Due the nature of gravity, erosion and heavy rocks, creek beds tend to be rocky ravines near mountains – which collect rocks as they slide downhill. Creeks work as water drainage off the mountains. Inside California we have plenty of mountain ranges and plenty of movement, as the Pacific plate plows into North America, tectonically speaking.
How many Rock Creeks are inside the golden state of California? Heck, I dunno. Let’s try to find them all.
Large feeder creek from the north side of highway (California SR 70), in Plumas National Forest. Located in the popular railroad canyon known as the Feather River Canyon.
Sugar Loaf Mountain elev 3553′ with Tobin Ridge line each side of Rock Creek as it descends the mountain tops. The junction where the creek meets the big river is just south of Bucks Creek Power Station @ STORRIE, CA. The overall location is half way in between OROVILLE, CA and QUINCY, CA
But wait, we have California Campgrounds named Rock Creek too.
Rock Creek Campground – US Hwy 101 NorCal Redwood forests, north of Leggett, CA. Camp located on the Eel River, in the Standish Hickey State Recreation Area. (36 camp sites)
Also the is a small ROCK LAKE located insideLakes Basin Recreation Area, northern Gold Country @ Yuba River headwaters. Hike-in access only.
Similarly named ROCK FRONT RANCH is 4×4 trails & 4WD camping area. Cool windcaves, super steep terrain, and wildflowers. Off Highway 166, east of the city of Santa Maria US 101 – on the Central Coast of Cali.
Lundy Canyon is located at the very northern boundaries of the Inyo National Forest, bordering the Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest & Virginia Lakes. Mill Creek flows down Lundy Canyon from the Sierra Nevada; Lundy is a small lake in a deep, rugged canyon with wilderness trailheads, East of Yosemite National Park.
High elevation NFS campground, located in a huge granite valley w/ waterfalls, wildflowers and aspen groves. The setting is breathtaking and the high altitude valley is nothing less than grand.
The views (east to the Owens valley) are from the paved road up, or from the hiking trails leading up outta camp. Gotta hike up (on foot) to see the views! Any visitor that does not hike, will be missing out on the best features of this destination. Plan to spend more than one day at Onion Valley.
ONLY OPEN for summer months! This small, developed campground closes annually. Big winters and deep snow is the norm w/ elevation this high.
The paved road is long and very winding; sheer cliffs, steep drop offs, hairpin curves, minimal guard rails. RV motorhomes are not allowed on this route, due to the steepness of the terrain and the narrow roadway.
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.
East of Lake Isabella and west of Walker Pass, there is a small community called Canebrake along Highway 178 Canebrake Road, a graded dirt road climbs up into pinyon pine forests. Lamont Peak (aka Lamont Pinnacles) is a decent hike & rock climbers dig it too.
Chimney Creek Campground is along the main road and has RV access (28′ max), for the motorhomes who do not mind a little dirt road driving. Easy trail access to numerous area hikes. The PCT is routed close by.
Long Valley Campground is tucked way back in the boonies with trailhead leading into the granite Dome Lands; Fishing and river access to the South Fork of the Kern.
Long Valley Loop Road circles the Chimney Peak Wilderness, which skirts the Domeland Wilderness. THE LOOP is washed out and ROAD is NOW CLOSED in one portion. See BLM web site for up to date info.
Eastern Sierra Nevada – Inyo Mountains
Inyo Forest Back Roads – Mammoth Off Road
Off Road near US Highway 395. Yep, Olancha has some OHV (off-road) areas near the dunes, but this web site is dedicated to the real deal, the scenery, the trail heads, the hot springs, great secluded camping & of course, back road exploring.
You will need a Inyo National Forest map to discover these back roads. These are minimally traveled routes, un-maintained, sometimes washed out, eroded & maybe even creek crossings (without a bridge). Some gravel two-lane routes, some one lane roads leading deep into dead end canyons.
A few popular routes are paved, but most of these listed are indeed dirt roads. Some may require high clearance vehicle, or even 4×4. Know your vehicles limitations & be prepared to turn back when the road worsens. Cuz more often than not, it’s a sign of what more difficult terrain is to come.
