• Ankit Jain

Trip Report: Eldorado National Forest, California

Recapping a Dispersed Solo Camping Trip in March 2021, Before Wildfires Ravaged the Area


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In honor of the Caldor Fire in Eldorado National Forest reaching 98% containment and most restrictions/closures being reduced or removed over this past weekend (with rain and snowstorms on the way this week that will hopefully put the whole damn thing out!), we bring you this trip report from Spring 2021. Should you be inclined to recreate any aspects of this trip for yourself, please be sure to check the Forest’s website for potential closures, as even once the fire has been extinguished parts of the area may still be dangerous. For information on fire recovery efforts, click here.

 

Moonlight illuminates trees and snowy grounds alike in Eldorado National Forest in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California

Eldorado National Forest, CA - Photo Credit: Ankit Jain



Trip Info:


Trip Type: Dispersed Camping/Road Trip (Solo)

Season: March 2021 (Spring)

Location: Eldorado National Forest, Kyburz, CA

Duration: 3 days / 2 nights

Permit: Campfire Permit Required

Link: https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/eldorado/home


Overview:


For this trip, I embarked on a solo road trip to Eldorado National Forest in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Northeastern California. Eldorado National Forest, encompassing nearly 800,000 acres, is located in the Central Sierras near Lake Tahoe, surrounded by Tahoe National Forest to its north, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit to its east, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest to its south-east and Stanislaus National Forest to its south. The forest is a 3 to 4 hour drive from the Bay Area, and a 1.5 hour drive from Sacramento. The elevation in the forest ranges from 1,000 ft to 10,000 ft, and has many well-known rivers traversing through its mountainous terrains, such as the Mokelumne, American, Rubicon, Cosumnes and Silver Fork.


I mostly explored the corridor between Highway 50 and Highway 88 in the Kyburz and Grizzly Flats areas; Grizzly Flats would become the hotspot for the Caldor Fire that first ignited in August 2021. I had been to the Silver Fork River on many occasions before - it’s one of my favorite places for dispersed camping by a river. The river is surrounded by alpine tree-covered mountains on both sides, and during the summer you can see hordes of rafters and kayakers making their way down the river. I camped the first night on a beach right off the river. The second day, I went exploring in the Iron Mountain and Sly Park area, a place where I hadn’t spent much time before. It was an ideal time to explore the foothills as the higher elevation areas still had snowpack above 8,000 ft. I found an opening near Iron Mountain with views of the surrounding mountain peaks, and this is where I camped for my second night. On the third day, I spent some time at a few lakes on my drive back to the Bay Area via Highway 88. Throughout the trip, I encountered snow along the roads at higher elevations, but not enough to necessitate the use of snow chains. Overall, it was a great solo camping trip early in the season.


scrubby evergreens over a snowy riverbed in Eldorado National Forest in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California

Eldorado National Forest, CA - Photo Credit: Ankit Jain



Trip Planning:


Permits:


Permits are required for campfires. Depending on where you’re hiking or spending the night, permits may also be required for Wilderness Areas. Due to the widespread wildfire activity this year, most areas are not currently allowing campfires, and other areas are currently only open for day use.


Camping:


There are many dispersed camping options throughout the forest, spanning from rivers and creeks to high-elevation forests. It is important to pay attention to regulations for dispersed camping. There are many scattered areas of private property throughout the forest as well where recreation is prohibited. Cellphone service is limited throughout the forest, especially in the more remote areas.

snow on the banks of a small river in Eldorado National Forest in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California

Eldorado National Forest, CA - Photo Credit: Ankit Jain



Itinerary:


Day 1: Bay Area to Silver Fork River via Hwy 50


Drove to the Silver Fork River accessed from Kyburz via Silver Fork Road. I went past the China Flat Campground and started scouting for potential campsites next to the river. There was snow on the road from before the campsite, but was traversable without the need for chains with my All-Wheel-Drive vehicle. I found a spot right off the road, but as there was minimal traffic it was perfect. The campsite had snow patches on the ground and a rock ring for campfires. It was on a sandy beach right off the river, which made for pleasant white noise from the water flowing over rocks. I set up camp and started collecting fallen branches from the surrounding trees. After sunset, I got the campfire going and had a sandwich that I picked up on my drive. Once it became dark, I did some stargazing before the Moon rose from the horizon, which made for a spectacular sight with the snow and water reflecting from the moonlight. I eventually called it a night, put out the fire, and slept with the sound of the river flowing right next to me.


