 acres. Located 25 mi. east of Brawley on HIGHWAY 78. Sand Dunes. Designated “Open Area” Danger: Adjacent to military bombing range. Contact the El Centro BLM
Imperial Sand Dunes / Buttercup Valley
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
Approximately 11,000 acres. Located 10 mi. southeast of Niland on the Niland Glamis Rd. Sand Dunes are designated “Open Area”. Watch for closed area boundary at south end of area. CA Highway 78 near Brawley. Contact the El Centro BLM
Mojave El Mirage / Shadow Mountains
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
Located 10 mi. west of Adelanto on Crippen/El Mirage Road. Dry lake Bed. Heavy use area. many non-motorized and motorized recreation – including aircrafts. Area consists of 24,000 acres.
Plaster City / Yuha Basin
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
South side of Anza Borrego Desert State Park. 15 mi. west of El Centro. Located on county Highway S-80. Consists of 41,000 acres of rolling hills and desert flats. Military bombing range north of area is closed to entry. Contact the El Centro BLM
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
Located 15 mi. NW of El Centro via Highway S-8, Huff, and Wheeler Roads. Varied terrain consisting of 13,000 acres; dry lakes, badlands, rocky mountains, and sand dunes. Military bombing range north and south of area is closed to entry. Contact the El Centro BLM
Rasor OHV Recreation Area
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
Located 45 mi. northwest of Barstow, CA on Rasor Road. Sand washes and dunes, mesquite thickets. Designated “Open Area” consisting of 22,500 acres. Contact theBarstow BLM
Rice Valley Dunes
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
Located 5 mi. south of Rice Valley off of Highway 62. Access is Santa Fe Road. Sand dunes. Designated “Open Area” consisting of 3,770 acres. Area of little use. Danger: Contaminated with unexploded ordinance.
BLM lands in California are often known as the ‘free camping’ option. No charge camp sites, convenient, in-route locations, many areas along major highways or interstates. Campfire permits are always required for any open fires, BBQs and campfires.
DESERT WILDFLOWERS can be found annually, February – April in most of these areas. Springtime blooms draw the crowds, but few visitors actually camp out overnight.
When searching out premium camp sites – drive slower than 50 mph & look for the brown recreation signs. Since people like to drive fast in the desert, make sure to put your hazard lights or blinkers on, so traffic knows you are slow poking. Typically dirt roads are only marked with small, thin reflectors, maybe numbers or letters, if you’re lucky.
Traffic noise will be minimal if you camp away from the main drag at least ONE mile or more. Motorhomes may not have the luxury to travel that distance; they often prefer to stay in large, level, flat pull outs, right near the pavement.
If daring to venture more than 2 miles from the pavement, be prepared for rough conditions. 4WD drive may be needed in certain spots, or in the wettest of weather. Wind is always a factor in desert regions, so keep that in mind. Deep sandy washes, tow strap anyone? No facilities, no services, no toilet. Spotty cell phone coverage. Basically – the boonies!
BOONDOCKING is the latest phrase for “open, free camping”
SEEKING QUIET CANYONS? stay away from the off-roaders. They usually congregate in dunes and specified OHV areas. Trails and dirt roads are for multi-purpose use, so a variety of recreation can be had. Many people use these public lands, so leave them clean and better than you found it. Boulder coves, palm gardens, primitive hot springs. There are plenty of hidden camp spots within the vast desert region of SoCal.
Several BLM lands are near Wilderness Areas. Camping is allowed close by, mountain biking & hiking are usually abundant. Off roading prohibited within Wilderness boundaries.
URLs within the official BLM site keep changing, which is why we are rebuilding our BLM pages. So you can find what you need, easily.
4WD clubs / 4×4 off road / 4×4 vehicles / 4×4 club
Originally uploaded by danamightCalifornia has no shortage of 4 wheel drive vehicles, but how many of them actually use them for what they were intended? If you’ve had your 4WD for a while and are itching to get to know the local trails, then grab yourself a few good OHV maps & head for the hills.
If you are a total novice and think you might want to get familiar with routes, what your vehicle can and cannot do, and learn the ropes from the pros, then you might want to discover the friendly folks in your local 4×4 club. Below we list as many legitimate groups we can find, with or without web sites. If your club is not listed, then please contact us & we might add it.
Off roaders (with running rigs) can enjoy pre-planned back road trips with various 4×4 Groups in California:
California Highway 78 cuts across Southern California and right thru the middle of the largest State Park in the lower 48. Anza Borrego Desert State Park is a place that must be visited more than once to really take in all the beauty it has to offer. Free camping in Southern California is abundant here, if you are willing to follow the primitive camp fire rules of the park and you are comfortable camping away from developed campgrounds.
