Looking for remote backcountry in South California

7:15 p.m. on January 2, 2012 (EST)
0 reviewer rep
5 forum posts

Hello everyone.

I have been searching and searching and have been having a hard time finding a good place for some nice remote back country camping in south California/ San Diego area. What I am really looking for is a nice area where i can start teaching my oldest boy some good land navigation and basic nature skills. I would like a place that i can backpack into and out of without an established "campground". I have allot of experience in survival camping in the south east U.S. but none out here so i would like to get back into it and start bring my oldest along. If anyone has any ideas i would really appreciate it. Thanks!

8:29 p.m. on January 2, 2012 (EST)
4,404 reviewer rep
6,006 forum posts


Welcome to Trailspace!

What kind of back country are you looking for? SoCal has a lot of remote, deserted types of backcountry, ranging from desert to scrub to alpine. There are places you can go where you might not see another person for a couple days. And if you want really remote and deserted, just over the border in Mexico is the Pico del Diablo area, where people have been known to completely disappear. Some years ago, I participated in a S&R for a couple, which ultimately involved close to 100 searchers. Turned out the guy had broken his leg something like a week before they were found, so they weren't traveling. The search took 4 days. Not sure I would recommend that area for your son, depending on how old he is. And people have been known to disappear for long periods in Joshua Tree.

There is remote area in the San Gabriels, San Bernardinos, San Jacinto area farther north, as well as the mountains just inland from San Diego. Anza Borrego has a lot of remote desert area, as does the Mojave. Take a look at the area along the Pacific Coast Trail, which starts at the Mexican/US border. You pass through some pretty remote territory before getting to the Sierra.

Before you go into those areas, though, be very sure you are properly equipped. Many of the remote areas have very limited water supplies, including the mountains (which can be up to 11,000 feet altitude). Be very sure your son is mature enough to deal with such areas.

As for teaching him land navigation, I would suggest connecting with the Los Angeles Orienteering Club (LAOC) or San Diego Orienteering (look on the Orienteering USA website for the contacts). Or if you wait until June, I will be teaching a land navigation course at the Sierra Club's Clair Tappaan Lodge in northern California at Donner Pass the weekend of June 16-17, 2012. That's very much a hands-on course, ranging from how to navigate with no equipment, through map and compass, to GPS receivers.

8:34 p.m. on January 2, 2012 (EST)
1,711 reviewer rep
3,962 forum posts

Hey daniel.q1615, welcome to Trailspace. 

I really do not have much to offer in regards to west coast being I am on the east coast but just wanted to say hello and welcome ya to the community.

Happy hiking-Rick

10:14 p.m. on January 2, 2012 (EST)
102 reviewer rep
2,979 forum posts

Adding to Bill’s good advice:

Some extreme remote venues are actually quite near.  Bill mentions two: Anza Borego and Joshua Tree.  The problem with these venues is Josh has no reliable water supplies, while Anza Borrego has only limited water where you’re sure to find other campers.  Thus you’ll have to haul your own water, at least 1 gallon per person, per day.  But the experience is worth the weight – I do this several times a year.  Don’t think of even trying these venues after mid May or before September; you’ll need more water, due to heat, and it becomes too much work.

I suggest you try an area of the San Gabriel Mountains lying between Wrightwood and Mt Baldy.  This is by far the most remote terrain in So Cal.  It is very rugged; you will need to eat your Wheaties.  But there is water.  I have NEVER seen a person in the interior of this region; but every once in a while a marijuana plantation is discovered by the authorities in these whereabouts, such is its remoteness.  I personally have not seen any of these operations.  This is a perfect venue for what you desire, but you must have good orienting skills and good backcountry skills in general.  It may be So Cal’s backyard, but it is also another place where people have disappeared without a trace.  One note of caution: Do not do this venue in the winter season.  The snow pack can remain unstable for the entire season, due to the micro climate.  If you get caught in an avalanche, your body will probably be lost to the mountain forever.

Less demanding venues are also found in the San Gabs.  Just a ridge over from Mt Baldy, take Hwy 39 up San Gabriel Canyon.  There are many good hiking opportunities in this area with relatively few other campers.  Hike up to Little Jimmy and the ridges thereabouts.  Another good excursion in this drainage to the Bridge to Nowhere (your son will get a kick out of this destination).  If you do hike to the bridge, note you will have to cross the steam many times without the benefit of bridges or stepping stones, so do not do this one if rain is expected, and equip accordingly.

