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

Group Campgrounds Eastern Sierra

agnewmdws

Group Campgrounds in Inyo National Forest camping

CAMPGROUND RESERVATIONS

campground elev spots veg toilet water notes
Agnew Meadow Horse Camp 8400′ 4 pines chem piped Group & Equestrian
Mammoth
Aspen Group 8100′ 4 aspen flush piped Rock Creek
Big Pine Canyon Group 7600′ 1 pines vault piped W of Big Pine; May-Oct
Bishop Park Group 7500′ 21 oaks flush piped Group Camping; May-Oct
Fossil Group Camp 7220′ 11 pines vault no Hwy 168; E of Big Pine
Juniper Group Camp 7000′ 5 juniper vault piped Hwy 168; E of Big Pine
Obsidian Flat Group 6000′ 50 pines vault no Group Camp Mammoth
Pumice Flat Group 7700′ 17 pines flush piped June-Sept; Mammoth
Rock Creek Lake Group 7600′ 1 aspen flush piped Group Camping; May-Oct

see regular Campgrounds – Inyo National Forest

rockcreekcliffs

Obsidian near Hwy 395 & Mammoth

Eastern Sierra Obsidian near US Hwy 395 & Mammoth Lakes, California

Eastern Sierra maps –

Topo maps, wilderness hiking maps, fishing maps
Equestrian trails, 4×4 routes, OHV maps –

lake mary

southforkbishop

Bishop Creek near Aspendell, CA

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

Yosemite Lakes

yosemite camping lake
Lakes in & around Yosemite

These are picnic lakes, hiking lakes and camping lakes that are located inside Yosemite National Park or the surrounding areas bordering the granite wonderland.

Tioga

Tioga Tent Camping

Sardine Lake California

Sardine Lake California Camping

Lakes Basin California, Northern Sierra

Lakes Basin Recreation Area

The granite spires of the Sierra Buttes (8591′) tower above both Upper & Lower Sardine, making for a glorious backdrop to these two lakes. This is a popular fishing lake with no swimming allowed. The water is so clear that at noon you can see to the bottom!

There are numerous, super-scenic, small lakes in this region and one trip here is not nearly enough. Total Escape rates this collection of small lakes up there w/ the ‘best hiking lakes’ in California. The Pacific Crest Trail runs through this awesome lakes area, which is located north of Truckee, east of Downieville.

backpacking
boating
camping
canoeing
fine dining
fishing
hiking
granite peaks
kayaking
mountain biking
off-roading
stargazing
waterfalls
wildflowers

snowmelt lake snowmelt lake snowmelt lake
high elevation means snow

Plumas Co Road #24 is the Gold Lake Road, also referred to as the Gold Lake Highway – which skirts the lakes, the buttes and connects Historic Gold Country Hwy 49 to Graeagle Golfing @ Hwy 89. SNOW CLOSES THIS ROAD, but the area remains open for winter recreation.

SARDINE LAKE ROAD, a paved turn off the main road. NFS Campground is located one mile from the shore at Lower Sardine. Sardine Lake Resort rents cabins and the restaurant serves dinners w/ lake view!

fishing lake Gold Country Lake hiking trailheads National Forest Service Developed Campground

CAMPGROUND RESERVATIONS

Sardine Lake Campground

• Elevation: 5800′
• Number of Sites: 29
• Vehicle Accessibility: RV 22′
• Campsites Reservation: Yes
• Camp Fee: Yes
• Facilities: piped water, vault toilet
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Season: June – October
• Trailheads: Sierra Buttes & PCT

sardine campground sign

National Forest Service Rangers Quarters

Sardine Peak Lookout
SARDINE PEAK FIRE TOWER LOOKOUT (NFS)
RESERVE a historic fire lookout tower, built in 1935. A three story enclosed tower with external stairs. (elevation 8138′)

panoramic

Upper Sardine Lake California

Upper Sardine Lake: Takes only a short hike to get to. This is a pure glacial bowl; the rock plunges straight into the water, no beach at all. Great fishing; ice-cold swimming.

local contacts for this lake:

Sardine Lake Resort
530-862-1196

Row boat rentals on Sardine Lake
530-862-1196

Canoes rentals on nearby Packer Lake
530-862-1221

Plumas County Visitors Bureau:
800-326-2247

Plumas National Forest Rangers:
530-862-1368

Sierra County Visitors Bureau:
800-200-4949

nearby towns:
Downieville, CA
Graeagle, CA
Sierra City, CA

nearby lakes:
Gold Lake
Sand Pond
Packer Lake

maps of the region:
Lakes Basin Map USDA
NatGeo Sierra Buttes Map
Plumas National Forest Map
Tahoe National Forest Map