This is one of many small lakes situated within the Lakes Basin Recreation Area , in the Northern Sierra Nevada mountains. Just north of Downieville & Historic Gold Country. Snag Lake is nothing special compared to the rest of the scenic lakes close by, but it is worth a mention due to a few fun facts.
One thing this small lake campground does have is convenience, located right on the Gold Lake Highway – next to Goose Lake, plus hiking distance to the largest of the lakes, Gold Lake. The second feature is the campground is small, 16 primitive sites, picnic tables & one vault toilet. The third thing is that this is a FREE campground; no charge.
Snag Lake Campground
• Elevation: 6600′
• Number of Sites: 16
• Vehicle Accessibility: Small RVs
• Campsites Reservation: No
• Camp Fee: No
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: June – October
• Trailheads: Gold Lake
dirt drive (no pavement)
No motorized boats allowed. No paved boat ramps. Kayaks & canoes can hand launch from several spots. The dirt driveway is easily missed, especially at night. The old wooden, forest service sign is not reflective. The vault toilet is close to the highway and the camp sites are along the lake edge. No pavement anywhere!
Upon arrival, camper trailers will want to get out and select the best route to a camp site. The small boulders, dead trees, root and rock obstacles are abundant on the dirt road entry, all around the campground, and at each camp site. High clearance vehicles would fair best at this camp, but some passenger cars may be able to manage the rocky entrance. Get out and look at the road, before scraping across the biggest rock. Slowly, carefully, maybe… and preferably an arrival before dark.
LOCALS TIP: The wind tends to pick up at night around these lakes, so brace your tent well and position your vehicle appropriately.
Obviously with a name like SNAG, you can imagine that the fishing here is not the best, since roots and old tree stumps make up a good portion of the shoreline. Luckily there are a dozen alpine lakes within a 20 mile radius to choose from for another fishing spot. Some lakes are hike-in only, some require 4×4 to reach and others have cabin resorts.
Gold Lake Hwy (or Gold Lake Road) closes in the winter months (NOV-APRIL) due to snow and the region is used as a winter recreation area. Cross-country skiing and snow-mobiling are both popular activities.
Lassen – Snag Lake
ANOTHER SNAG LAKE in NorCal, can be found by foot, hiking into the Lassen Volcanic Wilderness. Backpacking the lake loop is approx 17 miles RT and includes 3 lakes – Snag Lake, Widow Lake, and Jakey Lake. Trailhead is located at Juniper Lake, at the north shore.
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.
From 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.
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
free w/ wilderness permit
ultimate in seclusion, bring it all on your back, on foot into the wilderness & enjoy trail camps
SO CAL CAMP FIRES – Yellow Post Campsites are remote camping spots in secluded areas, in a designated fire safe clearing. No 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.
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.
Rentals 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.
California has many different National Forest districts and each region has their own fire restrictions. State Parks & BLM also manages recreation areas & camping in the Golden State. Each agency & region has different rules, so blanket answers cannot apply to general questions on campfires.
Campfire permits are required for fires outside of designated recreation sites. During fire restrictions, campfires could be banned. Campfire Permit are available from Forest Service, CalFire or BLM offices or online, http://www.preventwildfireca.org/
the new abnormal
California suffers more from wildfires now than ever before. Native tribes let lightning strike wild fires burn and they did not suppress wildfire. Residential development creeping ever higher and denser into the foothills, an abundance of roadways, with the overgrown forest make fire danger ever more real.
Closed off wilderness areas, impassable dirt roads, landslides, fallen trees everywhere. Utility services (power lines), plus high winds and overgrown forest also play a huge part in the current wildfire catastrophes. Drought conditions or record winter rains, the huge population on the west coast -along with many other factors – means more fire danger. Educate yourself and others on fire safety, forests and weather patterns. Heed the wind, while in the wild. Wind spreads fire easily!
Current Fire Restrictions:
By mid summer we have usually have several wild land fires burning, which means campfire restrictions are usually in place before JULY 4th weekend. When this happens – No open campfires are allowed in the backcountry or on the back roads.
Often in the driest of years, no campfires are allowed (even inside the campgrounds).
If you love to primitive camp outside of developed campgrounds, you need to plan more road trips for spring time & autumn. Or head further north, well above Redding – where the forest are moist and snow graces Mount Shasta year round. Or perhaps, go desert camping during winter months. Checking the National Forest web sites can be confusing and their online information could be outdated.
Each forest and area is individually managed. No concise, easy-to-read list or online map exist on which forests are allowing backcountry campfires – and which ones are not. Conditions seem to change so often and they aren’t great about updating those .gov web sites. Best to call a local ranger station and ask about any current fire restrictions. You know, actually “talk on a phone” to a USFS, BLM or CalFire official. If you can speak to a field ranger, they can tell you more on dispersed camping. Or you can navigate the USDA web site to find current ALERTS & RESTRICTIONS. Cryptic lingo may be encountered, and many clicks maybe needed; possibly forcing you to down a PDF of current fire rules.
