Aspen Groves are easy to recognize with their thick stands. White trunks with dark knots, slender, with oval shaped leaves. Growing in a network of roots, which are found lining creeks, alpine lakes, or spilling out from higher elevations, along scenic canyons.
The unique round leaves which can turn spectacular colors in the fall season. The fluttering and flapping of the oval-shaped, thick, green leaf is a sure sign of summer. When breezes get cooler, Autumn is only a few weeks away and as quick as the cold comes in, what a short and special show they put on.
California Fall Colors
Aspen trees can be found at higher mountain elevations in California, usually above 4000′ – all the way up to about 10,000′ or higher, depending on the mountain range and local water flows. Groves have an extensive root systems underground, so they often withstand wildfires and can come back after the rest of the forest is gone.
Beavers build dams in creeks around aspen trees, fishermen and campers love to camp next to aspens, and lovers carve their initials into their white bark. These trees do indeed take a beating, from all angles, winter weather included… so stop from cutting them!
summer and autumn
These deciduous trees are naked half the year, typically from November to April, as winter buries them in snow and ice. Time is of the essence, limited to Summer and Autumn – to enjoy their shade and the beauty of the groves. Scenic meadows and fishing creeks are just an added bonus for searching out the aspen.
Aspens can be found in hidden canyons, primarily along the Eastern Sierra US Hwy 395 and surrounding mountain lakes. Some Sierra Passes have decent displays of color as well – like Carson Pass Hwy 88 and Yosemite’s Tioga Pass Hwy 120.
Below is a list of Total Escape’s favorite aspen areas of California
Prime hiking and fishing destination of the Eastern Sierra, California. With impressive Carson Peak (10,909′) towering as a granite backdrop for the lake, every day out here is super scenic. Unless, of course, blizzard white-out conditions occur – which is possible during winter.
October-November, Autumn colors – at this particular location – tend to be fantastic, with aspen groves encompassing the lake, nearby streams and steep canyons.
fish: Reverse Creek, Rush Creek, Silver Lake, Grant Lake, Gem Lake, Gull Lake, June Lake
Winter weather & deep snow can close the paved highway loop, so know road conditions and weather forecast before you go. This beautiful Silver Lake is within walking distance of two lodges – Whispering Pines & Double Eagle Resort, so if rain or snow is predicted make your reservations.
This gorgeous, 80 acre alpine lake is a popular campground for fishing, picnicking, hiking, summer and autumn camping. Accommodates tent camping and RVs. Boat ramp, grocery store, coin-op laundry – all nearby. Camp closes for snow annually.
Silver Lake Campground NFS
• Elevation: 7600′
• Number of Sites: 28
• Vehicle Accessibility: RV 20′
• Campsites Reservation: Yes
• Camp Fee: Yes
• Toilets: Flush
• Water: Piped/Potable
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: April – October
Inyo National Forest
Mono Lake Ranger Station
North US Hwy 395
Lee Vining, CA 93541
Sure splendor for fishing, most of the time. Lake fishing, stream fishing, river fishing. Fishing the Eastern Sierra area, near Mammoth Lakes, California can be very rewarding. You may have read about places like these in the sports magazines, seen them on a television program, or imagined them in a fishing vacation day dream. Summers can be crowded, so pick a lake and camp carefully. Weather can change quickly, so come prepared. Autumn fishing w/ the golden aspens and less crowds is preferred.
Most of these Eastern Sierra lakes listed below are accessible by car, others by foot. Look at the photos, pick a destination and get a good map of the area, so you can explore everything around too.
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 Inyo National Forest campgrounds, County Parks, BLM public camps for outdoor recreation. Many campgrounds are closed for winter months. Blue links lead to more camp information. Boldface links to detailed information & photos on campground.
Amazing autumn colors can be found through OCTOBER and NOVEMBER in California, but you’ll need to leave the city in order to find the very best colors and scenic beauty. Fall season happens quickly (within weeks) in the high country and slower (months) in the lowlands. Plenty canyons and parks in the urban centers have hiking trails thru some nice trees, but nothing compares to the backroads, creeks and rivers of the big mountains.
Elevations, the higher the better, is where you’ll find the real displays of color. Aspen groves can be found along mountain slopes, creek canyons from 5000′-10,000′ in elevation. Cottonwood trees are found in the drier regions, in ranching areas and in desert canyons – up to about 6000′ elevation. Aspen trees start to turn yellow as soon as the chill of nights drop; if the temperature shift is subtle, the aspen leaves become more orange as the days go into the fall season. If an early snow or freeze happens, just one night, the glorious foliage becomes dead brown crispies dangling in the wind.
