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Camp Clueless

Camping Tips

California Camping Tips

New to California? Never camped before? Haven’t been out in years? No idea of where to start? Total Escape is here to help with all your camping questions, local destinations and share tips; Introducing you to the big adventure in inexpensive vacationing, primarily outdoors. Find rural, remote locations, ranches, small towns, rivers, lakes, creeks, well away from the crowds. Get outta town more often for less money.

WhiteFir Camp

Camp at Echo Lake

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california camping destinations

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Beach Camping
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Desert Parks
California Back Roads California Lakes

boon-docking basicscheck

  • be a self sufficient camper
  • get a campfire permit
  • have a shovel, bucket and water
  • bring topographic maps
  • get off the paved roads
  • arrive before dark, or bring GPS
  • expect to find best camp spots already taken, have a plan B & C
  • prepare for bears @ camp, if camping in the forest
  • minimal, if any, cell phone signal

free RV camping

RV

free Campgrounds Sierra

camp

Creekside Camp
California Creekside Camps
roundtentcamp
Mammoth Fishing & Camping
bigdoortent
Flat, level, private, free. >>>> Find the perfect tent spot!

California Aspens

AspenGroves

Aspen Groves are easy to recognize with their thick stands. White trunks with dark knots, slender, with oval shaped leaves. Growing in a network of roots, which are found lining creeks, alpine lakes, or spilling out from higher elevations, along  scenic canyons.

The unique round leaves which can turn spectacular colors in the fall season. The fluttering and flapping of the oval-shaped, thick, green leaf is a sure sign of summer. When breezes get cooler, Autumn is only a few weeks away and as quick as the cold comes in, what a short and special show they put on.

California Fall Colors

aspensplit

Aspen trees can be found at higher mountain elevations in California, usually above 4000′ – all the way up to about 10,000′ or higher, depending on the mountain range and local water flows. Groves have an extensive root systems underground, so they often withstand wildfires and can come back after the rest of the forest is gone.

Beavers build dams in creeks around aspen trees, fishermen and campers love to camp next to aspens, and lovers carve their initials into their white bark. These trees do indeed take a beating, from all angles, winter weather included… so stop from cutting them!

carvings

fishing creeks mountain biking stargaze Picnic Camp Hiking horseback back roads mountains

  • BIKE
  • CAMP
  • FISH
  • HIKE
  • KAYAK
  • PICNIC

summer and autumn

These deciduous trees are naked half the year, typically from November to April, as winter buries them in snow and ice. Time is of the essence, limited to Summer and Autumn – to enjoy their shade and the beauty of the groves. Scenic meadows and fishing creeks are just an added bonus for searching out the aspen.

Aspens can be found in hidden canyons, primarily along the Eastern Sierra US Hwy 395 and surrounding mountain lakes. Some Sierra Passes have decent displays of color as well – like Carson Pass Hwy 88 and Yosemite’s Tioga Pass Hwy 120.

Below is a list of Total Escape’s favorite aspen areas of California

ASPENDELL
BAKER CREEK (4×4)
BIG PINE CANYON – NORTH FORK TRAIL

BISHOP CREEK
BLUE LAKES, CARSON PASS
BLUE LAKE, MODOC

CONVICT LAKE, US 395
COTTONWOOD CREEK @ ANCIENT BRISTLECONES
COYOTE FLAT (4×4)

CROCKER @ LAKE DAVIS
CROWLEY LAKE, US 395

DUNDERBERG MEADOW

EAGLE LAKE @ ASPEN CAMP

GREEN CREEK ROAD, US 395
HASKINS VALLEY @ BUCKS LAKE
HILTON CREEK, US 395
HOPE VALLEY
JUNE LAKE LOOP

LAKE SABRINA
LAKE TAHOE
LAUREL LAKES ROAD, US 395
LEE VINING CANYON
LUNDY LAKE, US 395

MAMMOTH LAKES, US 395

MCCLOUD CREEK @ ALGOMA
MCGEE CREEK, US 395

MODOC NF @ BLUE LAKE
NORTH LAKE, ASPENDELL @ BISHOP

ONION VALLEY @ INDEPENDENCE
PARKER LAKE RD @ JUNE LAKE LOOP
PINE CREEK ROAD, BISHOP

QUAKING ASPEN CAMP, GIANT SEQUOIA

RED’S MEADOW, MAMMOTH
ROCK CREEK ROAD @ US HWY 395

TOM’S PLACE, US 395
TWIN LAKES @ BRIDGEPORT
VIRGINIA LAKES, US 395

WISHON RESERVOIR

aspentips
Aspen Tips @ Eagle Lake California

 

aspenwall
Green Creek Camping

Autumn Camping in California

 

amigoaspens
Laurel Lake Road @ 9000′ – Eastern Sierra, California

Autumn Camping California

Autumn Lakeside

RV camping Tent Camp Fishing Hiking

Amazing autumn colors can be found through OCTOBER and NOVEMBER in California, but you’ll need to leave the city in order to find the very best colors and scenic beauty. Fall season happens quickly (within weeks) in the high country and slower (months) in the lowlands. Plenty canyons and parks in the urban centers have hiking trails thru some nice trees, but nothing compares to the backroads, creeks and rivers of the big mountains.

Elevations, the higher the better, is where you’ll find the real displays of color. Aspen groves can be found along mountain slopes, creek canyons from 5000′-10,000′ in elevation. Cottonwood trees are found in the drier regions, in ranching areas and in desert canyons – up to about 6000′ elevation. Aspen trees start to turn yellow as soon as the chill of nights drop; if the temperature shift is subtle, the aspen leaves become more orange as the days go into the fall season. If an early snow or freeze happens, just one night, the glorious foliage becomes dead brown crispies dangling in the wind.

campfire
CAMP FIRE RESTRICTIONS are still be in place from the dry summer, and now comes the autumn winds. Any decent amount of rain can change the fire burn status, so make sure to check with the rangers for up-to-date fire info.

Best Autumn Campgrounds in California  

Many of these campgrounds are located in or near aspen groves & are simply spectacular during the fall months. Some may be located near alder groves. Maple trees located along rivers turn golden between September and October. 

Higher elevation (7000′-9000′) colors will change faster and earlier in the year (as soon as September), whereas the lower countryside may wait until late October. 

Pack warmly, cuz the cooler temps at night (20-30 degrees) is what makes these awesome, little autumn leaves change colors. The change can happen very fast (in days). When the early season snows move in – usually a minimal dusting by October, fall colors can fade fast.

Southern California

Tent Camp

has minimal fall colors.

Big Bear Lake, CA
Lake Arrowhead, CA

Ojai Camping – Wheeler Gorge
Sespe Hot Springs (hike-in access only)

Camping

Southern and Central Sierra

have a few aspen groves and several cottonwood canyons.

Aspen Hollow Campground NFSNFSlogo
Giant Sequoia @ Hume Lake, CA
near Kings Canyon NP

Big Meadows Campground NFS
Stanislaus National Forest
Arnold, CA

Dinkey Creek Campground NFS
Sierra National Forest
Shaver Lake, CA

Kern River Canyon

Ponderosa, CA
Quaking Aspen Campground Tent Camp
Quaking Aspen CabinTent Camp
Giant Sequoia National Monumentcamp

Wishon Reservoir
Lily Pad Campground
Sierra National Forest

Yosemite National Park
Tuolumne Meadows, Hwy 120
Yosemite Valley Campgrounds

Kirkwood, CA
Blue Lakes Road
Carson Pass CA Highway 88

Camping

Northern Sierra

The North Sierra Nevada Mountains covers the region with Lake Tahoe and Donner Pass, and north Gold Country. River canyons with fall colors include American River, Yuba River, and the Feather River.

Aspen Group Campground
@ Jackson Meadows Reservoir
near Truckee, CA

Berry Creek, CA
Milsap Bar, Middle Fork of the Feather River

Bucks Lake, CA
Haskins Valley & Grizzly Creek Campground
Oro-Quincy Highway – Plumas NF

Downieville, CA
Yuba River Campgroundsshowers

Grover Hot Springs State Park  

Hope Valley, CA
Hope Valley Campground Tent Camp

Lake Tahoe

Camping

Autumn Bliss Hike

Eastern Sierra

The Eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada is the ‘place to be’ for Autumn Colors in California. The dramatic desert meets the tallest granite peaks. Every canyon is a different scene, many lakes lined with aspen groves, some have a creek with aspens.

Aspendell, CA
North Lake Campground
Lake Sabrina Road
Bishop Pass (high country hikes)

sabrina creeking

Bishop, CA
Bishop Creek, Hwy 168
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest – both Silver Canyon and
Cottonwood Creek have aspen trees. (both are 4×4 roads)

Bridgeport, CA
Green Creek Road w/ signage for
Dunderburg Meadow
Twin Lakes
Hoover Wilderness (high country hikes)

Independence, CA
Onion Valley CampgroundTent Camp
Kearsarge Pass (high country hikes)

June Lake, CalifoniaTent Camp
June Lake Loop #1S63 / CA Highway 158

Lee Vining, CA
Lee Vining Canyon / Hwy 120
One of the biggest aspen grove canyons in the state of California.
NFS campgrounds
NFS Campgrounds in Lee Vining Canyon: Big Bend, Aspen Grove, Boulder, Moraine, and Cattleguard Campground.
NFS Camps @ Yosemite’s EAST GATE (9000′ elev): Ellery Lake, Junction, Saddlebag Lake, and Sawmill Campground.