Sugarloaf Ridge, Greenhorn Mts
Alta Sierra, Kern River Canyon
SOUTH SIERRA: This route is located in between the Western Divide Highway and the cedar community of Alta Sierra, CA
Sugarloaf Ridge: Forest Rd# 23S16 – Thompson Camp Spring, The Den @ Sequoia National Forest
Driving north on Sierra Hwy N of Kernville, California; Passing Fairview & the Johnsondale bridge; After the R Ranch @ Johnsondale, take the left fork on the main highway; After you climb in elevation, look for brown signs on right side of road & turn left on Forest Service Rd# 23S16. Primitive camp sites are located throughout this area along Packsaddle Creek. Do not turn left up Sugarloaf Rd. There are no good camp sites up that way (unless you wanna make one).
RV campers are very common at Thompson Camp Spring, as this road is paved up to this point. The paved road is windy & narrows after this point. It is not advised for trailers or long motorhomes past Thompson.
For the more adventurous, Bear Meadow & Packsaddle Mdw are located up the dirt road a bit on #23S64.
Paved Sequoia route# 23S16 continues to climb, which leads to the Speas Meadow, the Greenhorn Mountains & you best have a real good map if you are heading up this way. 20 miles of awesome open meadows, small streams, dense forest, wildflowers, some primitive camp sites & great viewpoints overlooking the Kern Canyon. All passenger car accessible! Elevations between 6000-7000′. Sugarloaf Peak has cross country skiing.
Side route #23S05 will take you to White River Campground w/ 12 spots. The paved road winds west down the mountain to Posey & eventually Glennville on Hwy 155.
Instead, to easily reach Hwy 155 – you’ll need to get on dirt for a few miles. While on 23S16, look for the Panorama Campground (@ 7400′ elevation w/ 10 sites). Take dirt road #24S15 to get back to civilization @ Alta Sierra, California.
Best of both worlds, way back in the boonies – two primitive tubs soaking perched on a soggy hill next to a big river, developed campground below, and a small resort w/ cabins, camping, restaurant and private soaking areas on the other side of the river.
15 mi. NE of Huntington Lake off Kaiser Pass Rd. Huntington Lake & Hwy. 168
Two squared cement tubs overlooking the San Joaquin River, deep in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
The coolest thing about this primitive hot springs is that it is a great destination for a one day snowmobile adventure. Rentals are in the nearby community of Lakeshore & the plowed paths are fairly easy to follow. If you plan on visiting the springs, you must not play around in the meadow much, there is plenty great Sierra scenery to be had. The snomo trip is a good 5 hours round trip with a lunch break & dip at mineral spring tubs.
cross country skiing
Winter: road is closed half the year due to heavy snow. Summer: snow is gone and the road is open.
KAISER PASS ROAD Large motorhomes, RVs are not allowed on this long, steep, narrow paved route.
Max vehicle length: 25 feet
Take Hwy.168, turn right on Kaiser Pass Rd, just past the big ski resort. Pass the large meadow & follow signs to Mono Springs & Lake Edison. Make sure not to miss the left turn or you may end up at Florence Lake.
Parking near the green bridge over the San Joaquin River & hike over to the tubs on the hillsides. If there are other vehicles parked here, expect to see naked people nearby; Soaking should never be rushed. Clothing is optional – in California.
Mono Hot Springs Campground NFS
• Elevation: 6700′
• Number of Sites: 30
• Vehicle Accessibility: RV 25′
• Camp Fee: Yes
• Campsite Reservation: Yes
• Toilet: Vault
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: June – September
• Trailheads: Ansel Adams & John Muir Wilderness
NOTE: This USFS Campground, should not to be confused with the neighboring business, a privately run camp called –
Free camping outside of a developed campground, for a self-contained camper who wants seclusion and privacy. Real relaxation in total peace and quiet. More nature, less people and minimal vehicles.
Free Campsites • Dispersed Camps • Open Camping • Boondocking
primitive camp sites –the bare minimum. a clearing for a tent, maybe a fire ring. no toilet, no fees; dirt road access. campfire permits required. And it is up to you to know the current fire restrictions in the area you seek to camp overnight.
Back Roads to Secluded Camps –
The further out you are willing to drive, the more remote you can be. Good topo maps of the region help you to find these ultimate, secret camping spots. National Forests & BLM Lands require a free camp fire permit to have a campfire.
Fire safety is always a big concern in wildfire prone areas like California. Additional Permits & Passes may be needed in some forests or parks; each location is different. Check with the local ranger station for up to date restrictions.
Many dirt roads lead avid campers to the best out-of-the-way camp sites. Camps may have picnic tables or just a fire ring, but usually NO toilets. Have the “No Bathroom Blues”? Don’t sweat it. check out the page onCamp Potty
Some camp sites are as bare as a small clearing, a rock fire ring if you’re lucky. A detailed backcountry map is always advised. If you count on your digital mobile device and online access for mapping, you could find yourself very lost. GoogleMaps is known for mislabeling the smallest of back roads – and they do not feature dirt roads either.
A high clearance vehicle may be needed to reach certain camp spots, but many can be accessed with a standard passenger car. Low riders will likely bottom out and motorcycle riders will get dusty.
