Camp Fires Correctly

Campfire Community

kill your television

Camp Fires
The internet seems to be the modern day campfire – wild stories with good friends and strangers. The heat source, the light source, the cook source, the sock drier, the center stage for all entertainment.

Since the beginning of time humans have gathered around the campfire at night. This nightly ritual is built into us on the deepest level. We miss this today. We miss the real conversations, the community, the bonding, the stories, the soul searching. We miss the connection with nature, the fresh air and the great outdoors. The night sky filled with stars and maybe a meteor shower, a hot drink and the glow of the campfire coals. Total Escape is dedicated to those who yearn to camp, often.

In Certain Circles

photo – Charlie Sweeney 2010

Some folks cannot imagine camping without a campfire, but we better get used to it here on the West Coast. Weather patterns swing from years of super-dry drought to deluge and drenching – as we’ve seen of recent in California. Dry conditions means high wildfire dangers, tight camp stove and strict campfire restrictions.

Each California region, National Forests and State Parks have their own fire restrictions, so call ahead to rangers for current fire conditions on the place you wish to visit. Certain mountain locations will ban fires in the back country, fires on the back roads and sometimes in extreme conditions, no fires allowed even inside a developed campground.

Campfire Basics

Campfire Restrictions

fire

California is well known for its unforgiving drought conditions and its seasonal wildfire danger. Always know the fire conditions in the area you plan to camp. Most Southern California regions have banned ‘open campfires’ in forested areas, due to wildfire threat and population density. Call ahead to get an update on road closures and current campfire restrictions. Find California BLM offices & NFS ranger stations

Campfire Permits

If you plan on camping outside of a developed campground, you will need to get a free “camp fire permit”, which can be obtained at the local rangers office.

Find more on FREE camp fire permits

DSCN3700

California Camp Fires

  • RULE # 1 – Never leave a campfire unattended
  • Build campfires in designated rings. Always try to use an existing ring when possible. If you must build a new rock fire ring, follow the guide on FireSafe
  • You will need a water bucket & a decent shovel for building, maintaining and controlling a campfire. PLUS a water source.
  • A ten foot clearance – all around, down to the bare dirt is the best practice. No brush close by.
  • You might need to clean trash outta the fire pit, so bring heavy duty trash bags/spare box.
  • Kindling is key to getting a good fire going fast, so gather more of the small stuff. Wood gathering away from camp is usually better pickens.
  • Use environmentally friendly fire starters (with damp wood, if you must); not the BBQ lighter fluid or gasoline
  • Building fires up against a big boulder scars them w/ black soot, and although it can reflect heat back to you, it is seldom worth the unsightly damage
  • Bring chainsaws or hand saws for cutting your own campfire wood in the forest
  • Gathering wood for fuel — use only dead and down wood
  • A ranger issued “wood cutting permit” is required if you plan on cutting a full cord
  • Firewood page – buying locally, in California
  • Never burn plastics or other toxic materials in campfires
  • Tossing beer bottle caps into a campfire only litters the site for future campers
  • While glass bottle smelting is a real treat among boys at night, which one is actually gonna get their hands dirty & clean up broken glass outta the campfire the following morning?
  • Do not leave any hot coals during the day (if you are away). Winds could pick up.
  • Always douse campfire with water completely when breaking camp. Stir it, feel for heat, and drown it more if you hear sizzling or see bubbling.
  • Read more fire info on our FireSafe page

Drown Fires

Last Final Step

The Last Final Step

 

Campfire Pits & Fire Containers

Campfire Pits & Fire Containers

Stormproof LIghters

Stormproof Lighters

Onion Valley Campground

whiteVWcamper

Spectacular Small Campground in a granite bowl above 9000′ elevation.
Inyo National Forest near Independence, CA
Eastern Sierra California

One of the best high elevation trailhead camp for backpackers in the Sierra.