CAMP FIRE RESTRICTIONS are still be in place from the dry summer, and now comes the autumn winds. Any decent amount of rain can change the fire burn status, so make sure to check with the rangers for up-to-date fire info.
Best Autumn Campgrounds in California
Many of these campgrounds are located in or near aspen groves & are simply spectacular during the fall months. Some may be located near alder groves. Maple trees located along rivers turn golden between September and October.
Higher elevation (7000′-9000′) colors will change faster and earlier in the year (as soon as September), whereas the lower countryside may wait until late October.
Pack warmly, cuz the cooler temps at night (20-30 degrees) is what makes these awesome, little autumn leaves change colors. The change can happen very fast (in days). When the early season snows move in – usually a minimal dusting by October, fall colors can fade fast.
The Eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada is the ‘place to be’ for Autumn Colors in California. The dramatic desert meets the tallest granite peaks. Every canyon is a different scene, many lakes lined with aspen groves, some have a creek with aspens.
North Lake Campground
Lake Sabrina Road
Bishop Pass (high country hikes)
Lee Vining, CA
Lee Vining Canyon / Hwy 120
One of the biggest aspen grove canyons in the state of California.
NFS Campgrounds in Lee Vining Canyon: Big Bend, Aspen Grove, Boulder, Moraine, and Cattleguard Campground.
NFS Camps @ Yosemite’s EAST GATE (9000′ elev): Ellery Lake, Junction, Saddlebag Lake, and Sawmill Campground.
Impressive Rock Creek Road #4S12 in Rock Creek Canyon, one of the very best “Scenic Autumn Drives” in the whole Eastern Sierra. Numerous NFS Campgrounds on this road; many of which close for the season, just about the time then fall colors peak.
When you really wanna get away from it all, take a week off and head up to Modoc – the top northeast corner of California, where the volcanic mountains line the Great Basin. The population is minimal, cattle are abundant and the campers few. Even in mid summer, this ideal lake campground rarely fills up.
Jess Valley Road leads east off US 395 @ Likely, CA – 16 miles back to this hidden gem.
Headwaters to the Pit River.
NFS Campground is shady, well managed, and spread out on the eastern slope w/ numerous paved loops. Tent campers, cross country cyclists, truck campers w/ canoes, SUV families, motorhomes with kayaks and kids.
Blue Lake Campground NFS
• Elevation: 6,050′
• Number of Sites: 48
• Vehicle Accessibility: 32′ RV
• Camp Fee: Yes
• Campsite Reservation: No
• Water: Piped
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: May –October
• Trailhead: Lake Loop
• Boat Ramp: Yes
Group Camp Facilities (by reservation only)
Modoc NF Warner Ranger District
Blue Lake National Recreation Trail
Right next to camp: A pretty much perfect LAKE LOOP (1.5 mi) hiking trail is worth a serious stroll; footbridge, wildflowers, fishing spots, minimal hills, lava rocks, and awesome scenery. Plenty of wildlife can be seen, including butterflies and bald eagles. Trail is shaded by tall white fir and ponderosa pine trees. Trailhead is located at the Day Use parking lot, w/ paved boat ramp, dock, and picnic area.
NOTE: not every CAMPSITE has a LAKE VIEW
Certain campsites are adjacent to the lake; some are set facing a meadow (Autumn w/ aspen groves), or the alpine forest w/ deer grazing. Perhaps an inner circle (interior) campsite, for those who like to be close to bathrooms and piped water. Large families will love the abundance of camp settings and accommodations.
Paved Loop Plenty of Vault Toilets Piped Water Recycles & Trash Service
no paved camp stall
no dump station
no cell phone signal
popular lake camp for motorhomes
When driving a large RV back in here, be courteous of other campers. Nothing sucks more than driving a long distance to the boonies, to arrive at camp just before dark and annoying everyone else already there.
Those needing to drive the campground loops (more than twice) looking for the biggest, levelest, best camp site – and burning $10 in gasoline doing so, should consider walking in.
Park that beast (near boat ramp area, before the camp entrance). Get out and walk the hills and loops, BREATHE & relax – prior to a choosing camp site.
Unhitch any tow vehicles; use that to scout out your perfect spot, if you cannot hike it. Trailers and large motorhomes will find this place ideal, but getting the right camp, can make all the difference.
Paved Trail around CampgroundThe wildfire: BLUE FIRE burned this region in 2001, but it is lush and green again (2019). Northern California gets some real weather. Rain and snow, more than half the year. The campground closes annually due to snow.