Lundy Lake
Virginia Lakes
Trumbull CampgroundTent Camp

Lone Pine, CA
Alabama Hills has a few cottonwoods.
Whitney Portal has some alder trees and a few aspens.hiker

Mammoth Lakes, CA
Red’s Meadow Campground
Devils Postpile NM
Laurel Lakes Road (rough dirt road)
Convict Lake

Tom’s Place, CA
McGee Creek Campground Tent Camp

Rockcreek Road
Impressive Rock Creek Road #4S12 in Rock Creek Canyon, one of the very best “Scenic Autumn Drives” in the whole Eastern Sierra. Numerous NFS Campgrounds on this road; many of which close for the season, just about the time then fall colors peak.

Rock Creek Lake Campground @ 9600′ elev Tent Camp

Iris Meadow Campground @ 8600′ elev

iris meadow
Iris Meadow on Rock Creek Rd

Camping

Northern California

The “North State” primarily has the big river canyons, most of which have fall colors. Eel River, Klamath, Yuba River, Feather Rivers.

Blue Lake Campground
South Warner Mountains
Modoc National Forest

South Warner Mountains
Road 64 Modoc NF

Eagle Lake
Aspen Campground (walk-in camp sites)
Susanville, CA

Large Eagle Lake, N of Susanville, CA

Sundial Bridge,
River RV Parks
Redding, CA

Weaverville, CA

Mount Shasta, CA
(downtown of Mt. Shasta)

McBride Springs Campground
(slopes of Mount Shasta)

Lake Siskiyou
Beach Camp Resort & RV Park

4239 W. A. Barr Rd
Mount Shasta CA
530 926-2610

McCloud, CA
McCloud Falls,  South of Mount Shasta

Algoma Campground
McCloud Creek, South of Mount Shasta

MacArthur-Burney Falls State Park
Dusty Campground

Lassen Volcanic National Park
Lassen National Forest
Lassen Camping
Lassen Lakes

Susanville, CA
Bizz Johnson Trail
Roxie Peconom Campground

Siskiyou Autumn Colors
(still to come, maybe late 2020)

eagle aspens
Paved over aspen groves @ South Eagle Lake, CA

 

Group Campgrounds Eastern Sierra

agnewmdws

Group Campgrounds in the Inyo National Forest camping

These group camping facilities are available by advanced reservation only; open for summer and usually closed during winter months .

campground elev spots veg toilet water notes
Agnew Meadow Horse Camp 8400′ 4 pines chem piped Group & Equestrian
Mammoth
Aspen Group 8100′ 4 aspen flush piped Rock Creek
Big Pine Canyon Group 7600′ 1 pines vault piped W of Big Pine; May-Oct
Bishop Park Group 7500′ 21 oaks flush piped Group Camping; May-Oct
Fossil Group Camp 7220′ 11 pines vault no Hwy 168; E of Big Pine
Juniper Group Camp 7000′ 5 juniper vault piped Hwy 168; E of Big Pine
Obsidian Flat Group 6000′ 50 pines vault no Group Camp Mammoth
Pumice Flat Group 7700′ 17 pines flush piped June-Sept; Mammoth
Rock Creek Lake Group 7600′ 1 aspen flush piped Group Camping; May-Oct

RESERVATIONS REQUIRED

Call ranger station to reserve.
Inyo National Forest
351 Pacu Lane #200
Bishop, CA 93514
760-873-2400

see developed tent & RV Campgrounds – Inyo National Forest

rockcreekcliffs

Obsidian near Hwy 395 & Mammoth
Eastern Sierra Obsidian Dome – near US Hwy 395 & Mammoth Lakes, CA

Eastern Sierra maps –

Topo maps, wilderness hiking maps, fishing maps
Equestrian trails, 4×4 routes, OHV maps –

lake mary

southforkbishop

Bishop Creek near Aspendell, CA

California Eclipse

Moon Eclipse

The Blood Moon

Solar Eclipses & Lunar Eclipse

Eclipse schedule, as seen from North America

Make plans for your nights spent camping out, under the stars, watching the celestial events and meteor showers. Comfortable: Hat, blanket, radio. Hot cocoa and sugary treats will help keep you awake and alert.

Upcoming Solar Eclipses, 2021-2030

https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse.html

2021 Jun 10
2023 Oct 14
2024 Apr 08
2026 Aug 12
2028 Jan 26
2029 Jan 14

orange, red or amber colored moon

A total lunar eclipse is sometimes called a Blood Moon, because of the reddish tinge the Full Moon takes on when fully eclipsed.

Upcoming Total Lunar Eclipses

moonfire

best places to watch the skies

 The California Deserts are sometimes the best place to watch the nights sky, unless the winds are kicking up. Deserts are warmer than other locations and if you position yourself well you can be far from any city lights.

The California Foothills, both coastal foothills or mountain foothills – are the second best choice, if you can drive up canyons and get well away from the sprawling suburbs. Choice spots would be ridges above 2000′ elevation, with minimal trees. Oak foothills are choice spots. Higher than 4000′ and you will be chillin overnight.

The California Mountains are the prime choice for summertime recreation of all kinds. Primitive camping on the back roads will save you fees at a developed campground. The higher in altitude, the less atmosphere above you – the better night sky viewing is above. Choose a meadow or mountain ridge w/ minimal trees. Burn areas provide wide open spots, so you can seek old wildfire ridges. Nights can get pretty chilly most all year long, so go well prepared. Jackets, gloves, hats and all. Keep all campfires to a bare minimum after 9pm, so you can focus on the stars in the sky.

your pupils will welcome the dark skies

The California Coast is often covered with a thick layer of clouds and moisture, so star gazing along the ocean front is not always great. Central Coast and NorCal beaches have less less population, so these would be the ideal locations. Choose an inland valley w/ rolling oak hills and dirt roads, over the busy beaches. There might be clear days and nights, especially if forecast call for heat – check the local weather forecast for accurate up to date conditions.

Large urban areas, the cities and towns of California are the worst place you can sky watch, due to light pollution, traffic and smog. Drive to the outskirts of town – pick a dark location, a park, open space or forest lands nearby. Arrive before dark to get the best spots, well off the main road. Choose viewing spots without street lights and without passing traffic. Find a nice level spot to set chairs up and bring lots of snacks.

Stargazing California

How to watch a meteor shower

Follow YouTubeYoutube
SuspiciousObservers

moonrise


California Locations

La Porte Road
One Eyed Jacks Market & Grill – on La Porte Road. Clipper Mills, CA

Abundant on California Locations

califrepublic

depot desert
Kelso Depot, Mojave National Preserve

train

Subway Cave California
Subway Cave California

ranger

bridge kings
Kings River, California

hiker

kongsberg_town


What is Camping?

Old Timers Berry Creek

Basically, what is Camping?

4x4 camping RV camping car camping primitive camping backpacking cabin camping

BLM camping State Park camping National Forest campgrounds National Park camping

 

An overnight stay out-of-doors. Sleeping out under the stars.
Air bed, camping cot, tent… or just a tarp on the ground.
Perhaps A Mountain Cabin Rental. Your choice.

stars camptruck campfire

campFrom a luxurious cabin in the mountains, to a small clearing in near a meadow with a stream nearby – with just a backpack, the idea of “camping” is always a bit different for each person. Roughin’ it for free in the wilderness, or on the backroads; Or pay dearly for the price of real amenities, while on vacation.

car camping

Various types of Camping in California:

type of
camping
average
cost per night
brief description – what to expect
modern cabin $150 – $350 just like a hotel room, full kitchen, phone, internet, TV, real furniture
rustic cabin $90 – $190 bare minimum, beds, kitchen sink, electricity. maybe a bathroom
tent cabins / yurts $60- $150 wood floors, canvas walls, sleeping cots. reservations accepted. (very popular) may be open seasonally
camper vans, motorhome,
recreational vehicle
rentals, or own it all creature comforts on wheels, lots of luxury. camp the back roads.
camper shell own it mini motorhome on the back end of a pickup truck. smaller than RV
RV campground $25- $70 50+ sites, lots of facilities & families w/ RVs. reservations accepted
developed campground $25- $50 usually 30 – 100 sites, paved loop, facilities. toilets, piped water. plenty in our camping section (most popular)
small campground $12- $27 less than 25 camp sites, pit/vault toilets. plenty small campgrounds listed in our camping section
primitive car camping free way-out-there camp spots w/ dispersed camp sites, for the rugged self-contained, self-sufficient camper; access usually via dirt back roads.
SUV/ 4×4 camping free remote spots on long, steep, bumpy dirt roads; dispersed camp sites in secluded areas. 4 wheel drive may be needed
walk-in campsites
bike-in campsites
low cost or free camp sites that require you to physically haul your camp gear from a parking area to the camp spot, ranging from 1/8 mi. walk to a 1-3 mile hike
backpacking free w/ wilderness permit ultimate in seclusion, bring it all on your back, on foot into the wilderness & enjoy trail camps

  pinetree    fish

River Beach Campground
Trinity River Camping, Douglas City, CA

yellowpost

SO CAL CAMP FIRES – Yellow Post Campsites are remote camping spots in secluded areas, in a designated fire safe clearing. Camp FiresNo facilities such as toilets or showers. Maybe a picnic table & fire rings, if you’re lucky. Southern California forests have these kinda spots. Required campfire permit & you must double check on local fire restrictions.

Tent Cabin Rentals

Canvas Tent Cabins & Yurts

These structures are half way between ‘roughing it in a tent on the ground’ & having a ‘mountain cabin’. Tent cabins have wooden floors w/ canvas walls and roof; Dismantled annually for winter rain/snow, they are usually only available in mild, coastal climates or during summer months in the mountains.

deluxe-tent-cabinRentals typically include sleeping cots, but you’ll need to bring your own bedding (sleeping bags, sheets, pillows). Some rentals include shaded porches, wooden decks, minimal furniture, kitchenettes and/or wood burning stoves. Electricity may be available, or maybe not. Ask ahead of time, if you really must have that particular luxury when on vacation.

