Camp Fires Correctly

Campfire Community

kill your television

Camp Fires
The internet seems to be the modern day campfire – wild stories with good friends and strangers. The heat source, the light source, the cook source, the sock drier, the center stage for all entertainment.

Since the beginning of time humans have gathered around the campfire at night. This nightly ritual is built into us on the deepest level. We miss this today. We miss the real conversations, the community, the bonding, the stories, the soul searching. We miss the connection with nature, the fresh air and the great outdoors. The night sky filled with stars and maybe a meteor shower, a hot drink and the glow of the campfire coals. Total Escape is dedicated to those who yearn to camp, often.

In Certain Circles

photo – Charlie Sweeney 2010

Some folks cannot imagine camping without a campfire, but we better get used to it here on the West Coast. Weather patterns swing from years of super-dry drought to deluge and drenching – as we’ve seen of recent in California. Dry conditions means high wildfire dangers, tight camp stove and strict campfire restrictions.

Each California region, National Forests and State Parks have their own fire restrictions, so call ahead to rangers for current fire conditions on the place you wish to visit. Certain mountain locations will ban fires in the back country, fires on the back roads and sometimes in extreme conditions, no fires allowed even inside a developed campground.

Campfire Basics

Campfire Restrictions

fire

California is well known for its unforgiving drought conditions and its seasonal wildfire danger. Always know the fire conditions in the area you plan to camp. Most Southern California regions have banned ‘open campfires’ in forested areas, due to wildfire threat and population density. Call ahead to get an update on road closures and current campfire restrictions. Find California BLM offices & NFS ranger stations

Campfire Permits

If you plan on camping outside of a developed campground, you will need to get a free “camp fire permit”, which can be obtained at the local rangers office.

Find more on FREE camp fire permits

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California Camp Fires

  • RULE # 1 – Never leave a campfire unattended
  • Build campfires in designated rings. Always try to use an existing ring when possible. If you must build a new rock fire ring, follow the guide on FireSafe
  • You will need a water bucket & a decent shovel for building, maintaining and controlling a campfire. PLUS a water source.
  • A ten foot clearance – all around, down to the bare dirt is the best practice. No brush close by.
  • You might need to clean trash outta the fire pit, so bring heavy duty trash bags/spare box.
  • Kindling is key to getting a good fire going fast, so gather more of the small stuff. Wood gathering away from camp is usually better pickens.
  • Use environmentally friendly fire starters (with damp wood, if you must); not the BBQ lighter fluid or gasoline
  • Building fires up against a big boulder scars them w/ black soot, and although it can reflect heat back to you, it is seldom worth the unsightly damage
  • Bring chainsaws or hand saws for cutting your own campfire wood in the forest
  • Gathering wood for fuel — use only dead and down wood
  • A ranger issued “wood cutting permit” is required if you plan on cutting a full cord
  • Firewood page – buying locally, in California
  • Never burn plastics or other toxic materials in campfires
  • Tossing beer bottle caps into a campfire only litters the site for future campers
  • While glass bottle smelting is a real treat among boys at night, which one is actually gonna get their hands dirty & clean up broken glass outta the campfire the following morning?
  • Do not leave any hot coals during the day (if you are away). Winds could pick up.
  • Always douse campfire with water completely when breaking camp. Stir it, feel for heat, and drown it more if you hear sizzling or see bubbling.
  • Read more fire info on our FireSafe page

Drown Fires

Last Final Step

The Last Final Step

 

Campfire Pits & Fire Containers

Campfire Pits & Fire Containers

Stormproof LIghters

Stormproof Lighters

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

Eastern Sierra Camping

tallpeaktower

Inyo Forest Campgrounds – Eastern Sierra Campgrounds

areas include: Lone Pine, Mount Whitney, Independence, Onion Valley, Ancient Bristlecone Pines, Big Pine, Bishop [Hwy 168], High Sierra, Owens River, Lake Crowley, Rock Creek, Mammoth Lakes [Hwy 203], June Lake Loop [Hwy 158], Lee Vining & East Yosemite National Park [Hwy 120]. Camping on Eastern Sierra Highway 395

Eastern Sierra recreation – backpacking, horse packing, day hiking, creek fishing, mountain biking, mountaineering, rock climbing

Listed below are all the Inyo National Forest campgrounds, County Parks, BLM public lands for outdoor recreation. Most campgrounds are closed for winter months. Blue links lead to camp reservations. Boldface links to more detailed information & photos on campground.

