California Fire Lookouts for Rent
US Forest Service Cabins
Rent a secluded cabin with an amazing view, a historic tower for wildfire spotting, or a USFS guard station – hidden deep inside USDA California National Forests. Several of these NFS lookouts have been closed recently, so the ones listed below have links to status and reservation information.
Dirt road access is common to reach these remote locations. Some require stair climbing, or steep access hikes. Winter months are usually snowy, inaccessible and sometimes dangerous for these high country locations. Access roads suffer from closures due to rock slides or landslides. Check with the locals ranger station for current conditions.
A few of these rentals are open all year long – in the southern part of the golden state.
Seldom used, but often loved. This old camp used to be a California Conservation Corps (CCC) camp, during the construction of Lake Davis in 1966. Situated next to a big meadow w/ ancient lava flows up hill, the small campground hugs a wooded hillside above the freshly paved Beckwourth-Genesse Road #111
If choosing to enter camp from the lake side, take Crocker Mountain Rd. / Plumas Forest Rd #24N06, up from Grizzly Road #112.
The Lake Davis area is a north turn off Hwy 89, in between Beckwourth and Portola, CA
Access from the paved (east) side is via Beckwourth-Genesse Road #111. Adventurous camper trucks, or small RVs may attempt this dirt hillside campground, but roots and rocks and erosion are abundant in the upper portion of the camp, so be warned.
Off Roaders (dirt bikes, quads, 4x4s) like this rustic camp spot, cuz it’s not too far off the pavement – and they can drive their comfy campers w/ trailers en tow, and the big BBQ grill and easy-up shade.
Note: you cannot see Lake Davis from this side of the hill.
Autumn is nice here w/ aspen groves at nearby Crocker Guard Station. There are no aspen trees in campground – only pines. This primitive campground is located on a forested, volcanic hillside facing east; Dirt road entry, vault toilet w/ minimal facilities. No paved campsite loop here!
Numerous unmarked foot trails lead out to the meadows edge, up lava ridges or into the forest behind the aspens. Crocker Guard Station is a very short walk; and available for rent from the NFS w/ reservation.
Crocker Campground NFS
• Elevation: 5600′
• Number of Sites: 10
• Vehicle Accessibility: Small RV
• Campsites Reservation: No
• Camp Fee: No
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: May – November
• Trailheads: Crocker Meadow Loop
Crocker Guard Station
aka Crocker CCC Camp
Set back nicely off the main road, this stylish, historic, two story cabin – with wood siding and front porch – has meadows and aspen groves surrounding it. Paved road access from Beckwourth Genesee Road
CCC = the Civilian Conservation Corps is often mentioned when reading about this specific location.
Crocker Guard Station was built in 1912 as a home for Forest Service personnel, and was later staffed as a fire station until the 1980s. Now the building serves as a USFS Cabin Rental; which could also make a nice (small) wedding location. Very scenic location w/ aspen groves.
Crocker Mountain (7444′ elev) is popular for deer hunting, mountain biking, as well as off-road travel. Trails can be dusty and steep in summer, then snowy, slippery and muddy in wetter months. This Plumas mountain region does get some snow, so check the weather forecast!
Lake Davis is about 5 miles away from this small campground, to the west. From Crocker Camp to Lake Davis (the most direct way) is a one lane, graded dirt road – Plumas Forest Rd #24N06
The paved driving to the lake will be triple the distance – and you’ll need to go back to the highway.
Large, granite, alpine lake in the Central Sierra Nevada Mountains. Abundant trout fishing, swimming, camping, boating, hiking, floating, kayaking, picnic sites, and high altitude backpacking trailheads. Shoreline fishing is just as good as by boat. Fishing boats can be rented at Kit Carson Lodge.
The high altitude location makes this a winter wonderland half the year w/ snow ski resorts nearby! It is an awesome summertime family vacation destination as well. Fishing is excellent through Autumn months. Campgrounds close up shop in October, generally when the snow starts. High Sierra – Deep snow pack means they will not reopen until May (at the earliest).
Carson is major Sierra Pass highway, but it closes for big snows, so always check CalTrans before you make the drive up the mountain. Carson Pass is California State Route 88, which connects the Gold Country (on the western slopes) to the South Lake Tahoe region (on the eastern border), near Nevada.
