The majority of California cities are located near sea level, with low lying farmlands and populated coastlines common throughout world geography. California has super diversity w/ the population, as well as the elevation and the terrain. Vast rugged deserts bordering Nevada, from high deserts (8000′ @ Bodie ghost town) to low deserts (below sea level for Mecca) near the Salton Sea. Towering granite peaks with minimal vegetation, to fern canyons and redwood groves at the coast, California has quite the unique landscape.
The beautiful golden state is also home to the highest and lowest point within the lower 48 states; and those points are only about 100 miles apart – Death Valley (-282′ elev) and Mount Whitney (14,494′ elev).
MTN TOWN: upper elevation mountain towns w/ forests and flowing water, are primarily located in the Sierra Nevada range which runs the backbone of California in a north-south direction, separating the Pacific Ocean from the Great Basin. High altitudes are abundant in California, especially in the Eastern Sierra – but most are only accessible by foot.
The coastal mountain range and the Sierra Nevada encompasses most of Central California. The rest of the space is dedicated to large cities, farmlands and farming towns – which are most lower elevation. Orchards and vineyards can be found in the foothills (200′-2000′ elevation)
Northern California has more mountains and rivers, generally higher elevations and plenty more space to explore. Secluded forests, rivers, creeks, lakes, and reservoirs can be found above 2000′ elevation, north of Sacramento. The bigger mountains in the far north part of the state are part of the Cacade Range, which is volcanic in nature. (Mt. Lassen & Mt. Shasta). More water, more trees and more land – NorCal is very different than the lower half of the golden state.
Snow is always a factor in mid to high altitude towns with road conditions being unpredictable with each mountain range and each micro-climate. Winter months range from late October to May, so be warned. Above 3000′ elevation usually gets some snow. Serious snow above 5000′. Some High Sierra Passesdon’t open until JULY (Yosemite Hwy 120 & Sonora Hwy 108). Carry tire chains or have 4×4 to travel safely on snowy roads. Guard rails are seldom around every curve.
If you are thinking about fishing or camping the Eastern Sierra, North of Bishop & you are not up for the crowds at Mammoth or June Lakes, then try the Bridgeport area, north on Hwy 395. Rural ranch lands along main road, Bodie ghost town turn off across the highway and Virginia Creek Settlement are also nearby
Green Creek is a 11 mile long dirt road in the lush Eastern Sierra the northern portion. The wide, graded dirt road is signed and dead ends at a Toiyabe National Forest campground called Green Creek Campground. The drive up can be washboard bumpy in some parts, but that doesn’t stop the hundreds of adventurous motorhomes that make this trek annually. This place features some of the best prime Sierra back roads camping options for RVs.
Another dirt route, Dunderberg Meadow Road peels off to the left. Dunderberg departs off Green Creek a couple of miles from the highway and well maintained. This route leads to meadows, aspens, picture perfect scenery and much more seclusion. Passenger car accessible, wide graded dirt roads to wilderness edges. Two-track one lane trails lead to meadow edges and more creeks. Very impressive views of the Sierra peaks over here on this side. Meadows are sensitive areas, wonderful for picnics and you should always minimize impact.
Plain old passenger cars can easily make this route deep into the Eastern Sierra aspen canyon. Graded dirt and4x4 could be needed winter months. Backpackers can enjoy easy access to the Hoover Wilderness trailheads. There is plenty semi-primitive camping spots along the way, right on the creek, for free…. so no need to sleep in your vehicle upon arrival.
Autumn Aspen Groves: fall colors peak in October, which is usually when the first snows for the winter season start. November – usually the freeze gets them and lifeless brown leaves dangle, until the Sierra Nevada wind gust blow real good.
Green Creek Camping
DIRT ROAD CAMPING
Dispersed, primitive camp spots along this main dirt road are on a first come basis. You’ll need a fire permit. Many flat camps are set along the creek in aspen groves, some pines, others have cubby hole privacy. Large granite valley, big creek, bird, scenery and nature everywhere. Some folks spend weeks camping out here in the warm weather months. Fishing is a big attraction.
Old Cabin in autumn leaves, up near the top of the dirt road deep in the aspen groves
North of Ojai, Highway 33 meets Highway 166: Ozena, Ventucopa, & New Cuyama make up the 3 small communities inside the Cuyama River Valley, located in south of the San Joaquin (California’s Central) Valley.
On the outter edge of Santa Barbara County, where Kern, San Luis Obispo & Ventura counties all meet, you can find great solitude, a large red dirt, high desert wash & plenty rural trails. Off-roading, backcountry camping, hiking, mountain biking all over this region.
Ozena Ranger Station sits at the south end of Cuyama, at the intersection of Lockwood Valley Rd & Hwy 33. Ozena Campground with 10 spots @ 3660′ elevation, is to the east off Lockwood.
Nettle Springs Campground (8 spots @ 4400′ elevation) can be accessed via Apache Canyon, a 10 mile long dirt road# 8N06, off Hwy 33
2 smaller campgrounds – Tinta and Ranch Nuevo are on the west side of Hwy 33 & may require a high clearance vehicle to reach. Trails out of these campgrounds lead to the Dick Smith Wilderness.
Chumash Wilderness is just east of Ventucopa, as Los Padres National Forest surround this agricultural valley. Quatal Canyon and Quatal Wash reach from the upper elevations of pinyon pines near Mount Able to Cuyama river bed below, as Cerro Noroeste Road skirts the northern rim of the impressive red rock canyon. Toad Spring Campground is at the top. Apache Saddle and Pine Mountain Club are just east of Quatal Cyn.
