California is an outdoor recreation paradise, with near perfect weather, diverse terrain and breathtaking scenery around every corner. Many folks gravitate to the west coast specifically to be outdoors more.
Soaking in the sunshine, every day, every week. Reconnecting with nature and choosing to live a more healthy lifestyle, eat well and learning to relax often. Camping can be a real vacation – without the high cost of travel.
Summer isn’t the only time to go camping in California
Avoid crowds Try getting out there before Memorial Day or after Labor Day!
Desert camping is popular during winter months, while mountain destinations are preferred in summer. Find a secluded small campground or even try roughing it w/ primitive car camping. Motorhome campers who like to boondock, will enjoy the extensive back roads section of Total Escape. If you own a 4WD vehicle, you can reach the most secluded 4×4 camps, lookout towers and some historic cabins.
hot in deserts & country foothills,
smoggy in cities; coastlines can be foggy
mountains & coast
great camping all around,
early winter storms in mountains
coast, deserts, country
snow in mountains & very cold,
windy on coast as seasonal storms move in
snow melt in mountains may be late,
storms can last into late springtime
deserts & country
annual timelines to consider
summer – busiest time for traffic and travel; many travelers, families, tourists; National Parks and coastal towns are crowded; hottest in desert areas, cities and in the mountain oak foothills
autumn – meteor showers, fall colors, fishing, hunting, hiking, mountain biking; fire restrictions higher, firewood collecting, less families out and about, cuz kids are back in school
winter – prime time for desert camping, off roading, ghost towns, museums and meteor showers; coldest months w/ winter storms; snow is possible down to 1000′ elevation
spring – wildflowers, birdwatching, rainy season, lakes, rivers, creeks flowing well; rafting & kayaking; snow storms tapering off w/ snowmobiling in mountains; snow camping
Tent cabins are made up of wooden floors, canvas walls & a canvas roof – a combination between a tent & a rustic cabin. Most have sleeping cots for beds; some have heaters, wood burning stoves or electrical outlets. A shared community bathroom is close by. Yurts are round versions of this same concept, with a wooden floor, real beds and usually some nicer decor. Often these places request that you bring your own bed linens and towels, but each resort is different so check the web links for detailed info.
Hike-in locations in the wilderness, rural river resorts or an easy drive to campground right off the freeway. These popular lodging accommodation are often marketed as GLAMPING, as in Glamour Camping – for the (luxury loving) princess who likes to try out nature – in a very controlled setting. Just watch out for mountain lions and bears.
Below are unique places in California that offer tent cabins, tree houses and yurt rentals.
ALLERGY NOTE: Most tent cabins are constructed out of heavy canvas material (fabric), which can mold when exposed to moisture (rain, fog, snow). Often they get dismantled, cleaned and stored properly over each winter season, sometimes not; All depends on weather, terrain difficulty and individual resort practices. If you suffer w/ allergies, moldy tent walls and dust mites can trigger asthma or other allergic reactions. If in doubt speak to the innkeeper or caretaker ahead of time.
Rent a Treehouse
Post Ranch Inn
Tree-House Rentals in California
Big Sur, CA Big Sur Coastline
San Diego Coastal Campgrounds
Mission Bay & North County
SD Beach RV Parks & Camping
San Diego’s mild climate means camping is available all year round. Winter storms can get windy and rainy, but most campgrounds are still open. From north county where the coastal cliffs overlook the ocean, to downtown bay side marinas w/ RV camping, to camping right on the sand w/ ocean crashing just feet away. Bike paths are common around downtown San Diego, so you can bring your bike or skates.
San Diego has 2 BAYS, both located along Interstate 5: The main bay downtown is called San Diego Bay (one of the deepest on the west coast) and the other a few miles north, is named Mission Bay (a man-made coastal waterway w/ green parks and paved bike trails).
Reservations are required at almost ALL coastal campgrounds, especially around holidays, any 3 day weekends, and all summer long. Tons of tourists flock to Southern California and this is a very popular coastline – with busy little cities and crowded beach towns. Beware: if you are seeking secluded camping – this would not be the place.
San Onofre State Beach Camp Pendleton or Camp Nuclear; I-5 freeway close
in between Oceanside & San Clemente, CA
There are numerous private RV resorts, some quite large, like KOA and GoodSam parks located in and around San Diego county. Most are metro-close and not located on the beach. This list is primarily coastal camping options for the San Diego region.
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.
Take the road next to the Ranger Station (South of Bridgeport, along Hwy 395); Drive up the hill and past the rock quarry. Bear right & look for dirt parking lot. Two pools, short walk, no shade, wonderful views of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Popular with local commuters and travelers, with easy access off the highway. Great spot for views westward w/ sunset picnic and soak.
No overnight camping allowed at Travertine hot springs (posted signs)
Plenty of great, free, camping nearby:
Primitive or developed Campgrounds.
Favorite romantic places in California. Stay overnight, have dinner nearby & make a night of it, or perhaps a whole weekend. Certain places may require a 2-night minimum stay, especially on weekends or any holiday weeks. A wide variety of destinations are listed below, from rustic mountain cabins, to palm oasis hot springs, to historic lodges located in a spectacular scenic setting.
