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.
When you really wanna get away from it all, take a week off and head up to Modoc – the top northeast corner of California, where the volcanic mountains line the Great Basin. The population is minimal, cattle are abundant and the campers few. Even in mid summer, this ideal lake campground rarely fills up.
Jess Valley Road leads east off US 395 @ Likely, CA – 16 miles back to this hidden gem.
Headwaters to the Pit River.
NFS Campground is shady, well managed, and spread out on the eastern slope w/ numerous paved loops. Tent campers, cross country cyclists, truck campers w/ canoes, SUV families, motorhomes with kayaks and kids.
Blue Lake Campground NFS
• Elevation: 6,050′
• Number of Sites: 48
• Vehicle Accessibility: 32′ RV
• Camp Fee: Yes
• Campsite Reservation: No
• Water: Piped
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: May –October
• Trailhead: Lake Loop
• Boat Ramp: Yes
Group Camp Facilities (by reservation only)
Modoc NF Warner Ranger District
Blue Lake National Recreation Trail
Right next to camp: A pretty much perfect LAKE LOOP (1.5 mi) hiking trail is worth a serious stroll; footbridge, wildflowers, fishing spots, minimal hills, lava rocks, and awesome scenery. Plenty of wildlife can be seen, including butterflies and bald eagles. Trail is shaded by tall white fir and ponderosa pine trees. Trailhead is located at the Day Use parking lot, w/ paved boat ramp, dock, and picnic area.
NOTE: not every CAMPSITE has a LAKE VIEW
Certain campsites are adjacent to the lake; some are set facing a meadow (Autumn w/ aspen groves), or the alpine forest w/ deer grazing. Perhaps an inner circle (interior) campsite, for those who like to be close to bathrooms and piped water. Large families will love the abundance of camp settings and accommodations.
Paved Loop Plenty of Vault Toilets Piped Water Recycles & Trash Service
no paved camp stall
no dump station
no cell phone signal
popular lake camp for motorhomes
When driving a large RV back in here, be courteous of other campers. Nothing sucks more than driving a long distance to the boonies, to arrive at camp just before dark and annoying everyone else already there.
Those needing to drive the campground loops (more than twice) looking for the biggest, levelest, best camp site – and burning $10 in gasoline doing so, should consider walking in.
Park that beast (near boat ramp area, before the camp entrance). Get out and walk the hills and loops, BREATHE & relax – prior to a choosing camp site.
Unhitch any tow vehicles; use that to scout out your perfect spot, if you cannot hike it. Trailers and large motorhomes will find this place ideal, but getting the right camp, can make all the difference.
Paved Trail around CampgroundThe wildfire: BLUE FIRE burned this region in 2001, but it is lush and green again (2019). Northern California gets some real weather. Rain and snow, more than half the year. The campground closes annually due to snow.
Kayaking is best done in the morning, cuz wind picks up in the afternoon. Canoes can launch at boat ramp, or at shoreline from trails near campsite.
Hiking trails can be found all around lake and campground. Wilderness access can be found at South Warner trailheads within a short drive from the lake.
Cyclists also love this camp, as it is located near a major highway and is a perfect place to really relax, soak in the scenery and get some quiet-nights sleep.
Modoc Forest Road #64 is a through-route, across the lower South Warners – 40
miles connecting to east side of the mountain, at Eagleville, CA.
Dirt Roads are suitable for trucks w/ trailers. SUVs and rugged passenger cars are okay. Motorhomes are not advised on this route. Washboard conditions are typical. Winter closure on this route is common.
MODOC RD 64
Several miles away from Blue Lake, 2 rustic trailhead campgrounds are located back this way – East Creek Campground & Patterson Campground. Less than 10 camp sites each, equipped w/ horse stalls, vault toilets and maybe piped water. Trailhead parking for backpackers. No RVs!
Autumn colors w/ aspen groves. Open, large meadows and mature forests w/ wildfire scars. Cattle can be found grazing all around, many cattle crossing.
Minimal primitive camping options, along road sides. Campfire permits required. No camping within one mile of a developed campground.
The biggest Gold Lake, California is the well-known one, along the Gold Lake Highway in the Lakes Basin Recreation Area. Plumas meets Tahoe National Forest. North of Gold Country Hwy 49, Downieville & the Yuba River. Right where the Sierra Nevada granite meets the volcanic lava rock of NorCal.
