Tag Archives: safety

California Fire Lookout

Dome Land from Bald Mtn, KERN
Bald Mountain (elev 9382′) Lookout in Sequoia National Forest

NFS Fire Lookout Towers

JULY 2019 – Many thanks goes to Pike County Lookout for initially spotting the #RockFire – in the Plumas National Forest, near Berry Creek, CA

Lookouts in the California National Forests

Ready to see far and wide – with wild terrain? Views for 100 miles out and the best scenery California has to offer. Be prepared to off road or hike to reach one of these destinations.

Below is a list of historic look out towers & cabins used for spotting wildfires. Some are located on steep granite peaks, ridge lines or dirt roads. 4WD may be recommended to reach some of these. Road conditions can change w/ harsh mountain weather, so be prepared to rough it. Thunderstorms are common on these mountain ridges.

Several of these places are cabins, some are stone houses, but most fire lookouts are basic metal towers – with high climbing staircases, so you must be in decent physical strength to haul your ass up this high.

rangers cabin mountains hikers vacation

Cabins are also called guard stations, huts, bunkhouses. Most are located on mountain tops, but a few exist in desert regions. Some are refurbished & available for overnight rentals. Bare bones furnishings, so forget the frills. People come up here for the thrills. To be outside w/ epic views, way away from the urban grind & to feel on top-of-the-world.

Coon Creek Cabin

 

NFSlogoSee the full list of overnight accommodations on mountain peaks & ridges, some near meadowsNational Forest Cabin Rentals

El Dorado National Forest USFS

Robbs Peak Lookout
Robb’s Hut / Robbs Cabin
6686′ elev near Placerville, Gold Country California

Cuyama Peak
Cuyama Lookout is a rough road up. Off Hwy 33, Los Padres NF

Los Padres National Forest

4x4Cuyama Peak Lookout Tower (pictured above) off Hwy 166 & via Santa Barbara Cyn, 4×4 recommended. Sorta near jct w/ Hwy 33

Big Bear Lake 2002
Big Bear Lake, Southern California

San Bernardino National Forest USFS

Butler Peak Fire Lookout
elev. 8537′ (no overnight stays)
located in between Green Valley Lake and Fawnskin

Morton Peak Fire Lookout
(no longer available for overnight stays 2019)

Strawberry Peak Fire Lookout
(no overnight stays)
above Rimforest, off Bear Springs Road, N of Hwy 18

Tahquitz Peak Fire Lookout
elev. 8846′ (no overnight stays)
highest lookout in the San Bernardino NF

hiker

Sequoia National Forest USFS

Bald Mountain Lookout (no overnight stays)
off of Sherman’s Pass Road #22S05, 4×4 may be needed.
Bald Mountain 9382′ elevation; in between the Kern Plateau & Kern Riverranger

Big Meadows Cabin
Big Meadows Guard Station
off Big Meadows Rd #14S11
7600′ elevation; located in between Sequoia NP & Kings Canyon NP

Mountain Home Guard Station
Mountain Home State Forest, Sequoia Groves
6000′ elev. near Springville, CA

Needles Fire Lookout
(destroyed in structure fire 2011)

Poso Guard Station Cabin Rental
open all year round 4500′ elev. near Kernville, CA

pinetree

Sierra National Forest USFS

Camp Four and a half Cabin
Camp 4 ½ Cabin Rental
Lower Kings River, open all year round
1100′ elev. near Pine Flat Reservoir

 

Six Rivers National Forest USFS

Bear Basin Butte Cabin & Fire Lookout
elevation 5300′ in Six Rivers NF / Smith River NRA
(road damage & access issues 2017)

4x4

Tahoe National Forest USFS

Calpine Lookout Cabin Rental
near Sierraville, CA

Pike County Lookout (no overnight stays)
near Challenge, CA & New Bullards Bar Reservoir

Sardine Peak Fire Lookout
overlooking the Sierra Buttes and serene Lakes Basin, Yuba Rivers, North Gold Country CA

lakes basin views

BEWARE:
California is the land of wildfires!

campfireAlways check for local fire conditions at nearest ranger station, obtain a free campfire permit when camping outside of developed campgrounds, and always practice fire safety when visiting our public lands. You can be held liable for wildfires. Outta control campfire, cigarettes, idling vehicles on tall, dry grass. Be very cautious with fires on the often dry, west coast.

see also –  National Forest Cabin Rentals

Campfires in California

Campfires on the Back Roads
Campfires on the Back Roads: permit, shovel & water bucket required

campfireWhen & Where – Campfires in California

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
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/

ranger

Manter Fire, Dome Land Wilderness
Manter Fire [2000], Dome Land Wilderness, Southern Sierra Nevada

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!tent camping

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).

camp

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.NFSlogo

Here is a page with all the California National Forests listed w/ phone numbers
http://www.totalescape.com/active/campstuff/NF/NFS.html

Narrow down a specific region by checking out where fires are active today and selecting a region well away from big fires.
http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/

see more on this topic –

Fire Safety
Camping Without a Campfire
Firewood Dealers

rock fire ring

Camp Fires Correctly

walkincampsite
Eagle Lake Tent Campground

 

NO Campfires?
No Campfires in California?

hiker

Fire Light Cove
Cove Camping in Anza Borrego Desert State Park

Camp Fires Correctly

desert bonfires
Deserts & beaches are the only places for bonfires.

kill your television

Camp Fires
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.