Know your vehicles limitations for any off-road use and don’t get stuck in a bad situation. Soft sand is quite common in deserts and 4×4 might be needed. There aren’t any tow trucks out in the boonies and if you do find one, it’ll cost you something fierce. Watch for large rocks, deep ruts or tree limbs in the road (at any time) and watch low overhanging branches when driving a motorhome in to such spots. Some dedicated, hard-core RV campers prefer to camp in remote locations.
Backpackers trailheads often have a few camp sites near the parking lot, but these may be busy during summer months. Dirt roads leading to trailheads can have primitive camp sites along them as well. Long, big creeks in the forests are notorious for having awesome camp sites. Big river camp sites are sometimes free, if you know where to look. Sometimes the smallest of California campgrounds have no charge, first come, first serve (BLM, National Forest, or State run).
Before it got labeled BOONDOCKING: Primitive Camping in remote spots was what we lived for. Camp outside of developed campgrounds, for free
pros and cons
possible dirt road access, seclusion, privacy, darker skies, no fees, no crowds, real peace & quiet
no toilet, no picnic tables, no pavement, no hospital, a long hike out, no cell phone service?
always be prepared to hike out (if need be). a giant tree can come down and block your exit road. landslides often happen on dirt back roads. the vehicle could break down or become disabled. get a topographic map and know how to read the terrain, without your device/phone.
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.
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.
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
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.
Yosemite is a top destination, all year long. California masses converge on the sacred valley each summer, so expect more as the buses keep rolling in. Plan a Yosemite trip before Memorial Day weekend – or after Labor Day weekend, for less people.
Camping close to Yosemite National Park without being inside the park boundaries. The scenery and wildness doesn’t stop in the back country. There are numerous National Forests surrounding the popular National Park, so much public land has been set aside for these recreation purposes. Granite-lined mountain meadows, dense forests, raging creeks, wildlife and real seclusion. Plenty of great paved back roads, dirt roads and camping options in the Sierra Nevada.
No campground reservations needed, cheap or free, less crowds, less noise. More freedom, more privacy, more nature.
Hundreds of developed, small campgrounds can be found around Yosemite. A few private RV resorts, cabin rentals, lodging on the main highways. Primitive style camping is considered “camping outside of developed campgrounds”. USDA National Forests usually allows open-camping within the forest boundary – with a required camp fire permit. Sometimes wildfire danger is too extreme, so they often ban campfires in dry conditions.
Winter wet weather doesn’t need to put a damper on your outdoor exploring, if you can get your hands on a 4×4 vehicle. Almost any SUV or truck with 4 wheel drive is capable of driving through some snow or mud. Just how deep is the mud (underneath the snow) is usually the big question. Many National Forests and State Parks close certain dirt roads due to over-use, or to control soil erosion and prevent the deep muddy ruts which are costly to re-grade come springtime. Call ahead to the rangers to find which back road routes are indeed open, or bring your printed topo map and wing it.
The California destinations listed below are popular winter spots for off roading enthusiasts. Some places may be busier than others. The dirt roads surrounding these spots are real treasures, so try to plan an all-day loop trip if possible. Camping w/ a campfire permit is an option on many back roads. Plenty lodging in nearby small towns if winter camping is not your thing.
Tribal lands are mostly located in rural regions which always have plenty of dirt roads to explore. Get a good back roads map for the public lands nearby, parks, BLM, National Forest. If the overnight camping is dropping into the twenties or teens, then know the forecast. A good rule of thumb for California hotel stays: If the low temps overnight are below the cost of a hotel room at the nearby casino, the comfy lodge might be well worth considering.
@ California – Arizona border.
The Laughlin casino in the middle of nowhere, right on the Colorado River. Jet ski rentals, swimming pools and spas, restaurants, RV park. The historic Mojave Trail, aka Mojave Road, starts next to the property.
Gold Country Casino
@ Lake Oroville, California
Sierra Nevada mountains Northern California. Conveniently located near Feather River (all 4 forks) and Plumas National Forest, with Berry Creek and Bucks Lake Wilderness to explore. Snow often closes the highest elevations.
@ Pine Valley, East County San Diego
Great bouldered mountains with back road exploring, hiking, mountain biking trails, all easy access from Southern California. Get a Cleveland National Forest map and expect some road closures near Laguna Mountain Sunrise Highway, especially when it snows.
Diamond Mountain Casino
Susanville, Northern California
Located in between US Highway 395 and Mount Lassen, the scenic Susan River region has lots to offer for the outdoor enthusiasts. Plenty of roads to explore, some big lakes too. Many Forest roads could be closed due to snow, so be warned and call ahead to the ranger.
The whole Carson City area in Nevada has some excellent dirt roads to explore. Old mines, caves, many miles of pinyon forests. Lake Tahoe is nearby with luxury resorts, casinos and snow skiing.
If you just can’t stand the cold and snow, then warmer climates lie to the south. Baja California is a tourist/traveler and off-roader haven in the wintertime.
Jawbone Canyon for Thanksgiving weekend will get dirt bikes by the thousands and big families. Christmas is busy around the Palm Spring desert destinations – like Joshua Tree. Easter weekend is popular w/ wildflowers and campers in Anza Borrego Desert.
