Bureau of Land Management

free desert washes

California BLM

desert figure blythe

Giant figures INTAGLIOS, on desert floor, near Blythe, CA

Camping while traveling. The east-west corridors across the California deserts are well traveled routes. If you plan to camp, get to know areas managed by the California Bureau of Land Management.

All BLM Offices in California BLM CA

  • 4×4
  • Back Roads
  • Car Camping
  • Canyons
  • Deserts
  • Dirt Bike Trails
  • Dunes
  • Hiking
  • Historic Sites
  • Hot Springs
  • Intagios
  • Mountain Bike
  • Off Road
  • Palm Canyons
  • Petroglyhs
  • River Camps
  • RV Camping
  • Slot Canyons
  • Tent Camping
  • Wildflowers

ocotilloBLM

BLM lands in California are often known as the ‘free camping’ option. freeway close campingNo 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.

BLM Field Offices in California located in neighboring towns can provide maps, information and campfire permits. 

giantcholla

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”

Palo Verde Washes

 

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.

hikes tent camping 4x4

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.

ca.blm.gov
blm.gov/ca

www.blm.gov/ca
https://www.blm.gov/california

road BLM

Your Public Lands

California’s Public Lands for Recreation

Federal lands, government managed parks, USDA National Forests, National Parks, National Wildlife Refuge, BLM, State Parks, State Forests, County Parks, Regional Open Spaces

Sierra Rivers

State Park / National Park / National Forest / BLM / SHP / SVRA / OHV
what’s the difference?
a simple explanation of your public lands & what you can expect to do on them

National Forest Campground
NPS

California National Parks – most National Parks are so crowded you can’t even enjoy the experience in the summer time. Try the off-season times for your best stay. Neighboring National Forests are a much better bet for abundant space, privacy & less taxing on the wallet for fees. These popular (NPS) parks are subject to federal budget cuts and closures.

NF boundary

NFS

California National Forests – protected wilderness areas throughout state are surrounded by National Forests (NFS), and most National Parks (NPS) are surrounded by National Forests. Tons of small campgrounds & primitive spots for real seclusion. Get a free fire permit & camp almost anywhere you want. Use that SUV exploring the many dirt backroads & find that perfect camp spot (for free).

California State Parks

California State Parks – local California parks with a lot to offer the day hikers, picnicking family, tent camper or RV camper. From warm dry deserts soaking in a hot springs to the foggy coastal redwoods, these state run parks encompass a large section of California terrain. These parks are subject to state budget cuts and closures.

BLMBLM: Bureau of Land Management – mostly desert regions on the east side of California. A few coastal redwoods, some off road areas (OHV) in various mountain ranges.  These federal lands are open spaces, generally a free for all on recreation.  Allowable = off roading, target shooting, open camping, campfires, bonfires. Geared toward OHV use, RVs and hunting.

Fire Safe Spot

All California Parks & Forests

hikes

California Lakes List

lake

California Topo Maps

topo maps

rangers

California Terrain & Destinations

  • Coastal California – Southern California beach camping is crowded & sparse, because of developed cities. Central Coast & Northern California offer many more choices in this category.
  • California Mountains – pine forest, mixed oaks & a variety of vegetation. Water sources such as lakes, stream & waterfalls make this choice the perfect camping spots. Granite peaks, high elevations wilderness areas throughout state & surrounded National Parks. Plenty backpacking options & dirt road primitive spots for the ultimate in privacy.
  • Countryside in California – coastal hills or mountain foothills. These rolling hillsides offer small creeks, oak trees & plenty of wide open spaces. Lakes & Reservoirs are located within these regions. Most campgrounds are fairly close driving distance to towns or cities. Wine country or gold country, California has it.
  • California Deserts – perfect for every season except summer, these vast spaces will humble just about anyone. Primitive camping galore & designated areas for real off-roading.
  • City CA / Urban Villages – not the best for really getting away from crowds, but can be an excellent opportunity to visit a city without spending big bucks on lodging. Or could just be a perfect one-nighter for getting familiar with camping. Most campsites are located in the foothill area behind suburbs, in county parks or even coastal.
  • California A to Z: Small Towns – 700 and counting; extensive list of destinations, focusing primarily on the back roads and outdoor recreation hubs
  • California by County – Find every county on Cali, and which towns are located inside of them

Yosemite Lake View Camp Sites

Camping for Thanksgiving

Turkey Casserole

Turkey Leftovers?

