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.
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
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!
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
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)
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).
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.
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
There are very few camping options along the Los Angeles coastline and what is available is geared toward RV campers and the dreaded, amusement parks. Orange County Coastline has the best camping near the Los Angeles region (without needing to smell the oil refineries). Ventura and Santa Barbara, both north of L.A. also have excellent camping beaches.
blue links lead to State Park pages with camp reservations.
Sunny and near perfect temperatures all year long, Southern California seriously pulls in the tourists. L.A. is a major metropolis city right next to the Pacific Ocean. With 22 million people residing in Southern California, and millions of visitors annually, this region is pretty busy all the time – even in winter months. Off season for camping might be November-March, when most of the precipitation falls for the year, but campground reservations are highly recommended all year long.
Dockweiler State Beach RV Park
Situated near LAX airport, the Chevron refinery and the main sewage treatment plant, this location can be stinky at times. Paved bike path along the beach leads north & south.
An avenue made of dirt, earthen highways, dirt trails, forest roads, fire roads, jeep road, graded roads. Dirt driving trails that lead into the middle of nowhere. No stop signs, no billboards, no stores, no one else around… for miles. Enjoy less crowds and more open space.
If you are fed up with city life, sitting in traffic & need to vacate your mind among the barren hills of California (if only for a weekend), then Total Escape is your place. You seek solitude, peace, maybe a mini tailgate party & BBQ on a dry lake bed, with the heavenly stars above. Imagine the warm camp fire light reflecting off the high canyon walls, your music echoing, moonlight hikes for a few miles.
California has some awesome spots to drive on dirt, get way back in nature. Right up to the edge of the Wilderness boundary. That’s what this one silly “dirt street” page is all about… helping you get out there, the easiest & best way possible. We even got you the right maps!
Most of this is just dirt road driving, graded, some hills, easy stuff. But on occasion you might come across a 4×4 required sign – or perhaps a triple black diamond trail. Having several good maps on hand will help you enjoy these roads, instead of stressing & wondering if there is a lock gate at the other end – 18 miles in.
Some dirt streets lead to campgrounds, some to waterfalls, some to viewpoints, some have loop options & others are just dead end; sometimes at old mines. Get ready to explore with your truck or SUV. 2WD or low clearance vehicles (such as passenger cars) should be ready to turn back if the road get too nasty. Any decent precipitation can make any unpaved road much worse & may require 4 wheel drive, so have a plan B or C as a backup idea.
enjoying quality time alone is not weird, wrong, or unnatural, no matter how many strange looks you get from friends & envious co-workers
Stop waiting for someone to do things with. Quit thinking that your best friend or partner will one day magically suggest an outdoorsy road trip, or day hike, or mountain bike ride. YOU are the one who craves the wildness of the earth, the unexplored, the secluded. The time is now for you to start living the life you want, outdoors, in California – today!
If you’ve just about had it with the pressures of everyday stresses, the wifi city life and the busy pace of civilized society is starting to get to you. Get a clue fast – before you loose your marbles. It’s time for much needed rest and relaxation. Nature is the best place to relax and reconnect with yourself and mother nature.
A change in scenery. A fresh perspective. A real break from the norm. No shopping, no errands, no phones, no television, no computers, nobody around. No one, except you.
Unplug yourself from the hectic rat race and go exploring. Give yourself time to fully unwind: time to think, time to enjoy the outdoors and really find that special place of peace that comes only from earth. Yes, all by yourself.
Call it an annual primal ritual, or a first time experiment, traveling solo can be a blessing in disguise. Learning to be alone outdoors, become more aware of the physical world and enjoying yourself is an important key to a balanced life. Whether you seek a quick refresher course for the weekend or a full blown month long road trip, seeking a new comfortable destination and the art of basic relaxing is the main focus for this trip.
When you travel alone, it’s easy to take your own sweet time. Going slow is something we don’t usually do in our busy city lives. Time is so precious, so you may as well stretch that vacation out as long as possible. Savor the moments.