Watch out for live stock – they are dumber than they look.
Owenyo Rd – Wanna parallel the highway (395) on dirt; Sure, it’s a long bumpy route – from Hwy 136 @ Dolomite to Bend City @ Mazourka Cyn.
Road# 13S05 – Mazourka Canyon Rd – leads up to some old mining camps & way behind Mazourka Peak (9410′) deep into the Inyo mountains. It’s all desert on this side, but these canyons have pinyons & more vegetation than you would imagine. Road# 9S15 & 9S14 circle Andrews Mountain (9460′) then join back up w/ Death Valley Rd (the North Pass into Saline Valley).
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest has some great dirt roads surrounding it. After you are finished with all the touristy sights & you don’t wanna spend the rest of the day in the visitors center or back at camp, try Cottonwood Canyon – full of aspens, camp sites & fishing, not cottonwood trees. 4×4 is required. Crooked Creek has boulders, boulders & more boulders. Plus some amazing camp sites with open sky views. Silver Canyon is for high clearance only, 2WD okay. This will lead you down to Laws Railroad Museum on Hwy 6, on the back side of Bishop, CA
Benton Crossing Rd (green church @ 395)
This wide road leads out to multiple dirt roads that peel off in every direction. Many Eastern Sierra Hot Springs can be found out here – on the east side of the highway. No hot spring resorts, no facilities, no clothing & very primitive.
Bishop 4×4 route Coyote Flat
Coyote Wash leads up to Coyote Flat & out to Coyote Lake. This a a spectacular high altitude plateau overlooks the Owens Valley & requires 4 wheel drive just to get up there. Pinyons, junipers, aspens, wildflower meadows, old mines, & yes, lakes at 11,000′ elevation. Views of the High Sierra & South Lake.
Buttermilk Road – This dirt road is north turn off of Hwy 168, W of Bishop, CA. “The Buttermilks” are a popular spot among rock climbers. A great place for indian petroglyphs too!
Road# 9S21 – Glacier Lodge Road – Paved road. Creek exploring & fishing. Plenty Campgrounds. W of Big Pine CA
Horseshoe Meadows Rd – Paved route with great views over Owens dry lake bed; access via Lone Pine CA; A nice day trip to meadows & High Sierra scenery. Picnic & day hike!
McMurray Meadows Rd – south off of Glacier Lodge Rd (#9S21) just W of Big Pine CA. You can find ancient cinder cone volcanoes & cave-like lava tubes in between this long dirt road & the highway.
Monache Meadows is a high elevation meadow that takes some time & determination to get to. This area is part of the Inyo National Forest, but can be accessed by either: backpacking thru the high Sierra’s or driving a high clearance vehicle thru Sequoia NF # 22S05 Sherman Pass Road, behind the Black Rock Ranger Station & Troy Meadows Campground. High clearance is needed, 4×4 maybe. Great camping sites near Olancha Peak trailhead. The area is surrounded by Golden Trout Wilderness & South Sierra Wilderness. From US Highway 395 to Kennedy Mdws & then Monache is a full day of exploring, so you may as well stay the night up there. But bring warm gear, a campfire permit & a capable vehicle.
Manzanar Routes – Back behind Manzanar Camp there are miles of dirt roads to explore. Many creeks side camp sites can be found even with a passenger car. Small trees & sage brush. Secluded camping (for free) is possible in the Eastern Sierra.
Mono Craters (Rd# 1N11) – the youngest mountain range on the continent. Just south of Mono Lake, this route skirts the pumice cones & climbs over the Aeolian Buttes, before it meets back up with Hwy 395.
Walker Creek Rd #19S01 – Oaks & creek. South of Olancha CA, look for turn off & follow dirt road up into the tight canyon.
Inyo Forest Road #4S12
also known as Inyo Road 12, and also Rock Creek Rd.
Majestic mountain scenery. Popular paved route that leads from US 395 up to Rock Creek Lake, on the edge of granite wild lands; lake is situated above 9000′ elevation and the hiker trailheads are further up, beyond the lake at over 10,000 feet. Steep canyon, large canyon, rocky granite canyon, high elevation.
