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.
Kelbaker Road is one of the well-traveled back roads in the Mojave Desert connecting two major Eastern California routes of Interstate system. The I-40 to the south and the I-15 to the north, spanning 50 miles from one to the other.
Kelbaker Rd continues south to T up w/ historic Route 66 near Amboy, CA. Gasoline is very iffy in Amboy, so remember gas up in Barstow.
This region is super scenic portion of Kelbaker Road, which cuts thru the western edge of Mojave National Preserve. The Kelbaker pavement reaches to an elevation of 4024′ at Granite Pass, about 6 miles north of the exit @ interstate 40. Boulder outcroppings, bare mountain peaks, secluded cove camp sites w/ dirt roads, and old mines all over. Joshua tree forest and pinyon pine forest encircle the Mid Hills region.
Some roads are suitable for passenger cars, but many are not. Dirt slides, erosion gullies, wash outs and rocks are common on these roads, so drive slow and pay attention.
There are private property ranches, active railroad tracks & BLM lands along the Kelbaker route. Some of the boundaries of NPS have been extended, so best to bring a map.
Free camping is abundant in this desert region, but it’s all primitive w/ no facilities and all are on dirt roads when your turn off Kelbaker. Some of the best camping areas are around 4000 feet (above sea level), so serious wind and even snow is quite possible in the winter months. Go prepared w/ plenty firewood.
Historic Mojave Trail (aka Mojave Road) is out this way. Dirt bikes, off roaders love this trail that connects the Colorado River @ Avi Casino to Afton Canyon near Barstow.
WILDFLOWERS – joshua tree, yucca, barrel cactus
Higher elevation deserts bloom in late Spring, generally March thru May. Perfect rainfall timing in the autumn, can determine wild blooms and flora months later. Providence Mountains SRA can be a good location for wildflower viewing.
Kelso Depot: historic spot, centered around the old train depot, which has been restored and has become the new visitors center and museum. Totally worth a 2 hour stop and HIKING/WALKING stretch break. The road heads north from Kelso and the name changes to: Kelbaker-Cima Road
Cima Store, 20 miles to the north is one of the few businesses in this region. Post Office next door, maybe. Cima Road connects to I-15 in approximately 15 miles north. Kelbaker Road splits again and it heads up to I-15 @ Baker, CA
Indian Flat Campground is located on the seasonal San Luis Rey River in rural North San Diego County. From I-15 @ Temecula, CA travel eastbound on Highway 79. Look for the tiny turn off (on left side) for forest road #9N05, sorta near glider airport located west of Warner Springs. This poorly paved backcountry route (half dirt/mud at times) is also known as both Indian Flats Road or Lost Valley Road.
Graded dirt road (paved in some portions) travel is approximately 6.5 miles to campground, look for gate and turn off on the left side. When you see the giant boulder near the entrance, you’ll know you’ve made it to the right place.
Oak trees and a few pines, plenty shade, boulders and mountain scenery, this is a great small campground that is well away from everything in Southern California. Seasonal creek-sized river and boulder waterfall often dries up in late summer. This means a wet spring is the best time to visit this camp. Hiking, mountain biking trails and hammock spots. Pacific Crest Trail access.
• Elevation: 3,600′
• Number of Sites: 17
• Camping Reservations: None
• Sites Available: First come, First serve
• Vehicle Accessibility: Length 15′ max.
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Water: No Piped; Seasonal creek nearby
• Toilet: Vault
• Season: Closed for mud & snow during winter months
• Fee: Yes
• Operated By: National Forest Service
• Closest Town:Warner Springs, CA
Rock Climbing in SoCal is limited to the awesome southern deserts with boulders, boulders & yep, more boulders. Joshua Tree is well known, but Mojave deserts boulders have much to offer, with less crowds. Meaning you’ll get more on exploring new routes, off the beaten path.
Bishop in the Eastern Sierra has the Buttermilks, but we wanna cover stuff further south for climbers. Numerous crags and peaks can be found in the mountain regions of San Diego. Many destinations are also great camp spots.
Good granite is hard to come by & big granite walls are non-existent down south. The most popular piece of Southern California granite among climbers is that of Tahquitz Peak in Idyllwild CA
Big Bear Lake
Bouldering @ various places
Idyllwild Rock Climbing
Tahquitz Peak in San Jacinto Wilderness: Tahquitz Peak Lookout stands at 8846′ elevation, towering above the pine village of touristy shops & cafes below. It’s a small slice of the Sierra Nevada (fabulous blue granite feeling) in SoCal & the rock climbers love it. Humber Park is at the base of the peak. The park is a family & tourist destination, especially during snow days. Paved parking lot is at the very top of the neighborhood, a well signed route. Follow the brown “Humber Park” signs. Hmmm, now is that ta-keets, ta-quits? Just ask a local – who grew up in Idyllwild.
San Diego County climbing destinations:
El Cajon Mountain
Valley of the Moon
For more on California rock climbing places, check out a few of our favorites resources:
There she sits, above Lone Pine California, right next to the High Sierra. Above the Alabama Hills….. at the base of Whitney, on an alluvial fan overlooking the Owens Valley & US Hwy 395.
Tuttle Creek Campground is perfect stop for RVers traveling the Eastern Sierra, beginner mountain bikers needing to explore & test their skills, or the avid backpackers waiting to acclimate & get a good nights rest in reasonable temperatures, before attempting the tallest Mount Whitney.
Tuttle Creek is a BLM Campground w/ picnic tables, fire rings or BBQs. Awesome creek camping at the base of Mount Whitney. Hear the water rushing over the boulders; soothing for bedtime or stargazing. The fishing is decent. Wildflowers like indian paintbrush & lupine can be found here in spring and summer, in the high desert sage lands of the Eastern Sierra.
• Elevation: 5120′
• Number of Sites: 85
• Vehicle Accessibility: RVs okay
• Camp Fee: No
• Campsites Reservation: No
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: March – October
• Trailheads: John Muir Wilderness
From Lone Pine CA, head West 3 miles on Whitney Portal Rd, turn LEFT on Horseshoe Meadow Road, within 2 miles, turn right on a dirt road that leads to the campground.
Tuttle Creek flows past campground; No drinking water.
Pit toilets; Some shade.
HINT: On the dirt back roads, on the slopes of the Eastern Sierra, between Lone Pine & Bishop, you can find & fishing holes & primitive camps (free camping) on any numerous of creeks; some you can park so close that you don’t have to leave your vehicle to fish. You may need a high clearance vehicle to reach some.