Yurts are a ’round version’ of this canvas cabin – which need to be aired out, often (to prevent mold). Yurt rentals are very popular and in high demand in California.

Find these type of rentals at yoga retreats, hot springs, beach canyons, remote lakes, redwood forests, high sierra camps, fishing camps and at certain RV parks.

National Forest Service Rangers wildlife

Deck w/ View

National Forest Fire Lookouts
& Historic Cabins

hiker

Tent Camp Yosemite Valley

Camping California Back Roads


Bear in California

black bear

California Black Bears

califrepublicAlthough the grizzly bear image graces the state flag, grizzlies were killed off during the gold rush days. Black bears are found in California mountains and foothills, down to lowest elevations in NorCal. California black bears come in more than one color –  light brown, cinnamon, dark brown, and of course, black. For the most part, bears usually stay away from people.

Some areas are more prone to bear problems due in large part to the overpopulation of tourists and abundance of food Bear Habitatprovided by them. Certain California National Parks are particularly notorious for their brazen bear populations. Concentrated bear problems are sometimes posted so be very aware and read signs. If you see steel bear boxes, leave no food or drink in your vehicle. Use the boxes to keep bears from breaking into your car!

California Black Bears

Follow some simple rules:

  • Keep a very clean campsite
  • Clean up all dirty dishes & beverage containers (especially before bedtime)
  • Keep clothing & sleeping bags free from food odors or heavy scents
  • Never leave any type of food garbage ‘bagged up’, sitting outside of a cabin rental, motorhome, trailer, or mountain home
  • Store garbage properly inside a locked, sturdy container inside garage or a shed
  • Stay away from bear cubs, there is sure to be a protective (aggressive) mother in close proximity
  • Try not to hike alone. Make noise & sing on trails to scare away any unwanted animals.
  • Bear storage canisters are available at sporting good stores & at stores in most National Parks.

Proper Food Storage Outdoors:

Bear Boxes @ Campground

Store food in closed up automobile, not visible. Store food correctly: in trunk of your car, or hidden from sight; in campground food lockers when available.

Lock all food, beverages and coolers in the provided metal bear boxes or bear lockers where available.

Toothpaste, deodorant & anything that has a scent should be thought of as food and stored accordingly.

Bears are so strong they can rip your car door open (in places like Yosemite, where bears are problem and you can get cited for not storing food items properly)

Bears are so strong they can break open a garage door to get to the smelly trash inside, so make sure you utilize the curbside pickup service available in some mountain communities or take a trip to the dump once per week.

carcampers

DO NOT LEAVE FOOD OUT, UNATTENDED, outdoors…
during a picnic lunch, a quick snack, maybe a barbeque, or dinner around the campfire.

Birds, dogs, squirrels and wild animals can move in quickly.

hiker

Backpackers should hang food in nylon bag & drape over weak branch in high in tree: hang your food using the counterbalance method. Ranger who issues your wilderness permit can explain the hanging procedure;

2 stuff sacks (with drawstrings) for your food items, and 60 feet of medium weight cord. 2 carabiners make hanging much easier.

Bear Canisters

Bear Canisters

for your food when exploring the wilderness

hikers tent campers mountains rivers picnic lakes

Bear Repellent / Bear Mace
Bear Pepper Spray

 

camp  4x4 campfire fish

Additional Storage Tip

As for storing food inside cars:

When primitive car camping on a dirt road, which does not have campgrounds, nor bear lockers, it is possible to store food in the vehicle. BEST location is on the front floorboards with towel over it. With the car alarm set at bedtime, any ruckus should trigger a decent alarm. Any large animal trying to break in will get blasted with alarm siren & most likely will run away. The noise will wake you up as well, to deal with the intruder, if need be.

If a bear does get into your camp area:

  • At night, bring bear repellent can into tent, storing it close to the door. Bring a weapon for added protection.
  • Make as much noise as possible: yell, bang pots/pans, whistle, air horn and get your bear mace or pepper spray ready in hand
  • Raise your hands up to appear larger; lift clothing, increase appearance of size and yell aggressively toward bear.
  • Get your entire camp group together, join hands and spread out; Everyone at the camp should be outside the tents in order to be as effective as possible
  • Throw rocks & small objects; pots, pans, chairs
  • If possible, try to get to your car for protection
  • Sound the alarm on a vehicle &/or honk the horn

If you encounter a bear on a hiking trail:

  • Make as much noise as possible while walking solo. Hum, sing, talk to the birds. Sing or talk to yourself – out loud. Bear bells can be worn on hiking boots. Do not hike w/ headphones on listening to music/radio.
  • Carry bear spray (mace or pepper) in a belt holster, or easy to reach pack.
  • If a bear approaches: stand still, slowly retreat, say a few calming words in a friendly voice and calmly retreat, keep eyes on the bear

encountering a bear  – see more on this topic 

bearcreek

camptruck pinetree  ranger

Bear Meadow
Camp Site at Bear Meadow, Sequoia NF

dirtbikes

Bear Box in Mineral King

driftwood

California Fire Lookout

Dome Land from Bald Mtn, KERN
Bald Mountain (elev 9382′) Lookout in Sequoia National Forest

NFS Fire Lookout Towers

JULY 2019 – Many thanks goes to Pike County Lookout for initially spotting the #RockFire – in the Plumas National Forest, near Berry Creek, CA

Lookouts in the California National Forests

Ready to see far and wide – with 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. 4WD may be recommended to reach some of these. 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 USFS

Robbs Peak Lookout
Robb’s Hut / Robbs Cabin
6686′ elev near Placerville, Gold Country California

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

Los Padres National Forest

4x4Cuyama Peak Lookout Tower (pictured above) off Hwy 166 & via Santa Barbara Cyn, 4×4 recommended. Sorta near jct w/ Hwy 33

Big Bear Lake 2002
Big Bear Lake, Southern California

San Bernardino National Forest USFS

Butler Peak Fire Lookout
elev. 8537′ (no overnight stays)
located in between Green Valley Lake and Fawnskin

Morton Peak Fire Lookout
(no longer available for overnight stays 2019)

Strawberry Peak Fire Lookout
(no overnight stays)
above Rimforest, off Bear Springs Road, N of Hwy 18

Tahquitz Peak Fire Lookout
elev. 8846′ (no overnight stays)
highest lookout in the San Bernardino NF

hiker

Sequoia National Forest USFS

Bald Mountain Lookout (no overnight stays)
off of Sherman’s Pass Road #22S05, 4×4 may be needed.
Bald Mountain 9382′ elevation; in between the Kern Plateau & Kern Riverranger

Big Meadows Cabin
Big Meadows Guard Station
off Big Meadows Rd #14S11
7600′ elevation; located in between Sequoia NP & Kings Canyon NP

Mountain Home Guard Station
Mountain Home State Forest, Sequoia Groves
6000′ elev. near Springville, CA

Needles Fire Lookout
(destroyed in structure fire 2011)

Poso Guard Station Cabin Rental
open all year round 4500′ elev. near Kernville, CA

pinetree

Sierra National Forest USFS

Camp Four and a half Cabin
Camp 4 ½ Cabin Rental
Lower Kings River, open all year round
1100′ elev. near Pine Flat Reservoir

 

Six Rivers National Forest USFS

Bear Basin Butte Cabin & Fire Lookout
elevation 5300′ in Six Rivers NF / Smith River NRA
(road damage & access issues 2017)

4x4

Tahoe National Forest USFS

Calpine Lookout Cabin Rental
near Sierraville, CA

Pike County Lookout (no overnight stays)
near Challenge, CA & New Bullards Bar Reservoir

Sardine Peak Fire Lookout
overlooking the Sierra Buttes and serene Lakes Basin, Yuba Rivers, North Gold Country CA

lakes basin views

BEWARE:
California is the land of wildfires!

campfireAlways 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.

see also –  National Forest Cabin Rentals

Camp Help

California Camping Lakes

campTotal Escape loves camping so much that this web site literally has hundreds of pages on the topic, but we won’t overwhelm you with the list on this page. Below is a good cross section of what camping pages we have & what to expect.

camp hike

Camp Clueless an overview & great for beginners
Camp subset of the California camping world
Camping a growing photo journal of lakes & info
Campers Check List PDF print it & tape it to your gear
Where to Go! small towns, parks, forests, lakes, rivers
California Lakes List a growing journal of lakes, photos & info
Camp Clean be bear aware, keep a clean site
Eco Friendly escape to no rules (except a few)
Outdoor Gear best outdoor gear we recommend
Maps & GPS get lost & love it, but make sure you have backup
Camp Comforts luxury inspired, comfy camping review
Camp Potty backcountry camping rules & etiquette
Camp Fires backcountry campfires & permits
Fire Safety campfire rules, wildfires, restrictions
Firewood extensive list of all wood dealers
Poison Oak be careful, California is full of it
California Back Roads dirt roads, off the beaten universe
SUV 4×4 Camping get that dang sport utility dirty
Lassen Camping for Free, Mill Creek @ 172
Lassen Camping for Free on Mill Creek
site14
Heart Bar Campground, SoCal

RV

campfire

NFS

NPS

Your public lands: What’s the Difference?
California State Park , State Recreation Area, National Park, National Forest, BLM

California Firewood Dealers
California Firewood Dealers

 

taylorsvillecamp

Camping in California is a blast! Enjoy nature, sleep under the stars, exercise & save money while vacationing. We show you road trips geared around nature, all local, all outdoors, all California. Exploring dirt roads for secluded spots and small campgrounds, learning new survival skills in the back country and enjoy the wilderness without the tourist crowds. The average weekend trip can run you as little as $100.00. This includes fuel, groceries, firewood and maybe camp or park fees. Once purchased your basic camping gear – tent, sleeping bag and stove can last you decades if properly cared for.

