California Fire Lookouts for Rent
US Forest Service Cabins
Rent a secluded cabin with an amazing view, a historic tower for wildfire spotting, or a USFS guard station – hidden deep inside USDA California National Forests. Several of these NFS lookouts have been closed recently, so the ones listed below have links to status and reservation information.
Dirt road access is common to reach these remote locations. Some require stair climbing, or steep access hikes. Winter months are usually snowy, inaccessible and sometimes dangerous for these high country locations. Access roads suffer from closures due to rock slides or landslides. Check with the locals ranger station for current conditions.
A few of these rentals are open all year long – in the southern part of the golden state.
The Mt Pinos Recreation Area is located on the border of Southern and Central California, inside Los Padres National Forest. After passing Frazier Park, the winding, paved, mountain road starts atop Cuddy Valley and is approximately 12 miles from Interstate 5 @ Tejon Pass. The 8831′ peak is the tallest in Kern County and is a popular spot for both summer and winter recreation: cross country skiing, snow shoeing, backpacking, hiking, mountain biking. The snow gates often close during heavy snow.
Mount Pinos Road starts atop Cuddy Valley Rd, at the “Y” – where it intersects with Mil Potrero Highway, which heads out to Pine Mountain Club, California.
One mile up the Mount Pinos route, you will find McGill trailhead on the right side (it is popular w/ mountain bikers) and then the first snow gate at Burbank Rd. Another 4 miles up hill, you come to the only set of dirt roads accessible on this range. A left turn will take you winding thru pine forest to the valley below. 4×4 is not required, but a National Forest map could be very handy. Unfortunately all the private properties at the bottom have locked gates & no thru access to Cuddy Valley is allowed. Although it is an awesome drive to just go exploring in the woods, there is no way out (once you get down the hill), so you must return the same way you came.
Back on the main route, shortly after the dirt roads is McGill Campground on the right side & another snow gate. In another mile and a half you will reach Mt Pinos Campground on the left side; the entrance is easy to miss. From here you are less than 2 miles from the end of the main road.
Mountain Bike, Hike, Backpack, Camp, XC Ski, Snow Sled
Darkest Skies for Stargazing in Southern California
The huge paved parking lot is the dead end (2 miles from the peak of Pinos) – very popular with astronomers, mountain bikers, plus the families and snow sledders in winter (if the gates are open). A National Ski Patrol’s Nordic Base, the only building you will see up this way. At 8300′ elevation, the large parking area is perfect overnight spot for amateur astronomers, so be considerate when visiting night. New moon (no moon) weekends APR-OCT are optimal viewing months. In busy summer months you can often find motorhome campers all set up with expensive equipment tracking the heavens all night long. Please be respectful of their hobby & eyes; Turn off headlights when you approach the parking area at night.
ROAD CONDITIONS to Mount Pinos, call the rangers 661-245-3731
Pinos – Peak to Peak Hike
The trailhead for Pinos Summit starts at this parking lot. It is a 2 mile moderate, but steep hike on an old fire road. The neighboring peak to the west is called Mount Abel @ 8286′ elevation (aka Cerro Noroeste). The infamous peak to peak hike along the ridge line from Mt Pinos to Mt Abel is 6.5 miles one way – and very popular in summer months. This hike requires 4-6 hours & a car shuttle should be arranged in advance. The Chumash Wilderness sits between Mount Pinos and the tiny community of Pine Mountain, which can be seen below on many places along the hike.
There are 3 developed campgrounds in the Mount Pinos Recreation Area:
small, scenic, hike-in only lake (pictured below).
1.2 mile hike downhill – strenuous, very steep; 800′ elevation loss. Bloody Canyon trailhead also connect to Sardine Lake, above Walker Lake.
There is also another Walker Lake in Mendocino County California. Walker Creek, Ridgewood Park; west of US Hwy 101, south of Willits, CA
Walker Lake, Nevada
very windy, Walker Lake, Nevada
US Highway 95, north of Hawthorne, NV
Mount Grant elev. 11,239′
Walker Lake State Recreation Area, now known as Monument Beach, is located along the western shore of the lake. The Hawthorne Army Depot, the world’s largest ammunition depot, fills the valley to the south of the lake. Naval Undersea Warfare Center?
