San Diego Backcountry
600,000 acres of SoCal desert
BLOOM: February thru May Anza Park elevations range from low to high. Lowest near eastern border of park (next to the Salton Sea) to the upper reaches of the western slopes @ 4000′ of the Laguna mountains. Lower elevations sprout up first; Micro flowers, Easter-egg-color splendor in the dry washes. Higher elevations bloom later (along w/ areas on San Diego County Rd S-2, the Great Overland Stage Route)
Drive from Temecula to Warner Springs, and then proceed east – out to the Salton Sea via Back Road Highway #S22 (Montezuma Grade). A great route to take thru the Borrego State Park – for the full gamut in vegetation & altitude. Grapevine Canyon is an alternate off road route down a scenic canyon. Culp Valley has a small campground, plus lots of boulders and decent views to the Borrego Valley. Off the highway, on dirt, one-lane side roads lead to many primitive spots. Perfect for private picnics, stargazing or overnight camping.
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.
Salmon Creek, Kern Plateau –
Sequoia National Forest
Looking to stay away from the masses camping at the Kern River?
Horse Meadow Campground can be found on the east side of the Kern River, up on the Kern Plateau. Up the infamous, steep and rugged Shermans Pass Road. How exciting!
Climb the hill slowly and cautiously, no guardrails. Up the grade, Shermans eastbound – out of the dryness of the Kern canyon. Find Cherry Hill Road, that is also the Big Meadow turn off: Forest Road# 22S12, a long, narrow dirt road leads from paved Shermans Pass Road, 10 miles out to this ideal campground. Far enough off the main road, so you won’t see much of a crowd out here.
Hunters, horse campers and hikers really like this spot. Mountain bikers are known to frequent the region as well. Forest, meadows, trails, creeks, nature, all around. Dome Land Wilderness is close by; Waterfalls hikes, swimming holes, viewpoints. Fishing, hunting, horseback trails. Dirt roads and single track trails all over – all within the vicinity of Big Meadow.
From the main Rd #22S12, the camp access road #23S08 will lead out to the NFS Campground – HORSE MEADOW. Located at higher elevation forests – 3000′ feet higher than the Kern River!
Nice forested, high country camp spots in a developed campground. The long, access road is worth it for all the scenery and seclusion. Vault toilets, piped water, maybe a small fee. Open summer into autumn, closes for winter months.
Horse Meadow Campground
• Elevation: 7600′
• Number of Sites: 41
• Vehicle Access: RV 23′ max
• Campsites Reservation: No
• Camp Fee: Yes
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: June – November
• Trailheads: Salmon Creek
Developed Campground @ Salmon Creek Trail #33E36. Hiking trailheads lead off to various destinations like, Salmon Creek Falls, Big Meadow, Cannel Meadows and Dome Lands.
SUMMERTIME: If you are coming in from Kennedy Meadows on the EAST (or the Mojave desert US 395) – first verify that the Sherman Pass is OPEN for through traffic. Ask road conditions with local rangers ahead of time. ANY amount of snow will close this whole paved route for the winter season, up until June sometimes.
Over 30 miles (one way) to the nearest general store for supplies. Pack ‘block ice’ in the cooler, instead of cubes.
Yellow Stake Camp Sites / Back Roads Camping NFS
near Cajon Pass, Big Bear & Idyllwild CA
YELLOW POST CAMPS are dispersed camping sites on the back roads in Southern California, where fire danger is greatest. Forest authorities have designated certain spots as ‘fire safe’ for remote, open camping options around Big Bear Lake, Fawnskin and the Idyllwild mountain area.
If you prefer to stay out of the developed campgrounds, you will be the minority. But you must know how to read a map well to reach these beauties.
SoCal camping doesn’t have to mean crowded campgrounds. Seek your seclusion on the dirt back roads, where there are no fees, minimal noises & a private site waiting just for you. These are usually on a first come, first serve basis. A high clearance vehicle (SUV, truck or 4×4) may be needed to reach some of the premium camp spots, but there are also sites accessible by passenger cars. And, of course, a fire permit is required.
In the San Bernardino National Forest there are several back woods ‘fire safe’ camping spots, that are noted with a single yellow post & some may require reservations in busy summer months. You can find out more on reserving from the Big Bear Discovery Center, 909-382-2790
Extra caution should be used when winds are high, camp fires are often banned due to wildfire danger. Check with local rangers for up to date conditions and always get your campfire permit.
