Where is your favorite place to camp?

tent camping

This is one of those silly questions that has no real definitive answer from DanaMite. If you have camped California at all, you know it can be awe inspiring around every corner, especially the Sierra Nevada & the Coastline.

Most California transplants get so wrapped up with city life, college & new careers, that they rarely venture past the county park, much less the county line.

When they finally do break away, they are often misled to crowded campgrounds with steep reservation fees and too many RVs, walking distance to a mini mart. Often they assume camping in California is not what they thought it was going to be. Not like the photos they once saw, not the dream-like places of wildness, not the privacy they had envisioned. They may even give up on the whole ‘camping experience’ all together.

It does not have to be like this. Information is power. This web site Total Escape was made for YOU, the avid Escaper, who desires the best camping options available. One who will respect the land & care; Those that will teach their children to clean up litter & respect our precious public lands.

The California deserts are just as magnificent as the alpine meadows; The mountain peaks, the hot springs, coastal cliffs to the forests, and the river canyons!

It’s all good.

There cannot be one favorite camp spot, when you find yourself camping every month. Each site is a new destination, a place to explore, with usually a reason to return. Each season your favorite spot will change & be more desirable some months over others. From aspen trees changing color in the Eastern Sierra to wildflower meadows of the High Sierra, every place has its own unique flavor.

Drive further for less people and more nature!

National Forest Service

California National Forests are a great place to start.

Highland Wildflowers

Collections of California Camping Lists

sierra camps

Specific Places to Camp in California

Sierra Nevada Campground

Gold Lake California

lilgoldlake

Hike-in only Gold Lake, Bucks Lake Wilderness.

California has more than one Gold Lake!

goldsign

Gold Lake, CA

(Sierra Co)
6409′ elev.

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.

Packer Lake

Lakes Wilderness Map

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

sierra buttes

the sierra buttes

Sardine Peak Fire Lookout lodgeranger rentals
NFS fire tower – overnight rental overlooking the Sierra Buttes and the serene Lakes Basin, Yuba River, Northern Gold Country CaliforniaUSFS

LAKES BASIN RECREATION AREA:
Cabins, camping, lake fishing, backpacking, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, off-roading, snow-mobiling.

lakesbasinhikers

California Lakes

mini gold lake

 

Mini Gold Lake

(Plumas Co)
6000′ elev.

Another smaller Gold Lake exist on the granite slopes in Bucks Lake Wilderness – E of Oroville & W of Quincy, CA.

gold lake trailheadThis 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.

bucks trailhead

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.

goldshore

Bucks Lake Wilderness Map

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.

view to Quincy

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. Plumas County from above.

jacks meadow

jacks meadow, way below

Sierra Nevada Lakes

High Sierra, California

hike-in only lakes

hike

Golden Bear Lake
(Tulare Co)
12,000′ elev

High Sierra – Kings Canyon National Park
Center Basin / Center Peak 12,760′
PCT – Pacific Crest Trail
North of Mount Whitney
Eastern Sierra, Independence, CA

hike

Golden Trout Lake
(Inyo Co)
11,500′ elev

Trail #3306 from Onion Valley Campground
North of Mount Whitney
Eastern Sierra, Independence, CA

goldentroutlakecanyon

onion valley trail views

California Fire Lookout

Dome Land from Bald Mtn, KERN

NFS Fire Lookout Towers

Cabin Rentals in California National Forests

Ready to see wide and 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. 4×4 may be recommended to reach a few. 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:

Cuyama Peak

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

Los Padres National Forest:

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

San Bernardino National Forest:

Sequoia National Forest:

Sierra National Forest:

cabin rentals

BEWARE:
California is the land of wildfires!

Always 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.

Silver Lake @ Bucks

Silver Lake from Above

Silver Lake @ Bucks Lake Wilderness

(Plumas Co)

Plumas Road #24N29, off Bucks Lake Road
East of Bucks Lake, California.
a six mile, one lane, dirt road is the only vehicle access into this high elevation, dammed reservoir, tucked back against the wilderness. Secluded lake campsites await, you’ll just need to get a little dusty first. The turn off, at a small brown sign reading “Silver Lake”, one which is very easy to miss – due to the amount of homes, cabins, fencing and driveways in the vicinity.

bucks trailhead

Bucks Lake Wilderness
Plumas National Forest

All Bucks Lake Campgrounds

Kayaker @ Silver Lake

No swimming allowed at this Silver Lake, as it serves as a drinking water source for the neighborhoods below. Canoe & kayaking are allowed. Fishing is also popular at this location. Hiking trailheads at Silver Lake lead to the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail), Mount Pleasant, Spanish Peak and a small gem of a swimming hole, we call mini Gold Lake.

Bucks Lake Wilderness Map

FREE Campground @ Silver Lake, near Quincy, CA

This small campground is actually set downhill from the rock earthen dam, which is something to ponder before/during a big earthquake. With sites 1-5 in a shady forest area and the others a bit closer to the lake, no campsite is too close to another. These are all well-spaced-out sites, providing decent privacy and minimal noise from neighboring campers. No campsites are located at the lake edge, as the rocky dam is a long structure and quite complex with water control measures.