Occasionally, wide graded dirt roads lead to secondary routes, so overnighting it with a motorhome on the back roads is very possible (if deep mud is not present). RV camping is quite the tradition for Southern Californians. Desert off roaders in tow, all over the Mojave. Steer clear of busy family groups. Pick a lesser known area to camp and explore. Get your real topo maps out and choose easy access from pavement, but wide graded dirt roads are best. Plenty roads like this in the Eastern Sierra, on the east side of US Hwy 395. RV campers that follow Total Escape might very well be interested in testing the limits of their recreational vehicle, slowly.
Before AWD got marketed as 4WD, Total Escape was way out there exploring in a 2 wheel drive and posting it online for you. All wheel drive station wagons should stick to the paved and plowed roads. If you plan to do a lotta dirt road driving in the old Subaru, keep the rock crawling to a minimum. If not, you may want to invest in a skid plate for the oil pan. Nothing beats first hand experience and learning ahead of time how your car will behave before you loose control on icy dark steep roads. Go practice with the emergency break and get the vehicle in a wide open snow plowed area if possible, just avoid the temptations to get wild. Don’t get the doughnut urge and plant yourself in a tree. Remember, it’s not like the commercial showed us, those are closed roads they are filming on.
If you plan to be off roading in snow or mud at all you might want to consider some important safety items: tire chains for snow, a tow strap and tire plugs for flats. If you own a high clearance 2WD SUV, you could benefit from running chains on all four tires when snow is present. How deep the snow gets and how steep the hills are, determines how far you can go without a real 4 wheel drive. Some choose to rent a 4WD for the weekend road trip.
Carry these items when traveling in winter conditions:
tools, jumper cables, tow strap, emergency gear, first aid kit, real boots, extra clothes, blankets, flashlights, food, drinking water, cell phone, maps
Eastern Sierra Nevada – Inyo Mountains
Inyo Forest Back Roads – Mammoth Off Road
Off Road near US Highway 395. Yep, Olancha has some OHV (off-road) areas near the dunes, but this web site is dedicated to the real deal, the scenery, the trail heads, the hot springs, great secluded camping & of course, back road exploring.
You will need a Inyo National Forest map to discover these back roads. These are minimally traveled routes, un-maintained, sometimes washed out, eroded & maybe even creek crossings (without a bridge). Some gravel two-lane routes, some one lane roads leading deep into dead end canyons.
A few popular routes are paved, but most of these listed are indeed dirt roads. Some may require high clearance vehicle, or even 4×4. Know your vehicles limitations & be prepared to turn back when the road worsens. Cuz more often than not, it’s a sign of what more difficult terrain is to come.
Watch out for live stock – they are dumber than they look.
Owenyo Rd – Wanna parallel the highway (395) on dirt; Sure, it’s a long bumpy route – from Hwy 136 @ Dolomite to Bend City @ Mazourka Cyn.
Road# 13S05 – Mazourka Canyon Rd – leads up to some old mining camps & way behind Mazourka Peak (9410′) deep into the Inyo mountains. It’s all desert on this side, but these canyons have pinyons & more vegetation than you would imagine. Road# 9S15 & 9S14 circle Andrews Mountain (9460′) then join back up w/ Death Valley Rd (the North Pass into Saline Valley).
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest has some great dirt roads surrounding it. After you are finished with all the touristy sights & you don’t wanna spend the rest of the day in the visitors center or back at camp, try Cottonwood Canyon – full of aspens, camp sites & fishing, not cottonwood trees. 4×4 is required. Crooked Creek has boulders, boulders & more boulders. Plus some amazing camp sites with open sky views. Silver Canyon is for high clearance only, 2WD okay. This will lead you down to Laws Railroad Museum on Hwy 6, on the back side of Bishop, CA
Benton Crossing Rd (green church @ 395)
This wide road leads out to multiple dirt roads that peel off in every direction. Many Eastern Sierra Hot Springs can be found out here – on the east side of the highway. No hot spring resorts, no facilities, no clothing & very primitive.
Bishop 4×4 route Coyote Flat
Coyote Wash leads up to Coyote Flat & out to Coyote Lake. This a a spectacular high altitude plateau overlooks the Owens Valley & requires 4 wheel drive just to get up there. Pinyons, junipers, aspens, wildflower meadows, old mines, & yes, lakes at 11,000′ elevation. Views of the High Sierra & South Lake.
Buttermilk Road – This dirt road is north turn off of Hwy 168, W of Bishop, CA. “The Buttermilks” are a popular spot among rock climbers. A great place for indian petroglyphs too!
Road# 9S21 – Glacier Lodge Road – Paved road. Creek exploring & fishing. Plenty Campgrounds. W of Big Pine CA
Horseshoe Meadows Rd – Paved route with great views over Owens dry lake bed; access via Lone Pine CA; A nice day trip to meadows & High Sierra scenery. Picnic & day hike!
McMurray Meadows Rd – south off of Glacier Lodge Rd (#9S21) just W of Big Pine CA. You can find ancient cinder cone volcanoes & cave-like lava tubes in between this long dirt road & the highway.