Kayaking is best done in the morning, cuz wind picks up in the afternoon. Canoes can launch at boat ramp, or at shoreline from trails near campsite.
Hiking trails can be found all around lake and campground. Wilderness access can be found at South Warner trailheads within a short drive from the lake.
Cyclists also love this camp, as it is located near a major highway and is a perfect place to really relax, soak in the scenery and get some quiet-nights sleep.
Modoc Forest Road #64 is a through-route, across the lower South Warners – 40
miles connecting to east side of the mountain, at Eagleville, CA.
Dirt Roads are suitable for trucks w/ trailers. SUVs and rugged passenger cars are okay. Motorhomes are not advised on this route. Washboard conditions are typical. Winter closure on this route is common.
MODOC RD 64
Several miles away from Blue Lake, 2 rustic trailhead campgrounds are located back this way – East Creek Campground & Patterson Campground. Less than 10 camp sites each, equipped w/ horse stalls, vault toilets and maybe piped water. Trailhead parking for backpackers. No RVs!
Autumn colors w/ aspen groves. Open, large meadows and mature forests w/ wildfire scars. Cattle can be found grazing all around, many cattle crossing.
Minimal primitive camping options, along road sides. Campfire permits required. No camping within one mile of a developed campground.
Wide open spaces, mountains, rivers and ranch lands. The very last of the unexplored high country of California. Rural and rustic regions are full of forested mountain ranges with sage brush meadows lying below. Valleys are high elevation deserts with a base terrain sitting above 4000′; Peaks @ 8000′ above sea level.
South Warner Wilderness is in the southern portion of the Warner Mountains, a north south positioned range, located in the top corner of the golden state. Surprise Valley lies to the east, bordering the Nevada state line and Alturas w/ US Hwy 395 on the west side.
California SR 299
Hwy 299, the only paved thoroughfare cuts right through the middle of the Warner Mountains. Paved Parker Creek Road #56 climbs up Parker Creek from Alturas, accessing camping, hiking, dirt back roads and wilderness trailheads. Warner Mountains State Game Refuge is north of the wilderness area.
One dirt route skirts the wilderness boundary – West Warner Road #5, which leads from Parker Creek due south to Jess Valley Rd #64. Blue Lake Road, Patterson Mill and Road #39N15 are nearest to East Creek. Winter driving tips from NFS.
All these campgrounds listed can be accessed by a vehicle, most by narrow back roads (some dirt). If you prefer to drive on paved roads only, then you’ll need to choose Blue Lake or Mill Creek Falls. Deep snow closes forest roads and campgrounds are generally only open a few months per year, from May to October.
Mount Lassen is part of the Cascade Mountain Range, located north of the Sierra Nevada. The Lassen forest encompasses a large area of wilderness land, snowmelt creeks and an abundant dirt road system. Most of which is covered in deep snow about half the year, so plan accordingly.
Plenty of great dispersed camping along the old logging roads in this Lassen Forest area, surrounding the Volcanic National Park; in Northern California. Many dirt roads are graded annually to allow for passenger car access. You can make it way back there in a car – just watch for the mud and some boulders!
Camp fire permits required (see below). Pease try to choose a camp that has been used before and pack out your garbage.
HINT: a USDA Lassen National Forest Map is very helpful when camping these remote, Lassen back roads. Stay away from the crowds, avoid camp fees & really enjoy your vacation.
Camp right on a rushing river, alone. With no one in sight or sound. Have that secluded camping experience you’ve always dreamed about. Fishing, relaxing, maybe some hiking too. Or better, your mountain bike. Plenty forest roads to explore.
Numerous waterfalls to discover, water flowing everywhere. Mount Lassen @ 10,457′ elevation, is often snow-capped year round. This Northern California region is covered with pine forests and volcanic history.
If you wanna find the nearest biker bar, head over to the rustic and forested Bambi Inn @ Butte Meadows. The place is popular all the time, especially on weekends. Scenic day drive from Chico, located near a nice river and bridge, plus they have cabin rentals too. Sometimes they have big events and it can get pretty crowded and loud w/ drinking and outdoor music.