Impressive jagged spires known as The Sierra Buttes (8591′) tower above the stunning lake scenery. This big Gold Lake is surrounded by a dozen smaller alpine lakes which make up the popular region called Lakes Basin. Easy access paved highway, which closes in winter for deep snow and winter recreation. The Gold Lake Highway is also referred to as Plumas County Road #S620
Sardine Peak Fire Lookout NFS fire tower – no more overnight rentals! overlooking the Sierra Buttes and the serene Lakes Basin, Yuba River, Northern Gold Country California
LAKES BASIN RECREATION AREA Cabins, camping, lake fishing, backpacking, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, off-roading, snow-mobiling.
Mini Gold Lake
Another smaller Gold Lake exist on the granite slopes in Bucks Lake Wilderness – E of Oroville & W of Quincy, CA.
This hidden gem is a hike-in only lake – and well worth the effort. A somewhat short hike, great ridge line views to the east, although the last half mile of this route is a doozie (moderately strenuous).
The main trailhead departs from Silver Lake and climbs a ridge line that heads over to the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail). An off-shoot trail goes another mile to the miniature Gold Lake, a granite bowl of sheer beauty. A great day hike for those wishing to see the backcountry. Pack your picnic lunch, camera, and make a whole darn day of it!
Swimming & skinning dipping seem quite natural at this alpine lake, since it is a pretty remote location (without a lot of visitors) and there is absolutely no swimming allowed at neighboring Silver Lake.
The steep, overgrown, rocky shoreline leads one to bush whack through old trails, only to be met by a rock slide. Many dead ends and obstacles to climb around, or over. Some way… maybe, or maybe not!
Boulder and rock scrambling is the key phrase to remember, once you reach this lake. Knees may be sore from climbing, up and over the boulder ledge surrounding the lake bowl.
A few primitive camp sites are scattered about on the edge of the lake for those backpacking in, but be warned – they can be very difficult to reach. Much more suitable campsites can be found scattered throughout the area.
Warning: there are no flat, lush meadows to lounge in up at the lake, so pick yourself a side route (on the walk in) to find real seclusion and privacy.
This mile-long-ridge hiking trail to mini Gold Lake has some amazing views down to the east side – Jacks Meadow right below; then Meadow Valley & Quincy off in the distant hills. RURAL CALIFORNIA – Plumas County from above.
High Sierra Gold Lakes in California
hike-in only lakes
Golden Bear Lake
High Sierra – Kings Canyon National Park
Center Basin / Center Peak 12,760′
PCT – Pacific Crest Trail
North of Mount Whitney
Eastern Sierra, Independence, CA
Steep, rocky, gravel road, way up above (and behind) Convict Lake. 4WD may be needed during wet or snowy weather. High clearance is always advised. Locked GATE at the bottom means the NFS rangers have closed the route (seasonally) for deep snow, rock slides, avalanches, or other erosion hazards.
Laurel Canyon, US Hwy 395
Oldest, exposed rock in the Sierra Nevada mountains range. Buckling granite w/ volcanic rocks. Evidence of glacial activity including, terminal, lateral, and recessional moraines, glacial striations and polish, erratic boulders, and of course the numerous lakes. see more
San Diego Deserts, San Ysidro Mountains
Montezuma Grade Montezuma Highway, Hwy S-22
High desert elevations, large boulders, highway w/ primitive campground. No trees, but much vegetation; flat parking, large tent spots, picnic tables, vault toilet. High desert mountain pass, with boulders, canyons and many dirt roads to explore.
• Elevation: 3,350′
• Number of Sites: 10
• Vehicle Accessibility: all
• Campsites Reservation: No
• Camp Fee: No
• Length of Stay: 10 Days
• Season: October – May
• Trailheads: Grapevine Canyon, Pena Springs, Anza Borrego & PCT (Pacific Crest Trail)
hike highcountry borrego
Culp Valley Trail, Grapevine Canyon, Montezuma Valley, Pena Springs, San Ysidro Mountains.
Spicer Meadow Reservoir can also be found on various publications, listed as Spicer Meadows, Spicer Mdws, Spicer Lake and Spicer Reservoir.
Ebbett’s Pass is California State Route (SR 4) Highway 4, which cuts thru the middle of the Sierra Nevada mountains (east-west). Wilderness peaks and rivers surround this whole region. Deep snow pack is common, so much of this region is off-limits half the year (or more). Always check with local rangers by phone before venturing out, as winter conditions can keep these roads closed late into the year.
N of Arnold, California; Continue up SR 4. Passing Calaveras Big Trees State Park & Camp Connell; After Big Meadow Campground, take the paved right turn for Spicer Meadow; This is forest road 7N01. Meandering thru a forest and descending in elevation, road will dead end at Spicer Reservoir.