There are several decent trail guides for hiking in Southern California.  Check out the local bookstore.


11:23 a.m. on January 3, 2012 (EST)
0 reviewer rep
5 forum posts

Thanks for the advice. Not looking for anything crazy like crossing the border just some nice backcountry that you can't see a highway in every direction. Looking for some of the scrublands first before we venture into the desert areas. I will have to look up some of the things you mentioned. Thanks for the help.

11:29 a.m. on January 3, 2012 (EST)
0 reviewer rep
5 forum posts

Awsome, some of those places sound like a winner. I don't need anything too difficult for my son but a nice hike in, camp and hike out area would be best. I have extensive back country skills but not in this region so i want to be very cautious my first few times out. The terrain here is very diffrent from the flat swamp and pine forrests I am used to. I really appreciate the advice guys....Do any of you have a favorite trail guide or wild edibles book you would reccomend before i go out and by one. Also does anyone know of any backcountry clubs or gatherings in this area. I am comfortable on my own but would feel more comfortable with some expert advice on the region. Thanks alot!

11:32 a.m. on January 3, 2012 (EST)
38 reviewer rep
395 forum posts

Cant help ya with any Ca. info but just wanted to welcome ya to Trailspace.

Please let us know how your trips go

11:36 a.m. on January 3, 2012 (EST)
0 reviewer rep
5 forum posts

**Note to Bill S.

Just checked out the orienteering site and they have a San Diego Chapter, this looks like the perfect way to introduce my son to navigation under controlled circumstances before we try some back country camping. He is 8 years old and old enough to learn but not to pack all his own water yet so once again guys Thanks for the Advice!!

3:05 p.m. on January 3, 2012 (EST)
4,404 reviewer rep
6,006 forum posts


You might check out the local Sierra Club chapter there in San Diego. This is one of the largest and most active of the Club chapters, with sections that specialize in a wide variety of outdoor activities, from day hikes to bagging peaks to canoeing and kayaking. Back in the late 1950s, the San Diego and Angeles Chapters worked together to set up a basic outdoor course, known at the time as Basic Mountaineering. The book from that course ("the Red Book" for the color of the original cover) got revised numerous times and eventually was taken over by the Mountaineers Press (Seattle Mountaineers, who also publish Mountaineering - Freedom of the Hills, which is The Outdoor Bible - has lots besides mountaineering and climbing including the basics of camping in the wilderness). The SD Chapter has a number of courses on various aspects of the outdoors, some of which are aimed at families with young kids who want to get them into the hills and woods.

I would also suggest looking into the San Diego Boy Scout council. 8 is still Cub Scout age, but the Cub program for age 8-9 includes camping. At 10-1/2, he can go into the regular Boy Scouts, which has a strong outdoor program. Be sure to visit several troops and let the Council office know you are looking for a troop that specializes in the outdoors and High Adventure (this is a program that includes wilderness travel summer and winter, and not car camping). Keep in mind that each Boy Scout troop is owned by its chartering organization, hence is very individualistic - no two are alike in their activities and interests.

Visit here often, and post trip reports.

7:47 p.m. on January 4, 2012 (EST)
38 reviewer rep
1,902 forum posts

You might also want to look into San Jacinto State Park. Although it has trails and established campgrounds, it is fairly remote. I've done one day hike from the Idylwild side and one overnight winter hike from the Palm Springs Tram station. The park has a website and so does the tram. It runs all year round.

9:06 p.m. on January 9, 2012 (EST)
30 reviewer rep
560 forum posts

And when the weather gets too warm for comfortable travel in the south,  the Sierra - especially the east side along US-395 - will be available almost snow free up to 11,000' around Father's Day here:


The trail head, out of Lone Pine starts at around 10,400' and is the closest significant part of the Sierra to SoCal hikers.  Cottonwood Lakes are well within a determined 8yo's range.  If you get a reasonable start, Muir Lake is a good late lunch destination - about 6 miles.  Start planning now, if interested, and get a wilderness permit for the time you would rather be there.