Check Current Highway Conditions for HWY 88 roads.dot.ca.gov
Cal Trans 800-427-7623
Silver Lake Day Use Areas
These areas listed below are operated by El Dorado Irrigation District and they do charge a day-use fee for many of the amenities provided. Boat Launch fee? Yep. Parking fee? Maybe. Picnic stop! How much? Eat fast!
Ferguson Point is located on the north shore of Silver Lake: 10 picnic tables & vault toilets.
Sandy Cove is on NW shore of Silver Lake: Wheel-chair access to lake edge, 5 picnic tables, piped water & vault toilets.
Oyster Creek Rest Area, up along Highway 88, 1 mile NE of Silver Lake: 10 picnic tables & vault toilets.
Historic Memories: Camp Minkalo, Camp Silverado & Kays Silver Lake Resort are all closed now.
Many small businesses come and go in the rural mountains of California. Throughout the decades, some do survive, but many change hands, change names, or have a difficult time ‘making it all work’ in the off-season. Always call ahead (real phone w/ real person) before you make a big drive to a remote location.
National Forest Campgrounds in this lake vicinity:
• Elevation: 7200′
• Number of Sites: 62
• Vehicle Accessibility: RV 30′
• Campsite Reservations: Yes
• Camp Fee: Yes
• Toilet: Vault
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: June – October
• Trailheads: Hidden Lake, Sandy Cove
El Dorado National Forest
Amador Ranger District
26820 Silver Drive
Pioneer, CA 95666
Older lodges, resorts, camps and cabins at Silver Lake were mainly built in the 1920s, while the oldest resort dates back to the mid 1800s. Wow, how cool is that! Much history in this mountain region w/ Kit Carson Emigrant Trail, all stories totally worth exploring.
Cycling, hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, kayaking and boating are all popular outdoor recreation activities.
Small towns located on the Point Reyes peninsula do have a few private campgrounds, some of which can accommodate motorhomes. Follow towns links for those.
There are no RV parks, camper trailers or motorhomes allowed in campgrounds on the steep coastal region of Point Reyes. Most of the narrow, winding roads are forbidden for motorhome travels. No shoulder, no guard rails, on many curvy roads. Great viewpoints are best when you STOP to look, off the roadway.
Lake Davis Loop is a 20 mile circle around the lake. Drive or mountain bike route. Scenic drive on dirt roads, or an easy bike ride. Average ride time 2 hours for biking.
A flat, easy loop around Lake Davis is best in summer months, as snow usually closes this area in winter. The whole route is a mix of paved, dirt and gravel road. There are picnic areas along the way, lake views, bird and wildlife viewing, wildflowers.
Numerous primitive camp sites and secondary dirt roads fork in various directions, off of this main loop. Volcanic ridges line the west side of the lake, dense forest and seclusion can be found all around. Bald eagles fly overhead and wild life is abundant.
CROCKER GUARD STATION
Crocker Station is for rent and reservations are required. This wooden 2-story home was built in 1912 for Forest Service personnel, and later staffed as a fire station until the 1980s.
Situated at 5700′ elevation, its alpine beauty and cooler temps make it a much sought after, especially in summertime. Located a few miles from the lake and 10 miles northeast of Portola, California. There is a small campground next door called Crocker Campground. A dirt road access to Crocker Meadow is quickest from lake, but the paved route around is longer.
From California SR 70 (Highway 70) in Portola take West Street approximately 7 miles to the Lake Davis Dam. Park at the information kiosk and get acquainted with maps and the area info.
Drive or bike the lake loop. Travel 1.7 miles west to Forest Service Road 24N10, travel on that for 8.1 miles until you reach the junction with County Road 112. Then turn east and continue around the lake, past the Grizzly Campground a half mile, turn South on Country Road 126 and continue back to the dam.
Last night the town of Oroville, California was evacuated due to an emergency at the dam. Downriver – Gridley, Marysville & Yuba City were also evacuated. And the evacuation has not yet been lifted. So today, I went for a hike over at Foreman Creek, which joins the Lake Oroville Reservoir – directly east of the dam.