BSA Camp Lassen is a boy scout camp located E of Chico, off Highway 32 near Butte Meadows, CA
Dispersed Camp sites in Lassen in Lake Almanor Area
Alder Creek Campground
Benner Creek Campground
Black Rock Campground
year round, fish
Echo Lake Campground
May-Nov, no tables
Soldier Creek Campground
May-Nov, fall hunters
South Antelope Campground
Willow Lake Campground
May-Nov, no tables
Northside of Mount Lassen
Excellent back roads camping w/ dense forest and free firewood all over the place (bring hand saw). Dispersed, primitive, free camping, near creek, and highway close. Many forest dirt roads turn offs, all along Highway 44 (California SR 44) near junction w/ Hwy 89 @ Lassen National Park.
Big creeks, dense forests, graded dirt roads, dark night skies. PCT access, trailheads, camping, fishing, hiking, hunting, all along Upper Hat Creek.
Campfire permits (shovel, bucket & water) are required when camping outside of a developed campground. Always check on current fire restrictions. Washed out bridges and landslides are common, which means road closed signs can be found on these remote backroads.
EB from Fresno, Hwy 168 up to Shaver, w/ another 30+ miles on paved backroads
(Dinkey Creek Rd & then McKinley Grove Rd)
Way, way back, beyond Dinkey
You gotta really wanna BE at places like this. Magical High Sierra mountains – California’s finest. Sheer beauty surrounds this lake w/ granite domes, granite cliffs, granite trails, forests, peaks and plenty hiking, fishing, water and boating. It does take planning (way ahead) to make it out here, cuz the area is only accessible during summer months. Typical of high altitude lakes, snow buries them annually and the roads get closed off to the public (usually NOV-MAY is winter). Some backcountry routes become snowmobiling trails during winter, and the Sierra National Forest has plenty of great snomo action (if snow is deep).
Wishon Lake, California
High Sierra Granite Reservoir with pines trees and rocky, granite shoreline. Not nearly as amazing as its cousin w/ the domes to the north, Courtright, Wishon has less granite & less wind, but more accessible backroads to explore, plus more car camping options. Both lakes are part of the Helms Creek hydro-electric project (dams) that make up the PG&E water infrastructure out in these parts – The Kings River Drainage System.
Backpacker trailheads, Woodchuck, Rancheria & Crown Valley all lead to dead end dirt roads – with nothing but solitude for miles & miles. Some might be passenger car accessible. Winter weather changes dirt road conditions (often).
The Kings River Geological Area is nearby, as well as both the John Muir Wilderness & Dinkey Lakes Wilderness.
Large Reservoir with 8,000-10,000′ high sierra mountain peaks surrounding. Pine forests, views, fishing, camping, hiking in every direction, secluded dirt roads. Perfect high elevation trailheads, next to John Muir Wilderness. Great for backpackers!
All boating, but no waterski or jet ski.
One public boat ramp. Fishing boat rentals available.
Wishon is a summer vacation paradise for trout fishing, hiking, backpacking and back road exploring.
CLOSED FOR WINTER: NOV-APRIL = Snow closes the road for winter. For all you hardcore campers and hikers, you must call ahead to see if roads are open. It is rural forest, well traveled, but snow storms will shut everything down out here (for many months). Although, in some mild winters you can drive as far as Dinkey Creek on pavement. Gates are locked beyond that.
Dinkey Creek Campground
Gigantea Campground McKinley Sequoia Grove
Sawmill Campground (dirt road)
Free, primitive or open camping abundant on the dirt backroads in Sierra National Forest. 4 wheel drive is not required for most routes, but a high clearance rig would help. Some gravel roads are graded annually and suitable for passenger cars – during summer months and only for about the first mile or two, off of the main road (pavement). Mud and snow are common on backroads!
Small mountain resort in the forest near Mill Creek, with cabin rentals, RV camping and campgrounds nearby. A general store is open in summer months, and snow can be found in winter. Highway 172 makes a nice paved loop around this forested area and joins back to Hwy 36. Route may be closed due to snow in winter & spring. Free camping can be found along this creek, although a campfire permit is always required for camping outside of developed campgrounds.
Mill Creek Indians: Described as a group of ‘renegade and outlaws’, from multiple tribes in NorCal. Mill Creek Indians took shelter in secluded Mill Creek gorge, located below the Mill Creek Rim, a volcanic ridge which extends from Mount Lassen to the Sacramento River Valley. See more on Ishi Wilderness.
Fouts Springsis a popular off-road camping area on the far east side of Mendocino National Forest. Many miles off I-5, near Stonyford, CA. Numerous NFS campgrounds exist is this rugged canyon. One of them is called Mill Creek Campground and it has few pine tree and lots of chaparral, plus a decent little creek flowing nearby. OHV – off highway vehicle use is heavy in this region, so know when to go. At certain times of the year this remote canyon can be quiet and peaceful. Call the local rangers to find out.