Route 95 passes along western shore of Walker Lake. Walker River from the Eastern Sierra mountains in California, may sometimes flow into Walker Lake, Nevada.
Upstream water users have exploited the Walker River for profit, resulting in the destruction of Walker Lake, NV. According to the USGS, the level dropped approximately 181′ between 1882 and 2016. By June 2016 (under drought conditions) the lake level was 3,909′ above sea level, the lowest lake elevation since measurement began in 1882.
Approximately 20% of California’s land is desert, located in Mono, Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Diego, Imperial, Riverside Counties… most falling in the eastern portion of California. Almost all of the Baja California peninsula is desert, right down to the beaches on the Sea of Cortez. The Mojave joins in Sonoran desert in Joshua Tree National Park, which is reason enough to explore this fabulous landscape. Anza Borrego Desert has way more cacti and vegetation than the barren Death Valley terrain. But Death Valley offers abundant acreage, seclusion, hot springs, scenic canyons, mining history, the tallest mountain peaks and the lower point in the nation. Inyo has impressive mountains that sit just east of the Sierra Nevada and is a volcanic wonderland along Highway 395 with indian petroglyphs, cinder cones and ancient lava flows.
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)
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.
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.
Campfire permits are required.
The end of the road is a top destination LAUNCH spot for hang gliders & para-sailers. Watch them jump on YouTube compliments of DanaMite.
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.
Get outside this weekend. There are no more excuses!
Southern California / San Jacinto Wilderness Area / San Jacinto Mountain / Palm Springs Mountain Hike
The well-photographed snowy mountain backdrop behind the desert deluxe resort-land known as Palm Springs, Mount San Jacinto is the second tallest peak in Southern Cal.
Mighty San Gorgonio peak, across to the east – on the other side of the valley, is the very highest mountain in this desert region. Granite Jacinto peak is located in between the mountains of Idyllwild and the low deserts of Palm Springs.
Day hikes, picnic in the forest, backpacking, horseback rodes w/ SUPER easy access via the fantastic Palm Spring Tram ride, up to 8000′ elevation.
The San Jacinto Wilderness is managed by 2 different agencies: The National Forest Service and California Department of Parks & Recreation.
If you are camping overnight in the forest, you must get your wilderness permit from the agency that administers the area where you plan to spend the night. Day-use permits can be obtained on the day of your trip by visiting one of the ranger stations below. Day-use permits issued by either agency are honored by both, except during the busy summer months when permits to enter the Wilderness via Devil’s Slide Trail can be obtained only from the National Forest Service.
Camping permits can be obtained in advance by mail, in person, or online w/ PDF. National Forest Service accepts requests up to 90 days in advance; Mount San Jacinto State Park accepts them up to 56 days in advance. You can also get them on the day of your trip, if any are available at that time.
USDA National Forest Service
San Jacinto Ranger District
54270 Pine Crest Ave
Idyllwild, CA 92549
Mount San Jacinto State Wilderness
25905 Highway 243
Idyllwild, CA 92549
Southern California /San Gorgonio Wilderness Area / San Gorgonio Mountain Peak Hikes / Backpack Gorgonio
The tallest mountain peak in Southern California towers over the often smoggy basin of the Inland Empire, Riverside & San Bernardino. Coachella Valley lies to the southeast. Joshua Tree National Park lies due east.
Old Greyback is a fitting nickname for the peak. The massive, bald, decomposed granite gravel paves the whole top layer, above treeline (altitude nearing 12,000 feet above sea level) and this impressive peak can be seen from most of the Los Angeles basin and the Palm Springs desert. The expanding view of the Pacific Ocean can be seen 70 miles to the west, but only if the skies are clear. Windy, winter days are excellent conditions for viewing, but plan your hike accordingly as this peak could be covered in deep snow during winter or springtime.
This is a very popular backpacking weekend trip to escape from the big urban populations. San Diegans and Angelinos can easily access this location in a few hours from home, via Interstate 10 and some mountain driving on a 2 lane highway.
