Bureau of Land Management

free desert washes

California BLM

desert figure blythe

Giant figures INTAGLIOS, on desert floor, near Blythe, CA

Camping while traveling. The east-west corridors across the California deserts are well traveled routes. If you plan to camp, get to know areas managed by the California Bureau of Land Management.

All BLM Offices in California BLM CA

  • 4×4
  • Back Roads
  • Car Camping
  • Canyons
  • Deserts
  • Dirt Bike Trails
  • Dunes
  • Hiking
  • Historic Sites
  • Hot Springs
  • Intagios
  • Mountain Bike
  • Off Road
  • Palm Canyons
  • Petroglyhs
  • River Camps
  • RV Camping
  • Slot Canyons
  • Tent Camping
  • Wildflowers

ocotilloBLM

BLM lands in California are often known as the ‘free camping’ option. freeway close campingNo charge camp sites, convenient, in-route locations, many areas along major highways or interstates. Campfire permits are always required for any open fires, BBQs and campfires.

BLM Field Offices in California located in neighboring towns can provide maps, information and campfire permits. 

giantcholla

DESERT WILDFLOWERS can be found annually, February – April in most of these areas. Springtime blooms draw the crowds, but few visitors actually camp out overnight.

When searching out premium camp sites – drive slower than 50 mph & look for the brown recreation signs. Since people like to drive fast in the desert, make sure to put your hazard lights or blinkers on, so traffic knows you are slow poking. Typically dirt roads are only marked with small, thin reflectors, maybe numbers or letters, if you’re lucky.

Traffic noise will be minimal if you camp away from the main drag at least ONE mile or more. Motorhomes may not have the luxury to travel that distance; they often prefer to stay in large, level, flat pull outs, right near the pavement.

If daring to venture more than 2 miles from the pavement, be prepared for rough conditions. 4WD drive may be needed in certain spots, or in the wettest of weather. Wind is always a factor in desert regions, so keep that in mind. Deep sandy washes, tow strap anyone? No facilities, no services, no toilet. Spotty cell phone coverage. Basically – the boonies!

BOONDOCKING
is the latest phrase for “open, free camping”

Palo Verde Washes

 

SEEKING QUIET CANYONS? stay away from the off-roaders. They usually congregate in dunes and specified OHV areas. Trails and dirt roads are for multi-purpose use, so a variety of recreation can be had. Many people use these public lands, so leave them clean and better than you found it. Boulder coves, palm gardens, primitive hot springs. There are plenty of hidden camp spots within the vast desert region of SoCal.

Several BLM lands are near Wilderness Areas. Camping is allowed close by, mountain biking & hiking are usually abundant. Off roading prohibited within Wilderness boundaries.

hikes tent camping 4x4

URLs within the official BLM site keep changing, which is why we are rebuilding our BLM pages. So you can find what you need, easily.

ca.blm.gov
blm.gov/ca

www.blm.gov/ca
https://www.blm.gov/california

road BLM

Anza Borrego 4×4 Trails

anzawashes

Being the largest State Park inside California, Anza Borrego has certain advantages. Lots of land to explore, abundant dirt roads, free camping and a very diverse terrain. Located in SoCal, this desert has lots to offer the outdoor enthusiasts, all year round.

Anza Borrego Desert

with hundreds of miles of dirt roads to explore

SUV / 2WD / AWD / 4WD / 4×4 / OHV

The Anza Borrego desert, in east San Diego County, is quite large and very easily accessible from Southern California. The park spans mid-elevation, mountain foothills (3000′ elevation) down to dry lake beds near sea level. Large, vast and varied terrain – and full of vegetation in certain spots. Borrego Desert Wildflower blooms attract thousands of visitors between March-May each Spring.

Borrego Valley

Wildflower Camping

 

While the majority of the dirt roads inside the ANZA DESERT are passable with a regular passenger car (on most days), some specific areas and routes are indeed considered “too hairy” and may require a 4 wheel drive. Rains change landscape fast in this region, so know before you go.