The waters edge is super high, coming up the paved access road and drowning the green grassy canyon and trees. A gaggle of geese greeted me and then swam away. I looked for the helicopters that were supposed to be working on the tallest dam in the nation. Nothing!
Although I did hear the crews working on the opposite side of the lake, I could not see them. I did not bring my binoculars, nor my tripod. Bummer.
I sat down on the road with my Nikon Coolpix camera and began to use the digital zoom feature, which sometimes works. I had to use my knee to balance the camera so my shots would not be blurry.
The geese decided to come back into view. With the zoom feature of my camera, I was able to make out the work vehicles that were parked on the Oroville Dam. These are the best shots of the day. Click to expand images.
On my way back to the car I started to hear helicopters, more than one – so I do know that the crews are working hard on a plan to fix the dam. All through the night 24/7, plugging the holes on the damaged spillway with rock, boulders, debris, cement, metal, whatever they can. Timing is crucial now, cuz more rain is due in later this week!
Several local creeks and 4 forks of the Feather River empty into Lake Oroville. Count ’em FOUR!
We’ve had 20 something inches of rain recently in the North Sierra Nevada mountains, so this winter is helping drought conditions in NorCal, but also putting major pressure on California’s reservoirs. Recent warm storms melted snowpack at higher elevations (Lassen), which is why the dam is currently maxed out.
Geese swim by, with work crews on the dam in the background.
Construction materials, including plastics, have come a long way since 1968. Trucks seen rolling thru town this week include: double trailer semi rigs “rock trucks”, cement trucks, and flatbeds w/ kwik bond polymers, by the ton, coming from outta state.
Oddly, DWR – Department of Water Resources, does not mention the POLYMERS, or shall we say “plastics”, in the recent news updates.
“Rock, aggregate and cement slurry are being used to repair and backfill the affected areas.” (02/17/2017)
Overland pioneers and miners flooded the Sierra Nevada mountains after 1848, when gold was discovered, transforming the natural landscape and native life of California – in horrendous ways. Industrius, eager and using the abundance of natural resources available to build homes, divert creeks, and construct a new way of life. Mining for precious metals was not a hobby, it was a ‘way of life’ for many who sought westward locales. Most traversed a continent on foot with covered wagons to get out here.
Many early bridges made of wood have disappeared in California. Historic places, such as these few wooden bridges of the West, need to be protected and preserved. So no carving your initials; spray paint (tagging), littering – nor bullet holes.
Felton Covered Bridge
Santa Cruz Mountains & Redwoods
Railway Train Rides Felton, CA
The main artery from the North; the Big River of California
Mighty Mount Shasta snowmelt flows south, bound to meet the giant Lake Shasta, which merges with the Pit River and numerous other major waterways, becoming the big Sacramento River. Running right down the center of the North Sacramento Valley to merge into the California Delta. Shipping channel links the State Capital city of Sacramento with the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Agriculture and wildlife depend on this river heavily.
Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge
~ Camping is not permitted on the Sacramento NWR. Along the Sacramento River, camping is permitted on GRAVEL BARS for up to 7 days during a 30 day period. For waterfowl hunting, overnight stay is permitted in a vehicle or RV in designated areas. Tents are prohibited. No person may build or maintain fires except in portable gas stoves.
Rent a cabin in the redwood forest of the north coast of California, or get a weekend retreat in the Sequoia, deep in the Sierra Nevada. Redwood inns, cottages & yurts can be found in the Central Coast region. Big Sur redwoods & Santa Cruz redwoods. Rustic hostels, historic Sierra lodges, or mountain cabins can be found in the Sierras, from Alta Sierra near Kernville, to Yosemite National Park.
Places to stay overnight in the Redwoods, or close by –
If you seek big lodges made from redwood timbers, those are the historic inns, located all over California. Redwood was harvested in California since 1850, right after gold was discovered and the masses flooded in. State officials have limited harvesting of ancient redwoods in Northern California in 1988. Logging and agricultural farms have already wiped out 96% of redwood forest that once covered California.
Sequoia trees naturally grow in the Sierra Nevada mountains, on the west side of the range. Several parks & forests make up what is known as “the Sequoias” – in the Southern Sierra, Sequoia National Forest; Giant Sequoia National Monument; Mountain Home State Forest; Central Sierra is home to Sequoia National Park & neighboring Kings Canyon NP; Sierra National Forest & Yosemite NP. Yep, all those areas have Sequoia groves!