All the campsites have new bear boxes for food storage, cuz ‘wilderness’ usually means black bears are roaming about. Deer tend to frequent campsites 1 & 2.

silver camp 5

Silver Lake Campground NFS

campground

• Elevation: 5800′
• Number of Sites: 9
• Vehicle Accessibility: RV 22′
• Campsite Reservations: No
• Camp Fee: No
• Toilet: Vault
• Water: No piped/potable
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: May – October
• Trailheads: PCT, Gold Lake, Rock Lake, Granite Gap, Bucks Lake Wilderness

silverbackdrop

As with most of the high elevation lakes in California, winter months can mean deep snow and dirt road closures. This campground is usually open through the end of October, but call head to the local rangers if in doubt.

Plumas National Forest
Mt. Hough Ranger District
39696 State Highway 70
Quincy, CA 95971
530-283-0555

See all Silver Lakes in California

Lake Mohave

viewpoint mohave

Lake Mohave NRA

Lake Mohave National Recreation Area

Mojave Reservoir @ Colorado River: AZ / NV / CA
@ the V: Arizona – Nevada – California

National Park Service

The Colorado River travels through the southwest desert, splitting the Grand Canyon and further south, separating California from Arizona at the southern tip of Nevada. Agriculture lines the big river down to Baja, Sea of Cortez, Mex.

Up near Las Vegas

Above Hoover Dam is Lake Mead, red dirt and silt shorelines. South of the dam is a deep gorge w/ hike-in hot springs and then this beauty, called Lake Mohave with the super clear water, secluded coves and abundant fishing.

Lake Mohave: elevation 647′

Desert peaks in this region are around 2000-3000′ elevation. Mohave Lake is actually a wide section of the Colorado River, spanning the region from massive Black Canyon south to busy Laughlin w/ river casinos. This lake is long and skinny in spots with lots of shoreline cliffs, canyons and coves.

boating, camping, fishing, hiking, hot springs, kayaking, off-road, picnics, viewpoints

camping areas below listed from north to south

Willow Beach RV Park & Campground
Arizona side, off Hwy 93
928-767-4747

car camp mohave

El DORADO CANYON

El Dorado Canyon Road, main paved route can be accessed near California’s state border. North of Searchlight, Nevada – off main highway 95, on side route 165 to Nelson, NV

Secluded dirt roads up and down canyons near El Dorado Canyon Rd. Minimal vegetation, maximum open scenery and dark skies. Kayak rentals @ El Dorado Canyon.

No facilities, no fees. No buildings. No campfire rings, no picnic tables, very few vault toilets. Bring your shovel!

desert badlands erosion

deep washes

15 day camping limit

Find your own route with many to choose from, drive the soft sandy washes (with a few boulders to dodge) and camp for free, right at the waters edge. Adventurers: Only for the self-contained campers. Pack it in, pack it out.

Driving off the roads is strictly prohibited. Primitive camp sites can be found both at numerous coves and also inland inside the canyons. The ridges get windy in the deserts.

Always know the weather forecast, cuz flash floods are possible and these dirt roads will be impassible during big rain. This is the main drainage to the big river!

Dogs Allowed

Most desert washes here are signed routes 4×4, but mini vans, AWD sport-wagons, trucks, SUVs, small RVs can all be found camping near Lake Mohave. That is – if you know how to ‘drive off road’, which is not fast, but not too slow either.

Avoid getting stuck in the deep sand: keep speed up and do not brake hard. Carry tow strap in case you need an emergency pull.

Campfires are allowed, but you need to bring firewood. Dogs are allowed. Party animals tend to trash these desert coves, so be warned that there is a fair amount of litter. Bring a black trash bag and take some out! This trash problem could get the area closed off to vehicles so keep that in mind.

The canyons here have giant power lines that cross @ Aztec Wash; they can easily be avoided.

montana wash

primitive camping 4x4 camping boat camping

4×4 recommended @ MOHAVE:

Eagle Wash Road #46 – popular spot
Montana Wash #45 – camping ok
Placer Wash #47 – no camping

The NPS rangers don’t wanna be pulling your ass out of the sand, which is why they post the 4×4 signs. Don’t expect to find help without walking a few miles first.

mohave2011

RV camp campground marina

COTTONWOOD COVE
developed campground, boat launch, marina, lodging, hiking, picnic areas

Cottonwood Cove Resort
near Searchlight, NV
702-297-1464

primitive camping boat camping RV camp campground marina

LAUGHLIN, NV
Nevada, California and Arizona states join down in this part of the world. Katherine Landing, full service marina, slip rentals, lodging, city services and casinos.

Lake Mohave Resort
928-754-3245

clearest water

Lake Mohave NRA
NPS Headquarters
601 Nevada Way
Boulder City, NV 89005
Visitor Center open daily
702-293-8990

maps of the region:

Lake Mohave Map (South) PDF

Boulder City River Map PDF

Nat Geo Map Mead

RED ROCK LAS VEGAS MAP

Recreation Map of Lake Mead, Lake Mohave & Lake Havasu, w/ Hoover Dam & Parker

Hiking Las Vegas Book

covecamps

This Mojave Desert river-created lake is located on the Colorado River, in between Las Vegas, Nevada and Needles, California

nearby towns: (with elevation)

Bullhead City, AZ (540′)
Laughlin, NV (535′)
Kingman, AZ (3340′)
Nelson, NV (2954′)
Nipton, CA (3042′)
Searchlight, NV (3470′)