New to California? Never camped before? Haven’t been out in years? No idea of where to start? Total Escape is here to help with all your camping questions, local destinations and share tips; Introducing you to the big adventure in inexpensive vacationing, primarily outdoors. Find rural, remote locations, ranches, small towns, rivers, lakes, creeks, well away from the crowds. Get outta town more often for less money.
The best free camping in California for RVs & motorhomes is NOT the WalMart parking lot in some random town, but the gems that you find here on Total Escape.
The California back roads is where it’s at. Star filled skies, fresh cedar scents & tall pines, plus the awesome views. Primitive camping at it’s best, with your kitchen sink. No hook-ups, no fees, no problem.
So, if you are one of those that are terrified of driving your big camper on dirt roads, these may not suit your taste. But if you crave the back country camps with your RV, then you might enjoy the list below.
no hookups, no paved stalls, no dump station
These are camping areas, that you can pull into anytime of the night or day & find a flat spot. Some places may have picnic tables or campfire rings, but not all. No OHV parks, no large developed campgrounds, just dispersed FREE camp sites on the back roads of Cali.
California has many different National Forest districts and each region has their own fire restrictions. State Parks & BLM also manages recreation areas & camping in the Golden State. Each agency & region has different rules, so blanket answers cannot apply to general questions on campfires.
Campfire permits are required for fires outside of designated recreation sites. During fire restrictions, campfires could be banned. Campfire Permit are available from Forest Service, CalFire or BLM offices or online, http://www.preventwildfireca.org/
the new abnormal
California suffers more from wildfires now than ever before. Native tribes let lightning strike wild fires burn and they did not suppress wildfire. Residential development creeping ever higher and denser into the foothills, an abundance of roadways, with the overgrown forest make fire danger ever more real.
Closed off wilderness areas, impassable dirt roads, landslides, fallen trees everywhere. Utility services (power lines), plus high winds and overgrown forest also play a huge part in the current wildfire catastrophes. Drought conditions or record winter rains, the huge population on the west coast -along with many other factors – means more fire danger. Educate yourself and others on fire safety, forests and weather patterns. Heed the wind, while in the wild. Wind spreads fire easily!
Current Fire Restrictions:
By mid summer we have usually have several wild land fires burning, which means campfire restrictions are usually in place before JULY 4th weekend. When this happens – No open campfires are allowed in the backcountry or on the back roads.
Often in the driest of years, no campfires are allowed (even inside the campgrounds).
If you love to primitive camp outside of developed campgrounds, you need to plan more road trips for spring time & autumn. Or head further north, well above Redding – where the forest are moist and snow graces Mount Shasta year round. Or perhaps, go desert camping during winter months. Checking the National Forest web sites can be confusing and their online information could be outdated.
Each forest and area is individually managed. No concise, easy-to-read list or online map exist on which forests are allowing backcountry campfires – and which ones are not. Conditions seem to change so often and they aren’t great about updating those .gov web sites. Best to call a local ranger station and ask about any current fire restrictions. You know, actually “talk on a phone” to a USFS, BLM or CalFire official. If you can speak to a field ranger, they can tell you more on dispersed camping. Or you can navigate the USDA web site to find current ALERTS & RESTRICTIONS. Cryptic lingo may be encountered, and many clicks maybe needed; possibly forcing you to down a PDF of current fire rules.
Free Campgrounds in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California
no charge camp, no fee camping, free campgrounds
No fee camping: Bare bones. California Sierra Campgrounds without the fee.
Developed BLM or NFS campgrounds, where you can still have a campfire. Vault toilets, panic tables and fire rings. Use bear boxes when provided for proper food storage.
Below is a good long list of some favorite free developed campgrounds in the Sierras. Many will require dirt road driving, as most are located well of the highway. Perhaps the 12 mile rough road will thin out the crowds. Free overnight stay!
Pack in your drinking water and pack out your trash. Campfire permits are not required at developed campgrounds; but a bringing a water bucket and shovel is necessary for tending your campfire. Piped water is not always available, or perhaps, not in working order at these primitive style camps. Be prepared to rough it a little.
The heat source, the light source, the cook source, the sock drier, the night supplier, the outdoor LIVING ROOM. The campfire is the center stage for all entertainment, dining, drinking, music, true tales and ghost stories alike.