No restrooms, no water, no facilities. Just a dirt road, a fire ring & a single picnic table. Hopefully your table will not be shot up, by the local rednecks who ‘get off’ doing stupid stuff like this. Pick up any litter & leave the place better than your found it.
These backroad camps are perfect for the 4×4 group, stressed out social club, church group w/ rugged van, or the city SUVer who wants to get away from the crowds. The most sought after camp spots are nearest to the lake or a site accessible by RVs and horse trailers, but there are many more excellent camp sites to be discovered. USDA Forest Service Map is highly advised to reach these remote areas. There are rugged dirt roads that lead to some of these spots. A passenger car is sometimes not suitable for all dirt roads. Wet weather changes everything on dirt roads. Often routes close for winter w/ locked gates.
Redwood forests with sweet tunes out-of-doors, at the river.
THIRTY YEARS running – this is an epic NorCal summertime music event. The celebration of reggae music in Northern California, at French’s Camp – right on the Eel River. Glorious surroundings, excellent redwoods camping all over the region!
Weaverville Chamber of Commerce & E Clampus Vitus (ECV #62) present NorCal’s summertime CarShow in Weaverville, a highlight of the Trinity River region. This classic auto display is held at a beautiful small town location & it’s been running for years. Event festivities spread out between the SuperMarket parking lot and Lee Fong Park, near downtown Weaverville, California; Camping & fishing are superb in these forests at this time of year. Make a long weekend of it!
Enjoy raffle prizes, Clamper breakfast, raffles, vendors, VFW Tri-Tip Lunch, Music, Shuttle Service to Historic Downtown Weaverville beginning 10 am Saturday.
This auto show event may have been previously referred to as “Car Show in The Park”
Wanna vacation near a lake this season? So does everyone else in California.
“Mountains” & “lakes” are the top camping destinations sought by most web surfers. Be prepared to search for your ultimate lake side camp. Summertime is prime time at all water sources, so make your reservations, or better yet – find a secluded lake all to yourself. (4×4 may be required).
Lakes area recreation & camping sites in California
Several miles south of the town of Needles numerous desert washes cross the highway with dirt roads leading off into both directions. Turtle Mountain is just one dirt road to explore in this region, but there are many more unmarked, secluded roads. This region is perfect for “campers in-route” traveling who need a quick overnight camp spot (off the freeway).
Turtle Mountain Road is a one lane dirt road that runs next to a wash, in between Turtle Mountain Wilderness and Stepladder Mountain Wilderness. Leading approx 12 miles from US Highway 95 to the northern edge of the desert wilderness. The Turtle Mountain route continues westward to meet Water Road with Old Woman Mountain Wilderness nearby. Sunflower Springs Road continues north to Essex @ Interstate 40
BLM signage along US Hwy 95 is minimal. Look for vertical brown markers w/ reflectors, numbers or names. Driving slower than typical traffic, coast at 50 mph and keep your eyes peeled to the west side. Turtle Mountain Rd is marked at the pavement, but the marker is very small.
Eastern California Desert Wildflowers
Exploring the eastern side of Southern California, one can find the Colorado River and Arizona border region an excellent destination for winter camping. Springtime offers wildflower blooms, open camping and decent weather with sunny 70 degree days. Wildflowers and BLM beauty awaits those who venture off the paved routes.
Palo Verde trees line the washes and much vegetation can be seen throughout this remote region. Cacti include the cholla, ocotillo, barrel, beavertail, just to name a few. Wildflower blooms here are just as good as Anza Borrego Desert SP.
MARCH & APRIL are both prime months for the desert bloom
Drive more than a mile from the highway if you plan to camp in peace and quiet, as the overnight truck traffic goes all hours.
RV accessible camp spots are few and far in between. They can be found in large, level pullouts close to the main road, but you will be hearing traffic zoom by. Some dirt roads are in better shape than others; Seasonal storms in the low desert can wash out even paved roads. 4×4 may be needed in some areas.
Open camping in this desert is free and there is plenty of room to spread out. Imagine not seeing anyone pass by your camp or drive down your road for days. Camping in a sandy wash may seem appealing, but you best know the weather forecast and if rain is at all predicted nearby, be prepared to break camp (in the middle of the night) before a flash flood hits.
The Needles BLM Rangers Office is located on US Hwy 95, on the south edge of town and they can provide maps and more information.