Campsite Elevation: 5,000 feet

Campsite Location: Off Silver Fork Road (Kyburz), near China Flat Campground

Campsite Type: Dispersed

Campsite Natural Features: River, Forest, Mountain


more snow, more riverside in Eldorado National Forest in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California

Eldorado National Forest, CA - Photo Credit: Ankit Jain



Day 2: Silver Fork River to Iron Mountain via Mormon Emigrant Trail


I woke up to the sunlight shining through my rainfly and took a stroll along the river. I got a small fire going to heat up my leftovers in foil - one of my favorite types of cooking/reheating methods while camping. After breakfast, I packed up camp, and set off for the day in my car. I briefly consulted my offline maps on my phone before deciding to explore the Sly Park Recreation Area in the foothills near Grizzly Flats, an area I hadn’t spent much time in before. I drove around various forest service roads, some leading to dead ends, snow blockages or roads simply being closed due to it being early in the season.


After taking a few detours to access the Grizzly Flats area, I found myself near Iron Mountain, and it seemed like a good time to look for campsites as it was getting late in the afternoon. I found an idyllic site at a big opening with flat areas for setting up camp. I didn’t stop there, I drove around a bit more looking for other options as well, but ended up just finding mostly snow blockages. Hence, I eventually drove back to that campsite and started setting up camp and exploring the area more.


This campsite was a ways off the main road, which meant seclusion and no noise from cars passing by. I did find many shotgun shells littering the area, something which I unfortunately find too common in many National Forests and BLM areas I’ve been to. I took a hike along a trail that went by the campsite, and found some openings through the alpine trees offering views of the snow-capped mountains in the distance. Once back at camp, I made a late lunch, and started gathering deadwood around the campsite. As the evening set in, I got the fire going and settled in for a relaxing evening. Eventually I called it a night, and slept underneath the bright full moon.


Campsite Elevation: 6,000 ft

Campsite Location: Near Iron Mountain off Mormon Emigrant Trail

Campsite Type: Dispersed

Campsite Natural Features: Forest, Mountain


a tent set up alongside a snowy riverbank in Eldorado National Forest in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California

Eldorado National Forest, CA - Photo Credit: Ankit Jain



Day 3: Iron Mountain to Bay Area via Hwy 88


I woke up after a restful night and began to make some breakfast. After I ate, I packed up camp and consulted my maps to decide on my route back to the Bay Area. I decided to cut through the forest via the Sly Park main road to connect to Hwy 88. As I made my way, I stopped at a few of the many lakes along the way for lunch and some relaxing reading. Eventually, I was on Hwy 88, which I took to I-5 to make my way home after an awesome weekend solo camping trip.


a solitary duck, cruising through Finnion Lake in Eldorado National Forest in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California

Eldorado National Forest, CA - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue



Gear:


In car camping, I typically have a lot of gear which I often don’t end up using, but it gives me a peace of mind to have redundancies for safety while I’m in the backcountry. Hence, the list below covers all the primary gear that I use in my car camping trips.


Hiking:


Shelter:


Sleep System:


Camp Kitchen:


Food & Hydration:


Clothing:


Tools, Electronics and Miscellaneous:


Hygiene:


Safety/First Aid:


tall tall trees in Eldorado National Forest in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California

Eldorado National Forest, CA - Photo Credit: Ankit Jain


 

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