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

BLM Sand Dunes

dumontdunes

Sand dunes are popular spots for tourists, travelers, RVers and off-roaders. Death Valley National Park has many large areas for dunes, Mojave National Preserve has the Kelso Dunes.

Fortunately, those places do not allow driving on the dunes, which is exactly what the off-road boys want to do. Sand flying, motors screaming, music blasting, bon fires blazing and no silence found until the wee hours of early morning.

Autumn, Winter & Spring are the busy months for ‘froaders in the deserts, since summer temps can soar into triple digits heat daily.

Camping out near “the dunes” is usually a big, freaking, free-for-all, outdoors with the latest in motorized toys. Recreation Vehicles encircling bonfires (camp formation for a large group), toy box haulers, trailers, families, and maybe a massive BBQ setup.

OHV (off highway vehicle)
Vehicular Recreation Area

California BLM Desert Sand Dunes

luxurycamper

Below is a list of California Sand Dunes overseen by the Bureau of Land Management.

Arroyo Salado / Ocotillo Wells
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
Located 10 mi. west of Highway 86 on Highway 78. Rolling hills and sand washes. Designated “Open Area” consisting of 4,800 acres. Adjacent to Ocotillo Wells Vehicular Recreation Area. Near Split Mountain, Anza Borrego Desert

Dumont Dunes Mojave
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
Located 30 mi. north of Baker on Hwy 127, off Dumont Dunes Rd. Steep and tall sand dunes. Designated “Open Area” of 8,150 acres. South of Death Valley National Park.

Dumont Saabaru AWD

Dumont w/ the Saabaru AWD

Glamis / Gecko Road
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
Holiday weekends = NUTS!! Approximately 22,000 acres. Located 25 mi. east of Brawley on HIGHWAY 78. Sand Dunes. Designated “Open Area” Danger: Adjacent to military bombing range.  Contact the El Centro BLM

Imperial Sand Dunes / Buttercup Valley
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
Approximately 11,000 acres. Located 10 mi. southeast of Niland on the Niland Glamis Rd. Sand Dunes are designated “Open Area”. Watch for closed area boundary at south end of area. CA Highway 78 near Brawley.  Contact the El Centro BLM

Mojave El Mirage / Shadow Mountains
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
Located 10 mi. west of Adelanto on Crippen/El Mirage Road. Dry lake Bed. Heavy use area. many non-motorized and motorized recreation – including aircrafts. Area consists of 24,000 acres.

Olancha Dunes OHV
Highway US 395 @ jct 190
Thousands of acres w/ open camping, located 5 miles from Hwy 395. In between Eastern Sierra range, Olancha & Death Valley National Park. Contact the Ridgecrest BLM

Plaster City / Yuha Basin
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
South side of Anza Borrego Desert State Park. 15 mi. west of El Centro. Located on county Highway S-80. Consists of 41,000 acres of rolling hills and desert flats. Military bombing range north of area is closed to entry.   Contact the El Centro BLM

Sand Up Close and Personal
Superstition Mountain
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
Located 15 mi. NW of El Centro via Highway S-8, Huff, and Wheeler Roads. Varied terrain consisting of 13,000 acres; dry lakes, badlands, rocky mountains, and sand dunes. Military bombing range north and south of area is closed to entry.   Contact the El Centro BLM

Rasor OHV Recreation Area
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
Located 45 mi. northwest of Barstow, CA on Rasor Road. Sand washes and dunes, mesquite thickets. Designated “Open Area” consisting of 22,500 acres. Contact the Barstow BLM

Rice Valley Dunes
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
Located 5 mi. south of Rice Valley off of Highway 62. Access is Santa Fe Road. Sand dunes. Designated “Open Area” consisting of 3,770 acres. Area of little use. Danger: Contaminated with unexploded ordinance.

Road to Kelso Dunes

Road to Kelso Dunes

BLM open camping hiking camping RVs 4WD

see also California Coastal Dunes at Oceano: Pismo Dunes