Monache Meadows is a high elevation meadow that takes some time & determination to get to. This area is part of the Inyo National Forest, but can be accessed by either: backpacking thru the high Sierra’s or driving a high clearance vehicle thru Sequoia NF # 22S05 Sherman Pass Road, behind the Black Rock Ranger Station & Troy Meadows Campground. High clearance is needed, 4×4 maybe. Great camping sites near Olancha Peak trailhead. The area is surrounded by Golden Trout Wilderness & South Sierra Wilderness. From US Highway 395 to Kennedy Mdws & then Monache is a full day of exploring, so you may as well stay the night up there. But bring warm gear, a campfire permit & a capable vehicle.
Manzanar Routes – Back behind Manzanar Camp there are miles of dirt roads to explore. Many creeks side camp sites can be found even with a passenger car. Small trees & sage brush. Secluded camping (for free) is possible in the Eastern Sierra.
Mono Craters (Rd# 1N11) – the youngest mountain range on the continent. Just south of Mono Lake, this route skirts the pumice cones & climbs over the Aeolian Buttes, before it meets back up with Hwy 395.
Walker Creek Rd #19S01 – Oaks & creek. South of Olancha CA, look for turn off & follow dirt road up into the tight canyon.
One of the most remote & biologically intact watersheds left inside California. The headwaters of the Salmon River flow from the Trinity Alps, Marble Mountains, and the Russian Wilderness Areas. 850,000 acres of Wilderness surrounding the Salmon River watershed.
You gotta know how to read a map if you wanna find this hidden gem. For those who love seclusion! This NorCal river region is a prime destination for true nature lovers: campers, hikers, fishermen, river rafters, river kayakers, mountain bikers, backpackers, birdwatchers and horse enthusiasts. Summer is the busiest time and of course, the best weather. The remainder of the year, you’ll basically have the place all to yourself. Winters can be wet and sloppy, so don’t get stuck in the mud. Cell phone reception is minimal in these densely forested backwoods.
Rafting, river beaches, kayak spots. Campground camping, RV camping, tent camping, primitive and wilderness too.
A significant part of the Klamath River’s watershed is in the Karuk Tribe’s Ancestral Territory. Karuk Indians have carefully managed their lands through an integrated continuum with the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystem functions for thousands of years. Salmon, or “Ama” in the Karuk language, was a major source of food and spiritual renewal.
Long, (sometimes rough) dirt road, that parallels the north side of the Kings River. Dirt road used by families, fishermen, kayakers, campers, mountain bikers, rafters and rafting shuttle buses, seasonally. May be gated and closed off to the public in wetter months of the year.
Bear Wallow Trailhead
Kings River Trailhead
Forest Route 12S01 crosses the river and leads to the south side of the river, near Green Cabin Flat. Mill Flat Campground is back this way.
Road 12S01 gains in elevation, turns to high-clearance, continuing up McKenzie Ridge thru a small slice Sequoia National Forest to the highway Kings Canyon National Park. 4×4 may be needed in wet/snowy weather.
Take the road next to the Ranger Station (South of Bridgeport, along Hwy 395); Drive up the hill and past the rock quarry. Bear right & look for dirt parking lot. Two pools, short walk, no shade, wonderful views of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Popular with local commuters and travelers, with easy access off the highway. Great spot for views westward w/ sunset picnic and soak.
No overnight camping allowed at Travertine hot springs (posted signs)
Plenty of great, free, camping nearby:
Primitive or developed Campgrounds.
Nothing beats fresh, cold, clean water from the California mountains, in the summertime. Find time to exit the urban rat race, soon. Escape the smoggy city life and the triple-digit heat for a road trip to the higher elevations.
Lake Campgrounds are abundant in California, where man-made reservoirs and recreation abound. Alpine lakes in pine forests are also numerous in the west, although only accessible for a portion of the year, they draw in the campers all summer long. A majority of the small lakes are located inside the California National Forests.
USDA / USFS / NFS
Larger reservoirs can often be managed by California State Park system. State Parks, SRA, State Recreation Area. Suburban lake locations can be local County Parks. A few locations listed could even be desert lakes.
Many ideal secluded lakes are only accessible with a 4WD vehicle, by foot or horseback. Super scenic, backcountry lakes are so far out – that a day hike is usually required.
No motorized boats, camping on west shoreline only, no fishing from the dam, catch & release?
No access for trailers? Individual rules for each lake are different. Learn the basic before you get out there.
Lake Campgrounds are so popular in California that many require reservations during summer. Many locations accept reservations online and we have links for those too. Other lakes are so small and remote, that only the fishermen, hikers and 4×4 gear-heads know of them.
outdoor recreation found at or near lakes
Lake destinations listed here have some sort of campground facilities. Some may be mini resorts with boat launch, marina or bait shop/general store. RV hook-ups, maybe. Dump station, it will cost you. Usually these bigger lakes are busy centers of tourists activity with boat rentals, RV camping and certain locales are even walking distance from ‘town’.
Fine dining is a rare find on the lakes, but some lake side restaurants (open seasonally & with limited hours) can be found. Most will require reservations, especially on the weekends.