Needles BLM Office
1303 S. US Hwy 95
Needles, CA 92363
Lake Havasu BLM Office
2610 Sweetwater Avenue
Lake Havasu City, AZ 86406
This is the North Mojave Desert, along Hwy 14, between the 395 junction & the town of MOJAVE CA. Jawbone Cyn is just south of Redrock Canyon State Park. Jawbone Canyon is big with off-roaders, so you’ll see plenty toy boxes & RVs w/ trailers out here. Open camping on desert washes; deep eroded canyons, minimal vegetation. The Dove Springs OHV area is closeby (on the other side of Red Rock, Randsburg ghost town is riding distance, and there is an information center & store w/ gas along the highway… Jawbone Store. 60 mph stretch. Blink & you will miss it.
Jawbone Canyon has open dispersed camping on dirt backroads. Many campsites suitable for motorhomes, toy boxes & trailers. Sandy washes & tight canyons are abundant. Very popular off-roading area, usually frequented by offroaders, ATV, dirt bikes & any other rig you can wheel. Busy on holiday weekends & very popular in winter months.
Jawbone Canyon dirt road climbs up from the rocky deserts to the joshua trees @ South Kelso Valley, passing the Bright Star Wilderness & Kelso Peak @ 5080′ elevation. The route eventually comes out at Hwy 178 just east of Lake Isabella, California. (This Kelso should not to be confused w/ Kelso, the train depot in the middle of the Mojave.)
Jawbone Information Center: 760-373-1146
There are many desert canyons to explore in this region. ATV, dirt bike, 4×4, or just a high clearance SUV will get you most places you wanna go. Routes include: Alphie Cyn, Butterbredt Cyn, Kelso Valley Rd, Dove Springs Canyon, Bird Springs Canyon, Horse Canyon, Last Chance Cyn, Sage Canyon & Cow Heaven Canyon. Bright Star Wilderness is back here near South Kelso Valley , but no OHV use is allowed on these precious peaks. Kelso Valley Road will lead past the Bright Star Wilderness, along Kelso Creek, up to Lake Isabella & Hwy 178 w/ the South Fork of the Kern River. See the photos in the Saabaru.
The dirt route thru Horse Canyon leads past joshua trees, climbing in elevation to pinyon pines, up to the Pacific Crest Trail along the Scodie Mountains & dead ends at the small, historic McIver Springs cabin w/ wood burning stove and is well worth the venture. (PCT intersects Hwy 178 at Walker Pass just a few miles North of here)
Across on the other side of the 395, is the Burro Schmidt Tunnel is hand dug oddity – way up behind Last Chance Canyon & is totally a family tourist destination these days.
Wilson Lake Road, connects Hwy 36 to Road #312
Domingo Springs Campground: elevation 5060′ / 18 camp sites / open May-Nov
Lassen Road #29N18
W of Chester, CA
Loop route off Forest Road #311 w/ North Fork of the Feather River, leading to Elizabeth Lake trailhead
Lassen Road #29N19
W of Chester, CA
Graded dirt road w/easy access. Connects Forest Road #311 to highway, paralleling Hwy 36. Lost Creek runs along this route w/ Willow Springs Campground: elevation 5100′ / 14 camp sites / open May-Nov
West of Lassen National Park
Lassen Forest Road #17
W of Lassen NP
North-South dirt road that connects highway 36 to highway 44.
Heart Lake trailhead
At the south end on Hwy 36 is Battle Creek Campground: elevation 4800′ / 50 camp sites / open April-Oct
Lassen Forest Road #29N22
Mineral Road connects Hwy 89 to Viola on Hwy 44
McGowan Lake Winter Recreation Area at South entrance of Lassen NP
North of Lassen National Park
Lassen Forest Road #32N13 Lassen Forest Road #32N22 (PCT crosses this route)
Twin Bridges networks dirt roads around Old Station Visitors Center at junction Hwy 89 & 44. Hat Creek and Cave Campground on highway, Big Pine Campground off highway
Road #32N20 Road #32N56 – road just south of Subway Cave near Old Station, off SR Hwy 44 lead to small Baker lake.
Road #32N92Y side route leading from Hwy 44 to Road #32N21 along Butte Creek.
Butte Lake Ranger Station and Butte Lake Campground: elevation 5600′ / 20 camp sites /open May-Oct
Road #32N09 connects Forest Road #10 to Widow Lake trailhead and Butte Lake. Road #32N60 is Bogart Winter Recreation Area, at Hwy 44
Hat Creek Lassen Road #18 runs north/south along Hat Creek Rim. Dirt road parallels Hat Creek Valley on the east side of Hwy 89 Road #22 connects Hwy 89 to Hat Creek Rim. A popular hang glider launch area after the University of California Radio Astronomy Observatory, then the road continues eastbound to cross Pittville Rd #111 and ends up at Little Valley
Lassen NF Road #111 is Pittville Rd, runs north/south paralleling Hat Creek Rim to the east side. This 30 mile long route connects Hwy 44 to Pitt River at Hwy 299 near Fall River Mills, CA
Agua Caliente Hot Springs County Park is a remote 910-acre San Diego County Park next to the Anza Borrego Desert. A developed hot springs, picnic area & a large campground. This desert destination is perfect for California winter recreation, offering a small air strip for small plane pilots.