5171 Stonyford-Elk Creek Road
Stonyford, CA 95979
NOTE: RANCH FIRE (Mendocino Complex Fire of 2018) this whole Mendocino Forest (east side) was badly burned by the largest wildfire in California history. All of the Snow Mountain Wilderness was affected, including all the National Forest land surrounding it. Fouts Springs Campgrounds may have been spared, but the hills, trails and roads now lead to blackened forest. Many routes could be closed; check with ranger station in advance of travel.
Mill Creek Waterfall is located on the western slopes of the Warner Range, near the South Warner Wilderness. On the headwaters to the Pit River; About 6 miles east of US Highway 395, near the town of Likely, south of Alturas, California
TheBucks Lake Wilderness region also has a developed NFS Mill Creek Campground. The camp location is well off the Bucks Lake Road, tucked deep in a tight canyon; northern most point and near a dam for the large Bucks Lake.
elevation = 5200′
10 camp sites
closed in winter
14 night camp limit
RV = 21′ max
camp fire rings
Bucklin Road (aka Bucklin Dam Rd and Road 33) #24N24 a paved road on the west end of Bucks Lake, connects to Road #24N88X which leads back to this smaller campground; camp sites are paved. Steep driveway down.
This Mill Creek intersects Bucks Lake at the campground, then connects to the PCT hiking trail, although the narrow dirt road #24N88X veers away from creek a few miles up.
This Mill Creek is located on the south shore of the lower Kings River, above Pine Flat Reservoir. This is the boundary where Sequoia NF meets the big river, and on the other side of the water is the Sierra NF.
Mill Flat Campground (also known as Mill Creek Camp) is a shady, oak flat campground on a dirt road, located at a dead end canyon site, right on the rocky rivers edge.
As usual – the further you drive, the more seclusion you will find. This observation holds true for this Mill Creek location. During peak summer months, there may be families enjoying this spot, but most of the year it is virtually empty and rarely used.
Plumas National Foresthas excellent outdoor recreation and developed campgrounds, as well as secluded, primitive back roads camping sites. If you prefer a camp with table, toilet and a campfire ring, then expect to pay a fee. There are several small, remote campgrounds listed below, but most are located on paved roads. Venture down dirt roads to find a premium camp sites for free. Scroll the map links below to explore the back roads of Plumas, and discover hidden fishing holes.
Plumas Camping; Sierra Nevada Campgrounds; Feather River Fishing Lakes
Plumas National Forest Camping – Primitive Camp Sites
Plumas Forest Camping
North Sierra Nevada, Northern California
Listed below are primitive campgrounds w/ minimal facilities or open camping areas in Plumas National Forest. Plumas has excellent fishing as the big rivers & numerous creeks run thru this northern Sierra Nevada landscape. Open camping is allowed on almost any dirt road w/ a current campfire permit
Ohio Valley – Seneca Road
[off Hwy 89 to southside] Primitive forest camping near Lake Almanor. ATV trails, hunting. Creeks and river camping closer to Seneca. High clearance or 4WD may be needed on these dirt back roads – depending on snow and mud. There is plenty dirt roads back here to explore.
[good fishing area] Hwy.70 Quincy, go 5 mi. west on Buck Lake Rd. Head north & 5 mi. to the campground at the lake. Elevation 4200′ / Open April – October
California meadow is a common term people search for when dreaming of their mountain retreat vacation or upcoming weekend camping trip.
Meadows are places in the forest where cool air collects and settles. Deer among other wildlife, can often be found here grazing around dawn and dusk. Alpine meadows are usually surrounded by trees with lush green grasses, located at higher altitudes above 6000′ – the ‘highcountry’ as most like to say.
Find meadows on National Forest lands from 3000-10,000′ elevation, and it is not uncommon to see cattle grazing in these same regions. California National Parks have some of the most protected meadows in the golden state!
MT SAGE – mountain sage meadows
High desert mountains have drier landscapes, with large sage brush meadows surrounded by sparse pinon pine and/or juniper forest. The Mojave desert’s sagebrush reaches out westward to the peaks of West Kern County. High deserts and mountain meadows can both have significant wildflower blooms. The deserts start to show color in March & April, while the highest elevations of the Sierra Nevada can bloom as late as July & August. All California Wildflowers depend on autumn seasonal rains & snow melt.