Take as long as you like for – photography, picnicking, hiking, stretching, yoga, cooking and stargazing. Firewood collection becomes the biggest chore of the day, and it could take hours. Walking from camp, every direction will lead to a new adventure. Driving back roads at 20 mph is luxurious. No one to be your back seat driver. Sleep in every day if you want. No pressures, no schedules, no big worries. Sunlight, food, heat, weather, cooking and cleaning. Sit back and learn to really relax. Enjoy a secluded camp site for a full week, and get to know the wildlife on a first name basis.
Follow the back roads to seclusion, or reserve several days at a unique campground. Imagine night after night of peaceful rest, with the sounds of nature surrounding you & the stars of the heavens dancing across the darkest skies.
Explore new terrain every day & move to a new camp every night. Or make it a “stay put” week-long meditation, in one spot. Whatever fits your needs. Either way, you’ll enjoy the solitude & the healing powers of nature. Answering to no one but yourself, you may feel guilty or kinda selfish the first few days, but this will fade as you learn to embrace the solo journey.
And it doesn’t hafta be all about roughin it either. While backpacking into the almighty wilds of the true wilderness has its good points – along with life threatening dangers possible every day, a simple quick weekend trip to a nearby small inn, fishing lodge, or a bed & breakfast could work for the pampered types. Choose something different and unique, yet know your own limitations (on comfort & on a physical level). Make sure your destination choice is surrounded by some nature and preferably wilderness. You won’t miss the television one bit!
Good California Maps are a must have! Don’t rely on digital cell service or count on online maps being readily available. The hard-copy versions are always the best back up plan. Old paper maps are the very best, cuz they can often show more hidden waterfalls, trails and old mines than the newer maps.
National Forest maps are best for getting and staying away from the tourist crowds. Visit Destinations to decide what kinda place you wanna explore this season.
which is why the golden state population always seems to be increasing, right? Helping you get away from your normal routine and the masses is what we do best here at Total Escape. Discover the thousands of pages, photos and links on this site to create your very own unique retreat.
Desert camping in autumn, winter and springtime months is perfect timing for any kinda soul searching, catching up on a good book, or just gazing out at the vast vistas. Meteor showers fall within the latter part of the year, so stargazing and camping is excellent with the new moon. Temps start to drop come September, so be warned. Mountain cabins drop to their off season rates after summer, but be prepared for chilly temps and get proper outdoor gear.
SAFETY TIPS: Give your schedule to someone. Any bit of info is helpful. A map or written itinerary given to a neighbor or close friend will help ensure your safety and timely return. Bring your cell phone, plenty maps, bear mace and emergency supplies for additional security.
California is currently the #1 travel destination in the country. Travel and tourism totals $80 billion annually in California, support jobs for a million Californians and generate $5.3 billion in state and local tax revenues.
Total Escape is the independent travel site for the golden state. We also list some other resources below.
local Californians prefer…. Total Escape, California, Off the Beaten Path totalescape.com
CA Road Trip / Staycation California / Cheap Vacation California
Staycation: this is the newest media catch phrase for ‘traveling close to home’. Local travel in California. We know it well, cuz Total Escape has been featuring this kinda travel for over 2 decades. Right here on this web site you can find thousands of ideas for weekend getaways, honeymoons, spring breaks & summer vacations.
Spend less money, travel local, stay longer, see more, and really relax. Drive less miles & get to know your own backyard. We have everything from independent lodges in the most remote destinations, to free primitive camping sites on Sierra creeks.
No amusement parks, no casinos. All California, all outside. We feature waterfalls, local hikes, swimming holes, hot springs, fishing creeks, campgrounds, museums, lakes, rivers, wilderness & most all outdoor recreation. Deserts, mountains, country, coast. Beaches to Bristlecones, we have the state covered for local travel.
A good place to start is our extensive A-Z list of all California destinations & small towns.
This bumpy, little, back road route is kind of a “short cut” for those driving from Nevada City to Oroville, CA.