Since the beginning of time humans have gathered around the campfire at dark. 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. Enjoying the wilderness requires certain skills. FIRE is only ONE skill – for survival, for cooking, for warmth, for safety.
Total Escape is dedicated to those who yearn to camp, often.
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.
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
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.
alphabetically listed; cross reference by lake or campground name. reservations may be accepted for certain locations; follow links.
Developed Lake Campgrounds
Most of the lake campgrounds listed below are traditional style campgrounds with easy access: paved driveways, toilets, tables, maybe piped water. Various agencies manage these park campsites and additional links are provided.
Some of the campgrounds may be more primitive than others, with long dirt road access, gravel driveways, and minimal facilities. This list includes a wide range of lakes, from reservable group camps, to private RV resorts to back road beauties. Even a few campgrounds without fees!
Higher elevation locations close-up for the seasonal winter snow, which can last from NOV-MAY (or later, depending on snowmelt).
no motor boats?
wilderness lake fishing?
Each lake camp is different, so know what is available at the location before you get out there. Many spots do not have a boat ramp. Some lakes do not allow swimming. Some might be 4×4 access only, w/ hairy granite rock road, 12 miles long. If you require a general store within walking distance, then get the maps out, follow links and make sure.
Determining the ideal tent location will vary on whether you are an ‘early riser’ or late night person, otherwise known as the “up-til-wee-hours ’round the campfire” kinda camper.
OK, all you wine-o’s and silly drunks, try to be a considerate camper and place your tent near the campfire if you plan to be up late. You and your partying cohorts will not disturb those who had planned to get ‘a good nights sleep’ and can stumble to your tent close by with ease. Make sure that you have a large bush, boulder or tree on the east side of your tent, as this is where the dreaded sunlight comes in.
If you are the kinda person who welcomes the sunrise, sitting on a boulder with a healthy cup of fresh brewed coffee, then you probably don’t wanna hear folks up late around the campfire discussing philosophy, right next to your pillow. Ear plugs can be good to pack if you plan to camp with more than a few folks. Setting up your tent well away (like 100 feet) from all communal areas will help you get a decent nights sleep, allowing others to do their normal thing without even bugging you.
If you wake at the slightest footsteps (or car alarm) you might wanna find a distant camp for your bedding spot. Camp outside of a developed campground for the most secluded and quiet of nature experiences. If you cannot stand anyone snoring, then kindly ask your neighbors ahead of time and position your tent accordingly.
Sunrise: Determining East & the North Star
If you fear the morning sunlight like a true vampire, make sure that your tent is not in the direct line of fire at 6 am, just in case you planned to sleep in until 9 am.
If you arrive at camp after dark & need to decipher where the sun comes up, just locate the North Star silly. Hmmm, sounds easy? Now where is that sucker. See the diagram below for gathering the astronomy part of the lesson.
Now, for all of you who didn’t get a decent high school education: Locating east can be easy if you always remember this small exercise. Standing up, point your face to the north, extend your right arm out sideways & this will be east . The same goes for left/west. South is right behind ya. The sun sit low in the winter months & follows more along the south horizon.
The familiar stars called the big dipper is a nice way to find the north star. Draw a line from the edge of cup — spilling out straight over to the brightest star.
enjoying quality time alone is not weird, wrong, or unnatural, no matter how many strange looks you get from friends & envious co-workers
Stop waiting for someone to do things with. Quit thinking that your best friend or partner will one day magically suggest an outdoorsy road trip, or day hike, or mountain bike ride. YOU are the one who craves the wildness of the earth, the unexplored, the secluded. The time is now for you to start living the life you want, outdoors, in California – today!
If you’ve just about had it with the pressures of everyday stresses, the wifi city life and the busy pace of civilized society is starting to get to you. Get a clue fast – before you loose your marbles. It’s time for much needed rest and relaxation. Nature is the best place to relax and reconnect with yourself and mother nature.
A change in scenery. A fresh perspective. A real break from the norm. No shopping, no errands, no phones, no television, no computers, nobody around. No one, except you.
Unplug yourself from the hectic rat race and go exploring. Give yourself time to fully unwind: time to think, time to enjoy the outdoors and really find that special place of peace that comes only from earth. Yes, all by yourself.
Call it an annual primal ritual, or a first time experiment, traveling solo can be a blessing in disguise. Learning to be alone outdoors, become more aware of the physical world and enjoying yourself is an important key to a balanced life. Whether you seek a quick refresher course for the weekend or a full blown month long road trip, seeking a new comfortable destination and the art of basic relaxing is the main focus for this trip.