You can get several good suggestions for Sierra over nighters and up to 30 day assaults on Mom Nature from posters here.  In normal years, snow will be gone from the highest passes by end of July first of August.  By November the summer hiking season is drawing to a close with the first snowfalls.

Even though they are identified as Wilderness areas, they have trails...they just don't have uncontrolled dogs or anything with wheels.  You do need a permit to be in there.

The eastern Sierra are good for some reasonable off trail orienteering as there is not a heavy undergrowth, and for the most part you can stay oriented where you are visually.

You will not be alone, but two nights into most places will make it uncommon to see many people.

The John Muir Trail, on the other hand,  is a busy thoroughfare as well as a connector trail to other trails.

10:09 p.m. on January 10, 2012 (EST)
584 reviewer rep
167 forum posts

Afoot Afield San Diego County is great start, has 250 trails on it, but you'll find many more trails after reading this book.  I also like 101 Hikes in Southern California.  A good test of your skills would be the Cactus to Clouds trail, while it's not long 20 miles, it has 10600 foot gain.  If you make a wrong turn, you will not be able to complete this hike in one day, and also will be force to get more water.  You need at least 5 liters of water, and temp at the bottom can be 90 to 100 and on top of San Jacinto Peak the temp can be 20 or less all in the same day.  You may need a ice axe, the ranger station is around 8000 foot mark and sometimes will not let you pass without it.  Anza Borrego is also great, I like hiking at night time to beat the heat and push my comfort zone, I fail a lot at this, but with a red light you see many strange things.  The state park is more than 514 square miles and getting bigger each year.  Many areas are very remote, and many access points to National parks.

11:51 p.m. on January 10, 2012 (EST)
592 reviewer rep
1,522 forum posts

daniel.g1615: I am in Las Vegas and cannot offer any advice except this: BillS is a great reference. I have learned a lot from him and any time he recommends a book I at least look it up and then often buy it. The books have helped me a lot! Whomeworry is also quite knowledgeable and experienced. Those are the two weighing in here for you and if I were hiking in your area, I would definitely take their advice. Not to take aawy from any of the posts in the thread, because frankly, anyone telling you stuff here that has actually done the stuff they are talking about tend to be realists and tell it like it is. BillS, you will find, has quite a bit of really fun history that he offers along the way in his posts!The trip reports are really fun to read! Everyone that takes time to report seems to make the reports pretty fun and inviting!

Come here often. You will find good stuff to do, and  enjoy others adventures as well. WELCOME!

5:09 a.m. on January 11, 2012 (EST)
102 reviewer rep
2,979 forum posts

giftogab said:

..Not to take aawy from any of the posts in the thread, because frankly, anyone telling you stuff here that has actually done the stuff they are talking about tend to be realists and tell it like it is...

Yes, Tom's and Mike’s advise are excellent suggestions.  Truth be told, So Cal is a target rich environment for the avid outdoors enthusiast, one of the most ecologically diverse regions proximal to a large metropolis.


11:17 a.m. on January 11, 2012 (EST)
0 reviewer rep
5 forum posts

love all the advice guys i hope to keep you updated after a few trips!

3:06 a.m. on February 7, 2012 (EST)
1,559 reviewer rep
443 forum posts

I started with my son when he was 9 on dripping springs trail in the Agua Tibia wilderness west of Mt Palomar. It is part of Cleveland National Corest and is 20 Minutes from the I15 off of 79South, the first exit in Temecula if you are coming from San Diego. It is a moderate climb 7.5 miles from the trailhead at 1500 to 4500. We have twice camped off-trail for an overnight in the alpine scrub. I do not recommend going in the Summer heat, but otherwise the water is plentiful. Both times I have gone camping there we have not seen a soul on the trail. But it is traveled by day hikers quite often (I run there often). Have fun, research, and be prepared. You will need a wilderness permit. Welcome to TS!

May 22, 2018
Quick Reply

Please sign in to reply

More Topics
This forum: Older: Single Use Antibiotic Packs Newer: What's in your survival kit?
All forums: Older: Marquette Backcountry Ski offers easy winter access Newer: Hi-Tec Pará Boot combines rain boot with hiker