California Camping on Thanksgiving

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.

VWBus Death Valley
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.

seafood

Non Traditional: Seafood Feast

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.

Joshua Tree Campout

Joshua Tree National Park may be busy during this weekend. Instead try nearby Mecca: Box Canyon and Mecca Hills Wilderness, BLM desert lands near Interstate 10.

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.

Imperial Dunes

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.

Tent Camping

ghost towns
meteor showers
hot springs

Death Valley National Park is one of the best destinations for Thanksgiving, cuz Panamint Springs serves their free turkey dinner.

Did someone say FREE?

Leon at Mahogany

Horse Canyon

Horse Canyon Mojave

Horse Canyon California

Southern Sierra / Mojave Road SC 65

Mojave Desert meets the Sierra Nevada Mountains
North Highway 14

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

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

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

elevation: 3000′-7000′

Horse Canyon is a dirt road up a high desert canyon, with joshua trees and wash outs. 7000′ elevation pinyon pine ridges above w/ PCT.

Most would say the see a whole-lotta-nothingness out here in these deserts…. when they zoom by at 70 mph on the blacktop highway.

at Total Escape, we beg to differ.

Solo Driver SUV

Intersection on Hwy 14 @ SC 65, dirt route will travel west into the mountains. Initial desert road follows Little Dixie Wash, but veers north up to Horse Canyon and the higher forested ridges.

Horse Cyn is a scenic, desert, dirt road that becomes a rugged 4×4 trail the higher it climbs in the canyon. The route traverses a ridge line and dead ends at the old cabin; No through route, no loop. The PCT continues on to the Walker Pass @ the 178.

The lower Horse Canyon is area quite accessible by standard truck or SUV. High clearance is recommended out on these kinda roads. Vegetation is quite sparse at first, but improves with the miles traveled. Wildflowers can be awesome, usually April-June. Picnic spots everywhere; primitive camping sites can be found out here, off the main dirt road. Please reuse existing camp sites when possible.

wheelin pals

Passenger cars may attempt this, but should watch for unexpected deep dips and rocks, washed out in the road. (No tow service in the middle of nowhere). Road conditions do change with the seasons out in the boonies. Cell phone reception could be spotty back in the deepest of canyons.

PCT
PCT trail access: Pacific Crest Trail follows this ridge road for miles. They call this range the SCODIE Mountains; Old cabin at the end of the road.

cabin mcivers

Sage Canyon and Cow Heaven Canyon are both to the north, along with Freeman Canyon (CA SR 178). Bird Spring and Dove Spring Canyons are both to the south, along with the most popular regions of Red Rock State Park and the Jawbone OHV area.

nearby towns:

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

joshuacanyons

California Off Road Areas

4x4 Sierra

The list below is of awesome California locations that do have off-road trails surrounding them. Some destinations listed are heavy use off-road – with OHV parks or camping nearby, while others are simply scenic dirt backroads or forest roads for easy driving. Topographic maps can be found for most areas, and should have all roads displayed, dirt and paved routes, as well as campgrounds, hiking trails and trailheads.

SoCal 4x4 Big Bear

This California “off road towns” list was originally part of the California Off Road Maps page, but it surely deserves it’s own unique post, since it is an ever expanding list. Ongoing.

Searching for Off Road Parks inside California?

Try these links –
State Vehicular Recreation Areas
California OHV Parks

OHV Yields To All

Borrego Valley