Whiskeytown Lake

Or search by TAG, now on Total Escape!

Camping Vegas

Camping & Hiking Vegas

Valley of Fire Park
Valley of Fire Park

Vegas National Park
Desert Park Areas

The lands surrounding Las Vegas are NOT managed by the NPS, National Park Service – but Lake Mead is considered a National Recreation Area. Hoover Dam is located at the south end of Lake Mead, then the Colorado river connects further down stream to Lake Mohave.

Tourist are no longer burdened by the constant flow of traffic over the dam, because a beautiful, new bypass bridge has been recently built above the dam.

Boating, kayaking, fishing, hiking, off-roading and camping are popular attractions at both the reservoir lakes. Mohave Lake is lesser known and therefore, less crowded. 4×4 may be need to reach certain coves at Mohave.

Vegas Hot Springs
(hike-in or kayak access only)

Most of the public lands in this Vegas desert are managed by BLM or the USDA National Forests. The Great Basin National Park is located in central Nevada, nearly 300 miles NW of the city of Las Vegas.

Lake Mohave
Lake Mohave on border of California, NV & AZ

Red Rock Vegas

redrockmap1997

Some folks know these rock walls as Red Rock Canyon, or Red Rock Park near Vegas – but the official name now ‘Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area’ and the lands are managed by the BLM.

redrock vegas

The closest red rock park to Las Vegas, this one is located at the far west end of Charleston Blvd. – an easy exit to find off the freeway Interstate 15. Day hikes, rock climbing, mountain biking, picnics and a large BLM campground. This desert range can get very windy and the only campground around is poorly located along the busy highway, on a ridge. Bring good tent stakes and be prepared for serious wind. Better camping options can be found over at the higher elevation Mount Charleston, see below.

Vegas Valley of Fire

This beautiful desert park is 60 miles N of Vegas and well worth the day trip to explore native petroglyphs, hike among red rocks, sandy washes and just relax to take in breathtaking vistas. See more about the Valley of Fire State Park

Mount Charleston Camping

Several developed campgrounds are available in a pine forest setting. Some may charge a nightly fee, or a day use fee. Mary Jane Falls is well worth the hike. Two lodges grace this mountains, The Mount Charleston Resort is the big log and stone cabin along a straight away on Kyle Canyon Road #157. The Mount Charleston Lodge is above at 7717′ elevation and has a popular restaurant and nice modern mountain cabin rentals.


View Larger Map

Mount Charleston Campgrounds
USDA NFS

Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest

Spring Mountains National Recreation Area

Dolomite Campground
8,500′ elev
open May-Oct

Fletcher View Campground
7,000′ elev
open all year

Hill Top Campground
8,400′ elev
open May-Oct

Mahogany Grove Campground
8,000′ elev
open May-Oct

McWilliams Campground
8,500′ elev
open May-Oct

Old Mill Campground
8,300′ elev
open May-Oct

Red Rock in Las Vegas


Camp Fires Correctly

desert bonfires
Deserts & beaches are the only places for bonfires.

kill your television

Camp Fires
The heat source, the light source, the cook source, the sock drier, the night supplier, the outdoor LIVING ROOM. The campfire is the center stage for all entertainment, dining, drinking, music, true tales and ghost stories alike.

Since the beginning of time humans have gathered around the campfire at dark. 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. Enjoying the wilderness requires certain skills. FIRE is only ONE skill – for survival, for cooking, for warmth, for safety.

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
Sagebrush could be cleared back another few feet, at least.

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 water source & bucket, plus a decent shovel for building, maintaining and controlling a campfire. BRING enough water & tools with you to control a fire.
  • A ten foot clearance – all around, down to the bare dirt is the best practice. No brush close to the ring, no bushes, no leaves or pine needles. No dry over-hanging tree branches.
  • You might need to clean trash out of the fire pit, so bring heavy duty trash bags, or a spare old box. Shovel comes in handy here.
  • 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, batteries or other toxic materials in campfires
  • Tossing beer bottle caps into a campfire only litters 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 out of the campfire the following morning?
  • Do not leave any hot coals during the day (if you are away from camp). 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 wild fire / campfire info on our FireSafe page

Drown Fires

Last Final Step
The Final Step of Breaking Camp

 

Campfire Pits & Fire Containers
Campfire Pits & Fire Containers

Stormproof LIghters
Stormproof Lighters

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 – no more overnight rentals!
overlooking the Sierra Buttes and the serene Lakes Basin, Yuba River, Northern Gold Country California

see CalPine Lookout near Sierraville, CA

driftwood

USFS

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

lakesbasinhikers

snowmo

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. RURAL CALIFORNIA – Plumas County from above.

jacks meadow
jacks meadow, way below

Sierra Nevada Lakes

High Sierra Gold Lakes in 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
Eastern Sierra Lakes
Alpine Lake above Onion Valley, Eastern Sierra

McKinley Sequoia Grove

McKinley Grove

McKinley Grove Big Trees

Sierra National Forest

Mc Kinley Grove is a small grouping of Sequoia trees in the Central Sierra Nevada; Located off Hwy 168 & way down Dinkey Creek Road (Sierra Rd #40). deep inside Sierra National Forest, past the Dinkey Creek Campground turn off. It’s a good stretch break and picnic stop on your way to Wishon & Courtright Reservoirs.

Located 17 miles; East of Shaver Lake CA

McKInley Sequoia

camp

Sierra National Forest Map USDA

closest campgrounds –

hikes

 

nearby destinations –

NFS

local rangers:

Sierra National Forest
High Sierra Ranger District
29688 Auberry Rd
Prather, CA 93651
559-855-5355

Sequoia campsite


Los Angeles Group Camping

Los Angeles Group Camping

Angeles Crest Campgrounds

Angeles

 

campground elev spots veg toilet water notes
Bandido Campground 5,700′ 120 pines vault piped Group Camp
Coulter Campground 5,200′ 50 pines vault piped Group Camp
Jackson Flat 3,400′ 180 pines flush piped Jackson Lake
Los Alamos Campground 2,600′ 75 sage flush piped Pyramid Lake
Meadow Group Camp 5,200′ 100 pines flush piped Lower Chilao
Lightning Point 6,200′ 200 pines vault none Group Camp
ODCmapout
Outdoor Clubs, found in L.A.

jacksonsign

nearby towns –

Pyramid Lake
Family Fun @ Pyramid Lake, along Interstate 5

Angeles Maps – hiking, OHV & mountain biking –


California Camping River

map river | hiking river | map gorge

California Rivers & River Topo Maps

Tent Camp Yosemite Valley

There are many gorgeous rivers in California that are perfect for camping and fishing, but none are located in Southern California. None! Yep, you read that right. If you think about it, the golden state is about half desert! The majority of our natural water in our state is coming from the north – so take this as a warning: you might need to drive a few hours to find your ideal river camp.

The easy-to-access waterways are found mostly along highways in the Sierra Nevada – or way up in NorCal. Deep granite gorges carved out by glaciers, surrounded by forested peaks is only half the appeal. High elevation lakes, waterfalls, big trees, abundant wildlife, and the alpine villages are all part of the Sierra Nevada experience.  Raft, kayak, fly fish, hike, bike or just camp out next to a big, rushing, flowing river. Our selection of California maps will get you narrowed down to a specific region, so you can find that perfect river campground, or explore and discover the back roads – for the most seclusion.

NorCal Rivers:

Burney Falls
Burney Falls, is part of the Pit River

EEL RIVER
KLAMATH RIVER – Klamath NF Map
MAD RIVER – NFS Campground
MATTOLE RIVER
McCLOUD RIVER
NAVARRO RIVER
NEW RIVER
NOYO RIVER
PIT RIVER
RUSSIAN RIVER
SACRAMENTO RIVER CAMPING
SALMON RIVER
6 RIVERS NATIONAL FOREST
SMITH RIVER
TRINITY RIVER
VAN DUZEN RIVER

MiddleForkFeather
Middle Fork of Feather River, Berry Creek, CA

Sierra Nevada Rivers:

AMERICAN RIVER – El Dorado NF Map
CONSUMNES RIVER – Stanislaus NF Map
FEATHER RIVER Recreation Map
FEATHER RIVER – Plumas NF Map

Kern River Hot Tub
Kern River Hot Tub

KAWEAH RIVER – Sequoia
KERN RIVER CAMPING
KERN RIVER – Sequoia
KINGS RIVER California
KINGS RIVER CAMPING
KINGS RIVER – Sequoia Kings Canyon Map
KINGS CANYON NP
MERCED RIVER – Sierra
MERCED RIVER – Yosemite Map
MOKELUMNE RIVER – El Dorado NF Map
OWENS RIVER – Inyo NF Map
SAN JOAQUIN RIVER – Sierra NF
SOUTH YUBA RIVER Recreation Map
STANISLAUS RIVER – Sonora Pass
STANISLAUS RIVER – Stanislaus NF Map
TULE RIVER – Sequoia
YUBA RIVER – North Gold Country
YUBA RIVER – Tahoe NF Map

SoCal Rivers:

COLORADO RIVER CAMPING
Colorado River Jet Ski
LAKE HAVASU
LAKE MEAD (NV) Recreation Map
LAKE MOHAVE

SANTA YNEZ RIVER @ Lake Cachuma – Santa Barbara Mountains
SESPE RIVER – more creek than river, Los Padres NF & SESPE WILDERNESS

Colorado River California
Colorado River California

 

LOCAL TIPS
River Destinations in Calif

calmrivers
Lower Kern River – Calm but Dangerous

KERN RIVER: The Kern River is one of the most popular of all the Sierra rivers due to its proximity to SoCal. Hurried, stressed-out, Angelinos (LA) can be at this destination in under 3 hours – which makes it a very busy place most months.