High Sierra Lake Hikes

Onion Valley Campground camp

CAMPGROUND RESERVATIONS

Onion Valley CA

  • Elevation: 9,200′
  • Number of Sites: 29
  • Vehicle Accessibility: no RVs
  • Campsites Reservation: Yes
  • Length of Stay: 14 Days
  • Season: June – Sept
  • Trailhead Parking

Inyo National Forest 
Mount Whitney Ranger District
760-876-6200

Trailhead parking & camping for these High Sierra destinations –

onionsign

wild mountain onions?

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.

tent camp walk-in camp sites, as well as car camping sites.

  • picnic tables
  • fire rings
  • vault toilets
  • piped water
  • bear boxes

ONION VALLEY ROAD
access via Independence, CA

The paved road is long and very winding; sheer cliffs, steep drops, hairpin curves, minimal guard rails. RV motorhomes are not allowed on this route, due to the steepness of the terrain and the narrow roadway. conradkid2001

  • backpacking
  • camp
  • hiking
  • horse pack trips
  • lake fishing
  • mountaineering
  • rock climbing

 

horsepacks hiking Mountains

Rae Lakes Loop MapHIKING LAKES in the Sierra

  • Bench Lake
  • Big Pot Hole
  • Charlotte Lake
  • Flower Lake
  • Gilbert Lake
  • Golden Trout Lake
  • Heart Lake
  • Lower Pot Hole
  • Matlock Lake
  • Rae Lakes Loop
  • Robinson Lake
  • Slim Lake
goldentroutlakecanyon

Golden Trout Lake Canyon

Gold Lake California

lilgoldlake

Hike-in only Gold Lake, Bucks Lake Wilderness.

California has more than one Gold Lake!

goldsign

Gold Lake, CA

(Sierra Co)
6409′ elev.

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.

Packer Lake

Lakes Wilderness Map

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

sierra buttes

the sierra buttes

Sardine Peak Fire Lookout lodgeranger rentals
NFS fire tower – overnight rental overlooking the Sierra Buttes and the serene Lakes Basin, Yuba River, Northern Gold Country CaliforniaUSFS

LAKES BASIN RECREATION AREA:
Cabins, camping, lake fishing, backpacking, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, off-roading, snow-mobiling.

lakesbasinhikers

California Lakes

mini gold lake

 

Mini Gold Lake

(Plumas Co)
6000′ elev.

Another smaller Gold Lake exist on the granite slopes in Bucks Lake Wilderness – E of Oroville & W of Quincy, CA.

gold lake trailheadThis 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.

bucks trailhead

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.

goldshore

Bucks Lake Wilderness Map

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.

view to Quincy

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. Plumas County from above.

jacks meadow

jacks meadow, way below

Sierra Nevada Lakes

High Sierra, California

hike-in only lakes

hike

Golden Bear Lake
(Tulare Co)
12,000′ elev

High Sierra – Kings Canyon National Park
Center Basin / Center Peak 12,760′
PCT – Pacific Crest Trail
North of Mount Whitney
Eastern Sierra, Independence, CA

hike

Golden Trout Lake
(Inyo Co)
11,500′ elev

Trail #3306 from Onion Valley Campground
North of Mount Whitney
Eastern Sierra, Independence, CA

goldentroutlakecanyon

onion valley trail views

California Fire Lookout

Dome Land from Bald Mtn, KERN

NFS Fire Lookout Towers

Cabin Rentals in California National Forests

Ready to see wide and wild terrain? Views for 100 miles out and the best scenery California has to offer. Be prepared to off road or hike to reach one of these destinations.

Below is a list of historic look out towers & cabins used for spotting wildfires. Some are located on steep granite peaks, ridge lines or dirt roads. 4×4 may be recommended to reach a few. Road conditions can change w/ harsh mountain weather, so be prepared to rough it. Thunderstorms are common on these mountain ridges.

