California Camping River

map river | hiking river | map gorge

California River Maps

Tent Camp Yosemite Valley

There are many gorgeous rivers in California that are perfect for camping and fishing, but none are located in Southern California. None! Yep, you read that right. If you think about it, the golden state is about half desert! The majority of our natural water in our state is coming from the north – so take this as a warning: you might need to drive a few hours to find your ideal river camp.

The easy-to-access waterways are found mostly along highways in the Sierra Nevada – or way up in NorCal. Deep granite gorges carved out by glaciers, surrounded by forested peaks is only half the appeal. High elevation lakes, waterfalls, big trees, abundant wildlife, and the alpine villages are all part of the Sierra Nevada experience.  Raft, kayak, fly fish, hike, bike or just camp out next to a big, rushing, flowing river. Our selection of California maps will get you narrowed down to a specific region, so you can find that perfect river campground, or explore and discover the back roads – for the most seclusion.

NorCal Rivers:

EEL RIVER
KLAMATH RIVER – Klamath NF Map
MAD RIVER – NFS Campground
MATTOLE RIVER
McCLOUD RIVER
NAVARRO RIVER
NEW RIVER
NOYO RIVER
PIT RIVER
RUSSIAN RIVER
SACRAMENTO RIVER CAMPING
SALMON RIVER
6 RIVERS NATIONAL FOREST
SMITH RIVER
TRINITY RIVER
VAN DUZEN RIVER

Sierra Rivers:

AMERICAN RIVER – El Dorado NF Map
CONSUMNES RIVER – Stanislaus NF Map
FEATHER RIVER Recreation Map
FEATHER RIVER – Plumas NF Map
KERN RIVER – Sequoia NF Map
KAWEAH RIVER – Sequoia
KINGS RIVER
KINGS RIVER – Sequoia Kings Canyon Map
KINGS Cyn NP
MERCED RIVER – Sierra
MERCED RIVER – Yosemite Map
MOKELUMNE RIVER – El Dorado NF Map
OWENS RIVER – Inyo NF Map
SAN JOAQUIN RIVER – Sierra NF
SOUTH YUBA RIVER Recreation Map
STANISLAUS RIVER – Sonora Pass
STANISLAUS RIVER – Stanislaus NF Map
TULE RIVER – Sequoia
YUBA RIVER – Tahoe NF Map

LOCAL TIPS for RIVER DESTINATIONS

calmrivers

KERN RIVER: The Kern River is one of the most popular of all the Sierra rivers due to its proximity to SoCal. Hurried, stressed-out, Angelinos (LA) can be at this destination in under 3 hours which makes it a very busy place most warm months. So, let it be told, that summer is not the best time to enjoy the Kern. If you do plan a summer outting, make sure you head for the Upper Kern (10+ mi N of Kernville & Lake Isabella) or the North Fork of the Kern (out in Monache Meadows) where 4×4 is often needed.

The Lower Kern River has only 2 developed campgrounds: Hobo (closed for winter) and Sandy Flat (open all year). Numerous primitive camp spots are available along Old Kern Canyon Rd, which parallels the Hwy 178 on the south side. None of which are located at the rivers edges. Fire danger is great in this area, so pay extra close attention to signs and fire restrictions.

Beer at River

YOSEMITE RIVER: Take note, this is the most popular park in the whole state. The majority of campers want to stay right on the river when they visit Yosemite National Park, but that is just plain old impossible, since reservations go fast and there is only so much room for everyone in this enclosed, narrow, precious valley. This particular park has some major floods (1997 & 2005) that wipe out bridges, the road ways, all the old wooden cabins (at Yosemite Lodge) are gone and only half of the campgrounds are still available. Yosemite has had 11 winter floods since 1916 that have caused substantial damage to property. Reservations are taken for camping and cabins – far in advance; like one year. No joke!

CAMPGROUND RESERVATIONS

3 Yosemite Campgrounds are located next to the Merced River (inside spectacular Yosemite Valley)

hikehike

Way up in the Yosemite high country which is only open a few months outta the year, the beautiful Tuolumne Meadows Campground is located next to lush meadows and the scenic Tuolumne River. All Yosemite campsites must be reserved well in advance, so click the links above – if you are serious about a Yosemite camping trip.