So, let it be told, that summer is not the best time to enjoy the Kern. If you do plan a summer outting, make sure you head for the Upper Kern (10+ mi N of Kernville & Lake Isabella) or the North Fork of the Kern (out in Monache Meadows) where 4×4 is often needed.

The Lower Kern River has only 2 developed campgrounds: Hobo (closed for damage 2019) and Sandy Flat (open all year). Numerous primitive camp spots are available along Old Kern Canyon Rd, which parallels the Hwy 178 on the south side. None of which are located at the rivers edges. Remington Hot Springs is a popular spot for soaking. Fishing trails, mountain biking trails and hiking trails, all over. Fire danger is great in this area, so pay extra close attention to signs and fire restrictions.

Kern River above Lake Isabella and Kernville is a better choice for camping availability.

Beer at River

YOSEMITE RIVER: Yosemite National Park –
Merced River & Tuolumne River

NPSEverybody loves Yosemite! This is the most popular park in the whole state. The majority of campers want to stay “right on the river” when they visit Yosemite NP, but that is just plain old impossible, since reservations go fast and there is only so much room for everyone in this enclosed, narrow, precious valley. This particular park has some major floods (1997 & 2005) that wiped out bridges, road ways; all the old wooden cabins (at Yosemite Lodge) are gone and only half of the campgrounds are still available. Yosemite has had 11 winter floods since 1916 that have caused substantial damage to property. That number is expected to increase, as winter precipitation is getting less predictable.

Reservations are taken for camping and cabins – far in advance; like one year. No joke!

3 Yosemite Campgrounds are located next to the Merced River (inside spectacular Yosemite Valley)

hikehike

Way up in the Yosemite high country, which is only open a few months outta the year, the beautiful Tuolumne Meadows Campground is located next to lush meadows and the scenic Tuolumne River. All Yosemite campsites must be reserved well in advance, so visit links above – if you are serious about a Yosemite camping trip anytime soon.

Mokelumne

MOKELUMNE RIVER: Way up the road, deep in the western Sierra, Gold Country. Small NFS campgrounds, right on the river; Access is long paved, switch back roads, not suitable for RVs or trailers.

STANISLAUS RIVER: The Sonora Pass, the fishing is very decent way back in this granite gorge. Highway 108 is only open a few months outta the year, due to snow & rock slides – so time is of the essence. Summer time is prime vacation weather up here. Several campgrounds are located right on the river, or on the major feeder streams. Or you can opt for secluded primitive camping on the back roads. Find Sonora camping in Stanislaus National Forest.

YUBA RIVER: The biggest play time river in the northern Gold Country, this runs along Hwy 49 near Downieville and also has a major South Fork for the best swimming holes and primitive camping in this region. Tubing, rafting, kayaking, fishing, camping, gold panning, you name it, Yuba has it. Look for more on the South Yuba Recreation Map, or the USDA issued Tahoe National Forest Map

FEATHER RIVER: Top fishing river in the Lassen to Oroville area. Chester and Lake Almanor in the upper reaches. High Bridge Campground is nice paved-camp-site camping; a forested spot where you can fish 2 rivers on the same day. A Plumas NF or Lassen NF map would be quite helpful for this region. Lower down the mountain, lower Feather Rivers which include all 4 forks which feed Lake Oroville – West Fork (Paradise, CA), North Fork, Middle Fork Feather, (Berry Creek, CA) and the South Fork (Lumpkin). Lots of waterways and creeks worth exploring in between Chico and the mountain town of Quincy.

KINGS RIVER: This one particular river is the longest in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, pulling snow melt from the upper reaches of the High Country and Mount Whitney. The river area just to the West of the National Park, over to Pine Flat Reservoir, is all prime for outdoor recreation. Several river rafting companies work this stretch of river.

CAMP FOUR & A HALF CABIN RENTAL
NFS KINGS RIVER
NFSrangers

hikehike

Kings River Rafters

River Beach Campground
Trinity River Camping, Douglas City, CA
riverrunsclear
Sierra Nevada Rivers are the dreams that Summers are made of.


Wilderness Lakes

Lake Genevieve
Lake Genevieve, hike-in only access. Way up behind Convict Lake @ Mammoth Lakes, CA

calif lakes / secluded lakes / loop hike around lake / best lake in california / lake elevation / geology lakes / alpine lakes

hike-in lakes

Wilderness lakes are as pure as it gets. No cattle, no roads nearby. Snow melt, cool days, good fishing, great mountain scenery, granite, fresh air & clean water. You have to really wanna reach them. You must physically WORK to get to these remote alpine wonderlands – hike, bike, or horseback.

Heart Lake
Heart Lake, near Onion Valley & Kearsarge Pass

Some lakes are accessible via a day hike, with miles of forest trails or granite switchbacks in between. Waterfalls, wildflowers and wildlife will keep you entertained, as you enjoy your trek. No rush, no pressure; Go slow and take it all in. Remember, it’s not a race!

Most people prefer to backpack in to these locations and stay a while. Why not? These puppies are ACCESSIBLE only a few months outta the whole year. May as well enjoy them while you can. The rest of the time they are frozen solid or buried with serious snow. Wilderness areas do not allow dogs nor mountain bikes on trails, so plan accordingly.

camp, fish, hike, horseback, swim

California is lucky to have hundreds of lakes within protected wilderness areas. Almost all are gorgeous and have very limited access. While we haven’t yet been able to hike every Wilderness in Cali, we will leave you with the visuals and links, plus a way to buy the specific topo maps.

California Wilderness Lakes

Ansel Adams Wilderness

Bucks Lake Wilderness

Carson Iceberg Wilderness

Desolation Wilderness

Granite Chief Wilderness

Emigrant Wilderness

Hoover Wilderness

John Muir Wilderness

Lassen National Park

Mokelumne Wilderness

Monarch Wilderness (Kings Cyn)

Jennie Lakes Wilderness

Thousand Lakes Wilderness

Trinity Alps Wilderness

Yosemite National Park

wild California

 

HIGH ALTITUDE LAKES:
4000′ elevation to 14,000′ elevation

snowflake

SEASONAL deep SNOW makes many of these beautiful lakes inaccessible for more than half the year. Call ahead to local rangers to make sure your desired destination is indeed open for traffic. Certain locations may require snow shoes, snowmobile or a 4WD to access.

Forget the hike!

If you are seeking a remote mountain lake that you can drive to, you will need to search for one that has the fewest people. A high clearance vehicle will help you exit the tourist traps, via plenty of the back roads. Some dirt roads are acessible with just a passenger car or AWD wagon. Talk to the ‘field ranger’ for up-todate road conditions and closures.campfires Make sure to get a campfire permit, before you camp outside of developed campgrounds. Always steer clear of crowded, holiday weekends.

Juniper Lake Table
Juniper Lake – Lassen NPS

California LAKE LIST

The lake list above samples most of the lakes in California. For secluded locations and rare finds (accessible by vehicle), see the list below and follow links for more info.

fernlake
Fern Lake – hike in access, June Lake Loop Hwy 158

More California regions with pristine lakes, but not dubbed Wilderness:

turtleandfriend
Turtle and Friend, Junction City, CA
Sunrise Lakes
Sunrise Lakes, Yosemite Loop Hike


Central Valley Reservoirs

California’s Central Valley Recreational Lakes & Reservoirs

boatingcampingRV campshiking fishing

(listed from north to south)

North State / North Valley / North Sacramento Valley

Black Butte Reservoir
Stony Gorge Reservoir
East Park Reservoir
Lake Berryessa
Lake Oroville SRA
Thermalito Forebay
New Bullards Bar
Collins Lake

Sunset at the Lake
Oak foothills of the Historic Gold Country, at the edge of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Central Sacramento & California Delta

Trimmer Boat Ramp
Trimmer Boat Ramp @ Pine Flat

Central Valley / San Joaquin Valley

Lake Amador
Lake Camanche
Pardee Reservoir
New Hogan Lake
New Melones Lake
Woodward Reservoir
Salt Spring Valley Reservoir
Lake Tulloch
Don Pedro Lake
Turlock Lake SRA
Modesto Reservoir
Lake McClure
San Luis Reservoir SRA
Eastman Lake
Hensley Lake
Mariposa Lakes
Millerton Lake SRA
Redinger Lake
Pine Flat Reservoir
Lake Kaweah
Lake Success
Buena Vista Reservoir

Walk-In Camp Site at Lake
Walk-In Camp Site at New Melones Lake, Gold Co
Kaweah Sequoia Sierra
Lake Kaweah, near Mineral King & Southern Sequoia NP

All Lake Campgrounds

davisatsunset

California Lakes A-Z

alphabetically listed; cross reference by lake or campground name. reservations may be accepted for certain locations; follow links.

Developed Lake Campgrounds
inside California

lake campgrounds

lakes mountains foothills camp  boating fishing hiking State Parks NFS

Most of the lake campgrounds listed below are traditional style campgrounds with easy access: paved driveways, toilets, tables, maybe piped water. Various agencies manage these park campsites and additional links are provided.

Some of the campgrounds may be more primitive than others, with long dirt road access, gravel driveways, and minimal facilities. This list includes a wide range of lakes, from reservable group camps, to private RV resorts to back road beauties. Even a few campgrounds without fees!

Higher elevation locations close-up for the seasonal winter snow, which can last from NOV-MAY (or later, depending on snowmelt).

  • no motor boats?
  • no RVs?
  • wilderness lake fishing?
  • trailhead access?