campground elev spots veg toilet water notes
Agnew Meadows 8400′ 21 pines chem piped Mammoth; Jun-Sept
Big Bend Campground 7800′ 17 pines vault piped Lee Vining, April-Oct
Big Meadow 8600′ 11 pines flush piped Rock Creek; May-Oct
Big Pine Creek 9000′ 30 pines vault piped W of Big Pine; May-Oct
Big Trees Campground 7500′ 9 pines flush piped W of Bishop ; April-Sept
Bishop Park Group Camp 8400′ 20 pines flush piped No RVs;
Bishop Creek
Crowley Lake Camp 6800′ 47 sage vault piped BLM Camp; Apr-Oct
East Fork Campground 9000′ 133 aspens flush piped fishing camp Rock Creek
Ellery Lake Campground 9500′ 12 pines flush piped E Yosemite; June-Oct
Forks Campground 7800′ 8 pines flush piped W of Bishop,; April-Oct
Four Jefferey 8100′ 106 pines vault piped W of Bishop; April-Oct
Goodale Creek 4000′ 43 cttnwd vault no BLM Camp; April-Nov
Grandview Campground 8600′ 26 pinyon vault no Ancient Bristlecone Pines
Grays Meadows 6000′ 52 pines flush piped W of Independence
Gull Lake Campground 7600′ 11 aspens flush piped June Loop; April-Nov
Hartley Springs 8400′ 20 pines vault no Glass Creek, June-Oct
Horseshoe Meadow 10,000′ 10 pines vault piped 1 day limit; horses; More
Horton Creek 4975′ 49 pines vault piped BLM Bishop; May-Oct
Intake Campground 7500′ 8 pines flush piped W of Bishop; April-Oct
Iris Meadow Campgr 8300′ 14 pines flush piped W of Bishop; May-Oct
June Lake Campground 7600′ 22 pines flush piped fishing/hiking
Junction Campground 9600′ 13 pines vault lake E Yosemite; June-Oct
Lake George Campground 9000 16 pines flush piped fish, June-Sept
Lone Pine Campground 5500′ 43 pinyon vault piped W of Hwy 395
McGee Creek 7600′ 26 aspen flush piped Tom’s Place, Hwy 395
New Shady Rest 7800′ 94 pines flush piped Mammoth, in town
North Lake Campground 9500′ 11 pines vault piped W of Bishop; June-Oct
Oh Ridge Campground 6000′ 148 pines flush piped June Lake
Old Shady Rest Camp 7800′ 51 pines flush piped Hwy 203, Mammoth
Onion Valley Campground 9000′ 15 aspen vault piped High Sierra access
Palisade Campground 8600′ 5 aspen flush piped Rock Creek; May-Oct
Pine City Campground 8900′ 10 pines flush piped Lake Mary, June-Sept
Pine Grove Campgr 9300′ 11 pines flush piped May-Oct
Pumice Flat Group Camp 7700′ 17 flush piped June-Sept
Reversed Creek Campground 7600′ 17 aspen flush piped June Loop; May-Oct
Rock Creek Lake 7600′ 25 aspen flush piped Tom’s Place; May-Oct
Sabrina Campground 9000′ 18 pines vault piped W of Bishop; May-Oct
Saddlebag Lake 10,000′ 20 pines vault piped highest camp; June-Oct
Sherwin Creek Camp 7600′ 87 pines flush piped Mammoth Lakes
Taboose Creek 3900′ 55 shade vault stream Big Pine;
open all yr
Tinemaha Creek 4400′ 55 shade vault stream Independence, Inyo Co Park
Tioga Lake Campgr 9700′ 13 pines vault piped fish Yosemite, June-Oct
Tuff Campground 7000′ 34 pines flush piped Rock Creek; RV 22′
Tuttle Creek 5120′ 83 sage vault seasonal Lone Pine; open all yr
Upper Pine Grove 9400′ 8 pines piped May-Oct
Upper Sage Flat 7600′ 21 pines vault piped W Big Pine; April-Oct
Whitney Portal Camp 9000′ 44 pines flush piped Trailhead; May-Oct
Whitney Trailhead 9000′ 10 pines vault piped Trailhead; May-Oct

sunsetgrandview

see Group Campgrounds in Inyo National Forest, Eastern Sierra

8

Eastern Sierra Vacation, see also –

Topo maps, wilderness hiking maps, fishing maps
Equestrian trails, 4×4 routes, OHV maps –

Twin LakesEastern Sierra communities include:

Dogs in Lake

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