The best places to find secluded wildflower meadows is on the high country trails of various mountains – Mount Pinos, Sierra Nevada, Shasta, Trinity & Lassen – all have marvelous meadows, some have easy access w/ parking nearby and others are hike-in only. Locate hiking trailheads for meadows and possibly find camp nearby.
Excellent near Meadows:
Stargazing, Wildflowers, Wildlife Viewing, Horse Camping
Explore dirt back roads of California to find your very own meadow. If you would like to explore at this level, a good topo map is highly advised. The Sierra Nevada mountains have the most beautiful meadows in the state (by far). Their scenery w/ granite outcroppings and wild flowers, surpasses all else. Although on rare occasions, even the Antelope Valley can look amazing — with poppies.
Mountain Meadows are sacred spaces: Do not disturb the lush, grassy landscape, as wildlife rely on these areas for survival.
No driving on meadows. No camping on meadows; No Campfires; Camp next to (or nearby), but not on top of the meadow. Picnicking should be kept on the sidelines.
Stay on designated dirt roads: No tires across the meadow; No mountain biking, No dirt bikes, No off roading. You’re not spreading the seeds, you’re destroying a fragile ecosystem.
Ranch FENCING w/ barbed-wire is quite common around meadows, to keep cattle out of certain problem areas. Fences also help keep the wandering public out of private lands or sensitive areas.
When hiking – stay out of the muddy spots and know that if you choose to hike directly across meadow, you may encounter water and deep, sinking mud. HINT: There is usually a shallow creek running through most meadows, during all times of the year.
Winter snow usually blankets these fragile areas in winter, and when deep enough – making this terrain prime destinations for snowmobilers.
Awesome granite domes of the western Sierra, plus a scenic recreational lake that is only accessible half the year. Home to “Hells Half Acre” – Mammoth Pool Lake is one of the lesser known reservoirs in the western Sierra Nevada mountains. It’s kinda hard to get to although it is located on the border of Yosemite National Park. Area is totally surrounded by granite creeks, hiking trails, dirt roads and wilderness. This Mammoth Pool is an hours drive, way back behind Bass Lake (off Highway 41), and NOT located near Mammoth Lakes in the Eastern Sierra.
Camping just outside of Yosemite. Although the National Park boundary and trailheads are near by, accessing Yosemite Valley for day trips from this location will be quite tiresome and difficult, with long winding roads and over 2 hours drive one way. Better to camp near Bass Lake if you wanna be convenient to Yosemite NP.
(loop road, backcountry route closed in winter months)
Near the town of Oakhurst and Bass Lake California, get off the main highway and head over to the small town of North Fork. Take South Fork Road 225 (Italian Bar Rd) to Minarets Road (#81) also called Mammoth Road. Side trip paved Auberry Road (#222) which skirts oak hills down to Redinger Lake Road. Hook up w/ Minarets Road (#81) that parallels the San Joaquin River on the forested ridge above, traveling 20 miles to Numerous developed campgrounds and primitive camping sites off this route. Mammoth Pool is a signed right turn down Mammoth Pool Road, a steep road w/ a couple of campground near the lake shore and the only public boat launch is narrow, one at a time and it is not paved.
The lake is closed to the public during May and the first half of June to allow migrating deer to swim across the reservoir. The reservoir is inaccessible following the first snowstorm, as the access road is not snowplowed.
Grizzly Road, a paved route that leads deeper into the woods and connects over to BEASORE. Back on the main route (Road #81) on the far north end of the loop, a narrow, paved side route connects Clover Meadow Ranger Station and the impressive Granite Creek Campground. Plenty water and hiking trailheads that lead into Ansel Adams Wilderness and Yosemite National Park.
Back on the main route (Road #81) – the pavement becomes dirt in some sections and the route loops down to Beasore Road (#7), which traverses past meadows and dense forest, and heads back towards Bass Lake.
backpacking, boating, camping
fishing, water ski, kayaking
GIANT SEQUOIA: in between Sequoia & Kings Canyon, inside Sequoia NF
This chunk of National Forest land is perfectly located in between 2 very popular National Parks – Kings Canyon and Sequoia. This primary paved road leads to some great camping, a perfect option for NOT camping inside the crowed National Parks.
Turn east off of Sequoia ‘Generals Highway’ 198, on to the well signed Big Meadow Rd. There is primitive camping all over this area & a few developed campgrounds along this route. Motorhomes be warned: the road narrows to one lane with no “turn outs” or U turn spots for the last 10 miles (on a steep cliff w/ large overhanging rocks)
In the first few miles, the dispersed camp sites on the right side have great views & some situated on fairly flat granite slabs, perfect for astronomer campers or adventurous RVs. To the left side of the road is more primitive style campsites in wooded areas. The whole area is also a very popular cross country ski & snowmobiling spot for winter recreation. Hunters also like these camps during hunting season (in September).
