Thursday, March 28, 2013

Southern California Lakes

Lotsa mid-western transplants typing in Google "Southern California Lakes". Well campers, I hate to break it to ya, but California has mostly reservoirs. Man-made lakes & river dams to supply our cities & crops with valuable water. The few more natural lakes in Southern California - Henshaw, Hemet, Cuyamaca nearly dry up in late summer. California is a dry state, the whole west for that matter. Face it, inland San Diego is almost a desert. It's right next to Baja & Anza Borrego Desert.

If you wanna see clear mountain water, with trees, maybe pine forest views & hear bluebirds... with big rivers flowing & decent fishing, then you are gonna need to drive.

When the crowds at Big Bear & Arrowhead annoy you, then the plan B is obvious. Drive further. Drive north, about half way up the Golden State Freeway I #5. About 6 hours from the busy hub of SoCal. For recreation lakes, alpine lakes, real lakes in California. The Sierra Nevada mountains is where you can start your serious "ultimate lake search". The granite peaks, pine forests, water falls and the secluded lakeside camp visions you had of California are indeed true, you just need to leave the bottom half of the state.

San Diego Lakes

Los Angeles Lakes

Lake Cachuma in the wine country of Santa Barbara, CA

The quiet docks at Lake Arrowhead, CA

Round Valley Reservoir in the northern Sierra Nevada mountains, near Crescent Mills and Greenville, CA
Always remember fire safety is key in wildfire prone California. All firewood is expensive if you buy it from the city vendors. It is advisable to buy your firewood locally, to support small town business and to keep the bugs and diseases from spreading to different forests. It's kinda a big problem since the bark beetle took over in the forest near Big Bear Lake. BUY IT WHERE YOU BURNT IT is the USDA's new slogan for this public announcement campaign for firewood.

Collecting of dead and down campfire wood is a common practice in most National Forest areas within California. Bring your own saws and hatchets. Stop at the local ranger station to renew your campfire permit for the whole year.

Twitchell Reservoir on California SR166 (Hwy 166) in the scenic mountains behind Santa Maria is NOT a recreational lake.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Northern California Lakes

NorCal Lakes & Reservoirs

Our northern California lakes region designates recreation reservoirs and lakes north of San Francisco, Sacramento and Truckee (Interstate 80 Donner Pass)

California Lakes near Interstate 5
Lake Oroville
Black Butte Lake
Stoney Gorge Reservoir
East Park Reservoir
Shasta Lake
Whiskeytown Reservoir
Castle Lake @ Castle Crags SP
Siskiyou Lake
Lake Shastina

West of Interstate 5
Lake Berryessa
Hennessey Lake
Indian Valley Reservoir
Clear Lake
Lake Mendocino
Lake Pillsbury
Ruth Lake
Lewiston Lake
Trinity Lake

East of Interstate 5

Lake Almanor
Mountain Meadows Reservoir
Butt Valley Reservoir
Antelope Reservoir
Lake Davis @ Portola
Eagle Lake @ Susanville
Lake Britton @ Burney Falls
Juniper Lake @ Lassen NP
Iron Gate Reservoir @ Oregon border
Copco Lake @ Oregon border
Tule Lake
Big Sage Reservoir
West Valley Reservoir

Northern Sierra Lakes
Lake Tahoe
Donner Lake
Boca Reservoir
Prosser Reservoir
Stampede Reservoir
Independence Lake
Webber Lake
Jackson Meadow Reservoir
Fordyce Reservoir (near I-80)
Lake Sterling (near I-80)
Meadow Lake (near I-80)
French Lake (near I-80)
Lake Spaulding (near I-80)
Gold Lake @ Lakes Basin Recreation Area
Little Grass Valley Reservoir
Bucks Lake
New Bullards Bar Reservoir
Rollins Lake

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Secluded Camping

There are millions of people in California searching for that perfect weekend in the mountains. That secluded stream side camp with no one else around. Dense forest with mountain peaks, bluebirds, fresh air, total nature everywhere and maybe a view. Free firewood around every corner. No fees, no camp host and no camp fire restrictions.

These awesome secret outdoor places do indeed exists, but they are not located in SoCal within an hours drive from your home. Nor are they located in the nearest State Park Campground. These rare finds are on the back roads of California, usually in the Sierra Nevada mountains or further north - in the vast spans known as Northern Cal.

First off, you will need to drive (more than 3 hours) to reach these awesome wilderness retreats. Pack days ahead of time to make sure you are truly prepared and ready for serious back roads camping. Plan an early day departure from the city, so you can be at camp relaxing by sundown. Your goal that day is to find the best camp site before nightfall.