Each lake camp is different, so know what is available at the location before you get out there. Many spots do not have a boat ramp. Some lakes do not allow swimming. Some might be 4×4 access only, w/ hairy granite rock road, 12 miles long. If you require a general store within walking distance, then get the maps out, follow links and make sure.

ACORN CAMPGROUND
New Hogan Lake, Valley Springs, Stockton CA

ALMANOR CAMPGROUND
Lake Almanor, Westwood, Chester, California

ANTELOPE LAKE – Plumas NF, Indian Valley, Greenville, CA

Anthony Chabot Park
Lake Chabot Campground

East Bay San Francisco, Oakland, Alameda, CA

ANTLERS RV CAMPGROUND
Lake Shasta, Lakehead, O’Brien CA, Interstate 5

ASPEN GROUP CAMP
Jackson Meadow Reservoir, Tahoe NF, Truckee, California

ASPEN GROVE CAMPGROUND NFS
Eagle Lake, Lassen NF, Susanville, California

ASPEN HOLLOW GROUP CAMP NFS
Sequoia, Kings Canyon National Park, Hume Lake

AUBURN SRA BOAT-IN CAMPING State Park
Auburn State Recreation Area, Gold Country
Folsom Lake, American Arm, Auburn, CA

lakes

BAILEY COVE CAMPGROUND
Lake Shasta, California

BASS LAKE – Sierra National Forest, South of Yosemite NP NFS

BEAR RIVER GROUP CAMP
Lower Bear Reservoir, Eldorado National Forest

BENBOW LAKE STATE RECREATION AREA State Park
Mendocino Benbow Lake, NorCal Redwoods US 101

BERGER CAMPGROUND NFS
Packer Lake @ Lakes Basin Recreation Area, Yuba River, North Gold Country California; Sierra City, Downieville CA

BIG COVE CAMPGROUND
Frenchman Lake, Feather River, Plumas NF, Portola CA

BIG SILVER GROUP CAMP
Union Valley Reservoir, US Hwy 50, Placerville, Gold Country

BLACK BUTTE LAKE – North Sac Valley, NorCal

BLACK OAK CAMPGROUNDNFS
Stumpy Meadows Reservoir, Eldorado NF
East of Georgetown, CA

BLACKROCK RESERVOIR
North fork of Kings River, Sierra NF
Western Sierra Nevada

BLUE LAKES, South of Lake Tahoe
PGE Campgrounds @ Carson Pass, Hwy 88

  • Blue Lake Dam
  • Lower Blue Lake Campground
  • Middle Creek Campground
  • Upper Blue Lake Campground

BLUE LAKE DISPERSED CAMPGROUND
i80 Donner Pass, Truckee, CA
PGE Campground, first come
4×4 roads and hike-in access only jeep30 hike

BOCA RESERVOIR – Tahoe NF, Truckee, California NFS

BOULDER GULCH CAMPGROUND NFS
Kern Canyon, Lake Isabella, California

BOWMAN LAKE (5665′ elev)
Tahoe National Forest, N of Donner Pass

  • BOWMAN LAKE CAMPGROUND

BRANNAN ISLAND STATE RECREATION AREA State Park
Sacramento River @ California Delta, Lodi CA

Indian Rock Beach, Bucks Lake California

BUCKS LAKE – North Sierra, Plumas National Forest

BURNEY FALLS STATE PARK CAMPGROUND State Park
Lake Britton SRA, Burney, California

BUSHAY CAMPGROUND
Lake Mendocino, California

coolsprings

BUTT VALLEY Reservoir – PG&E Campgrounds
West of Lake Almanor

BUTTE LAKE – Lassen Volcanic National Park NPS

  • BUTTE LAKE CAMPGROUND
  • BUTTE LAKE GROUP CAMP
  • BUTTE LAKE STOCK CORRALhorses

lakes

CARR LAKE CAMPGROUND
North of Donner Pass, Tahoe NF
hike-in camp sites

Castaic Lake RV Park
North Los Angeles County, Castiac, CA Interstate 5

CHEKAKA CAMPGROUND
Lake Mendocino, Wine Country California, US Hwy 101

CHERRY LAKE (wildfire 2013)
West of Yosemite NP

  • CHERRY VALLEY CAMPGROUND

CHILCOOT CAMPGROUND
South of Frenchman Lake, East Plumas NF, Feather River, Portola CA

Chowchilla Recreation Area
Eastman Lake, Central Valley, Fresno CA

CHRISTIE CAMPGROUND
Eagle Lake, south shore; Plumas NF, Susanville, California

CLEAR LAKE SP – Wine Country, California State Park

CODORNIZ RECREATION AREA
Eastman Lake, San Joaquin Valley, Central Valley

COLLEGE CAMPGROUND NFS
Huntington Lake, Western Sierra Nevada

CONVICT LAKE CAMPGROUND NFS
Eastern Sierra, US Hwy 395, Mammoth Lakes

COTTONWOOD SPRINGS CAMPGROUND
Frenchman Lake, Feather River, North Sierra Nevada

COURTRIGHT RESERVOIR hikesNFS
Le Conte Divide, John Muir Wilderness
Sierra NF, Western Sierra Nevada

CROWLEY LAKE
Eastern Sierra, South of Mammoth Lakes

CRYSTAL LAKE
Angeles National Forest, Azusa, CA

lakes

DE VALLE LAKE SRA
Central Valley Reservoir

D.L. BLISS SP State Park
DL BLISS CAMPGROUND
DL Bliss State Park, Lake Tahoe, California

DINKEY CREEK
Dinkey Creek CA; near Dinkey Lakes Wilderness Area
Sierra NF, south of Shaver Lake CA

DONNER STATE PARK State Park
Donner Lake, Sierra Nevada, Donner Pass
, Tahoe NF, Truckee, CA

  • Donner Memorial State Park Campground

lakes

EAGLE LAKE – Lassen NF, Susanville, California

EASTMAN LAKE – California Central Valley, Fresno CA

CAMP EDISON @ SHAVER
EDISON CAMPGROUND
California Edison Campground
@ Shaver Lake, CA, Western Sierra

ELLERY CREEK
McCloud Arm of Shasta Lake, California

EMERALD BAY SP State Park
South Lake Tahoe California

lakes

FALLEN LEAF CAMPGROUND 
South Lake Tahoe California

FASHODA CAMPGROUND NFS
Union Valley Reservoir, Mid-Sierra, ElDorado NF

FAUCHERIE GROUP CAMP
Faucherie Lake, Donner Pass Area, Tahoe NF,  Truckee, California

FAWN CAMPGROUND
Trinity Alps Highway 3, NorCal, Trinity Lake CA

FIR COVE CAMPGROUND NFS
Ruth Lake, Mad River CA @ Hwy 36, Six River NF

FISH LAKE CAMPGROUND
Hwy 96, Six River National Forest, Orleans CA

Florence Lake Picnic

FLORENCE LAKE
Sierra National Forest

  • JACKASS MEADOW CAMPGROUND

FOLSOM LAKE SRA State Park
Folsom State Recreation Area, Sacramento CA

FORKS CAMPGROUND
Bass Lake, Sierra NF, South Yosemite

FREMONT CAMPGROUND
near Lake CachumaSanta Barbara Camping

FRENCH MEADOWS RESERVOIR – American River

  • LEWIS CAMPGROUND

FRENCHMAN LAKE – Plumas NF, Feather River, Portola CA

FULLER LAKE
Donner Pass, Tahoe NF
No more Campground; Day Use Only
see – RUCKER LAKE for camping

lakes

GLORY HOLE RECREATION AREA
GLORY HOLE CAMPGROUND

New Melones Reservoir
Angels Camp, California Gold Country

GOLD LAKE, CALIFORNIA
Lakes Basin Recaretion Area, Northern Sierra

GREEN VALLEY CAMPGROUND NFS
Green Valley Lake, Big Bear Lake Area, San Bernardino NF

GRIZZLY CAMPGROUND
Lake Davis, Plumas National Forest, Portola CA

lakes

LAKE HAVASU
Colorado River @ California – Arizona border

HAYWARD FLAT
Trinity Lake, NorCal Highway 3, Weaverville CA

LAKE HEMET
Idyllwild, CA – RV Camping, Southern California

HETCH HETCHY RESERVOIR
NPS Campground, West of Yosemite NP

HIGHLANDS LAKES
Ebbetts Pass Hwy 4, Sierra Nevada

HORSE CREEK
Lake Kaweah, South Sequoia National Park, Three Rivers CA

HUME LAKE – Kings Canyon & Sequoia NP, Hume Lake

HUNGRY GULCH CAMPGROUND NFS
Lake Isabella, Kern River, Kernville CA

HUNTINGTON LAKE – Western Sierra Nevada NFS

HUTCHINS CAMPGROUND
Bucks Lake, CA, Plumas National Forest

Bucks Lake Campgrounds

lakes

ICE HOUSE CAMPGROUNDNFS
Ice House Reservoir, US Hwy 50, El Dorado NF

INDEPENDENCE LAKE 6949′
N of Donner Pass; N of Truckee, CA

  • INDEPENDENCE LAKE CAMPGROUND

ISLAND PARK CAMPGROUND
Pine Flat Reservoir, Kings River, Sierra NF

JACKSON FLAT GROUP CAMPNFS
Jackson Lake, Angeles NF, Wrightwood CA

jacksoncreek
Jackson Creek Campground, Bowman Lake. N Donner Pass, Interstate 80

JACKSON MEADOWS Reservoir – Tahoe NF, Truckee

  • ASPEN GROUP CAMP
  • EAST MEADOW CAMPGROUND
  • FINDLEY CAMPGROUND
  • FIR TOP CAMPGROUND
  • JACKSON POINT
  • PASS CREEK CAMP
  • WOODCAMP