The historic Mojave Road spans the high desert region of east California – crossing the Colorado River westward to roughly Los Angeles. Now a network of dirt and paved routes follow the original overland trade route. Click the plaque photo below to read more.
The rugged, dirt road cuts right through the middle of the Mojave National Preserve. Mid Hills, Kelso Depot, Cima.
mojave topo maps
Joshua Trees, mountains, boulders, sand dunes, railroad history. The high desert is abundant with wildlife, plant life, lava tubes, caverns, camping, and dirt roads. Plus wild windy weather.
Located on the way to Vegas, NV – or the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Mojave NP is in the triangle space in between Interstate 15 and Interstate 40, on the eastern side of southern California. Freeway close, free camping in the Mojave does indeed exist, if you know where to look.
Mojave Map by Trails Illustrated NatGeo
National Geographic acquired Trails Illustrated Maps more than a dozen years ago. Ever since these plastic topo maps have gone 2 sided, full-color w/ more details featured than ever before. Updated regularly. Waterproof plastic, perfect for outdoor desert travels.
Mitchell Cavern, called Providence Mountains SRA, has camping, but it is situated up on an exposed bluff overlooking the freeway. Location gets windy as hell. Better campground is at Hole in the Wall, or even better, Mid Hills Camp.
Primitive, free camping can be found off of Kelbaker Road, but be warned: dirt roads can get deeply rutted and impassible during extreme wet weather. 4WD may be required sometimes.
MOUNTAIN BIKE TRAILS
OFF ROAD CAMPING
Mojave Desert Map by Tom Harrison
One of the first readily available topographic style maps of the Mojave desert. Waterproof plastic, Tom Harrison brand maps are perfect for any type of backcountry travel, on foot, on horse, or off-road.
AAA & NPS: one-page freebie; excellent overview map created by the Automobile Association of Southern California w/ the National Park Service. Handed out at Visitors Center and ranger stations (1990s)
BLM Maps of Mojave: OHV (off highway vehicle) maps can be found at the local Bureau of Land Management ranger stations:
Favorite romantic places in California. Stay overnight, have dinner nearby & make a night of it, or perhaps a whole weekend. Certain places may require a 2-night minimum stay, especially on weekends or any holiday weeks. A wide variety of destinations are listed below, from rustic mountain cabins, to palm oasis hot springs, to historic lodges located in a spectacular scenic setting.
Neighboring lodges or nearby small towns could have equally as nice accommodations, perhaps still affordable, quaint, uncrowded, and “undiscovered” by the masses. Call the innkeeper and ask questions. They should be thrilled to hear from you.
WINTER NOTE: Some of these remote locations may not be open year-round, due to snowy weather, so please confirm by phone before you make the drive. Tioga Pass Resort may require a snow-mobile to access.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nearby Panamint Valley is for serious off-roaders: Stone Canyon, Barker Ranch, Goler Wash.
Death Valley Campgrounds – Wildrose, Thorndike, Mahogany 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.
Yuba county, city and river are located in the upper Sierra Nevada, north Gold Country. Only a few small towns around here, but lotsa National Forest land and gorgeous granite rock. Yuba City is well known for its orchards, agriculture and diverse population. Yuba River is a recreation hot spot most of the year – spanning from the foothill canyons up to higher elevation alpine lakes. Camping, kayaking, fishing, camping, hiking, swimming holes & waterfalls.
Most of the population wants to dunk themselves in a cool mountain stream when the temperatures get beyond 100 degrees, which is the summer months near the Sacramento area. This gold country region of the Sierras, is only about an hours drive up the hill; obviously, the further you drive the better it gets. Tons of one lane and dirt roads to explore. Fishing and camping almost everywhere.
California’s Yuba River headwaters go all the way up to the Donner Pass in the Truckee region, along Interstate 80. Rainbow Lodge is an impressive, historic, river rock inn located right on the river. Royal Gorge is the area near the ‘Big Bend’ of the old road – Historic Highway 40.
National Forest Campgrounds are also located nearby. Many scenic, small lakes exist up in these higher altitudes. Lake Faucherie, Sawmill Lake and Bowman Lake are all part of this Yuba watershed, along with about a dozen other lakes.