North-South:San Diego County Road S2 skirts the western border with Laguna Mountain towering above. It starts at Ocotillo @ Interstate 8 and heads Northwest to Lake Henshaw at Warner Springs.
East-West: a major route S22, connects Ranchita /Montezuma Valley to the Borrego Valley, and continues East to the Salton Sea. The center of the parks is pretty much the town of Borrego Springs, where the State Parks visitors center is located. San Diego County Road S3 leads from Hwy 78 down the the town of Borrego Springs Valley.
free camping: While the camping facilities listed above provide picnic tables and toilets, or more luxury camping… Total Escape thinks the best part of camping in Anza Borrego Desert is the vast amount of free, open camping available on most back roads. Hundreds of dirt roads lead off in all directions, so you can find the peace and solitude that few inside busy campgrounds ever experience.
Many Anza desert routes are sandy washes, dirt roads, some for high clearance vehicles only, or 4WD in several canyons. Often there is no signs telling you need 4×4 to proceed. May only find out when its too late and you’re stuck.
Have a good dirt road map with you and know your vehicles limitations. Passenger cars should be very cautious off road. Cell phone coverage is spotty out here in the most remote wilderness areas.
San Diego Backcountry
600,000 acres of SoCal desert
BLOOM: February thru May Anza Park elevations range from low to high. Lowest near eastern border of park (next to the Salton Sea) to the upper reaches of the western slopes @ 4000′ of the Laguna mountains. Lower elevations sprout up first; Micro flowers, Easter-egg-color splendor in the dry washes. Higher elevations bloom later (along w/ areas on San Diego County Rd S-2, the Great Overland Stage Route)
Drive from Temecula to Warner Springs, and then proceed east – out to the Salton Sea via Back Road Highway #S22 (Montezuma Grade). A great route to take thru the Borrego State Park – for the full gamut in vegetation & altitude. Grapevine Canyon is an alternate off road route down a scenic canyon. Culp Valley has a small campground, plus lots of boulders and decent views to the Borrego Valley. Off the highway, on dirt, one-lane side roads lead to many primitive spots. Perfect for private picnics, stargazing or overnight camping.
Mojave Reservoir @ Colorado River: AZ / NV / CA
@ the V, bottom of Nevada state = Arizona – Nevada – California, all merge together
The Colorado River travels through the southwest desert, splitting the Grand Canyon and further south, separating California from Arizona at the southern tip of Nevada. Agriculture lines the big river down to Baja, Sea of Cortez, Mexico.
Up near Las Vegas and down to Searchlight, NV
Above Hoover Dam is Lake Mead, sediment from Utah National Parks. Red dirt and silt shorelines. South of Hoover dam is a super deep rock gorge w/ hike-in hot springs. Beyond that, this beauty called Lake Mohave – with the super clear water, secluded coves and abundant fishing.
Lake Mohave: elevation 647′
Desert peaks in this region are around 2000-3000′ elevation. Mohave Lake is actually a wide section of the Colorado River, spanning the region from massive Black Canyon south to busy Laughlin w/ river casinos. This lake is long and skinny in spots with lots of shoreline cliffs, canyons and coves. Minimal vegetation, so please bring your own firewood and don’t chop down the few trees trying to survive. Summer temps exceed 100 degrees, so plan your visit for the winter time.
Lake Mohave Ranger Stations
boating, camping, fishing, hiking, hot springs, kayaking, off-road, picnics, viewpoints
El Dorado Canyon Road, main paved route can be accessed near California’s state border. North of Searchlight, Nevada – off main highway 95, on side route 165 to Nelson, NV
Secluded dirt roads up and down canyons near El Dorado Canyon Rd. Minimal vegetation, maximum open scenery and dark skies. Kayak rentals @ El Dorado Canyon.
desert badlands erosion
4×4 camping routes: 15 day camping limit
Find your own route with many to choose from, drive the soft sandy washes (with a few boulders to dodge) and camp for free, right at the waters edge. Adventurers: Only for the self-contained campers. Some routes marked 4WD only, so pay attention to signs. AWD (all wheel drive) vehicles should fare well on the sandy roads; but standard passenger cars and vans will need to keep their speed up in the soft sand areas.
No garbage collection. Pack it in, pack it out.
No facilities, no fees. No buildings. No campfire rings, no picnic tables, very few vault toilets. Bring your shovel!
Driving off the roads is strictly prohibited. Primitive camp sites can be found both at numerous coves and also inland inside the canyons. The ridges get windy in the deserts, but are favorable for night sky views and self contained camper vans.
Always know the weather forecast, cuz flash floods are possible and these dirt roads will be impassible during big rain. This is the main drainage to the big river!
Most desert washes here are signed routes 4×4, but mini vans, AWD sport-wagons, trucks, SUVs, small RVs can all be found camping near Lake Mohave. That is – if you know how to ‘drive off road’, which is not fast, but not too slow either.