From the Sacramento Valley, N of Marysville, take Hwy 70 N to Honcut, exit freeway and find your way east to La Porte Rd. Take LaPorte Road past Brownsville and up to the next neighborhood called Challenge; Turn right at the small, one room post office in Challenge and continue 14 miles down to New Bullards Bar.
Or, if coming in to this lake from Gold Country Highway 49, take Moonshine Road or Marysville Road. Two developed campgrounds are located at the lake shore, on the east side. Boat in camping is most popular at Bullards Bar. The closed campground on the ridge (west side, above the lake) is called Burnt Bridge and has been non operational for years now, due to numerous wildfires.
July 4th marks the busiest summer week in California. It’s mid Summer for most school kids. The golden state has it’s biggest increase of visiting tourist during this month too, along with the local residents traveling on seasonal road trips. Plenty of traffic, be warned.
Camping July 4th means EVERYBODY and their GRANDMOTHER will be outside this weekend. The majority of big family camp-outs and social BBQ events take place — on this very summer holiday weekend. Backpackers and serious car campers are on the road well ahead of time – headed for wilderness destinations.
Stay away from the biggest campgrounds and tourist traps, unless you are into that. Head for the back country for optimal seclusion, flowing creeks and coolest lakes.
City Fireworks & Parade Events can be found on various city web sites or chamber of commerce sites, which you can easily access through Total Escape.
Fourth of July is also known as Independence Day, with celebrations in almost every major city & some notable small towns. City parades, firework displays, live music, streets fairs, BBQs, crafts, beach bon fires & in certain beach towns, total utter chaos. Below is only a sampling of popular July 4th events within California:
From Lake Isabella down to Bako, along Hwy 178, numerous natural hot springs can be found in this lower Kern river canyon. Old Kern Canyon Road has plenty of primitive spots to camp along the road, way above the Kern River. This Southern Sierra Nevada scenic route, a 20 mi winding narrow paved road, is the old highway that leads up to Bodfish CA.
At least a dozen dispersed camp sites can be found along the Old Kern Cyn Rd, some spots with views over canyon, some hidden & shady, many spots are level & large – suitable for RVs. No facilities, no fees, just a flat, dispersed site. Campfire permits are required for fires outside of developed Campgrounds & fire restrictions are often high, so no fires are allowed much of the year. Most of the gates on the Lower Kern are now locked & only accessible by Forest Service personnel, ranchers or local rafting companies with permits.
2 developed Lower Kern Campgrounds are located on the Old Kern Canyon Road, which parallels the 4 lane portion of the highway: Hobo Campground & Sandy Flat Campgrounds, if you really need a picnic table & bathroom. You can reserve camps by clicking the links.
Miracle Hot Springs – next to Hobo Campground. This hot tub park is closed for good. A few portable bathrooms, picnic tables & trash bins, the hiking trails clear; 2 shallow pools partially filled. Maybe enough room to soak your butt, but not fully submerse yourself. Someone really needs to renovate this place! Update 2012 – the signs for Miracle are now completely gone.
This one is by far the most popular now that Miracle is gone. The hike-in only access doesn’t deter people much and many choose to set camp overnight close by. The local authorities are always making the rounds to double check on the area – which is good for security and bad for the 2 AM party animals.
Democrat Hot Springs
private resort now open? Heck, I dunno. (2017, democrathotsprings.com is down. They might be trying to promote a River Festival held in May.)
The hotel and cottages were constructed to accommodate guests that came in stage coaches to dine and relax during the early 1900’s. Five springs on the property flow at 115 degrees into large soaking tubs and a swimming pool. Closed to the public for more than thirty years, the resort is once again ready to be brought to life for groups and private events only.
The hot springs listed below are Private Property, so don’t get caught – and don’t get shot:
Delonegha Hot Springs
Concrete tubs were built by homesteaders, later a hotel and boarding house were constructed. Stage coaches from the San Joaquin Valley took 2 days to get visitors to this area. The hotel closed in 1912, when more accessible areas of Democrat and Hobo were built. Remaining cement tubs run along a rock peninsula overlooking the Kern River; water temperatures average 112 degrees. This private property is fenced.