When the snow melts in the High Sierra, the rush is on! This is one of the most popular backpacking trips in the Eastern Sierra, as Mt Whitney is the highest peak (14505′ elevation) in the contiguous United States of America.
Day hikes to the summit should only be attempted if you are in excellent physical shape & used to high altitude hiking. There are so many folks trying to hike this sought-after peak in the warmer summer months (MAY-OCT) that the National Forest has put tight restrictions on these Mount Whitney trails. You must obtain a Wilderness hiking permit for this hike & that requires waiting in a long line of outdoor enthusiasts that also seek this prime destination.
The Lone Pine Ranger station holds an annual Whitney trail LOTTERY, where you must apply a year in advance & be granted a permit before you can set foot on this popular hiking route.
An alternate backpacking route to Mt Whitney is the southern ridge line from the Cottonwood Lakes trailhead, but you still must verify with local authorities for permits & Wilderness passes.
The Alabama Hills, between US Hwy 395 @ Lone Pine CA and the Whitney Portal offers camping and mountain biking trails with excellent views of Mount Whitney from below. A short drive up to the portal & you can stand in the waterfall mist & then do a day hike up to Lone Pine Lake.
Now that we have you salivating for this epic adventure, you can start your dreaming & real planning by ordering hiking topo maps of the region. Then after you have thoroughly reviewed the maps, the terrain (as well as your own physical condition), you can contact the Inyo National Forest / Lone Pine ranger office for more specifics on dates & details. This may take years of planning to make it happen.
This soaking spot is a convenient stop for those traveling the 101 on the California Central Coast. The hot pools are located in an overgrown canyon, about half mile up the hill from the parking area. The natural earthen pools tend to be warm, mushy, and smelly (like sulfur) but never super hot.
These are old, historic, volunteer built pools that are not maintained regularly, so keep that in mind when comparing this location to other well-manicured springs. Many of the locals that care for these sacred spaces only get paid back by reckless visitors with litter, graffiti and vandalism. If you want places like this to stay open, we must do our part to ensure that we leave it better tan we found it.
Parking fee, lot managed by California State Park. Gate closes at dark.
1 mile hike round trip
Poison oak, snake and ticks can be a problem at this location, so do be on the lookout.
hiking trails from here –
Gaviota Peak (fire road) and Campbell Trail (unmaintained)
Ponderosa Campground – PG&E Campground, located 3 miles from Lake Almanor
Tucked away off the main drag of Plumas Hwy 89. North end of Butt Valley Reservoir on east shore. Turn off about 6 miles northwest of Lake Almanor Canyon Dam on Hwy. 89, take Butt Valley Road south for 3.2 miles.
Set in a Ponderosa Pine forest along the shores of Butt Lake, part of a system of reservoirs formed by hydro-electric dams managed by Pacific Gas & Electric. Lake levels can change rapidly with minimal warning.
Quiet lake in California: No water skiing, jet ski or race boats; only small motorized fishing boats. Canoeing, kayaking and sail boating are also popular lake recreation. Off road areas nearby.
• Elevation: 4,150′
• Number of Sites: 63
• Camping Reservations: Yes
• Sites Available: Reservations; First come, First serve
• Vehicle Accessibility: Vehicle 32 ft. max. No RV Hookups
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Water: Piped; lake
• Toilet: Vault
• Season: Closed for winter, Nov-April
• Fee: Yes
• Operated By: PG&E
• Closest Town: Lake Almanor, CA
Ventana Wilderness is a 40 mile stretch of protected land located in the Santa Lucia Mountains on the Big Sur coastline in between the Monterey peninsula and the Nacimeinto-Fergusson Road #4004. Fort Hunter Liggett lies to the east side and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Ancient volcano peaks called “cones” line the pine ridges – Ventana Cone, Ventana Double Cone, South Ventana Cone, Black Cone & Cone Peak.
Cone Peak – 5155′ elevation Los Padres National Forest
San Antoni River
Sykes Hot Springs
Tassajara Hot Springs