In Certain Circles
photo – Charlie Sweeney 2010

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.

Campfire Basics
Sagebrush could be cleared back another few feet, at least.

Campfire Restrictions

fire

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

Campfire Permits

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.

Find more on FREE camp fire permits

DSCN3700

California Camp Fires

  • RULE # 1 – Never leave a campfire unattended
  • Build campfires in designated rings. Always try to use an existing ring when possible. If you must build a new rock fire ring, follow the guide on FireSafe
  • You will need water source & bucket, plus a decent shovel for building, maintaining and controlling a campfire. BRING enough water & tools with you to control a fire.
  • A ten foot clearance – all around, down to the bare dirt is the best practice. No brush close to the ring, no bushes, no leaves or pine needles. No dry over-hanging tree branches.
  • You might need to clean trash out of the fire pit, so bring heavy duty trash bags, or a spare old box. Shovel comes in handy here.
  • Kindling is key to getting a good fire going fast, so gather more of the small stuff. Wood gathering away from camp is usually better pickens.
  • Use environmentally friendly fire starters (with damp wood, if you must); not the BBQ lighter fluid or gasoline
  • Building fires up against a big boulder scars them w/ black soot, and although it can reflect heat back to you, it is seldom worth the unsightly damage
  • Bring chainsaws or hand saws for cutting your own campfire wood in the forest
  • Gathering wood for fuel — use only dead and down wood
  • A ranger issued “wood cutting permit” is required if you plan on cutting a full cord
  • Firewood page – buying locally, in California
  • Never burn plastics, batteries or other toxic materials in campfires
  • Tossing beer bottle caps into a campfire only litters site for future campers
  • While glass bottle smelting is a real treat among boys at night, which one is actually gonna get their hands dirty & clean up broken glass out of the campfire the following morning?
  • Do not leave any hot coals during the day (if you are away from camp). Winds could pick up.
  • Always douse campfire with water completely when breaking camp. Stir it, feel for heat, and drown it more if you hear sizzling or see bubbling.
  • Read more wild fire / campfire info on our FireSafe page

Drown Fires

Last Final Step
The Final Step of Breaking Camp

 

Campfire Pits & Fire Containers
Campfire Pits & Fire Containers

Stormproof LIghters
Stormproof Lighters

Camp Clean

Minimal Impact Camping

Camping Tread Lightly

Leave No Trace Camping

Camp Cleaning

  • No Soap in Streams, Creeks or Lakes: Even Biodegradable Soap is not good for the poor fish downstream.
  • Bring a bucket or wash tub – Wash dishes, clothes & yourself 100′ from streams & lakes
  • Food put away & dishes washed up before bed time. Keeping a clean camp will lessen the chances of wildlife or a bear visit
  • Use existing campsite or rock campfire ring to prevent impacting new areas
  • Pitch tent in cleared camp spots only (when primitive camping). No need to trample new spots.
  • Do not set a tent up in a meadow, next to a creek or on a lake shore. It’s too fragile an environment.
  • Bring extra trash bags (heavy duty lawn type is best) for cleaning any litter you might find at your selected camp site.
  • Sometimes you’ll need to shovel out the whole fire pit (full of glass and trash)  to start a fresh new campfire. Building your fire on top of somebody else’s mess means you’ll be inhaling all their left-over garbage.
Always leave a clean camp
always leave a clean camp

leave no trace

Camp Kitchen Outdoors

Try to keep all food, drinks and cooking to one area of the camp. If you plan to cook over the campfire, this choice will make much more sense. Setting up kitchen area in between the tent and the campfire is usually an excellent spot. Having the vehicle close by for proper food storage is also advised, or use bear boxes if available. If you choose to hang your food in the tree, bring adequate ropes and bags.

The last person still up around the campfire at night should double check the cleanlness camp before retiring for bed. Chances are there is a half-eaten snack or left over beverage that could attract the animals. Oh no, the GARBAGE!! Don’t forgot to put your garbage bag away at night, or dispose of it in a proper trash container. Double bag your garbage if you are concerned with it leaking or smelling up the vehicle.

Food Preparation

Potty Breaks in the Outdoors

shovel

  • Bathroom break in the bushes? Don’t leave your toilet paper trash. Dispose of in your vehicle with a plastic bag or back at camp.
  • For human waste – Bring a shovel, dig holes 8″ deep & pack out all toilet paper. Do not bury paper as animals will just dig it up.
  • Certain areas are so sensitive or overused that all solid waste must be packed out, check for the local regulations.

Camp Hygiene in the Outdoors

Where to Camp

Where to set Camp in California?
Camping Spots
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.

First off, you will need a decent topo map to find the dirt back roads, the trailheads and the creeks with the best camp sites; a dependable and capable rig to get you out there, plus your camping gear.

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.

Streamside Camping
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.

mountains

  • 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.

deserts

  • 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.

coastal

  • 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.

countryside

  • 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.
National Parks National Forests State Parks California BLM OHV routes California Wilderness
Beach Camping
California Forests
Wineries
Desert Parks
California Back Roads California Lakes