Mokelumne

STANISLAUS RIVER: The Sonora Pass, the fishing is very decent way back in this granite gorge. The highway 108 is only open a few months outta the year, due to snow & rock slides – so time is of the essence. Summer time that is. Several campgrounds are located right on the river, or on the major feeder streams. Or you can opt for secluded primitive camping on the back roads. Find Sonora camping in Stanislaus National Forest.

YUBA RIVER: The biggest play time river in the northern Gold Country, this runs along Hwy 49 near Downieville and also has a major South Fork for the best swimming holes and primitive camping in this region. Tubing, rafting, kayaking, fishing, camping, gold panning, you name it, Yuba has it. Look for more on the South Yuba Recreation map, or Plumas National Forest map.

FEATHER RIVER: The top fishing river in the Lassen – Lake Oville area. Chester and Lake Almanor in the upper reaches. High Bridge Campground is nice paved-camp-site camping; a forested spot where you can fish 2 rivers on the same day. A Plumas NF or Lassen NF map would be quite helpful for this region. Lower down the mountain, lower Feather Rivers which include all 4 forks which feed Lake Oroville – West Fork, North Fork, Middle Fork Feather, and the South Fork. Lots of waterways to explore in between Chico and Quincy.

KINGS RIVER: This one particular river is the longest in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, pulling snow melt from the upper reaches of the High Country and Mount Whitney. The river area just to the West of the National Park, over to Pine Flat Reservoir, is all prime for outdoor recreation. Several river rafting companies work this stretch of river.

CAMP FOUR & A HALF CABIN RENTAL
NFS KINGS RIVER
NFSrangers

hikehike

Kings River Rafters

Lake Campgrounds

Rancheria Falls

Rancheria Falls, Huntington Lake, CA

California Lake Campgrounds

Wanna Camp at the Lake?
(you’re not the only one)

lakes  fishing boating mountains backroad horseback trails picnic mountain bike camps hikesnight skies

Nothing beats fresh, cold, clean water from the California mountains, in the summertime. Find time to exit the urban rat race, soon. Escape the smoggy city life and the triple-digit heat for a road trip to the higher elevations.

View East from Davis

Crocker Mountain @ Lake Davis, California

Lake Campgrounds are abundant in California, where man-made reservoirs and recreation abound. Alpine lakes in pine forests are also numerous in the west, although only accessible for a portion of the year, they draw in the campers all summer long. A majority of the small lakes are located inside the California National Forests.
USDA / USFS / NFS

NFS State Parks

Larger reservoirs can often be managed by California State Park system. State Parks, SRA, State Recreation Area. Suburban lake locations can be local County Parks. A few locations listed could even be desert lakes.

Many ideal secluded lakes are only accessible with a 4WD vehicle, by foot or horseback. Super scenic, backcountry lakes are so far out – that a day hike is usually required.

tent camp developed campground

primitive camping primitive campsites

RV camper trailers allowed RV campground

hikes wilderness access

Spicer

No motorized boats, camping on west shoreline only, no fishing from the dam, catch & release?

No access for trailers? Individual rules for each lake are different. Learn the basic before you get out there.

CAMPGROUND RESERVATIONS tent camp

Lake Campgrounds are so popular in California that many require reservations during summer. Many locations accept reservations online and we have links for those too. Other lakes are so small and remote, that only the fishermen, hikers and 4×4 gear-heads know of them.

outdoor recreation found at or near lakes

  • backpacking
  • boating
  • camping
  • canoeing
  • creeks
  • fishing
  • floating
  • four-wheelin
  • hiking
  • horseback riding
  • house boating
  • jetski
  • kayaking
  • mountain biking
  • OHV trails
  • picnicking
  • rivers
  • river rafting
  • swimming
  • water skiing
  • waterfalls

Silver Lake from Above

Lake destinations listed here have some sort of campground facilities. Some may be mini resorts with boat launch, marina or bait shop/general store. RV hook-ups, maybe. Dump station, it will cost you. Usually these bigger lakes are busy centers of tourists activity with boat rentals, RV camping and certain locales are even walking distance from ‘town’.