7N01, the main paved mountain road, is located on the south side of the highway. The highway turn off reads ‘Spicer Reservoir’. Suitable for travel w/ RVs and trucks with boat trailers. Quite curvy, scenic and about 7 miles long. There are developed campgrounds in the vicinity.
The dirt side roads off the pavement can be narrow, muddy, rocky and overgrown, so be cautious when exploring. Choosing a dispersed camp site should be done during daylight hours, and will require a campfire permit ahead of time. Use an existing camp site whenever possible, instead of creating new ones.
Several man-made reservoirs attract outdoor seekers, mountain bikers, campers, canoes and fishermen. Kayakers tend to love Union and Utica, but power boats and sail boats prefer Spicer Lake.
Volcanic features mix with Sierra granite in this part of the forest, and geologic formations make for interesting hikes. Mountain biking is common around these lakes, as well as day hiking and backpacking.
NFS Campgrounds in the region:
Stanislaus River Campground
Spicer Group Camp
Campgrounds only open June-September. Some campsites at the campground are wheelchair accessible. Boat ramp located near campgrounds.
Left fork turn off, Dirt Road #7N05 leads out to Utica & Union Reservoirs. No motorized boats allowed on those two lakes. No developed campgrounds back that way either. No RV spots; only primitive style camping.
Another dirt road treks steeply up the hill from Union Reservoir to Lake Alpine (at the highway). That primitive truck trails is actually a (somewhat designated, but not well-signed) 4×4 route and suitable for high clearance vehicles only.
Spur Road #7N29Y is a small dirt road which leads a couple miles into the forest, over to trailheads and primitive camping options. Ideal for accessing all the lakes (on foot) from this prime location. A fire permit is required. No water, no bathrooms, no facilities.
7N01 – Los Padres NF
There is another Forest Road in California named 7N01, but that one is a 4×4 OHV access route @ Dutchman Campground, located in south part of Los Padres National Forest. We have mention of it on the page for Frazier Park Camping.
Inside the granite maze of rock known as Caples Creek, you may find this small lake, just off the highway. Paved access camp ideal for quiet weekends – fish, hike, stargaze and relax. Snow is deep in these parts of the Sierra, so the campground closes annually for winter.
No motor boats
No RV or motorhomes
No horse trailers
• Elevation: 7,600′
• Number of Sites: 12
• Vehicle Accessibility: No RVs
• Campsites Reservation: No
• Campsite Fee: Yes
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: June – October
• hiking trailheads, fishing, swimming, kayaking, canoe, rock climbing
Bears are active in this region, so use the metal bear boxes provided to store all food items.
Extra precautions should be taken with human waste around fragile eco systems, like lakes and meadows. Use the new bathroom, instead of the bushes (or granite crack).
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.
On paved Bald Rock Road a rusted metal sign reads “Dome Trail 3” which is where the fun begins, on the dirt.
3 mile drive to trailhead from pavement
4.6 miles RT hike
w/ a 2000 feet elevation drop to the river
Plumas Forest Rd #21N51Y is located in the forested community of Berry Creek – opposite from Upper Zink Road. Road 21N51Y becomes Bean Creek Rd #21N36: The forested route passes a few private properties and gates, the dirt road leads 3 miles down to an old wildfire (2008) burn area and eventually dead-ends at the Dome trailhead. The hiking trail descends down while overlooking the Bald Rock Canyon with the Middle Fork of the Feather River.
Rated as a moderately difficult hike: Steep hillsides, plenty switchbacks, downed trees across trail, boulder hopping, cliff edges, extreme heights and rock slides. Delighted by dozens of wildflowers, the old metal staircase still in use, steel pipe railings and the minimal fencing and of course, the big river deep inside an impressive rock canyon. Sierra Nevada spectacular!
Indian Creek spills down into Curtain Falls up the canyon, sometimes within view. Secluded Milsap Bar Campground is also up the river from here. The stretch of the whitewater river is popular with rafters and kayaks. Rock climbers gravitate to the big walls above. Bring a picnic lunch and water filter for this amazing all day hike.
Granite Domes & Bald Rocks
There are numerous granite domes and bald rocks within the Plumas National Forest, most located near the big river canyons. This particular granite dome is situated overlooking the Middle Fork of the Feather River, and it is called Bald Rock Dome w/ 3509′ elevation.
Not to be confused with another shorter hike nearby on Bald Rock Road at a well marked trailhead for Bald Rock, which over looks the forest and valley to the west side. The official peak is named “Big Bald Rock” as listed on most maps.