Scovern Hot Springs
Also known as the Hot Springs House. 1902 mud baths were being offered and the wooden tubs were replaced by galvanized tubs. A swimming pool and bath houses were added when the Scoverns bought the property in 1929. Bath house burned to the ground in 1971 and only a vacant lot remains. Steam can still be seen in the fields across from the springs, where water runs at 140 gallons a minute @ 115 degrees.
Small campgrounds have fewer facilities than the larger developed campgrounds, but less sites means more nature and less people. Roughing it on the back roads with dispersed camping is by far the best experience for seclusion and privacy
real peace and quiet.
Primitive, free camping requires more thought and planning than just pitching a tent in a flat spot at a developed campground.
Campfire permits are usually required for camp stoves, BBQs and any open fires. (bucket & shovel needed).
And most importantly, since California is known for its super dry climate and seasonal wildfires, make sure to check with local rangers to find out about any current campfire restrictions.
some tips for a good camping experience – without scoldings or citations from Mr. Ranger:
Choose existing campsite in a used area – rather than creating another rock ring & trampling a fresh spot.
Always know fire conditions; get a fire permit if you have a campfire outside of a developed campground.
Set up camp away from other people. The majority of people go to the wilderness to experience quiet, peace, & solitude. There is plenty space for everyone, so spread out.
Never set camp in a meadow. It is a very fragile ecosystem.
Use an existing camp site when possible. Rebuilding and cleaning campfire pits is part of the job!
Camping right on the a creek bed or lake shore is damaging to the vegetation and wildlife areas. Place tent at least 20+ feet away from waters edge. Many camp site already exist in prime areas on creek front, so seek out those first. The deeper you go into the wood, the more you will find. Seclusion is possible, if you want to drive beyond the pavement.
Do not camp beneath large dead trees. Check tent spots for old overhanging branches too.
Do not camp near a mine shaft; Toxic heavy metals or radioactive debris could be present in the dirt.
Camping next to a lake, wetlands or a meadow can often result in abundant mosquitoes & insects overall.
Snow is possible anytime from October to May above 5000′ elevation. Chilly nights are common in summer.
Avoid camping inside desert canyons when the threat of rain is approaching: possible flash floods.
Consider the benefits of potential windbreaks in desert terrain. Large rocks, bushes, trees, your vehicle & even a hillside.
Picking a camp spot on a ridge line means sun exposure and windy conditions. Breezes will keep the bugs away and you can’t beat the better view, but wind can pick up at any time especially in desert regions.
Low elevation in late spring and fall means very warm temps; summer is triple digit heat most days.
Do not camp near a mine shaft; Toxic heavy metals or radioactive debris could be present in the dirt.
Avoid camping on fragile coastal cliffs; unstable, which can give way, caving in, resulting in danger to you.
Camping on the beach means watching the tides. Know where high water mark is before you set camp up.
Beach camping in early summer means low clouds and fog are likely. June Gloom can last months.
Avoid building campfires up against a large boulders or against a rock face.
Rivers controlled by hydroelectric dam systems mean that the water levels can change at any time without warning.
Never set camp in a wildflower meadow. It’s too fragile of an ecosystem.
Lower elevations in summer time means potential triple digit heat during mid-day.
Do not camp near a mine shaft; Toxic heavy metals or radioactive debris could be present in the dirt.
Camping is so inexpensive for the sheer entertainment factor. Reconnecting with nature can be so rewarding and good for your health. Sleeping outside doesn’t need to cost anything really. Stargazing, campfires, and listening to the wildlife are all still free.
Outdoor Gear – these purchases will be the most expensive part of your trip, but you’ll be able to use this same gear for decades of travel exploring the outdoors.
A whole weekend for under $100, seriously?
camping expense chart below for approximate cost per person for 2-day weekend
This list below is published by Total Escape, so you can easily plan your weekends away and your outdoor vacations, your fishing trips, your stargazing nights, your valuable three day weekends. ” Hey DanaMite, when is the next meteor shower?” Now you know!