FLASH FOOD WARNING: Wet weather (anywhere nearby) can make a mild, soft, sandy wash into a wild, flowing river. On occasion desert washes are ‘washed out’ during big rain, often becoming mini rivers that can swallow your vehicle; Road and weather conditions can change suddenly in the California deserts. Wind can also play a huge factor in a selecting a decent camp site. Know the weather report in advance and always be on the watch for big clouds on mountains to the west.

Deep sand washes, steep sandy hillsides, boulder passes, rock yards to boulder hopping, soggy bottoms to straddling ruts, the deserts of SoCal are indeed fun and challenging. Enjoy your public lands responsibly and pick up some litter, stay on the trail and do not target shoot inside park boundaries.

To find these off-roading areas: OHV routes, camp areas and gear heads galore. Or try avoid them. Keep reading.

the well known spots

 OHV routes

Anza Borrego Desert State Park itself is NOT AN OFF ROAD PARK. If you want the free-for-all, open, OFF-ROAD areas, with sand dunes and terrain to explore, then the list above should help. Some places can be secluded and private for camping, and only one Jeep may pass by (for the whole weekend).

On the other end of the spectrum, most OHV camping areas are closer to paved routes and busy w/ motorized activity. On weekends, traffic, events and crowds are the norm.  ATV, dirt bikes, buggies, quads, jeeps, families, RVs. Often, a big noisy scene.

Seeking to travel to distant places to avoid crowds? then this site can help point to the best destinations. Follow links, browse images, get a decent topo map – and discover private desert camping for free.

Canyon Sin Nombre

Bad land canyons, easy SUV exploring – off of San Diego Co Road S-2

other awesome anza trails & canyons

most w/ 2WD access; high clearance vehicle is preferred (and as usual, 4WD may be needed in storm conditions). Not all 4×4 routes will be signed. Signs get washed away in desert areas, so don’t count on them. Have a good hard-copy, topo map handy – just in case.

culpvalleyOHV

Out exploring the Culp Valley Area, one fine Sunday afternoon.

Anza Borrego Desert Maps

Tom Harrison Anza MAPSDBKCO Recreation Map

The Tom Harrison Map of Anza Borrego Desert is actually called the San Diego Backcountry Recreation Map and is by far the best seller of the region.

hike anza

Wilderness Anza Borrego Map

Wilderness Press makes an excellent topographic map for the Borrego Desert, with all the details on terrain and info for camping, hiking & off roading.

BORREGO BOOKS & MAPS

MORE AREA MAPS

The infamous west coast backpacking route, the Pacific Crest Hiking Trail runs above the desert (a few thousand feet), on the ridges of Mount Laguna.

Cleveland National Forest borders the west side of Anza Borrego Desert, on the rugged steep slopes of the big mountains (7000′ elev). More Maps links are provided:

Diablo Drop

The Diablo Drop

Muck to Stagecoach
Wetlands in the desert? Not that rare, water does flow downhill. Some established well-traveled roads may have added gravel to the soggy marsh areas, but many water crossings are bare, and vulnerable to erosion. Try to avoid driving in and around water. DRIVE SLOW through water where route crossing is obvious. Wildlife need these water sources to survive, so don’t muck it up.

Palm canyons and large boulders are numerous in this desert, water sources scarce. Camping near palms can be limited to walking distance. Several palm oasis camps along San Diego County Road S-2, some RV accessible. Even the county-run Hot Springs Park has some palms. Of course, Palm Canyon is the State Park Campground. Visitors Center headquarters in downtown Borrego Springs has the most popular hikes, hotels, restaurants, with abundant campground camping. Very walk-able town. Super hot during summer, triple digits!

back roads: weekends

Weekends are always busier than week days, in general, all over Cali. Keep that in mind when seeking seclusion. Camping in Anza Borrego desert is always best at least 2 miles off the pavement, well away from the traffic on the highway and for those masses seeking the easy camping.

Campfires require a metal bucket in Anza!

Campfires always require a metal bucket in Anza!

camping back roads

OPEN-CAMPING: camping outside of developed campgrounds, also referred to as ‘primitive camping’ is quite common in Anza Borrego desert. Many Borrego Camping Areas are accessible with regular cars, close to main roads and usually have no bath rooms, or facilities. The further you drive from the pavement, the more likely you are to encounter obstacles like boulders, deep ruts, soft sand and uneven terrain.

Campgrounds Find Campgrounds & freebie spots in Borrego, CA

 

A top the Slot

nearby towns:

other off-road areas in the vicinity

wilderness areas in the vicinity

  • Anza Borrego Desert State Wilderness
  • Jacumba Mountains Wilderness

Mecca Box Canyon


Yellow Post Campsites

yellowpost

Yellow Post Camping


Yellow Stake Camp Sites / Back Roads Camping NFS
near Cajon Pass, Big Bear & Idyllwild CA

YELLOW POST CAMPS are dispersed camping sites on the back roads in Southern California, where fire danger is greatest. Forest authorities have designated certain spots as ‘fire safe’ for remote, open camping options around Big Bear Lake, Fawnskin and the Idyllwild mountain area.

If you prefer to stay out of the developed campgrounds, you will be the minority. But you must know how to read a map well to reach these beauties.

Map Big Bear

SoCal camping doesn’t have to mean crowded campgrounds. Seek your seclusion on the dirt back roads, where there are no fees, minimal noises & a private site waiting just for you. These are usually on a first come, first serve basis. A high clearance vehicle (SUV, truck or 4×4) may be needed to reach some of the premium camp spots, but there are also sites accessible by passenger cars. And, of course, a fire permit is required.

HeartBar14

In the San Bernardino National Forest there are several back woods ‘fire safe’ camping spots, that are noted with a single yellow post & some may require reservations in busy summer months. You can find out more on reserving from the Big Bear Discovery Center, 909-382-2790

campfires bannedExtra caution should be used when winds are high, camp fires are often banned due to wildfire danger. Check with local rangers for up to date conditions and always get your campfire permit.

No restrooms, no water, no facilities. Just a dirt road, a fire ring & a single picnic table. Hopefully your table will not be shot up, by the local rednecks who ‘get off’ doing stupid stuff like this. Pick up any litter & leave the place better than your found it.

Yellow Post Camps

These backroad camps are perfect for the 4×4 group, stressed out social club, church group w/ rugged van, or the city SUVer who wants to get away from the crowds. The most sought after camp spots are nearest to the lake or a site accessible by RVs and horse trailers, but there are many more excellent camp sites to be discovered. USDA Forest Service Map is highly advised to reach these remote areas. There are rugged dirt roads that lead to some of these spots. A passenger car is sometimes not suitable for all dirt roads. Wet weather changes everything on dirt roads. Often routes close for winter w/ locked gates.

Big Bear Back Roads Camping

download PDF maps
on Big Bear Yellow Post Sites

Campsite7

Big Lots

Cajon Pass Camping near I-15

Idyllwild Dispersed Camping

thomas camp
Topo maps, Wilderness hiking maps, Equestrian trails, OHV maps –

California Off Road Maps

Jeeping

Dirt roads, backroads, desert trails, OHV routes, single tracks, dunes, fire roads, gravel roads, 4×4 roads

When you wanna explore a new area, California has plenty of public land to offer. Off Road Maps can get you away from the crowds & the main staging areas. Maps can show you prime areas to ride & camp that you may not have ever imagined. Whether you seek secluded stream side camp sites, with some fishing or a dusty, long, desert trail that spans the entire Mojave desert, you can find these secret spots with good old fashioned topographic maps.

4x4 routes

4×4 Panamint Valley has numerous canyons & ridges to conquer w/ open desert (free) camping located below

Off-roading maps that Total Escape used to carry (altho some are no longer available):

Jeep Roads Atlas
Benchmark California Atlas


The most trusted full-state book-atlas that Total Escape recommends. When you must have a (hard copy) map for local road trips – Benchmark Atlas is the best one by far.

delorme
DeLorme California Gazetteer

National Forest Service State Parks California BLM backroads camping jeeping

  • SAN BERNARDINO OHV MAP (outta print)
  • HUNGRY VALLEY OHV MAP (outta print)
  • ANGELES FOREST OHV MAP (outta print)
  • ROCK CREEK OHV TRAILS (outta print)
  • MOUNT PINOS OHV TRAILS (outta print)

NorCal Backroads & 4-Wheel Drive Trails (book)

SoCal Backroads & 4-Wheel Drive Trails (book)

OHV maps California

California Off Road Areas


Awesome California locations w/ off-road trails nearby. DanaMite has compiled a list of first-hand knowledge information, links, photos, campsites, maps, all revolving around rural California. Check out the ever growing list and get ready to explore the back roads, like never before.

PDF Off Road Maps


OHV use, 4×4 camps, dirt trails, forest routes; Download maps for various off-roading areas in California.

Quatal Canyon

What the heck is it ???

4WD = 4 wheel drive
4×4 = (same as above)

2WD = 2 wheel drive
4×2 = (same as above)

AWD = All wheel drive
SUV = Sport Utility Vehicle

MTB = Mountain Bike
MX = Motocross (dirt bike motorcycle)
SNOMO = Snow Mobile (sled machine)

The past two decades have emerged with vehicle redesigns from well known brands, creating a number of new “utility vehicles” for the sport of off-roading (otherwise known as, burning gasoline while recreating in the outdoors). Here is a breakdown on the acronyms, but they all basically refer to much of the same “off road type vehicles”.

ATV = All Terrain Vehicle (quad)
MOHUV = Multipurpose Off-Highway Utility Vehicle
ROPS = Roll Over Protection System
ROV = Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle
RUV = Recreational Utility Vehicle
SxS = Side by Side Vehicle
SSV = (same as above)
UTV = Utility Task Vehicle

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All-terrain_vehicle
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Side_by_Side_(UTV)

Common abbreviations for off-road on public lands:

OHV – Off Highway Vehicle
SVRA – State Vehicular Recreation Areas
BLM – Bureau of Land Management
NFS – National Forest (USDA)
MVUM – motor vehicle use map
PVT – private land / keep out

Big Bear Backroads

Ojai Map Elkins Flat

Around 2012 the National Forest Service printed up a bunch of nice off-road maps for various popular regions of California. Oddly, they told me not to sell them and I never heard anything about them again after that. Not even sure if these above are available to the public, but if you dig around you might find ’em.

off road maps

If interested, you could call the ranger station and ask about any local off-road maps. Mostly they have freebie one page print-outs, black & white to keep the crowds where they want them. Other times they might have real printed maps for sale at the station, the maps that can get you deeper into the terrain, with wild edges of reality nearby.

Sierra Nevada Lakes

Crystal Clear Faucherie

California Sierra Lakes
Sierra Lake Destinations
Sierra Lake Campgrounds

One of the best physical features about California is the amount of lakes and reservoirs it holds – in the mountains, foothills and the canyons, throughout the state.

recreational lakes – Huge, dammed reservoirs to the secluded, alpine lakes in the high country and all the variations in between.

bowman

There are literally thousands of lakes located within the Sierra Nevada mountains and it would be ridiculous to try to list them all here. Many of them can only be reached by hiking into Wilderness.

Most California lakes are popular and well known recreation spots, but others are secluded – if you drive far and long enough back on the dirt road. Some do not allow motorized boats and most do allow fishing and swimming. Some have campsites on the waters edge, while other camps are up on a hill over looking the lake.

Below listed are some Sierra lakes that allow camping on the lakeshore or nearby. Most campgrounds are suitable for RVs, tent camping, and some may require 4 wheel drive to reach them. bass lake

huntington lake

Total Escape has several hundred more lakes & obscure camps listed under Almanor, Lakes Basin, Secluded Lakes, Yosemite Lakes, Tahoe & the Eastern Sierra Lakes page.

Or just check the tag for Lakes & Reservoir

sierra lakes