Secondly, do your research at home and online. Get the maps out & study your destination. Find the creeks, the waterfalls, the epic view points. Choose the smallest campground in the area, so you can hear less neighbors and more nature. California Parks & Forests have both large and small campgrounds. Largest ones will be located on main roads that are paved, often near popular tourists attractions. Small Campgrounds are more likely located on dirt back roads, accessible by passenger car, with some of the smallest having only 5 camp sites. Many are tucked way back there in the woods.

Primitive camping is also called dispersed camping, meaning "roughing it" and camping outside of a developed campground. No bathroom, no table, no fees. They may require a good map and a high clearance vehicle to reach. A shovel, water bucket and free camp fire permit are required by local authorities.

Most folks prefer to camp in the mountains, but many high desert destinations can be private & secluded. California's lower deserts tend to attract the off-road crowds, many w/ RVs and much noise, but some lowlands offer secluded camp spots - if you find that perfect boulder cove or slot canyon that no one else knows about. A whopping one quarter of California land is desert terrain, so make these deserts your winter camp options.

Borrego, Mecca, Joshua Tree, Mojave, Jawbone, Death Valley

for higher elevations & mountain camping - 

Start with browsing 20 California National Forest for finding your prime spot in the mountains. Get a good overview atlas for California, so you know where you've been and where you wanna go next.

Lastly, shop for your perfect FREE campsite visually with DanaMite's decades worth of California photos.

tags can help narrow the search

South Fork Kern River

The Kern River is the biggest waterway in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains. Its headwaters start near Mount Whitney and eventually make their way down the granite gorge of the Lower Kern into the citrus groves near Bakersfield, CA. The Upper Kern is the stretch of river above Lake Isabella, north of Kernville, along the paved highway leading to the Forks of the Kern.

The smaller South Fork Kern River leads into Lake Isabella from the eastern desert ranges, towering high above the north Mojave. This southern Sierra side-kick river descends down from high elevations on the Eastern Sierra, traverses through forests, meadows, granite, waterfalls and turns sharp 45 degrees to the west near at Hwy 178 @ Canebrake (jct. Chimney Peak Backcountry Byway).

Kennedy Meadows, Troy Meadows, and Monache Meadows are all atop the area known as the Kern Plateau. Bakeoven Meadow is a slice of wilderness  heaven surrealism, surrounded by peaks and forest, all this beauty on the Inyo and Sequoia National Forests borders.

Monache Meadows is the place to really experience camping seclusion and fly fishing on the Kern's SouthFork. This is an awesome backpacking destinations, as many hiking trailheads lead to the Golden Trout Wilderness or South Sierra Wilderness. Olancha Peak @ 12,123' elevation, can be easily reached by a day hike from the back of Monache. There are NO DEVELOPED Campgrounds out here, nor are there any services or facilities of any kind.

PCT hikes - Pacific Crest Trail access, from Monache corrals, hike 3.3 miles up to the PCT, or continue on to Olancha Peak. Dome Land Wilderness, Golden Trout Wilderness, and Southern Sierra Wilderness all close by.

Now here's the catch. This high alpine, 8000 foot pristine mountain meadow can be hard to reach by vehicle. Mud can be an issue, so can snow. The dirt road is marked "4x4 Jeep Road" - 2WD high clearance SUVs and trucks have been known to tackle it without a problem in dry, summer months. In the winter with deep snows, forget it. Maybe you can get a snow-mobile back here, but you would need to verify that with the experienced rangers over at Black Rock, near Troy Meadows (W of Kennedy Mdws).

To reach this forest meadow you can come up from 3 different ways (via automobile)
  • From MOJAVE, US Highway 395 - Northbound, before Little Lake, take left on County Rd J41 (Nine Mile Cyn, paved) go up the mountain, and straight past Kennedy Meadows follow signs to Black Rock ranger station.
  • From Kernville, Hwy 155 - Sierra Hwy N, cross Johnsondale Bridge, right turn on Sherman's Pass, near Troy Meadows turn left to Black Rock.
  • From Canebrake, Hwy 178 - Take dirt road Chimney Peak, N to Kennedy Meadows, left turn to Troy Meadows, then right to Black Rock.

