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

Where is your favorite place to camp?

tent camping

This is one of those silly questions that has no real definitive answer from DanaMite. If you have camped California at all, you know it can be awe inspiring around every corner, especially the Sierra Nevada & the Coastline.

Most California transplants get so wrapped up with city life, college & new careers, that they rarely venture past the county park, much less the county line.

When they finally do break away, they are often misled to crowded campgrounds with steep reservation fees and too many RVs, walking distance to a mini mart. Often they assume camping in California is not what they thought it was going to be. Not like the photos they once saw, not the dream-like places of wildness, not the privacy they had envisioned. They may even give up on the whole ‘camping experience’ all together.

It does not have to be like this. Information is power. This web site Total Escape was made for YOU, the avid Escaper, who desires the best camping options available. One who will respect the land & care; Those that will teach their children to clean up litter & respect our precious public lands.

The California deserts are just as magnificent as the alpine meadows; The mountain peaks, the hot springs, coastal cliffs to the forests, and the river canyons!

It’s all good.

There cannot be one favorite camp spot, when you find yourself camping every month. Each site is a new destination, a place to explore, with usually a reason to return. Each season your favorite spot will change & be more desirable some months over others. From aspen trees changing color in the Eastern Sierra to wildflower meadows of the High Sierra, every place has its own unique flavor.

Drive further for less people and more nature!

National Forest Service

California National Forests are a great place to start.

Highland Wildflowers

Collections of California Camping Lists

sierra camps

Specific Places to Camp in California

Sierra Nevada Campground

California Covered Bridge

Covered Bridges of California

Oregon City Bridge

Oregon City Bridge, off Cherokee Road, North Oroville, CA

Overland pioneers and miners flooded the Sierra Nevada after 1848, when gold was discovered, transforming the landscape and native life of California – in horrendous ways. Many early bridges made of wood have disappeared. Historic places, such as these few wooden bridges of the West, need to be protected and preserved.

Felton Covered Bridge
Santa Cruz Mountains & Redwoods
Railway Train Rides
Felton, CA

Bridgeport Covered Bridge
(built in 1862)
South Fork of the Yuba River
Northern Gold Country Hwy 49
Nevada City & Downieville, CA

Honey Run Bridge
on Butte Creek @ Skyway
Historic Landmark from 1894
in between
Chico & Paradise, CA

Knights Ferry Bridge SHPState Park
State Historic Park
on Sacramento River
North of Sacramento, CA

oregoncitymarker

Oregon City Bridge
Oregon Gulch, Lake Oroville
via Table Mountain @ Cherokee Rd
North of Oroville CA

Oregon Covered Bridge
Middle Fork of the Yuba River
Northern Gold Country Hwy 49
in between
Nevada City & Downieville, CA

Woodson Bridge SRAState Park
State Recreation Area

Woodson Bridge Campground Campgrounds
on Sacramento River, in betweenRV camping
Chico & Corning, CA

CAMPGROUND RESERVATIONS

Honey Run Bridge
HoneyRun Bridge of Butte County, California

Volcanic Buttes of Chico

Volcanic Buttes of Chico California

Best View Camp Sites

view campsite

Great Overlooks for Camping

Best View Camp Site in California 

Overlook Camps, View Spot Camp Sites

This list is comprised of primitive camp sites and developed campgrounds with views overlooking a large area (valley, town, canyon, desert, river, ocean). Many ideal spots may require dirt road driving, and a few might need a 4-wheel drive vehicle to reach.

Prewitt Ridge, Big Sur Coast

This is by far the best, free coastal camping on the Central Coastline of Big Sur. Dirt roads traverse 10 miles out to vacant ridges overlooking the Pacific, with steep hills down to the highway. Camp above the fog layer and above the crowds. Explore the beaches during the day, and camp above the traffic & crowds at night.

Dry brush is abundant on the mountains of Los Padres National Forest. Camp fire restrictions should be of utmost concern in this area, since wildfires burn here often. Camp fire permits are required for camping on the back roads, and much of the time camp fires are banned in this region. Call ahead to the rangers to find out the current conditions.

Swinger

Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park
Big Sur Coastline

Two prime walk-in camp sites, on a shady point, high above a beach cove w/ scenic waterfall. Called “environmental camps” these highly desirable spots need advanced reservations w/ fees many months in advance. Tables, fire rings and a vault toilet. Bare bones basics, but the ideal location is worth it. A forested cliff on the edge of the ocean, high above a secluded cove. This location a can get windy if a storm moves in (generally October – March).

Los Padres National Forest

Kirk Creek Campground
on Highway 1 @ Nacimiento Rd
Big Sur CA

Willow Creek Road # 23S01
primitive camping on dirt road, above Hwy 1 @ Gorda, CA

sunset watch

Reyes Peak Camping
North of Ojai, CA
Pine Mountain Summit, CA Hwy 33

Off Cerro Noroeste Road, W of Pine Mountain, CA

Above Santa Maria, Highway 166
West of New Cuyama, CA

  • Miranda Pines Campground @ 4100′ elev
    Located well off hwy. on Road #32S13

San Bernardino National Forest
Toro Peak Campground

toro_campsite

Angeles National Forest

Fire Safe Spot

San Bernardino National Forest

I-8 East of San Diego, CA

  • Larkin Campground
    McCain Valley BLM OHV
  • Mar Tar Awa above Viejas Casino
  • Sweetwater Summit Co Park San Diego