Located North of Interstate 8 on San Diego Road S-2 on the south end of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Local mountain’s seismic forces created the fault that runs beneath this region & forces water up to the desert surface. A decent water supply also supports plant life & wildlife.
For minimal crowds AVOID THIS PLACE on holiday weekends or peak winter months. Spring & Autumn are excellent times to visit here, but watch the weather forecast for any heat waves. Who wants to soak when it’s 100 degrees outside?
2 natural hot mineral pools:
large outdoor pool is kept at natural 96 degrees
glass walled indoor pool is heated & has bubbling jets
spring-fed, warm showers are available
hiking trails, horseshoe & shuffleboard
Agua Caliente Campground
140 campsites – tent sites & RV hookups w/ dump station. Shady trees only at some camp sites. Indoor pool, outdoor pools, maybe a hike-in primitive tub too. Individual campsites may be reserved up to 12 weeks in advance 858-565-3600
Tioga Pass camping on the eastern side of Yosemite National Park, just outside park boundaries is Inyo National Forest lands. Snow is usually epic up here and some of the deepest on the range of light.
Several prime campgrounds line this popular Sierra pass, highway 120. Most camps are located along the busy highway just outside the National Park gate. Behold, this prime choice destination is a few miles back off the highway, at the end of a graded dirt road. Smaller RVs okay.
High altitude, tree line, thin air, snow melt everywhere, spectacular elevations and dark skies make this an awesome stargazing spot. Summer is busy with trailers, boat rentals, horses and day hikers. Locals and fishermen use this small campground often, so tourists should feel lucky to find such a rare camp here. First come, First serve, when it is open (only half the year).
• Elevation: 10,000′
• Number of Sites: 19
• Camping Reservations: No
• Sites Available: First come, First serve
• Vehicle Accessibility: Vehicle limit 22 ft. max.
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Water: Piped; lake, creek nearby
• Toilet: Vault
• Season: Closed during winter & spring
• Fee: Yes
• Operated By: National Forest Service
• Closest Town: Lee Vining, CA
Inyo National Forest
Bishop Ranger Station
RV Camping in Baja California Mexico can be quite a challenge, especially if you do not know where you are going. Best bet is to get a good road map, and choose your destination wisely. Travel times are much longer in route in Baja than on modern US freeways, so plan accordingly. Below are some popular Baja destinations for camping, outdoor recreation, sightseeing cities, beaches & villages.
There she sits, above Lone Pine California, right next to the High Sierra. Above the Alabama Hills….. at the base of Whitney, on an alluvial fan overlooking the Owens Valley & US Hwy 395.
Tuttle Creek Campground is perfect stop for RVers traveling the Eastern Sierra, beginner mountain bikers needing to explore & test their skills, or the avid backpackers waiting to acclimate & get a good nights rest in reasonable temperatures, before attempting the tallest Mount Whitney.
Tuttle Creek is a BLM Campground w/ picnic tables, fire rings or BBQs. Awesome creek camping at the base of Mount Whitney. Hear the water rushing over the boulders; soothing for bedtime or stargazing. The fishing is decent. Wildflowers like indian paintbrush & lupine can be found here in spring and summer, in the high desert sage lands of the Eastern Sierra.
• Elevation: 5120′
• Number of Sites: 85
• Vehicle Accessibility: RVs okay
• Camp Fee: No
• Campsites Reservation: No
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: March – October
• Trailheads: John Muir Wilderness
From Lone Pine CA, head West 3 miles on Whitney Portal Rd, turn LEFT on Horseshoe Meadow Road, within 2 miles, turn right on a dirt road that leads to the campground.
Tuttle Creek flows past campground; No drinking water.
Pit toilets; Some shade.
HINT: On the dirt back roads, on the slopes of the Eastern Sierra, between Lone Pine & Bishop, you can find & fishing holes & primitive camps (free camping) on any numerous of creeks; some you can park so close that you don’t have to leave your vehicle to fish. You may need a high clearance vehicle to reach some.