Other lake camps listed are literally on the edge of wilderness – with trails to the high country. The best little lakes will have one dirt road access. Below is a wide variety of lake destinations within California.
Fortunately, those places do not allow driving on the dunes, which is exactly what the off-road boys want to do. Sand flying, motors screaming, music blasting, bon fires blazing and no silence found until the wee hours of early morning.
Autumn, Winter & Spring are the busy months for ‘froaders in the deserts, since summer temps can soar into triple digits heat daily.
Camping out near “the dunes” is usually a big, freaking, free-for-all, outdoors with the latest in motorized toys. Recreation Vehicles encircling bonfires (camp formation for a large group), toy box haulers, trailers, families, and maybe a massive BBQ setup.
OHV (off highway vehicle) Vehicular Recreation Area
California BLM Desert Sand Dunes
Below is a list of California Sand Dunes overseen by the Bureau of Land Management.
Arroyo Salado / Ocotillo Wells
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
Located 10 mi. west of Highway 86 on Highway 78. Rolling hills and sand washes. Designated “Open Area” consisting of 4,800 acres. Adjacent to Ocotillo Wells Vehicular Recreation Area. Near Split Mountain, Anza Borrego Desert
Dumont Dunes Mojave
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
Located 30 mi. north of Baker on Hwy 127, off Dumont Dunes Rd. Steep and tall sand dunes. Designated “Open Area” of 8,150 acres. South of Death Valley National Park.
Glamis / Gecko Road
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
Holiday weekends = NUTS!! Approximately 22,000 acres. Located 25 mi. east of Brawley on HIGHWAY 78. Sand Dunes. Designated “Open Area” Danger: Adjacent to military bombing range. Contact the El Centro BLM
Imperial Sand Dunes / Buttercup Valley
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
Approximately 11,000 acres. Located 10 mi. southeast of Niland on the Niland Glamis Rd. Sand Dunes are designated “Open Area”. Watch for closed area boundary at south end of area. CA Highway 78 near Brawley. Contact the El Centro BLM
Mojave El Mirage / Shadow Mountains
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
Located 10 mi. west of Adelanto on Crippen/El Mirage Road. Dry lake Bed. Heavy use area. many non-motorized and motorized recreation – including aircrafts. Area consists of 24,000 acres.
Plaster City / Yuha Basin
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
South side of Anza Borrego Desert State Park. 15 mi. west of El Centro. Located on county Highway S-80. Consists of 41,000 acres of rolling hills and desert flats. Military bombing range north of area is closed to entry. Contact the El Centro BLM
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
Located 15 mi. NW of El Centro via Highway S-8, Huff, and Wheeler Roads. Varied terrain consisting of 13,000 acres; dry lakes, badlands, rocky mountains, and sand dunes. Military bombing range north and south of area is closed to entry. Contact the El Centro BLM
Rasor OHV Recreation Area
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
Located 45 mi. northwest of Barstow, CA on Rasor Road. Sand washes and dunes, mesquite thickets. Designated “Open Area” consisting of 22,500 acres. Contact theBarstow BLM
Rice Valley Dunes
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
Located 5 mi. south of Rice Valley off of Highway 62. Access is Santa Fe Road. Sand dunes. Designated “Open Area” consisting of 3,770 acres. Area of little use. Danger: Contaminated with unexploded ordinance.
Located north of the small community of Riverkern and south of the Johnsondale Bridge, numerous flat camp spots adjacent to the rivers edge can be found.
Ant Canyon Dispersed Area Brush Creek Campground Calkins Flat Dispersed Area Chamise Flat Dispersed Area Chico Flat Campground Corral Creek Campground Springhill Dispersed Area
Kern River Road
Sierra Way in Kernville travels north along the Upper Kern River & becomes Mountain Hwy 99 – which eventually connects with the Western Divide Highway in Giant Sequoia National Monument.
Dispersed Camping Areas along the Kern River
Open Year Round! These FREE camp areas are called dispersed camping sites. No pavement, no picnic tables, no bathrooms, no piped water. Portable toilets & trash bins may be available in the busier summer months. Campfire permits are required for all campfires, BBQs, and camp stoves. Fire restrictions are common in extreme dry conditions. 14 day limit on camping.
Camp sites listed on this page are dispersed camping areas around the Kern River Area. Not all camp spots are listed, cuz many are unnamed. Bring your GPS to mark your favorite camp sites and you can arrive in the dark, late at night, anytime, (avoiding city traffic after work).
Several spots known as “dirt flats” are easy accessible right off the pavement of Sierra Way. Primitive river camping, fishing spots and raft launch areas north of town. Vault toilets might be available during busy summer months, but you’re on your own the remainder of the year. Bring a shovel and take a hike, away from the water flow. And if that sounds like too much work for a potty break, maybe you are not cut out for the primitive kinda camping style. No garbage service either: pack it in, pack it out.
Wildflowers are abundant in the Kern Canyon nearly every Spring season (April & May), which is a popular time to enjoy this region. Autumn brings minimal fall colors to this dry, desert mountainous landscape, but the fishing is decent at that time of year.