Avoid getting stuck in the deep sand: keep speed up, do not turn sharply and do not brake hard. Carry tow strap in case you need an emergency pull. Be nice to strangers and you may find help.
Campfires are allowed, but you need to bring firewood. Dogs are allowed. Party animals tend to trash these desert coves, so be warned that there is a fair amount of litter. Bring a black trash bag and take some out! This trash problem could get the area closed off to vehicles so keep that in mind.
The canyons here have giant power lines that cross @ Aztec Wash; they can easily be avoided.
4×4 recommended @ MOHAVE:
Eagle Wash Road #46 – popular spot
Montana Wash #45 – camping ok
Placer Wash #47 – no camping
The rangers don’t wanna be pulling your ass out of the sand, which is why they post the 4×4 signs. Don’t expect to find help without walking a few miles first, or waiting several hours.
Several wilderness areas are located along the west side of this lake & river. Often dirt roads will parallel a portion of the wilderness boundary, providing excellent access to secluded coves and beaches. Emergency CALL boxes are placed in remote parts of these shores.
Ireteba Peaks Wilderness (northwest, next to El Dorado Canyon)
Nellis Wash Wilderness (western side)
Spirit Mountain Wilderness (southwest)
Bridge Canyon Wilderness (southwest, near Laughlin)
developed campground, boat launch, marina, lodging, hiking, picnic areas
Mojave Desert – This river-created lake is located on the Colorado River, in between Las Vegas, Nevada and Needles, California. The river water here is crystal clear, very swimmable and the fishing is decent. No paved boat ramps
nearby towns: (with elevation)
Bullhead City, AZ (540′)
Laughlin, NV (535′)
Kingman, AZ (3340′)
Nelson, NV (2954′) Nipton, CA (3042′) Oatman, AZ
Searchlight, NV (3470′)
If you’ve had it with the traditions, the big meal prep, or just sick of the family. Maybe you are a solo traveler, or a new transplant to California and need to explore more. Take a holiday away – for once this time.
Camping for turkey day? What a concept.
California is the perfect place for camping, all year long!
Stick to the lower elevations, look for canyons, and seek seclusion
California mountains often have snow during November. Avoid camping in snow @ 4000-5000′ elevation and above; Freezing temps above 3000-4000′ elevation.
Deserts, coastal regions and foothills are top choices for late Autumn car camping. Always check the weather ahead of departure, and have a plan B as an alternative. NorCal will be much wetter than the rest of the state.
MEALS: Prepare dinner meals ahead of trip departure. Bake turkey days before your trip and create meals based around that. Make mash potatoes at home and don’t forget to bring the butter. Pack pre-baked turkey for sandwiches, plus other quick snacks & meals for on-the-go travel.
Desert Camping is premium at this time of year. Luckily the eastern half of Southern Cal is desert. The lower the elevation, the better the temps will be overnight. Be prepared for wind when the ‘storm fronts’ approach, the winds do get a cranking! Dirt roads can become flowing washes during a good rainstorm, so know the weather forecast.
Coastal campgrounds may need advanced reservations. Be prepared for wet weather, especially up north. The redwoods groves are gorgeous anytime of year.
Gold County Reservoirs are prime areas for relaxing in nature, while everyone else is out shopping. Oak hills, rivers and canyons. RV campers love these large lakes; boating, fishing, mountain biking trails, kayak rentals, hiking near historic Gold Rush towns.
River Canyons of California are always beautiful destinations in the autumn months. Many campgrounds can be found at lower elevation, river access areas. California’s abundant Hot Springs are also top picks for holiday weekends.
Anza Borrego Desert State Park is always a nice, easy and relatively close get-away for any holiday. Open camping on the backroads (for free) makes it one of the most attractive camping options in all of SoCal. Many dirt roads are accessible for passenger cars, if extreme caution is used. Don’t plan on driving more than a few miles on dirt.
Masses of off roaders love to camp out, especially on Thanksgiving weekend. Wheel all day, eat, drink, bon fires every night and rumor has it ‘they roast their big bird outdoors – deep in a dirt pit’. Really? El Centro, Glamis, Imperial Dunes, Ocotillo Wells, Truckhaven Hills, Johnson Valley. All popular off roading areas in Southern California, so consider yourself warned.
Mojave Desert, near US Hwy 395 Jawbone Canyon expect to see RVs, toy-boxes and families outside enjoying the weekend. OHV style. Often the group tries to create a round corral with their huge convoy of vehicles, to keep thru traffic to a minimum around “their camp”. Just stay well away from those gear-heads. In general, it is a very busy area around Mojave up to Hwy 178 during the holidays. Try high desert Horse Canyon instead.