Neighboring lodges or nearby small towns could have equally as nice accommodations, perhaps still affordable, quaint, uncrowded, and “undiscovered” by the masses. Call the innkeeper and ask questions. They should be thrilled to hear from you.
WINTER NOTE: Some of these remote locations may not be open year-round, due to snowy weather, so please confirm by phone before you make the drive. Tioga Pass Resort may require a snow-mobile to access.
step 1. kill your television
step 2. get outside everyday
step 3. sleep overnight, under the stars
For those who may be still trapped in TV-Land, welcome to Total Escape, a dedicated web site all about the “real world” of wilderness and non-fiction, California style.
Before I started my web business people would suggest to me that I need to write a book. So I naturally chose the world wide web. Now decades later, they are still asking the same question. “Why don’t you write a book on this stuff?”
I say “I did, it’s online. On the internet already. Go look.”
Puzzled, they would turn away.
Total Escape was created in the web 1.0 days (1996), so I could easily keep track of my many travels, the awesome destinations, my recommendations, my travel logs, zillons of photographs, camping trips, the back roads, signs, maps, GPS, all of it. I worked my day job doing 3D & then moonlighted starting this small web biz. My biggest draw to the internet format at first was being able to update outdoor info instantly. Secondly, it was the ability to work from anywhere w/ a phone line. (56k anyone?)
No toxic inks, no newspaper. No glossy mag. No waste. Just free digital energy about outdoor destinations, transferred across the cyber waves, just for you the avid Escaper.
Then came the buy-out offers and seasonal magazine ideas from sources in San Diego. By late 2003, none had solidified. Several print magazines did however mention totalescape.com in a few articles, which resulted in some nice traffic spikes. Eternally grateful for the early on-lookers and participants!
Quite personally, I had already had my share of smelly inks, papers & paints in art college. Working in a computer career field, I was fully aware of the web in the early 1990’s. I was ready for the computer age & the internet. Eager in fact! Ready to make that leap from graphics & print concepts over to web windows was all I thought about for years.
I did not want to print anything; waste anything. I wanted my biz to be state of the art, futuristic – so here I am, 20 years later. WOW. Thousands of photos, hundreds of destinations, all local to California. All by itself, Total Escape is a Parks and Recreation Magazine online.
From Lake Isabella down to Bako, along Hwy 178, numerous natural hot springs can be found in this lower Kern river canyon. Old Kern Canyon Road has plenty of primitive spots to camp along the road, way above the Kern River. This Southern Sierra Nevada scenic route, a 20 mi winding narrow paved road, is the old highway that leads up to Bodfish CA.
At least a dozen dispersed camp sites can be found along the Old Kern Cyn Rd, some spots with views over canyon, some hidden & shady, many spots are level & large – suitable for RVs. No facilities, no fees, just a flat, dispersed site. Campfire permits are required for fires outside of developed Campgrounds & fire restrictions are often high, so no fires are allowed much of the year. Most of the gates on the Lower Kern are now locked & only accessible by Forest Service personnel, ranchers or local rafting companies with permits.
2 developed Lower Kern Campgrounds are located on the Old Kern Canyon Road, which parallels the 4 lane portion of the highway: Hobo Campground & Sandy Flat Campgrounds, if you really need a picnic table & bathroom. You can reserve camps by clicking the links.
Miracle Hot Springs – next to Hobo Campground. This hot tub park is closed for good. A few portable bathrooms, picnic tables & trash bins, the hiking trails clear; 2 shallow pools partially filled. Maybe enough room to soak your butt, but not fully submerse yourself. Someone really needs to renovate this place! Update 2012 – the signs for Miracle are now completely gone.
This one is by far the most popular now that Miracle is gone. The hike-in only access doesn’t deter people much and many choose to set camp overnight close by. The local authorities are always making the rounds to double check on the area – which is good for security and bad for the 2 AM party animals.
Democrat Hot Springs
private resort now open? Heck, I dunno. (2017, democrathotsprings.com is down. They might be trying to promote a River Festival held in May.)
The hotel and cottages were constructed to accommodate guests that came in stage coaches to dine and relax during the early 1900’s. Five springs on the property flow at 115 degrees into large soaking tubs and a swimming pool. Closed to the public for more than thirty years, the resort is once again ready to be brought to life for groups and private events only.
The hot springs listed below are Private Property, so don’t get caught – and don’t get shot:
Delonegha Hot Springs
Concrete tubs were built by homesteaders, later a hotel and boarding house were constructed. Stage coaches from the San Joaquin Valley took 2 days to get visitors to this area. The hotel closed in 1912, when more accessible areas of Democrat and Hobo were built. Remaining cement tubs run along a rock peninsula overlooking the Kern River; water temperatures average 112 degrees. This private property is fenced.
Scovern Hot Springs
Also known as the Hot Springs House. 1902 mud baths were being offered and the wooden tubs were replaced by galvanized tubs. A swimming pool and bath houses were added when the Scoverns bought the property in 1929. Bath house burned to the ground in 1971 and only a vacant lot remains. Steam can still be seen in the fields across from the springs, where water runs at 140 gallons a minute @ 115 degrees.