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

Thorndike Campground

thorndike3

Beyond the Wildrose Canyon and the charcoal kilns of west Death Valley NP, the high desert dirt road becomes rougher and steeper. Among junipers and pinyon pines sits this remote high-desert campground. High clearance vehicle may be needed to reach this camp at Thorndike – and 4WD is recommended during inclement weather (rain, flash floods or snow). And no RV, motorhomes or trailers should be driving up this way. This is the closest camp to the historic charcoal kilns, which are walking distance away.

Mahogany Flat Campground is another 1000′ higher in on the ridge and Wildrose Campground is way down the canyon at 4000′. Wildrose is open all year long, while Thorndike & Mahogany get snow and close for the winter months.

  • Elevation: 7,400
  • Number of Sites: 10
  • Vehicle Accessibility: High Clearance Vehicle, recommended
  • Campsites Reservation: No
  • Length of Stay: 30 Days
  • Season: March – November

DSCN0065
Directions:

From Stovepipe Wells, follow Highway 190 W to Emigrant Canyon. Turn left on Wildrose Road and follow it thru the tight rocky canyon, climbing in elevation the whole way, past Wildrose Campground, past charcoal kilns, to Thorndike Campground on Mahogany Flat Rd.

From Panamint Valley, take Wildrose Road up. Turn right to Mahogany Flat Rd and proceed on the dirt road to the Campground.


View Larger Map

Death Valley MAPS –

Death Valley Park – NatGeo
Death Valley Topo Map – Tom Harrison

Nearby attractions:

Death Valley National Park
Panamint Valley
Ballarat Ghost Town
Skidoo Town Site
Charcoal Kilns
Telescope Peak
Tuber Canyon
Tucki Mine

Death Valley Charcoal Kilns

Wildrose Charcoal Kilns – Death Valley

the 10 kilns are large
The acoustics are really cool inside these historic stone structures. Spending some time at this place humming, drumming & singing. Stand right in the center floor space for the best sound.

one window & one door

The western ranges of Death Valley National Park offer some interesting sites & hikes. This canyon called Wildrose is higher in elevation, a lot cooler than the valley floor, plus it does get pretty dang windy.


These bee-hive shaped kilns were used in the 1800’s for making charcoal, that was used in nearby mining operations. Standing 30′ high & 30′ around, these kilns were only used for a very short time (in the mining heyday) & are some of the best preserved charcoal kilns in the country.

wildrose rd
The Wildrose Charcoal kilns are located on the western side of Death Valley National Park. Access the Wildrose Canyon Road from Panamint Valley or from Death Valley Highway 190, take the Emigrant Canyon to Wildrose Canyon Rd up to the historic kilns. Last 3 mi of this road is unpaved and not recommended for RVs or trailers.


View Larger Map

Death Valley National Park Map

Nearby Panamint Valley is for serious off-roaders: Stone Canyon, Barker Ranch, Goler Wash.

Death Valley Campgrounds – Wildrose, ThorndikeMahogany Flat.
A popular day hike nearby is Telescope Peak, from Mahogany Flat campground, a 14 miles RT hike that leads to the mountain towering over Death Valley at over 11,000′.

FACTOID: Telescope Peak is the only place that you can see both the lowest point & the highest point in the continental USA.

no camping inside

wildone

Desert Hiking California

California desert region hikes

Anza Borrego Desert State Park
Approximately 20% of California’s land is desert, located in Mono, Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Diego, Imperial, Riverside Counties… most falling in the eastern portion of California. Almost all of the Baja California peninsula is desert, right down to THSDmapthe beaches on the Sea of Cortez. The Mojave joins in Sonoran desert in Joshua Tree National Park, which is reason enough to explore this fabulous landscape. Anza Borrego Desert has way more cacti and vegetation than the barren Death Valley terrain. But Death Valley offers abundant acreage, seclusion, hot springs, scenic canyons, mining history, the tallest mountain peaks and the lower point in the nation. Inyo has impressive mountains that sit just east of the Sierra Nevada and is a volcanic wonderland along Highway 395 with indian petroglyphs, cinder cones and ancient lava flows.

  • Anza Borrego Hikes – San Diego Back country: Blair Valley Indian Pictographs
  • Bodie Ghost Town – High desert mining camp, off Hwy 395
  • Darwin Falls Hike – High desert waterfall, near Death Valley
  • Death Valley Hiking
  • Fossil Falls – Lava Flow on Hwy 395
  • Hiking Las Vegas
  • Inscription Canyon – Mojave Desert, Barstow
  • Joshua Tree Hiking Trails
  • Mojave Desert Hiking
  • Panamint Valley & Canyons
  • Rainbow Basin – Mojave Desert, Barstow
  • Randsburg Mining Town
  • Telescope Peak Hike
  • Goat Trestle Anza Borrego Desert

    Goat Trestle Anza Borrego Desert

    California Desert Hiking Maps

    bajaalmanac2010
    Baja Almanac

    Baja Map Set by NatGeo
    Bodie Ghost Town Map
    Death Valley Maps
    Inyo National Forest
    Jawbone Canyon Map
    Joshua Tree Maps
    Mojave Desert by Tom Harrison
    Mojave Map by NatGeo
    Mono Lake Map
    San Diego Backcountry Map
    Anza Borrego Desert Map
    Verdugo Mountains Map

    Saline Valley Hot Springs

    Saline Valley Hot Springs
    Saline Valley Warm Springs

    NORTH Death Valley National Park, in a super remote desert valley located in the vast mountains in between Big Pine CA Route 168 & Death Valley (west) Highway 190.