When you travel alone, it’s easy to take your own sweet time. Going slow is something we don’t usually do in our busy city lives. Time is so precious, so you may as well stretch that vacation out as long as possible. Savor the moments.
Take as long as you like for – photography, picnicking, hiking, stretching, yoga, cooking and stargazing. Firewood collection becomes the biggest chore of the day, and it could take hours. Walking from camp, every direction will lead to a new adventure. Driving back roads at 20 mph is luxurious. No one to be your back seat driver. Sleep in every day if you want. No pressures, no schedules, no big worries. Sunlight, food, heat, weather, cooking and cleaning. Sit back and learn to really relax. Enjoy a secluded camp site for a full week, and get to know the wildlife on a first name basis.
Follow the back roads to seclusion, or reserve several days at a unique campground. Imagine night after night of peaceful rest, with the sounds of nature surrounding you & the stars of the heavens dancing across the darkest skies.
Explore new terrain every day & move to a new camp every night. Or make it a “stay put” week-long meditation, in one spot. Whatever fits your needs. Either way, you’ll enjoy the solitude & the healing powers of nature. Answering to no one but yourself, you may feel guilty or kinda selfish the first few days, but this will fade as you learn to embrace the solo journey.
And it doesn’t hafta be all about roughin it either. While backpacking into the almighty wilds of the true wilderness has its good points – along with life threatening dangers possible every day, a simple quick weekend trip to a nearby small inn, fishing lodge, or a bed & breakfast could work for the pampered types. Choose something different and unique, yet know your own limitations (on comfort & on a physical level). Make sure your destination choice is surrounded by some nature and preferably wilderness. You won’t miss the television one bit!
Good California Maps are a must have! Don’t rely on digital cell service or count on online maps being readily available. The hard-copy versions are always the best back up plan. Old paper maps are the very best, cuz they can often show more hidden waterfalls, trails and old mines than the newer maps.
National Forest maps are best for getting and staying away from the tourist crowds. Visit Destinations to decide what kinda place you wanna explore this season.
which is why the golden state population always seems to be increasing, right? Helping you get away from your normal routine and the masses is what we do best here at Total Escape. Discover the thousands of pages, photos and links on this site to create your very own unique retreat.
Desert camping in autumn, winter and springtime months is perfect timing for any kinda soul searching, catching up on a good book, or just gazing out at the vast vistas. Meteor showers fall within the latter part of the year, so stargazing and camping is excellent with the new moon. Temps start to drop come September, so be warned. Mountain cabins drop to their off season rates after summer, but be prepared for chilly temps and get proper outdoor gear.
SAFETY TIPS: Give your schedule to someone. Any bit of info is helpful. A map or written itinerary given to a neighbor or close friend will help ensure your safety and timely return. Bring your cell phone, plenty maps, bear mace and emergency supplies for additional security.
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.
Open Camping in Sequoia National Forest – Forest Road Camping
Seeking secluded campsites? This is one of the best areas to camp in pine forest w/ privacy, relatively close to Southern California. Plenty of primitive car camping on the dirt roads throughout this whole Sequoia & Kern River area.
No facilities. No picnic tables, no toilet, no fees. Just a rock campfire ring & a clearing. Previously used sites have already been established usually near streams. Try to use these first, if at all possible. It takes a bit of exploring but you will find the perfect spot. Don’t even attempt to try to find these kinds of camp spots at night. They are often buried deep in the forest with no visible markers what-so-ever. But in trade, you will be lulled to sleep by your own private mini waterfall & no RV generators. Many of these back roads are closed & gated during winter months due to snow & rock slides.
No amenities are available in this neck of the woods, but plenty of seclusion & wilderness. Check official Wilderness rules for proper knowledge of the area restrictions. You must get a free camp fire permit from the ranger station in order to build a fire outside of a developed campground. A large shovel, plus bucket w/ water are a bare minimum for the privilege of camping like this. Certain dry seasons (summers into autumn) have very strict camp fire restrictions. Check with the ranger to see the latest on building campfires on the back roads.
A Sequoia Forest Service Map is highly advised for this area. There are so many dirt roads for dispersed primitive camping on the back roads. Due to weather & erosion, some roads may require 4×4 or high clearance, so come prepared with a plan B.