Horse Canyon is a dirt road up a high desert canyon, with joshua trees and wash outs. 7000′ elevation pinyon pine ridges above w/ PCT.
Most would say the see a whole-lotta-nothingness out here in these deserts…. when they zoom by at 70 mph on the blacktop highway.
at Total Escape, we beg to differ.
Intersection on Hwy 14 @ SC 65, dirt route will travel west into the mountains. Initial desert road follows Little Dixie Wash, but veers north up to Horse Canyon and the higher forested ridges.
Horse Cyn is a scenic, desert, dirt road that becomes a rugged 4×4 trail the higher it climbs in the canyon. The route traverses a ridge line and dead ends at the old cabin; No through route, no loop. The PCT continues on to the Walker Pass @ the 178.
The lower Horse Canyon is area quite accessible by standard truck or SUV. High clearance is recommended out on these kinda roads. Vegetation is quite sparse at first, but improves with the miles traveled. Wildflowers can be awesome, usually April-June. Picnic spots everywhere; primitive camping sites can be found out here, off the main dirt road. Please reuse existing camp sites when possible.
Passenger cars may attempt this, but should watch for unexpected deep dips and rocks, washed out in the road. (No tow service in the middle of nowhere). Road conditions do change with the seasons out in the boonies. Cell phone reception could be spotty back in the deepest of canyons.
PCT trail access: Pacific Crest Trail follows this ridge road for miles. They call this range the SCODIE Mountains; Old cabin at the end of the road.
Sage Canyon and Cow Heaven Canyon are both to the north, along with Freeman Canyon (CA SR 178). Bird Spring and Dove Spring Canyons are both to the south, along with the most popular regions of Red Rock State Park and the Jawbone OHV area.
Yellow Stake Camp Sites / Back Roads Camping NFS
near Cajon Pass, Big Bear & Idyllwild CA
YELLOW POST CAMPS are dispersed camping sites on the back roads in Southern California, where fire danger is greatest. Forest authorities have designated certain spots as ‘fire safe’ for remote, open camping options around Big Bear Lake, Fawnskin and the Idyllwild mountain area.
If you prefer to stay out of the developed campgrounds, you will be the minority. But you must know how to read a map well to reach these beauties.
SoCal camping doesn’t have to mean crowded campgrounds. Seek your seclusion on the dirt back roads, where there are no fees, minimal noises & a private site waiting just for you. These are usually on a first come, first serve basis. A high clearance vehicle (SUV, truck or 4×4) may be needed to reach some of the premium camp spots, but there are also sites accessible by passenger cars. And, of course, a fire permit is required.
In the San Bernardino National Forest there are several back woods ‘fire safe’ camping spots, that are noted with a single yellow post & some may require reservations in busy summer months. You can find out more on reserving from the Big Bear Discovery Center, 909-382-2790
Extra caution should be used when winds are high, camp fires are often banned due to wildfire danger. Check with local rangers for up to date conditions and always get your campfire permit.
No restrooms, no water, no facilities. Just a dirt road, a fire ring & a single picnic table. Hopefully your table will not be shot up, by the local rednecks who ‘get off’ doing stupid stuff like this. Pick up any litter & leave the place better than your found it.
These backroad camps are perfect for the 4×4 group, stressed out social club, church group w/ rugged van, or the city SUVer who wants to get away from the crowds. The most sought after camp spots are nearest to the lake or a site accessible by RVs and horse trailers, but there are many more excellent camp sites to be discovered. USDA Forest Service Map is highly advised to reach these remote areas. There are rugged dirt roads that lead to some of these spots. A passenger car is sometimes not suitable for all dirt roads. Wet weather changes everything on dirt roads. Often routes close for winter w/ locked gates.
Heart Bar to Big Bear Lake, San Bernardino National Forest
Big Bear Back Roads
Highway 38, East of Heart Bar @ 1N02
alt big bear
This 8 mile long forested, dirt road begins right off Hwy 38, just east of Heart Bar Campground and is an easy turn to miss. The unimproved route heads north through the National Forest, up and over and around SugarLoaf Mountain (elev 9952′), then down to the Big Bear Lake region. Several primitive sites – yellow post camp sites – can be found way back in here, but you might NOT be able to have a campfire (depending on fire restrictions). Check w/ local rangers before you head out.
Forest roads are often closed (gated) during the winter, when snow and rain make a muddy mess of the terrain. Rock slides are also common in wetter months. Call the local rangers to inquire on road conditions or if this route is open.
The whole Big Bear Mountain area is a SoCal favorite forest destination, for weekenders and travelers alike. Mountain biking, hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, camping and 4-wheeling. Plus the recreational lake is full of more water recreation w/ tourist shops and restaurants. Stay away from the crowds and take the back roads for adventure and recreation.