    Inyo National Forest: Inyo mountains are a towering range of high elevation desert peaks running in between Owens Valley and Saline Valley.

    desert wilderness access: 4 dirt road routes lead into Saline Valley – 2 backcountry 4×4 trails from the upper reaches of the park and 2 main dirt roads. All routes require a high elevation pass, so snow is likely in winter months (Nov-May).

    Wilderness routes road conditions can change often, seasonally with winter snows, mud and summer thunderstorms. The most popular access are the main routes (both long dirt roads, subject to snow and closure at any time) – the North Pass (Big Pine) and the South Pass (Panamint). Detailed directions on those further below. Both backcountry roads Steele Pass and Lippincott Road, originate from the northern, desolate areas of the National Park and both require 4 wheel drive, with a recommended locking differential.

    No developed campground facilities. Clothing optional my ass — nudity is the norm here.

    Since the challenging drive in to this remote desert valley is so grueling and time consuming, plan to spend a minimum of 4 nights. Anything less is way too rushed to totally enjoy the experience.  Best way to enjoy this place is a full week off of work, and as much firewood, food and ice as you can haul. Some folks spend weeks camping here. The NPS limits your camping stay to 30 days! If you plan on driving out to Lone Pine for camping supplies and returning the same day, you best leave at dawn – cuz the entire round trip ‘beer run’ will take 6 hours or more.

    High clearance vehicle a must & 4 wheel drive is highly recommended in all this region. All wheel drive wagons and passenger cars have been known to bottom out, break down and pop tires out here in the harsh conditions, so a first challenge may be to obtain a dependable and capable off-road vehicle.

    Topographic GPS & decent back road maps are highly advised. One way drive is easily 4 hours, from any paved highway. Pack like you’re gonna live out here, if need be. Warning: this is a very long off-road journey for any average camping trip. This isn’t a weekend kinda place. First timers beware – it’s a full day journey to travel here!

    Air Strip? The fly in option is a dirt landing strip called ‘Chicken Strip’, but National Park Service has yet to closed it.

    NORTH PASS to Saline Valley Road:

    from Big Pine, take Hwy 168 N from Hwy 395, turn right onto Death Valley Road (some maps may have this one listed as Waucoba Springs Road or just Waucoba Road). Proceed on the main route to the hard to read entrance sign marking the Saline Valley Road, past a few old structures and down to the main valley. Winter snow can be deep, so carry chains. 4×4 is best to access this remote valley, AWD high clearance might make it and normal passenger cars, 2WD SUVs should be warned about weather and access to the real world. Many times all mountain passes are snowed in – people do get trapped at Saline and cannot get out for weeks. So take that into account when requesting days off of work for this epic journey.

    SOUTH PASS to Saline Valley Road:

    from Olancha, take Highway 190 E, turn N off Hwy. 190 to Saline Valley Rd. Rugged 50+ mi. of hard core dirt roads. 4×4 and high clearance a must. Winter months expect snow, springtime rock slides and summers torrential downpours cause overflowing creeks w/ impassable washouts. Grapevine Canyon can be a challenging drive, but with patience and skill you can be down on the main valley floor in about an hour and a half (if you’re lucky). Did I mention the dozen or more miles of heavy washboard road conditions, at the base of the alluvial fan of mountain rock? Newbies and first timers should attempt the North Pass.

    ———————-

    Near the marsh, when you finally reach the sand dunes area, you know the turn off is close-by, so slow down and stop to read the landscape. Know that the hot springs are located above the sand dunes to the east slope of the red volcanic mountains. When you see the metal bat sign and the mass of palm trees in the lower grove, you know you’ve arrived.

    You’ve only truly arrived, when your whole body is immersed in hot water looking up at the stars and you learn to relax again. Breathe the deepest you have all year.

    CAUTION: Stopping for those vehicles distressed on the side of the road is also a common practice. Many people break down on this route, Jeeps slide off cliffs. Harsh landscapes, plus weather are unforgiving and people die, so realize that this camping trip is no walk in the park.

    Saline Valley Road Conditions & discussions can be found on
    Saline Valley Talk, the Saline Valley Message Board
    forum.salinepreservation.org

    Saline Preservation Association
    salinepreservation.org

    Trip Review from Student Reader
    studentreader.com/saline-valley

    natural hot springs

    nearby desert destinations –


    View Death Valley National Park in a larger map