JUANITA LAKE GROUP CAMP
near Butte Valley Wildlife Area, Klamath NF, Weed CA

JUNE LAKE CAMPGROUND NFS
June Lake Loop, Hwy 158, June Lake, CA Eastern Sierra

JUNIPER LAKE – Lassen Volcanic NP NPS

  • JUNIPER LAKE GROUP CAMP
  • JUNIPER LAKE STOCK CORRAL
    Equestrian Camping

Lassen Lakes

KASPIAN CAMPGROUND
hiking trail to Barker Peak @ Lake Tahoe CA

LAKE KAWEAH
just outside Sequoia NP, Three Rivers, CA

KIDD LAKE GROUP CAMPGROUND
i80 Donner Pass @ Soda Springs, CA
kayak, canoe, hike-in camp sites

KINGS BEACH SRA
State Recreation Area Lake Tahoe CA

lakes

LAKE ALMANOR – Northern Sierra Nevada

LAKE BERRYESSA – Wine Country California

  • OAK SHORES CAMPGROUND

LAKE BRITTON  Burney Falls Park State Park

LAKE CACHUMA – Santa Barbara Mountains NFS

LAKE DAVIS – Plumas National Forest, Portola, CA bike

LAKE EDISON – Sierra NF, John Muir Wilderness hikes

LAKE ISABELLA – Kern River, South Sierra Nevada NFS

LAKE MENDOCINO – North Wine Country CA, US Hwy 101

LAKE MOJAVE
Lake Mohave National Recreation Area
Colorado River 4×4 Camping, AZ, CA, NV

LAKE OROVILLE SRA State Park
Oroville Lake State Recreation Area
Loafer Creek, Equestrian Camp, Feather River Oroville CA

LAKE PERRIS SRA State Park
Inland Empire, Southern California

LAKE PILLSBURY
Mendocino NF, N of Ukiah, CA

  • Fuller Grove Campground (currently closed)
  • Oak Flat Creek Campground (currently closed)
  • Poigie Point Campground (currently closed)
  • Sunset Campground (currently closed)
  • Trout Creek Campground (currently closed)

LAKE SONOMA – Wine Country California, Geyserville

LAKE SPAULDING
PG&E Campground, Donner Pass, Interstate 80

tahoe emerald bay
The Gem of the Sierra Nevada – Lake Tahoe

LAKE TAHOE – Sierra Nevada Mountains State Park NFS

LAKE VALLEY Reservoir 
Donner Pass, Tahoe NF

  • LODGEPOLE CAMPGROUND

LAKES BASIN CAMPGROUND NFS
Lakes Basin Recreation Area, North Gold Country

LAKESHORE EAST
Shasta Lake, Northern California

LAKESIDE CAMPGROUND NFS
Prosser Reservoir, OHV Camping, Truckee, California

LEWIS CAMPGROUND
French Meadows Reservoir, American River, W of Lake Tahoe

LIBERTY GLEN CAMPGROUND
Lake Sonoma, Wine Country California

Lake Davis Trails
Lake Davis Trails – hike, bike, horseback

LIGHTNING TREE CAMPGROUND NFS
Lake Davis, Plumas National Forest, Susanville, California

LINDSEY LAKE CAMPGROUND
North of i80 Donner Pass, Tahoe NF

LODGEPOLE CAMPGROUND
Lake Valley Reservoir 
i80 Donner Pass, Tahoe NF

LOGGER FLAT CAMPGROUND
near Hume Lake, near Sequoia & Kings National Parks NPS

LONE ROCK NFS
Antelope Lake, Plumas NF, Indian Valley, Greenville, CA

LONG POINT NFS
Antelope Lake, Plumas NF, Indian Valley, Greenville, CA

LOON LAKE CAMPGROUND NFS
ElDorado NF High Country, Georgetown, CA

LOON LAKE CHALET NFS
ElDorado NF High Country, Georgetown, CA

LOS ALAMOS CAMPGROUND
Pyramid Lake, North Los Angeles, Interstate 5
(no campgrounds on the lakeshore)

LOWER TWIN LAKES NFS
Twin Lakes CA, BRIDGEPORT, Eastern Sierra

LUNDY LAKE CAMPGROUND
Eastern Sierra, East of Yosemite NP

LUPINE CAMPGROUNDNFS
Bass Lake, Sierra NF, South Yosemite

lakes

MAMMOTH POOL RESERVOIR Sierra NF, South of Yosemite NP

MANZANITA LAKE – Lassen Volcanic NP NPS

MARY SMITH CAMPGROUND
Lewiston Lake, Trinity River, Lewiston CA

MEADOW LAKE CAMPGROUND
i80 Donner Pass, Truckee, CA
PGE Campground, high clearance vehicles only

MEEKS BAY CAMPGROUND
Lake Tahoe California, west shore

LAKE MENDOCINO
Lake Campground Mendocino, Ukiah CA, US Hwy 101

MERRILL CAMPGROUND
Eagle Lake Recreation Area, Susanville CA

MESA CAMPGROUND
Silverwood Lake State Recreation Area, Cajon Pass L.A.

MILLERTON LAKE SRA State Park
Millerton Lake Campground, Fresno CA

MODESTO RESERVOIR REGIONAL PARK
Western Sierra Foothills, Modesto, Merced, Central Valley

MONO LAKE, CALIFORNIA
Eastern Sierra, US Hwy 395 @ Lee Vining, CA

lakes

NELSON POINT
Shasta Lake, Northern California

NEVADA BEACH CAMPGROUND
Lake Tahoe, south shore @ Nevada state line, US Hwy 50

bullards bar California
Bullards Bar, Sierra Nevada Mountains
Dark Day Campground, Bullards Bar

NEW BULLARDS BAR RESERVOIR
Hwy 49, North Gold Country

NEW HOGAN LAKE – Valley Springs, Gold Country

NEW MELONES Reservoir – Angels Camp, Gold Country

NORTH FORK CAMPGROUND
Bass Lake, Sierra National Forest, Yosemite South

NORTH SHORE
Lake Arrowhead, San Bernardino National Forest

lakes

OAK KNOLL CAMPGROUND
New Hogan Reservoir, San Andreas, Gold Country

OAK SHORES
Lake Berryessa, RV Camping in Wine Country

OH RIDGE
June Lake, California, Eastern Sierra

June Lake Loop, Eastern Sierra
June Lake Loop, Eastern Sierra

lakes

PACKER LAKE
North Sierra Nevada, Lakes Basin Recreation Area

  • Berger Campground
  • Packsaddle Campground

PAHA CAMPGROUND
Twin Lakes, Bridgeport CA, Eastern Sierra

PARADISE COVE
Lake Isabella, Kern River California

LAKE PILLSBURY
Mendocino National Forest, N of Ukiah, CA

PINECREST LAKE
Sonora Pass, Hwy 108, Stanislaus National Forest

PINE FLAT RESERVOIR Kings River, Sierra NF

PINE POINT
Shasta Lake, Shasta National Forest

PIONEER POINT
Lake Isabella, Kern River, South Sierra

PROSSER Reservoir –  Truckee Camping w/ OHV Trails

PYRAMID LAKE – North Los Angeles, Interstate 5
(no campground on the lakeshore)

ROUND VALLEY Reservoir
North Sierra @ Indian Valley, Greenville, CA

  • ROUND VALLEY CAMPGROUND

RUCKER LAKE CAMPGROUND
i80 Donner Pass, Tahoe NF

RUTH LAKE –  Mad River, Six River NF NFS

  • FIR COVE CAMPGROUND

lakes

SAGE HILL
Lake Cachuma, Santa Barbara Mountains

SALTON SEA SRA State Park
Salton Sea State Recreation Area, Imperial Valley Desert

SAN LUIS RESERVOIR SRA State Park
Central California, Interstate 5 @ Hwy 152

SARDINE LAKE
Lakes Basin Recreation Area, North Gold Country

SHASTA LAKE – Northern California NFS

SILVER LAKE @ BUCKS
Plumas NF w/ dirt road, Bucks Lake Wilderness & PCT

SILVER LAKE @ CARSON
Carson Pass – Hwy 88, El Dorado NF, Markleeville CA

SILVER LAKE @ JUNE NFS
June Lake Loop – Hwy 158, Eastern Sierra

SILVER LAKE @ LASSEN
Lassn NF, E of Lassen Volcanic National Park

SILVERWOOD LAKE SRA State Park
Cajon Pass, San Bernardino NF, Southern California

SNAG LAKE
North Sierra Nevada, Lakes Basin Recreation Area

SNAKE LAKE CAMPGROUND
Plumas NF, in between Bucks Lake and Quincy, CA

SOUTH SHORE CAMPGROUND
Lower Bear River Reservoir, El Dorado National Forest

SPAULDING LAKE CAMPGROUND
i80 (freeway close) Donner Pass, Tahoe NF

STONY GORGE Reservoir – North Valley

LAKE SUCCESS
Tule River, Porterville, CA

SUGAR PINE POINT SP State Park
Lake Tahoe California, west shore

SUGAR PINE ReservoirNFS
American River, Tahoe National Forest
NE of Foresthill, CA

  • Giant Gap Campground
  • Shirttail Creek Campground
  • Forbes Group Campground

SUGARLOAF RIDGE SP State Park
Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, Santa Rosa, Wine Country

SUMMIT LAKE – Lassen Volcanic National Park NPS

SUNSET CAMPGROUND NFS
Union Valley Reservoir, El Dorado NF, US Hwy 50

SWEETWATER CAMPGROUND NFS
Mammoth Pool Reservoir, Sierra NF, North Fork CA

Mammoth Pool Reservoir

lakes

TAHOE SRA Campground State Park
Tahoe State Recreation Area, Lake Tahoe California

TANNERY GULCH NFS
Trinity Lake, Shasta Trinity NF

TRIMMER CAMPGROUND NFS
Pine Flat Reservoir, Kings River, Sierra National Forest

Trinity KOA Kampground
Trinity Lake, Hwy 3, Northern California

TRINITY LAKE – Shasta Trinity NF, Weaverville CA NFS

TROUT CREEK CAMPGROUND
Lake Pillsbury, Mendocino National Forest

TRUMBULL LAKE
Virginia Lakes, US Hwy 395, Eastern Sierra

TURLOCK LAKE SRA State Park
Turlock Lake State Recreation Area, Central Valley

TUTTLETOWN RECREATION AREA
New Melones Reservoir, Angels Camp, Gold Country

TWIN LAKES – Eastern Sierra, Bridgeport CA NFS

%

Walk-In Camp Sites

MIneral KIng Walkin Camps

Walk-In Camps

Below are developed campgrounds in California that have walk-in camp spots available. Vehicles are parked and you must carry your gear into the camp site (usually a short distance, but can be up to a half mile).