Camping Checklist to make sure you’ll have what you need. The drive up from the Los Angeles area averages 3-4 hours and is well worth the trip. Once you’ve found that perfect spot, take detailed note of it, for the next time you visit the area. Then, you will be able to get there easily in the middle of the night, if need be.
Backroad Camping Sequoia: Follow the forest road numbers with your Sequoia map to discover amazing back road camping options. Your own private stream or meadow. Secluded campsites with your own mini waterfall.
Bear Meadow: Forest Rd# 23S64 – Packsaddle Creek, Sequoia National Forest
For the more adventurous & ones seeking some seclusion, Bear Meadow is located up the dirt road a bit from Thompson Camp Spring . From Forest Road #23S16 @ Thompson Camp Spring – continue straight on the dirt road #23S64, cross over the one lane wooden bridge; within a mile, turn left into a secluded creek side camping area. Note: Bears are common here (hence the name Bear Meadow)!
Packsaddle Creek runs thru this forest. Very primitive area with rutted dirt roads & sometimes overgrown; there are several campsites back in here for the ones who seek the wild. (Yes, bears & wild animals are very common way back here). If you continue on straight on the main dirt road Packsaddle Meadow also has camping spots & small corral. The last time we were out this way (2002-ish), the dirt road does not connect with highway to the west, as indicated on the map; due to landslide.
You manage to drag yourself off the couch, congratulations! You’ve packed up your ride and are heading out to your favorite “secret” spot. Anticipation builds as you arrive and pull into the empty lot. Your heart sinks however when you discover that your once pristine camp spot has been transformed into the new town dump. An old lawn chair, candy wrappers and beer cans litter the area that you once loved. Impromptu fire rings are strewn about and armies of weekend warriors have trampled your favorite meadow into a dust bowl.
duh… DON’T BRING THE CITY TO THE WILDERNESS. The noise, the soda cans, the beer bottles, the fast food wrappers, the broken plastic crap. The disposable society we have created now makes us all too LAZY. Getting off your ass and outdoors means you need to take some responsibility. You get some much needed exercise, breathing fresh air, and become a new person while discovering new destinations and awesome terrain.
Litterbugs include many types of folks: disruptive teens, toothless alcoholic contractors, local yolkels, urban mishaps, gangster wanna-bes, home boys, totally oblivious yuppies & even uneducated families…
let’s keep the trash, the diapers & tagging in the cities!
EDUCATION is key on this matter & it starts right here with you. Please pass along good outdoor ethics!
Seems you can’t go deep enough. The further into the forest you go, you still seem to see it – evidence of neglect for our land. In every outing these days, we constantly notice tons of litter and graffiti. Deliberate disrespect for the open spaces and valued wilderness lands. What is going on here?
Please report graffiti in action to the local law enforcement or nearest rangers office! Or better yet, get them on video and post it on YouTube.com
What’s the worst that can happen?
Misuse and sheer disregard is how OUR lands get closed (by OUR OWN government). Closed off forever, turned into ‘off limit’ roads and more totally closed wildernesses, that only can be explored on foot. OHVs, dirt bikes, 4x4s need to realize their overall impact on natural habitats could have a detrimental effect on these lands. There is a balance. Play wisely. This includes all the red necks with guns too.
Graffiti, Soda Cans, and Cigarette Butts are a nuisance to nature.
As more and more office drones venture from their cubicles and out onto the unbeaten path, they leave behind the remnants of their bold treks for all to see. Refuse, human waste, smoldering campfires and crushed flora from selfish tent placements and trail blazing destroy our fragile eco-system and pollute the environment for years to come.
Be cautious walking around to avoid destroying the fragile ecosystems, such as meadows, seedlings, wildlife & wildflowers.
Pick up all your trash & even some left behind by previous campers. Leaving the camp or picnic site in better condition than you found it.
Below are some simple tips that, coupled with common sense, will enable you to stop being part of the problem and start being part of the solution!
Open car camping is allowed in several places inside Cleveland National Forest, although NO campfires are permitted in the backcountry (trailside or dirt roads) – due to the high fire danger. Your best for FREE, open, dispersed camping (with a campfire) is Anza Borrego Desert State Park. Lower elevations w/ summertime temperature can get very hot, so plan for higher elevation camps. The more you explore, the more you can find.