Super scenic drive, but open less than half the year, due to deep snow. Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains. Inyo National Forest
A popular and favorite place for summer camping, fishing and hiking. Backpacking, horse trails, high elevation lakes, mountain passes, peaks, wilderness areas. RV campgrounds, tent camping, car camping. Mountain biking in vast canyon, near campgrounds and creek. No bikes in the Wilderness (up and above Rock Creek)
Autumn colors, aspen groves usually best in early October. Snow closure in winter months (Nov-May).
elevation 7072′ @ Tom’s Place, CA (US Hwy 395)
elevation 9682′ @ Rock Creek Lake
elevation 10,272′ @ Trailhead Parking (end of road)
UP, UP, HIGHER & AROUND LAKE
One lane, paved route gets narrow, but keeps on climbing. Road #6S05 continues up – past Rock Creek Lake and ends at hiking trailheads, paved parking lot and a few picnic spots.
12 NFS Campgrounds in this region, starting with one at the highway, several along the way and the campgrounds at Rock Creek Lake.
No campfires are allowed in this canyon – outside of a developed campground. Not much in the way of primitive car camping options either, except for strapping on a backpack and heading into high elevation wilderness.
Mosquito Flat Walk-In Campground is intended for backpackers departing overnight into the backcountry the following day. Single night stay ONLY. Please camp down canyon if you plan to stay for more than one night. Bear lockers are provided at campgrounds for proper storage of food items, so use them!
No campfires are allowed outside of developed campgrounds. Day use does not require a permit. Wilderness permits are required for overnight trips into the John Muir Wilderness. Bear containers are required for backpackers. Permits for these trails are issued at Inyo National Forest ranger station in Mammoth, or the Eastern Sierra Visitors Center (ESIA) near Olancha.
John Muir Wilderness (JMT) trails, Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), epic scenery, alpine lakes, high elevation. Eastern Sierra
Road and canyon is CLOSED for winter snow approx. NOV-MAY
Peaks and passes surrounding Rock Creek Canyon, in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains –
Red Mountain 11,472′ (elevation)
Mount Morgan 13,748′
Mt Huntington 12,405′
Mono Rock 11,554′
Mt Starr 12,835′
Mt Mills 13,451′
Mt Abbott 13,704′
Round Valley Peak 11,943′
Hike or horseback ride to these alpine lakes from Rock Creek Rd trailheads –
Hilton Creek Lakes
Pioneer Basin Lakes
Upper Morgan Lake
Lower Morgan Lake
Eastern Brook Lakes
This dirt road is a side canyon route; access to a whole mess of aspens @ Parker Creek. Fish the creek. Day hikes and backpackers trails; Picnic in the aspen groves.
Parker Lake Rd turn off is signed @ Road #1N17. All this is north of Highway 158 @ Grant Lake, on the June Lake Loop #1S63.
Primitive camping options only. No facilities, No developed campgrounds back here. Minimal camp sites and clearings, so have a backup plan B in case these few canyons are already occupied.
MUD NOTE: Dirt roads here can turn to mud, especially near creek beds – anytime in between October and May. Region is also prone to summer thunderstorms; Maybe even flash floods. Weather changes for June Lake and Lee Vining can be sudden so keep tabs on the current forecast.
Just south of Olancha, off US Hwy 395 is a dirt road that takes you 5 miles up to an oak canyon lined with rocks. There are several primitive camp sites along the Walker Creek. A high clearance vehicle may be needed in some sections, but 4×4 is not required. Small RVs might attempt this, but if the first mile frightens you, turn around while you’re ahead.
This private, shaded, creek area is perfect for those traveling Highway 395, looking for a quick and free camp spot near Olancha, CA
Shady picnic or camp spots above 4000′ elevation.