CAMPING OUTSIDE OF CAMPGROUND means you must obtain a free fire permit from the local rangers. Sometimes these dispersed spots are fire-safe areas, and you are allowed to have camp fires. Other times campfire restrictions are in place w/ wildfire dangers too extreme and no fires are allowed, anywhere. (Not even inside a developed campground!)
WILDERNESS NOTE: The USDA National Forests web site states that “Camping and campfires within 25 feet of the water’s edge is prohibited due to the Wild and Scenic Designation”, but that doesn’t seem to stop some from setting up right on the fragile rivers edge. Doubtful that this rule is being enforced by the rangers, but consider yourself warned unless they start to get serious about this restriction. Many believe that the free camping along the Kern river is destroying it, so don’t be surprised if these areas get closed or barriers placed at the flats.
Caulkins FLAT has some new boulder barriers put in place which prevent cars from reaching certain ideal camp spots (right at the waters edge). Tough luck. Now we have to hike more.
Upper Kern River North of Kernville, CA
all camps below listed from south to north
ALL CAPS = developed campgrounds managed by US Forest Service, w/ links to Kern River Campgrounds.
Just north of Goldledge Campground, along the Upper Kern River.
South of Salmon Creek; Hike to Salmon Creek Falls.
12 miles north of Kernville, CA
This camping bluff could be the most forested of all the ‘kern flat’ camping areas, but river is a short hike down a very steep cliff. Fishing is excellent in this stretch.
15 miles north of Kernville, along the Upper Kern River. Just south of Fairview (McNalley’s). Sign at the location reads a different spelling of “Caulkins Flat”. Kayak and rafting put-in spot. One of the best sites for large groups. Area is also known as simply “Lower Campground” on GoogleMap.
Just south of Sherman’s Pass Road turnoff. This place also serves as a Day Use Area, where Brush Creek meets the Kern. Kayaking put in spot. Popular fishing area. Large open dirt parking lot with a vault toilet.
Lower Kern River Southwest of Kernville, CA
Lake Isabella has some shoreline camping with wide open access to the lake. Paradise Cove perhaps?
Historic Keyesville – “off-roaders camping paradise” along the river, but no swimming is allowed due to the extremely dangerous section of river. OHV trails lead (west) down river for many miles. Dirt bikes love the rugged boulder-scapes and steep hills. FREE camping; BLM Kern.
SANDY FLAT CAMPGROUND (NFS) – Open all year long! Terraced & paved hillside with numerous camp sites and plenty of room to spread out. RV campers like this location, due to the proximity to Hwy 178. elev 2300
Remington Hot Springs can be a zoo at times w/ the amount of people who love to stop here. A busy dirt parking lot, right across from the Remington trailhead sign. Many vehicles park here daily for day hikes, hot springs, fishing – and people also like to camp out, although camp sites are on slopes (not ideal), only a few and they fill up fast (before sunset).
Total Escape TIP: The very best camps at Remington are actually the ones you hafta hike down to. Less than a half mile down to the rivers edge to find a private mini beach. Pack light and arrive prepared to walk several miles (back & forth, several times).
Old Kern Canyon Road parallels Sierra Highway 178 and sits well above the river, so any flat spots you find will have great views w/ minimal river access.
Big Meadow: Forest Road# 22S12 – Sequoia National Forest
Take Sierra Hwy. N of Kernville, past Fairview & over the Johnsondale bridge; Right turn on Sherman’s Pass Road & drive up to a signed intersection (near a snow gate). NOTE: This area may not be accessible during winter months.
Turn right on Big Meadow Road, aka Forest Service Rd# 22S12. This is a very long road which is paved for the first few miles. 22S12 becomes a graded dirt road, suitable for horse trailers; it forks off to other smaller dirt roads, as it progresses through the forests & dead ends back by Cannell Meadow. The main routes are passenger car accessible, but some of the smaller dirt roads can get quite bumpy. A truck or SUV would be advisable to explore these secondary routes. Certain areas have suffered from wildfires 2000-2002.
Horses & equestrian camping are very popular in this region. There is also a fair amount of backpackers heading into the Domeland Wilderness and mountain bikers looking for premium backcountry rides, away from the crowds at the Kern River.
NFS developed Horse Meadow Campground can be found on the right via road# 23S08. Located at 7400′ elevation w/ 41 spots, in the forest. Trailhead to Salmon Creek leads directly from camp.
SPUR – side routes include:
#23S14 Cherry Hill – a few camp spots near creek & a meadow with views at the very end
#23S41 Poison Meadow
#23S13 Salmon Creek
#22S07 Big Meadow – loop road around the “Big Meadow”. Plenty of primitive camp sites around Big Meadow, but they are the first ones to fill up during a popular summer weekend. The region is perfect for backpackers or day hikers wanting to access Manter Mdw. & the Domelands Wilderness.
#24S13 feeds the last stretch of road to Rattlesnake Meadow. Taylor Creek near 24S43, features numerous waterfalls leading to the South Fork of the Kern River
#24S12 Cannell Meadow & Pine Flat. The Cannell Meadow National Recreation Trail runs thru here, from Big Meadow down to Kernville, CA.