California Campgrounds with more than a 1-mile trek are not included in this list below. Areas such as – Catalina Island, Crystal Cove SP, Angel Island SP, Point Reyes National Seashore, indeed have many hike-to camps, but most are measured in miles (one way).

walk in campsites are perfect for –

  • people who wish not to see cars @ camp
  • people who prefer less noise while camping
  • physically fit folks, who want exercise
  • backpackers, who plan to hit the trails soon
  • avid hikers, who may be out day hiking
  • cyclists, just passing through
  • mountain bike campers
  • one nighters, travelers who only stay one night
  • late comers to the campground

    (hint: these are usually the last campsites to fill up)

NewMelones WalkIn Camps

Walk in campsites are often located away from car campers & RVs. Some camp sites may have more privacy, tucked away in trees, while others have shared community area with fire pits and/or barbecues. All camp sites will have picnic tables and a some kinda toilet nearby. Bear boxes may be available for storing food properly. Sharing these food storage boxes with neighboring campers is common practice.

Campgrounds with walk-in sites range in elevation from sea level marshlands to high altitude alpine lakes. Most of these camps listed below are located inside developed campgrounds with overnight fees. Many are small campgrounds, while others are large hubs of activity. Some may be smaller campgrounds, with just a few camp sites. The most popular places can be reserved, with the links provided.

Many parks can also have day use fees, so know where you park and what time span is allowed. Ask the campground host if needing assistance. Some campgrounds lock their gates at sunset and do not permit entry at night. Others may not allow campers to check in anytime after sundown. Know their rules before you make reservations.

If you plan on not making camp reservations; make sure to have a plan B or C choice camp – in case your desired campground is already full. Many popular destinations can fill up fast (by noon in the summer).

spacious camps
Spacious Camp @ Aspen Grove Campground, Eagle Lake, CA

Walk In Camps in California

hikes campmtb

Andrew Molera State Park, North Big Sur Coast
Anthony Chabot Regional Park, East Bay San Francisco
Aspen Grove Campground, Eagle Lake, CA
Austin Creek SRA, Armstrong Redwoods, Guerneville CA

Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Santa Cruz Mountains
Black Rock Campground, Little Grass Valley Reservoir
Blue Lake Campground, PG&E 4×4 @ i80 Donner Pass, Truckee, CA
Boise Creek Campground, Six River National Forest
Bottchers Gap Campground, North Big Sur Mountains
Butano State Park, Pescadero, Santa Cruz Mountains

Carr Campground, i80 Donner Pass, Truckee, CA
Cherry Hill Campground, Butte Creek, Lassen National Forest
Chilcoot Campground, Frenchman Lake, Plumas NF
China Camp State Park, SF @ San Pablo Bay, San Rafael
Chula Vista Campground @ Mount Pinos, Los Padres NF mtb
Clear Lake State Park, North Wine Country, Kelseyville CA
Cold Springs Campground
,
Mineral King @ Sequoia NP
Cool Springs CampgroundPG&E Camp, Butt Valley Reservoirhike
Cottonwood Pass / Cottonwood Lakes
on Horseshoe Meadow Rd, PCT Eastern Sierra @ Lone Pine

coolsprings

Dark Day Campground, New Bullards Bar Reservoir, N Sierra
Donner Memorial State Park, Interstate 80 @ Truckee CA

Dry Lagoon Walk-In, Humboldt Lagoons State Park

El Capitan State Beach, North Santa Barbara Coast

Gaviota State Park Campground, North Santa Barbara Coast
Glory Hole Campground @ New Melones Reservoir, Gold Co
Granite Flat Campground, Truckee River @ Lake Tahoe
Gualala Point Park, Gualala River, Sonoma County Park

Half Moon Bay State Beach Campground, Half Moon Bay

Headquarters Campground, Salton Sea SRA @ Mecca CA
Henry W Coe State Park, Santa Cruz Mountains
(wilderness permits required)

Intake Campground, Bishop Creek, Eastern Sierra

Jackson Flat Walk-In Camp PCT @ Angeles NF
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park Campground, NorCal
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Big Sur Coast

Kidd Lake Group Campground, PG&E @ i80 Donner Pass, Truckee, CA
Kayak, canoe, hike-in camp sites

Kirby Cove @ Golden Gate National Recreation Area
5 tent camp sites on a bluff over the mouth of San Francisco Bay; reservations required

Klamath National Forest –
small campsites on a river

Lassen National Park – Southwest Campground 6700′ elev.
Liberty Glen Campground @ Lake Sonoma Recreation Area
Limekiln State Park Campground, Hwy 1 Big Sur Coastline

MacKerricher State Park Campground, Mendocino Coast
Macumber Reservoir,
PG&E Camp, West of Lassen NPfishing
Manresa State Beach Campground
, Monterey Bay
Marmot Rock Walk-In Camp, Courtright Reservoir
Mary Smith Campground
@ Lewiston Lake, Trinity River

McCabe Flat Campground @
Merced Recreation Area, Merced River, Mariposa CA

Mesa Campground, Silverwood Lake SRA, Cajon Pass (I-15)
Mill Creek Campground @ Bucks Lake, Plumas NF
Mill Creek Campground, Del Norte Coast Redwoods SP
Montana de Oro State Park, Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo mtb
Mosquito Flat Trailhead Camp, One night limit! Camp is for backpackers heading into back country at the end of Rock Creek Road, Inyo NF hike

Niagra Creek Campground, OHV 4×4 trails, Stanislaus NF
North Battle Creek Reservoir
PG&E Camp, West of Lassen
North Grove Campground, Calaveras Big Trees State Park

Oak Bottom Campground

Oak Bottom Campground @ Whiskeytown Reservoir NRA (wildfire 2018)

Onion Valley CA

Onion Valley Campground, Eastern Sierra @ Independence, CAhike

Pantoll Campground, Mount Tamalpais State Park, Marin
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park Campground, Big Sur Coast
Pigeon Flat Campground, Stanislaus River, Dardanelle CA
Pomo Canyon Walk-In Camp, Sonoma Coast State Beach
Portola Redwoods State Park, Santa Cruz Mountains
hikePrather Meadows Camp, Bunny Flat @ Mount Shasta
Providence Mountains SRA @ Mitchell Cavern, Mojave

Redwood National Park, NorCal Coast
(no reservations, no fees. open all year)

  • Flint Ridge Walk-In
  • Nickel Creek Walk-In
chulavistacamp
CHULA VISTA CAMPGROUND – Wild Iris Meadow at Mount Pinos

Refugio State Beach, North Santa Barbara Coast
Rock Creek Campground
, Eel River @ Standish-Hickey SRA
Roxie Peconom Campground, Bizz Johnson Trail, W Susanville mtb
Rucker Lake Campground, PG&E @ i80 Donner Pass, Truckee, CA
Russian Gulch State Park Campground, Mendocino Coast

San Clemente State Beach, Orange County Coast
Sanborn Campground, Skyline County Park, Saratoga CA
Sand Flat Campground, Clark Fork, Carson Icerberg Wilderness
Silver Creek Campground, Truckee River @ Tahoe
Southwest Walk-In Camp
, 6700′ elev @ Lassen Volcanic National Park
Squaw Leap Campground, San Joaquin River, Auberry CA
Stillwater Cove Regional Park, N of Fort Ross, Sonoma Coast

Tahoe National Forest
Donner Area Camping Lakes

NFS 530-265-4531

  • Carr Lake Campground
    10 miles north of Highway 20
    6,700′ elev
    5 walk-in campsites
  • Rucker Lake Campground
    6 miles north of Highway 20
    5,462′ elev
    7 walk-in campsites
  • Sterling Lake Campground
    9 miles north of Interstate 80
    7,000′ elev
    6 walk-in campsites

Toad Lake Walk In Camp, PCT @ Shasta National Forest
Tuolumne Meadows Camp, Yosemite National Park
(reservations & wilderness permits required)

Union Reservoir Walk In Camps, Arnold CA

Union Valley Reservoir – Eldorado National Forest

  • Azalea Cove Campground
  • Fashoda Campground

Van Damme Redwoods State Park, Mendocino Coast

Walker Pass Campground, PCT, East of Lake Isabella CA
Whitney Portal Trailhead Camp, Mount Whitney, Eastern Sierra

Willow Placer Campground BLM, Merced River Recreation Area
Woodside Campground, Salt Point State Park, Sonoma Coast

OnionValleyWalkIns

Walk in campgrounds are considered ‘tent camping‘, as opposed to ‘car camping‘, which is literally camping next to your vehicle. This type of hike-in camping may also be referred to as ‘trailhead camping‘, as many ideal hikes begin at these prime locations. Boat-in, bike-in or hike-in camp sites are also available at some of these locations.