There is a developed Horse Camp on the left side of the road for equestrian campers. This camp is located across from the biggest meadow and may be the first place you notice on this drive.
Buck Rock Campground (7600′ elevation, 5 spots) & Big Meadows Campground (7600′ elevation, 25 spots) are both family style camps, perfect for those who want picnic tables, plus bathroom nearby. Sorry no flush toilets out here, only pit toilets.
Buck Rock Fire Lookout Tower @ 8500′ elevation – is located to the north on Forest Rd # 14S02. It’s a great spot for some impressive views – if you aren’t afraid of heights. To reach the tower you must climb several flights of steel steps. This place is worth a stop if planning a sightseeing day.
Big Meadows Guard Station @ 7500′ elevation (also known as Big Meadows Cabin), is located next to the BIG MEADOW and is available for rent on a weekend basis from the NFS. Hiking Jennie Lakes Wilderness and fly fishing Big Meadows Creek are favorite activities to be enjoyed.
Big Meadows Road is long & narrow – 12+ miles. RVs are not recommended beyond the Big Meadow Campground, as the road is one lane in some spots & it skirts a cliff edge. The views are incredible the farther you go & many creeks feed the region.
The narrow, long paved road eventually forks off into several smaller dirt roads back near Horse Corral Meadow. Way back here, the dirt roads lead out to trail heads for backpacking, horse packing or day hiking in Jennie Lakes & Monarch Wilderness. Backcountry access to either Sequoia or Kings Canyon National Park! Have a good map if you plan to venture out this far. Pay attention & don’t get lost.
GPS would be helpful in this area. Some of the smaller of the dirt roads are not even on the NFS maps. Make sure to GPS way-point your favorite camp site, so you can find in next time…. in the dark.
Craggy granite peaks, abundant meadows, big streams, w/ 89 lakes are the main highlights of this wild land area in Northern California.
Marble Mountain itself, a stark, red-and-gray marbled peak. Most of the lakes are gems set in rocky settings, and at least one-third of the wilderness is cloaked in a great variety of trees, dominated by
Tanbark oak, madrone, and Douglas fir populate lower elevations, with whitebark pine, foxtail pine, and mountain hemlock higher up in altitude. You will find alpine meadows and bare rock in the highest elevations. Bear, deer, and many other species of wildlife are plentiful. Most of the peaks exceed 6,000 feet in height, with Boulder Peak being the highest at 8299 feet. Long recognized for its wild value, this region became a Primitive area in 1931, a Wilderness in 1953, and a part of the NWPS in 1964. Numerous trails provide excellent and extensive access to the Wilderness, and human use is rated as moderate. The Pacific Crest Trail crosses the entire Wilderness for 32 miles north-south, and accesses many other trails. Most of the trails offer relatively easy travel for humans and horses, and excellent campsites are to be had along the way.
12 NFS Campgrounds are located around Eastern Sierra Rock Creek Canyon. Elevations range from 7000′ at the highway, to over 10,000′ at a trailhead parking lot at the road’s end. Most of these developed campgrounds listed are only open a few months outta the year, due to winter snow closures (NOV-APRIL). On occasion, snow can still be on the roads until MAY.
Rock Creek Loop Road – Dinkey
Sierra Forest Road #9S09, off of paved Dinkey Creek Road. Excellent primitive camping along creek; 4×4 trailheads, as well as hiking & horseback trails. Small RVs okay. Dispersed camp sites, no facilities. Fire permits are required. Near Shaver Lake, CA inside the Sierra National Forest
The biggest Gold Lake, California is the well-known one, along the Gold Lake Highway in the Lakes Basin Recreation Area. Plumas meets Tahoe National Forest. North of Gold Country Hwy 49, Downieville & the Yuba River. Right where the Sierra Nevada granite meets the volcanic lava rock of NorCal.
Impressive jagged spires known as The Sierra Buttes (8591′) tower above the stunning lake scenery. This big Gold Lake is surrounded by a dozen smaller alpine lakes which make up the popular region called Lakes Basin. Easy access paved highway, which closes in winter for deep snow and winter recreation. The Gold Lake Highway is also referred to as Plumas County Road #S620
Sardine Peak Fire Lookout NFS fire tower – no more overnight rentals! overlooking the Sierra Buttes and the serene Lakes Basin, Yuba River, Northern Gold Country California
LAKES BASIN RECREATION AREA Cabins, camping, lake fishing, backpacking, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, off-roading, snow-mobiling.