MAPS of the Southern Sierra Nevada Mountains -

Inyo National Forest Map
Sequoia National Forest Map
Domeland Wilderness USDA
Golden Trout Wilderness USDA
South Sierra Wilderness
Golden Trout Wilderness Map


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Don't Frack California

Petition to urge California to ban fracking. Don't Frack California

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Free Lake Campsite

Brewer Lake Campsite by
Brewer Lake Campsite, a photo by on Flickr.
If you still need me to spell it out - in every photo, in every forest, at each lake, enticing descriptions - every year, year after year.... just so you can be inspired to go outside and enjoy California, I will do so repeatedly. Or you could just cruise thru the years of archives on this California Back Roads Blog. Some of my suggested destinations require a 4x4 to reach, but many do not. Maps are essential. Road trip ideas and cheap travels await. Please also visit my ancient web site.

California LAKES LIST

Eastern Sierra Lakes
Lassen Lakes
Sequoia Lakes
Shasta Lakes
Sierra Nevada Lakes
Wilderness Lakes
Yosemite Lakes

Kern River Hot Springs


We grabbed some snacks & beverages at a Bakersfield mini-mart & headed due east on Hwy 178. Into a wall of granite, a raging river filled with Sierra Nevada snow melt, the sounds of rushing water filled the air. We turned on to a dark narrow road without any guard rails. Oaks trees hung overhead, dark skies & huge cows in the middle of the road. After passing it once, we found the dirt parking area around 10:20 pm & started our hike down to the hot springs w/ flashlights. Down to the Kern River we scrambled thru muddy grasses & bushes. Candle light, river rock tubs & steaming mineral baths await. No one around, we had the whole place to ourselves..... until 1am.

There are numerous natural hot springs located on the Kern River canyon, most of them on the Lower Kern in between Lake Isabella & the Bako citrus orchards. Many are closed off to the public - private property.  Lower Kern Canyon on Highway 178 is the way to Kernville California & inside the southern portion of Sequoia National Forest. And yes, nudity is the norm at most hot springs, so offended families consider yourself warned.

Lower Kern River

Remington Hot Springs: [HIKE IN ONLY]
Old Kern Canyon Road; 2 miles west of Hobo Campground; .25 mile hiking trail descends down to the springs that overlook the Kern River. A few primitive campsites near dirt parking lot and more level RV spots on the paved road (to the west). Numerous hike-in camp sites in the oaks and near the river. Two developed National Forest Campgrounds are located a few miles to the east - Hobo & Sandy Flat.

Miracle Hot Springs: [CLOSED]
Old Kern Canyon Road; W of Borel Road intersection. Next to Hobo Campground. This one is no longer in operation, but folks have day use access for  fishing and picnics.

Delonegha Hot Springs: [Private Property]
Old hotel and stage coach stop; No public access

Scovern Hot Springs:
[Private Property]
Also known as the Hot Springs House; Resort burned down in 1971; Not much left

Democrat Hot Springs:
[Private Property]
Old stage coach stop; Cottages & hotel; No public access

Upper Kern River

Kern Hot Springs: [BACKPACK IN ONLY]
Backpack hiking trails lead from Jerky Meadow near Forks of the Kern into wild backcountry. This one is an overnight hike for sure, so you need to be prepared with topo maps, gear and supplies for wilderness travel on foot. Horses are also a common form of transportation. This springs location is on the High Sierra Trail south of Mount Whitney... in the remote Upper Kern River.

California Desert Camping

Winter months in California is prime desert camping time. The perfect time to plan your desert trip is November thru April. If a seasonal storm is not in the forecast, the weather is usually sunny and mild, wind is always a given & wildflowers bloom as early as February. Go enjoy the Mojave Desert, Death Valley, Anza Borrego Desert, Joshua Tree, the Lancaster Poppy Fields or the Eastern Sierra lava flows.

California Desert Camping Ideas

Surreal Box Canyon near Mecca, CA is free camping BLM land located perfectly between Anza Borrego Desert and Joshua Tree National Park. Totally worth a hike, bike or sightseeing visit, if not for an over night stay. Be prepared for late night traffic as semi-trucks from Interstate 10 use Box Cyn Road as a frequent through-fare.

desert destinations

Anza Borrego Desert SP
Benton Hot Springs
Bodie California
Borrego Springs
Cerro Gordo
Death Valley Camps
Goler Wash
Jawbone Canyon
Joshua Tree NP
Lake Mohave
Lone Pine
Mecca Hills
Panamint Springs
Panamint Valle
Picacho Camp 
Red Red State Park
Saline Valley
Tecopa Hot Springs

Tent camping in Borrego desert washes in wildflower season; Ocotillo blooms

DESERT MAPS for California 
Angeles Off Road Map 
Anza Borrego Desert Map
Bodie Ghost Town Map 
Death Valley Map 
Inyo Mountains Topo
Jawbone Canyon / Randsburg Map
Joshua Tree Park Map
Mojave Desert Map 
San Diego Backcountry Map
SoCal OHV Map Set