Hiking trails at the end of the road lead deep into the mountains. One on the right takes you to waterfalls. The trail on the left will take you to meet up with the Sage Flat Trail, which leads up to Olancha Pass, Summit Meadows & a small lake, in the South Sierra Wilderness. The Pacific Crest Trail runs the ridges here, just west of Monache Meadows, which is at 8000′ elevation, way above here – up on top.
US 395 highway – the dirt road turn off is very close to a gas station, and it maybe be signed, or not. The gas stop may be in business, or perhaps not. This is rural California, wide open desert and things come and go quickly.
On a good topo map, located Olancha Creek and Summit Creek to the south. Walker Creek is the canyon in between those two, just so know where you are going and can visualize. This one is an easy-to-miss dirt road turn off – especially if you are going over 50 mph.
Southern Sierra Nevada
secluded camp, fishing & hiking trails
(free campground, open all year long)
South Fork of Kern River & DomeLand Wilderness
20+ miles from the nearest paved road; a remote camp on Long Valley Loop Road, off Canebrake Road. Both are dirt roads: high clearance vehicle recommended!
High Desert meets the Sierra Mountains
Back in the dry pinyon hills east of Kernville, beyond Sherman’s Pass; high above the Mojave desert and north of Canebrake & Highway 178. Long dirt roads, remote campground w/ fishing & hiking trails. Wilderness access.
These dirt back roads listed above skirt the edge of Dome Land Wilderness & Sequoia National Forest winding through BLM Land bordering the Mojave. The byway networks recreation areas between Kennedy Meadows and Canebrake, east of Lake Isabella. Eastern Kern County, California.
People come way out here for the seclusion – the peace & the quiet. Mid-week you can have the whole place to yourself. Abundant hiking trails & fishing access. Into the Dome Land Wilderness you will find incredible scenery and diverse terrain – giant granite domes, waterfall canyons, and the South Fork of the Kern River (3 mi hike to river). The infamous Pacific Crest Trail passes close to Long Valley Campground, but Chimney Creek Campground is much closer to the PCT.
Long Valley Campground
• Elevation: 5200′
• Number of Sites: 13
• Vehicle Accessibility: High Clearance Vehicle
• Facilities: picnic tables, fire rings, vault toilet
• Campsites Reservation: No
• Camp Fee: None
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: Open all year
• Operated by: BLM
• Trailheads: S. Fork Kern River & Domeland Wilderness
Recent Domeland Wild Fires:
Manter Fire (2000)
McNally Fire (2002)
2016 NOTE: The part of the LOOP of Long Valley Loop Road that connects this campground to Kennedy Meadows (to the north) is CLOSED due to a huge washout. The Long Valley campground is accessible from the south side, from Hwy 178 @ Canebrake – and requires many miles of dirt road driving. High clearance vehicles are recommended; 4×4 needed in wet weather or snow.
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
Eastern Sierra Destination: June Lake and Mammoth Lakes, CA
The Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains run the length of US Highway 395, through most of the eastern side of California. Mammoth mountain is a volcano, so naturally hot springs come with the package. These hot tub destinations listed here are mostly part of the Long Valley Caldera, an ancient volcanic table land. North of Bishop and near the snow ski destination towns of June Lake and Mammoth, California in Mono County, California.
(This region is not to be confused with Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park, nor the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, South Dakota.)
Backroads Camping is allowed throughout Inyo National Forest, but there is private ranch lands mixed in w/ public lands. Respect property boundaries, and speed limits around gates and intersections.
Camp sites are not located next to the soaking tubs. A few may be within walking distance. Parking is often limited at these remote, public use hot pools. Total Escape TIP: Behind Lake Crowley: abundant, free camping – wide graded dirt roads (RV and passenger car suitable). Inyo National Forest Map is recommended.
Eastside of Highway 395
Casa Diablo Hot Springs near the Mammoth exit, is a location noted on most maps, but this seems to be the geothermal power plant for the region. If you are looking for hot springs tubs to soak in, you’ll need to get off the main drag for those beauties, way off the highway. On to dirt roads perhaps.