Mini Gold Lake
Another smaller Gold Lake exist on the granite slopes in Bucks Lake Wilderness – E of Oroville & W of Quincy, CA.
This hidden gem is a hike-in only lake – and well worth the effort. A somewhat short hike, great ridge line views to the east, although the last half mile of this route is a doozie (moderately strenuous).
The main trailhead departs from Silver Lake and climbs a ridge line that heads over to the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail). An off-shoot trail goes another mile to the miniature Gold Lake, a granite bowl of sheer beauty. A great day hike for those wishing to see the backcountry. Pack your picnic lunch, camera, and make a whole darn day of it!
Swimming & skinning dipping seem quite natural at this alpine lake, since it is a pretty remote location (without a lot of visitors) and there is absolutely no swimming allowed at neighboring Silver Lake.
The steep, overgrown, rocky shoreline leads one to bush whack through old trails, only to be met by a rock slide. Many dead ends and obstacles to climb around, or over. Some way… maybe, or maybe not!
Boulder and rock scrambling is the key phrase to remember, once you reach this lake. Knees may be sore from climbing, up and over the boulder ledge surrounding the lake bowl.
A few primitive camp sites are scattered about on the edge of the lake for those backpacking in, but be warned – they can be very difficult to reach. Much more suitable campsites can be found scattered throughout the area.
Warning: there are no flat, lush meadows to lounge in up at the lake, so pick yourself a side route (on the walk in) to find real seclusion and privacy.
This mile-long-ridge hiking trail to mini Gold Lake has some amazing views down to the east side – Jacks Meadow right below; then Meadow Valley & Quincy off in the distant hills. RURAL CALIFORNIA – Plumas County from above.
High Sierra Gold Lakes in California
hike-in only lakes
Golden Bear Lake
High Sierra – Kings Canyon National Park
Center Basin / Center Peak 12,760′
PCT – Pacific Crest Trail
North of Mount Whitney
Eastern Sierra, Independence, CA
Yosemite is a top destination, all year long. California masses converge on the sacred valley each summer, so expect more as the buses keep rolling in. Plan a Yosemite trip before Memorial Day weekend – or after Labor Day weekend, for less people.
Camping close to Yosemite National Park without being inside the park boundaries. The scenery and wildness doesn’t stop in the back country. There are numerous National Forests surrounding the popular National Park, so much public land has been set aside for these recreation purposes. Granite-lined mountain meadows, dense forests, raging creeks, wildlife and real seclusion. Plenty of great paved back roads, dirt roads and camping options in the Sierra Nevada.
No campground reservations needed, cheap or free, less crowds, less noise. More freedom, more privacy, more nature.
Hundreds of developed, small campgrounds can be found around Yosemite. A few private RV resorts, cabin rentals, lodging on the main highways. Primitive style camping is considered “camping outside of developed campgrounds”. USDA National Forests usually allows open-camping within the forest boundary – with a required camp fire permit. Sometimes wildfire danger is too extreme, so they often ban campfires in dry conditions.
Heart Bar Camp: Forest Road #1N02 – San Bernardino National Forest
Heartbar Campground, Heart Bar Horse Camps, RV Dispersed Sites, Coon Creek Cabin. SE of Big Bear Lake; Hiking & Equestrian Trails
Hwy 38 , the long way into Big Bear Lake, up thru Angelus Oaks CA. Heartbar Campground is a developed recreation area, right up front. 94 camp sites, plus the recreation all around. Big equestrian area.
HART BAR: Heart Bar is large pine valley w/ alpine meadows, great camping, San Gorgonio looms overhead with ridges of 10,000′ elevation.
free, dispersed, primitive camping
in Southern Cal
HEART BAR DISPERSED AREA
Forest Service Rd #1N02 – the dirt road is graded & maintained, about half the year. Primitive camp sites require permits; see local rangers. Many forest roads can close due to heavy snow, big rain or rock slides. Best traveled in the warmer months. Winter can be questionable with open gates and road access.
Large open sites, with tables & moderately level dirt access. Seen RV campers way back here. RV’s beyond 30′ are not recommended. At end of this 5 mile dirt route is a hiking trail to Big Morongo Canyon & a really neat historic place called the Coon Creek Cabin.
Totally worth a visit, if you plan on driving to the end of the road – just for the heck of it. Cabin area can be reserved for small group camping in summer months.