Fine dining is a rare find on the lakes, but some lake side restaurants (open seasonally & with limited hours) can be found. Most will require reservations, especially on the weekends.

Other lake camps listed are literally on the edge of wilderness – with trails to the high country. The best little lakes will have one dirt road access. Below is a wide variety of lake destinations within California.

 gardisky_lake

Floating Flyfishing Tube

Red Lake, 4×4 access (primitive, no facilities)

and let’s not forget the ever-popular California Lake List

Grassy Picnic Faucherie Lake

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 Wildflower Blooms

Lupine Oroville
Wildflowers in California 

Wildflowers bloom all over California – from the desert in winter months, to the High Sierra in mid summer.  Remember that the timing is everything, since most of these precious, delicate beauties only last a week or so. Out there alone, all day in the bright sunshine, whipping in the seasons strongest breezes. Flora!Ocotillo Joshua Tree

The higher the elevation, the later the bloom.
Lower elevation deserts begin to show as early as February and higher elevation peaks thaw in May. Wilderness meadows and flowers can be found in the mountains in summer. Generally in California, Springtime – between MARCH and JUNE is the best viewing time.

Places to find Wildflowers in California

West coast wildflower blooms in relation to elevation; Order of bloom is typically

  • low deserts (FEB)
  • high deserts (APRIL)
  • river canyons
  • central valley
  • mountain foothills (MAY)
  • coastal foothills
  • mountain forests (JUNE)
  • high altitude meadows
  • mountain lakes
  • mountain peaks (JULY)

some recent finds:

Carrizo Plain Super Bloom – W of Taft, CA

Klipstein Canyon, Kern County @ Hwy 166Gorman Post Road

Cottonwood Canyon
W of New Cuyama, CA

School House Canyon
W of New Cuyama, CA

Figueroa Mountain Rd – Los Padres NF @ Santa Ynez, CA

Table Mountain – Cherokee Road, N Oroville, CA

 

Box Canyon @ Mecca, California

Turtle Mountain Road, Needles, CA

Mill Creek, Lassen NF

Lassen Peak Lupine Way HikeNPS
Lassen NP (mid-to-late summer)

Lassen Peak Lupine Summer Hikes

more pages on wildflowers –

California Wildflowers

California Golden Poppies

Poppy Reserve Antelope Valley, LA Co.

Poppy Stompers

popstrollin

Anza Borrego Desert Wildflowers

Mojave Desert

Sierra Canyon Wildflowers

florasierra

West facing canyons of the Sierra Nevada mountain range are prime spots for wild flora, especially in Springtime. Lots of rain means a great show can usually be found. Rivers exit the mountains and carve deep into the landscape. Lush green hills, oaks, boulders. Perfect picnic spots everywhere.

wildflowers:
make a whole day of it

Lower elevations bloom first in the year. Remember if the Central Valley is blooming fruit trees, the mountain foothills are starting up too. Mid-elevations, above 3000′ bloom in summer months, but below that – plenty of river canyons and reservoirs are superb locations to search for wild flowers.

Orchards Blooming San Joaquin Valley

Orchards Blooming, San Joaquin Valley, California

The steep Eastern Sierra canyons near US 395, do have some wildflowers in Spring. Rocky, higher elevations bloom in mid-summer. And what Eastern Sierra lacks in wildflowers, they make up for in Autumn Colors (best in the state)

Kern Spring Wildflowers

Kern River Canyon

Kern Wildflowers

Kern Wildflowers, North of Kernville, CA

Kings River Canyon

Poppies Sierra Nevada

California: Gold Country Foothills

melones flora

Shoreline bloom @ New Melones Reservoir, Angles Camp

Consumes River – East of Coloma, CA

New Melones Reservoir – near Angeles Camp, CA

American River Canyon – Hwy 49, South of Auburn, CA

fencesitters

Northern Cal: Wildflower Areas

Yuba River along Hwy 20, up to Grass Valley, CA

North Table Mountain via Cherokee Road – N of Oroville, CA
the epic volcanic tablelands of Butte County.

Lupine Oroville