Just south of Olancha, off US Hwy 395 is a dirt road that takes you 5 miles up to an oak canyon lined with rocks. There are several primitive camp sites along the Walker Creek. A high clearance vehicle may be needed in some sections, but 4×4 is not required. Small RVs might attempt this, but if the first mile frightens you, turn around while you’re ahead.
This private, shaded, creek area is perfect for those traveling Highway 395, looking for a quick and free camp spot near Olancha, CA
Shady picnic or camp spots above 4000′ elevation.
Hiking trails at the end of the road lead deep into the mountains. One on the right takes you to waterfalls. The trail on the left will take you to meet up with the Sage Flat Trail, which leads up to Olancha Pass, Summit Meadows & a small lake, in the South Sierra Wilderness. The Pacific Crest Trail runs the ridges here, just west of Monache Meadows, which is at 8000′ elevation, way above here – up on top.
US 395 highway – the dirt road turn off is very close to a gas station, and it maybe be signed, or not. The gas stop may be in business, or perhaps not. This is rural California, wide open desert and things come and go quickly.
On a good topo map, located Olancha Creek and Summit Creek to the south. Walker Creek is the canyon in between those two, just so know where you are going and can visualize. This one is an easy-to-miss dirt road turn off – especially if you are going over 50 mph.
Open Camping in Sequoia National Forest – Forest Road Camping
Seeking secluded campsites? This is one of the best areas to camp in pine forest w/ privacy, relatively close to Southern California. Plenty of primitive car camping on the dirt roads throughout this whole Sequoia & Kern River area.
No facilities. No picnic tables, no toilet, no fees. Just a rock campfire ring & a clearing. Previously used sites have already been established usually near streams. Try to use these first, if at all possible. It takes a bit of exploring but you will find the perfect spot. Don’t even attempt to try to find these kinds of camp spots at night. They are often buried deep in the forest with no visible markers what-so-ever. But in trade, you will be lulled to sleep by your own private mini waterfall & no RV generators. Many of these back roads are closed & gated during winter months due to snow & rock slides.
No amenities are available in this neck of the woods, but plenty of seclusion & wilderness. Check official Wilderness rules for proper knowledge of the area restrictions. You must get a free camp fire permit from the ranger station in order to build a fire outside of a developed campground. A large shovel, plus bucket w/ water are a bare minimum for the privilege of camping like this. Certain dry seasons (summers into autumn) have very strict camp fire restrictions. Check with the ranger to see the latest on building campfires on the back roads.
A Sequoia Forest Service Map is highly advised for this area. There are so many dirt roads for dispersed primitive camping on the back roads. Due to weather & erosion, some roads may require 4×4 or high clearance, so come prepared with a plan B.
Camping Checklist to make sure you’ll have what you need. The drive up from the Los Angeles area averages 3-4 hours and is well worth the trip. Once you’ve found that perfect spot, take detailed note of it, for the next time you visit the area. Then, you will be able to get there easily in the middle of the night, if need be.
Backroad Camping Sequoia: Follow the forest road numbers with your Sequoia map to discover amazing back road camping options. Your own private stream or meadow. Secluded campsites with your own mini waterfall.
elevation 5800′ – Canyon Creek connects Lake Faucherie, Sawmill Lake and Bowman Reservoir in the Sierra, Tahoe National Forest. 20+ miles of backroad travel, off I-80.
While many consider Faucherie to be the most beautiful scenic lake, Sawmill Lake just downstream a couple of miles is still quite attractive – with dense forests and a granite mountain backdrop. Sawmill is especially nice for those who like to primitive camp, ouside of developed campgrounds. Way off the interstate @ Hwy 20, tucked in way back behind Bowman Lake a few miles, you can find Sawmill Lake.
Fishing and camping, kayaking and canoeing are all popular recreation around this lake. A trailhead on the northend of the lake leads out to even more alpine lakes (a day hike “lake loop” or backpacking option). The Pacific Crest Trail is also routed nearby.
No motorized boats or watercraft allowed. No boat ramps, no pavement, no picnic tables, no bathrooms, no fees.
Free Camping Lake
The north shoreline is abundant with dispersed campsites: metal fire rings and a clearing only; no picnic tables, no toilets. Self sufficient campers only. Campfire permits, a water bucket and a shovel are required. During extreme fire restrictions campfires may not be allowed. Check with local rangers for up to date info.
Most campsites are drive up and park, while others closer to the shoreline have only walk-in access. Hauling your gear down hill won’t seem unthinkable once you’ve seen the lakeside views. There is even a camp below the dam, next to the waterfall.
The main access Road #843-037 is very rocky and 4x4s love to frequent the area. The backroads here are best suite for truck travel, high clearance vehicles, off-roaders and SUVs. No small RVs or trailers. Passenger cars are not recommended. The access roads around the lake and up to the lake are dusty and rugged. The road below the dam is quite rough w/ rocks.
The water at Sawmill Lake is crystal clear snowmelt. The lakes around here are managed by Nevada Irrigation District, so this is why there are no engines allowed on the lake. This canyon area closes to public entry during winter months (NOV-APRIL), due to deep snow.