Inyo Forest Road #3S45, Hot Creek Hatchery Road
(near Mammoth Airport)
Minimal dirt road driving. A very popular spot where hot springs are located within the big creek, so you can feel cold and hot water flowing by you. Scalding can occur near vents underwater, so use caution when wading. Large parking lot overlooks the soaking area and creek canyon. Swimsuits required.
Little Hot Creek Hot Springs
also known as – “Lil Hot Creek”
Benton Crossing Rd
Inyo Forest Road #2S84, Benton Crossing Road
This rural intersection at US Hwy 395 is known for the little green church on the corner. Turn east off the highway on to this road> Pull over, get out and stretch. Look at your maps, get the GPS out and then start your exploring. FIrst timers might be able to find a soaking tub within half an hour, if you don’t get lost.
Inyo Forest Road #2S07, Whitmore Hot Springs Rd
Whitmore Tubs Road
a major graded dirt road that leads north off of the paved road, becomes Owens River Road and connects back to US395 several miles to the north.
Several primitive hot tubs can be found on dirt roads in this region, which lead off the main paved road. At night these remote pools can be hard to find with no signage, no street lights and pitch black darkness. Plus the mud blogs and grassy fields all around make the landscape difficult to navigate. If you plan a nighttime arrival, then plan to drive in slowly around the pools, have your GPS handy and look for steam in the air. Cut your headlights if you see other cars or people, and proceed slowly and be friendly.
Hill Top Hot Springs
also known as – “Hilltop or Pulky’s Pool”
Crab Cooker Hot Springs
also known as – “Fleur de Lys”
Shepard Hot Springs
also known as – “Shepard Springs”
The Tub Hot Springs
Whitmore Hot Springs
904 Benton Crossing Road
Mono County Park w/ large public swimming pool & day use fee
also known as – “Whitmore Tubs, Whitmore Springs”
Wild Willie’s Hot Spring
also known as – “Wild Willy’s, Crowly, Crowley Springs”
Inyo Forest Road #3S11, Minaret Summit Rd
This wilderness region is located the on the west side of Mammoth Mountain, accessible by the paved Minaret Summit Road, which closes due to deep snow and is generally only open during summer months.
Red’s Meadow Hot Springs
developed campground w/ wooden sheds for baths: showers & tubs.
near Devil’s Postpile National Monument
also known as – “Red’s Meadow Hot Showers”
Iva Bell Hot Springs
remote, wilderness; hike-in hot springs.
south of Mammoth & Rainbow Falls, via trail #2622
also known as – “Fish Creek Hot Springs”
Keough California is comprised of two soaking spots – a small resort and the primitive tubs below. An Eastern Sierra rustic Hot Springs Resort w/ campground, tent cabins rentals and nice landscaping. Big, clean hot pools at the top of the road. Entrance fees, trees and vegetation, next to the mountains. Seniors and families frequent this place. Swimsuits are required.
Below the resort and above the highway, are some primitive, free hot pools that require dirt road driving. Public nudity is common. Open 24/7 w/ several brush lined pools on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains overlooking the high desert of the Owens Valley. Quite impressive for being just off the highway. Buzzing, huge powerlines overhead are one of the only drawbacks of this soak spot. This place can get crowded at certain times.
Posted: No overnight camping allowed at these lower hot springs.
US Highway 395:
Look for the turn off in between Bishop and Big Pine, California. Take the Keough Hot Springs Road up hill until the second dirt road, turn right and the primitive hot springs will be on the left, just beyond the cold stream crossing. Sometimes a high clearance might be needed. Cars should park and walk the if unsure of the terrain. Do not park right next to the soaking tub, as the ground is too weak and vehicles have been known to slide in, unexpectedly. No kidding!
Plenty great camping all around the Eastern Sierra region. For campsites with cooler temps, higher elevation, pine trees & creeks: Head for the Glacier Lodge Rd – Inyo Road #9S21, West outta Big Pine.
Adventurous 4x4s can try super remote Coyote Flat, a super high elevation pinyon plateau that overlooks Bishop. Also Highway 168 W outta Bishop will lead to primitive camping areas like The Buttermilks, a rock climbing area. Further up the hill is alpine lake and creek camping in aspen groves.