Desert camping south of Reno? Well there ain’t much to choose from out here. Walker Lake near Hamilton, NV looked dismal, so keep driving northbound and hope for the best.
Maybe one of the canyons near the reservation has a level pull out along the highway. Just far enough off the main road to hear the midnight traffic, just barely.
Fort Churchill, Nevada
Fort Churchill was one of the original US Army forts built to help with the flood of overland pioneers making their way to California. Adobe structures in ruin, plus the sagebrush wetlands and cottonwoods along the river make for ideal scenery. A Pony Express route too!
Shall we call it the first of the California Welcome Centers?
Or an invasion of the “wildness” of the Sierra Nevada, and the West Coast.
From the year 1800 on – trappers, hunters, miners, ranchers, prospectors, surveyors, homesteaders – and basically everyone was headed westward, across the continent. The secrets of the golden state were unfolding worldwide. After gold & silver were discovered in the hills, the real rush to Alta California began.
Ideal “in route camping” if traveling near Reno, south of Interstate 80. You gotta be off on the side route through Yerrington, Nevada to reach this convenient road side campground. Big trucks stick to the main highway, but this rural 2-laner cuts thru residential, reservations, and ranch lands. Rural backroads are abundant and most are private property.
Driving on rural Nevada Highway 95A you can find the park headquarters and fort on the west side of the road. The camping is on the opposite (east) side of the highway, down an embankment, near the Carson River. A very small brown sign with the word CAMPING (reflects at night) and you may see it – if you aren’t driving 70 mph.
DESERT CAR CAMPING – VEGAS TO RENO
Perfect refuge for weary travelers, along the long, lonely, desert highways of Nevada. RV campers will like the wide dirt road w/ some level spots, accommodating the largest of motorhomes w/ dump station nearby. Trucks w/ trailers are often seen sleeping along the roadside at this location. Equestrian river access w/ horse trailers too.
Cottonwoods in some of the lower spots, but mostly sage brush, rabbits and open skies. This is the Carson River Basin, so dirt roads w/ mud and potholes are common. No street light near here. In the dark, the primitive roads are manageable, but the signs are minimal.
SNOW is minimal in WINTER months (DEC-MARCH)
Desperate tent campers (willing to drive dirt for a bit) can find the “scout camp”. Most nights are filled with the cries of the coyotes in the distance. Park rangers patrol in the morning to collect camp fees. Or you can find the park headquarters, across the highway.
NO CAMP RESERVATIONS
Primitive campground has 20 sites suitable for travel trailers, motor homes or tents. Campsites include a table and fire ring, w/ camping limit of 14 days. Group camping is also available.
These foothill regions below are the rivers & mountains of the infamous California Gold Rush of the mid-1800’s. Many mountain dirt roads will lead to your secluded, private camp site, near a creek or river. Or plan on camping in a developed Campground near a recreation lake lined with amenities, pine trees & oaks. River rafting & kayaking can be found throughout this area, as well as backpacking, mountain biking and hiking trails. Fishing is very popular as well.
Waterfalls, back roads, granite features, historic mining camps, big fishing rivers all abound. Wilderness backpacking in the High Sierra can be accessed by Hwy 108 (Sonora Pass) Hwy 4 (Ebbetts Pass) Hwy 88 (Carson Pass), Sierra US Route Hwy 50 & Interstate 80. Numerous small towns populate Historic Highway 49 for every tourists need – meals, laundry, grocery, coffee, lodging & shopping.
This annual, festive holiday tradition takes place 2 Wednesday evenings and 3 Sunday afternoons in the month of December. Features holiday activities for all ages: carriage rides, live entertainment, savory yuletide treats and libations, and Father Christmas!
It’s a magical setting of hilly streets outlined with twinkling white lights and authentic gas lamps, wandering minstrels and carolers dressed in Victorian attire, and a myriad of visitors sharing holiday cheer and good tidings.
Listed on this page are California cities and towns that are well known for their shopping – downtown villages, boutiques, art galleries, gift shops, antique stores, shopping plazas, factory outlets, malls and restaurants.
Road trip weekends, all local – for super unique Christmas presents or romantic Valentine’s gifts.