Kern River Valley is one of the all time favorite Sierra Nevada destinations for SoCal escapees. First, it is the southern most ‘big river’ action for the Sierra range. The drive up from Los Angeles is easy access; only a coupe of hours. California Highway 178 leads from Bakersfield up the mountain to Lake Isabella (exit at 155 for Kernville destinations). The 178 continues east past the rural communities of Onyx, Canebrake, Weldon, and then on to the Northern Mojave desert & US Highway 395
Second, Kern has an abundance of outdoor recreation, from fishing to boating, river rafting to kayaking, backpacking, mountain biking, rock climbing, horseback riding, hiking, camping, & soaking. Kernville is the “recreation headquarters” for the region, where you can find rafting outfitters, camping supplies and rental equipment.
Third, the mountain scenery is very diverse – with the dry shores of Lake Isabella, the granite lined Kern River, or the ridges with towering cedar forests, plenty sugar pines, plus a few Sequoia groves; Tons of dirt back roads to explore, granite & gorges for the rock climbers, prime wilderness access & several primitive hot springs.
The whole area is encompassed by the Sequoia National Forestwith wilderness areas to the North & East. Giant Sequoia National Monument is located along the Western Divide Hwy in the northern portion of the National Forest.
Whether you’re an RVer wanting a developed campground near town, a fisherman needing a primitive site right on the river, or a backpacker seeking the high country, the Kern has a little bit of everything. High elevations beyond 8000′ ridge lines, or the lush Lower Kern under 2000′ with granite boulders lining, Kern has it. 4 wheelers will love the extensive network of dirt back roads, or maybe the OHV areas of Keysville. Lake Isabella has numerous oak lined campgrounds & boat rentals available too. Summer is not the best time to visit as the temperatures soar to 100 degrees & the city crowds come in full force to the Kern Valley. Springtime, the best season to visit runs from March to May, or Autumn cools for September to December.
Southern Sierra Nevada Mountain / Domeland / Dome Lands
Kern Plateau, Sequoia National Forest
Dome Land Wilderness
55 miles of trails (hiking & horseback)
Located at the southern end of the Kern Plateau about 20 miles east of Kernville, granite domes give this area its name. Domeland Wilderness is a unique geologic area with semi-arid to arid mountainous regions. Elevations ranging from 3,000′ to 9,730′ – it is surrounded by National Forest, where the Sierra mountains meet the North Mojave Desert. The Wilderness is the southernmost habitat for the Golden Trout. The South Fork of the Kern and tributary streams attract many fishermen. Vegetation is mostly mixed conifer and piñon (pinyon pine).
The Domeland Wilderness is located at the southern end of the Kern Plateau. This land was first protected by the Wilderness Act of 1964 as a 62,695 acre wilderness and was later expanded to 130,081 acres in 1984 to include the delicate transition ecosystems that meet to the east, south, and north of the original wilderness. These new additions, now jointly managed by the Bureau of Land Management and Sequoia National Forest, are rugged and dry.
Though it is considered within the Sierra range, the Domeland Wilderness includes the overlap of several ecosystems to form unique plant and animal communities. The banks of the South Fork of the Kern River offer important riparian habitats of cottonwoods and meadows which stand in sharp contrast against the characteristic smooth domes and bold granite outcroppings. Domes that range from the size of a cottage to football fields across and spear-like jagged spires can be found in the Domeland. This range is one of the driest in the Sierra with the semi-arid mountains of the north and east crumbling into desert.
East side access near Rockhouse Meadow and at the Long Valley Campground (BLM). Access is via Nine Mile Canyon Road (J41) from US Highway 395 or Chimney Peak Road (graded dirt road) via State Highway 178 , the main route that passes Lake Isabella.
West side trailheads are at Big Meadow and Taylor Meadow. Two trails from Big Meadow can be reached from Kernville via Tulare County Road M99, Sherman Pass, and Cherry Hill Roads. Leading to Manter Meadow, the upper Big Meadow Trail is a rugged hike while the lower Big Meadow Trail follows more gentle terrain. The trail from Taylor Meadow (southeast of Big Meadow) also leads to Manter Meadow. North side access is available from the Blackrock/ Sherman Pass Road via the Dark Canyon and Woodpecker trails.
Manter Meadow is popular along with other camp sites located at Little Manter Meadow, Woodpecker Meadow, Rockhouse Meadow, and in the Bartolas Country at the south end of the Wilderness.