Several of these places are cabins, some are stone houses, but most fire lookouts are basic metal towers – with high climbing staircases, so you must be in decent physical strength to haul your ass up this high.

rangers cabin mountains hikers vacation

Cabins are also called guard stations, huts, bunkhouses. Most are located on mountain tops, but a few exist in desert regions. Some are refurbished & available for overnight rentals. Bare bones furnishings, so forget the frills. People come up here for the thrills. To be outside w/ epic views, way away from the urban grind & to feel on top-of-the-world.

Coon Creek Cabin

 

NFSlogoSee the full list of overnight accommodations on mountain peaks & ridges, some near meadowsNational Forest Cabin Rentals

 

El Dorado National Forest:

Cuyama Peak

Cuyama Lookout is a rough road up. Off Hwy 33, in Los Padres NF

Los Padres National Forest:

  • Cuyama Peak Lookout Tower (pictured above) off Hwy 166 & via Santa Barbara Cyn, 4×4 recommended. Sorta near jct w/ Hwy 33

San Bernardino National Forest:

Sequoia National Forest:

Sierra National Forest:

cabin rentals

BEWARE:
California is the land of wildfires!

Always check for local fire conditions at nearest ranger station, obtain a free campfire permit when camping outside of developed campgrounds, and always practice fire safety when visiting our public lands. You can be held liable for wildfires. Outta control campfire, cigarettes, idling vehicles on tall, dry grass. Be very cautious with fires on the often dry, west coast.

Reyes Peak

CA 33 N
Ojai Camping
North of Ojai, CA

Camp out among tall pines, well above the coastal fog.
Los Padres National Forest Road #6N06

Ojai, CA – NORTH on HWY 33
a very scenic drive, in North Los Angeles County

Coastal Foothills

Near the Pine Mountain Summit (elev 5080′) on California Highway 33, the small sign only reads PINE MTN and points east, to a rugged side road. By far one of the worst paved roads around.

This Reyes Pine Mountain, should not to be mistaken for the golf course community of Pine Mountain Club, many miles north of here, around the other side of Mount Abel.

This is Reyes Peak, also known as Pine Mountain Ridge “north of Ojai”, on the sorta paved Pine Mountain Road. (Los Padres National Forest Rd # 6N06)

overozena
The view above is from one huge dirt pull out, on the left – over looking Ozena Valley, on the west end of Lockwood Valley Rd. Motorhomes, trailers, off-roaders and hunters like this as a last minute camp site, very close to the highway.

If your vehicle can endure 9 long miles of poor pavement, pot-holed roads, then maybe you can find seclusion back in the woods around here.

Six or more primitive campsites, spread out along a forested ridge line (around 5000′ elevation). Tables and fire rings only. No fees, no toilets. Bring a shovel and plenty water. No pipes, no running water up here.

The scattered camp sites are located far enough away from each other, that the location provides some privacy and still relatively close to town. Some sites are in forested settings, while others have big boulders, but are exposed to wind and sun. Although these few sky view camps are perfect for the stargazers.

Dark night skies can be okay, if the coastal fog stays low. Neighboring Mount Pinos is all paved – usually best choice for RV campers w/ telescopes, who need large areas of flat level ground.

reyespeakcamp

One particular camp site is located at a very decent view spot. Boulders, pine trees and mountain views to the south. Click the image above to expand.

PRIMITIVE CAMPGROUNDS
Campfire permits are required.

Launch Spot

The end of the road is a top destination LAUNCH spot for hang gliders & para-sailers. Watch them jump on YouTube compliments of DanaMite.

Youtube

 

The hiking Trailhead for Reyes Peak and the Chorro Grande Trail #23W05 are also at the end of this dead end road #6N06. Reyes Peak Trail leads east, out to 7510′ elevation, overlooking the whole lower Los Padres region – Lockwood Valley, Ozena, Piedra Blanca, Sespe Gorge, Potrero Seco.

reyespeaktrail

Get outside this weekend. There are no more excuses!

MAPS: Los Padres National Forest Map

NEAREST TOWNS: