Sure splendor for fishing, most of the time. Lake fishing, stream fishing, river fishing. Fishing the Eastern Sierra area, near Mammoth Lakes, California can be very rewarding. You may have read about places like these in the sports magazines, seen them on a television program, or imagined them in a fishing vacation day dream. Summers can be crowded, so pick a lake and camp carefully. Weather can change quickly, so come prepared. Autumn fishing w/ the golden aspens and less crowds is preferred.
Most of these Eastern Sierra lakes listed below are accessible by car, others by foot. Look at the photos, pick a destination and get a good map of the area, so you can explore everything around too.
Mount Lassen is part of the Cascade Mountain Range, located north of the Sierra Nevada. The Lassen forest encompasses a large area of wilderness land, snowmelt creeks and an abundant dirt road system. Most of which is covered in deep snow about half the year, so plan accordingly.
Plenty of great dispersed camping along the old logging roads in this Lassen Forest area, surrounding the Volcanic National Park; in Northern California. Many dirt roads are graded annually to allow for passenger car access. You can make it way back there in a car – just watch for the mud and some boulders!
Camp fire permits required (see below). Pease try to choose a camp that has been used before and pack out your garbage.
HINT: a USDA Lassen National Forest Map is very helpful when camping these remote, Lassen back roads. Stay away from the crowds, avoid camp fees & really enjoy your vacation.
Camp right on a rushing river, alone. With no one in sight or sound. Have that secluded camping experience you’ve always dreamed about. Fishing, relaxing, maybe some hiking too. Or better, your mountain bike. Plenty forest roads to explore.
Numerous waterfalls to discover, water flowing everywhere. Mount Lassen @ 10,457′ elevation, is often snow-capped year round. This Northern California region is covered with pine forests and volcanic history.
If you wanna find the nearest biker bar, head over to the rustic and forested Bambi Inn @ Butte Meadows. The place is popular all the time, especially on weekends. Scenic day drive from Chico, located near a nice river and bridge, plus they have cabin rentals too. Sometimes they have big events and it can get pretty crowded and loud w/ drinking and outdoor music.
BSA Camp Lassen is a boy scout camp located E of Chico, off Highway 32 near Butte Meadows, CA
Dispersed Camp sites in Lassen in Lake Almanor Area
Alder Creek Campground
Benner Creek Campground
Black Rock Campground
year round, fish
Echo Lake Campground
May-Nov, no tables
Soldier Creek Campground
May-Nov, fall hunters
South Antelope Campground
Willow Lake Campground
May-Nov, no tables
Northside of Mount Lassen
Excellent back roads camping w/ dense forest and free firewood all over the place (bring hand saw). Dispersed, primitive, free camping, near creek, and highway close. Many forest dirt roads turn offs, all along Highway 44 (California SR 44) near junction w/ Hwy 89 @ Lassen National Park.
Big creeks, dense forests, graded dirt roads, dark night skies. PCT access, trailheads, camping, fishing, hiking, hunting, all along Upper Hat Creek.
Campfire permits (shovel, bucket & water) are required when camping outside of a developed campground. Always check on current fire restrictions. Washed out bridges and landslides are common, which means road closed signs can be found on these remote backroads.
EB from Fresno, Hwy 168 up to Shaver, w/ another 30+ miles on paved backroads
(Dinkey Creek Rd & then McKinley Grove Rd)
Way, way back, beyond Dinkey
You gotta really wanna BE at places like this. Magical High Sierra mountains – California’s finest. Sheer beauty surrounds this lake w/ granite domes, granite cliffs, granite trails, forests, peaks and plenty hiking, fishing, water and boating. It does take planning (way ahead) to make it out here, cuz the area is only accessible during summer months. Typical of high altitude lakes, snow buries them annually and the roads get closed off to the public (usually NOV-MAY is winter). Some backcountry routes become snowmobiling trails during winter, and the Sierra National Forest has plenty of great snomo action (if snow is deep).
Wishon Lake, California
High Sierra Granite Reservoir with pines trees and rocky, granite shoreline. Not nearly as amazing as its cousin w/ the domes to the north, Courtright, Wishon has less granite & less wind, but more accessible backroads to explore, plus more car camping options. Both lakes are part of the Helms Creek hydro-electric project (dams) that make up the PG&E water infrastructure out in these parts – The Kings River Drainage System.
Backpacker trailheads, Woodchuck, Rancheria & Crown Valley all lead to dead end dirt roads – with nothing but solitude for miles & miles. Some might be passenger car accessible. Winter weather changes dirt road conditions (often).
The Kings River Geological Area is nearby, as well as both the John Muir Wilderness & Dinkey Lakes Wilderness.
Large Reservoir with 8,000-10,000′ high sierra mountain peaks surrounding. Pine forests, views, fishing, camping, hiking in every direction, secluded dirt roads. Perfect high elevation trailheads, next to John Muir Wilderness. Great for backpackers!
All boating, but no waterski or jet ski.
One public boat ramp. Fishing boat rentals available.
Wishon is a summer vacation paradise for trout fishing, hiking, backpacking and back road exploring.
CLOSED FOR WINTER: NOV-APRIL = Snow closes the road for winter. For all you hardcore campers and hikers, you must call ahead to see if roads are open. It is rural forest, well traveled, but snow storms will shut everything down out here (for many months). Although, in some mild winters you can drive as far as Dinkey Creek on pavement. Gates are locked beyond that.
Dinkey Creek Campground
Gigantea Campground McKinley Sequoia Grove
Sawmill Campground (dirt road)
Free, primitive or open camping abundant on the dirt backroads in Sierra National Forest. 4 wheel drive is not required for most routes, but a high clearance rig would help. Some gravel roads are graded annually and suitable for passenger cars – during summer months and only for about the first mile or two, off of the main road (pavement). Mud and snow are common on backroads!
2018 & 2019 Hit especially hard by wildfires recently. Certain campgrounds and roads are closed to the public, due to the significant fire damage.
Mendocino National Forest has an abundance of small campgrounds and 4×4 camps, many of which, due to snow & elevation, can only be accessed in summer months. Many developed campgrounds are located on dirt roads, so know the road conditions before you get out there.
NOTE: all camps 2000′ elevation or lower are OPEN ALL YEAR LONG Red text for OHV = off road use, dirt bikes, quads, 4x4s, trailers.
A little bit of high altitude, alpine forests in Southern Cal. Mount Pinos campgrounds are the ones on the way up to Mt Pinos 8831′ on the paved route to the top parking lot, Mount Pinos Road. Only 2 campgrounds take reservations & can be busy in summer months. Chula Vista Camp (at the top parking lot, short walk on trail) has an amazing wildflower meadow w/ group camp area. Drum circles are common on summer weekends.
sledding & snow play
Mount Pinos parking lot is well known among RVers, astronomers & cross country skiers. If the 2 snow gates are open, you’ll find RVs camping out here until winter officially starts. The peak to peak trail from Mt Pinos to Mt Abel 8243′ starts at this parking area & trail head. Cool ski hut that no Forest Personnel every seems to be operating. Portable toilets available.
In the mid-winter, snow is almost guaranteed up here. Families & sledders flock to this region for snow play causing major traffic jams & parking problems. On the busiest of weekends w/ a recent snow storm, you may find several miles of vehicles, backed up from Pinos to the freeway (causing 10 miles of traffic jam in the mountains). It is not uncommon to see CHP managing traffic flow on the weekend. Snow play areas are located at the top on Pinos, if the gates are open.
If not the “Y” – where Cuddy Valley meets Mil Potrero Hwy. is the main snow-play destination. This is a very busy intersection at all times of the year, as it is the main route entering Pine Mountain Club, located 5 miles to the west. Be considerate! Do not litter and please park OFF THE PAVEMENT; keep kiddies, sleds & BBQs out of the road ways.
The pinyon pine forests surrounding Mount Pinos Recreation Area is Los Padres National Forest, where there is every kinda camping imaginable. Outdoor resorts such as Pine Mountain Club & Mil Potrero Campground all the way over to rugged backpacking, or back road motorcycle 4×4 camps – with maybe one camp fire ring (still intact). Windwolves Preserve, Quatal Canyon, Cerro Noroeste, Lockwood & Cuyama Valley.
Yosemite National Park, in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, is the most visited of all the National Parks. Tourists, visitors and campers fill the main valley all year long, with the crowds peeking in mid summer. Autumn is gorgeous, winter is snowy, spring is glorious and summer is grand.
The park has numerous alpine lakes, granite domes, meadows, Sequoia groves and a snow ski resort. Backpacking is popular here, hiking all over, bike rentals w/ miles of paved trails. Plus, the best in big wall climbing. Waterfalls and granite cathedrals tower above the lush, glacier- carved valley. Mighty MERCED RIVER, right through the middle of granite and forests.
Storms of recent have rearranged the landscape inside the valley with a number camping facilities wiped out by the river. Yosemite lost half of the campsites, which dramatically reduced the amount of camping available inside the main valley. Older cabins at Yosemite Lodge are gone. Less camping, but more people means you should make camp reservations early as possible; or search for camping just outside the National Park boundary.
Sightseeing and hiking should be part of your visit to Yosemite Valley. Bring your raft for a float down the river. Stay away from the crowds and take the back roads, with our great selection of Yosemite backcountry maps.
We now have links to digital maps for download!
Topographic maps for Yosemite National Park – and the outlying regions:
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.
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 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 damage 2019) andSandy 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. Remington Hot Springs is a popular spot for soaking. Fishing trails, mountain biking trails and hiking trails, all over. Fire danger is great in this area, so pay extra close attention to signs and fire restrictions.
Kern River above Lake Isabella and Kernville is a better choice for camping availability.
Everybody loves Yosemite! 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 NP, 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 wiped out bridges, 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. That number is expected to increase, as winter precipitation is getting less predictable.
Reservations are taken for camping and cabins – far in advance; like one year. No joke!
3 Yosemite Campgrounds are located next to the Merced River (inside spectacular Yosemite Valley)
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 visit links above – if you are serious about a Yosemite camping trip anytime soon.
MOKELUMNE RIVER: Way up the road, deep in the western Sierra, Gold Country. Small NFS campgrounds, right on the river; Access is long paved, switch back roads, not suitable for RVs or trailers.
STANISLAUS RIVER: The Sonora Pass, the fishing is very decent way back in this granite gorge. Highway 108 is only open a few months outta the year, due to snow & rock slides – so time is of the essence. Summer time is prime vacation weather up here. 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 the USDA issued Tahoe National Forest Map
FEATHER RIVER: Top fishing river in the Lassen to Oroville 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 (Paradise, CA), North Fork, Middle Fork Feather, (Berry Creek, CA) and the South Fork (Lumpkin). Lots of waterways and creeks worth exploring in between Chico and the mountain town of 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.
If you know you wanna head up in elevation, higher altitudes – to the pine forests of California, but have no clue where to start, this page may be very helpful in determining your ultimate destination. We have hundreds of pages on adventures & locations throughout the golden state. We sell all California maps for outdoor recreation, hiking topos to off road routes.
Wanna camp under the stars this weekend – and avoid the crowds too? You will need a good back road map to find this awesome camp site, guaranteed. Need a hammock spot, small swimming hole & total seclusion? Or how about a large family camp w/ Sequoia grove nearby? Total Escape has something for every ones budget & lifestyle. See below for an extensive breakdown of California mountain regions.
#1 SoCal mountains have tighter restrictions on campfires, larger number of people camping in a smaller amount of space, minimal primitive camping options in the forests, more fees to access these lands.
The Sierra Nevada mountains are the prime outdoor destination for many in the Central California region. High elevations w/ granite slabs to lower country reservoirs & riverside oak flats. Folks come from all over the world to visit parks and lakes within this mountain range. Indeed, 4 National Parks call the Sierras home: Lassen, Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia NP – not to mention the 10 National Forest and 15+ Wilderness Areas.
You want big water? Cabins next to a prime fishing river or camping near lakes, creeks with dense forests, then you will have to drive to the mid Sierra or even NorCal to find ’em.
California Mountain Regions Defined –
find the details on specific region for California mountains
Find little known parks, camps and forests within our vast California BACK ROADS data base. Below is a small sampling of our picturesque mountain pages, where you can find the best seclusion: hiking, camping, fishing, mountain biking trails, rivers, creeks and peaks.
Feather River Camping, Lake Almanor Campgrounds, Hat Creek, River Fishing NorCal, Topo Maps, California Campground Reservations, Lassen National Forest camp sites and all the outdoor recreation you can imagine.
Volcanic lands of Lassen National Park are surrounded by Lassen National Forest, which means if you cannot find camping inside the National Park – you can surely find it in the outlying regions – with rivers . The National Park Lassen Hwy 89 is often closed during winter months due to snow, as Diamond Peak & Reading Peak are around 8000′ elevation. In 2011 the south entrance did not open until late summer due to heavy snows.
A few Lassen campground sites may be reservable, more info with links below; the rest of the campgrounds in the green lists are on a first come, first serve basis.
Although Sequoia trees can be found in the southern Sierra, the National Park is located more in the mid-Sierra. From the Kern River to Kings River, the southern stretch of Sierra Nevada is home to the southern most Sequoia groves, the longest river in California, and the granite dome wonderlands that overlook the Mojave Desert.
The Tehachapi range is on the tail end to the south w/ Hwy 58, while Kings Canyon Park borders more High Sierra Wilderness to the north end. If you are heading up from SoCal, this is the most accessible portion of the Sierra Nevada range.
While the Kern River Valley can get hot in the summer months, the rivers, streams & higher elevations surrounding it, make it a prime destination for folks seeking cooler mountain breezes, creeks and dark skies. Springtime is one of the best times of year to visit the Kern River. While summer is best for the high wilderness areas, since the snow usually doesn’t melt until May.
Mountain Home State Forest is a little known haven for campers & hikers seeking less-crowded Sequoia groves. With the Tule River, fishing ponds, waterfalls, swimming holes & meadows, this place provides a nice solitude to the busier parks to the north. Balch Park is a county park w/ large campground, that sits adjacent to Mountain Home Forest.
Both National Parks (Seqouia & Kings) are both busy in summer & tourists can be seen lining the main road, Highway 198. Crystal Cave & Boyden Cavern both offer daily tours during the warmer months. Sequoia National Park is open during winter months & is popular among winter sports enthusiasts. Kings Canyon National Park & Hwy 180 are also open during winter, with winter sports recreation.
Topographical maps feature the terrain of a wilderness or hiking area, through colored shading & thin contour lines to represent elevations. Park boundaries, trail routes, trail heads & campgrounds are noted, as well as major landmarks like lakes, rivers, creeks, meadows, peaks, canyons, hot springs, waterfalls & all roads (dirt or paved).
Backpackers & hikers must rely on such maps for planning & trekking their journey. Hard copy, printed, waterproof maps are top choice, but topo maps now come in digital format for download as well. DanaMite has recently started including these digital map links within the Total Escape Map Shop – totalescape.net/shop/
Here in California we are lucky to have so much public land available to us for enjoyment. Numerous map vendors make maps for nearly all of the regions across California.
A while back, the NFS offered handy books of these sought-after topo maps. They were compiled into booklet form called an ATLAS, with sturdy covers & a spiral bound. Overall size is close to 9″x12″ & they are much easier to handle than the individual paper maps. Look forForest Topo Atlases
The majority of California cities are located near sea level, with low lying farmlands and populated coastlines common throughout world geography. California has super diversity w/ the population, as well as the elevation and the terrain. Vast rugged deserts bordering Nevada, from high deserts (8000′ @ Bodie ghost town) to low deserts (below sea level for Mecca) near the Salton Sea. Towering granite peaks with minimal vegetation, to fern canyons and redwood groves at the coast, California has quite the unique landscape.
The beautiful golden state is also home to the highest and lowest point within the lower 48 states; and those points are only about 100 miles apart – Death Valley (-282′ elev) and Mount Whitney (14,494′ elev).
MTN TOWN: upper elevation mountain towns w/ forests and flowing water, are primarily located in the Sierra Nevada range which runs the backbone of California in a north-south direction, separating the Pacific Ocean from the Great Basin. High altitudes are abundant in California, especially in the Eastern Sierra – but most are only accessible by foot.
The coastal mountain range and the Sierra Nevada encompasses most of Central California. The rest of the space is dedicated to large cities, farmlands and farming towns – which are most lower elevation. Orchards and vineyards can be found in the foothills (200′-2000′ elevation)
Northern California has more mountains and rivers, generally higher elevations and plenty more space to explore. Secluded forests, rivers, creeks, lakes, and reservoirs can be found above 2000′ elevation, north of Sacramento. The bigger mountains in the far north part of the state are part of the Cacade Range, which is volcanic in nature. (Mt. Lassen & Mt. Shasta). More water, more trees and more land – NorCal is very different than the lower half of the golden state.
Snow is always a factor in mid to high altitude towns with road conditions being unpredictable with each mountain range and each micro-climate. Winter months range from late October to May, so be warned. Above 3000′ elevation usually gets some snow. Serious snow above 5000′. Some High Sierra Passesdon’t open until JULY (Yosemite Hwy 120 & Sonora Hwy 108). Carry tire chains or have 4×4 to travel safely on snowy roads. Guard rails are seldom around every curve.
This is California – the beautiful, where millions flock on vacation. California is crowded: the population & tourists are only increasing each year. Thousands of people are looking for hiking mountains or better, a hiking lake – each weekend. Many are using the web for destinations, like the research you are doing right now. All folks seeking nature, water, cooler temps, fresh air & views. High Sierra, NorCal, SoCal Reservoirs, we list the best of these hiking lakes below.
Some of the lakes have mountaineering routes nearby; equestrian trails, regular hiking trails, campgrounds, some even have sorta level paved (granny) trails for biking, hiking & skating around.
High elevation or alpine lakes can be accessed best in summer months. Mountain bike, backpack, horseback into these hidden treasures. With any Sierra Nevada destination, snow pack deep can be in certain seasons. Major Highways (Sierra Passes) can be closed into June or July, due to rock slides and late snow melt. Snow shoes, snowmobile or 4×4 vehicles may be needed to reach such lakes, any months OCT-MAY (fall to spring). Winter can come early & stay late at these higher elevations of California; Be prepared for true Wilderness experience.
But maybe you are just looking for some easy hiking, loop trails & picnic spots; Or perhaps an overnight stay near a lakeside camp w/ kayak rentals. California reservoirs to alpine lakes, we have a wide variety listed below.
This page contains links to some favorite lakes with hiking trails around the lake, along the shoreline or routes on ridge lines overlooking the lake. If no good lake page could be found, we’ve linked to some photos of the lake on Flickr.
One of the most remote & biologically intact watersheds left inside California. The headwaters of the Salmon River flow from the Trinity Alps, Marble Mountains, and the Russian Wilderness Areas. 850,000 acres of Wilderness surrounding the Salmon River watershed.
You gotta know how to read a map if you wanna find this hidden gem. For those who love seclusion! This NorCal river region is a prime destination for true nature lovers: campers, hikers, fishermen, river rafters, river kayakers, mountain bikers, backpackers, birdwatchers and horse enthusiasts. Summer is the busiest time and of course, the best weather. The remainder of the year, you’ll basically have the place all to yourself. Winters can be wet and sloppy, so don’t get stuck in the mud. Cell phone reception is minimal in these densely forested backwoods.
Rafting, river beaches, kayak spots. Campground camping, RV camping, tent camping, primitive and wilderness too.
A significant part of the Klamath River’s watershed is in the Karuk Tribe’s Ancestral Territory. Karuk Indians have carefully managed their lands through an integrated continuum with the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystem functions for thousands of years. Salmon, or “Ama” in the Karuk language, was a major source of food and spiritual renewal.
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. Secluded, wide open, or freeway close. Terrain – the endless deserts, the mountain foothills, the higher hills , way above the city. The choice is yours.
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. Hard copies! The real deal. No cell signal? No problem.
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.
OHV area, motor vehicle use, 4×4 camps, dirt trails, forest routes; Download maps for various off-roading areas in California.
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)
GAS-POWERED RECREATION: 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 (2 seated)
SSV = (same as above)
UTV = Utility Task Vehicle
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 (NFS)
PVT – private land / keep out
MTR – motorized
RD – road
CO – county
RTE – route
SR – state route
FR – forest route / road
EXT – exit
CK – creek
EL – elevation
MT – mountain
STA – station (ranger/fire station)
PO – post office
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. Call the rangers, they might know.
If interested, you could call the ranger station and ask about any local off-road maps, and availability. Mostly they have freebie one page print-outs, black & white — to keep the crowds where they want them. Other times they might have real color, printed maps for sale at the station. Maps that can get you deeper into the terrain, with wild edges of reality nearby. 4×4 maps, OHV map, MVUM
BLM Maps (Bureau of Land Management)
Government agency that manages large amounts of California land. Public lands that do not fall into the National Forest or National Park or State Park realm. BLM oversees some mountain areas, river canyons and primarily, desert regions within California. Visit a local BLM office to see the selection of area maps.
Decent & FREE: dirt road maps can be found at BLM ranger station, south of NEEDLES, on US Hwy 95. Explore Turtle Mountain and find free camping IN ROUTE; Eastern California Desert.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Desert ghost towns to Sierra meadows & waterfalls, Inyo National Forest offers plenty of diversity for scenery. To list all the hikes in the Eastern Sierra would be obsurd, cuz there are so many trails. This side of the Sierra Nevada is all about hiking, fishing & camping.
No matter where you hike you will probably get a great view over the Owens Valley, Long Valley Caldera or Mono Lake. So that means most of those trails are hiking up a canyon, or a ridge line. Thousands of trails over this region require a good map to make the best decision for your hiking interest.
US HWY 395: The Eastern Sierra is one of the premier hiking destinations of California. Featuring the granite crags of the HIgh Sierra peaks. Mount Whitney, the tallest peak is closest to Lone Pine. Southern Californians love Eastern Sierra destinations, cuz they can avoid Los Angeles Basin and stay outta traffic.
Lone Pine Lake – Whitney Portal is a great, but crowded place for hiking. DO NOT ATTEMPT to hike to Mount Whitney in one day! Leave it to the seasoned pros. The first good stop up the Whitney Trail is gorgeous Lone Pine Lake, a great moderate day hike from there.
Alabama Hills – just below Mt. Whitney and has a totally different landscape than the backdrop granite Sierras behind. Try some boulder hopping & explore the dirt roads. Bring your mountain bike too.
Cottonwood Lakes (Pacific Crest Trail) – day hikes to alpine lakes. US 395 @ Lone Pine, W on Whitney Portal Rd. Left on Horseshoe Meadow Rd & continue up 19 mi. to the Horseshoe Meadow campground. Mostly a trail head camp, way, way up there. Open May – November
Kearsarge Pass – from 9000′ Onion Valley you can access the incredible High Sierra & numerous alpine lakes. The elevation gain makes this a full days hike; rated strenuous. Or continue on w/ backpack into Kings Canyon National Park.