I-5 North of San Diego, CA

S-22  East San Diego County

Montezuma Grade, overlooking Borrego Springs & Anza Borrego Desert

  • Culp Valley – boulders, primitive camps on dirt roads; better views off-road. No tables, no signs. Small campground at the highway is easy to find.

providence

I-40 Mojave Desert

view spot mojave

US Hwy 395 & surrounding areas

inside Death Valley National Park

  • Mahogany Flat Campground steep dirt road access. Trailhead for tallest peak in the park, Telescope Peak (11,049′ elev)
  • Tucki Mine, 4×4 route. Unmarked dirt road inside Emigrant Canyon, off Wildrose Road.

inside Inyo National Forest

  • Coyote Flat @ Pinyon Boulders – 4×4 required, one primitive camp w/ great views overlooking the Owens Valley & peaks to the east.
  • Onion Valley Campground – High Sierra @ 9200′ elevation. Trailhead to Kearsarge Pass. W of Independence, CA

4x4 Camps

Western Sierra Nevada Mts
Sierra National Forest

    • White Bark Trailhead @ Kaiser Pass,
      primitive camp site, pictured above. 4WD required @ Dusy Ershim Trail (OHV route). NE of Huntington Lake, CA

cabin rental

NFSsee also – NFS Fire Lookouts & Rental Cabins
many of which have excellent views of the wilderness areas; a hike or climb may be necessary

Colorado River Camping
Multiple riverside RV havens near Parker, AZ

coloradoriverRV

 


Bear in California

California Black Bears

California Black Bears

Although the grizzly bear image graces the state flag, grizzlies were killed off during the gold rush days. Black bears are found in California mountains and foothills, down to lowest elevations in NorCal. The black bears come in more than one color –  light brown, dark brown, and of course, black. For the most part, bears usually stay away from people.

Some areas are more prone to bear problems due in large part to the overpopulation of tourists and abundance of food provided by them. Certain California National Parks are particularly notorious for their brazen bear populations. Concentrated bear problems are sometimes posted so be very aware.

Bear Habitat

Follow some simple rules:

  • Keep a very clean campsite
  • Clean up all dirty dishes & beverage containers (especially before bedtime)
  • Keep clothing & sleeping bags free of food odors or heavy scents
  • Never leave any type of food garbage outside of a cabin or mountain home
  • Store garbage properly inside a locked, sturdy container inside garage or a shed
  • Stay away from bear cubs, there is sure to be a mother in close proximity
  • Try not to hike alone. Make noise & sing on trails to scare away any unwanted animals.
  • Bear storage canisters are available at sporting good stores & at stores in most National Parks.

Proper Food Storage Outdoors:

Bear Boxes @ Campground

Store food in closed up automobile, not visible. Store food correctly: in trunk of your car, or hidden from sight; in campground food lockers when available.

Lock all food, beverages and coolers in the provided metal bear boxes or bear lockers where available.

Toothpaste, deodorant & anything that has a scent should be thought of as food and stored accordingly.

Bears are so strong they can rip your car door open (in places like Yosemite, where bears are problem and you can get cited for not storing food items properly)

Bears are so strong they can break open a garage door to get to the smelly trash inside, so make sure you utilize the curbside pickup service available in some mountain communities or take a trip to the dump once per week.

carcampers

DO NOT LEAVE FOOD OUT, UNATTENDED, outdoors…
during a picnic lunch, during a barbeque, or dinner at the campfire.
(Birds, dogs, squirrels and wild animals can move in quickly.)

Backpackers should hang food in nylon bag & drape over weak branch in high in tree: hang your food using the counterbalance method. Ranger who issues your wilderness permit can explain the hanging procedure;

2 stuff sacks (with drawstrings) for your food items, and 60 feet of medium weight cord. 2 carabiners make hanging much easier.

Bear Canisters

Bear Canisters

for your food
when exploring the wilderness

hikers tent campers mountains rivers picnic lakes

Bear Repellent / Bear Mace
Bear Pepper Spray

 

Additional Storage Tip

As for storing food inside cars:

If I am primitive car camping on a dirt road area that does not have campgrounds or bear lockers, I store food in my SUV convertible vehicle on the front floorboards with towel over it – with the car alarm set. Any large animal trying to break in will get blasted with alarm noise & possibly run away, plus the noise will wake us up to deal with the intruder.

If a bear does get into your camp area:

  • Make as much noise as possible: yell, bang pots/pans, whistle, air horn and get your bear mace or pepper spray ready in hand
  • Raise your hands up to appear larger
  • Get your entire camp group together, join hands and spread out everyone at the camp should be outside the tents in order to be as effective as possible
  • Throw rocks & small objects
  • If possible, try to get to your car for protection & honk the horn
  • If a bear charges at you, drop to the ground and curl up in a tight ball. Cover your head, face and vital areas. Play dead.

If you encounter a bear on a hiking trail:

  • Make as much noise as possible while walking solo. Hum, sing, talk to the birds. Sing or talk to yourself – out loud.
  • Carry bear spray (mace or pepper) or a weapon for added protection
  • If a bear approaches: stand still, slowly retreat, say a few calming words in a friendly voice and never make eye contact
  • If a bear charges at you, drop to the ground and curl up in a tight ball. Cover your head, face and vital areas. Play dead.

bearcreek