Cuyama riverbed follows Highway 33 and then turns west, following Highway 166, past the ranch lands, the volcano hills and notorious Rock Front Ranch.
All the pavement around Cuyama is very popular amongst motorcyclists. Scenic touring kinda roads. A very nice 100 mile loop trip is from Pine Mountain Club – W on Mil Potrero Hwy, W on Cerro Noroeste Rd, W on Hwy 166, S on Hwy 33, East on Lockwood Valley Road – back to Frazier Park & I-5 Lebec.
Mahutasan, the indian sweat lodge and the extremely rustic Sage Brush Annies Restaurant w/ winery are the highlights of this rural agriculture valley called Ventucopa CA. Cuyama Peak and fire lookout tower overlooks the whole Cuayama Valley & can be accessed via Santa Barbara Canyon Rd. 4×4 may be required in certain spots. This lovely oak and manzanita lined canyon was scorched by the Zaca Wildfire in mid 2007.
2 mi RT; 1200′ elevation; oaks.
Arroyo Seco District –
of Angeles National Forest
818-790-1151 Altadena CA
From Interstate 210 in San Gabriel Valley, exit Lake Ave., go N & turn left/west onto Loma Alta Dr. & to Chaney Trail & follow signed dirt road
5 mi RT; 4600′ elevation; oaks, creek-crossings.
Santa Anita District –
of Angeles National Forest
inside Big Santa Anita Canyon
From Interstate 210 in San Gabriel Valley, exit Santa Anita Ave.Go North/East, through neighborhood & up mountain to paved parking lot.
High mountain desert camp is mislabeled on some maps as “Chimney Peak Campground” or “Chimney Rock Campground”. Pinyon pine forest on Chimney Creek, near hiking trailheads, wildflowers and Chimney Peak Wilderness. Southern Sierra ridge near Mojave Desert and California SR 178.
Canebrake Road is a graded dirt road that makes up part of Chimney Peak Back Country Byway. This rural route is a major graded dirt road located north of Highway 178 – which connects Canebrake to Long Valley up near Kennedy Meadows. Pacific Crest Trail passes next to this campground in the Southern Sierra mountains. The campground turn off is way east of Lake Isabella Hwy 178 is (near Walker Pass & PCT) and follow dirt road north to Kennedy Meadows in the far eastern reaches of Sequoia National Forest
• Elevation: 5,700′
• Number of Sites: 32
• Camping Reservations: No
• Sites Available: First come, First serve
• Vehicle Accessibility: RV limit 28′ max
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Water: Piped (April – Sept)
• Toilet: Vault
• Season: Open all year
• Fee: No
• Operated By: BLM
• Closest Town: Lake Isabella, CA
Bureau of Land Management
BLM Bakersfield Ranger Station 661-391-6000
Sierra Nevada Road Conditions – Highway California
Winter Snow/ Winter Roads Sierra Nevada:
On rare occasions the Golden State freeway – Interstate 5 can be closed due to snow; N of Valencia on the Grapevine (near Lebec) or more likely up in NorCal (near Shasta).
Interstate 80 (aka Donner Pass) is often closed during big storms. Luckily there are hotels in Auburn or Truckee.
Highway conditions on mountain passes higher than 4000′ elevation can be unpredictable in winter months (Oct-May). It may be fine & just sprinkling @ 2000′, but a few miles up can be a white out. Ask anyone who’s ever driven the infamous Donner Pass in winter time. (more on Donner Party)
Annual Sierra Highway Closures
Where does it Snow in California ?
Okay, okay ….so it’s nothing like those dreaded East Coast winters, but hey, some parts of California do get some serious snow. (see elevations) And the newbies who don’t prepare for it will be sorry. On the winter vacation travels, be prepared for almost anything, especially in the Sierra’s & Northern California. Snowy towns in California
The following mountain roads are partially closed or totally closed during winter months. Please check road conditions before you leave for your trip. Chains may be required in most mountain areas of California.
There she sits, above Lone Pine California, right next to the High Sierra. Above the Alabama Hills….. at the base of Whitney, on an alluvial fan overlooking the Owens Valley & US Hwy 395.
Tuttle Creek Campground is perfect stop for RVers traveling the Eastern Sierra, beginner mountain bikers needing to explore & test their skills, or the avid backpackers waiting to acclimate & get a good nights rest in reasonable temperatures, before attempting the tallest Mount Whitney.
Tuttle Creek is a BLM Campground w/ picnic tables, fire rings or BBQs. Awesome creek camping at the base of Mount Whitney. Hear the water rushing over the boulders; soothing for bedtime or stargazing. The fishing is decent. Wildflowers like indian paintbrush & lupine can be found here in spring and summer, in the high desert sage lands of the Eastern Sierra.
• Elevation: 5120′
• Number of Sites: 85
• Vehicle Accessibility: RVs okay
• Camp Fee: No
• Campsites Reservation: No
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: March – October
• Trailheads: John Muir Wilderness
From Lone Pine CA, head West 3 miles on Whitney Portal Rd, turn LEFT on Horseshoe Meadow Road, within 2 miles, turn right on a dirt road that leads to the campground.
Tuttle Creek flows past campground; No drinking water.
Pit toilets; Some shade.
HINT: On the dirt back roads, on the slopes of the Eastern Sierra, between Lone Pine & Bishop, you can find & fishing holes & primitive camps (free camping) on any numerous of creeks; some you can park so close that you don’t have to leave your vehicle to fish. You may need a high clearance vehicle to reach some.